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What could a junior school mini-bus service do for Dulwich?



Electric mini bus driving down a street

From our deep dives into data around the school run, we know that primary school aged children are much more likely to be driven than secondary school aged children. We also know that the longer the journey, the more likely families are to drive.


Dulwich has a really high number of children at primary school who go to non-catchment schools, so we think an age appropriate electric mini-bus service could have a significant impact in terms of removing cars from the roads.


This Department for Transport research shows the dramatic decrease of walking over a mile in primary school children.

graph of school run data

Non-catchment schools select on criteria other than location, which means children often live further from their school than children at catchment schools. If you have a high density of non-catchment primary schools in an area, there will be high levels of driving.


The national average of children attending private (usually synonymous with non-catchment) schools is 7%. The Dulwich rate is 50%. This equals 2,500 children at non-catchment primary schools, the majority of whom will live between 1-5 miles from school. Informal surveys from our parent communities suggests the average pupil distance is 2 miles.


This means children attending schools in Dulwich have much longer than average school run journeys. This means convenient, sustainable travel choices are imperative for this age-group, to avoid having the high rates of school run driving implied by the  DfT research.


school run data  table

We believe electric mini-buses could make a huge difference to driving rates when it comes to non-catchment primary schools. However, Dulwich primary schools have very little access to an age-appropriate bus service, with just 6% of primary school children in the area using the Foundation Coach service (Jan 2022 Foundation Coach Service figures) and there are no other services.


school data table

We think we could see a significant modal shift. For example; Jags is one of the few schools locally to release their figures publicly and they are impressive in terms of active travel;

  • Over 80% of pupils walking or cycling in, across the whole school.

  • But in primary school aged children, that drops to 70%, leaving 30% to drive in.


school transport table

  • 4% of those children take the coach.

  • This compares with 13-15% of children at nearby local primary non-catchment schools.

  • This would be a 10% modal shift for Jags, if they managed a comparable uptake in school bus use.

  • Even if 50% of those who moved to the coach service had been walking/cycling, or using public transport, it would still be a total of a 5% mode shift from driving to bus.


The reason for the low uptake of the Foundation's Coach Service is clear;


  • It only caters for children aged 7 years and older. This rules out a high proportion of primary school children, plus families where one sibling is under the age of 7. 

  • It takes children aged between 7-18 and families report feeling uncomfortable with this huge age range. Adding 4-5 year olds to the existing service would exacerbate this.

We need a service suitable for children aged from 4 years old.


  • Coaches are very large and feel inappropriate for very young children.

We need mini-buses and preferably electric ones.


  • The services are unchaperoned, which is unsuitable for young children, and problematic for older children.

They should be chaperoned.


  • We believe many primary school children come from within a 3 mile radius of the schools, but the Foundation service does very few pick ups within this range.

Primary schools need a school bus service with more stops that are closer to the schools.


The map below illustrates the issue. Currently the Foundation Coach Service focuses on getting older children across larger areas, to increase the amount of children that can go to the schools. This means the routes are long, with the last pick ups far from the school, with the assumption that older children can make their own way if they live closer to the school.


school journey catchment map

The red dots with letters/numbers are the last stops on the routes. You can see that there are only a very small number of bus stops within a 1.5 mile radius from the schools. This maybe suitable for secondary school children, but children who go to these primary schools live on average 2 miles away. They need more stops closer to the school to make a school bus service a practical alternative to driving.


We have researched what other schools do locally, and have discovered that there are non-catchment primary schools nearby that have 50% higher junior mini-bus service uptake.


school run maps

Blackheath High have nearly everything parents say they require from a minibus service.


reducing car trip Infograph

We have recently discovered that Wandsworth Council made a bus service for 50 pupils a prerequisite for planning permission [details here] and we think this shows a good precedent, that we would like Southwark to follow. We think it could dramatically reduce the impact of the non-catchment school run on the communities that currently feel it.


If you think this is a good idea... join us in trying to make it happen.

You can sign up to our newsletter here... or send us an email at hello@solvetheschoolrun.org to find out more.


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