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Walking school buses

Evidence Rating

Scientifically Supported

Walking school buses are an organized mode of active transportation for students walking to school. Walking school buses have a fixed route, with designated stops and pick up times when children can join adult chaperones to walk to school. Walking school bus programs can be implemented in neighborhoods of various socio-economic status (SES), and frequently are in urban and suburban areas where many children live close enough to walk to school. Children who live farther than walking distance from school may join walking school buses at pre-appointed spots along the route, especially in rural areas (SRTS-Walking school bus).    

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased active transportation

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased physical activity

  • Improved health outcomes

  • Improved sense of community

  • Increased academic achievement

  • Reduced vehicle miles traveled

  • Reduced emissions

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that walking school buses increase instances of walking to school for participating students (Smith 2015, Chillon 2011, Davison 2008). Walking school buses may also increase participants’ overall moderate to vigorous activity levels (Smith 2015), and help them continue to be physically active as they get older (); however, additional evidence is needed to confirm these effects.

Interventions that encourage active transportation to school, such as walking school buses, have been shown to improve many health and fitness outcomes, including weight status/body composition, cardiorespiratory fitness, and muscular fitness and flexibility, for children and adolescents (Lubans 2011, Mendoza 2011a). Research also suggests that time spent outside (e.g., walking to school) is beneficial for cognitive development and academic performance (Smith 2015). Walking school buses can encourage positive social interaction between participants of all ages and may increase children’s road safety skills (Smith 2015).

District policies and state laws supporting safe active routes to school have been associated with an increased likelihood that elementary schools will implement walking school bus programs (). A program coordinator, especially paid, can increase program effectiveness through outreach to parents, management of walking routes, rosters, and volunteers, partnership with community organizations to emphasize safe streets, and donation and incentive coordination (Smith 2015). In programs without coordinators, maintaining volunteer interest and support beyond the initial phase of a walking school bus program can be a challenge to sustainability, especially for schools in low income areas and areas with poor walking infrastructure (Smith 2015, Mendoza 2014, Henderson 2013a, VicHealth-Ross 2007).

Some researchers suggest that GPS tracking in smartphones can monitor the walking school bus en route, which may help alleviate parental concerns about safety (Smith 2015). A Belgium-based study suggests that designated drop off locations can encourage participation of children who live farther from school (Vanwolleghem 2014).

Walking school bus programs appear to be generally well-received in communities. New Zealand-based surveys, for example, suggest parent coordinators value the sense of community created by walking school buses as well as the exercise and other potential health benefits ().

Replacing automotive trips with biking and walking can reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and emissions at relatively low cost, although the long-term effect on traffic reduction is likely minor (Smith 2015, RAND-Sorenson 2008, ). 

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

As of the 2009-2010 school year, 6.2% of public elementary schools nationwide had implemented a walking school bus program (). Walking school buses may be implemented by schools as well as by a variety of individuals, community organizations, and government entities. For example, Somerville, NJ and Seattle, WA each have walking school buses started by school staff (Esteves 2014, Lawton WSB 2015). A walking school bus in Springfield, MA was started by a local Family Nurse Practitioner (Springfield 2013). East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation started a walking school bus in Oakland, CA (Beeler 2014).

State and local governments can support walking school bus programs; for example, in Maine and St. Petersburg, FL small funding streams have been created to pay for safety vests, crossing signs, and volunteer background checks (Maine WSB 2015, St. Petersburg WSB 2013).

Implementation Resources

SRTS-Walking school bus - National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS). Starting a walking school bus.

SRTS-Walking school bus guide - National Center for Safe Routes to School (SRTS). The walking school bus: Combining safety, fun and the walk to school.

CDC-DNPAO data - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). Nutrition, physical activity and obesity: Data, trends and maps online tool.

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). 2014.

US DOT-PBIC Sidewalks - US Department of Transportation (US DOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC). Sidewalks and walkways.

HOST-PA - Healthy Out-of-School Time (HOST) Coalition. Resources: Physical activity (PA).

Seattle DOT-WSB 2015 - City of Seattle Department of Transportation (DOT). Walking school bus: Get to know your neighbors by starting your own walking school bus (WSB). 2015.

Olmsted County-WSB manual - County of Olmsted. The walking school bus resource manual: Steps to a healthier Rochester, MN. 2015.

Steckly 2014 - Steckly R, McEwan L. Active transport for the school journey. WellSpring: Sharing physical activity knowledge. Alberta Center for Active Living; 2014. 

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

RAND-Sorenson 2008 - Sorenson P, Wachs M, Min EY, et al. Moving Los Angeles: Short-term policy options for improving transportation. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation; 2008: Monograph Report 748.

Lubans 2011 - Lubans DR, Boreham CA, Kelly P, Foster CE. The relationship between active travel to school and health-related fitness in children and adolescents: A systematic review. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2011;8:5.

Chillon 2011 - Chillón P, Evenson KR, Vaughn A, Ward DS. A systematic review of interventions for promoting active transportation to school. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2011;8:10.

Davison 2008 - Davison KK, Werder JL, Lawson CT. Children’s active commuting to school: Current knowledge and future directions. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2008;5(3).

Sayers 2012* - Sayers SP, LeMaster JW, Thomas IM, Petroski GF, Ge B. A Walking School Bus program: Impact on physical activity in elementary school children in Columbia, Missouri. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2012;43(5 Suppl 4):S384–9.

VicHealth-Ross 2007 - Ross I. Walking the walk: Evaluation of phases 1 and 2 of the Walking School Bus program. Victoria, AU: Victoria Health Promotion Foundation (VicHealth); 2007.

Collins 2010* - Collins D, Kearns RA. Walking school buses in the Auckland region: A longitudinal assessment. Transport Policy. 2010;17(1):1–8.

Turner 2013* - Turner L, Chriqui JF, Chaloupka FJ. Walking school bus programs in U.S. public elementary schools. Journal of Physical Activity & Health. 2013;10(5):641–5.

Salon 2012* - Salon D, Boarnet MG, Handy S, Spears S, Tal G. How do local actions affect VMT? A critical review of the empirical evidence. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. 2012;17(7):495–508.

Mendoza 2011a - Mendoza JA, Katson K, Nguyen N, et al. Active commuting to school and association with physical activity and adiposity among US youth. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2011;8(4):488-95.

Smith 2015 - Smith L, Norgate SH, Cherrett T, et al. Walking school buses as a form of active transportation for children: A review of the evidence. Journal of School Health. 2015;85(3):197-210.

Mendoza 2014 - Mendoza JA, Cowan D, Liu Y. Predictors of children's active commuting to school: An observational evaluation in five US communities. The Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2014;11(4):729-733.

Vanwolleghem 2014 - Vanwolleghem G, D'Haese S, Van Dyck D, De Bourdeaudhuij I, Cardon G. Feasibility and effectiveness of drop-off spots to promote walking to school. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity. 2014;11:136.

Henderson 2013a - Henderson S, Tanner R, Klanderman N, et al. Safe Routes to School: A public health practice success story- Atlanta, 2008-2010. Journal of Physical Activity and Health. 2013;10:141-142.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Turner 2013* - Turner L, Chriqui JF, Chaloupka FJ. Walking school bus programs in U.S. public elementary schools. Journal of Physical Activity & Health. 2013;10(5):641–5.

Beeler 2014 - Beeler, M. Walking School Bus: A route to improved academics for young EBALDC residents (East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation). East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation. 2014.

Maine WSB 2015 - Maine Walking School Bus Program. Walking School Bus, Maine. 2015.

Esteves 2014 - Esteves S. Getting to school on a foot-powered bus. CNN.com. 2014.

St. Petersburg WSB 2013 - Walking school bus (WSB) program helps students get to school. The St. Petersburg Tribune. 2013.

Springfield 2013 - Safe Routes Matters. Walking school bus program helps move a neighborhood forward in Springfield, MA. National Center for Safe Routes to School. July/August 2013.

Lawton WSB 2015 - Lawton Elementary School. Walking School Bus (WSB). Seattle Public Schools. Seattle, WA. 2015.

Date Last Updated

Oct 22, 2015