Transport Canberra, I should get to choose how my children exercise. Active travel is NOT my choice!

Transport Canberra new network, starting on the 29th of April, is has underpinned by the principle of “Active Travel”. On one hand it makes sense, the 2016 Census found the Canberra had the highest participation in active travel as a means of commuting to work than any other Australian capital city. However, Active Travel isn’t and should never be seen as a one size fits all policy! Especially for our children, the most vulnerable of all commuters and road users.

APFACTS believes that parents should get to choose how their children get their exercise and active travel shouldn’t be a mandatory requirement of a school students’ trip to and from school.

It is easy to see the motivation behind the Active Travel policy from the ACT Government and Transport Canberra. The obesity epidemic has been splashed across the headline for quite a while now. But where do we actually have a problem and is this the most suitable way to address the issue? Data released this week by the Australian Bureau of Statistics says that 28% of Canberra kids are overweight. These statistics are on par with the rest of Australia. On the other hand, the ACT also has the highest rates of children participating in sport in the country! The 2018 AusPlay report found that 78% of ACT children were participating in organised activity. Even further to that 31% of our kids are participating more than 3 times a week! This indicates that a majority of parents are already across the issues surrounding their child’s health and wellbeing. The new transport network and Active Travel policy will impact 100% of users and therefore has equal chance of disadvantage the 75% already participating in organised activities in the hope of influencing the 25% who are not.  And how can we be sure that that 25% aren’t already in their parent’s cars in the first place?

Further to this ACT Health ran a program from 2013 – 2015 called the Ride or Walk to school Program. The findings from this program found time constraints for parents and distance from school as being two of the biggest barriers to participating in active travel. A very, very interesting part of these outcomes was teachers listed these as the barriers! Because parents were again not involved in this conversation! Lack of the program seeking parental engagement and involvement in this program. It seems as though the ACT government has a history of locking parents out of the conversation.

It really isn’t surprising then that parents of children at Independent schools are furious with the new network because their choice of school isn’t the closest option which has made using this new network problematic. The “Active Travel” component expected of public transport users extends pass the distances parents believe to be a reasonable ask of the children an inexperienced road users. Parents are concerned that the unsupervised crossing of roads or cycling along main roads to access a public bus route is too risky to be undertaken twice a day, every day of the week!

In response, APFACTS is calling on the Transport Minister to reconsider the policy of Active travel for all public transport users. A simple solution to this would be to re-evaluate the dedicated school bus network, consult with schools and parents and reinstate a dedicated service. Thereby retaining an active travel policy for commuters (who have agency to make their own decisions!) whilst ensuring the safe and connected bus and light rail access for children.

https://goodhabitsforlife.act.gov.au/ride-or-walk-to-school/sites/goodhabitsforlife.act.gov.au.fresh-tastes/files/RWTS_Evaluation_Final_Report.pdf

https://www.clearinghouseforsport.gov.au/research/smi/ausplay/results/state

https://www.cmtedd.act.gov.au/open_government/inform/act_government_media_releases/yvette-berry-mla-media-releases/2017/new-data-confirms-canberra-as-australias-most-active-city,-shows-benefits-of-government-support

https://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4364.0.55.001~2017-18~Main%20Features~Australian%20Capital%20Territory~10009