“30% of trips to school are made by car, that’s still a lot”

From kindergarten to high school, more than 12 million students go to school and return in the evening each school day. If we add a million teachers, that gives a minimum of 26 million journeys added to the already significant amount of other daily mobility.

Not insignificant, also in terms of CO2 footprint, while a significant part of these home-to-school journeys, even if they are short, take place by car, points out EcoCO2. The design office leads the Moby programme, which supports local authorities and schools in their school travel plans (PDES). Goal: to do everything so that the trip to school takes place in soft mobility rather than by car. As European Mobility Week opens this Friday, Bertrand Dumas, responsible for the Moby program for Eco CO2, explains the challenges to solving this problem.

How are these 26 million home-to-school journeys made in France today?

It is estimated that between a quarter and 30% of the share is made up of public transport and school transport. Depending on the year, the rate fluctuates between 25 and 28%. The bicycle and all the active forms of mobility that we are talking about more and more (scooter, skateboard, etc.) remain marginal. About 3 to 4%. And then there is the car chosen for more than 30% of these journeys, of which only 1% is carpooling.

70% of home-to-school journeys are therefore made using soft mobility… not so bad, right?

We could see things that way, especially when we know that the car remains the number one form of transport in France. [pour 62,8 % des 181 millions de déplacements quotidiens*]. Nevertheless, home-school trips have the special feature of being short. On average, school children live less than 2 km from their school. We go to 5 km for a university student, and a little more for a high school student. Active mobility is perfectly adapted to these distances. They are often even faster than the car, especially in urban areas.

So more than 30% of home-school journeys by car is still a lot. Especially since a good quarter of the party is unchained travel. They only go from home to school, without being extended to other destinations, such as work. We could easily avoid this 25% there, by showing that taking the car, in this case, is very often a waste of time. And it’s also worth it for the remaining 75%.

Has the Covid-19 crisis redistributed the forms of travel between home and school?

We could have feared a sharp increase in car trips. This is not what we have observed in the polls we have conducted over the past two years. It is even rather walking that comes out of the winner. It gained 2 to 3% in modal share, rising from 25 to 28% in one year. The problem is that this increase was mainly at the expense of public transport. The car share remained stable.

What makes it impossible to reduce the share of the car?

We have to take the problem in the other direction, by looking at what prevents the use of soft mobility. The first obstacle that parents rightly mention is the security situation. If they are not reunited, or if we think they are not, then we do not take our children except in the car.

But it is the snake that bites the tail: many parents say that they do not go to school or do not allow their child to do so because there are too many cars on the road, adding theirs. This is the whole virtuous circle that needs to be created around the school: the more people are on foot or by bike, the more the safety conditions will be met to encourage other families to do so. The challenge is not only to reduce greenhouse gases. It is also to work on air pollution and noise pollution, promote physical activity or reduce children’s stress, which tends to improve concentration in class.

So how does the Moby program work?

It begins with a launch phase where we communicate about the program and form the Moby committee. It brings together the community (elected officials, technicians), representatives of the educational community (school director, teachers, etc.), parents of students, local residents’ associations, students, etc. It is an essential cog because these programs, if not coordinated from the beginning, work not long.

Then comes the diagnosis about the conditions for access to school and mobility. In other words: who comes and how do we get to school? An action plan is then drawn up in three main families. A first touch on the infrastructures, i.e. the arrangements to be made around the school, up to sometimes resuming the entire traffic plan when it is judged to be too accident-prone. Another includes traffic transfer actions. These are all the services we will be able to establish, so that parents have the option of choosing active or shared forms of travel. For example, the creation of a carpool or pedibus service The third family focuses on acculturation to mobility. This is the educational part of the program where we try to spark and feed the debate about our mobility and the impact it can have on our carbon footprint.

How many points does a school manage to reduce the proportion of students who arrive and leave by car after a Moby program?

It is too early to say. It was launched in 2018 and rolled out from the start of the 2020 academic year, when the Covid-19 pandemic calmed down a bit. To date, 192 primary schools and 41 high schools have taken this step. But Moby lasts about two years**, so the first establishments are just finishing it. However, major orientations occur from one company to another. For example, many decide to establish streets in schools, sometimes called children’s streets. The idea is very simple: at entry and exit times, the street serving the school is closed to traffic. It only requires a city ordinance. We also see a lot of the creation of pedestrian buses, harassment on the rails, bicycle garages, guardrails, widening of sidewalks…

Too few schools to date have worked on a school travel plan?

There are almost 60,000 schools in France for only 300 current Moby programs. Certainly, everything is far from being limited to this program. PDES has been around for a long time and other design offices offer support. But we are still far away. Unfortunately, we are still building institutions today – especially high schools and colleges on the outskirts of the city – without worrying about how students can get there by soft mobility. But from the gradual introduction of Low Emission Zones (ZFE) to the increase in fuel prices, everything contributes to looking at the school’s eco-mobility. And doing so is an excellent start for a society that wants to work on mobility throughout its territory, because we work on a limited geographic perimeter, on well-identified routes.

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