Letter to the editor: ditch your car habit “for our air quality and our future”

To the editor:

Schools. The vital institute of learning for the youth to develop skills to better our world. As the future steps foot through the school doors, a problem arises. In much of our state, the air quality is unacceptable and can affect learning. In fact, the American Lung Association gave nearly half of the counties in Massachusetts a “C” or lower rating for air quality.

However, you may be asking yourself: why does this even matter? Wellesley Public Schools, from my personal experience, don’t seem to have air quality issues. In fact, MERV13 filters were installed in fall 2020 in all Wellesley Public Schools, which are advertised by FilterBuy to capture 98% of airborne particles. 

Unfortunately, the long line of single-occupancy vehicles departing and arriving at every single school in Wellesley has an impact on air quality and our greenhouse gas emissions. “Greenhouse gas emissions, including ozone (O3), carbon dioxide (CO2) and particulate matter from fossil fuels, not only cause climate change but also pollute the breathable air, causing many public health problems,” reports Climate Nexus.

Not only does transportation create approximately 40% of emissions in Wellesley, Rolling Stone reports, “that a single car releases about 4.6 metric tons, or 10,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.”

So, what are some solutions? Walking, biking, scootering, carpooling, taking the school bus, and other means of public transportation.

Have you tried taking the MBTA commuter rail that stops behind Caffe Nero on Washington Street? How about the MWRTA Catch Connect’s curb-to-curb MicroTransit system? This van services any address within the Town of Wellesley, as well as: Newton Wellesley Hospital, Natick Community Center, Woodland MBTA station, and Waban MBTA station. It runs from 6:45am-6:45pm, Monday-Friday making it an option to and from school and activities. It’s available for students 12 and older, as well as adults.

Personally, I find biking to school a great source of exercise and a great way to wake up in the morning before class. My friends and I meet up every morning around 15-20 minutes before the first bell rings at Wellesley High and are never late to school. It is also much faster on the way home than buses and cars, as the long lines to exit the schools are bypassed. We have seen elementary school families biking or walking in groups to and from school (sometimes called walking school buses). Maybe give that a try this spring.

As we drive by on our bikes we notice a lot of idling cars. This month there will be a town-wide Idle Free in 2023! campaign happening. Idling is unhealthy, expensive, and illegal. For air quality sake alone, please take the pledge to go idle-free.  

Wellesley still, unfortunately, has gas-powered buses, but since they have an occupancy of 20-30 people rather than a single-occupancy vehicle, the emissions-per-student ratio decreases. The good news is that school bus pricing is decreasing in Wellesley (with an aim to remove it completely over time), and ridership on Wellesley school buses is up. Now is the time to get even more students on buses (even one way) and start planning for electric school buses. A recent WBUR report states that some MA communities are using electric school buses which are not only quieter and more energy efficient than a traditional school bus, “they use about 60% less fossil fuels.” Plus, who wants the diesel fumes that, as reported by Carrie Jung, “can lead to eye irritation and nausea, and it can sometimes cause asthma and even lung cancer.”

Sure, we live in New England and winter can seem like a challenge, however, single-occupancy vehicles are not the only means of getting to and from Wellesley Public Schools. No matter the condition—rain, snow, or shine—there are always healthier, more climate-friendly options at every student’s disposal. I hope you will try a different means of transportation today, for our air quality and our future.

Kavin Shah
9th grader at Wellesley High School