VHP walking school bus.indd201042024256

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					     Phillip Island’s Other Bikers

It may not be as well-known as the penguins, but                  Kerri Ritchie explains: ‘The Newhaven area is very small; the
                                                                  children who live in the immediate vicinity of the school live so
another Phillip Island attraction is starting to get
                                                                  close that they can safely walk there without a Walking School
noticed. The Newhaven Primary School Riding                       Bus. Cape Woolamai is a residential area and is too far for the
School Bus is turning school travel into a lot of                 kids to be able to comfortably walk. Cycling is very popular
fun. Once a week, the riding bus safely transports                in the Cape Woolamai area. The Shire has a very strong bike

about a dozen children, wearing bright orange                     education focus and is putting in more off-road bike paths.’

vests, to and from Newhaven Primary School.                       Having to modify the Walking School Bus concept into a Riding
                                                                  School Bus presented some challenges for Kerri and the
The Riding School Bus is part of the Bass Coast Shire’s Walking   parents, who were keen to volunteer as drivers and conductors.
School Bus program. The Shire received funding from VicHealth
                                                                  ‘Once we decided to go ahead with a Riding School Bus we
in 2004 to set up Walking School Buses in the area, which
                                                                  quickly realised that the first issue we had to address was
includes Phillip Island. The island is a popular tourist spot
                                                                  safety. Our first meeting was in January 2005 in a local café
with busy and unsealed roads, highlighting the importance
                                                                  with four parents. We refused to put a starting date on the
of pedestrian safety initiatives.
                                                                  project until all the safety concerns we had were addressed,
When Walking School Bus Coordinator Kerri Ritchie first           and the parents felt comfortable about going ahead with the
approached Newhaven Primary School, enthusiastic parents          project. It took until the third term of school before the project
quickly suggested that a Riding Bus, instead of a Walking Bus,    could go ahead’, Kerri says.
would be the way to go as most of the children attending the
school lived 5–6 kilometres away in Cape Woolamai.

  “Unless we encourage children to walk and cycle to school they won’t learn about their
  environment. They miss out on splashing in puddles and picking flowers. This really is life
  skills education and it’s fun!”
All drivers were trained by Ted Wilson at Wilcare Services, who     Identifying the route wasn’t straightforward either. The safe
runs bike education training for the Department of Education.       meeting point where the children gather on their bikes to
                                                                    start the Riding Bus is at the end of the housing area in Cape
‘The parents who have been trained speak very highly of it.
                                                                    Woolamai. Many children have to travel 2 kilometres through
They believe it has helped them, not only in their role on the
                                                                    this residential area to get to the meeting point. And that is
Riding Bus but also when they ride on their own or with their
                                                                    before the bus has even started its trip to school, which is
own children. Ted has been a great help to us in establishing
                                                                    another 2 kilometres away.
the bus and has gone out of his way to assist’, Kerri says.
                                                                    There were also concerns about safety issues relating to the
Ted, an ex-traffic cop, is a passionate advocate for increased
                                                                    maintenance of the bikes, which are still being sorted out.
cycling and walking in the community.
                                                                    Being in the country brings nature into play as well. Volunteers
‘I think unless we encourage children to walk and cycle to
                                                                    need to look out for snakes on the riding path on hot days and
school they won’t learn about their environment. They miss
                                                                    seasonal swooping birds.
out on splashing in puddles and picking flowers. This really
is life skills education and it’s fun! There is not one skerrick    With an enthusiastic core group of parents committed to making
of evidence that says life shouldn’t be fun!’                       the bus a reality, Kerri recruited the children through their
                                                                    parents, via mail-outs, information in the school magazine and
Ted forecasts a future major cultural shift to active transport.
                                                                    information sessions held at the school. News about the project
‘With the increasing costs of petrol we are going to be heading     is now communicated primarily through the school newsletter.
in the direction of more cycling, more walking and more public
                                                                    ‘I was lucky because I had one parent right from the start who
transport use. We won’t have a choice and I think that is a great
                                                                    was very supportive. She was on the school council and acted
thing!’, he adds.
                                                                    as a liaison between the school and me. After each meeting
Currently bike education is only offered to children from Grade     I had with parents I would email the school principal and let
4 up. All the participants on the Riding Bus are from Grades        her know what we discussed and what decisions we had made
Prep to 4 and have had no training.                                 about the project. I kept her informed on all the developments
‘We make it clear to the volunteers that the children are           and she supported and encouraged us through the process.’
untrained and that they have to be aware of this as kids don’t      In spite of the initial hiccups, the proud Newhaven Primary
understand how to allocate enough space between bikes when          School Riding School Bus was launched in grand style on
riding and stuff like that. Training for the children is an issue   3 August 2005 by the Mayor, Councillor Goodwin.
we are still looking at’, Kerri explains.
                                                                    A week later, an unexpected snow drop on the first official
As riding has a greater potential for injury than walking,          day the bus was meant to run caused quick-thinking volunteers
the volunteers’ training in first aid had to address what the       to cancel, but operations have run smoothly since.
volunteers thought was a reasonable expectation of them
                                                                    Anecdotally, the Riding Bus has had a positive influence on
in certain situations.
                                                                    the school and surrounding community. The Bus has ➤➤

encouraged others to ride to school, even though they are
not part of the bus. The children who ride on the bus have
graduated to independently cycling on the days the bus doesn’t
run. Parents say the Riding Bus has been beneficial for their
children as it encourages better bike behaviour that carries
through to the days when they are not riding with the bus.

‘This is a small community, everyone knows each other. If a
child is riding their bike and being stupid they will definitely be
pulled up. Occasionally I get calls from people saying that kids
are crossing at the wrong places – they ring me because they
obviously identify me with the school and the Riding Bus!’,
                                                                      What made the difference?
Kerri explains.

The school already had a lock-up bike shed. Volunteers now            • Commitment of parents to getting their children
have a key to the shed which enables them to lock-up and                more active
un-lock the bikes.                                                    • Tailoring the Walking School Bus model to suit local
Annette Herschtal, Partnership Development at Bicycle Victoria,         and rural conditions, especially in areas that require
enthusiastically supports the Riding Bus.                               children to travel longer distances to school

                                                                      • Calling on experts in bike education to train parents
‘Well done to the team at Bass Coast. They are providing a
wonderful example of innovation and practice, forging new             • Council’s capacity to be flexible in developing an
ground and acting on their feet to respond to questions as              alternative model more suited to local circumstances
they arise. We congratulate them for taking the time to consider
and trial riding to school and for being creative and adaptive.
Children benefit from this pioneering process too; they become
active participants and active thinkers. Well done!’

The Riding School Bus is a great example of what can be
achieved when a program is adapted to local conditions and
environments and supported by an enthusiastic core group
of parents. With the backdrop of the small picturesque fishing
village of Newhaven, the route is on an established bike track
with the kids protected from driveways and cars.

Without even knowing it, most of the kids are riding 4 kilometres
a day while inhaling fresh sea air and hanging out with their
mates. What a great start to their day and their life.

For information on the Newhaven Primary School Riding
School Bus contact Kerri Ritchie, Walking School Bus
Coordinator, Bass Coast Shire Council, on (03) 5671 2704
or at


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