The Walking Bus in Switzerland
A study by the ATE Swiss Association for Transport and Environment has measured the impact of the Walking Bus campaign in Switzerland, where the practice is known as the ‘Pédibus’. Over 1,000 parents were surveyed in order to gain an understanding of children’s mobility practices and the factors which influence their choices, the use of the Walking Bus in French-speaking Switzerland and its impact on children’s mobility, the key motivating factors for parents, and the perceived benefits. The goal is to gain a clearer understanding of children’s mobility, for the benefit not only of urban planning and development stakeholders, but also for those involved in children’s daily journeys to and from school.
The Walking Bus is an accompaniment system that enables groups of four to eight children to walk to and from school accompanied by a parent. Only 10 years ago, there was an all-too-obvious lack of studies on the role of children in the public sphere.
Children had long been reduced to the status of ‘invisibles’, despite representing a substantial and growing population segment: in 2016 in Switzerland, 928,268 schoolchildren (primary and lower secondary levels) walked to school daily.
In Switzerland, active transportation involving children remains highly developed, with 75% of them walking to school. Despite this, the country is not immune to the decline in active transportation generally observed in children in developed countries. There has been a nearly 10% drop in active transportation among children aged 6 to 9 in the past 20 years. While it accounted for 68% of the transportation mix in 1994, the figure had dropped to 59% by 2015. Conversely, the share of the mix claimed by car transportation increased from 23% in 1994 to 27% in 2015.
Studies carried out around the world have concluded that the main reasons for the sharp decline in active transportation is the larger distances to be travelled (especially in North America) and a feeling of insecurity when it comes to road traffic. This perceived lack of safety tends to increase the child accompaniment rate, creating a vicious cycle that bolsters the use of motorised mobility: the feeling of insecurity pushes parents to drive their children to and from school, increasing traffic near schools and further increasing feelings of insecurity.
The ATE study showed that the perceived lack of safety associated with the route to school is the most significant factor leading parents to accompany their children to school. Given this, a practice such as the Walking Bus is an effective solution for countering the decline in the use of active transportation among schoolchildren. The Walking Bus strikes a proper balance between parental accompaniment and independent mobility for the youngest children. In French-speaking Switzerland, the primary reason for making use of the Walking Bus is safety, whereas in other countries such as France and the United States, adoption of this practice is associated first and foremost with social links and family organisation.
Among the vast majority of French-speaking Swiss who are familiar with the Walking Bus, the innovative practice has a very high satisfaction rate (96%), thus confirming that the campaign meets the needs and expectations of parents. The Walking Bus campaign generally has a very strong and positive influence on soft mobility. Nearly half of parents in French-speaking Switzerland who were surveyed said that they had made a conscious shift toward a more sustainable form of mobility as a result of the campaign. Of those parents, 54% changed how they get around, placing greater emphasis on walking than on taking the car; 43% arranged with other parents to walk their children to school; 30% joined an existing Walking Bus; and 11% created a new one. The Walking Bus and the associated awareness campaigns are not limited to creating new routes, but also have an effect on the development of soft mobility practices overall and on the transportation methods families choose. The Walking Bus practice also contributes to socialisation and to cooperation between civil society and public authorities.
The study confirms the relevance of developing a campaign to promote the Walking Bus. The findings show that the Walking Bus works best and completely meets its objectives in French-speaking Switzerland. The structure implemented by the ATE, the support available throughout the year by the cantonal coordinating bodies, available materials and tools, as well as the festive events which are organised, are all key to the success of the Walking Bus. This campaign template can be reproduced in new cantons and countries in order to improve the safety of children’s travel while promoting soft mobility.
The study is available in its entirety in French and German in the ATE publication ‘Mobilité d’avenir’, ‘Mobilität mit Zukunft’ (downloadable at http://www.ate.ch/etudepedibus2017 or at http://www.pedibus.ch/etude).
Last updated 17 January 2018