Two thirds of schoolchildren in Scotland are now travelling to school by sustainable means, according to a survey of over half a million pupils conducted by Sustrans and funded by Transport Scotland – but there has been no significant change in the percentage of children cycling to school over the past five years.
The Scottish Government's Cycle Action Plan for Scotland, published in 2010, set a goal for 10 per cent of all journeys in the country to be made by bicycle by 2020, noted a drop-off in the numbers of pupils riding to school when they moved from the primary to secondary stage, and looked at ways in which that gap could be narrowed.
The evidence from Sustrans’ Hands Up Scotland 2012 survey published last week, however, suggests that there is a long way to go towards bridging that gap, let alone cycling to school making a significant contribution towards achieving that 10 per cent modal share target by the end of the decade.
The survey found that in 2012, just 2.9 per cent of children, excluding those at the nursery stage, typically rode a bike to school, a figure unchanged since the survey was first conducted in 2008, with only 0.1 of a percentage point fluctuation between each year, other than in 2010 when there was a drop.
There remains a big gulf between state primary and secondary schools, however; in 2012, some 4.1 per cent of pupils at the former most often cycled to school, compared to just 1.1 per cent of those attending secondary schools. Across all age groups, just 0.8 per cent of independent school pupils used a bike for their journey.
As for other modes of transport, the Hands Up Scotland 2012 found that 45.1 per cent of pupils, excluding those at nursery schools, stated that they usually walk to their place of education, while 1.6 per cent take to a scooter or pair of skates.
A further 18.2 per cent normally take the bus and 1.7 per cent a taxi, with 22.2 per cent driven in a private car and 7.8 per cent travelling by what Sustrans terms ‘park and stride’ – being driven most of the way and then completing their journey on foot.
Again, there were some big differences in mode of travel depending on which stage the child is at, however, and whether they attend state or private school.
In state schools, at the primary stage, 26.5 per cent of pupils travelled by car and 7.5 per cent by bus, but a major shift took place at secondary level, where the percentages were, respectively, 7.5 per cent and 35.8 per cent. Levels of walking were closer, at 47.8 per cent for primary pupils and 42.2 per cent for those at secondary schools.
In independent schools, 42.3 per cent of pupils travelled by car, 27.8 per cent by bus and just 14.9 per cent walked – partly attributable to pupils often travel in from further distances than their counterparts at state schools, which have narrower catchment areas.
In a press release, John Lauder, Sustrans Scotland National Director, who didn't comment specifically on the cycling aspect of the survey, said: “Sustrans Scotland is encouraged that more school children than ever before took part in the Hands Up Scotland survey 2012. The results provide us with a clearer picture about how they choose to travel to school.
“We are pleased to report that half of all school children surveyed get to school under their own steam – by walking, cycling, scooting or skating. This is an extremely heartening statistic. In particular, scooting is very much in vogue at present and has become an increasingly popular method of travel.
“We can also report that there has been an increase in the number of children who ‘park and stride’ to school – in other words they are driven part of the way to school and walk the rest with their parent/guardian. This is an optimistic indicator that parents are now considering the need for them and their children to incorporate active travel into their daily routines.
“It is evident that in Local Authorities like Fife where specific measures such as the introduction of 20mph zones have been put in place, more children cycle, walk, scoot or skate to school,” he continued.
“The introduction of 20mph zones is within the power of all Local Authorities in Scotland and we would recommend that they are implemented in all residential streets across the country. This would help to provide children with safer routes to school than what is currently on offer.
“The Hands Up Scotland survey in now in its second year as an official statistic and we aspire to have a complete dataset for the entire country in the coming years.”
Mr Lauder added: “Sustrans would like to express thanks to the Minister for Transport and Veterans, Keith Brown, for his continued investment in active and sustainable travel. Without such investment the results from this survey would undoubtedly be very different and we would not have so many children travelling to school actively or sustainably."
Commenting on the survey, Mr Brown said: “The Hands Up Scotland Survey will act as a valuable data source going forward for tracking the change we want to see in relation to more people choosing active travel for their everyday journeys. Scotland is leading the way in measuring how kids travel to school.
“It is vital that we, with our delivery partners in local authorities, keep up the momentum to ensure that the data in years to come starts to paint a positive picture of modal shift towards more active travel.
“It goes without saying that cycling and walking benefits the individual with not just physical benefits, but benefits for mental health, the environment and keeping people's transport costs down.
“The Scottish Government has invested £58 million on active travel over this spending review, strengthening our commitment to children travelling actively. Getting the next generation on board is pivotal.”
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.