Take public transportation
Whether you take the bus, train, subway, ferry, trolleybus, or streetcar every day to work, once in a while for business, or just to pop into the city to wine and dine at your favorite downtown bistro, you're helping to keep pollution out of the air and you may save yourself some time and money to boot. And if you're in the market for carbon-cutting options, you should know that taking public transit over your car is much more effective at shrinking your carbon footprint that replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs or buying a better fridge.
How to find public transportation options in your area
Saving gas and cutting your greenhouse gas emissions are important eco-benefits of using public transportation. If 10 percent of Americans used public transit every day, the US would decrease its reliance on foreign oil by 40 percent. Yet choosing mass transit may also affect your finances since each year households that use public transportation save approximately $1,400 worth of gas. And don't forget, if you take mass transit to get to work, your company may have a commuter benefit programs for employees, which can include subsidies for public transit passes to help make the commute eco-friendly and more affordable.
But before you hop on that crosstown bus or board a ferry, it makes sense to explore the most efficient and practical public transport options in your area. Depending on the size of your community and its commitment to clean travel, there may be several options available to you, and many ways to map out your next trip.
Determine your choices
The best way to find out about mass transit in your area is to contact or visit the website of the type of public transportation you're interested in. To make this easier go to the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) map and click on a state to find out about its public transit choices.
And remember, light rail (probably your most efficient option) is up and running in more places than you might imagine. Take a look at APTA's map of 28 cities with light rail systems.
Map an efficient route
Google has a new service called Google Transit designed to make it simpler to find your way through public transport's sometimes cryptic maps and timetables. Like Mapquest, you type in your start and end addresses and the system will tell you where to walk and what buses or trains to take. It also gives approximate times for each segment, as well as the cost of public transit versus driving a car.
When it launched in 2005, Portland, Oregon, was the only destination. Now it covers dozens of cities and metro areas in the US. All regional and national rail networks, domestic airlines, and ferries in Japan and transport systems in Canada, Australia, and a few European countries are included too.
For iPod devotees, APTA's website has a link to iPod transit maps. So far, only San Francisco is included, but other metro systems around the country are in the works, so keep checking.
Taking public transit helps you go green because...
- By taking cars off the road, greenhouse gas emissions are lessened, congestion is cut, noise is decreased, and motor vehicle accidents are reduced.
- The land area required for automobile parking is decreased, which reduces water runoff and pollution.
Without a doubt, individual car drivership is one of the biggest carbon dioxide contributions made by the average American. This habit also requires tremendous infrastructure that's not only destructive in its making, it's a drain on physical space, too.
A recent study, Public Transportation's Contribution to US Greenhouse Gas Reduction, shows that among household actions that people can take to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (CO2), public transportation ranks high. The typical American household is responsible for a carbon footprint of 22 metric tons each year (compared to 10 metric tons emitted by a European household). And of total household CO2 emissions, transportation accounts for 38 percent for a single car household and 55 percent for those with two cars.
Switching from driving a car to work to taking public transit can cut daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds, or more than 4,800 pounds a year versus the 445 pounds of CO2 saved per year by replacing five incandescent bulbs to lower wattage CFL bulbs or the 335 pounds of CO2 saved when you replace an old refrigerator with a new efficient one. In addition to lower CO2 emissions, public transit also produces an average of 92 percent fewer volatile organic compounds, 95 percent less carbon monoxide, and 48 percent less nitrogen oxide per passenger mile compared to private vehicles.
Public transportation had a banner year in 2006 with Americans taking 10.1 billion trips; the highest ridership in 49 years. Though ridership of public transportation grew 30 percent from 1995 to 2006, higher than the 24 percent increase in use of the nation's highways in that same time frame, greenhouse gas emissions from mobile sources continued to rise too, climbing 27 percent from 1990 to 2004. Cars and light trucks make up 61 percent of the total mobile sources of these emissions.
Still, nearly 14 million Americans take public transit daily, which saves the equivalent of 45 million barrels of oil every year. Buses, which emit 80 percent less carbon monoxide and are 91 times safer than the average car, can carry the equivalent of 60 car-loads of people. Trains, on the other hand, carry 200 car-loads of people, and are therefore the most efficient public transportation option.
The use of alternative power is growing, with municipal buses being the likeliest candidates to use cleaner-burning diesel and other alternatives. At the start of 1996, 4 percent of the more than 50,000 transit buses surveyed ran on an alternative fuel such as methanol, ethanol, liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), or compressed natural gas (CNG). A decade later in 2006, 19.1 percent of the more than 55,000 buses surveyed run on alternative power, which includes all power except straight diesel and gasoline. That percentage includes 618 buses that use clean diesel, 7,149 that run on compressed natural gas and blends, 1,022 that use electric battery/hybrid, 1,068 powered with liquefied natural gas and blends, plus 375 buses that use fuel classified as "other," which encompasses bio/soy fuel, biodiesel, hydrogen, and hythane.
Mass transit also has 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, mass transit has the advantage over cars. 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. Trip times may be shorter with mass transit as well, since buses, trains, light rail, and ferries typically have dedicated lanes or routes that make travel faster than going it alone in your car.
- TreeHugger - How to Green Your Public Transportation
- American Public Transportation Association - Public Transportation's Contribution to US Greenhouse Gas Reduction
- American Public Transportation Association - Public Transportation Use Substantially Reduces Greenhouse Gases, According to New Study
- American Public Transportation Association - The Route to Better Personal Health
- American Public Transportation Association - Facts on Public Transportation
- Ideal Bite - Want to get away for Labor Day weekend but hate the thought of all that traffic?
- National Renewable Energy Laboratory Vehicle Evaluation Program - Alternative Fuel Transit Buses
- American Public Transportation Association - Alternative Power Vehicles by Mode, 2006
- American Public Transportation Association - Bus and Trolleybus Power Sources, 2006
- 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