From the archives: Updated September 20, 2019
Public transportation eases congestion, reduces emissions, and gives you plenty of quality time to people watch, as well as get to know your "neighbors." In addition, public transportation allows you to relax, read or nap during that commute instead of fighting and stressing and feeling the road rage.
So, what do we mean by public transportation? Well, for this article we are focusing on buses, trains, planes and ferries/boats, whether used for the daily commute or just to get around. For those of you interested in leaving that car at home, these tips discuss the merits of public transportation as well as offer suggestions for how to expand and improve public transportation in your community.
Image: Press-Office City of Müenster, Germany
Top Public Transportation Tips
- A (hu)man with a Plan
If you're not sure you can do the public transportation thing, start small with one a goal of taking public transportation at least one day a week until you figure out the system. Before you know it, you'll be making friends and riding along with everyone else.
- Come Fly With Me
Try to reduce the number of plane trips you take and try not to use a plane for any trips under 1000km. Plane trips are way more environmentally destructive than automobile trips.
- Get On the Bus
Write to your city representatives to request that your community upgrade their diesel buses to fleets of electric or biodiesel buses. This will reduce the CO2 emissions generated, reduce dependence on imported oil dependency, and in the case of biodiesel engines actually run cleaner and more efficient than petrochemical diesel. Even diesel buses are worth getting on. We calculated that buses only need to carry 3-8 people to break even with a car on CO2 emissions.
- Try the bus or train for longer trips
Buses, trains, light rail and ferries generally have dedicated travel paths that are quicker than sitting alone in your car, which can cut down travel times. If you need to use a car, see if you can car-pool. Each of these options is much better than flying. In a car, four people would only be collectively responsible for emitting only 104 kilograms of CO2, whereas in a plane they would generate some 736 kilograms of carbon dioxide. A cross-country train trip would generate about half the greenhouse-gas emissions of driving a car.
- Walk to school
Most children live close enough to walk school, but few do. Instead of driving your children the few blocks, walk with them or allow them to take the school bus. Take it step further by helping organize a walking bus for other kids in your neighborhood.
- Catch a taxi
Really these are a form of public transport because you don't own them, and when you don't need the service they are made available for others to use. Look out for hybrid or pedi-cab taxis, or book with Zipcar or Uber for an even greener option.
Don't drive to the office, or fly to that conference, if you can arrange to complete your work/presentation electronically, or via video conferencing. Video conferencing can reduce 99 percent of the energy used for a trans-continental flight. In this age of the internet, there are so many tools that make telecommuting an effective and efficient way of working.
- Buy fare saver tickets
Return, weekly/monthly, or off-peak bus/train tickets are often significantly cheaper than single ride tickets, which will encourage you to use said bus/train more often.
- Plan your trip
Obtain timetable and route-maps for your journey to know what to expect in advance. Many municipal public transport systems now have free online databases than will take your staring point and destination and calculate the fastest times and best route for your trip, not to mention the wonder that is google maps. This can take the uncertainty out of public transport travel.
- Be a Change Agent
If you don't use public transport in your local area because the service doesn't work for you, for whatever reason, then get it changed. Write letters to your city newspaper, comment on their online stories that address urban travel, join a public transport advocacy group, and meet with your local government representative. Things won't change, until you inform people you want them to.
Public Transportation: By the Numbers as of 2014
- 10.7 billion: Number of trips Americans took in public transport in 2013 - the highest number since the 50's, when few had their own cars.
- 40 percent: Reduction in U.S. reliance on foreign oil that would occur if one in ten Americans used public transportation daily.
- 7: Number of times safer that riding a bus is over riding in your own automobile.
- 450: Millions of gallons saved from people taking public transportation each year. This is roughly the energy needed to power ¼ of all American homes annually.
- 6,000: Difference in pounds of global warming pollution that a diesel school bus emits over a natural gas school bus.
- 20 percent: Carbon monoxide emissions saved if one in five Americans rode public transportation daily; the savings would be greater than the combined emissions from all chemical manufacturing and metal processing industries.
With editing by Manon Verchot