Wednesday 17 September 2008

School buses

An American style school bus
There are no school buses in this country. There are companies which have a few of the traditional yellow school bus as used in the US, but they hire them out for corporate events, weddings etc. and do not use them to take children to school.

Children here predominantly cycle. We were told by a local secondary school teacher than the cycling rate to his school is 100% in the summer, dropping to around 95% in the winter. Some children cycle daily round trips of up to 40 km ( 25 miles ) in order to get to school. and back home.

Children attending primary school also cycle. This video, which I took a few months back when it was -2 C ( 28 F ) shows a normal school run at a primary school. It could have been taken on any day.

This is the result of having infrastructure and a social environment which feels safe enough that people let their children ride bikes to school.

Amsterdam - child cycling under pressure
But wait, what's this article on the right ?

The headline reads "Amsterdam first years not happy cycling". It discusses how in Amsterdam the cycling rate for children in the first year of secondary school has dropped such that just 53% of children in the first year of secondary education cycle to school every day, vs. 89% of children over the entire country.

The reason most given not to cycle is the heavy traffic and the risks due to it.

The article also goes on to say that of those who cycle daily, 43% have fallen from their bikes at some point - mostly by crashing into other cyclists. The low quality of cycling infrastructure in some parts of Amsterdam is part of the reason why.

Why include this piece ? It's the same story as above. A high degree of subjective safety is vital if you want people to ride bikes. Amsterdam appears to many foreigners to be a paradise for cycling, and it has the highest cycling rate of any capital city in the western world. However Amsterdam is not a leader within the Netherlands. The city doesn't have the lowest rate of cycling in the Netherlands, but it most surely doesn't have the highest either. For all its charm (Amsterdam is really a marvelous city for many reasons), conditions for cycling in Amsterdam are not so good as in many of the other cities in this country, and that is reflected in a cycling rate which is lower than it otherwise might be.

The only "school bus" in Assen is part of a small fleet of
special buses which can  be hired for special events. You can
also choose the British double decker or Indonesian Bedford.
In the Netherlands, having only just over half of all children in the first year of secondary school cycling each day is something that is recognized as a problem. It's something to work on and improve. Note that it can be expected that by the second year of secondary school, rather a higher percentage of the children will be cycling.

And in the UK ?Instead of looking over the North Sea and taking note, the UK is as ever looking for advice in the opposite direction - across the Atlantic. There is a move with the Yellow School Bus Commission to introduce American style yellow school buses to the UK. This commission is ignoring the factors which make people continue to feel that their children are unsafe on the streets and if successful it will further reduce the opportunity for British kids to get exercise. It will also, of course, cost a fortune. Instead of spending on infrastructure which enables a truly green form of transport, the government will end up buying diesel to power buses and produce fumes on the streets. Should I be surprised that this commission was established and is sponsored by a bus company ? Is this proposal for the benefit of the children or of bus company shareholders ?

Children with disabilities ?
Children with disabilities can't always cycle to school and for them an alternative is provided. To minimise the number of private cars used on the school run, mini-buses are provided which call to each home to pick the child up in the morning and which return again after school. However these minibuses are not available to children who can make their own way to and from school.

The American school bus photo at the top is a public domain image which can be found here. The article is from the ANWB*Auto paper published on the 11th of September.


Anonymous said...

You laid it out perfectly, David, and you're absolutely right. I try to highlight that fact (Amsterdam compared to NL) as often as possible. Now I'll also focus more on that important group of cyclists. I mean, young people on bikes :).

T-aerial said...

Laid out perfectly, but today it's early 2017 and I have noticed, that in recent years more and more kids are brought to primary schools by cars and/or are transported in cargo bikes. Besides kids are no cargo, both developements trigger less cycling-skills and traffic know-how than in the past. Besides bike friendly infrastructure, 2 important items (together with a cell-phone ban while cycling) of safe cycling / to prevent accidents.
So far, the native Dutch have embedded cycling in their life, however the growing number of no-western immigrants hardly.
Bike helmets seems to be a solution and conquer rather fast the The Netherlands (even Gamma shops sell them), although the Dutch Cyclists Union isn't convinced by more safety by means of wearing helmets, on the contrary. Nevertheless, my local cops on bikes always wore caps, yesterday I saw them for the first time with helmets too for instance.

And I in recent years notice less crowded cycling paths. Live near a train-station, primary and secundary schools and a so called fast cycle route.

I came across this cute home video from 1992 with Dutch kids (age 3 - 6), who all have their bikes under control and playing with their bicycles; unfortunately I seldom see that today aka nostalgia: ((Skip the final 1.5 minutes).