Walking school bus

If you live within walking distance of your child’s school, but are anxious about them commuting on their own, talk to other parents and teachers about organising a “walking school bus”.

Simply, this is a group of kids who walk to school accompanied by adult minders, picking up “passengers” on the way.

Studies show that fewer children are walking and biking to school, mainly because of parental fears for their safety. The walking school bus concept, which is taking off in several countries, is a way to address this.

A sign for an Italian walking school bus programme.

The “bus” can have different permutations, depending on your situation, and comprise anything from two families informally taking turns to walk their children to school, to a structured system with a set a route, schedule and designated stops, involving a large group of kids.

Among the benefits of the “walking bus”:

  • Adds to kids’ daily activity level and has been shown to reduce childhood obesity (not to mention adult obesity too for the accompanying grownups). Also, children who walk or cycle to school have higher daily levels of physical activity and better cardiovascular fitness than those who don’t actively commute.
  • Reduces fuel use, traffic congestion and air pollution (which is often high around schools where there’s a lot of idling and stop-start driving).
  • It’s a way for residents to safely “take back the streets” from crime and motorised transport.
  • Draws attention to non-motorised transport options, and stimulates thought and action for how to make these more viable in cities.
  • Teaches children about pedestrian safety.
  • Promotes a sense of community, and forges social links.
  • It’s fun.

The Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center recommends planning and walking the route you'll take first, without children, and assessing aspects such as crossing points, crime and traffic levels, and whether walkways are sufficiently wide.

An alternative to the walking bus is the “bicycle train” – same concept, but cycling instead of walking. Adult commuter cyclists are forming similar groups too.

See Starting a Walking School Bus for more info on giving this a try in your area.

- Olivia Rose-Innes, EnviroHealth Editor, Health24, February 2013 

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