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Public transport and children (Day 3)

November 3, 2010

I read an interesting article today.

Why public transportation is good for kids

[…] My husband, Adam, and I live in Seattle, in a (somewhat) dense, (fairly) walkable neighborhood. We have two children, ages nine months and (as of today) three years. We enjoy books and brunch and basketball. (Actually, we enjoyed basketball before David Stern and Clay Bennett stole our team, but that’s a topic for a different column.) We visit the Science Center and the Children’s Museum and, weather permitting, lots of beaches and parks. We attend church on Sundays. We practically live at the library. Oh, and we don’t own a car. On purpose.[…]

It’s an American article, but applicable to many of us living in suburban Australia. Obviously access to decent public transport is a privilege, but I’ve sampled the public transport systems in Sydney, Brisbane/the Gold Coast and Adelaide, and have extensive experience of Perth’s public transport system, and I would venture to say that most people in most suburbs have enough access to public transport to use it occasionally, at the very least. The more people use it and demand better services, by the way, the more likely we are to get better services.

Some points the author made that I really liked, or drove home a point:

– Cars discourage exercise. If I could hop in a car and drive whenever I felt like it, I probably would, even if I had good intentions. Since I don’t have that option, the children and I get our 30 minutes of physical activity a day just doing the school runs. A short return trip on public transport with 5-10 minutes’ walk at each end equals 20 to 40 minutes of walking without going out of your way.

– Air inside cars has significantly higher concentrations of carbon monoxide than the air directly outside of them.

– Cars are more deadly than any disease or other threat, and far more dangerous than buses or trains. When traveling to school, a child is eight times safer on a bus — even without belts or boosters — than in a car. Even when you factor in extremely rare instances of crime on transit, buses are still the safest way to travel on American roads. (I’m sure the statistics here are not vastly different.) This is a huge one for me. I’ve been flamed on the internet before for taking my kids in a taxi, occasionally, when we get ‘stuck’ somewhere, without carseats. Flamed by people who, without even thinking about it, put their children in the car for at least ten journeys a week (thinking of an average schooling family who drives to school, this doesn’t even allow for weekend or evening outings). Obviously, both of these situations have risks, but at least I make this decision – maybe once every few months – aware of the risks and having exhausted other options.

On a lighter note, most of the time the public transport trips are great fun for my kids. Sometimes it’s a challenge, sure, but this is often due more to poorly planned elements of the transport system, rudeness from fellow passengers, or rudeness from bus drivers, rather than simply the fact that we are not in a car. And in a few years, I’ll be able to send the kids off on the bus by themselves, a long time before they’ll be able to drive themselves! (And $50 on a SmartRider electronic bus/train ticket will go a lot further than $50 worth of petrol, let alone the costs of purchasing and maintaining a car, so I can give them the financial means to greater independence, too.

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