Encouraging sustainable travel behaviour in children, young people and their families

Kathryn Colley, Caroline Brown, Hebe Nicholson, Ben Hinder, Anna Conniff

Research output: Book/ReportCommissioned report

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In 2022, the Scottish Government consulted on a draft route map that sets out interventions to reduce the distance travelled by car by 20%, by 2030. Some of those relate specifically to children and young people (CYP).

This project aims to provide evidence to support the development of integrated policy interventions to increase sustainable travel among Scotland’s CYP and their families. We reviewed Scottish, Welsh and Danish policy, and literature evaluating interventions related to sustainable travel among CYP and families, focusing beyond the journey to/from school.

Key findings
Literature review
The limited evidence on interventions influencing non-school related sustainable travel by CYP and their families, along with insights from methods like the Scottish Government’s ISM (Individual, Social and Material) behaviour change framework1 and wider literature on travel behaviour suggest that there is potential in:
* supporting infrastructural improvements with interventions that capitalise on the social environment of educational settings;
* addressing travel behaviours beyond the school commute;
 designing integrated interventions to maximise both sustainable travel and related policy objectives such as physical activity and road safety;
 including interventions that target families with younger children (0-4 years old) and whole family units; and
* intervening with specific age groups and during key moments of change such as the transition from primary to secondary school, leaving school and starting a family.

Policy review
The policy review found that coverage of issues around CYP’s travel was limited across Scottish local authorities. Our analysis of local and national policy highlights that:
* There is consistent support for walking, wheeling and cycling across the policy landscape. The Scottish Government’s Place Principle emphasises the role of the local environment in shaping opportunities to play, be physically active and safe when walking, wheeling and cycling.
* Many policy actions that might affect CYP do not mention them explicitly, or only mention travel to school even in cases where policies would be expected to impact CYP travel behaviours more widely. There is no consistent policy goal except in relation to school travel.
* There is considerable potential to broaden the narrative on CYP travel to encompass all types of journeys, as well as to improve cross-sectoral integration by including recognition of the multiple benefits of increasing active travel by CYP in local authority level policies on planning, tourism and air quality.
* There is potential to improve cross-sectoral integration by recognising the multiple benefits of increasing active travel by CYP in local authority level policies on planning, tourism and air quality.
* National policy aligns with the goal of promoting sustainable travel by CYP, however, this could be strengthened by e.g. setting out a high-level policy goal to support independent travel from around the age of 12 and expanding tools for assessing play opportunities.

The following recommendations for policymakers in national and local government set out priority actions to promote sustainable travel amongst CYP and their families.
1. Prioritise inclusive infrastructure to deliver a transport network that promotes independent movement from around age 12 (around the transition to high school or earlier), to support sustainable travel norms before children reach driving age.
2. Consider the potential for development of a policy indicator of children’s independent travel to benchmark progress and complement indicators around school travel.
3. Harness the potential to deliver interventions in educational settings. Learning for Sustainability is embedded in the Curriculum for Excellence and affords opportunities for interventions targeting multiple objectives – sustainable travel, physical activity, safety and wellbeing – aligning with the ‘Getting It Right for Every Child’ (GIRFEC) approach.
4. Shift the default language in policy and focus of interventions beyond travel to school to encompass wider travel behaviour for leisure and other purposes, normalising the idea of children as needing to travel for all sorts of reasons.
5. Consider play as a cross-cutting goal. There is potential for play policy to maximise benefits to CYP by including all of the neighbourhood as potential play space, rather than focussing on a defined list of play spaces. This would be comparable to the Welsh Government’s Matter F: Access to space/provision in their play sufficiency toolkit. There are also opportunities to develop street/design guidance to accommodate different age groups and their capabilities (in line with the age-groups used in the play sufficiency regulations).
6. Enhance the links between transport and child poverty action by ensuring strategies to tackle child poverty include measures on active travel accessibility alongside policy goals on public transport accessibility.
7. Enable, incentivise and raise awareness of whole-family travel opportunities. These might include providing smaller bikes, bike seats and cargo bikes through cycle share schemes; family-friendly rail fares and facilities in public transport and at interchanges; and in the design of walking and cycle routes to accommodate groups.
8. Consider key life course transitions in designing interventions e.g. moving from pre-school to primary school, primary school to secondary school, leaving school, becoming a parent. This might include opportunities to piggyback on existing interventions e.g. baby boxes.
9. Prioritise place-based intervention approaches. Place-based approaches allow priorities to be set locally, taking into consideration the social, economic and environmental context. There is potential to use the ISM Tool in such approaches, to map the factors that support or constrain sustainable travel by children and young people locally and identify priorities for future interventions.
10. Engage children of different ages, backgrounds and abilities in developing ideas and designing future interventions. Capitalise on existing tools (e.g. Place Standard tools for Children and Young People or the ISM Tool) and integrate with existing work engaging with CYP in different policy areas (e.g. local development plans, youth engagement, children’s rights). The choice of appropriate tool may depend on the specific objectives of the engagement e.g. whether focused specifically on designing transport-related interventions or wider objectives around place-making.
11. Build in robust evaluation to future interventions and pilot initiatives funded by the Scottish Government. There is also a need for research to evaluate informal interventions, such as bike buses and family bike workshops being delivered by the third sector and by community organisations. Adopting ISM-thinking in evaluation design could help to diagnose reasons for intervention success or failure.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationEdinburgh
Commissioning bodyClimateXChange
Number of pages46
Publication statusPublished - 7 Dec 2022


  • transport
  • Children and young people
  • Policy evaluation
  • Policy making
  • Transportation sustainability


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