Public Transportation for Fewer Emissions, Energy Independence

Keep costs low for your family for other necessities

A man bike commuting.
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If you want to help reduce global warming, air pollution, and your monthly living costs, one of the best things you can do is to get out of your car. By walking or riding a bicycle for short trips, or taking public transportation for longer ones, you will significantly reduce the amount of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions you generate each day.

The Rising Environmental Cost of Driving Alone

Transportation accounts for more than 30 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), public transportation in the United States saves approximately 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline and about 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Yet only 14 million Americans use public transportation daily while 88 percent of all trips in the United States are made by car—and many of those cars carry only one person.

Added Benefits of Public Transportation

Cutting back on carbon emissions and costs usage isn't the only added benefit of using public transportation. It also helps increase the energy independence of the country overall. Although an increasing amount of our oil is produced in North America, the majority of it still comes from across the pond.

Public transportation is also safer, a lot safer, in fact. Riding a bus is 79 times safer than riding in an automobile, and riding a train or subway is even safer. It's also healthier, studies have shown that people who use public transportation regularly tend to be healthier than people who do not, because of the exercise they get walking to and from bus stops, subway stations and their homes and offices.

And of course, there's the reduction of costs overall. According to an APTA study, families that use public transportation can reduce their household expenses by $6,200 annually, more than the average U.S. household spends on food every year.

The Heart of the Debate Over Public Transportation

So why don’t more Americans use public transportation?

Transportation experts and social scientists may argue about which came first, America’s attachment to the automobile or the urban and suburban sprawl that makes long daily commutes in at least one and often two cars a requirement for many American families.

Either way, the problem at the heart of the debate is that good public transportation systems are not available to enough people. While public transportation is readily available in many major cities, the majority of Americans in smaller cities, towns and rural areas simply do not have access to good public transportation options.

So the problem is twofold: People with access to public transportation has to be persuaded to use it more often. Additionally, more affordable public transportation options in smaller communities need to be created for use.

Trains, Buses, and Automobiles

Train systems are the most efficient in many ways, typically emitting less carbon and using less fuel per passenger than buses, but they are often more expensive to implement. Also, the traditional advantages of trains can be mitigated to a large extent by using hybrids or buses that run on natural gas.

Another promising alternative is bus rapid transit (BRT), which runs extra-long buses in dedicated lanes. A 2006 study by the Breakthrough Technologies Institute found that a BRT system in a medium-sized U.S. city could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 650,000 tons during a 20-year period.

If you live in an area with good public transportation, do something good for the planet today. Park your car, and take the subway or the bus. If you don’t, then talk to your local and federal elected officials about the benefits of public transportation and how it may help solve some of the problems they’re wrestling with right now.