Published: 10th JUNE 2024

Active School Travel programme brings economic benefits to Northern Ireland

Over half a million pounds was saved during the course of a year by families doing the school run on foot, scooter or bike instead of by car at schools participating in the Active School Travel programme.

A male GTVƵ active travel officer crouches on the ground in school playground while a row of children on bikes wearing helmets line up beside him

Dave Wiggins is one of the Active School Travel officers working in schools throughout Northern Ireland. Credit: Brian Morrison / GTVƵ

New researchhighlights some of the impressive economic benefits of the programme we've delivered to more than 500 schools in Northern Ireland since 2013.

During Bike Week, we're renewing our call for Safe Routes to Schools and School Streets to boost those benefits by increasing the numbers cycling to school which remain at just 1% according to the latest figures from the Department for Infrastructure.

The Active School Travel programme is an initiative for schools who wish to see more of their pupils choosing an active and healthy journey to school. It’s funded by the Public Health Agency and the Department for Infrastructure.

Get more children walking, cycling and scooting to school

The fundamental aim of the programme is to provide schools with the skills and knowledge to get more children, walking, cycling and scooting as their main mode of transport to school.

The success of the programme is clear with a decade of year-on-year positive results, demonstrating an uptake in the number of pupils choosing active travel modes to get to and from school while simultaneously seeing a drop in the numbers being driven to school at participating schools.

At the end of the 2022-23 school year, the number of children travelling actively to participating schools increased from 30% to 42%. At the same time, the number of pupils being driven to school fell from 60% to 47%. After one year in the programme, the number of children completing physical activity for at least 60 minutes each day increased from 29% to 46%.

Economic benefits study results

A study by our Research and Monitoring Unit underlines how those switching from driving to walking, scooting or cycling on the school run can make considerable savings.

It’s found that the overall cost benefit over the course of a year, of the mode shift resulting from engaging with the Active School Travel programme, was just under £560,000.

An infographic in blue font showing a car and above it the statement '£559,000 saved through fewer car trips'.

Over 1 million car trips were saved, equating to over £200,000 in fuel costs savings, as well as a saving of around 390,000 kg of CO2e, valued at £81,000.

Approximately 1.5 million miles of car journeys were removed from the roads, leading to at least £275,000 being saved through decongestion.

Furthermore, the benefits to health, wellbeing and road safety around schools were not included in this current study, so the benefits are likely to be much greater.

Positive schools' feedback

The feedback from schools is overwhelmingly positive. They report pupils being more alert and eager to learn when they arrive by bike, foot or scooter in the mornings – and the safety issue associated with large numbers of cars at drop-off and pick-up times is alleviated.

This also protects children from the harmful effects of car fumes on their young lungs.

The outstanding Active School Travel Officers are experts at making activities fun and inclusive, giving children the skills and confidence to develop healthy habits for life.

Two children on bikes wearing helmets stand beside a bike shelter in a school playground.

The Active School Travel programme has economic benefits according to the latest report from our Research and Monitoring Unit. Credit: Brian Morrison / GTVƵ

Active School Travel Manager, Beth Harding, said: “I want to pay tribute to my amazing team for their commitment and dedication in making active travel an enjoyable and rewarding experience for all the children they work with in schools across the country.

“They care deeply for the health and wellbeing of all the children and get such satisfaction from seeing the children adopt active travel.

“I also want to thank all the schools who take the programme to their hearts and help us make it work so well.

“It is gratifying to discover that our work not only helps individuals but also their households by making savings on fuel.

“We know that children want to walk, scoot or cycle to school and we know it has enormous benefits for them mentally, physically, academically and socially.

“We need to see Safe Routes to Schools infrastructure improvements and School Streets safety initiatives introduced in Northern Ireland, so as many children as possible can take active journeys to school and enjoy all the pleasures that brings.”

Blockquote quotation marks
We know that children want to walk, scoot or cycle to school and we know it has enormous benefits for them mentally, physically, academically and socially. Blockquote quotation marks
Share this page

Read other news stories from Northern Ireland