Public Transportation and Its Impact on the Environment

Environmentalists have long touted the benefits of carpooling and utilizing mass transit in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the effects of climate change. By utilizing high-occupancy vehicles (HOVs), more people can be transported to the same place in one vehicle, versus each person driving themselves separately.

This not only reduces traffic and congestion, but is beneficial to our already stressed environment. Additionally, individuals can save hundreds or even thousands of dollars each year by using public transportation instead of driving a personal vehicle.

Statistics indicate that in 2014 Americans took 10.8 billion trips on public transportation, and ridership has increased nearly 40 percent since 1995. This has effectively saved the United States about 450 million gallons of fuel, significantly reduced traffic congestion, and cut about 865 million hours of travel time for passengers. This is a true testament to just how popular mass transit has become, as well as indicative of its numerous benefits.

Benefits of Public Transportation

trainOne of the benefits of public transportation is its positive impact on air quality. In heavily congested urban areas, air quality is often subpar and poses serious health threats to residents.

It is estimated that transportation accounts for nearly 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the US. Using public transportation can significantly reduce these emissions.

As public transit improves, we are seeing eco-friendlier vehicles introduced into public transit fleets. Older, gas-powered buses are increasingly being replaced by more fuel-efficient compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. Additionally, diesel buses are being phased out in favor of hybrid-diesel or bio-diesel models.

While buses are considerably better for the environment than personal vehicles, rail transit is even better. Trains used for public transportation are often powered by electricity, and therefore emit very little, if any, pollution. Rail transit is particularly environmentally friendly, as these vehicles boast 76 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile then an average car.

Drawbacks of Public Transit

Although there are quite a few benefits to using public transportation, there also some drawbacks worth mentioning. Some environmental and auto industry experts believe that if the current public transit system is not overhauled it will continue to have a negative impact on the environment.

Due to the increasing ridership over the past 30 years, energy use has skyrocketed. Experts believe that if vehicle use doubles by the year 2050 as projected, very little of the earth’s natural resources will be available to sustain the system.

Experts propose that innovative technology be utilized to streamline the system and make it more energy-efficient. Another issue is poorly-planned routes that result in decreased ridership. It is not only costly but also environmentally damaging for these buses and trains to operate with few passengers.

Another issue with public transportation is accessibility. For those who do not live in major metropolitan epicenters, public transportation is either limited or nonexistent. For these people, using a car to get around is an absolute must because of the lack of accessibility.

Additionally, the increase in what ridership that has taken place in recent years is due in part to wildly fluctuating gas prices. This means that these increases are heavily dependent on gas prices and may not be sustainable in the long run.

How to Make Public Transit Better

In order to make public transportation even better for the environment and the citizens it serves, there is much work still to be done. Recently, Navigant Research released a study indicating what it believes the future of public transit will look like.

busThe study concluded that autonomous vehicles will be more prevalent, and an on-demand system will most likely be the way that we summon mass transit vehicles. This will not only increase the convenience of public transportation, but it will also foster technology that will see more electric and wireless-capable vehicles. These low to no emissions vehicles will undoubtedly be better for the environment than our current natural gas powered system.

Governments are also taking notice of how emissions adversely affect the environment and are actively working to create more clean energy laws that make it easier for citizens to access electric vehicles. Many government vehicles are already in the process of being replaced with more energy-efficient vehicles.

Mass transit vehicles are slowly moving towards this trend as well. Even ridesharing companies such as Uber and Lyft are also looking into incorporating more electric vehicles into their fleets.

Public transit systems are always looking for ways to increase ridership by offering various incentives as well as educating the public on the benefits of using mass transit.  Experts in the field also suggest limiting or eliminating transit services in areas where demand is not sufficient to justify their use.