Sustrans are lovely people, but their Bike to School Week story last week, headed ‘School run costs parents £2 billion’ would have made me cross if I hadn’t been too tired for that level of emotion.
I’m not sure if this sort of news story is supposed to make parents think ‘Wow, I didn’t realise that we could save money by leaving the car at home – let’s do it and start cycling instead!’. I suspect it’s a clever ploy to get ‘cycling parent activists’ to write furious blog posts about how the Government should invest in cycle infrastructure to enable active travel for everyone (and probably to get everyone to support the great Sustrans #safertoschool campaign). Because, quite frankly, does anyone drive their child to school or nursery for entertainment?
Sustrans Scotland do a ‘Hands Up’ survey each year in schools to assess the levels of active travel (that’s walking, cycling and scooting to you) to school. In Scotland last year 44% usually walked, 3.5% normally cycled and 21% were driven (an additional 19% used the bus; the numerically astute should look up what I’ve missed out). But perhaps we need a ‘Hands Up’ survey for parents too? I would suggest the following questions:
- Hands up the parents that drive their child to school, go home and watch Jeremy Kyle? (No, really, not that many of you?)
- Hands up the parents that drive their child to school, then continue their journey on to work? (Ah yes, this choice is clearly more popular.)
- Hands up the parents that do the above because: 1) there is no public transport that won’t take two hours, 2) there is no safe* route to cycle to school and then onto work, and/or 3) they live too far to cycle to work because house prices or rurality mean that many parents commute miles to their workplace or they don’t have a fixed workplace. (Almost a full house on that one.)
*By that I mean ‘segregated’ or protected cycle path that allows parents and children to cycle together, separated physically from the motor traffic.
I could add a question about the train connections and their viability for getting anyone anywhere in Scotland at a sensible time for work, but I covered that particular personal frustration here.
I might ask a couple of additional questions for the female parents:
- Hands Up if it is you who always does the school run because: 1) your male partner earns more than you and his job is therefore more ‘important’ so he can’t do the school run, and/or 2) you do carework / shiftwork / are low paid so that means you have very little flexibility in your working hours. (Some uncomfortable hands hovering here..)
On the days I’m doing the nursery run (and I don’t do it any more than my husband because I married a God Amongst Men who actually does 50% of everything), it’s a miracle if I manage to get to work by 9 am in an unstained state. This is not because I Iaid in bed til 8 am thinking about how to style my hair, it’s because getting a small child into an appropriate state to leave the house is a test of endurance. For those without children, or those who are simply better parents than me please imagine the following:
Me: Can you eat your breakfast please?
(Child runs from table and into bathroom, declaring ‘my toilet’ – various toilet related activities then commence)
Me: Right, we need to get dressed – can you put your trousers on please?
(Child runs from his bedroom into our bedroom, climbs into bed and declares he is now ‘sleeping’ – which is particularly infuriating as he demanded ‘Up Mummy!’ at 6 am)
Me: Time for teeth cleaning!
(Child wraps arms around my neck in attempt to foil my attempt to maintain his oral hygiene)
And so on until we are both dressed, teeth brushed and breakfasted (it’s the breakfasting part that creates the stains I mentioned, just in case you were worried about the toileting part).
Quite frankly I can be in a fraught state before I even leave the house. According to this article the stress is only just starting at this point..
Every day parents make decisions about how to juggle work and family life. Some choose the car because it’s quicker and cheaper than the alternatives and some because there is no alternative. (And yes, perhaps a few just love their cars.) I’m sure we’d all love to save the £642 a year and spend it on something else, like an installment on a lovely Urban Arrow but until there is an environment to use one (and park it safely) I fear many parents will go on choosing to splash the cash on petrol.
So next time you see a slightly stained School Run Mum, give her a hug, make her a cup of tea and then ask the Government to fund some decent protected cycle routes and create a more equal society so we can all walk or cycle to school and work. Then perhaps Sustrans will be able to pick on someone else less tired..