Brits incentivize walking to school

Walking to school seems like a quaint notion from decades past: whether for reasons of safety or convenience, the bus, the carpool, or the drop-off on the way to work have become the ways kids get to their schools. While the first two methods are definitely greener than the last, all deprive kids of an opportunity to get some physical activity on a regular basis… and walking definitely has a much lower carbon footprint than any motorized means.

In the UK, government agency Transport for London and company Intelligent Health have paired up to make walking more attractive for school kids… by offering rewards for getting to school on foot. The Step2Get program makes use of electronic cards that students swipe at various readers along designated routes, and a website were the kids can track their walks and rewards. Five walks to school earn a student a movie ticket; for eight walks, s/he receives a £5 shopping voucher.

The program has run two pilots so far, aimed not only at health and environmental benefits, but also public transportation crowding and safety for walking students. The pilot in Wimbledon was designed to reduce crowding on free public buses very popular with students at a local school for girls. The Bexley pilot for a boy’s school focused on getting students to take the safest routes, particularly for street crossings.

Did it work? A study of the program showed the following results:

Surveys carried out by [Transport for London] at a key bus stop in Wimbledon showed that the average dwell time between 0750 am and 0820 am fell by 62% during the trial; the number of children unable to board the bus fell by 50%. The number of pick ups during the same morning period fell by 57% from 398 to 149; Out of the 287 children who registered for the scheme 130 (45%) said they would switch to walking from other means of transport. There was a 13-18% modal shift from bus to walking between the two schools. There was a 48% reduction (£848/month) in Police time due to less crowding.

No word yet on crowding at movie theaters from students cashing in their rewards… but we can hope they’re walking there, also. The program will also be hosting a London vs. New York competition, with winners announced at the 2012 Olympics.

Think this is a good way to get kids walking to school? Could it work in the US? Would it do anything to help alleviate parents’ fears? Let us know what you think…

via This Big City and @terracomchicago


Image credit: Robin Stott at Wikimedia Commons under a Creative Commons license