Our kids are now all back in school. It happens every school holidays: the traffic drops dramatically when schools are out and becomes almost unbearable when they return. The first half of the year is also much worse – well, that’s my observation anyway – than the second part.
Recent posts by Alan Davies of The Urbanist have uncovered some interesting statistics when it comes to how our children get to and from school.
When it comes to primary students, 70% of our little tackers get driven to and from school. It is good to see that just over 20% walk. The balance (7%) either catch some form of public transport or cycle. One would expect such.
Secondary students, in contrast, are a much more lethargic bunch. Just under half of our teenagers get driven to school. True, fewer get home that way, but still up to half get a lift with mum or dad in the mornings. About 18% actually walk to/from school and fewer than 5% cycle. One in three catches public transport.
Looking back 20-odd years ago shows a different pattern, with close to half of our high school students catching public transport back in the late 1980s. One in 10 rode a bike; close to one in five walked and just 30% got a lift.
It is very likely that the rise in car ownership, two-income households being more the norm and some well published child-related crimes, especially in Queensland, have all had an impact on this trend.
But also – and I have two teenage daughters and we are as guilty as the next family – we are surely mollycoddling our teenagers way too much.
I had to take several modes of transport to get to and from school – plus walk through thick snow without shoes – when I was growing up in western Sydney. Did my parents refuse to take me to school? Well, there were stricter rules in their house than ours, but there was no way I was going to miss out on the “goss” on the bus or train – and besides, where else did you chat up girls, collect fags – cigarettes of course – copy each other’s homework, set up dates, make out and see which party you were going to crash on the weekend?
This is what being a teenager is all about. And yes, you got into several scrapes, but mostly sense prevailed and lessons were learnt.
I believe that many of our kids today want more freedom – which includes getting to and from school – but we as parents are way too controlling. We seem to relent as the year goes by; hence the drop off in school-related car travel at the back end of the year.
Most of Australia’s major urban spaces are trying to deal with increasing traffic congestion. The solutions aren’t always about building more roads or implementing new public transport systems. More discussion needs to be centred on changing behaviour.
Our teenagers – in the main – should not be driven to and from school. More should catch public transport, walk and cycle to and from school. If that means more police on the beat, then so be it. This would be much cheaper than building another by-pass, tunnel or widening our arterial roads.
School times should also be offset against peak-travel times or staggered across our cities. I have spoken to many teachers and parents about such and in every case this suggestion gets a positive reply, plus a bit of a surprise as to why this hasn’t been brought up as a solution before. It isn’t that insightful – just plain logic.
But when it comes to government, why implement a simple and very cost-effective solution when a much more complicated and expensive alternative exists?
Changing the way teenagers travel to and from school isn’t a panacea for solving our urban traffic issues, but it is just one way to maybe improve the status quo without spending lots of money. The public purse isn’t big enough these days to go for the ultimate solution. We need get the most out of what we already have.
Oh, and before I go, there is a strong connection between residential prices and being within close commuting distance to a good secondary school. According to ANU economist Andrew Leigh, a five-point rise in a school’s UAI score (equivalent to TER or ENTER in other states) leads to a $13,000 increase in house prices in the catchment area. Similar research in the UK and the US has suggested good schools boost house prices by between 3% and 5%.
Our qualitative research with family groups has found that proximity to a good school is a higher priority than, say, having a city view or being close to major open space. Our research has also found that homes within a half kilometre radius of a public secondary school grew by about 3% more per annum when compared to the wider city average. A higher multiplier was found when looking at private secondary schools, which had close to twice the rate of growth when compared with the city-wide average.
This article first appeared on Property Observer.