This article was published in 2011, in Newsletter 95.
No doubt many people will be aware that students who live more than a certain distance from school may be entitled to a bus pass on either a service or a contracted school bus. The distance is two miles for primary-aged pupils and three miles for pupils of secondary-age and above.
What is less well known is that in Cambridgeshire a scheme has been running for a number of years whereby the Council offers students over 16 an alternative of a £40 per term allowance if they surrender the right to a bus pass and cycle instead. I say it is less well known because, as I was surprised to find, last year only 80 students took up this offer.I’ve been told that this option can also save the County Council over £500 per year!
There have been significant improvements to cycling routes from ‘necklace’ villages around Cambridge in recent years, making such trips by bike quicker, more pleasant, and safer. On my regular commuting trips into Cambridge alongside the railway from Shelford, I can be passed or obstructed by chattering cohorts of young people cycling to one of the sixth form colleges. I wonder if any of them have taken advantage of this scheme?
At this age (and in this age) continuing to cycle regularly has huge benefits, not just to those young people, but to society in general.
Cycling can save much time, offer greater flexibility, improve health, and generate independence. This is also a time when many aspire to passing their driving test, and using a car. Confidence and experience with cycling not only help in learning to drive, but also enable young people to make a more rational choice of mode when the choice is available.
They will realise that for many trips under five miles, especially in the peak, cycling will be quicker than using a car. It will certainly be cheaper, and continuing to cycle in later life will give health benefits, and save much time and money.
This scheme needs to be better known, more widely used, and perhaps replicated by other local authorities. Of course, even if students are not eligible for the £40 per term grant, and the parents currently cover the travel costs, a £40 incentive to their offspring to encourage them to cycle will bring most of the benefits detailed above.
I’d also like to see students who take up this scheme offered Bikeability training to improve their confidence and safety on busy roads.
Much thanks to Clare Buckingham, of Cambridgeshire County Council, for providing some of the information in this article. More details can be obtained at participating schools or colleges, or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org