Check against delivery
At the outset, I’d like to record my thanks to Pat Oliver and An Taisce for the opportunity to be here with you all this morning.
Today is primarily a celebration of the talents of the young people here from around the country who will receive prizes for their efforts in the Green-Schools Travel Art competition. As you can see from the exhibition, there’s great talent on show and I congratulate each and every one of the winners.
I also want to remember all the young people who entered the competition but were not selected for a prize. I know it’s a cliché, but taking part IS actually more important than winning. When we take part, we actually DO something and inevitably LEARN something. And the Green-Schools Travel Module is centred on that very basic but self-evident premise. We learn by doing stuff.
The crucial lesson that the Green-Schools Travel Module teaches – both to children and parents – is a very simple one. There ARE alternatives to travelling by car – and this applies not only to school travel but to all journeys.
These alternatives are walking (even some of the way), cycling and using public transport. They are good for health and, as they reduce congestion by taking cars off the roads, they are good for the environment and our quality of life.
The Green-Schools Travel Module is getting its message across with outstanding results. Latest figures show a 18% reduction in car travel in participating schools. That’s almost a fifth!
The figures also show an increase in walking to school of almost one third. These are huge successes for the Module. I sincerely congratulate the Green-Schools Travel Team on their achievements to date in the participating schools – which, at this stage number 314 with some 101,000 pupils.
Despite these fantastic results, the findings from a recent survey published by the DTO show that 57% of children still travel to school by car. The lesson that I’m learning from that statistic is that we need to do even more to change behaviour.
And that’s why I’m committed, in conjunction with the DTO, to maintain funding to the Green-Schools Travel Module to expand its reach this year to a total of 450 schools and 140,000 pupils. Indeed, subject to continued progress, I envisage maintaining my support so that by 2012 the Module will be reaching 1,150 schools and 265,000 pupils.
Speaking about the need to change travel behaviour, the Green-Schools Travel Module is an example of what we need to do on a much wider scale.
The Government’s new Smarter Travel policy document, which I launched earlier this year, commits to reducing reliance on the private car for our travel needs from its current level of 65% to 45%. Part of this shift will inevitably come from creating a new attitude among us all towards walking, cycling and public transport.
I’m glad that Green-Schools Travel module hits all these buttons very well. Indeed, I’m particularly impressed by the progress made under the Module on the provision of cycle parking and on cycle training – with 1070 parking spaces installed in 58 schools since September 2008 and 55 schools – covering 2,260 pupils – applying for cycle training grants in the same period.
From my perspective, supporting the Green-Schools Travel Module is a low-cost but high-yield investment. As I have aready indicated, the results to date are excellent and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of the ongoing work and planned next stages, which include –
•School Infrastructural Assessments to identify schools where targeted investment by local authorities could accelerate progress on modal shift (Galway City Council are already onboard to fund infrastructural provision at a number of schools),
- National Walk to School Week – which begins next Monday and continues until the 22nd May,
- The next phase of surveying in May to monitor modal shift,
- New initiatives, such as Beauty & the Bike, which is primarily aimed at secondary school girls, a group whose bicycle use remains stubbornly low,
- The Cycling initiatives , some of which have been shortlisted in the Velo City Cycle Conference which takes place in Brussels in May,
- The promotion of National Bike Week from 14-21ST June, in all participating schools, and
- The running of a one day teacher training course in July.
This ambitious programme demonstrates an exceptional degree of vision, commitment and professionalism from the Green Schools Travel Team. So along with the young winners of the Art Competition, I suggest that the Team should also take a well-deserved bow.