Extra subsidies for cycling pupil in Ghent
The city of Ghent (Belgium) wants to give schools extra money to convince parents and students to come to class by bicycle. They will receive 500 to 1.500 euro, in order to stimulate sustainable mobility. Schools that join forces and develop a mobility project with at least three can receive up to 6.000 euro.
Extra small-scale initiatives
As the protest against air pollution at the school gate increases, more and more city councils are working on the issue of ensuring that as many children as possible can go to school by bicycle.
“We want to give schools the opportunity to take extra small-scale initiatives”, says Alderman for Mobility, Filip Watteeuw (Groen). “Setting up a bicycle pool with parents, giving extra driving lessons, letting bicycle repairers pass by… Schools are free to do so.”
Headmaster Bart Avaere of De Wonderfluit in Sint-Amandsberg is enthusiastic. “I do think it’s a good plan.” He estimates that about 30% of his students still come by car today. “They indicate that safety is the reason to come by car anyway. So if we want to convince everyone to leave the car at home, much more will have to be done.”
Something that Watteeuw recognizes. “This is something extra, in addition to all our other efforts to make cycling and walking safer: the circulation plan, extra bicycle bridges or tunnels or the screening of the school environment.”
The question is whether these initiatives will actually reduce the number of cars at the school gate. Research into travel behaviour in Flanders (2016-17) has shown that the majority of 6-12 years-old children are still brought to school by car. The good news is that the number of cyclists attending school has risen in recent years from 17% to just over 22%.
“Convincing people to change their travel behaviour is very difficult”, says Stef Willems, spokesman of the Belgian road safety institute Vias. “We easily fall back into habits and breaking these habits requires a great deal of persuasive power and strong incentives.” According to Willems, a good cycling infrastructure and a safe route to the destination are important in this respect, more than considerations such as the positive impact on the environment.
However, remuneration systems can also be beneficial. In Bonheiden, a commune and municipality in the Belgian province of Antwerp, all schoolchildren have a chip in their bicycle, which checks whether they have actually used it to go to school. Each ride results in ‘ducats’, which at the end of the year can be converted into vouchers for the fairground. In this way, the city was able to increase the number of cycling students from 12% to no less than 60%.