How are your kids getting to school this year? That is the first question they ask at my daughter's school every year ... will my daughter be walking, driving, or riding the bus. Fortunately, I live within a 10-minute walk to my daughter's school ... so we opt for walking. But I have to admit, there are plenty of days when I'm in a rush or the weather is foul and we just hop in the car instead.
But really, if I want to keep it green, I should sign my daughter up for the bus route for the days we can't or don't want to walk to school. She wouldn't be alone. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) 24 million American children ride school buses daily. Like other forms of public transportation, school buses significantly reduce vehicle emissions and cut down on fuel consumption. In fact, school buses drive more than 4 billion miles each year reducing the number of cars on the road by 17.2 million and, according to some estimates, eliminating the need for 2.3 billion gallons of fuel annually.
Of course, it's not all black and white. A few years ago, researchers at Yale University found that children who ride a school bus are exposed to up to 15 times more particulate pollution than average. That’s bad news for all of those 24 million American children who ride a school bus each day. Researchers estimate that this increased exposure is due to the idling and queuing of school buses. In other words, as school buses line up and wait in front of our kids’ schools, the busses are filling up with harmful particulate pollution that will stay with our children throughout their ride.
What can you do about it? Here are a few tips for greening your child's ride to school:
- Talk to your school administrators about the health and environmental implications of bus idling and propose a measure to ban it. Seventh-grader Adam Martin from Jericho, Vt. , appeared earlier this year before Vermont’s House Natural Resources Committee to urge lawmakers to ban bus idling. If he can do it, so can you!
- Check out the EPA's Clean School Bus program for information about banning bus idling and retrofiting or replacing older buses. Since 2003, 48,000 school buses across the nation have been retrofit with emissions-reduction technology. Retrofitting has reduced particulate matter (PM) by over 300 tons and reduced other air pollutants and emissions by over 4,000 tons.
- Organize a Walk to School event for the next Walk To School Day on Oct. 7. Use the event as a stepping point for talking with school and community administrators about improving the safety of walking routes and getting kids involved in walking.
- Start a walking school bus program where a group of children walk to school with one or more adults each day or even just once a week. Check out WalkingSchoolBus.org to find out if there is a walkable route in your community.