Brazil: To School by Bus and Boat

Driving to school by boat or walking through rough terrain to the bus station is not unusual for Brazilian children in rural areas. The government has a special programme to ensure reliable transport.

Mehrere Millionen Kinder profitieren vom Programm "Schulweg". Photo: Diario de Araruna

Several million children benefit from the program “Caminho da Escola”. Photo: Diario de Araruna

4.8 million children and young people in Brazil live in rural or remote regions such as the Amazon. And they all have a right to education. “But bad roads, dilapidated buses and boats as well as insufficient connections have shaped everyday life for a long time,” says Bruno Bergamo, who represents the testing organisation DEKRA in the Latin American country. Correspondingly high was the number of those who did not come to school in the first place or quickly stopped regular learning again.

But then the government did a series of studies on school transport as part of its School Transport Initiative, launched in 2007. The Social Development Fund and the Navy joined forces with several universities to explore the situation of the children, especially on the rivers. For a good three months, the teams drove 6,000 kilometres down the Amazon and talked to students, teachers and parents about the way to school by boat in order to have a basis for action. In 2009, 674 special school boats were designed and built by the Brazilian Navy.

After the Boats, the School Bike Comes into Focus

“Shortly afterwards, the school bike was the centre of attention”, Bergamo says. Studies had shown that many children travel between three and 15 kilometers a day to get to school or a bus stop. “What a relief it is when the young people can cycle the route,” emphasizes the DEKRA man. At the same time, it would ensure healthy exercise, and in a first step more than 6,400 bicycles and helmets were purchased in 2011.

Fahrräder erleichtern die oft langen Strecken bis zur Schule oder der nächsten Haltestelle des Schulbusses erheblich.

With bikes the way to school is much easyer. Photo: Prefeitura Municipal de Belem

Letícia Silva had to walk for an hour in 2009, depending on the season, through mud or dust to reach the bus stop of her school bus. With an old city bus, completely unsuitable for pupil transport it then went further over bumpy paths and roads. The sixth grader was still well off with her three kilometres, she remembers – other children were on foot ten kilometres after all. “When it rains, I pull my pants up and wade through the mud, then I wash my feet at school,” she said back then. Until that Thursday when the first test bus picked her up at her front door. From then on the school uniform remained perfectly clean.

There are Fewer Early School Leavers Because of the Buses

Reducing the rate of early school leavers – buses contribute to this in particular. They shorten the time that has to be spent on the way to school, the children are less tired and have more fun learning. At the same time, safety and comfort have been greatly improved: “Where children used to be transported to school on the loading areas of trucks or pick-ups, buses with a 4-point safety belt and movable armrests now also have storage areas for school backpacks,” reports Bruno Bergamo.

1.600 Mercedes-Benz Busse für den Schulweg in Brasilien. Foto: Daimler

School buses were standardized within the framework of the program and thus cheaper, at the same time transparency in procurement was increased, the authorities emphasize. Robust chassis that can withstand use on unpaved roads are now in use. Stronger engines and special tyres are able to cope better with mud, potholes and stones and still perform when off-road.

In the starting year 2007, the government’s programme reached 1.7 million school-age children between the ages of four and 17. Ten years later, according to official figures, 3.5 million children and young people from around 5,000 communities travel to school by bus, boat and bicycle. So far, the government has invested around 540 million euros (BRL 2.4 billion) in school transport, and according to experts, the investments triggered by the initiative amount to several billion. The task is not yet completed: More than 500 locations are still waiting to be connected to the system.

Mercedes-Benz do Brasil wins Contract for 1,600 School Buses

After political uncertainties in the recent past, the award of contracts for school buses had temporarily collapsed. In the meantime, however, tenders were again invited, so that Mercedes-Benz do Brasil was recently able to announce that it had been awarded the contract for 1,600 school buses. They are to be delivered by April 2019, but buses from Iveco, MAN or VW are also already on the road for children transport.

“As part of the programme, special buses will be used to bring children safely to school from the most remote regions of Brazil,” says Bruno Bergamo. All vehicle models of the manufacturers are tested for their suitability by the state institute Inmetro. The special features of the school buses include tires suitable for asphalt and off-road use, 4-point safety belts, special places for passengers with special needs, storage for luggage and school backpacks as well as speed controllers and tachographs. School buses have a 20 percent market share of public transport buses in Brazil.

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