Page 2: The challenge
There are more than nine million young people in education in the United Kingdom and the number of car journeys made to and from school and college contributes significantly to congestion and pollution. The National Travel Survey shows that there has been a significant shift away from walking to school towards car use, with the proportion of car journeys nearly doubling over the last 10 years: 29% of children travelled to school by car in 1995/7 compared to 16% in 1985/6. Well over a third of primary pupils now travel to school by car and over a fifth of pupils at secondary school. The causes are complex and interrelated, but include:
- increased traffic on the roads leading to concerns about road safety
- rising car ownership
- a wider choice of schools other than neighbourhood schools
- local changes in where people live and pupil numbers
- declining bus services and rising fares
- increased fears about personal safety, including bullying and abduction
- children carrying more equipment and books to school
- parents under increasing pressure of time and in some cases combining the journey to work with the school run.
As a result, traffic congestion at certain times of day is a major concern for local communities. During term-time, one in five cars on the road in urban areas at the morning peak of 8.50 am are on the ‘school run’. In many areas a vicious circle comes into being - fears about safety in traffic lead to less walking and cycling and more driving which in turn increases traffic. There are also many implications for local air quality, journey times and the competitiveness of local business organisations.
But the potential benefits of change are just as important. Surveys show there is unmet demand among young people for more independent travel and greater freedom. Freedom to move around the local area independently is an important part of growing up. Building exercise into the day improves fitness immediately and protects against coronary heart disease in the longer term. Independent travel to school is also a chance to help reduce local pollution and congestion, improving quality of life for everybody. Better local air quality is particularly beneficial for the growing number of people who suffer from asthma.
Research shows that it is possible to encourage greater use of greener forms of transport for school journeys even in areas of very high car ownership. One well-established way of tackling the problem is to develop safer routes for walking and cycling to school. But there are many other things which can be done to reduce car use and improve safety on the way to school, and many local projects are already putting them into practice. But usually no one change is enough to make the difference - a wide-ranging travel plan is needed.