Low-down on school run costs
Arriving for class on two wheels is a green way to keep kids fit, and cuts out bus fees or fuel costs, writes John Cradden
In the league of back-to-school costs, transport might only feature in the top 10 most expensive categories rather than the top five - well below items like uniforms, shoes, sports gear, books, lunches and technology.
According to the back-to-school survey by parenting forum Mummypages.ie, the average cost of school transport was €125 for primary schools and €264 for secondary schools.
The Irish League of Credit Union's survey put transport costs a bit lower, with an average of €89 for primary school students and €142 for secondary. However, the study also shows the average cost across primary and secondary has risen significantly in the past year, from €104 in 2014 to €124 in 2015.
It's not clear from either survey how much the school bus fee accounts for this, but for every child you have in primary school, the fare is €100 a year (up to a maximum per family of €220), while for each child in secondary school, the fare is a much higher €350 (up to a maximum of €650 per family).
But the distances for most of those who travel by car, it seems, are short enough to walk or cycle, given that the average travelling time to school was just under 12 minutes in 2011. So if a car is used to travel round trips of 10km a day, five days a week for approximately 36 weeks of the year, that's nearly €200 a year in fuel costs alone.
The 2011 Census showed that just over 60pc children of primary schoolchildren were driven to school, with one in four walking. One in five children in rural areas travelled by school bus compared to just 7pc in urban areas.
Recent figures from the CSO don't suggest that much has changed in terms of modes of transport used for short journeys.
This over-reliance on cars represents not just a financial cost, but a health cost too.
Mike McKillen of national cycling advocacy network Cyclist.ie said: "It is a national scandal that so few students cycle to school when you consider the levels of obesity in that group.
"But the international consensus is the fewer children you have cycling to school, the more your traffic management is hostile to cycling. It's a bio-indicator for it.
"That's why 30 km/h speed limits, dealing with dangerous overtaking and opening up extensive one-way road systems to cyclists are central to change."
An Taisce has been running the Green-Schools programme, part of which involves setting up voluntary cycle skills training within school grounds in a bid to encourage more students to cycle to school.
However, as McKillen points out, this training is schoolyard-based so doesn't adequately prepare children for cycling in traffic. Cyclist.ie is part of a working group to develop a national standard for cycle skills training called 'Bike Start', which is set for launch towards the end of 2016.
The Green-Schools programme, which has been running since 2008 and has worked with over 1,500 schools nationwide on programmes to encourage walking, cycling and scooting to school.
These include WOW days (Walk on Wednesday), COW days (Cycle on Wednesday), SOW days (Scoot on a Weekday), cycle training, scooter training, educational workshops, bike maintenance, national events (National Walk to School Week & Scoot to School Week), walkability and cycleability 'audits' as well as a number of other activities.
"Each school is different," said Ciara Norton of An Taisce. "Not every mode will work for each school. Some schools have strong cycling numbers while, for others, most students might arrive by school bus.
"Our approach is to identify the areas that can be improved upon in terms of school transport within each school and work from there."
Children at participating schools are also encouraged to map their journey to school. "This might identify people close to them that they could walk with or with whom they could car-pool."
There is no official protocol for setting up a car pool roster as it depends on how the parents interact, says Norton. "For many it is already unofficially happening."
As well as these initiatives, there have been calls in support of other ways to encourage more cycling to school.
Labour Senator Ivana Bacik told the Seanad last month that a 'bike-to-school' scheme modelled on the highly popular Bike to Work tax-saving scheme could boost levels of cycling among schoolchildren in the same way that the BTW scheme has upped the numbers of people cycling to work.
"We have seen great things like the dublinbikes scheme working to improve levels of cycling, but a bike-to-school scheme would also be a great idea," she said. "It is always hard for schoolchildren to see back-to-school things at this stage of the summer, when September seems so far off, but 'bike to school' would be a good play on the words 'back to school' and would be a very welcome initiative for children and parents alike."
She added that if the BTW scheme revenue mechanism "is not considered appropriate, then a different means of providing tax exemptions could be used" for where the bicycles and cycling equipment are purchased for children through schools.