Walking to School: The Swiss Pedibus System

The grassroots sign style of the Swiss school Pedibus. Lausanne, Switzerland. July 13, 2019.

The grassroots sign style of the Swiss school Pedibus. Lausanne, Switzerland. July 13, 2019.

Shortly after arriving in Lausanne, I noticed a plethora of handmade signs that said “Pedibus” dotting the town, in all kinds of colors, and with little additional information. (Since then, laminated pages have appeared on the signs with instructions on where to find more information.)

Also, although I didn’t at first connect the dots, I saw little-duckling lines of kids—all with reflective, V-shaped plastic necklaces—trailing an adult or two several times a day.

Months later, I saw the Pedibus mentioned on the walls of the Lausanne History Museum—replete with pictures of kids in V-shaped necklaces and images of the handmade signs. And I knew I needed to do some research.

Getting to School on Foot

You won’t see yellow school buses in Switzerland.

Instead, you’ll see kids getting to and from school on foot, sometimes with the partial assistance of public transportation. A 2017 report by the Swiss Association for Transport and the Environment found that 75 percent of children walk to school in Switzerland.

The Swiss take walking to school seriously. This video—from the German-speaking side of Switzerland—explains how walking to school allows energetic children to move, build friendships, have experiences, and take responsibility. In sum, it strongly advocates walking to school for healthy childhood development.

The Swiss Pedibus: How and Why

Surprisingly young children walk to and from school each day unaccompanied. My U.S.-cultured eyes popped when I saw the first four- or five-year-old board a city bus and sit across from me, backpack on, swinging his dangling feet.

For parents who would like a little more supervision for their youngest children—kids between the ages of about four and eight—the Swiss have created the Pedibus.

Groups of parents voluntarily organize Pedibuses for their area or school. The parents then take turns escorting—or “driving”—the Pedibus of children to and from school each day, pausing at designated stops (demarcated with the painted wooden signs) to pick up and drop off children. If you register your child to “ride” in a Pedibus, you register yourself to “drive” the Pedibus on a rotating-parent schedule.

Here’s a quick video—though the voiceover comes in French, you’ll get the gist—showing the Pedibus value proposition:

The French-speaking part of Switzerland (where Lausanne sits) employs the Pedibus system the most, compared to other parts of the country. The French cantons of Switzerland have around 250 Pedibus lines. In the German cantons, most of the kids—even the youngest ones—walk to school without escorts.

Would a Pedibus System Work Elsewhere?

I admire the Swiss emphasis on independence, responsibility, and instilling self-confidence in their children.

Youthful autonomy pays off in spades when children grow into responsible members of their communities. Also, teachers and kids benefit from better learning environments when kids can burn off a little excess energy on the way to school.

Yet, without question, expecting children to get themselves to and from school only works in a superlatively safe environment—and an environment with sidewalks everywhere and efficient public transportation.

Switzerland has the good fortune to have this environment. Many—if not most—other places do not.

Yet I can’t believe only Switzerland has this insistence on autonomy in children—or that only Switzerland has developed a Pedibus system (or something like it). Have you seen something similar somewhere else? Do you think such a system would work in your community? If not, what would need to change to make it work?