I thought that posting the above chart would be a nice way to begin Bike Week. As the chart neatly shows, taking transit can be an effective way to reduce greenhouse gases — especially those who bike or walk to and from light rail stations. It makes sense: no fossil fuels are needed to power your legs.
The chart is from Metro’s First Mile/Last Mile Strategic Plan that was adopted by the Metro Board of Directors in April.
Greenhouse gases, of course, are the primary agents for climate change. As the amount of carbon dioxide and other gases from the burning of fossil fuels increases in our atmosphere, the planet is growing warmer. Here’s a good explanation of the basics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The reduction of important topic given how much climate change has been in the news lately. The White House released a report last week on the ongoing impacts in the United States from climate change, including warmer temperatures, increased rains and flooding in some areas, drought in others and more intense wildfires and tree die-offs due to insects. The report followed one by the United Nations released in March that found the same phenomenon on a global level.
The state of California, too, agrees there are impacts and we’re already seeing them:
There are some important caveats when it comes to figuring out greenhouse gas emissions from transit. One involves how a project is built. It helps to have a green construction policy to help curtail pollution from trucks and other heavy equipment (and Metro does have such a policy). Even more important: the number of people riding a train or bus. The more people riding, the more efficient buses and trains are. (See this Duke University study comparing passenger per mile emissions from a bus getting 2.33 mpg versus a car that gets 25 mpg).
Metro’s numbers are based on a study looking at the Gold Line and Orange Line published in the academic journal Environmental Research Letters in 2013 by researchers from UCLA, Arizona State University and UC Berkeley. The Federal Transit Administration in 2010 also published a useful guide to comparing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and public transit. The FTA’s work shows that heavy rail transit (typically subways such as Metro’s Red/Purple Line that use bigger, heavier trains) are even more efficient than buses and light rail, due in part to heavier ridership.
Of course, such comparisons depend on the type of car. The average car and light truck in the United States in 2012 averaged 23.6 miles per gallon. As many of you know, some hybrids can double that and that’s an important consideration. About two percent of the cars in California are hybrids, according to the DMV — although that percentage is likely higher here in Southern California where many of you reading this likely have invested in a hybrid.
Obviously, this is not a controversy free topic. While there is widespread consensus about climate change among local, state and federal governments in the U.S., only 44 percent of Americans believe there is “solid evidence” that the Earth is getting warmer, according to the New York Times (Latinos and African Americans are more likely to believe in global warming and see humans as responsible). Some people do not believe climate change is occurring or, if so, they do not believe humans are responsible and that climate change is part of the Earth’s naturally occurring changes.
This is a point I’ve tried to hammer home on the blog over the past few years. Transit and walking and biking may not be a panacea for climate change. But there is substantial evidence that a person can reduce the greenhouse gases that they are responsible for by taking transit.
Here’s the question that I’m most interested in: how transit agencies use climate change in their marketing and public relations efforts. Metro, for example, has for years promoted transit as a way to reduce fuel consumption and help battle our region’s smog problem. And the agency has hardly shirked from promoting its green initiatives, which include converting its entire bus fleet from diesel to compressed natural gas vehicles, increasing the use of renewable energy to the massive and the ongoing Measure R program that includes 12 transit projects (with three rail lines under construction with two more on the verge of starting work).
But that’s a little different than marketing campaigns that explicitly mention global warming, climate change and the many impacts that are expected. So here are my question readers: would that be appropriate outreach for a transit agency? Is that something you would like Metro to do or not? If so, why or why not?
Thanks for reading and one comment per customer please!