The number of children driven to school is rising in the United States and Europe. In 1969, 40 percent of students in the US walked to school, in 2001, 13 percent did. During this time we’ve experienced an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, traffic jams, and childhood obesity. One backward thinking (it’s actually very progressive) town in Italy has come up with a wonderfully unoriginal way to combat these problems: get rid of the school bus.
Every morning in Lecco, Italy, about 450 students walk to school instead of taking a car or bus. It’s called a Piedibus (foot-bus in Italian). There is a route and a bus driver but no vehicle. The children are lead by “drivers” in fluorescent vests through town, picking up more children along the way until they reach the school. The town estimates that it has been able to eliminate 100,000 miles of car travel through this program.
Beyond the obvious benefits, the Piedibus has increased social interaction and awareness. Students have more time to develop relationships with friends, people in the community look forward to greeting and waving to the passing group of children, and the students are developing lifelong healthy habits. It’s even affecting the way of thinking for the children’s parents who now view walking as an alternative to driving.
I enjoy hearing about simple, low-tech (or in this case no-tech) solutions to complex problems. We often shoot for the big idea rather than use what is right in front of us. A more efficient school bus, or a less polluting fuel might have addressed some of the problems, however expensive they would be. But it was the reverse thinking, getting rid of the technology all together, that not only solved all of the critical problems but also provided a whole bunch of additional benefits.