One bus company will increase fares by up to Dh550 ($149) a year, while parents at one Dubai school were told to expect an Dh800 rise.
Until now, privately run transport companies have largely taken a hit on fuel prices, which have risen by more than 70 per cent since January.
“We have absorbed most of the costs. We were assessing the fuel prices and these have also gone up in July,” said Nausherwan Hussain, owner of Arab Falcon Bus Rental, which works with 14 schools in the Emirates.
His company is working with schools to try to split the costs instead of passing them on to parents, he said.
School Transport Services (STS), one of the largest operators, told The National that it “continues to absorb the majority of these added costs”.
Parents at the schools it serves have been told of increases in costs.
For parents with children at Jumeirah College, fees will go up by Dh200 to Dh300 annually, while for pupils at Cambridge International School Dubai the increase would be between Dh300 to Dh550 a year. Both schools use STS.
Despite the added burden for parents, the increases are generally less than the amount by which the cost of petrol has risen.
Transport costs vary between schools and between the emirates, costing anywhere from Dh3,000 ($816) to Dh9,000 ($2,450) depending on the distance travelled.
As with global prices, the cost of petrol in the UAE has risen by 74 per cent since January 2022. In January, Super 98 petrol cost Dh2.65 a litre, but in July it is priced at Dh4.63 a litre. Diesel prices rose from Dh2.56 a litre to Dh4.76 in that period.
Working parents reliant on pick-up and collect service
Sharrah Khilawala, a mother of two who lives in Sharjah, has a 6-year-old daughter who takes the bus to a private school in Dubai.
She paid around Dh5,000 for bus fees until this year, but will have to pay Dh5,800 in the new academic year.
“Definitely, the bus fee rise is a cause of concern. Things have become more expensive because of inflation,” said Ms Khilawala, who works in PR and communications.
“The reason we preferred the school bus was because it's easier for parents like me who have full-time jobs. We do not have the liberty to do the pick and drop.
“STS charged us around Dh5,000 for the whole year to pick and drop one child to Sharjah.
“So for two children, you're easily talking about Dh10,000 to Dh12,000 for a year, in addition to all the other expenses that come with schools such as uniforms, miscellaneous expenses, and stationery.
“Bus transport companies know that there are some parents who will still go for it, irrespective of how high or low the price may be.”
Meanwhile, STS said that it “continues to absorb the majority of these added costs and will keep our families promptly informed of any changes in our fees”.
“All businesses involved with transport, including school bus services, have been affected by the recent global rises in fuel costs among other aspects of their operations,” a company statement said.
Parents at Al Salam Community School in Al Twar, near Dubai airport and the Sharjah border, were told of an increase in bus fees.
One parent, who sends his child there from home in Sharjah, paid Dh6,400 for a drop and pick service in 2021 and will have to pay Dh7,040 in the new academic year 2022-2023.
Mr Hussain said his company increased bus fees slightly in the past two years.
The company collects and drops off about 3,000 pupils each day.
It charges Dh8,000 to Dh9,000 a year for one pupil and the price depends on the location for pick up and drop off.
“We do not want to push the costs up for the parents and are trying to absorb these between the company and the school,” he said.
“So, that is where we are at the moment. There are no plans to increasing bus fees as it adds to the financial pressure on parents already paying high school fees.”
Mr Hussain hoped that in the long term electric school buses would be an option. The authorities are yet to approve them for use.
“We are thinking of electric buses and charging stations could be installed at schools,” he said.
The Indian High School in Oud Metha, the largest school in the country, operates its own fleet.
Chief executive Punit MK Vasu said in June that he was monitoring fuel prices and planned to invest in biofuel vehicles in the near future.