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Could pedal-powered buses be the future of the Cambridge school run?

SCool Bus - pedal-powered school bus
SCool Bus - pedal-powered school bus

A City Deal leader is asking interested headteachers to get in touch for potential funding

If City Deal gets its way, schools in Cambridgeshire could soon be getting a new and exciting form of student transport.

With the Chisholm Trail nearing development and the conversation around a ‘greeways’ network growing, this ambitious cycling scheme has piqued the interest of City Deal Board member Cllr Francis Burkitt.

A group of volunteers from Rouen in France has launched a free school bus service for local children, but what makes it unique is the children themselves use their own energy to power it.

Concerned by the 75 per cent of school children in this particular area of France taken to lessons by car – and inspired by a similar service in the Netherlands – the group acquired a pedal-powered school bus, along with a great deal of local support.

Each ‘S’cool bus’ is 1.3 metres wide, four metres long and carries 10 children. The bus travels at around 10mph and is fitted with an electric motor to help with hills.

The service now takes two busloads of pupils to school every day and has a waiting list of passengers (figuratively) queueing up to use it. However, with each bus costing £10,000 and its dependence on volunteers, the idea is struggling to expand.

Steered by an adult driver, this unique child-carrier is powered by its passengers, most of whom pedal.

The pedal-powered school bus also helps calm the fears of parents who may be reluctant to allow their children to cycle to school on the road.

Francis Burkitt, one of the three voting members on the City Deal executive board, said: “This seems like a good idea that we could learn from the Dutch and the French.

“It looks like a fun, enjoyable and environmentally friendly way of getting children to school – either groups of families who live close to each other or along a route, or perhaps from the park and rides to nearby schools.

“If any school head or parents’ association would like to talk to the City Deal board about applying for a grant to buy some of these bikes, I’d like to hear from them.”

Those involved in education who were questioned about the idea seemed very open to it.

Rachel Snape, a national leader of education and the headteacher at Spinney Primary School, was enthusiastic about the concept, but expressed some concern about actually being able to bring it to fruition.

“It requires volunteers to do it, and I think that’s the challenge,” she said. “The vehicle is not sufficient – it requires the volunteers as well.

“I think schools would also struggle to find the £10,000 at this time, but if they could find the £10,000, it’s a wonderful initiative that is very sustainable.

“It would improve children’s fitness, as well as having a low impact on environmental factors, such as air quality.”

Ms Snape continued: “I think there is a very positive move in our community in Cambridge to get more and more involved, so this would be just the sort of activity that people could support in their schools.”

Discussing what the reaction to the idea might be among parents at the school, Ms Snape said: “I think parents at the Spinney would be very supportive of this idea in principle.

“The practice would be more difficult because we are struggling with the funding situation.”

Ms Snape added: “As Cambridge is a cycling city, this would be another positive way of demonstrating its commitment to being a cycling city.

“I think it would be lovely to see children going around using a means of transport that keeps them fit and gives them a great sense of camaraderie. It would be lots of fun and I think it would be very positive.”


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