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How Bike Buses are Revolutionizing the School Commute

Naman Bajaj
November 4, 2023

Sam Balto is a physical education teacher in Portland, Oregon. His TikTok account, @coachbalto, has gained millions of views over the past few years. His profile describes him as a “Walking School Bus & Bike Bus Specialist.”

Every Wednesday, he leads a bike bus to school while playing music from bands like Metallica and OneRepublic.

It all started on Earth Day in 2022 when he convinced a few parents to have their kids ride their bikes to school instead of taking buses or private cars.

What is a bike bus?

In a bike bus, instead of a bus driver, an adult on a bike guides a group of students on their bikes along a predefined route to school. The rules are simple: the bike bus should ride on the right side of the road, and kids should not ride ahead of the adult leading the bike bus. It is a fun, convenient, and safe way for kids to reach school.

Since one adult alone is not enough to ensure the safety of the entire group, volunteer parents ride at the back and in the middle of the group. According to bike bus driver Megan Ramey, an ideal ratio is one adult for every four kids. In addition to parents and teachers, cycling enthusiasts also sometimes join the ride.

The students who participate in this are ideally located within a mile's range from the school. They are too close to be picked up by a bus, and walking might not be the most convenient option.

The bike bus movement is growing, and similar initiatives have been seen in New York, New Jersey, Florida, Utah, Ohio, and Texas. The increasing popularity is also generating interest among lawmakers.

Sam Balto collaborated with lawmakers to pass the Bike Bus Bill, which became law in Oregon in August 2023. In 2024, schools will be able to apply for reimbursements from the Oregon Department of Education for activities like bike buses and make their schools green. This could serve as a model for other states.

What are the advantages of a bike bus?

In 2017, only 10% of the kids walked to school, while the remaining 90% took the school bus or were driven in a private vehicle. This marked a significant drop from half a century earlier, in 1969, when 90% of kids walked to school.

Research indicates that children are more engaged when they walk or bike to school. Increasing the number of bike buses will also reduce the car fumes around schools, which have an adverse effect on the attention, reasoning, and academic performance of school children.

The U.S. Department of Transportation also mentions on its website that a bike bus makes people healthier and happier as they are more active. It also helps reduce the traffic congestion on streets and the carbon emissions in the atmosphere.

Currently, there is a racial divide in the existence of bike bus routes, with them being more prevalent in whiter and wealthier neighborhoods. We hope that changes and bike buses become more inclusive.

Naman Bajaj
November 4, 2023


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