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COVID fears will drive surge in car use on the school run

As schools across the UK return following months of COVID-19-enforced disruption, new research “Tech and School Transport report” reveals that ongoing infection fears are predicted to significantly increase car usage on the daily school run, creating more traffic congestion and toxic air pollution around the school gates.

According to a nationally-representative survey of 250 school leaders, conducted by school transport technology specialist Kura, nearly one in four school leaders (23.2%) believe that infection fears are set to drive increased car usage amongst parents, rising to 35% in independent schools. Research from the Department for Transport (DfT) echoes this assertion, reporting that car usage soared to 70% of normal levels since the reopening of schools – the highest levels seen this year.

Two in five respondents (40%) also highlighted traffic congestion around their school gates as a problem, with a further 22% expressing concern around the level of toxic car fumes around their school.

Calls for schools to do more to drive an environmentally-friendly school run have been driven by increasing demands from pupils and parents. A separate national survey of 1,000 parents, also commissioned by Kura, revealed that over half (53%) of parents would like their child’s school to be doing more to prioritise sustainability and green initiatives, with a further 49% reporting that their children feel the same way.

More promisingly, school leaders do predict a greener future for the school run in the years to come. More than a third (36.8%) of schools across the country now believe that the coming decade will see more pupils walking and cycling to school, as pupils look to avoid public transport and the toxic impact of polluting, low-occupancy car journeys.

School leaders also predict a significant rise in electric vehicles on the daily school run over the coming decade, with nearly half (45.2%) asserting electric vehicles, such as zero-emission school buses, to be the future of school transport. This comes amidst the UK’s wider shift towards making zero-emission transport standard, with sales of new petrol and diesel-fuelled vehicles banned from 2035 onwards.

These zero-emission ambitions are already being matched by action from many forward-thinking schools, with 21.6% of schools reporting having already put in place investment plans in this area, and a further 18% planning to invest in electric vehicles for their transport fleets over the coming years. But cost and a lack of charging infrastructure remain the main barriers to change.

Only a sixth of respondents (16.4%) reported that they believed that more environmentally-friendly shared transport, such as school-managed coaches and minibuses, would rise in prominence – a concern given that one 49-seater coach equates to 31 cars taken off the roads. However, schools have also been working towards making shared transport a safer, more attractive option for their pupils, with a fifth of schools (20.8%) having invested in additional contact-tracing technology to improve infection control on the daily school run.

Godfrey Ryan, CEO of Kura, said:

“The daily school run remains a major contributor to toxic emissions around the school gates, crippling traffic congestion on the roads, and school staff having needlessly lost thousands of hours on outdated, non automated processes.

“However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. While the past few months have been challenging for all, one side-effect is that schools have been forced to examine all aspects of their offering, from the classroom to the back office, and take stock of where they have room for improvement. Our findings suggest that this may lead to an overdue technology-led revolution in schools in the years to come, with one much-needed area of improvement being safer, greener, smarter school transport for all.

“Schools proactively taking steps to invest and improve in this area will see huge financial and reputational benefits long-term, while providing reassurance to anxious parents and a safer, greener, smarter environment for their pupils.”

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