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Last Updated: Wednesday, 17 September, 2003, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
Hard to convince parents to ditch cars
By Paula Dear
BBC News Online

There was no let up for parents on the school run this week, with more money being channelled into getting children walking, cycling or taking the bus to school. But what does it take to persuade parents there is a safe and reliable alternative?

Before Wednesday's 50m extra funding to help schools tackle congestion and improve children's health - plenty of authorities were already waking up to the need to do something about the "school run".

No council knows this more than the London Borough of Camden, which sees severe congestion at the beginning and end of the school day.

The north London borough is home to what must be one of the most jam-packed school runs in the country.

Hina Qureshi
Hina Qureshi, from Fulham, said it was difficult to stop using the car

In one part of Hampstead there are 34 schools in an area of 1.2 square miles.

Travel plans

A council spokesman said the problem was exacerbated by the number of fee-paying schools in the area.

The borough already has a school travel plan officer, and aims to have a teacher acting as a designated travel plan officer in every school eventually.

Camden is currently in the process of cutting back on the number of parents allowed to park free for 15 minutes on yellow lines or residents parking bays, near their child's school.

Sometimes it can be difficult to keep (walking buses) going because they are reliant on volunteers
School travel plan officer

While permits were previously issued for the number of parents who requested them, now only schools who intend to put forward a travel plan before December will have any allocated.

The borough intends to reduce the allocations by 20% every year for five years, and those parents who car-share are more likely to be given the permit.


"I am sure parents appreciate the efforts being made. The feedback we have had shows they realise there is clearly a problem," said Camden's spokesman.

Camden also makes uses of the increasingly popular "walking bus", which sees teachers giving up a morning or afternoon to marshal around 30 children to and from school.

In other areas parents take on the job but Cornwall's school Travel Plan Officer John Mellor says this can lead to problems.

"We have four walking buses in the county, but if we could have one in every one of our 200 plus primary schools we'd be over the moon. Sometimes it can be difficult to keep them going because they are reliant on volunteers," he said.

Neil Parsons
If there was better transport at more relevant times people wouldn't use their cars so much
Neil Parsons, father of two

Many schools are also taking it upon themselves to make a contribution.

Private girls' school, The Royal School, in Hampstead, has introduced its own travel plan, which includes a 50% discount on travel costs if the children come to school by London Transport.

The school puts parents from the same postcode in contact with each other, to encourage car sharing, and a car park attendant keeps the traffic moving and the children safe.

The Royal has introduced staggered finishing times for children of different ages - a suggestion the government has made to tackle congestion nationwide.

It says these policies - combined with assemblies to remind pupils why it is important to leave the car at home - have made a big difference.

'Can't stop'

But for some parents, not enough is being done to coax them out of their cars.

Hina Qureshi, 31, from Fulham, said she drove her seven-year-old twin daughters three miles to Miles Coverdale school in Shepherds Bush because it would be too dangerous to let them come any other way.

She said: "They would be afraid, and I would have no idea what they were doing. They could get in a fight or an accident.

"All these bus lanes and congestion charges are horrible. People who have cars get used to it, and they can't stop."

Yellow bus
West Yorkshire has had great success with its yellow bus scheme

Father-of-two Neil Parsons, 37, from East Acton, said he would consider other means of transport, but using the car to take his seven-year-old to school gives him and his wife an extra 30 minutes in the morning.

"If we get the bus we have to be at the stop by 8.20am. This way we can leave at 8.50am. If there was better transport at more relevant times people wouldn't use their cars so much," he said.

Feedback from a successful pilot scheme in West Yorkshire suggests parents have more peace of mind when their children are travelling on buses run specifically for schools.

An experiment with American yellow school buses in Hebden and Ilkley has led to a 17.8m bid for 150 more buses to be used by 90 schools around the county.

Figures suggest 50-64% of passengers are former car users, and congestion around school gates has been reduced by up to 60%.

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