By Darla Shelden
City Sentinel Reporter
EMBARK is making it easy for Oklahoma City metro residents to do their part to improve air quality. EMBARK is offering free bus rides on all regular routes every third Friday through September (July 17, Aug. 21 and Sept. 18).
Hot temperatures, calm winds and sunshine with no cloud cover are the ingredients for an unhealthy air quality and ozone alert day.
Ozone season – April through September – means trouble for one in 10 adults and children with asthma in Oklahoma who will suffer from increased lung inflammation and have difficulty breathing.
Local kindergartner and soccer enthusiast, Luke Brewer loves to play outside, but unlike most children, he has to keep a rescue inhaler handy because he suffers from asthma.
“His asthma fluctuates with the seasons, so we have to monitor him closely during ozone alert season,” said John Brewer, Luke’s father. “Ozone is extremely harmful to kids with asthma. He’s an active, energetic boy, and I would hate for it to reach a point where he couldn’t go outside. But as a parent, you’d rather be safe than sorry.”
One way Oklahoma City residents can help Luke and the other 32,000 central Oklahoma children suffering from asthma enjoy their summer outdoors is to leave their car at home as much as possible during ozone season, and especially on ozone alert days.
“When it comes to air quality, Oklahoma City has a poor ranking in part because it is built around a car culture,” said Jeremy Hughey, executive director of American Lung Association in Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma’s air pollution won’t go away without some behavioral change. Driving less and taking alternative transportation options like buses and bikes are great ways to improve air quality and lung health for adults and children alike.”
On Free Fare Fridays, riders can commute, run errands and attend events around the city while doing their part to help friends and neighbors breathe easier, simply by taking the bus.
“It’s motivating to hear stories about how a simple trip on the bus can make breathing easier for Luke and so many others. It’s a very simple way to make a huge impact,” Hughey said.
Breathing ground-level ozone can cause irritation, burning, inflammation and difficulty breathing. According to the EPA, 10 to 20 percent of summertime respiratory-related hospitalizations are associated with ozone pollution.
According to State of the Air 2015 – a report by the American Lung Association, Oklahoma City ranks 15th highest in the country for high ozone days.
“It’s unfortunate Luke and other asthma sufferers might have to spend beautiful afternoons inside taking breathing treatments because the poor air quality makes it so much more difficult for him to catch his breath,” adds Brewer. “I’m so thankful when I hear about people making small changes that can make a big impact on Luke’s health.”
Stephen Morrow, a professor at Oklahoma City Community College, began taking the bus more than seven years ago after learning about the negative impact emissions have on our health and environment. By using bus service, he produces 95 percent less carbon dioxide than driving himself.
“I thought it would be difficult to leave the comfort of my car, but it’s been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” said Morrow. “Being chauffeured to work every day by the bus is less stressful, saves me money and gives me valuable time to catch up on reading and emails.”
Morrow says he doesn’t expect everyone to quit driving their cars and join him on the bus immediately, but he challenges his students and fellow professors to try the healthier alternative.
EMBARK, a Union Shop with Amalgamated Trust Union (ATU) Local 993, provides bus, ferry transit, bike share and downtown parking solutions in the Oklahoma City metro area.
Two crosstown bus routes operate at night and run hourly Monday – Friday service from 7 p.m. to midnight. Both routes connect at the Downtown Transit Center, the Reno Mini-Hub, and with EMBARK Link for even more service
To view bus schedules and routes, visit www.embarkok.com or call 405-235-RIDE (7433) for personal assistance from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.