Kathy Théberge praises the daily way to school and heartily encourages others to walk to work every day.
“It’s a great way to start the day. It helps give you a little bit of energy, and it helps you be ready and focused when you get to school,” said the Pickering, Ontario parent of two.
Théberge started the habit after finding it easier to walk to her children’s primary school, about a kilometer away, than to take the car, which meant parking and then walking “about half the distance”. [from home] anyway,” she said.
Her children, 15-year-old Matthieu and eight-year-old Abigail, also see the benefits of walking.
“It’s good for the environment because instead of driving to school, which produces carbon dioxide, you go to school, which improves your mind and body,” Matthieu said.
Calls for students to bring zero waste lunches and to reduce, reuse and recycle are well known in classrooms across Canada. However, attention is also now turning to how students travel to and from school and how to reduce the carbon footprint of this weekday hike.
That environmental concerns are important to children these days comes as no surprise to retired teacher Théberge – she says it’s a topic that students have been talking about at school for many years. “Sometimes they’re the ones who educate and encourage parents to think about their future.”
Théberge has inspired others to follow in her family’s footsteps. She organizes activities for International Walk to School Month — which some call Walktober — and encourages families to participate every Wednesday throughout the school year. Music, signs and stamps for the little ones enliven the weekday walks.
“I’ve had parents come up to me and say, ‘I used to ride my kid and it was just around the corner. Now we walk every day because we can and it makes sense,'” Théberge said.
Encouraging enthusiasm for this seemingly casual part of the school day is a great way to inspire new habits, according to Brianna Salmon, executive director of Green Communities Canada, a national nonprofit that supports local environmental initiatives across the country.
“We really want to start getting families and students excited about walking, biking and scootering to school as early as possible so that those routines and those transportation behaviors continue throughout the school year… and help kids see themselves as champions.” for safer school zones and positive climate action,” said Salmon of Peterborough, Ontario.
“We know that traveling in Canada is a huge source of greenhouse gases and that the way we travel really affects our physical and mental health, so we want to inspire kids… and really support them, throughout their lives.” to make healthy choices. ”
While walking or bicycling were two of the most common modes of transportation for children in previous generations, that’s not necessarily the case today, Salmon noted. For example, in the past, parents probably taught children to ride bikes, and you learned how to ride bikes safely when the whole family rides bikes together.
“But that’s less and less the case for kids now, and so they don’t have the same transfer of knowledge,” she said.
“Cycling and walking education is something we need to be proactive about.”
E-buses as a “low-carbon transport solution”
The school bus, another well-established means of transport for students, is also getting a new look.
According to a February 2020 Transport Canada School Bus Safety Report, approximately 2.2 million children across Canada rely on approximately 51,670 school buses to get them to and from classes and related activities every day of school.
With the growing interest in and availability of EVs for private use, school transportation officials in various regions are now more actively investigating the electrification of these yellow school bus fleets after they were first introduced about five years ago.
Salmon sees Quebec’s “ambitious” pledges to electrify its bus fleet and the growing number of electric school buses transporting students on Prince Edward Island as positive steps toward change.
“Fifty-one thousand school buses that travel every day — and some of them very long distances, most of them on diesel — have a significant carbon footprint, and so the transition to electric vehicles is … a really important, low-carbon transportation solution,” she said.
“It’s also a really beautiful example for kids: they see solutions being implemented on their journey to school… As we face a global climate crisis, it can be a really empowering and positive thing to be a part of every day on your journey.”
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More than 70 new electric school buses are also on the road in British Columbia. Since 2020, the province has allocated more than $17 million to help school districts purchase and invest in upgrading related facilities, such as electric vehicle charging stations.
The Sooke School District was one of the first school boards to use state funds to subsidize the pilot purchase of two electric buses. After that initial success, the Vancouver Island School Board has since added four more.
Cost remains a major challenge: each electric bus costs about $350,000 compared to about $150,000 per diesel-powered bus. If government support continues, however, the goal is to buy electric vehicles for its fleet of about 45 buses in total in the future, said Ravi Parmar, Sooke district chairman and a trustee who is currently up for re-election.
“We as a school district know we have a role to play in reducing ours [greenhouse gas] emissions. We have a role to play in tackling climate change, and… we are doing it [doing that in part] by buying electric school buses and electrifying not only our school bus fleet but also our white transport fleet – all maintenance vehicles.”
For school districts with difficult weather conditions or with bus lines that travel very long distances, electric may not be the best solution right now, Parmar acknowledged.
“But the technology is changing and I expect they will be electric very soon too.”
The forward momentum in the electrification of Canada’s school bus fleet requires continued and meaningful attention, collaboration and discussion among the many partners involved in school bus transportation, Salmon noted. This group includes provincial ministries, school boards, school bus consortia, school bus operators, bus vendors, transportation officials and student families. She believes that leadership from provincial governments is also essential.
A general review of how children get to school “really gives us pause to think about how we support walking, cycling and bus travel and safe travel for young children and schoolchildren,” she said.
“[These are] the people who are often not the focus of the conversations we have when we’re talking about commuters or freeway extensions or other transportation conversations.