Photo of children walking to school by note thanun on Unsplash

What is the aim of the project?

OptiWaSP is a joint research project between the Department of Management Science at Lancaster University, the Institute for Transport Studies & School of Civil Engineering (Prof David Watling & Dr Judith Wang) at the University of Leeds, and the Centre for Transport and Society at University of the West of England (UWE) in Bristol.

The project is aimed at reversing the trend of increasing use of private cars to take children to school. The project will develop systematic methods for designing, and growing the usage of Walking School Buses, bringing together elements of multi-objective discrete optimisation, transport modelling, and engagement with relevant stakeholders.

What are we doing?

At the heart of the OptiWaSP planning tool is an Optimisation Model (Lancaster) to obtain efficient WSB routes and pick-up points (WSB stops). This will be embedded within a Travel Choice and Road Network Modelling System (Leeds) which estimates student modal choices as input to the optimisation model, and estimates the consequences of a particular WSB scenario on road network conditions. It will be designed to operate dynamically to represent evolving modal choices over time in response to intervention scenarios.

The OptiWaSP team will conduct Stakeholder Engagement and Implementation (UWE) to ensure that the planning tool is designed to reflect the requirements of potential users of the system and takes into account existing real-world experience of walking to school interventions.

Project objectives

The project will help achieve government’s goals set out in the cycling and walking strategy, the childhood obesity plan, to achieve net zero CO2 emissions by 2050 and to phase out the sale of new combustion engine cars by 2030. The project received funding of about £1.2 million in total from EPSRC for the three partners and will run from October 2022 to September 2025.

Publications and outputs

Dirks, K. N., Wang, J. Y. T., Khan, A., and Rushton, C. (2016). Air pollution exposure in relation to the commute to school: A Bradford UK case study. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 13(11).

Nikitas, A., Wang, J. Y. T., and Knamiller, C. (2019). Exploring parental perceptions about school travel and walking school buses: A thematic analysis approach. Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, 124, 468–487.

Hayes, A., Wang, J. Y. T., and Nikitas, A. (2022). Spatial multicriteria decision analysis for Walking School Bus target development strategies. Journal of Transport and Health, 26, 101481.

Wang, J. Y. T., Wu, Z., Kang, Y., Brown, E., Wen, M., Rushton, C., and Ehrgott, M. (2023). Walking school bus line routing for efficiency, health and walkability: A multi-objective optimisation approach. Journal of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis.