- Image by hyperboreal via Flickr
Toronto – As schools across Ontario mark International Walk to School Day, a new report is calling on the provincial government and school boards to take steps to ensure that more children have the option to safely walk to school every day of the year.
Prepared by Green Communities Canada, Saving Money and Time with Active School Travel points out that the Ministry of Education currently spends approximately $800-million per year, or $370 per student, on school bussing. However, the Ministry provides no direct funding for active school travel, such as walking or cycling, leaving individual schools to raise their own funds to purchase such basic items as bike racks.
The report calls on the Ministry and school boards to change current school transportation policies and programs to give active travel a higher priority, make School Travel Planning mandatory for all schools, and adopt and implement school planning guidelines that put the active travel needs of children and youth first.
“Over the last generation, the number of children regularly walking and biking to school in Ontario has declined significantly,” says Jacky Kennedy, Director of Canada Walks, Green Communities Canada. “With safe travel routes and school travel plans in place, we can start to reverse that trend and help children increase their daily physical activity by walking or biking to school,” she adds. “This can lead to fewer cars in school parking lots and on local streets, less time spent by principals and teachers dealing with traffic problems, and more efficient use of bussing services.”
“School Travel Planning has helped our Board revolutionize the way we think about school transportation,” says Steven Parfeniuk, Superintendent of Business Services and Treasurer, Halton District School Board. “Active travel is now a part of our overall transportation plans and earlier this year we even opened our first walking-only school,” adds Parfeniuk.
Recent research also suggests that many parents are open to more active travel options for the trip to school. In a 2009 school travel study carried out for Metrolinx, which governs transportation planning in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, nearly 60 per cent of parents surveyed said their child’s school is close enough that they could reasonably walk or bike, and half of those whose child is currently driven to school described the option of walking or biking instead as convenient and appealing.
“Too many active school travel efforts are run on a volunteer, ad-hoc basis and aren’t sustainable,” says Ottawa city councillor Diane Holmes. “While my municipality is helping fund a small school travel planning initiative, we see the need to make this a higher priority for children across Ontario.” Holmes recently sponsored a motion passed by Ottawa City Council that calls on the provincial government to provide support and funding for a province-wide school travel planning program.