Seventy-eight percent of those who commute to work do so solo. In fact, American workers spend an average of 47 hours stuck in rush hour traffic every year, adding up to 3.7 billion hours and 23 billion gallons of gas consumed. The environmental costs of the American commute are many, but most importantly include enormous emissions of greenhouse gases as well as inefficient use of land.
The average US household has two-mid-sized vehicles, which emit upwards of 20,000 pounds of CO2 every year. This costs the average household approximately 18 percent of its income, which is more than the amount spent on food. Twenty-seven percent of total vehicle miles traveled by Americans are to and from work, which amounts to 734 billion miles each year. Twenty percent of US greenhouse gas emissions comes from vehicle gasoline consumption.
If 10 percent of Americans used public transit every day, the US would decrease its reliance on foreign oil by 40 percent. If public transit ridership doubled, an additional 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline—equivalent to the volume of more than 2,100 Olympic swimming pools—would be saved each year.
But fossil fuel savings aren't the only downsides to the traditional solo-drive commute. Mass transit, self-propelled commutes, carpooling, and telecommuting all have a large effect on traffic congestion, a problem that the 2007 Urban Motility Report shows is getting worse in all 437 of the nation's urban areas. This congestion accounts for 4.2 billion lost hours and 2.9 billion gallons of wasted fuel, which equates to 105 million weeks of vacation and 58 full supertankers.
Related to congestion, the issue of space used per traveler comes into play, especially in urban areas and densely populated suburbs. Here again, alternative forms of commuting have the advantage over cars. For instance, the space used per person on a bus is 129 square feet compared to 1,292 square feet taken up by someone driving a car. On New York's Long Island Expressway during rush hour, 1,400 buses and carpools carry more than 3,500 people; it would take more than 3,100 cars to transport the same number of people.
Eco-friendly commuter alternatives
By choosing less-polluting methods for getting to work, such as walking, running, cycling, carpooling, or taking public transit, many Americans are significantly decreasing the time, money, and fossil fuels they use. For instance, 30,000 commuters can get to work on a single subway train, which would require 10 additional highway lanes if the same individuals chose to drive to work.
- Best Workplaces for Commuters - Basic Information
- Bikes Belong Coalition - Fast Facts
- Environmental Defense - Cars: Pollution Solutions in Reach
- TreeHugger - How to Green Your Public Transportation
- ICF International - Public Transportation and Petroleum Savings in the US
- World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) - Methods, Compositions and Devices for Maintaining Chemical Balance of Chlorinated Water
- Texas Transportation Institute - Annual study shows traffic congestion worsening in cities large and small
- Urban Transportation Caucus - Urban Transportation Report Card, August 2007
- LI Transportation Management - Long Island Expressway HOV Lane Statistics
- Ideal Bite - Want to get away for Labor Day weekend but hate the thought of all that traffic?