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Unhealthy addiction to cars for school trips

Survey shows up unhealthy addiction to cars for school trips

A survey of North Shore City primary schoolchildren has shown up an unhealthy addiction to car travel for short trips to schools.

The study of 17 primary schools was carried out as part of the council's TravelWise to School programme. It has found that 73 per cent of pupils live within a kilometre of their primary school, yet 53 per cent are still being driven daily both to and from school.

North Shore City has three school travel plans already in place, reducing car travel by around 10 per cent at each school. A fourth school, Oteha Valley, launches its travel plan today. Twenty-four other schools including two intermediates and three secondary schools are also working on a suite of targetted travel plan initiatives. The council hopes to cover the city's 80 schools within the next three years.

Tom Morton, the council's transport operations and support services manager, says the council is disturbed and disappointed by the survey results. "Our analysis clearly shows that it is parental attitudes and habits, not travel distances, which are preventing children from walking and cycling to school.

"We are going to be working hard to get these parents to break the car habit for the sake of their children's future health and well-being. We are using this survey information to work with the schools to develop school travel plans and implement actions that will make it safer and easier to walk and cycle," he says.

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Mr Morton says safety has been shown to be the critical parental concern, and the council is addressing this through our walking school bus programme which is going from strength to strength.

"We are also working to ensure that all roads are safe to walk along by placing pedestrian crossings where appropriate to ensure the journey to school can be safe. But this survey shows how much more work we have to do to change such ingrained parent behaviour and attitudes.

"These are car journeys that could quite easily be made on foot or by bike. The children are telling us over and over again in our surveys that they would prefer to cycle and walk to school - yet their parents are taking that choice away from them," he says.

Tom Morton says daily exercise is important for children's health - and child obesity is a growing issue in New Zealand. Children also learn vital road safety skills by walking and cycling to school. "It's a healthier and more social way to get to school. And it's odd that the majority of this generation of parents would have probably all have walked or cycled to school - yet today they aren't giving the same experience to their children.

Around 40 per cent of peak time traffic in the Auckland region is education-related and a third of New Zealand car trips are under two kilometres and two thirds are under six kilometres. North Shore City's TravelWise to School project, the first of its type in the country, is now part of an Auckland region-wide school travel initiative funded through the Government's Sustainable Cities Programme of Action.

Tom Morton says that Aucklanders are fully aware that traffic flows improve in school holiday times. "We know that if we change habits in this area it will make a difference to our traffic congestion. But the big challenge is to get parents to realise that they are part of the problem. We all have roles to play but the biggest challenge is to change this parental addiction to using the car to ferry their kids to school no matter what the situation or the distances involved."

Notes to editors:


* Currently over half of New Zealand primary school children are driven to and from school - nearly double the numbers that went by car around 10 years ago. And today nearly one-third of all New Zealand children get very little or no exercise every week.

* The Auckland regional school travel planning initiative is being funded under the Government's Sustainable Cities project over the next two years. The programme is co-ordinated by the Auckland Regional Transport Authority.

FROM OVERSEAS: In England, school travel plans have reduced traffic by between 8 to 15 per cent with some high-performing schools achieving reductions of over 20 per cent. The Government has put substantial funding into helping schools implement actions to encourage alternatives to car travel. The aim is for every school in England to have a school travel plan by 2010. The Government recently announced $30m of funding to develop safe walking and cycling routes to schools. This is on top of $60m per year for direct capital grants to schools to implement approved travel plans, and $23m a year to pay for more than 250 locally based school travel plan advisers.

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