Teenagers and transport

Transport, both public and private, is the glue that holds our everyday lives together across our lifespan. Consequently, it is expected that inability to get to places and activities will have a negative effect on our lives, physically and mentally. One group that is often left out of transport studies is later age teenagers. So researchers in New Zealand decided to look at the issues for teenagers and transport.

The rate at which young people are getting their drivers licence is reducing in developed countries. Walking, cycling and using public transport are all good for physical health. But if social and economic life is restricted, how does this affect mental wellbeing?

The researchers wanted to find out how transport impacted the wellbeing of students aged 16-18 years. They used the photovoice method which puts cameras into participants’ hands to help them document and communicate issues of concern. This participatory method puts the power with those who usually have little power to generate new knowledge.

Teenagers photographed their feet to document walking as the key aspect of getting around. They all walked at some point in their journey.

Image from ScienceDirect

A montage of teenagers feet documenting the transport mode of walking.

What teenagers said

Regardless of the destination, photos and narratives of those who lived close to town and were able to walk displayed independence, happiness and positive aspects of wellbeing. The key themes emerging from the study were financial, social and mental wellbeing, safety, and barriers to choice.

The financial aspects included the cost of getting a licence and the cost of fuel when a car was available to them. Getting to sport without a car was difficult. According to one participant, even if the bus ran regularly, rugby gear wasn’t allowed on the bus.

Social and mental wellbeing was enhanced by walking and for some, listening to music at the same time. Those who lived out of town did not walk as much due to distance, but they were willing to walk to school or to a friend if it was less than an hour.

Safety for cyclists was based on infrastructure where they were competing with pedestrians or vehicles. Safety for pedestrians was related to cars and the worry about whether they would stop for crossings. Pedestrians felt more unsafe at busy times when cars are coming and going with pick ups and drop offs. Out of town there are no footpaths and the hilly terrain reduces visibility for cars.

Barriers to choice and feeling trapped at home. Weather and the dark early mornings restricted choices of how to travel. Female students said wearing skirts prevents them from cycling. The public bus system is considered inadequate and perceived by all as a major barrier.

Walking is good

Delaying licencing and driving due to financial costs had the benefit of encouraging walking and therefore improved wellbeing. However, not having a licence was an obstacle which had a negative impact on wellbeing. Safety featured prominently in the photographs especially the dilemma of whether cars would stop for them on crossings. Complicated trip chains discouraged the teenagers from making the trip.

The title of the article is, The influence of transport on well-being among teenagers: A photovoice project in New Zealand. There is partial access, but you will need institutional access to read the whole thing. Or you can read the article on ResearchGate.

There is no reference to teenagers who are unable to walk or walk long distances. Perhaps they self-selected themselves out of the project.

From the abstract

Transport mobility greatly affect teenagers׳ ability to independently access their social networks, key activities and destinations. Consequently, it makes sense to consider the role that transport plays in influencing well-being among older adolescents. The aim of this study was to investigate how older teenagers perceive the impact of transport on their well-being.

“Photovoice” uses photographs to enhance assessments of community needs, to empower participants, and to provide a comprehensive description of an issue. This method was utilized among senior secondary school students aged 16–18 in Southland, New Zealand (n=18; 50% male). Group discussions concerning transport and well-being provided richness and depth to each photograph displayed.

Transport infrastructure played a key role in supporting well-being among participants. Regardless of the destination, photos and narratives by participants who lived close to town, and who were able to walk to destinations as part of their daily trip chain, displayed independence, happiness and positive social aspects of well-being. Living farther away from town elicited photo stories of loneliness and decreased autonomy, with respect to transport.

Photovoice projects are a valuable way to engage youth and provide context for new research topics such as this. New knowledge generated by this project will inform future research focused on transport and the well-being of young people.

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