Hidden flaws in plan for American-style school buses in Hampstead

The traffic problems caused by Hampstead s private schools substantial geographical pupil catchment may be relieved by the American solution of school buses. There can be little doubt that such an arrangement is preferable to car use. Indeed, you justi

The traffic problems caused by Hampstead's private schools' substantial geographical pupil catchment may be relieved by the 'American solution' of school buses. There can be little doubt that such an arrangement is preferable to car use. Indeed, you justify your support for it in terms of "welcome news not only to parents and schools but to anyone that has had to endure the school run traffic nightmare" (Comment, 27 November).

However, promoting bus-based school travel is not as desirable as would at first sight appear. Enthusiasm needs to be tempered with consideration of objectives other than seeking to reduce road congestion, traffic danger and pollution to which ferrying children by car contributes. It is noteworthy that you omitted any reference to the group in the population that would be most affected by daily use of these buses, namely the schoolchildren! It has three distinct disadvantages for them.

First, it denies them health benefits which the curriculum can only rarely deliver. Walking or cycling on safe routes provides daily exercise - a critical element of their lifestyles in the face of worrying evidence on sharply rising child obesity. Second, the fixed departure timing of the buses is very likely to preclude extra-curricular school activities. Third, children's travel to and from school on their own or with friends enables them to develop their independence and acquire practical and social skills, a process largely ruled out with school buses. Hanging around waiting for the bus followed by a boring ride strapped in their seats twice a day is largely time lost in these important respects.

It is ironic that the proposal is receiving widespread encouragement just at a time when local authorities such as Camden with their Safe Routes to School projects are aiming to increase the number of school journeys made by non-motorised means.


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These problems can only be effectively solved by the independent schools revising their entry policies in such a way that there is always a presumption in favour of children living more locally and getting about on cycling and pedestrian networks, with properly enforced 20mph vehicular speed limits. The adoption of a school bus solution would run counter to this.

Dr. Mayer Hillman

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Netherhall Gardens, NW3

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