Travel behaviour change: Active school travel plan

Why change travel behaviour?

Forty years ago about 75 per cent of children walked or rode to school, and only 25 per cent were driven or used other means of transport. Today, more than 70 per cent of primary school children are driven to and from school every day. Research by Griffith University (School Travel Modes in Brisbane, 2005) has found that many parents have safety concerns and would prefer to drive their children to and from school. (Brisbane City Council) Other reasons for this trend have been reported as:

  • parents’ fears about the personal safety of their children if they travel to school unaccompanied
  • parents’ fears about their children’s involvement in road traffic accidents if they walk or cycle to school
  • increases in car ownership and use, particularly in the proportion of households with a second car
  • greater parental choice and other factors resulting in longer journeys to school. (Chapel Hill State Primary School and Brisbane City Council,2005)

Other Australian research has found that having close proximity from home to school, reducing traffic volume, and having footpaths and safe crossing leading to school are important features in encouraging active travel to school. (Wood, et. al., 2009)

The growing trend in children being driven to school has resulted in negative repercussions on the health of our children. In 2006, 21 per cent of children aged 5 to 17 years in Queensland were found to be overweight or obese. (Abbott, et. al., 2006) In addition, the increase in children being driven to school has resulted in:

  • an increase in peak period traffic congestion
  • an increase in atmospheric pollution around schools
  • less opportunity for children to develop road safety and personal safety skills
  • reduced independence and social interaction in children
  • development of travel habits early in life which are difficult to change. (Chapel Hill State Primary School and Brisbane City Council,2005)

One simple way to reduce congestion and improve the health of children (and parents) is to travel by foot, bicycle, scooter, roller blades or public transport for a few trips a week. Active school travel programs aim to increase active modes of travel to and from school in place of being driven, and increase school children’s levels of physical activity.

An active school travel program will:

  • promote healthy alternatives to car travel
  • improve the safety of routes children use to travel to school
  • improve the health of students.

Reducing the number of cars around schools is likely to make it safer for children who walk or ride. It will also be better for the environment through less pollution from car exhaust. (Brisbane City Council)

Benefits of active school travel

(Chapel Hill State Primary School and Brisbane City Council,2005)

Benefits to students include:

  • improved road safety conditions as the number of cars in the school vicinity is reduced
  • improved health and fitness
  • increased independence and self-confidence
  • increased social interaction
  • improved education for living
  • increased awareness of the environment
  • improved road safety skills
  • cost savings on car fuel for parents.

Benefits to the school include:

  • healthier, more motivated students
  • reduced traffic congestion and improved access to the school for parents, students, staff and visitors
  • improved community image, promoting the school as an innovative, healthy and environmentally aware school
  • improved community networks.

Benefits to the community include:

  • demonstration of roll modelling and challenge to other schools by demonstrating commitment to environmental and health priorities
  • reduced car parking requirements and traffic in the vicinity of schools.

Benefits to the environment include:

  • improved local air quality with less noise, dirt and fumes
  • local action on national and global environmental problems.

Brisbane City Council Active School Travel Program

The following information has been provided by Brisbane City Council.

The Active School Travel (AST) program is a travel behaviour change program offered by Brisbane City Council to local primary schools. The program began in 2004 when it was delivered to eight schools. It has since been further developed and improved, and provided to ten schools in 2005 and 2006, and 13 schools in 2007 and 2008. Schools apply to participate in the program and council selects schools to be involved in the program based on the criteria of need, feasibility, school community commitment and enthusiasm.


The AST program is aimed at reducing traffic around schools in the morning and afternoon peak periods. It does this by promoting walking, cycling, public transport and carpooling as clean and green, active and healthy modes of transport to and from school.

A key objective for Council is to assist each school to develop a school travel plan, which is a framework to bring about a change in behaviour towards active and sustainable transport modes. The school travel plan helps ensure the sustainability of the program in the school in subsequent years.


The school travel plan is supported by a number of initiatives that reinforce the aim of the project, including bicycle skills training, Walking Wheeling Wednesday, walking school buses, park and stride, public transport orientation, BLAST concerts, local access maps, road safety awareness, working advisory groups and car pooling. Council’s key role is to facilitate integration of the program into all levels of the school.

The AST program is also supported by Department of Transport and Main Roads (Road Safety), RACQ, Queensland Police, Queensland Health and many local community groups.

The AST program resulted in an 11 per cent decrease in sole passenger car trips to and from school in 2007. The highest modal shift towards sustainable transport was walking, with a 7.5 per cent increase across all schools over the year. On Walking Wheeling Wednesdays, 91 per cent of Seven Hills State School students were regularly travelling to school using active modes.

These results can be quantified as:

  • a reduction of almost one million vehicle kilometres travelled annually (based on the assumptions of: average journey length is 1.5 kilometres and parents are driving to and from school each day of the week)
  • a reduction in CO2 emissions of almost 220,000 kilograms annually (based on Australian Greenhouse Office estimates of carbon dioxide emissions from petrol to be 2.64 kilograms per litre. At an average of 11 litres per 100km for cars, this converts to 0.24 kilograms per car per kilometre)
  • an increase in physical activity.


The AST program delivers a range of school and community benefits, these include:

  • increased participation in active transport
  • increased physical activity levels for students and parents
  • healthy interschool competition
  • developing a strong sense of community within the school and local area
  • positive local and state government engagement.


The AST program provides students with a positive and safe active travel experience. By encouraging active travel across more activities than just the journey to and from school, the AST program aims to influence continuing this sustainable travel behaviour throughout life. The AST program also has a positive impact on parental attitudes to the reduction of private motor vehicle use.

How to develop an active school travel plan

A recommended process is illustrated in the following diagram and described further in the following points.

Set up includes:

  • establishing a project working group within the school and allocating tasks to individual members, such as marketing and leading walking activities
  • engaging essential members, such as the school’s principal, teachers, students and parents, and council officers, councillors, Parents and Citizens or Parents and Friends, and the Queensland Police Service
  • establishing the project budget, resources and timeframe
  • agreeing on who will be coordinating the program between the school and council
  • establishing allied links, including Queensland Health, Department of Transport and Main Roads, and RACQ.b_figure_3

Research includes:

  • conducting baseline travel surveys to establish current modal split – students (hands-up classroom survey), teachers, parents
  • understanding the current barriers to active transport of students, teachers and parents
  • auditing the school environment – school policies (such as start and finish times, school population and extended use), infrastructure and safety.

Planning includes:

  • establishing and developing a school travel plan, including an effective communication plan
  • setting objectives and targets and developing the program’s action plan, including responsibility, target dates and costs (keep this flexible to reflect individual school issues)
  • planning and scheduling initiatives for the year in the school calendar
  • planning infrastructure improvements as highlighted in the school’s environment audit
  • having the project working group endorse the school travel plan.

Implementing includes:

  • implementing the actions and initiatives arising from the action plan
  • delivering agreed initiatives
  • maintaining monthly project working group meetings.

Monitoring and refining includes:

  • obtaining and reviewing feedback results and celebrating successes
  • measuring the effectiveness of activities through weekly surveys and feedback
  • evaluating the active school travel program to measure effectiveness and modal shift (hands-up classroom survey) (evaluate at least annually)
  • conducting parent and teacher feedback forums (hold forums at least annually)
  • adapting actions and initiatives to reflect survey and evaluation feedback
  • ensuring the school travel plan process becomes integrated into the schools’ operational planning.

Key success factors include:

  • having a good level of support and buy in from the school principal
  • having an on going commitment to the plan and increasing ongoing changes in travel behaviour
  • developing a positive relationship between the school and the council
  • having the travel coordinator and project working group taking ownership of the plan
  • considering the relationship with infrastructure provision – tie the active school travel plan with improvements to infrastructure around the school
  • addressing issues that the school is facing such as congestion and safety
  • having a champion
  • spreading information on the plan across a number of people within the school to increase its sustainability
  • building community networks so activities like car pooling and walking to school can occur
  • providing incentives for students and parents.

TravelSmart Program Queensland

The Queensland Government’s TravelSmart Schools Program encourages school communities to consider environmentally-friendly transport options as an alternative to motor vehicle use. This program is developing tools to assist schools and local governments to implement the TravelSmart Schools Program.

For more information:



  • Chapel Hill State Primary School and Brisbane City Council 2005, Active School Travel Program and School Travel Plan for Chapel Hill State School, [Online] Available at:
  • Wood, G., Giles-Corti, B., McCormick, G., Van Niel, K., Bulsara, M., Timperio, A., Pikora, T., Learnihan, V., Murray, R. 2009, ‘Individual, physical-environmental and socio-cultural factors associated with walking to school in Perth primary school children’, Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, vol. 12, no. 6, p. 170.
  • Abbott, R., MacDonald, D., Mackinnon, L., Stubbs, C.O., Lee, A.J., Harper, C., Davies, P.S.W. 2007, Healthy Kids Queensland Survey 2006. Queensland Health, Brisbane.