Bike and Walk to school programs appear to work

"I can see you in the morning when you go to school"
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"I can see you in the morning when you go to school"
“I can see you in the morning when you go to school”

Remember that time when you put your coat on and cycled to school? You had not heard of ‘net present value benefits’, ‘benefit-cost ratios’, relatively cost-effective interventions’ and ‘student travel mode data’. 

You better get used to these terminologies as recently, the results of a School Travel Planning study were published and it looks good. Nineteen projects (covering 71 schools)  were studied and on average estimated car use (to drop the kids off at school) decreased by 2.8% (or in estimated absolute numbers:  192,224 km), and increased physical activity was observed, including 1.3 million minutes of walking, and 2 million minutes of cycling. 

The benefit to get your kids walking or cycling to school average out (per student) to $221; the cost only $124 over a period of 11 years. Here is a summary that I received from Wallace Beaton (contact info below).

The Costs and Benefits of School Travel Planning Projects in Ontario, Canada (January 2014)


Between 2009 and 2012, the Canadian School Travel Planning (STP) model was applied at 71 elementary schools in Ontario to promote active and sustainable modes of school travel for students and families, delivered through partnerships of schools, municipalities, public health units and community  groups. Evaluations of STP projects, such as the “Step­ping It Up – Final Report”2, demonstrate that travel be­haviour change can be achieved. This study goes a step farther, and serves as the first benefit-cost analysis (BCA) of STP projects conducted in Canada. This study mea­sures the model’s cost-effectiveness and demonstrates a BCA method that can be honed and utilized going forward.

This study analyzes STP results for 19 proj­ects in Ontario communities, ranging in population size, type (urban, suburban, rural) and geographic location (Ottawa, Brampton, Hamilton, Waterloo, Cayuga & Caledonia, and St. Thomas). These 19 STP projects were screened for the study based upon student travel survey datasets and response rates, and collectively reflect the di­verse application of STP across the province.

For each of the selected STP projects, existing student travel mode data was compiled, and data regarding project costs, time, and initiatives delivered was collected from each community. The BCA methodology was developed collaborative­ly, including a peer review component. The values used to estimate the benefits of increases in walking and decreases in car travel were derived from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute’s “Evaluating Active Transport Benefits and Costs”3 report. These benefit values are conservative compared to those used by other jurisdictions.

Results from 19 School Travel Planning Projects and Modelling Costs and Benefits

The 19 STP projects recorded an overall decrease of 2.8% in car trips in the morning period, and 1.4% decrease in the afternoon period. An increase of 1.3% in walking and cycling to school was measured in the morning period, and 0.6% increase in the afternoon period. When extrapolated for a full school year, the projects are estimated to have:

  • reduced 192,224 vehicle kilometres travelled;
  • reduced 41.7 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and 1.7 tonnes of air pollutants (CAC); and
  • increased physical activity, including 1.3 million minutes of walking, and 2 million minutes of cycling.

Modelling of this increased walking and decreased driving resulted in:

  • annual societal benefits of approximately $200,000;
  • net present value benefits of $1.8 million if STP is maintained for 11 years; and
  • average benefits per student of approximately $221 over 11 years.

The STP cost data compiled includes provincial, regional and municipal level coordination costs, as well as school-level planning, implementation, and monitoring and maintenance costs. Monitoring and maintenance costs are projected for an additional 10 years.

  • an average annual cost of approximately $93,000;
  • total costs of the 19 STP projects to be 1 million over 11 years; and
  • an average cost per student of approximately $124 for 11 years.

Modelling the Costs and Benefits of School Travel Planning Province-Wide

Based on the average benefits ($221) and costs ($124) per student, if STP programming was deliv­ered across Ontario to the approximately 640,000 elementary school students not eligible for trans­portation services (e.g. school bus), benefits are estimated to be $142 million, at the cost of approxi­mately $80 million.

Cost-Effectiveness of School Travel Planning

Based on the estimated net present value benefits and total costs, the benefit-cost ratio of 1.8 supports the STP model as a relatively cost-effective intervention that when effectively coordinated and implemented can result in positive school travel behaviour change, and ultimately provide substantial economic, environmental and physical activity benefits. Additionally, this study demonstrates that the STP model in Ontario can be evaluated, and provides a method that can be further refined going forward.


Recommendations for Future Studies

Recommendations to improve future benefit-cost analyses of STP projects to provide more rigorous results include:

  • more frequent and long-term delivery of student travel behaviour surveys;
  • more rigorous surveying resulting in higher response rates with appropriate support to schools and community stakeholders;
  • application of standardized health benefit values and traffic and safety data;
  • cost collection during STP projects; and
  • inclusion of control schools.

Read the study here: Cost and Benefit of School Travel Planning Projects (in PDF) in Ontario, Canada

Want to know more bout walk and bike to school programs? Contact

Wallace Beaton

Active & Safe Routes to School Coordinator – Ottawa & Eastern Ontario

Coordonnateur – Écoliers actifs et en sécurité, Ottawa et l’Est ontarien

Green Communities Canada / 613.314.3551/ Twitter: @walk2schoolyow

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