Universities develop app to track walking school buses

Monday 17 June 2013

The Universities of Salford and Lancaster have developed a smartphone app for parents to keep track of their child’s walking bus (a group of children walking to school with one or two adults) during the school run.

Walking school buses have been set up around the country to reduce congestion on the roads, encourage physical exercise, increase road safety awareness and address the concerns of parents who are reluctant to let their children walk to school on their own.

Psychologists Dr Sarah Norgate and Dr Liz Smith from the University of Salford teamed up with computer scientists Chris Winstanley and Professor Nigel Davies from Lancaster University to develop the unique smartphone app which was successfully piloted at Sunny Bank Primary School in Bury.

Registered parents can visually track the walking school bus (an icon on the smartphone screen) as it leaves its starting point, travels along its scheduled stops and reaches the school, enabling them to access their child’s movements in real time and ease any fears they may have for their child’s safety.

The academics worked closely with parents, walking school bus coordinators, head teachers and local authorities in Greater Manchester to develop the project which was funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

Dr Sarah Norgate, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Salford, said: “Walking school buses are important because they help children to exercise, develop independence and socialise; and they also save unnecessary car journeys. Now that the app has been successfully piloted we hope to develop it further and make it available to schools across the Greater Manchester area.”

The head teacher of the first school in the UK to pilot the app is Michael Green of Sunny Bank Primary School in Bury. He said: “The parents and walking school bus coordinators who piloted the app gave very positive feedback. There is also the added value of the children’s ‘hands on’ learning about time, distance and speed of travel.”

Steve Glazebrook, Smarter Choices Officer at Transport for Greater Manchester, was instrumental in the initial market research phase of the app design, bringing together the think tank of the Greater Manchester districts with the University of Salford.

He said: “This innovation has the potential to increase family motivation for alternatives to the car on the school run, improve child fitness levels and encourage parents’ peace of mind about their child arriving at the school gates both safely and punctually.”

The initiative is part of the wider Sixth Sense Transport project between the University of Salford, Lancaster University, University of Southampton, University of Edinburgh and Bournemouth University to develop apps that will encourage more sustainable travel options.

For more information about the app, please contact Dr Sarah Norgate at s.h.norgate@salford.ac.uk.