SALT LAKE CITY — "Alright, let's walk to school," Utah Gov. Gary Herbert proclaimed Thursday as he joined a group of children and their parents on their upcoming school year commute, creating a "walking school bus."
"Look how fun it is, hanging out together and walking," the governor observed while putting his arm around the shoulders of a boy — conversing with the children by asking the students which grades they will be in when school starts.
The ½-mile walk Thursday was part of an initiative by the Utah Department of Transportation and Student Neighborhood Access Program to promote the Walking School Bus App, which was created by UDOT in August 2014.
"The goal of the app is to encourage parents to ditch the carpool and create walking school bus groups. It's like a carpool without the car," explained UDOT spokeswoman Abigail Shaha.
The app, which is free for both Apple and Android users, allows parents to coordinate "walking buses" that can meet at a designated location or create a route that picks up children on the way to school.
Parents who use the app can also indicate if their children or themselves are joining a "walking bus" by a simple swipe within their chosen "walking bus" group.
Additionally, parents who may not have joined the commute for the day can be notified when their children arrive at school, when a walking parent indicates the group's arrival using the app.
"My main thing with the app that I think is neat is for the kids tracking their mileage," said Alyshia Finau, a Highland Park Elementary School parent. "I think that's a real motivator to know, 'OK, by the end of the year how many miles did we walk?' It's kind of exciting."
The app also reports the number of calories that children and accompanying parents have burned, the number of car trips they have saved and how many grams of carbon dioxide they've reduced.
Last year alone in Utah, students and parents collectively walked nearly 88,000 miles and reduced approximately 91,000 car trips.
"I love walking," said 8-year-old Alex Finau. "I like walking because then you can have fresh air and it's just fun walking, to be out of the house and to be able to move around."
For several parents, the most appealing part of the app is the safety and security that organized walks provide for their children.
"We're new to the area. We are a military family, and when you move from place to place and your children attend school, you want to know that they are safe," said Terrance Beasley, a father of two Highland Park Elementary students who has of the app since its creation. "It gives us peace of minds as parents."
The group of children seemed to enjoy walking with the governor, who received a honk from a passing car. After arriving at the school, Herbert gave his favorite piece of advice to the young children: "If you want a good job, get a good education."
For parents who already use the Walking Bus School App, user feedback collected by UDOT in May and June of this year has helped app designers to make the app easier to use and better for parents in the new update that users can now download.