Weighing the environmental costs of public transit

The Twin Cities may seem underdeveloped when compared to the expansive systems of New York City and other large metropolitan areas, but at both the city and state level, the government is pushing to implement more public transportation.

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The Twin Cities may seem underdeveloped when compared to the expansive systems of New York City and other large metropolitan areas, but at both the city and state level, the government is pushing to implement more public transportation.

Jack Benson, The Rubicon Editor

Public transit’s effect on the environment is one that is often assumed, but not discussed. So is public transit really an asset in the struggle against global warming? It’s not as one-sided as so commonly perceived.

The Twin Cities may seem underdeveloped when compared to the expansive systems of New York City and other large metropolitan areas, but at both the city and state level, the government is pushing to implement more public transportation. Public Transit can be especially important in dense metro areas, where air pollution is a big problem.

According to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), “Public transportation can reduce the need for many separate trips by private vehicles in dense urban areas, replacing many separate emissions-producing vehicles with fewer transit vehicles that generally emit less pollution on a per person basis.”

Public transportation usage in the United States saves the equivalent of 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually and more than 11 million gallons of gasoline per day”

Much less fuel is used when people take public transit. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), public transportation usage in the United States saves the equivalent of 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually and more than 11 million gallons of gasoline per day. As a result of the reduction in gasoline use, an effort is made to combat carbon dioxide emissions, which are the greatest contributor to global warming. The APTA lists that 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually are saved because of public transit.

In the case of the Twin Cities, the light rail produces 62 percent less greenhouse gas emissions per passenger for every mile than the average single-occupancy vehicle would, according to the FTA. However, an issue with this statistic is that it does not include the energy needed to construct a light rail system, which is a main argument used by those who oppose transit growth.

Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, writes that public transit may be more of a detriment than a benefit.

“Even where rail transit operations save a little energy, the construction of rail transit lines consumes huge amounts of energy and emits large volumes of greenhouse gases.” He continues, “In most cases, many decades of energy savings would be needed to repay the energy cost of construction.” O’Toole said.

There are many non-environmental factors for why public transportation exists, such as a way for people to get around when driving is not an option. The purpose here is not to convince the reader of one side but to point out that their is a debate. As with any issue, it is up to the person to weigh both arguments and decide what path to follow.