For foreigners in Switzerland, the sight of children as young as four walking alone to school or kindergarten can be surprising.
But for many people in Switzerland, this walk is not just a rite of passage. It is considered an essential part of teaching children independence, social skills, healthy habits and traffic awareness.
In fact, many schools (and police) actively discourage mothers and fathers from driving their children to school – a practice known as ‘parent taxis’.
The walk to school is considered a learning experience. Photo: The Local
Discussions about parent taxis reach a peak around the beginning of the school year as schools use a range of tactics to stop mums and dads dropping their children at school gates.
These tactics can range from polite letters sent home to parents to physical obstacles being placed in spaces where cars could park.
Parent taxi problem is 'overestimated'
Now, however, a new study has emerged showing the problem may not be as big as people think.
The study from the Federal Roads Office (Fedro) shows 11 percent of children aged six to 12 in Switzerland were driven to school in 2015 – a figure that is virtually unchanged from two decades earlier in 1994 when the figure was nine percent.
According to the study, 68 percent of children in this age group walk, while 10 percent ride a bicycle and 11 percent go by public transport. Surprisingly, there are very few differences between urban, suburban and rural areas.
Rate much higher in French-speaking Switzerland
However, two figures from the study do stand out. Children in French- (27 percent) and Italian-speaking Switzerland (18 percent) are far more likely to be driven to school than in German-speaking Switzerland (eight percent).
In the case of French-speaking Switzerland, the study’s authors believe the higher figure may be because distances are greater given that more children attend schools outside their commune.
Meanwhile, it is far more common for children in wealthy neighbourhoods to be driven to school (32 percent). And the rate is also higher for households with two or more cars (18 percent) regardless of whether those households are in a rural, suburban or urban area.
The problem is parent taxis in Switzerland is “overestimated” Fedro concludes. It adds that just one in four of all children driven to school are given a lift every day.
But Franziska Peterhans of the umbrella organization of Swiss teachers (LCH) is not so positive.
In comments to Swiss region daily St. Galler Tagblatt, she said the study’s figures came from 2015 and while there were no newer figures available it is likely the rate of children being driven to school has increased.
She said ‘parent taxis’ were an ongoing issue and one that schools had to deal with.