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Student Travel Patterns

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Student Travel Patterns - Primary 

Public Transport (Bus and Train)Self-propelled Transport (Foot and Bike)Car (Passenger)

Modes of transport

Figure 5.1 shows the changing modes of transport to primary school in the last 30 years. The modes of transport can be combined into three main areas, public transport, self-propelled transport and car transport.  The option of public transport was the choice of almost 20 per cent of primary school commuters for many years but in 2016 had fallen to 10.4 per cent.

Self-propelled transport that involves an element of exercise, walking and cycling, has fallen by half, from 49.5 per cent of primary school students in 1986 to 25 per cent in 2016.

The main substitute for these options has been the rise in car travel to primary school which rose from 24 per cent of journeys in 1986 to 59.8 per cent in 2016. 


The most popular means of travel to primary school was by car, 6 in 10 travelled to school this way, 1 in 4 students walked and 1 in 10 travelled by bus. Car journeys increased by 10.2 per cent since 2011 and walking by 8.2 per cent, but commuting by bus had decreased by 6.8 per cent.

Within these figures there were variances between counties. In Galway County (73.1%), Roscommon (72.7%), Kerry (70.8%) and Mayo (70.2%) more than seven in ten children travelled to school by car. At the other end of the scale, only 36 per cent of Dublin City children were driven to school, and less than half of children in Fingal and South Dublin.

The counties where walking to school was most common were Dublin City (45.9%), South Dublin (40.2%), Fingal (39.7%) and Cork City (38.7%), whereas the counties where students were least likely to walk were Roscommon (8.4%), Donegal (8.6%), Mayo (10%) and Galway County (10.3%).

The bus was the most popular form of school transport to primary school in Leitrim (25.5%), Donegal (24.4%) and Monaghan (20.5%), over one in five children used this form of transport. Conversely, only 3 per cent of Dún Laoghaire primary school students travelled by bus.


When examined by nationality the results showed that just over a fifth of Irish primary children walked to school compared with 38 per cent of non-Irish nationals. Over six in ten Irish children were driven to school, whereas only 43 per cent of non-Irish nationals reached school by car. See Figure 5.2.

Not statedVan/OtherPassengerTrainBusBicycleFoot

Time of departure for primary students 2011 and 2016

Time to leave for school

Ninety per cent of primary children (490,299) left for school between 8 and 9:30am. Of these almost 53.1 per cent (260,301) left between 8:31 and 9am. See Figure 5.3.

Over  8 in 10 primary children left for school between 8am and 9am in Cork city (87.8%), Dun Laoighaire (82.9%), Dublin city  (82.7%), South Dublin (81.2%), Fingal (81%) and Galway city (80.9%). Whereas, over 8 in 10 children left between 8.30am and 9.30am in Roscommon (87.2%), Leitrim and Longford (both 85.8%) and Cavan and Donegal (both 84.6%). Roscommon and Longford have the highest percentage of school children leaving for school after 9am. 

Before 08:005.956963547711254.52071694407539
8:01 - 8:3022.515234735580119.571343692493
8:31 - 9:0049.850621071621450.3259586898936
09:01 or later21.677180645087225.5819806735379

Length of travel

The average travel time for primary students remained unchanged between 2011 and 2016 at 11.6 minutes.

Three quarters of Mayo (75.5%) and Galway County (75.1%) children traveled less than 15 mins to primary school, along with over 72 per cent of children in Roscommon, Clare, Cavan, Tipperary and Wexford. However, for Galway city residents, less than half took less than 15 mins (47.5%) and over 3 in 10 took between 15 minutes and half an hour (32.7%) to get to school, followed by those in Dun Laoghaire (31.7%), Dublin city (31.5%) South Dublin (28.6%) and Kildare (27.1%).

There were 3,640 (0.7%) primary children who took over an hour to travel to school.

Active primary children

Among towns of over 1,500 persons, Donabate in Fingal had the highest percentage of children, over 6 in 10, who walked to primary school. This was followed by Baltinglass in Wicklow at 62.1 per cent and Rathcooole in County Dublin at 61.7 per cent. See Table 5.1.

In the same category, the town with the highest percentage of those who cycled to school was Skerries, at 5.6 per cent, followed by Donabate (5.3%) and Celbridge (5.2%). See Table 5.2.

Table 5.1 Towns with population above 1,500 with the highest percentage of primary students walking to school, 2016
Walking Number %
Table 5.2 Towns with population above 1,500 with the highest percentage of primary students cycling to school, 2016
Cycling Number %

Dublin student cyclists

There were 15,771 Dublin student cyclists in 2016, an increase of 28 per cent from 12,290 in 2011. This outstripped the 7 per cent growth in student commuting numbers overall, from 1,014,632 in 2011 to 1,086,777 in 2016.


Third Level49136509

Interactive table: StatBank Link E6018

It's a Fact

  • 24.8% - The percentage of primary students who walked or cycled to school.
  • 59.8% - The percentage of primary students who were driven to school.

Student Travel Patterns - Secondary 

On footBicycleBus, minibus or coachMotor car (passenger)

Figure 5.5 shows the change in modes of transport of secondary students in the last 30 years.  

Car main mode of travel to secondary school

Just over 4 in 10 secondary students travelled to school as a passenger in a car, up 16 per cent on 2011.

However, in a dozen counties over half of students travelled by car (driver and passenger) the top three being Sligo (55.4%), Waterford city and county (54.7%)and Cork county (54.3%).

There were also just over 5,000 secondary students driving themselves to school. See figure 5.6. Just over 800 of these drivers are in Cork city and county (806), the ED's with the highest numbers being Douglas and Ballincollig. Six hundred and sixty were in Dublin city and county, clustered around Palmerston, Firhouse and Lucan in South Dublin, Glencullen, Foxrock and Dun Laoghaire in Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown and Rush, Lusk, Malahide, Howth and Castleknock in Fingal.  

Student Drivers
Cork city and county806
Dublin city and county660
Limerick city and county256
Galway city and county219
Waterford city and county208
Meath 188

Interactive table: StatBank Link E6023

Almost 3 in 10 secondary students used the bus. Areas where bus use was highest were Cavan (46.6%), Donegal (45%) and Longford(41.4%), Cork city (13.8%), Carlow (20.9%), Dun Laoghaire (21.2%) and Waterford city and county (21.8%) have the lowest percentage bus use.

Just over a fifth of secondary students walked to school (74,111) up slightly from 73,946 (0.2%) in 2011, but as a percentage of commuters, down almost 2 per cent since 2011. Walking was most popular in Dublin city (36.8%), South Dublin (36.6%), Cork city (35.2%) and Fingal (34.8%). Possibly reflecting proximity to schools, the counties least likely to walk were Donegal (9.4%), Roscommon (9.5%), Galway county (9.7%) and Cavan (9.9%).


The 25 years, from 1986 to 2011, saw an 87 per cent decrease in the numbers cycling to secondary school. 2016 saw the reversal of this trend with a 10.5 per cent increase since 2011, bringing the numbers of secondary students taking to their bikes to over 7,000. Over 90 per cent of these student cyclists were male, but the number of female cyclists has grown by over 30 per cent since 2011.

Travel time

The average travel time for secondary students was 19 minutes. This ranged from an average of just under an hour (55.3mins) travelling time for those who left before 6:30am to 11.3 minutes for those who left between 8:31 and 9am.

Seventy four per cent of secondary school students travelled to school in less than half an hour. 

Urban v Rural Means of Travel

For secondary students in rural areas, including towns with less than 1,500 persons, almost half travelled as a car passenger to school, compared with 37.4 per cent of urban dwellers (those in cities and towns greater than 1,500 persons). Conversely, in urban areas, over a third of students walked to school, but in rural areas only 4.3 per cent walked. Over 42 per cent of rural secondary students used the bus to get to school, compared with nearly 1 in 5 urban students. See figure 5.7.

OtherMotor car - PassengerBus, minibus or coachOn foot

Active secondary children

In the category towns over 1,500 persons, Dunshaughlin and Dunboyne in Meath had almost three quarters of secondary students walking to secondary school. This was followed by Longwood in Meath at 70.2 per cent and Baltinglass in Wicklow at 69.9 per cent. See table 5.3. 

In the same category of towns, the town with the highest percentage of those who cycled to school was Celbridge, at 14.2 per cent, followed by Dungarvan at 8.2 per cent and Rush at 4.9 per cent. See Table 5.4.

Table 5.3 Towns with population above 1,500 with the highest percentage of walking secondary students, 2016
Walking Number %
Table 5.4 Towns with population above 1,500 with the highest percentage of cycling secondary students, 2016
Cycling Number %

It's a Fact

  • Almost 100,000 secondary students travelled to school by bus.
  • 41.9% - of secondary students were driven to school.

Student Travel Patterns - College

Public Transport( Bus and Train)Self-propelled Transport (Foot and Bike)Car (Driver and Passenger)

Interactive table: StatBank Link E6010

Figure 5.8 shows the changing modes of transport of college students in the last 30 years.

While the number of third level students who walked to college fell between 2011 and 2016, it was the most common method of travel to college, representing 1 in 4 (48,812 - 26%) third level commuters. This was followed closely by third level bus commuters, who at 24 per cent (45,943), represented an increase of 5,473 (13.5%) commuters on the 2011 figure of 40,470.

In 2011 driving was the most popular method of travel to college, 53,606 college students drove a car. A fall of 8,835 drivers has relegated driving to third position at 23.5 per cent or 44,771 of college commuters. Car drivers and passengers together made up 63,896 (33.5%) of college commuters, a fall from 69, 897(36.4%) in 2011. The number of college students who travelled as a passenger rose by 2,834 (17.4%), from 16,291 to 19,125.

The number of cyclists rose 2,148 (25.2%) from 8,530 to 10,678 in the same period, which accounted for almost 6 per cent of college commuters.

Not statedCar, motorbike, otherPublic transportBicycleOn foot
Dublin city and suburbs3.3649525711432816.540189715426945.172241637543711.141620901980423.7809951739058
Total excluding Dublin city and suburbs3.4185932120019742.43728480078724.55038735858343.0612088047220926.5325258239056

Active third level students

In Galway city and suburbs almost two thirds of students either walked or cycled to college (66.7%), followed by Cork city and suburbs at 50.1 per cent. Limerick closely followed Cork at 47.2 per cent and Waterford had 43.7 per cent. Dublin city and suburbs, at 34.8 per cent, had the lowest percentage of students walking or cycling to college.

BicycleOn foot
Dublin City and suburbs11.040466488689122.1476745819868
Cork City and suburbs5.6591639871382638.7459807073955
Limerick City and suburbs5.8733139832678836.3496670650504
Galway City and suburbs10.959604567922351.0141469234703
Waterford City and suburbs3.5124841303427840.8802369868811

Travel time

The average travel time to college was 33.3 minutes. This ranged from 72.1 minutes for those who left before 6:30am to 20.2 minutes for those who left between 8:31 and 9:00am.

Not stated60+mins45-59mins30-44mins15-29minsLess than 15mins
Dublin city and suburbs6.0030316601784616.157370723808910.881248492782627.768973714128227.069624832052912.119750577049
Cork city and suburbs5.833985904463594.369616288175414.5262333594361819.757243539545839.678935003915425.8339859044636
Limerick city and suburbs9.667527437056174.502905100064563.0503550677856714.751452550032337.782440284054230.2453195610071
Galway city and suburbs52.683706070287542.5239616613418513.051118210862643.067092651757233.6741214057508
Waterford city and suburbs6.988148753575813.555373927257872.2067838169186812.137310993052740.948099713935434.1642827952595

Time of departure

Up to 6 per cent of students in Cork, Limerick, Waterford and Galway city and suburbs left for college before 7.30am, compared with 17 to 20 per cent of students from all urban areas outside Dublin city and suburbs, where 12 per cent leave before 7:30am. In rural areas 15 per cent left before 7.30am. Over 6 in 10 of Galway city and suburbs students left for college after 8:30am. See Table 5.5.

Long commutes to college

Seventeen per cent of third level students nationally have a commute of over an hour. Over 16 per cent of students resident in Dublin city and suburbs travel for over an hour to college, compared with 2.7 per cent in Galway city and suburbs. Nearly twice as many Galway students (77%) have a commute of under half an hour, compared with Dublin (39.2%) and around seven in ten students in Cork, Limerick and Waterford city and suburbs.

Among seven towns with populations over 1,500 persons over half of the resident students take more than an hour to get to college, they are Skerries (56.1%), Wicklow (54.6%), Rathdrum (54.3%), Athboy (53.1%), Greystones (52.2%), Kilcoole (50.8%)and Blessington (50.3%).

Table 5.5 Percentage of third level students leaving in each time band, 2016
 Before 7:30am7:31-8:30am8:31-9:30amAfter 9:30amNot stated
Dublin City and suburbs12.035.930.018.04.0
Cork City and suburbs6.236.737.915.24.0
Limerick City and suburbs4.929.643.913.77.9
Galway City and suburbs5.327.441.522.23.6
Waterford City and suburbs4.826.355.98.04.9
Towns 10,000 or over13.
Towns 5,000-9,99920.838.
Towns 3,000-4,99920.037.430.97.83.9
Towns 1,500-2,99917.637.333.38.13.7
Urban total12.635.133.914.24.1
Rural total15.537.335.78.13.3

Interactive table: StatBank Link E6016

It's a Fact

  • 48,812 - third level students walked to college in 2016.
  • 10,678 - third level students cycled to college in 2016.
  • Average travel time to college was 33.3 minutes.