Published: 26th MAY 2022

Pupils carrying on with active travel to school habits from the pandemic

The latest travel to school data from September, published by Sustrans in the Hands Up Scotland Survey, shows that pupils across Scotland are continuing with active travel to school habits developed during the pandemic. Here, our Scotland Education and Young People Delivery Coordinator, Dr Cecilia Oram, explores some of the findings.

A young girl in school uniform, a winter coat and a helmet rides her scooter.

What is the Hands Up Scotland Survey?

The Hands Up Scotland Survey looks at how pupils across Scotland travel to school and nursery.

It was first established in 2008, and since then the survey has been providing insight into journeys to school.

It's the largest national dataset on school travel.

The latest results look at active travel to schools across Scotland in 2021, with some very interesting results.

Active travel still higher than pre-pandemic levels

Although active travel to school overall dipped in 2021 it is still higher than the levels seen pre-pandemic in 2019.

Compared with 2020 figures, walking to school is down, cycling is up, bus use has increased and car use has gone up.

In September 2021, when the data was collected, parents and carers were returning to offices and workplaces, so it is encouraging that active travel habits appear to be holding up.

However, we will only know this for sure further down the line when the Hands Up Scotland Survey figures for September 2022 and September 2023 are collected and compared.

It is worth mentioning that behaviour changes seen with these numbers of participants show a population wide-level of change and so even small positive changes are encouraging.

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When the 2021 data was collected, parents and carers were returning to offices and workplaces. It's encouraging that active travel habits appear to be holding up. Blockquote quotation marks

Park and stride trips are on the rise

Interestingly, Park and Stride, where part of the journey is carried out by private motorised vehicle and the rest is walked, has been on an increasing trend over the last ten years.

The figure for Park and Stride between 2020 and 2021 has stayed the same.

The impact of closing the streets around the school gate

Many local authorities across Scotland have been introducing School Street projects, where access to the streets near schools is restricted during the start and end of the school day.

Other research carried out by Sustrans shows that half (49%) of UK school pupils are worried about air pollution near their school.

They worry for their health and for the environment they will grow up in.

And implementing a School Street scheme tackles the congestion, poor air quality and road safety concerns that many pupils experience during the school run.

We can speculate that the recent School Street schemes in Scotland may be encouraging more park and stride journeys by pupils as seen in the Hands Up Scotland Survey results.

The future of school travel in Scotland

Looking ahead it will be fascinating to see the impact on active travel levels in the data collected in future years on several transport policy initiatives.

This includes:

  • free bus travel for under 22-year-olds
  • free bike provision
  • School Streets projects
  • and the increase in spending on active travel from 2023-24 onwards.

The impact of the increased cost of living may also be noticeable in the September 2022 data with more parents seeking free or more affordable ways to get their children to school.


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

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