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Costs of school transportation: quantifying the fiscal impacts of encouraging walking and bicycling for school travel


National governments have provided subsidies for investments in increasing the safety and attractiveness of walking and biking to school. Evaluations of Safe Routes to School initiatives have found that they have been effective at changing behavior and reducing injuries. However, there has been little attention to the impacts of these programs on pupil transportation costs. This analysis assesses the potential economic benefits of Safe Routes to School programs in the US context by estimating the annual costs of using motorized transport for short trips to schools, examining real-world examples of the costs savings of SRTS programs, and evaluating land use impacts on school transportation costs using a simulation analysis of school bus routes. We find that there is potential for school districts and families to reduce transport expenditures through public sector investments in walking and biking infrastructure near schools. We also find that land use context matters and the most cost-effective investments would benefit schools where large numbers of children live within walking distance.

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This project was funded by the Active Living Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center (STRIDE) with funding from US Department of Transportation.

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Correspondence to Noreen C. McDonald.

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McDonald, N.C., Steiner, R.L., Palmer, W.M. et al. Costs of school transportation: quantifying the fiscal impacts of encouraging walking and bicycling for school travel. Transportation 43, 159–175 (2016).

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  • School transport
  • Safe routes to school
  • Costs
  • School bus
  • Hazard busing