2.3 Walking School Buses
“Walking school buses” use volunteer adults, usually parents, to walk a group of students on a specific route to and from school, collecting or dropping off children on the way. Walking school buses have fixed routes, pick-up and drop-off times, and stops (CDC, 2019). The CDC recommends one adult for every six children in the group; however, twice as many adults may be needed to supervise younger children.
A recent focus group study in the United Kingdom revealed six factors that influenced parents’ decision-making about walking school buses (Nikitas et al., 2019). Safety was a major concern, and included concerns about road safety (e.g., crossing intersections, speeding vehicles) and stranger danger (e.g., unfamiliar chaperones). Other concerns included uncertainties about logistics, health (e.g., air pollution), emotional needs (e.g., spending time with child when taking them to school), trust (e.g., trust in chaperone, trust in child to behave responsibly), and education (e.g., child may not be well aware of road dangers).
Active involvement from communities, schools, and State policy-makers are central to the development and maintenance of walking school bus programs (Turner et al., 2013; Pérez-Martín et al., 2018). Particularly, the presence of programs such as safe routes to school and school crossing guards, is associated with increased school-organized walking school buses (Turner et al., 2013). Promotional activities such as educational campaigns and policies supporting a comprehensive agenda towards increasing active transport to schools are prerequisites to effective walking school bus programs (Yang et al., 2014). The National Center for Safe Routes to School and PedNet released a primer and training material to help communities plan and launch a walking school bus program, identify community partners, and secure program funding. Information is available at http://apps.saferoutesinfo.org/training/walking_school_bus/modules.cfm/. See also www.walkingschoolbus.org/resources.html for additional resources.
Use: One study of U.S. elementary schools found that from 2008 to 2010 the percentage of schools organizing walking school buses increased 48%, increasing from 4.2% to 6.2% (Turner et al., 2013). As of September 2019 the total extent of the use of walking school buses is unknown; but many localities have active programs, including programs in Apex, NC, Seattle, WA, and El Monte, CA (visit www.saferoutespartnership.org/blog/its-match-how-walk-us-el-monte-adapted-walking-school-bus-program-fit-their-community and www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SDOT/SRTS/StartingASafeRoutestoSchoolCampaign.pdf for more information).
Effectiveness: In a study of fourth grade students from eight low-income schools in Houston, Texas, researchers examined the impact of walking school buses on several pedestrian behaviors (Mendoza et al., 2012). Researchers found these students were five times more likely to cross at the intersection or crosswalk (rather than midblock locations) as opposed to children at schools without walking school buses. An evaluation of a walking school bus program in Seattle found a modest increase in most student safety crossing behaviors after the implementation of the program, but safe crossing behaviors remained low overall (Johnston et al., 2006).
A pilot study of walking school buses was conducted in Spain (Pérez-Martín et al., 2018). Fifty-five children participated in this 13-week pilot, and were each assigned to one of three routes. Parents could monitor real-time information of the walking school bus on a mobile app. Post-pilot, more than 43% of the participants were found to have partially or completely changed their mode of school transportation from automobile to walking.
Costs: Walking school buses could cost as little as $500 per school year (PedNet Coalition, 2014).
Time to implement: Walking school buses could be improved with support from local or State policies, and promotional activities. Once these are in place, planning and implementing the program could take 3 months (Moening et al., 2016).