Sharp drop in kids who bike to school

Isaac Hutchinson, 11, is one of the few children who rides his bike to school.
DEAN KOZANIC/FAIRFAX NZ

Isaac Hutchinson, 11, is one of the few children who rides his bike to school.

The number of children cycling to school has fallen dramatically in the last 25 years as "stranger danger" and a lack of cycling infrastructure make parents wary.

A new Ministry of Transport report into long-term travel trends found significant changes in how school children commute.

The report said that in the late 1980s, walking was the most common way for kids to get to school, while one in eight rode their bikes.

Today, nearly 60 per cent were dropped off by a car, and only one in 50 took their bikes. About a third still walked - although the ones that did were likely to be on scooters.



Authorities have examined the reasons why so many parents drop their kids off at school.

A 2009 report by the NZ Transport Agency found many wanted to children wanted to bike to school, but "stranger danger," a lack of cycleways, and a belief that roads were less safe than they once were proved to be barriers.

"[T]here is significantly more demand for cycling to school than 'supply' of cycling infrastructure and initiatives," it said.

"One would expect that if suitable cycling existed, then it would be likely that many more students would actually cycle to and from school."

St Joseph's school pupil Isaac Hutchinson, 11, still biked to school every day.

"Usually my parents have to go to work early so I just bike to school . . . there are probably more scooters than bikes," he said.

His mum, Judi, said the whole family were cyclists, and she wanted to encourage her son to be healthy and independent.

"We always makes sure he follows the safest route and stays off main roads," she said.

"I think it would make parents a lot happier if there were more cycleways for children. Being a motorist, I know how easy it is to not see a cyclist. I think cycleways would help parents to encourage their children to get out more on bikes if they weren't on main roads."

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss said the report found "interesting and sometimes surprising results" and would be used to make decisions about future transport issues.

Public transport usage had improved in some places, but struggled to gain traction nationwide.

Data showed two-thirds of New Zealanders did not use public transport at all, and just five per cent used it on 20 days or more.

Christchurch and Dunedin had particularly low rates of usage - just 2 to 3 per cent of the population regularly commuted by public transport, compared to 10 per cent in Wellington and Auckland.

In Christchurch, the regional council said it was time for locals to "end their love affair with cars".

"The community wants their future city to be people-friendly, vibrant, green and modern but to make this happen we need the community to get on board with other transport options, such as catching a bus once a week," Environment Canterbury (ECan) spokeswoman Shannon Boorer said

ECan had partnered with Rosalee Jenkin, Christchurch co-ordinator of youth advocacy group Generation Zero, to promote smarter transport, liveable cities, and independence from fossil fuels.

"Public transport is a key part of any major international city. It's really positive to see that Christchurch is catching up and using the opportunity of the rebuild to pioneer public transport in New Zealand," Jenkin said. 

The Ministry's report showed people aged 13 to 29 were the biggest users of public transport. By encouraging more people to take the bus, it would lower carbon emissions and increase connections with others, she said.

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Rosalee Jenkin, Christchurch coordinator for Generation Zero, is working with the regional council to increase bus patronage.
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Rosalee Jenkin, Christchurch coordinator for Generation Zero, is working with the regional council to increase bus patronage.

 - Stuff

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