The National Safe Routes to School program (SRTS) was designed to encourage kids to use active transportation to get to and from school. However, the growing popularity of charter schools, schools of choice, and private schools have made it increasingly difficult for children to travel to school independently, partly because many no longer live close enough to walk or bike. Incorporating public transit for school commutes could solve this challenge.
This qualitative study explored why students at two intermediate schools sharing a campus in Redwood City, California, did not use public transportation for their school commute even though 80% live within one-half mile of a transit route serving the transit center nearby. The research draws together findings from interviews with five parents and two administrators, a review of academic literature, and lessons from successful SRTS programs. The study revealed the following barriers impacting parents’ decision to drive their children to school: traffic safety concerns, insufficient transit service, lack of awareness about public transportation options, stigma, stranger danger, and complicated payment methods.
This paper includes recommendations for school districts, transit operators, and local governments to improve youth transit ridership. Increasing and diversifying transit ridership by age, demographic, and socioeconomic status can reverse negative stigmas surrounding transit, relieve traffic congestion, increase farebox revenues, reduce the numbers of potentially dangerous drivers on our roads, and more. Ultimately, widespread acceptance of public transportation can transform American driving habits. It’s time to shift gears.
Meredith spent the first decade of her professional career at a Big Four accounting firm in the Assurance and Advisory Business Services practice. Over the next decade, she assisted various nonprofit and school-related organizations, including volunteering on SRTS initiatives. In 2016, she was awarded a City Coin from the San Carlos City Council for her work advancing youth transit ridership, which not only alleviated traffic and congestion, but also reduced traffic danger around schools, the commute burden on parents, and fostered independence and resiliency. The experience prompted her to pursue a master’s degree in Transportation Management at SJSU where she graduated in 2022. This piece is an abstract of her full capstone report. If your organization is interested in exploring this approach, Meredith can be contacted through LinkedIn.