Parents are being asked to get their children walking, cycling and taking the bus to school in a bid to cut congestion.
American-style school buses have been piloted in some areas
Government plans, published on Wednesday, could also include staggering school timetables to ease congestion during peak hours.
Local education authorities are being urged to help by working with parents to draw up "travel plans", involving safer routes, more road crossings, lower speed limits and cycle paths.
Ministers have pledged £50m for the project, over the next two years, £7.5m of which would pay for more local authority-based school transport advisers.
The government said it was also concerned children were getting less exercise by not walking or cycling to school - a worry backed up by figures showing obesity is on the increase.
Twice as many children are driven to school as 20 years ago, with parents accounting for one fifth of cars during rush hour. Most journeys are less than two miles long.
But the headteachers' union said teachers would have a tough time persuading parents - most of whom do not drive their children to school - to accept a staggered timetable.
General secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, David Hart, said: "If school hours should be changed
then they should be changed for good educational reasons, not to dig the government and local authorities out of a hole that they have created by their failure to address traffic congestion during peak hours.
"What many parents are being asked to do is to stagger hours for the convenience of the minority of parents who choose to come by car, at the expense of the working and family lives of many other parents."
Under the plans, primary schools will be entitled to £5,000, and secondaries to £10,000, to spend on improving facilities such as bike sheds.
Primary schools are being urged to give pupils more road safety and cycle training.
And schools should work with police and transport companies to come up with ways of improving behaviour on school buses, including the use of rewards for good conduct, said ministers.
Education Secretary Charles Clarke said they would be encouraging schools to make walking, cycling and bus travel safe and realistic options.
"This is about ideas and encouragement, not prescription," he said.
But the Liberal Democrat transport spokesman, Don Foster, said there was little new in the government's approach.
"Many of the so called new ideas were announced three years ago in the government's report on the work of the School Travel Advisory Group."
The transport minister had listed, in a parliamentary answer on 3 March, as already in place many of the initiatives now being announced.
Children who live more than three miles from their school - or two miles in the case of under eights - are entitled by law to free transport.
The government said parents have complained that the rules restricted the hours they could work if they had to drive their children to school at times when no buses were running.
The government has asked a "small number" of LEAs to try out different arrangements and said the law could be changed to accommodate those that proved
Would staggering opening times serve to legitimise the school run?
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association said:
"Local schools could perhaps come to an agreement but I don't think the
Government can look to schools to make more than a marginal contribution to
cutting transport problems."
Public transport campaigners gave the plans a mixed response.
Paul Osborne, safe routes to schools director of Sustrans said: "Every child should have the right to a safe and healthy route to school and
this is a significant step forward."
A spokesman for Transport 2000 said any attempts to stagger school opening times would be sending the "wrong message" to
"It is almost legitimising the school run by extending it over a longer