Low-income families should be given £100 grants to help them buy bikes for their children, the Scottish Greens have said.
Ensuring more youngsters have access to bicycles would help them get to school safely when classes return in August, transport spokesman John Finnie said
The Greens are proposing funds be given to the approximately 120,000 pupils who already qualify for school uniform grants to help them purchase bikes and safety equipment such as helmets.
Money for road building projects that have been halted during the Covid-19 crisis could be used the cover the costs, the party suggested.
The plea came ahead of a statement by Transport Secretary Michael Matheson to Holyrood on Tuesday, in which he is expected to set out how public transport can continue to operate safely as lockdown restrictions begin to be eased.
Mr Finnie said urgent action is needed to make cycling and walking safe and convenient for youngsters when schools return or else “we risk going straight from lockdown to gridlock”.
“Scottish Greens are calling on the Scottish Government to put support in place now to allow schools to ensure that every child who lives within three miles of their school is able to cycle or walk there safely,” he said.
“This must mean access to safe, segregated routes, ensuring that children and any accompanying adults are able to socially distance on their way to and from school.”
He added: “Cycling to school is convenient, enjoyable and healthy. It should be an option for every child regardless of a family’s income.
“Greens are proposing that children from low income families be given a grant towards the purchase of a bike and safety accessories like helmets. Our proposal is for a £100 grant per child to be issued to the 120,000 families who are eligible for a school uniform grant.
“The Scottish Government must also ensure that schools are given assistance to introduce cycle training as soon as possible.”
Mr Finnie said work needs to take place to ensure children can still get the bus to school when they return to classrooms.
“Of course, thousands of kids depend the bus to get to school,” he said.
“To accommodate social distancing, schools will need buses to be at a fraction of current capacity.
“Staggering start times could reduce the overall size of the bus fleet needed but realistically more buses will be required and this would be an opportunity to help the beleaguered coach industry, which has been starved of its usual trade.”
He added: “The Scottish Government must start working with councils and operators now to ensure sufficient capacity is in place by August.
“As well as playing a vital role in transporting children to school, this will also come as a lifeline to the many bus and coach operators which are struggling at this time and will continue to do so until social distancing measures can be relaxed.”
A Transport Scotland spokesman said that a transition plan was expected to be published in Holyrood on Tuesday.
He added: “We know that capacity on our public transport system will remain limited as a result of the need to maintain physical distancing and guidance for public transport users and operators is a key element of the plan to keep public transport safe.
“This guidance will assist transport operators and their workforce in the provision of safe operations and set out advice for users, businesses and organisations when considering when to travel and how staff will travel to work.
“We recently announced the ‘Spaces for People’ fund, providing £10 million of funding for local authorities to introduce temporary walking and cycling infrastructure to enable physical distancing. We are also considering a range of initiatives to support and further encourage the increases in walking and cycling which we have seen during lockdown.
“We know that we need to put in place temporary measures at the moment and large scale infrastructure in the future to enable this, but we also need to consider access to bikes and what support including cycle training, advice and encouragement needs to be built around this to make walking, wheeling and cycling accessible to all.”