Walking school buses

Walking school buses (WSBs) are an organized mode of active transportation for students walking to school. WSBs 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, 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 WSBs at pre-appointed spots along the route, especially in rural areas (SRTS-Walking school bus).  

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased active transportation

  • Increased physical activity

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • 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 (WSBs) increase instances of walking to school (, , Smith 2015, Davison 2008) and physical activity for participating students (, Smith 2015), although increases in physical activity vary widely ().

WSBs can increase participants’ overall moderate to vigorous physical activity levels (Smith 2015) and help them continue to be physically active as they get older (). Interventions that encourage active transportation to school, such as WSBs, 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). WSBs 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 WSB 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 WSB program can be a challenge to sustainability, especially for schools in low income areas and areas with poor walking infrastructure (Larouche 2018, Mendoza 2014, Henderson 2013a). Additional research is needed on how to successfully develop incentives for WSBs and integrate programs into school transportation plans ().

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). A Buffalo-based study suggests WSBs are feasible in low density, suburban neighborhoods as long as enough students participate and programs proactively address parents’ concerns about safety ().

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 WSBs 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

Walking school buses (WSB) may be implemented by schools, community organizations, and government entities. For example, Roy Cloud School in Redwood City, CA has three WSB routes for their K-8th grade students, managed by a program coordinator (Roy Cloud-WSB). East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation started a WSB at one of their mixed-income, affordable family and senior housing complexes in Oakland, CA (Beeler 2014). In Alabama, the first daily WSB was started at Fairhope Elementary School in Fairhope by school staff in collaboration with Baldwin County Trailblazers, a non-profit devoted to improving walking and biking opportunities in the county; the WSB program has a director and multiple program coordinators (Fairhope-WSB, Baldwin County Trailblazers).

State and local governments can support WSB programs alongside community partners. The New Jersey Department of Transportation supports the New Jersey Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Resource Center, which provides resources for WSBs, including SRTS Regional Coordinators offering free technical assistance to create WSB and SRTS programs throughout the state (NJ SRTS-WSB). Portland - East End Community School’s WSB program is maintained by a WSB coordinator at the school with support from the Portland Bureau of Transportation (Portland-WSB, PBOT-WSB). The Napa County Office of Education in California sponsors a WSB that features a Stop and Walk program which allows students who live at a distance to join a WSB at a set, safe meeting place along the route (Napa-WSB).

The Safe Routes to School National Partnership features a WSB toolkit for educators, parents, and community members to use to establish WSBs lead by adult volunteers (Moening 2016).

Implementation Resources

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

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2014.

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

Moening 2016 - Moening K, Lieberman M, Zimmerman S. Step by step: How to start a walking school bus at your school. Safe Routes to School National Partnership and California Department of Health. 2016.

Napa-WSB - Napa County Office of Education. Walking school bus – Stop & walk. Napa, California.

Iowa WSB guide - Safe Routes to School Iowa. The Iowa walking school bus guide.

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.

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.

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 US 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.

Jones 2019* - Jones RA, Blackburn NE, Woods C, et al. Interventions promoting active transport to school in children: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Preventive Medicine. 2019;123:232-241.

Villa-Gonzalez 2018* - Villa-González E, Barranco-Ruiz Y, Evenson KR, Chillón P. Systematic review of interventions for promoting active school transport. Preventive Medicine. 2018;111:115-134.

Larouche 2018 - Larouche R, Mammen G, Rowe DA, et al. Effectiveness of active school transport interventions: A systematic review and update. BioMed Central (BMC) Public Health. 2018;18(1):1-18.

Kang 2018* - Kang B, Diao C. Walking school bus program feasibility in a suburban setting. Journal of Planning Education and Research. 2018.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

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

Portland-WSB - Portland - East End Community School's Walking School Bus program. Portland, Maine.

Moening 2016 - Moening K, Lieberman M, Zimmerman S. Step by step: How to start a walking school bus at your school. Safe Routes to School National Partnership and California Department of Health. 2016.

PBOT-WSB - City of Portland, Oregon. Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT). Safe Routes to School: Walking school bus.

Napa-WSB - Napa County Office of Education. Walking school bus – Stop & walk. Napa, California.

Roy Cloud-WSB - Roy Cloud School. Safe Routes to School: Walking school bus (WSB). Redwood City, CA.

NJ SRTS-WSB - New Jersey Safe Routes to School (SRTS) Resource Center. The walking school bus. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University.

Baldwin County Trailblazers - Baldwin County Trailblazers. Enhancing opportunities for walking and biking: Walking school bus. Baldwin County, Alabama.

Fairhope-WSB - Fairhope Elementary School. Fairhope walking school bus: Alabama's first daily walking school bus. Fairhope, AL.

Date Last Updated

Nov 4, 2019