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  • Pooya Kamvari

Helping the schools that get left behind: how to increase sustainable travel.

Most schools and councils have very high active travel targets. But the fact is that many schools are very far away from achieving that target - and it’s often the schools that are closest to the targets that make the most noise. So how do we help the other schools that are getting left behind?

I believe the challenge lies in how sustainable travel is being targeted and promoted in the UK.

To begin, it’s helpful to determine what sustainable travel is.

The way we see it at HomeRun, it’s pretty much anything that is not a private car journey. We believe that journey sharing, including car sharing, is sustainable because it’s taking cars off the road.

Then you have active travel, which is walking and cycling. Currently this is counted even if it includes a car journey or public transport as part of the journey - so if people parked half a mile away from the school, or walked 10 minutes to the bus stop, for example.

HomeRun can help schools that struggle to reach 90% sustainable travel targets

In the UK, active and sustainable travel are almost always viewed as one and the same thing. We believe this may not be the best approach: journey distance is a big factor in active travel, and therefore schools with a small catchment can have a lot of it – and this is inevitably also classed as a lot of sustainable travel.

Department of Transport : National Travel Survey 2014

But the thornier issue is that schools with bigger catchments are left with targets they can never hope to achieve.

Part of the problem lies with the fact that schools' sustainable travel programmes have come from STARS (Sustainable Travel Accreditation and Recognition for Schools), a Transport for London initiative. The programme for schools outside London, Modeshift, is an offshoot of this.

What this means is we’ve gone for a very London-centric approach, based on what’s possible for London state schools, which tend to have both very tight catchments and strong public transport networks.

With all these programmes, the targets tend to be 90% sustainable travel.

The problem here is it’s one size fits all.

If your average catchment is, say, half a mile, then that’s achievable. But unless you’re talking about the big city centres of Manchester or Birmingham, for example, if you consider the many rural schools, then we’re talking about an average journey of over two miles. And if you apply that to primary school children, and the public transport infrastructure isn’t in place, but you still want 90% of that travel to be sustainable - then that in itself becomes a barrier to schools even trying.

Where HomeRun has been able to help is in supplying the data so that schools are able to define their catchment from the viewpoint of the journey its pupils need to take.

And once we have those journeys, we can start putting them in perspective. So what may be only a mile as the crow flies, is actually a journey that’s a two-and-a-half-mile drive. And possibly the walking and cycling infrastructure that you might find in a big city, just isn’t available. So while it may initially seem quite unreasonable that someone living a mile away should drive, once you establish how few other options there are, it becomes a lot more reasonable.

And that’s why we try to bring as many different solutions as possible to the table, including car sharing, because sometimes that really is the only solution really available to people.

Once we can start giving proper targets for schools based on their actual data, it feels much more achievable. And that means people are more likely to engage with it. It also gives a sense of perspective: you may find that a rural school getting to 60% sustainable travel is an incredible achievement.

I’ve spoken to many councils and I know they really want to deal with this challenge, but obviously it’s incredibly hard - and it’s not always clear where the solutions may lie. But that's where HomeRun comes in: we've proven that we can help.

Read a London case study here. And an out of London case study here.



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