Published: 26th MAY 2022

Active travel to schools in Scotland is holding at levels seen during height of pandemic

The percentage of school pupils travelling actively to school in 2021, either by walking, cycling, scootering or skating, has stayed at similar levels seen during 2020. This is according to new data from our Hands Up Scotland Survey.

Pupils walking to school

Photo: Jon Bewley

50.3% of school pupils surveyed said they normally travel to school in an active way, without any form of motorised transport.

This is down from the high of 51.2% in 2021, but still notably higher than pre-pandemic levels of 47.8% in 2019.

The findings form part of the annual Hands Up Scotland Survey, an official statistic in Scotland.

Funded by Transport Scotland, the survey was carried out in September 2021 by Sustrans Scotland.

Walking to school comes out on top

Walking is still by far the most common way school pupils get to school.

And although there has been a decrease from the 44.8% in 2020 to 43.6% in 2021, it remains up on the 2019 low of 41%.

Cycling to school continues to increase

The number of school pupils cycling to school continues to rise, up from 3.8% in 2020 to 4.0% in 2021.

And the number of school pupils who normally scooter or skate has also seen a small rise from 2.6% in 2020 to 2.7% in 2021.

Bus use has also seen an increase but has not yet recovered to pre-pandemic levels.

The proportion of pupils using the bus to get to school has steadily decreased over the past ten survey years.

However, 2021’s results saw 14.5% of school pupils normally using buses, up on 14.1% in 2020 but still down on the 16% from 2019.

A rise in school pupils being driven to school

Despite these positive figures, the number of school pupils being driven to school has increased on 2020’s figures.

23.2% of school pupils surveyed travelled to school by car in 2021, up slightly from 22.8% in 2020 but still lower than the high point of 23.8% in 2019.

While driving has increased, taxi use has remained fairly consistent over the past ten survey years.

In 2021, taxi use stayed at 2020 levels (1.5%), a decrease from 1.7% in 2019.

The findings also reveal a difference in travel to school between independent and state schools (excluding nurseries).

39.5% of pupils from independent schools were driven to school by car in 2021 compared to 23% of state school pupils.

And only 16.4% of independent school pupils normally walk to school, compared to 43.9% of state school pupils.

About the Hands Up Scotland Survey

The survey was carried out by Sustrans Scotland in partnership with all 32 Scottish local authorities.

Over three-quarters, (75.3%) of all state schools in Scotland (excluding nurseries) took part in this year’s survey.

Responses were received from over 418,000 school pupils and over 37,000 nursery children. 

Active travel habits developed during Covid are here to stay

Commenting on the findings, Dr Cecilia Oram, Head of Programme, Behaviour Change, Sustrans Scotland, said:

“It’s hugely encouraging to see that active travel to school has remained close to the high levels seen during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The walking, cycling, scootering, and skating habits developing during the pandemic seem to be sticking, however, we won’t really know to what extent until we gather the data over the next few years.

"Looking ahead it will be interesting to see the impacts of the Access to Bikes initiative, free bus travel for under 22-year-olds and the record increase in funding for active travel."


Find out more about our Hands Up Scotland Survey and download the results.

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