Some students at eight Ottawa elementary schools will say goodbye to yellow buses in favour of a paid pedestrian guide this fall.
Ottawa Public Health is launching the walking school bus pilot project to help battle obesity rates by keeping students active.
The walking supervisors will be trained by the Ottawa Safety Council, which also runs the crossing guards program. Those adult supervisors will be paid $13 to $15 an hour, the council said.
"We want to make sure that the person will be there every morning to pick up the students on the way to school. Different communities have tried it with volunteers — it is another way to go about it but it is a little more difficult to get the commitment," said Marie-Claude Turcotte, who's in charge of the Ottawa Public Health initiative.
The pilot is part of a larger project to implement new walk zones at public and Catholic schools in Ottawa. By September 2015, an estimated 2,500 students could be walking to school rather than riding the bus.
Century Public School in Nepean is taking part in the pilot project to boost walking. Only 20 of its 300 students currently walk to school.
Staff members plan to line the new walking school bus route in September to cheer students on during their commute. Principal David Petrie said he hopes to cut the school's number of buses from four to three.
The pilot project will be modelled after the crossing guard program run by the Ottawa Safety Council. Ottawa Public Health is investing $25,000 to help recruit, train and run police checks on the walk leaders.
The Ottawa Student Transportation Authority, which oversees about 700 bus routes to Catholic and public schools in the city, said increasing walk zones and staggering bell times to allow buses to serve up to three schools daily could save money by cutting up to 120 buses.
"It's almost $3.5 million," said Vicky Kyriaco, head of the transportation authority. "We recognize, though, that we need to balance efficient transportation with all the other needs of communities and that's what public consultation is about."
Public consultations on changing bell times and walk zone have already started for both Catholic and public schools. Once implemented, the changes are expected to affect the majority of schools in the city.