Vehicle emissions during children’s school commuting: impact of education policy

Author(s): Marshall JD, Wilson RD, Meyer KL, Rajangam SK, McDonald NC, et al.


We explore how school policies influence the environmental impacts of school commutes. Our research is motivated by increased interest in school choice policies (in part because of the U.S. "No Child Left Behind" Act) and in reducing bus service to address recent budget shortfalls. Our analysis employs two samples of elementary-age children, age 5-12: a travel survey (n = 1246 respondents) and a school enrollment data set (n = 19,655 students). Multinomial logistic regression modeled the determinants of travel mode (automobile, school bus, and walking; n = 803 students meeting selection criteria). Travel distance has the single greatest effect on travel mode, though school choice, trip direction (to- or from-school), and grade play a role. Several policies were investigated quantitatively to predict the impact on school travel, vehicle emissions, and costs. We find that eliminating district-wide school choice (i.e., returning to a system with neighborhood schools only) would have significant impacts on transport modes and emissions, whereas in many cases proposed shifts in school choice and bus-provision policies would have only modest impacts. Policies such as school choice and school siting may conflict with the goal of increasing rates of active (i.e., nonmotorized) school commuting. Policies that curtail bus usage may reduce bus emissions but yield even larger increases in private-vehicle emissions. Our findings underscore the need to critically evaluate transportation-related environmental and health impacts of currently proposed changes in school policy.

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