Walking bus

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Sign for a walking bus stop in the Italian city of Zanica

A walking bus is a form of student transport for schoolchildren who, chaperoned by two adults (a "Driver" leads and a "conductor" follows), walk to school, in much the same way a school bus would drive them to school. Like a traditional bus, walking buses have a fixed route with designated "bus stops" and "pick up times" in which they pick up children.


The concept of the walking bus was first invented in Australia 1992 by David Engwicht[1] and introduced in the United Kingdom in 1998 by Hertfordshire County Council. It was first used by pupils of Wheatfields Junior School in St Albans, United Kingdom in 1998 [2]

Walking Buses have remained popular in the United Kingdom and have recently gained a level of popularity elsewhere in Europe, North America[3] and New Zealand. Proponents of walking buses say that its aims are to:[4]

  • Encourage physical activity by teaching children the skills to walk safely, how to identify safe routes to school, and the benefits of walking
  • Raise awareness of extent of a community's walkability and where improvements can be made
  • Raise concern for the environment
  • Reduce crime and take back neighborhoods for people on foot
  • Reduce traffic congestion, pollution, and speed near schools
  • Share valuable time with local community leaders, parents, and children

In Auckland, New Zealand, as of November 2007, one hundred schools run 230 Walking School Buses with over 4,000 children and 1,500 adults participating.[5]

In some countries, parents and/or children on walking buses are encouraged to wear brightly coloured jackets or waistcoats. This has led to criticism that the walking bus is too regimented, and fails to achieve its original purpose of improving children's independent mobility. David Engwicht, whose 1992 book "Reclaiming our Cities and Towns" is credited by some as the origin of the Walking School Bus concept, has since stated that "The moment the Walking Bus turns into an official program, it creates some significant difficulties, particularly in litigious and risk-adverse cultures."[1]

Public health[edit]

The walking school bus can help to reduce childhood obesity rates experienced in the United States through increasing active transportation to school. The American Public Health Association cites that participation in active transportation to school has reduced by a third in the last 40 years.[6] The reduction in active transportation is seen simultaneously with an increase in childhood obesity rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports the prevalence of obesity among children and adolescents has nearly tripled since 1980. Currently approximately 17% of this population are considered to be obese.[7]

In addition to some of the benefits listed above, the walking school bus can help children arrive to school safely, on time and ready to learn. It helps children achieve the recommended 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Children are involved in a group activity which fosters a sense of teamwork and friendship. They also are able to establish a sense of independence and learn about responsibility. The walking bus can help children learn about their own neighborhood and traffic safety. Parents are engaged as positive role models helping their children engage in physical activity. They also have a sense of peace that their children will arrive safely to school on time, and at the same time are able to save on gas money.

The communities that support walking buses gain from the reduced congestion around school grounds. The walking bus is a safe, non-polluting and sustainable transport alternative to cars and buses. It helps foster a sense of community as families get to know each other, and their children become friends. In turn, more people are on the streets who are interested in the safety and security of the community. The walking bus further promotes collaboration between schools, design/build agencies, law enforcement, community leaders and parents. [8][9][10]

The built environment plays the biggest role in whether or not a community is walkable. The built environment consists of the human made surroundings that affect one’s life. There are numerous factors that make up the built environment including the availability and quality of sidewalks, crosswalks and parks, the amount of traffic and proximity to schools/parks/shops, etc. These factors determine the walkability of an area. Walkability has been shown to be closely tied to childhood obesity. One study found that “the chances of a child being obese or overweight were 20-60 percent higher among children in neighborhoods where it was not safe to walk around or where there were no sidewalks” [11] Without a walkable and safe built environment it is impossible to have a walking school bus.

Support for the walking bus[edit]

Supporting evidence[edit]

Children in neighborhoods with sidewalks and safe places to cross the street are more likely to be physically active than children living in neighborhoods without those safe infrastructure elements.


Children who walk or bicycle to school have higher daily levels of physical activity and better cardiovascular fitness than do children who do not actively commute to school.[13]

Safe Routes to School programs can increase walking and bicycling by 20 to 200%.[14]

In a study of adolescents, 100% of the students who walked both to and from school met the recommended levels of 60 or more minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity on weekdays.[15]

In a pilot Randomized Controlled Trial (RCT) conducted in Houston, Texas, children that were randomly assigned to a Walking School Bus group increased their weekly rate of active commuting by 38.0% over a five-week period, while children assigned to a no intervention group decreased their active commuting rate by a small margin.[16]

Policies and regulations[edit]

In 2005 the US Federal Transportation Reauthorization Bill—The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act (SAFETEA-LU 109-59) was passed which provided funding to all states for Safe Routes to School Programs. The program purpose is to: “enable and encourage children, including those with disabilities, to walk and bicycle to school; to make walking and bicycling to school safe and more appealing; and to facilitate the planning, development and implementation of projects that will improve safety, and reduce traffic, fuel consumption, and air pollution in the vicinity of schools.” It is a 100% federally funded program which is administered by state departments of transportation. Money will go towards infrastructure-related programs in addition to non-infrastructure activities such as education and enforcement. [17] This law is so important and central to the success of programs like the Walking Bus because it identifies the many components involved. Active transport to school and examples such as the walking school bus require collaboration from many different sectors (transportation, law enforcement, school policies, and local government to name a few). In addition, the ability to create an environment conducive to walkability is dependent on the built environment as well as numerous policies from these various sectors. [18]

According to the Institute of Medicine Report, Measuring Progress in Obesity Prevention, the environment people live in can have a profound effect on the amount of physical activity which they engage in. According to James Sallis in his workshop presentation, informal or formal policies issued by the government or private sector, can affect physical activity in four ways. First, zoning, building codes, public transportation and recreational facility policies affect ability to engage in physical activity. Second, policies affecting physical activity in schools—physical education classes, recess, and walkability to and from school. Policies providing incentives such as parking and commuting in other ways, and insurance subsidies promote walkability and physical activity for adults. Finally funding policies have a strong influence on physical activity. The 2005 federal law supporting safe Routes to School is meant to facilitate physical activity and increase walkability.[19]

Two national programs that focus on physical activity environment policies are the Health and Human Services Healthy People 2020 and the National Physical Activity Plan, sponsored by numerous organizations including the YMCA, the American Heart Association and the American Cancer Association. The plan is a public-private partnership to create policies that promote physical activity for all individuals. Healthy People 2020 lists objectives to boost physical activity and also supports the recording of national data to track interventions. These are two examples of policies to promote physical activity. The Walking School Bus fits into their programs because it increases activity and translates a sedentary time of the day (transport in car or bus to school) to an active one.[20][21]

Bicycle train[edit]

Bicycle train is the same concept but instead of walking the children and adult(s) move by bicycle.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b David Engwicht. "Is the Walking Bus stalled?". Retrieved 2009-06-16. 
  2. ^ BBC News Article
  3. ^ "Start a Walking School Bus", Partnership for a Walkable America
  4. ^ The Official Website of International Walk to School
  5. ^ Auckland Regional Transport Authority School Travel Evaluation for the 2007 school year
  6. ^ Association, American Public Health (2012), Safe Routes to School: Helping All Students Walk and Bike Safely (PDF), retrieved 2012-07-16 
  7. ^ Cynthia Ogden, Ph.D; Margaret Carroll, M.S.P.H (2005), Prevalence of Obesity Among Children and Adolescents: United States, Trends 1963–1965 Through 2007–2008, retrieved 2012-07-16 
  8. ^ http://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/wsb/, retrieved 2012-07-18  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/physicalactivity/guidelines.htm, retrieved 2012-07-18  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  10. ^ (PDF) http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/Publications/e080724100.pdf, retrieved 2012-07-18  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  11. ^ Khan, Fazal (2011), "Combating Obesity through the Built Environment: Is There a Clear Path to Success", The Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics, 39 (3): 387–393, doi:10.1111/j.1748-720X.2011.00608.x 
  12. ^ Davison, Kirsten; Lawson, Catherine (2006), "Do attributes in the physical environment influence children's physical activity? A Review of the literature", International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity 3 
  13. ^ Davison, Kirsten K.; Werder, Jessica L.; Lawson, Catherine T. (2008), "Children's Active Commuting to School: Current Knowledge and Future Directions", Preventing Chronic Disease, 5.3 (A100) 
  14. ^ Marla R. Orenstein, Nicolas Gutierrez; Ragland, David R. (2007), "Safe Routes to School Safety and Mobility Analysis", UC Berkeley Traffic Safety Center, UBC-TSC-RR-2007-1 
  15. ^ Alexander, Leslie M.; Inchley, Jo; Currie, Candace (2005), "The Broader Impact of Walking to School Among Adolescents: Seven Day Accelerometry Based Study", British Medical Journal, 331: 1061–1062, doi:10.1136/bmj.38567.382731.ae 
  16. ^ Mendoza, J.A.; Watson, K.; Baranowski, T.; Nicklas, T.A.; Uscanga, D.K.; Hanfling, M.J., "The walking school bus and children's physical activity: A pilot cluster randomized control trial", Pediatrics, 128 (3): 537–544 
  17. ^ Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), 2005, retrieved 2012-07-18 
  18. ^ Eyler, A.A.; Brownson, R.C.; Doescher, M.P.; Evenson, K.R.; Fesperman, C.E.; Litt, J.S.; Pluto, D.; Steinman, L.E.; Terpstra, J.L.; Troped, P.J.; Schmid, T.L. (2008), "Policies related to active transport to and from school: A multisite case study", Health Education Research, 23 (6): 963–975, doi:10.1093/her/cym061 
  19. ^ Report, Workshop (2012), Measuring Progress in Obesity Prevention, retrieved 2012-07-18 
  20. ^ Healthy People 2020, 2010, retrieved 2012-07-18 
  21. ^ National Physical Activity Plan, 2012, retrieved 2012-07-18 
  22. ^ SRTS Guide: Walking School Buses and Bicycle Trains - National Center for Safe Routes to School

External links[edit]