General Question

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

Does public transportation really help the environment?

Asked by Aesthetic_Mess (7857 points ) October 11th, 2010

People say it’s better to take the bus or train or walk or ride a bike which I can’t do, and that it would be better than taking your car. Is that true?

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17 Answers

JilltheTooth's avatar

Personally I can’t do the math, but a bus weighs a lot less than, say 15 cars, so fuel usage to propel 1 bus + 15 bodies would be less than 15 cars +15 bodies. (If I’m way wrong about this, let me know…)

Lightlyseared's avatar

Yes, it’s true.

meiosis's avatar

BBC Radio 4’s More Or Less covered this very subject. To cut a long and complicated story short, taking the bus produces, on average, 20% less CO2 than the same journey taken by car. It would be higher lever of saving, but in order to provide a convenient service buses run throughout the day, often with few passengers.

meiosis's avatar

Of course my entry above should read “higher level of saving…”

marinelife's avatar

” Both local and global pollution would be reduced if each car-driving person pledged to use their car 30% less starting immediately. This is a responsible, individual contribution to a global problem. At least 30% of vehicle use is optional – either recreational or lazy driving when walking, cycling or public transit would be a better choice.

Cities can reduce vehicular traffic by more than 30% over the next 3 to 5 years by improving public transportation. Commuter trains are a model of urban access for suburban residents who drive their cars short distances, park in terminal lots and ride the train into town.”

Source

john65pennington's avatar

Yes, it is true….BUT, people are not willing to give up the convenience, comfort and safety of their automobiles and suvs. man will always be in love with the combustion engine. its self-sufficient and goes without a charge, much farther than an electric car.

Public transportation will work, just like going GREEN, but it has to be supported by everyone in all countries. you and i know this will never happen. good idea, but lack of support from the public.

CyanoticWasp's avatar

In absolute terms, no, not at all. It can’t ‘help’ the environment to start another motor to to use more man-made energy.

In relative terms, yes, it’s possible to do less harm (that is, to use less energy) by using mass transit.

That is, the instant that the bus, train, trolley, or whatever conveyance starts its motor, it’s using energy, and that energy usage causes some form of ‘pollution’ somewhere. That’s the absolute answer.

The relative answer, in general, is that public transportation, especially ‘mass transportation’ such as buses, trains, subways and trolleys, can carry far more people per vehicle-mile, and those vehicle-miles (though more than just a few cars) should be more than offset by the number of individual cars not placed in service. (That also includes, if carried to a logical conclusion, fewer resources used to produce the automobiles in the first place, if people can manage to avoid having a car altogether.) There’s another potential savings if enough cars are taken off the road at peak hours, in reduced congestion and waiting time for all vehicles on the road.

The cost, aside from the daily fares themselves, which is a direct cost (and which can be less than the direct cost of driving) is a certain route and timing inflexibility. To the extent that providers of mass transit attempt to make up for those shortcomings by offering more routes at more times to more places, then the energy savings are more and more eaten up.

But if you live on an existing mass transit route that serves your needs as to destination and time, then it makes perfect sense for you to use that.

wundayatta's avatar

Where I live there are these car-sharing programs. People reserve the cars for an hour or two at a time. They are parked in spaces all over the parts of the city where people rent them.

The theory is that you use public transportation most of the time, but for those times when you have to have a car, you use the car-share. In this way, you save money—you don’t have the expense of maintaining a car that sits on the street most of the time. You don’t have to buy the car, or keep it maintained or insure it.

I suppose if everyone—or at least a significant portion of the population—did this, there would be a lot fewer cars around, so the environmental cost of building all those cars people no longer needed would disappear.

Would that reduce pollution? Or is that pollution that would happen anyway? Does it matter who owns the car if the same number of miles get driven? Is that just a feel good kind of program, or does it make sense? How or why?

Aesthetic_Mess's avatar

@wundayatta Cool where is that?

wundayatta's avatar

A lot of cities do this, but a couple I know for sure are NYC and Philadelphia.

zenvelo's avatar

the San Francisco Bay Area has a couple of different car share programs, especially zipcars. they have a lot of cars parked at the BART (mas transit train) stations.

to evaluate the effectiveness of buses and trains, look at carbon foot print per passenger mile. most mass transit vehicles (except when they are empty) come out way ahead. And because they decrease highway congestion, they improve everyone else’s foot print too.

incendiary_dan's avatar

It will do less damage than everyone driving their own cars, if that’s what you mean. Personally, I think we need to stop confusing ‘doing less damage’ with ‘helping’.

josie's avatar

Nobody knows. It is simply a political talking point.

ETpro's avatar

The do a great job when built where people use them. If enough people commute dialy through a very crowded corridor where parking is limited and expensive when you get to your destination, with proper marketing, public transportation will be heavily used and save substantially on pollution, fuel use and commuting time.

mattbrowne's avatar

Of course it’s true. No rational person would deny this.

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