Developing the Walking School Bus Network Guidelines

Our work with people driving their children to school revealed a strong interest in the “walking school bus” concept.

Adult volunteer “drivers” pick children up along a set route and walk them to school. In the afternoon, a reverse process occurs.

We worked with Christchurch City Council to trial walking school bus “networks” in 4 different Christchurch schools.

This was an international first as no one had attempted to establish comprehensive walking school bus networks for an entire school community.

We measured the impacts on congestion, local air quality, and the health and well-being of the children involved.

In 1998/1999 preliminary research by Pinnacle Research & Policy Ltd involving parents who drive their children to school found a high level of interest in the Walking School Bus concept. Christchurch City Council ‘Safe Routes To School’ surveys also showed that parents would allow their children to walk, instead of travel by car, if the walking was part of a safe and supervised group.

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The WSB Guidelines won an ECCA Energy-Wise Award in 2001.

In 2000, Pinnacle Research & Policy Ltd, in conjunction with the Christchurch City Council, trialled the innovative concept of Walking School Bus networks. Internationally, there had not been any recorded attempts to do this. Four schools agreed to be part of the trial; subsequently, Walking School Bus networks were established at three of these schools.

The process used was to survey the school community to ascertain which families were interested in using a Walking School Bus, and to recruit volunteer bus ‘drivers’. The survey results were analysed in order to assign families and volunteers to potential routes. Meetings were held at each school to answer questions, allow families to meet each other, and for each ‘route group’ could organise the operation of their bus (timetable, driver roster, bus stops/meeting places).

On 1 September 2000, the Walking School Bus network was launched, with a total of 13 buses set up at three schools. Two schools had 20-25% of their children using the Walking School Bus network. Over seventy families incorporating more than 110 children were involved.

In early December 2000, a follow up survey was conducted to assess the impact of the Walking School Bus and to find out what families thought of it. The main evaluation results are outlined in the trial report. At the same time as the follow-up, guidelines to setting up Walking School Bus networks were developed for use by schools.

Following the 2000/01 summer holidays, all of the networks remained intact and even expanded in some cases (a new bus was established at Beckenham School and the number of children on the Gilberthorpe bus grew). In addition, two other Christchurch schools were ‘networked’ after hearing about the initial trial. Since this time, Walking School Buses have been set up throughout New Zealand and involve thousands of children each day.

The New Zealand Transport Agency provides a resource kit, incorporating a revised version of our guidelines, which is a one-stop shop of resources for parents/caregivers, teachers, Road Safety Coordinators, travel planners, or others who work in schools such as sport and health promoters, to use to get a walking school bus underway. The kit contains resources such as guidelines, brochures and posters, along with rewards for children such as stickers and certificates.

Christchurch City Council also has extensive resources for those interested in setting up Walking School Buses.

WSB Guidelines

This guide will tell you how to set up one bus or an entire network in your school – just follow the step-by-step instructions and get walking!

WSB guide (pdf)