UCL News


The pedicure

20 August 2006

In 2004, 20% of trips of less than a mile were made by car, and a quarter of all car journeys were of less than two miles.

Many of these involved carting children to and from school - a trend accelerated by the government's "choice agenda", which extends school journeys and instils car dependency before it teaches the alphabet. "A" used to stand for Apple. Now it stands for Asthma, a condition associated with traffic pollution that has doubled its hit rate in less than a decade. …

I failed to persuade my own old village primary school to reveal how its pupils now made their daily journeys, but others have been trying an idea that came out of Hertfordshire in 1998 - the "walking bus".

The mechanics of this were explained in a paper given to the 2003 European Transport Conference by the Centre for Transport Studies at UCL: "A walking bus is a group of children who walk to school along a set route, collecting other children along the way at 'bus stops', escorted by several adult volunteers, one of whom is at the front (the 'driver') and one is at the back (the 'conductor')."

If good intentions guaranteed success, then walking buses would have filled the pavements as surely as parents' cars had clogged the highways. But novelty packaging couldn't disguise the fact that children and their minders were being asked to forgo the ease and speed of wheeled transport in favour of shoe leather. And Satan has a bigger advertising budget. …

From a peak of 68 in 2002, the number of walking buses in Hertfordshire fell to 26 in only a year. Many schools never even started them, deterred usually by inadequate parental support, fears about road safety or, as UCL tactfully put it, "lack of the head teacher's time to start the process". "A" is also for Apathy. …

Richard Girling, 'The Sunday Times'