Commons Gate

School travel (HC 911-iii)

Transport Committee 22 Oct 2008

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Uncorrected transcript of Oral Evidence given by
2.45 Sustrans Paul Osborne, School Travel Director Living Streets, Tony Armstrong, Chief Executive Yellow School Bus Commission, Rt. Hon. David Blunkett MP, Chairman Councillor, Lt Col Tex Pemberton OBE, Commissioner, Dr Si‚n Thornthwaite, Dr Si‚n Thornthwaite, Independent Consultant.
3.40 Rural 14-19 Access to Learning Group, Mark Hudson, Head of Transport. Mary Roche, Transport Policy manager, Association of Colleges, Dr David Collins, Resident, and Principal of South Cheshire College, RAC Foundation, Elizabeth Dainton, Research Development Manager
4.20 National Youth Agency, Viv McKee, Director of Policy and Research, National Childrenís Bureau, Barbara Hearn, Deputy Chief Executive, National Union of Students, Beth Walker, Vice President (Further Education).

Q223 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): I have to admit to having some confusion about the presentations to the extent that we have got people here talking about taking the children to school on a bus, people talking about children being obese, people talking about cycling, and there is a conflict. If you start providing better bus services then less children are going to cycle and less people are going to walk, is that not the case?

Mr Blunkett: We do not accept that. What we demonstrate is that we can get a shift of substantial proportions in terms of those out of the car to the bus, and at the same time encourage youngsters to walk. The only way we disagree in terms of the Living Streets is we think children under the age of eight are likely to walk no more than two miles a day to school and back with their parents, whereas there is a presumption at the moment that children will walk up to four miles a day with their parents at that age and we do not believe that is realistic. We think that a realistic bus programme with an encouragement of walking and cycling, and a link-up where Walking Buses can link up to the dedicated bus system, is the best way of achieving both.


Q232 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Obviously, David, you have answered from the yellow bus point of view, but I am amazed that Mr Osborne and Mr Armstrong are not taking exception to using the yellow bus particularly for children a mile away.

Mr Blunkett: They want us to disagree!

Q233 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): To be honest, David, they have not had a lot of opportunity up until yet! Do you agree with this issue about the yellow bus picking the children up?

Mr Armstrong: We said in our written submission, and we have also sent our submission to the Yellow Bus Commission review, that we think a two mile radius is better in terms of reducing the likelihood of journeys being swapped from walking and cycling to getting the bus. Some of that concern is reflected in what has happened in London anecdotally. I do not know what the TfL official research for this is, but since the under-16 free travel was given there is lots of anecdotal concern from some in TfL that journeys are actually being switched from walking to bus as a result of that. We have to be very careful. Our first priority needs to be to promote walking and cycling as the first option for travelling to school. By setting a limit of one mile I think you are actually capturing a lot of people who could walk and cycle as part of their journey, so that is why we call for a two mile radius for primary.

Mr Osborne: Certainly our experience working with schools, in particular working on promoting cycling, is we have seen a switch from something like 2% to 10% of children who cycle given the support from trained staff and good cycle training and investment in safer routes to schools. Look at what has happened in the United States where I would have a concern if you look at the modal split there where half the children are travelling on the yellow buses, and that is excellent, but only 10% of children are walking and that is a fifth of the level in this country. That does ring some alarm bells with me. I appreciate that journey distances are longer in the States but, nonetheless, it does seem to me that an awful lot of children who could be walking are travelling on buses at a cost to the taxpayer in terms of running the buses, but at an even bigger cost in terms of the obesity cost of children not having physical activity. It is projected that by 2050 the cost to this country will be £60 billion a year treating obesity unless we get our population more physically active. That is why certainly Living Streets and ourselves are saying one mile is just too low a distance to be promoting yellow buses to families, let us look at raising that threshold to one and a half to two miles and look at promoting walking and cycling and let buses pick up those journeys of over three miles where walking and cycling really cannot make much difference.

Dr Thornthwaite: I think all of us would agree that buses have a place for longer journeys. What we have seen over the last 20 years is that most of the local education authorities have ceased to use their discretionary powers, so children who at two miles or one and a half miles, or two and a half miles, who previously would have got free home-to-school transport no longer do so and it is that group we are seeing moved to cars and are now having to work very hard to get back on to buses. The safety case for them being transported by buses is quite clear, it is about four times safer than if they are in a car, but I would agree that shorter distances should be to encourage walking and cycling.

Q234 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Mr Osborne, obviously the last witness has just mentioned safety as paramount, and I presume that travelling by bus is safer than cycling or actually walking. That is a presumption maybe. I have had some dealings with your organisation in the past and it has not always been favourable because of your opposition to cycle helmets, for example, and you would not support a school that had a policy that children would only be allowed to cycle to school if they wore cycle helmets. Is that the case or not?

Mr Osborne: We are in favour of children wearing helmets. Our position is that we are against compulsion. All our staff who work with schools wear cycle helmets and tell children they are a good idea, but the evidence we have is that by making it compulsory you do reduce the numbers of children who cycle. Ultimately, there is a direct correlation between having more people walking, more people cycling and their levels of safety. We do feel that training and getting more children out on bikes and on foot is a way of improving their safety.

Q235 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): So you would not support a school that had a policy of children having to wear helmets?

Mr Osborne: We would work with them. We do work with schools where they have a compulsory helmet policy.

Q236 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Do you agree with that?

Mr Osborne: That is fine. Yes, we do.

Q237 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Thank you.

Mr Osborne: Just to come back, if you look at a trip made by walking, cycling or car journeys, they are comparable, buses are undoubtedly safer. If we are looking at an holistic view on this we have to look at the issue of the danger of not being physically active and bring that into the equation too. As I said before, the more that children walk, the more they cycle, the safer they become, and we have to take that into account.


Q273 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): Can I just come back to the issue that Mr Hudson and the lady from the RAC raised, the question of behaviour on public transport. I do not know what your experience is but it is certainly different from mine. What we have now is more pensioners travelling on buses because of the concessionary fare. I am finding out as I get older I am less tolerant and what we have is a load of boisterous youngsters. I am not talking about the students, probably early secondary. The reality is that you will stand at a bus stop and you will hear pensioners say, "Iím not catching that bus" or "Iím going to go earlier". That is the reality. It may be that there is not a solution but it is a major issue and anybody who talks to pensionersí groups will tell you that. It is their grandchildren in many cases; not individually, but you know what I mean. There is this clash, and it is becoming an increasing clash, with concessionary fares. It is no good just saying we should teach them how to behave, Mr Hudson, it does not happen. There is a problem and you have got to accept there is a problem.

Dr Collins: There is a difference between the post-16 population that can be treated as adults and, indeed, the college would have the right to throw them out of courses if they were not behaving properly, and the pre-16 scenario. I think a 16-19 national concessionary scheme would be extremely welcome.

Ms Roche: In many local authorities, as it is in Norfolk at the moment, we have excellent travel training schemes which are particularly geared to young people with difficulties or disabilities. Those travel training schemes do address behaviour in a very, very comprehensive way and you will find that any of the young people who have undertaken those schemes in our area are very polite and very well-behaved on buses. Perhaps it is an opportunity to roll that out in all of the school population but, again, it is a funding issue for local authorities to do that.


Q274 Mr Clelland: Is it a general view that a national scheme ought to be restricted to the 16-19 age group and perhaps local schemes for schoolchildren?

Mr Hudson: I think a national scheme should be 14-19 so that it aligns itself with the new agenda on learning and new developments in apprenticeships and everything else. Going back to the behaviour point, what we tend to find is that elderly people travel after 9.30 after young people have gone to school and, like you say, in the afternoon they avoid the services between 3.30 and 4.30. We are trying to deal with that through campaigns like Respect for Transport.

Q275 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): So there is a problem?

Mr Hudson: There is a perceived problem, I think.

Q276 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): The problem is that pensioners will not get on the buses.

Mr Hudson: You normally find that they have gone out and done their shopping or their visits and they are home by then. We generally find in our research on elderly people who are using concessionary travel, and we have got 140,000 of them, that they tend to go out between nine and three oíclock, finish their day and get home. That is the perception.

Q277 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): That is because they do not want to travel on the buses, is that what you are saying?

Mr Hudson: I think they want to get home for their afternoon tea probably.


Q285 Mr. Eric Martlew (Carlisle): On this issue, and it ties into an earlier report we did on the casualties of young drivers, partly this is because youngsters like to drive cars but you would accept that partly it is because they have to learn to drive because they have no alternative because the public transport is not there or the cost between concessionary fares and running a car would be greater than having to pay the full fare. Do you think if we had better public transport it would help the casualty issue with young drivers?

Mr Hudson: Although there is no research there we have found that where there is public transport available to any age at school that that reduces the amount of accidents and casualties on the home/school journey. If we transferred that into the 14 to 19 or 16 to 19 age bracket that certainly must reduce or have on effect on accidents and reduce the cost to the taxpayer of dealing with those accidents.

This is an uncorrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee. Neither witnesses nor Members have had the opportunity to correct the record. The transcript is not yet an approved formal record of these proceedings.

The full transcript may be read here.

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On behalf of Eric Martlew, 3 Chatsworth Square Carlisle Cumbria CA1 1HB