1.5-hour commute to school raises concern for Chancellor of Justice

School bus stop.
School bus stop. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

In Tallinn, for one child with special needs, it takes nearly an hour and a half to reach school by social transport. This prompted the office of the Chancellor of Justice to consider whether the duration of pupils' commutes to school should be regulated by law.

On June 6, Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise sent an appeal to the Tallinn City Government, the Ministry of Education and Research, and the Ministry of Social Affairs, requesting an evaluation of whether the travel time of pupils to school should be regulated by law, so that their morning commute would not be excessively long.

The appeal was initiated by the parent of a child whose travel to school each morning takes an hour and a half, leaving the child tired and unable to concentrate in the early morning.

Atko-Madis Tammar, senior adviser in the Social Rights Department of the Chancellor of Justice's Office, told ERR that the case involves a child who cannot attend a school near to home due to special needs, making the school a forced choice for the child and their family. The city of Tallinn provides the child with social transportation to and from school.

"I cannot tell you the distance between home and school, but the social transport bus stops in many other places that are not on the way, so it is not about the distance but the time it takes to get to school," Tammar explained. 

He added that it is likely that other children share the same concerns. "As this child is not alone on the bus, there is a good chance that the problem is widespread and that there are also other children who have to endure a long commute to school."

Arne Kailas, deputy head of the welfare and health unit at the Tallinn City administration, said that social transport is provided as a regular service, i.e. children who live more or less in the same area are picked up and taken to school. "For example, if you need to pick up children in Lasnamäe, but the school is in Mustamäe, the journey to school will inevitably take a longer time," he said.

"Getting on the bus also takes time, typically about five minutes per passenger, because pupils often require assistance, such as a driver helping a child in a wheelchair board the vehicle."

Kailas said the route is periodically evaluated, and if possible, attempts are made to optimize the travel times. He added that passengers who can come to a pick-up point help to shorten the bus ride.

Tammar said that the Chancellor of Justice's Office has also reached out to the Ministry of Education and Research and the Ministry of Social Affairs to obtain their judgment on how long a reasonable school commute time for a child should be and whether this ought to be codified in law.

Until now, the law has only laid down the length of the walk to school in kilometres: a child can walk a maximum of three kilometres to school. There are no time limits for the morning school journey.

"In some cases, it is unavoidable for a child to have a longer commute to school; however, it is necessary to discuss its maximum duration, the city's responsibilities and the circumstances the child could be reasonably expected to endure," he said.

Taavi Audo, head of communications at the Ministry of Social Affairs, told ERR that the ministry wants to discuss and analyze the appeal, and cannot comment at the moment because it has not yet been officially discussed.

The Ministry of Education and Research also told ERR that it has received the Chancellor of Justice's appeal on school transportation organization and wants to discuss it in the near future.


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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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