Walking School Bus Programs: Implementation Factors, Implementation Outcomes, and Student Outcomes, 2017–2018

Key Takeaways:

  • The benefits of having regular Walking School Busses (WSB) are cumulative. With each additional WSB trip, kids were 23 percent more likely to arrive to school on time and 21 percent less likely to experience bullying.
  • Forty-two percent of programs reported improvements in students’ classroom behavior.
  • The most common barriers to walking school bus programs were recruiting and maintaining student participants and identifying and maintaining route leaders.
  • Programs in low-income communities were less likely to be coordinated by a parent than programs in moderate- and high-income communities (3.2 percent vs 29.6 percent).
  • Programs in low- and moderate-income communities were more likely to have external funding than those in high-income communities (71.4 percent vs 37 percent).
  • Programs within the United States had fewer route leaders overall, but more route leaders from the school and school supports than programs outside the United States.
  • Programs with more route leaders reached more students and were more likely to report sustainability than programs with fewer route leaders.
  • Programs coordinated by parents and external organizations had a lower reach (total student participation) than those coordinated by school or district staff.
  • Programs coordinated by parents as opposed to school staff had a slightly easier time recruiting route leaders and were more likely to have a higher number of walks per week.
  • Programs were successful despite having a low level of support from school and without strong school involvement. They were also successful when the neighborhood and built environment conditions were not supportive of walking.


  • This evaluation of walking school bus programs is based on a survey of 145 key informants from 184 walking school bus programs from 2017-2018. The majority of the programs were from the U.S., representing multiple regions. Thirty-four programs were outside of the U.S., representing six different countries.


  • Walking School Buses bring benefits that school administrators and teachers care about, including arriving at school on time and ready to learn and reductions in bullying. Safe Routes to School advocates and practitioners can elevate these positive impacts when coordinating with school leaders.
  • Walking school bus programs can be implemented in various contexts and can be implemented successfully with different types of leaders. There may be benefits and trade-offs to having school-led versus parent or externally-led programs, but different contexts may call upon different program structures.
  • A variety of health and social benefits are associated with walking school bus programs and can be an effective, relatively low-cost strategy for achieving positive health outcomes for students.


Carlson, Jordan A, Chelsea Steel, Carolina Bejarano, Marshall T. Beauchamp, Ann M. Davis, James F. Sallis, Jon Kerner, Ross Brownson, Sara Zimmerman. “Walking School Bus Programs: Implementation Factors, Implementation Outcomes, and Student Outcomes, 2017–2018.” Preventing Chronic Disease 17 (2020). https://doi.org/10.5888/pcd17.200061.

screenshot of research article about walking school bus
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