A guide to school travel surveys and analysis

A guide to school travel surveys and analysis

Any school developing a travel plan must commit to conducting our annual Hands-Up Travel Survey.  This survey is distributed to schools for completion in the autumn term. The data collated from all returns helps us in assessing progress towards reducing car use on the school run. The survey is a basic survey asking for the usual mode of travel to school and the preferred mode of travel to school. 

Schools will need to conduct more detailed surveys if they are to fully understand the problems and issues.

When preparing the survey the working group need to consider what questions to include and ensure any question asked is being asked for a reason.

The data

Depending on the questions you ask, the data will help you to:

  • Assess the current school travel situation
  • Understand how students would prefer to travel to school
  • Identify issues
  • Identify what potential there is for change
  • Identify the most important deterrents to walking, cycling and using public transport
  • Identify what would encourage people to reduce car use
  • Identify whether you are meeting your targets
  • Allow you to monitor your progress by comparing results, year on year
  • Produce a valuable baseline against which to measure the success of the travel plan in reducing car journeys to school and increasing journeys by walking, cycling and public transport.
  • Identify possible volunteers to assist with initiatives such as Footsteps, Crocodile Trails, Go for Gold schemes, cyclist training, working groups

The data you gather will either be quantifiable or qualitative

Quantifiable data is easier and quicker to collate and analyse as the information provided will be numeric, normally in response to a multiple-choice question.

For example:

Question: why don't you walk to school?
Response: choose from the following:

  1. Too far/distance
  2. Weather
  3. Safety

Qualitative data is more difficult to collate and analyse.  The responses will be in the form of a subjective, free format, written response.

The questions you ask may start with the word: 'why', 'how', 'what', 'describe'. 

Consider different ways of asking a question based on the information you may require. 

For example: The question, why don't you walk to school? could also be written as what would encourage you to walk to school?'

Collation and analysis

When writing the questionnaire, consider how the data will be collated and analysed and who will be responsible. Consider how often the survey will be conducted, bearing in mind that the same data will need to be collected (probably annually) to enable comparisons to be made year on year, and to ensure that you are able to monitor progress.

Other considerations are:

  • Could the students complete the questionnaire at school?
  • Could the survey be tutor-led so that the survey could be completed in the classroom?
  • What age are the students you are surveying? Will they understand the question and be able to answer it?
  • Could the survey be sent home as holiday homework for students to complete with parents?

Secondary students may need to be asked different questions to primary age students. For example, cycling may be more appropriate for older children, and the Crocodile Trail will be more appropriate for primary age children.

Also consider

  • Should parents be surveyed?
  • Is input required from both the students and the parents? This will depend on the age of the students
  • Is this going to be a short questionnaire or more in-depth?
  • Consider using questions that will allow progress to be monitored (ie similar each year) plus questions that change year on year as requirements for information change

Only include questions that are useful either for monitoring purposes, for research or to gain volunteers. 

Don't include questions that are not going to be analysed and used.

Don't make the questionnaire too long or those completing it will lose interest.

Consider whether it is appropriate to include a map for students/parents to show their route to school (taken or preferred).  For example, consider asking the parents/students to identify the route in red if they travel by car, and blue if they travel on foot. Ask for areas of concern and/or hazards to be highlighted, and allow some space for them to give details.

Link questions to the travel plan targets to enable progress to be assessed.

Remember that any information gained from a travel survey is just a snap-shot. The same survey conducted on a different day could produce very different results.  If the survey is conducted during Walk to School week then the walking figures will probably be far higher than on other weeks.

What to ask

Basic questions will include those asked on the annual Hands-up Travel Survey.  A copy of the questionnaire and collation sheet is available on request. The questions from the survey are:

  • How do you usually travel to school?
  • How would you prefer to travel to school?

The following are examples of questions you may consider. This is not a comprehensive list,

For primary schools

  • Would you (parent) allow your child to walk to school with a Walking Bus/Crocodile?
  • Would you (parent) volunteer to help with a Walking Bus/Crocodile/Go for Gold scheme (explain what these schemes are and involve)?  Ask for their contact details if they are willing to volunteer, so that you don't have to go back to ask  again at a later date.

Questions for either primary or secondary schools

  • Would you consider a car share scheme?
  • Could you walk all the way to school?
  • Could you park and walk some of the way?
  • Would you consider parking further from the school and walking the final distance?
  • Could you identify a possible park and walk site?
  • If you arrived by car, where did the car drop you off?
  • Do you feel that there is a problem with traffic congestion near the school entrance?
  • How safe is your journey to school?
  • What do you think would make the journey to school better/safer/easier?

You could either offer possible options to be answered, as follows, or leave the question open to be answered subjectively.

  • Safe crossing points (eg zebra or pelican crossing)
  • School crossing patroller
  • Lower speed limits
  • Traffic calming eg road humps
  • Controlled parking away from the school
  • Improved footways/pavements
  • Re-sitting of school entrance gates
  • Segregation of pedestrians from vehicles at the school gates
  • Other (please give details)


  • What would encourage you to cycle to school?
  • What prevents you from cycling to school?
  • Do you own a cycle helmet and do you wear this when riding your bike?
  • Parents - would you volunteer to train as a cyclist tutor?
  • Does the school have a cycling policy? Yes/No/Don't know


  • Do you have free travel on public transport but choose not to use it?  
    If Y - can you explain why
  • Do you have any concerns about travelling on public transport? If Yes- can you explain? Your comments will be treated in confidence.
  • Are you aware local bus services and the time they run?
  • Does the bus timetable allow you to participate in out of school hour activities?
  • What would encourage you to travel on public transport?


The analysis of the results can be time-consuming. Solutions found by some schools include:

  • Enlisting help from A Level geography students in the school or local sixth form college or enlisting help from parents with home pcs and a spreadsheet or database
  • Working with university geography, environment, planning or transport planning students - a student could possibly undertake project work on school travel
  • Having students enter some of the data themselves - this could be linked with the use of databases in ICT or maths


  • Consider using the data from our annual Hands-up Travel Survey data to monitor the basic school travel data.
  • Ensure that your annual survey is similar year on year so that comparisons can be made when assessing progress against targets.
  • The travel plan should highlight when the next school's travel survey will be done.