Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Science


Geography and Environment


Gilliland, Jason


Children’s use of Active School Travel (AST) presents a wide range of health, social, and environmental benefits. Policy changes to promote AST are needed; however, previous research related to AST stakeholder perceptions and experiences regarding policy change is limited, and no studies have explored this problem in the context of Ontario, Canada. In response to the current research gap, this thesis aims to answer two questions: 1) how can policy change promote AST? and 2) what barriers do AST stakeholders face in enacting proposed policy changes? Key informant interviews were conducted with AST stakeholders, including representatives from municipalities, school boards, student transportation services, public health units, the provincial government, police service, and a road safety non-profit organization. An inductive thematic analysis of interview transcripts uncovered themes relating to stakeholders’ perceptions of barriers to AST and policy change. Findings provide practical implications for improving AST policies in Ontario.

Summary for Lay Audience

There is a recent trend in Canada of children’s physical activity levels decreasing, while time spent sedentary has increased. Active School Travel (AST) is any mode of human-powered transportation to and from school, such as walking, cycling, and scootering. It is estimated that children can reach half of the recommended amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity from regularly using AST. Additionally, AST can improve children’s psychological wellbeing, provides opportunities for social interaction, and connects children to their environment. At the community level, more families using AST can reduce traffic congestion, limit vehicle emissions, and improve road safety. Given the array of potential benefits, there is a need to encourage more children and families to choose AST for their school journey.

AST stakeholders, comprised of staff from various organizations (e.g., municipalities, school boards, student transportation services, public health units, the provincial government, and non-profit organizations) play an important role in promoting AST. At least part of their employment involves developing new strategies, policies, and programs to encourage more AST and discourage driving to and from school. It is important to understand AST stakeholders’ first-hand experiences and the challenges they face in their employment related to AST. There is limited research on this topic, most notably, no research specific to stakeholders in Ontario, Canada. This thesis will address this research gap by exploring the perspectives and experiences of AST stakeholders in Ontario.

Thirty-six AST stakeholders participated in an interview and interview transcripts were reviewed to identify quotes answering one of the research questions. Quotes of similar content were grouped together. Once this process was completed, patterns among the groups of quotes were identified as the main findings, called themes.

Stakeholders suggested that policies should aim to reduce traffic congestion around school zones, improve infrastructure that supports AST, encourage AST, and include AST in planning. Stakeholders also identified the challenges they face in this field of work – stakeholders have competing interests, it is difficult to balance standardized and school-specific policies, and there are undefined roles and responsibilities. AST stakeholders can use these findings to assist AST-related work.

Available for download on Friday, August 29, 2025