Commuter Kate: What’s public transit’s role on environmental sustainability?

Published: September 8, 2018

As people become more and more conscious of our environment, I thought it would be interesting to understand the role transit plays in environmental sustainability.

With humans having taken advantage of the earth’s precious resources for far too long, we now look at ways in which we can reverse some of the damage we’ve done without completely overhauling the way we live. A good example, although unrelated to transit, is the recent banning of straws and plastic utensils.

One of the simplest ways I can think of to reduce our carbon footprint is during our daily commute. Driving a single-occupancy vehicle every day to the office and home has a vast impact on pollution levels. Cars and trucks were the leading sources of Co2 emissions for the second year running according to analysis from Rhodium Group. And although we can be proud that carbon emissions are on the decrease overall, transportation is actually seeing an uncomfortable rise.

Energy CO2 Emissions Rhodium Group - Environmental sustainability

How can we help change this trend and help environmental sustainability? For me, an answer is public transit. Below I’ve outlined some of the benefits to the environment that public transit offers:

Reduce Emissions

Less individual cars = fewer pollutants = better for the environment. Simple! More people sharing one mode of mass transit allows this to happen. Many rail systems run on electricity already and don’t emit greenhouse gases and there’s been a huge investment in electric or alternative fuel for buses in recent years, particularly in Europe and China.

I’m proud to say that Muni in San Francisco has the largest fleet of electric “trolley” buses in the US and Canada. It makes my commute to work even better, knowing I’m doing my bit for the environment.

Improved air quality

Traffic congestion and vehicle emissions can cause smog which impacts many living in urban areas. With fewer people using cars, and more on transit, there’s less need for parking lots. This valuable space can be turned into parks and green space to help counteract pollutants from transport emissions.

Energy savings

With fewer cars on the road, there’s less need to extend highways or manufacture cars. All of this saves on fossil fuels, which in turn improves the environment.

Less traffic

Apart from less frustration and stress for individuals (and a happier and healthy world), the worse the traffic, the more the cars sit and pump out their greenhouse gases. With fewer cars on the road and more people on buses and rail, traffic congestion reduces and means an end to this start-stop type of driving.

Of course, this is all based on public transit being of high quality and frequency. So make sure to check out your local government’s policies on public transit investment and environmental sustainability before making any decisions in the future!

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