Walking buses: Parents bring kids to school on foot

Program seeks to reduce the number of cars on the road for unnecessarily short distances.

Schoolchildren in walking bus program 370 (photo credit: Orit Yoav)
Schoolchildren in walking bus program 370
(photo credit: Orit Yoav)
Every Tuesday and Friday – barring inclement weather – groups of children mill their way through the streets of Binyamina together, with a parent acting as their “driver” for their “walking bus” to school.
“It’s like a big caterpillar, a lot of legs and a lot of kids,” Orit Yoav, one of the parents leading the project at Amirim elementary school in Binyamina, said on Thursday.
The Amirim program is part of a larger effort initiated by Transportation Today and Tomorrow, a nongovernmental organization handling the environmental, social justice and economic issues associated with transportation. There are five schools involved in the walking bus project thus far – pilot programs in Binyamina, Zichron Ya’acov, Haifa, Netanya and Rana’ana, explained Tamar Keinan, head of the NGO. With a goal of reducing the number of cars on the road for unnecessarily short distances, the program also provides the children with an opportunity for morning exercise if they live within 1.5 kilometers of school, she said.
“The driver is one of the parents and there are stops that can get into the bus,” Keinan said.
“The students receive the map and they can join at a certain time and can continue.”
In each school, a parent volunteers and with staff from Transportation Today and Tomorrow, build a program with routes suitable for walking to the specific school. Once in a while, the kids will also get a special visitor along their route, like the city mayor, or they can attend related lecture programs at school about health and exercise, Keinan said.
The aim is “to make this school bus the cool issue for the kids,” she added.
Although third grade is the target age for the bus, a younger child can also join if his or her older sibling is one of the passengers.
Although each of the programs are tailored to the individual school’s needs, Transportation Today and Tomorrow is involved every step of the way. In Binyamina, for example, the organization helped the parents convince the municipality to build a new, NIS 1.5 million roundabout that would shorten one of the walking routes by 80 percent, Keinan explained.
The Amirim program in Binyamina began in June 2012, and thus far about 170 out of the 500 children in the school have signed up, according to Yoav, who leads the local project with parent Nomi Gershoni. Alternating parent volunteers lead the children on three different route options to school, with each parent signing up for about once or twice a month.
Every child gets a kartisya, a multi-ride ticket similar to those distributed on public buses, where they get a hole-punch for each ride. When they fill up their cards, the children are then able to receive a prize – a Frisbee or a water bottle made of recycled materials among other things, Yoav explained.
“It’s pretty easy walking about 1-1.3 km. for each route, so it takes like half an hour and it’s early in the morning so when it’s hot, it’s not too hot,” she said.
Asked whether the kids walk in a straight line, two-by-two, Yoav chuckled and responded that “they’re not British,” but she assured The Jerusalem Post that they do walk together and socialize well. Meanwhile, the older children in the fifth and sixth grade can volunteer as “junior escorts” to help out the parents with the walks, she said.
Yoav and Gershoni are starting to work on the next school year already, and have been in touch with other Binyamina schools to expand the program there.
Nationally, Keinan said that Transportation Today and Tomorrow is in the process of bringing the project to other municipalities all over Israel.
Meanwhile, the organization is writing a guidebook for walking buses that all interested parents will be able to access.
“Our target is to have a series of guidebooks that help every stakeholder in this field that want to improve public and sustainable transportation in their city,” Keinan said.