Project strand   – innovating ‘Next Generation’ Walking School Buses
Background to concept

The rise in the number of ‘home to school’ journeys being taken by car is thought to be at least partially attributable to increased parental perception of risks on route (e.g. ONS, 2010). In the UK, 43% of pupils currently travel to primary school by car compared to 38% in 1995/7 (NTS, 2010). This trend is recognised as contributing to school gate congestion, compromised child health (e.g. child pedestrian road casualties; poor air quality outside schools; obesity etc). Crucially, 200 kg carbon per year is estimated for making five trips of 1.2 miles during term time. These factors have prompted efforts to identify safe alternatives.  Although authorities have implemented travel plans in partnership with schools (Baslington, 2008), ‘collective’ modes of active transportation, including walking school buses have received less attention.

UK commute patterns are dominated by single car occupancy and in 2009, 85% of commuter car journeys were single occupancy.  It was estimated that the greenhouse gas footprint for English schools in 2006 was 9.4 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent and 16% of that came from school transport.  This project investigates how behaviour change in transport practices can be facilitated by the formation of a new transport network based on the principles of social networking.

What is being developed?

An open and secure platform will be created based around the smart phone that will enable people to better visualize the activity of other people and things relative to their own immediate and future movements.  At the University of Salford, Dr Sarah Norgate and Dr Liz Smith are working with partners in education to develop a new generation of ‘Walking School Bus’ (WSB) using the new platform.

What is a ‘Next Generation WSB?

The concept involves using the tracking ability in Smart phones to give the WSB new temporal visibility to users and potential users (parents, children, and walking bus facilitators) to optimise fluidity across scheduling boundaries between the morning school run and morning work start times, reducing the barriers to ‘punctuality’ for school start time reported previously by WSB coordinators and head teachers in traditional style WSB studies. The design and delivery of the concept requires input from feedback from a variety of stakeholders (e.g. walking school bus coordinators, headteachers, road safety teams, school travel planners, etc). The coordinator of the WSB would continually share their position and the 6th Sense platform would allow parents (and involving children where appropriate) to visualise the WSB’s current position and also its predicted arrival time at their pick-up point through their 6th Sense Transport Smartphone app.

Next steps

The project takes place until January 2014.The decisions around the recruitment of primary schools for the user testing and  intervention trials will be informed partially by congestion and school trends in 5-year carbon reduction data as well as schools identifying their ‘readiness’ for change. Parents’ planning behaviours around decision making on the school run will be related to individual time typologies, further informing the design of the interface. In the future, we hope to explore ways to work with key influencers in the media who have target audiences with children and families to ‘sell’ the concept to the public including tomorrow’s commuters.   The new WSBs will be designed with stakeholders (local authorities, parents, schools etc) and we hope to use social marketing to encourage uptake.



We understand the extent to which behavioural change in transport habits and practices can be facilitated through the creation of a new form of ‘transport network’, based on extending social tablet.pngnetworking principles to transport users.

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Mobile Apps

The project has developed a suite of mobile phone apps for each of the corresponding research contexts. Watch videos and read details of the projects aims, phone-exploded.pngkey findings and outputs.

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The 6ST team comprised researchers from the universities of Southampton, Edinburgh, Salford, people.pngBournemouth and Lancaster.

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