Stephen Messenger, March 6, 2012
Jan Beeldrijk ©
It's been said that the most important lessons in life are not learned in the classroom, and perhaps in no place is that more true than in the Netherlands where the act of heading to school is itself so enriching. In an age of rising gas prices and skyrocketing cases of childhood obesity, Dutch educators have devised a wonderfully positive way to get kids to and from school -- by letting them pedal there themselves on a brand new fleet of bicycle buses.
Cycling has long been the preferred way of commuting in the Netherlands, thanks in part to their world-class system of bike paths, but now even young school children can get in on the action. With the purchase of what may be the first-ever fleet of bicycle school buses, Dutch kids as young as 4 years old are experiencing just how fun and easy getting around without a car can be.
Each bike bus is designed to hold eleven kids up to the age of 12, who along with an adult driver, provide the pedal-power to carry them to school and back. For times when the team of youngsters isn't enough, like on steep inclines or when just a handful of passengers are left to be dropped off, a built in electric motor is there to provide an extra boost.
So far, Dutch manufacturer Tolkamp Metaalspecials has sold around two dozen of the bicycle buses across the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany -- and the idea seems to be catching on. In an interview with FastCo.exist, bike bus creator Thomas Tolkamp says that orders have begun pouring in from around the globe.
So far, the brilliant little bicycle buses have yet to cross the pond, but that soon could change, particularly in cities where cycling infrastructure continues to expand. And the bike buses are actually quite affordable at $15,000 each -- just over twice the cost of fuel consumed by each regular school bus per year in the United States.
In some ways, the notion that children should be equipped with a way to pedal themselves to school isn't just a nicety -- it is actually perfectly aligned with what we want from our educational system. After all, it's one thing to teach children to dream of a brighter, healthier future, and another to show them how to get there.