Sustainable Living Challenge

Week 14: Public Transit by the Numbers

This week, I’m cat/dog-sitting for a friend in the city, which means that yoga has become an obstacle course.  It also means my commute is down to 15 minutes!  But normally it’s quite a bit longer!  I could go about this commute any number of ways, but there are always options for making the commute more eco-friendly.  If you watched the video I put up a couple weeks ago, you hopefully got the sense that I am REALLY passionate about public transit.  When I wasn’t riding my bike to grad school, I was on the bus.  Now that I have an “adult” job, I’m back at it, taking the bus into the city almost every day.  Public transit is a brilliant way to reduce our carbon footprint and traffic!  But don’t take my word for it.  Follow the numbers!

The Carbon Cost of Commuting

According to the 2016 survey, roughly 85% of Americans use a car to get to work.  A whopping 76% of that group commute to work alone.  If you drive to work regularly, you’re probably hyper-aware of how many gallons of gas you go through in a week.  Because let’s face it, no one likes paying for gas.  If I drive to work in my parents’ Camry, I use about 10 gallons of gas in a week (and I’m driving a relatively fuel-efficient vehicle by today’s standards).  For each gallon of gas burned by the average vehicle, we emit over 8 kg of CO2.  So for me, that’s 80 kg of CO2 in a week.  Now multiply that by….say all the people in your office building, and it’s not a pretty picture for the planet.


It’s not just carbon we’re spewing out either.  Burning fuel also emits Methane and Nitrous Oxide, two other greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.  So while many people value the freedom of driving their own vehicle, that freedom is having a significant impact on our climate.

Hear My Train A Comin’

Pretty much every other earthbound method of traveling produces a smaller carbon footprint than driving by yourself.  The bus produces about a third less, while commuter rails use about two-thirds less.  And if you love to take the train, you produce only about a quarter of the amount of CO2 you would use driving alone!  So there you have it folks.  Pretty much any method of fossil-fueled land travel is more eco-friendly than driving by yourself.  If you want to see more numbers, check out this tool for calculating how much carbon and money you save by taking public transit.


How Other Places Do It

While I was traveling, I ran into plenty of Europeans that complained about how unreliable their public transit was.  The whole time, I sat there thinking, “Hey, I have USED your public transit, and it is AMAZING.  You have no idea!!”  Because when it comes to public transit, Europeans know what they’re doing.  Any time I’ve been to Europe, I felt like I could spit and hit a train or a bus going somewhere I needed to go.  And it only gets better now that countries like Germany are considering making public transit free in order to combat air pollution.


Japan is another shining example of countries that have the public transit thing down to a science.  Along with their busses and regular trains, Japan’s bullet trains get people from point A to point B in record time.  With the 2020 Olympics coming up, they’re even adding another one, which would travel between Osaka and Tokyo.

Building new rails does put a toll on the environment because it can damage habitats and burn fossil fuels in the process of construction.  That being said, here in the States, we have plenty of underutilized systems.  There are plenty of missed opportunities where unused railways could be revitalized or bus lanes could be created in existing streets.  There are plenty of options to build where we have already developed!

A Plea For Advocacy and Action

Last week, my weekly challenge to you guys was to do some research on public transit and see how you could use it in your life.  Today, I have a different challenge to you.  One of the reasons so few people in the states use public transit is because it is often considered inaccessible or inconvenient.  But we can change that!  My governor wants to put more money into building roads and less into our bus system.  I find this rather ridiculous.  Building more roads does not reduce congestion.  End of story.


So what can we do?  Advocate.  Vote.  Be vocal.  Demand more efficient and reliable public transit so we can do something about our carbon footprint, as well as our traffic!  You can do this by supporting nonprofits like the American Public Transportation Association (APTA).  And make sure to check here to figure out when your next round of elections occurs.  Look into candidates and support the ones that have some sort of environmental agenda and support public transit!  It takes effort to be vocal, but if each of us takes a small step, we can take a huge step forward as a community.

In Summary

I hope you found this to be a good follow up to last week’s video!  Our daily commute can leave a huge impact on the planet, but it doesn’t have to!  Hopefully by now some of you have already looked into how public transit can fit into your life.  Maybe it’s more convenient than you thought!  And if it isn’t, join the fight to advocate for better public transit everywhere!

Thanks for the read!  Have some fun public transit stories to share?  Leave a comment below!  And if you’ve been enjoying my blog, think about buying me a cup of coffee!  ‘Til next week!