How do South Africa's children travel to school?

* The percentage of children walking for more than an hour to school was higher in 2013 than it was in 2003.

* More than double the number of schoolchildren catch taxis to school than catch buses.

* Half the children in the highest income group travel to school by car.

Nearly 70% of children walk to school. Those who live in rural areas are, understandably, more likely to walk than those in urban areas or in the eight metro municipalities. Just over half of the children in metros walk to school, whereas 80% in the rural areas do. And children in the lowest income groups are also more likely to walk to school that those in the highest income group.

Walking to school is good exercise as long as the distance is reasonable. An average person can walk 2km to 3km in half an hour, and most learners (about 72%) take less than half an hour to walk to their schools.

But 22% of learners walk for between 30 minutes and an hour to get to their educational institution - which means it’s likely that they walk for more than 3km.

“The department of transport, in collaboration with the department of education, has a mandate to ensure that transport is provided to scholars, attending grades R to 12 who live more than 3km from the nearest school,” according to the National Household Travel Survey 2013, published by Statistics South Africa last week.

Eighty-one percent of the learners in the 2013 survey attended school (grades 0 to 12), 11% attended pre-school and 8% were doing post-matric or other studies. It’s possible, therefore, that about two million of the eight million children (from grade 0 to grade 12) who walked to school may have walked more than 3km to get there.

Of greater concern are the nearly 6% of learners who walked for more than an hour to get to school, according to the survey.

In the last national household transport survey conducted in 2003, 4.8% of learners walked for more than an hour to get to school - most of them lived in rural areas. In 2013 this percentage increased to 5.5%.

“This is a serious predicament and we should do our utmost to deliver on the national scholar transport policy,” said Minister of Transport Dipuo Peters in a speech at the release of the travel survey 2013.

“Scholar transport is subsidised by the department of transport, and one of the objectives of this study is to enable the department to assess the effectiveness of their subsidy mechanism to transport providers. Even though there is a scholar transport subsidy scheme in place, it is not widely used,” StatsSA stated in the 2013 report.

Public transport

Only 20% of children nationally use public transport - taxis, buses and trains - to get to school. Most of them, about 1.5-million (13%), catch taxis, 650 000 (5%) travel by bus and 70 000 (1%) ride on trains – compared with the 8.5-million children who walk to school.

In all but two provinces, taxis are the most commonly used form of public transport by schoolchildren. Mpumalanga and the Northern Cape are the only two provinces where buses are used to roughly the same extent as taxis.

Trains only feature in the survey as school transport in Gauteng and the Western Cape. Although there are a few thousand children who travel by train in KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape and North West, they do not amount to 1%.

People who travel to school by train take the longest amount of time to get there - on average 73 minutes - followed by those who catch buses - which take an hour on average. Taxis seem to be the quickest form of public transport, averaging 45 minutes.

Walkers and people driven to school in a car, however, seem to spend, on average, far less time travelling. Walkers average 28 minutes and cars average 30 minutes.

It’s not surprising then that so few people use public transport. Although the distance travelled to get to school may be a factor. The report does not mention the distances travelled by people using the different modes of transport.


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