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July 17, 2013  |   Comments (4)   |   Post a comment

NAPT: ‘Walking bus’ shouldn’t sideline the yellow bus

By Thomas McMahon

The walking school bus concept has made headlines recently with a high-profile nod from first lady Michelle Obama.Photo by Safe Routes to School National Partnership

The walking school bus concept has made headlines recently with a high-profile nod from first lady Michelle Obama.
Photo by Safe Routes to School National Partnership

“Walking school buses” may make sense in some cases, but parents should be informed that the traditional yellow school bus remains the safest way for children to get to and from school, a key pupil transportation leader said this week.

The walking school bus concept — in which a group of kids walk to school with one or more adults — has made headlines recently with a high-profile nod from first lady Michelle Obama. Addressing mayors and other local officials involved in her “Let’s Move!” initiative last week, Obama noted Knox County, Tenn.’s walking school bus program.

“They’ve created a walking school bus — and I've heard more and more of this kind of walking school bus happening all over the country — so that kids can get exercise on the way to school, kind of like we did when we were growing up,” Obama said.

Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT), told SBF that while his organization applauds the first lady's effort to promote exercise, parents need to know all of the facts in order to make an informed decision about their children’s school travel.

For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation has confirmed that school buses are the safest form of transportation for students — safer than other modes like walking, bicycling or riding in a car.

“We believe that this information should be included in the conversation so parents can make an intelligent decision regarding how their children get to and from school,” Martin said.

He also pointed to factors that may make the walking school bus impractical for many families. For instance, in suburban and rural areas, walking radiuses can extend as far as 3 miles from schools.

“Not all parents have the ability or time to walk that far to school and back with their children and then do the same thing again in the middle of the afternoon,” Martin said.

Inclement weather could be another area of concern. Martin questioned what would happen with a walking school bus on rainy or snowy days — as well as on days when no chaperones are available.

“How many walking school buses will there be in most states during the months of December to February?” he said.

Martin noted that promoting more exercise is a worthwhile goal, and while many children already walk to school, others choose to exercise at other times and in other ways. But the bottom line, he said, is that exercise campaigns should not diminish the role of the yellow school bus.

“The nation's safe, convenient and effective pupil transportation system — a critical part of our public education system — should not be sidelined to advance a social program intended to fight childhood obesity,” Martin said. “Both have their place, and both need to be supported rather than positioned to be at odds with each other.”

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Read more about: NAPT, walking distance

I thought that neighborhood schools would be the reason for walking furthermore as a professional schoolbus driver we go through federal regulated background checks.I would question and do a background check on the volunteer who walks my child IE walking schoolbus because you might not get a clean background , just a thought.Some students do enough walking on the bus.

Christ Washington    |    Jul 28, 2013 07:44 PM

I completely agree that parents should have all the information about how safe school buses are and about their other advantages. Students who live close enough to schools and can walk safely should be encouraged to do so, however, for their own health and sense of independence. School buses are not in competition with walking and continue to serve an important role. They are the best means of serving the many students who don't live close enough to schools to walk or can't do so safely. For those students, our first priority should be to preserve access to school buses (and school) by resisting the continued erosion of our budgets and just saying "no" to continued cutbacks in essential school bus services. Walking and school buses both have a place and both should be emphasized as healthy, safe alternatives. The real problems we should all be working to solve are over-dependence on private cars to get to and from school and inadequate state and local policies that fail to require student transportation at all. Lack of required transportation is a real problem for those students of limited means who need it to access high quality education programs and choices.

Charlie Hood    |    Jul 22, 2013 02:23 PM

Any activity that get parents involved with their children the school and the community as a whole should not be condemned out of hand. If traffic is a problem the same parents can interact with the community planners to change that. Nearly anything or idea that can get more people to the table should have a chance to succeed. One sided considerations seldom help in the long run.

Michael Evers    |    Jul 19, 2013 07:49 AM

It sound like a good idea , but the traffic along the way to school have to be minimal or the risk of an accident is too great.

Laura Johnson    |    Jul 19, 2013 06:45 AM

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