Transportation is believed by some to be responsible for up to 30% of the greenhouse gasses that Americans emit into the air every day, while others say it equates to 70% of the emissions within cities. Currently about 35% of this is from passenger cars, and only 7% from busses and other public transportation. According to one organization that supports public transportation, a single person can reduce their transportation carbon footprint by 92% by switching from a personal automobile to public transportation.
According to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, buses in the city help to keep 7,000 cars off the streets of New York City every day. If you have ever been to New York City you know that the streets are packed as it is, so imaging an additional 7,000 cars is difficult. The Authority says that this reduction in cars prevents the generation of an additional 400 million pounds of soot, carbon and other pollutants, helping to keep the city cleaner. In short, the city is confident that public transportation saves them congestion, speeds up traffic and reduces the negative environmental impact of human locomotion. So let’s look at some other ways that cities are having successes – and perhaps some limitations – with public transportation.
Reducing Congestion Some people ask whether using public transportation really reduces traffic congestion. Well, New York seems to be on to something with their removal of 7,000 cars – surely that makes a huge difference in congestion. The change public transportation can make is obvious. Most cars on the road have only a single person in them. You can see this clearly if you drive down I75 through Atlanta during rush hour. Atlanta has a commuter lane, called a “HOV”, where only cars with two or more people in them can drive. During rush hour this single lane moves consistently and quickly, while the rest of the six lane expressway – filled with cars holding just a single person – crawls or stops altogether. Certainly putting 50 people onto a bus would remove 50 cars from the road. This would obviously help congestion significantly.
The Dark Side of Public Transportation There can be a few negatives associated with public transportation. But really these are few and not of serious significance. Here are some:
- Public transportation systems can be expensive and difficult to create.
- Public transportation usually doesn’t have car seats for babies or seat belts for young children.
- Using public transportation requires planning and sometimes practice.
- One cannot control the environment or other people around them in public transportation.
- Public transportation can sometimes be slow, if there are frequent stops.
Non-Tangible Benefits In addition to reducing road congestion and emitting fewer greenhouse gasses, people using public transportation has other less tangible benefits. Studies have shown that people who use public transportation are less stressed – they do not experience road rage or the same rushing feeling. They are able to relax, read a paper, contemplate their day and so on, freed from the responsibility of driving through traffic. They also avoid a variety of negative experiences, such as pumping gas (or running out), scraping ice from windshields, trying to see through rain, fixing flat tires, parking and so on. Public transportation is also much safer, with a person on public transportation 40 times less likely to suffer a fatal accident then someone driving in a private vehicle.
The Facts are Clear It is definitely clear that increased use of public transportation can be beneficial to communities in many ways. By making public transportation effective and accessible, a city can remove thousands of cars from the roadways, making the road less congested. This can decrease harmful emissions dramatically, but also help improve the personal lives and mood of the passengers, by relieving them from some of the stresses of the roadway.