Schoolkids hit hardest by gridlock

2010-10-21 00:00

SCHOOLCHILDREN are probably suffering most during the northern suburbs traffic crisis.

These are not only the pupils who are left in empty school grounds from as early as 6 am, but also the hundreds who arrive late for school from other suburbs.

Principals, councillors and the Northern Suburbs Taxi Association confirm that the build-up of traffic — caused mainly by the diversions from the upgrading of the Chota Motala Road-N3 interchange — is affecting a large number of children commuting from other parts of Pietermaritzburg to schools in the northern suburbs.

They say this is why there is such congestion, especially in the mornings. Parents drive into the Northdale/Raisethorpe area, drop their children and then join the stream of traffic going out. It also accounts for the dramatic drop in traffic during school holidays.

Nazir Khan, chairperson of the Northern Suburbs Taxi Association, said a survey they carried out shows they are taking more than 4 000 children to schools in the northern suburbs every day.

School principals say that as a result of the uncontrolled build-up of traffic, pupils are arriving late for school. They say they had thought they had won the long-standing battle against late arrivals, and they are frustrated to see it recurring.

Previously the problem was of pupils loitering in Freedom Square and not boarding taxis on time. It was said that the pupils preferred to wait for taxis with sophisticated sound systems. The principals then posted staff members at Freedom Square and, with the help of the taxi association, brought the situation under control.

The vice chairperson of the Northern Suburbs Taxi Association, Vinesh Singh, said his members are frustrated at the lack of response from Msunduzi Municipality to the traffic gridlock.

After dropping off one load of pupils, it takes a taxi over an hour to reach the city centre to pick up the next load, he said.

Parents are worried about leaving their children unattended at schools early in the morning. They say they have no choice because this is the only way they can get to work by 8 am.

The head of psychology at Fort Napier hospital, Professor Anthony Pillay, says he does not blame parents for being worried because the safety of children in South Africa is a major concern.

He said most of the school grounds are large and this leaves unsupervised children vulnerable.

A principal at a primary school in Raisethorpe said he arrives early, but is forced to spend his time standing in the street to ensure the children negotiate the traffic build-up safely. “The situation is so bad that every day I pray that there are no accidents,” he said

Teachers said they are worried that children who leave home so early seldom have time for breakfast.

Pillay echoed their concern, saying he worries about children who travel from the upper reaches of Edendale and who leave home as early as 5 am to attend school across town.

“We find that these children don’t have breakfast and this affects their ability to concentrate.”

The teachers say that being dropped of at school as early as 6.15 am makes it a long day for children — some as young as six — who tire by late morning.

E-mail feedback to The Witness shows that having to drop children at school very early has left many commuters fed up.

Many readers were angy at the suggestion by Msunduzi’s municipal spokesperson, Brian Zuma, that they leave home early to avoid the traffic gridlock.

They already do that, they said, and they worry themselves sick about their children left in the empty school yards while they sit in traffic jams.

OFFICIALS from the Msunduzi Municipality, including administrator Johann Mettler, will be at a site meeting at 7 am to assess the traffic situation in the northern suburbs this morning.

Councillor Mergan Chetty said he met Mettler yesterday and told him that residents are furious at the uninformed response from the municipality. He insisted that as many officials as possible should attend today’s meeting.

Chetty said the Northern Suburbs Taxi Association has undertaken to provide more members to monitor the taxi drivers at intersections where, motorists complain, they are driving the wrong way along the carriageway.

Solutions for solving the traffic jams continue to pour in.

Reader Deon Marillier suggests removing the large centre islands on the roads from the northern suburbs. He said a third lane on each side would be created that way. The additional lanes can be used for lift clubs and public transport.

He also suggests “no negotiations — enforce a bus service”.

A reader who did not want his name mentioned suggested the formation of a “transport forum”, which could be a sub-committee of a ratepayers’ forum.

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