I posted yesterday about some of the threats that climate change poses to our region and state. I also highly encourage you to watch the excellent “Before the Flood” documentary with Leonardo DiCaprio that was released Sunday.
Today I’ll take a different tack and post some charts that help explain something I’ve frequently written on the blog over the years: generally speaking, taking transit instead of driving alone is a good way to reduce your carbon footprint — i.e. the amount of greenhouse gases (GHGs) your actions help create.
Let’s start with this from the state of California:
Okay, so there you have it: transpo is the biggest contributor of GHGs in our state. Not exactly a shocker when you consider there are nearly 39.1 million people in California and about 34.3 million registered vehicles in the state.
Now check out this chart below by the Federal Transit Administration (it’s reprinted in this report by the Transportation Research Board of the National Academies). It’s from 2009 so things have changed a bit — private vehicles have become slightly more fuel efficient and more electricity that powers trains is being created from renewable sources, but the gist of it holds up:
Yes, those numbers depend on how many passengers are in the above vehicles. Shocker 2: buses and trains that carry a lot of people are good!
Just to drive home this point, some fine print from the report:
Four recent studies have estimated the net amount of GHG emissions that U.S. transit services save each year. All have found that American public transit significantly reduces GHG emissions from the transportation sector. Each of the studies accounted for the travel mode shift effect of transit and for transit vehicles’ emissions. Some of the studies also accounted for the compact development and congestion mitigation effects of transit.
And, yes, researchers have also considered the greenhouse gases produced by the construction of transit projects, which requires a lot of heavy construction equipment (Metro has a policy on green construction, btw). A UCLA study published in 2013 that looked at driving versus Metro’s Orange Line and Gold Line and found that with decent ridership, the transit projects still did better GHG-wise than the private car:
And now a chart from Metro’s annual Sustainability Report on the agency’s GHG production:
The report also factors in the fact that some riders stop driving in order to ride buses, trains and vanpools — and that suggests that the agency overall helps reduce GHGs in our region. This is a small chart but a big point!
But here’s the thing…transit certainly seems to have benefits when it comes to reducing the pace of climate change (at this point some warming is highly likely to continue occurring), but we haven’t exactly been pumping the Benjamins into transit. One way of looking at it in a study done a decade ago by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group:
The NYT’s editorial board cited the above in an editorial Sunday pointing to why so many regions are pursuing their own local transportation dollars through ballot initiatives.
Even as America becomes a more urbanized country, we’re still driving a lot. Check out this graphic from the U.S. Department of Transportation:
Holy cow! Americans sure drive a lot. That’s a 50 percent increase just since 1992 in the U.S. And there’s also this little inconvenient truth: per capita Americans emit more greenhouse gases than any other country in the world (here’s an interactive version of the map).
Look, people. I’m not saying transit is all rainbows when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Buses and trains, too, rely on fossil fuels.
But when it comes to burping out GHGs, transit does so more efficiently than someone driving alone in a car. And that’s something to chew on next time you consider leaving the car at home or must decide whether expanding transit is worth it.
Look, people. I’m not saying transit is all rainbows when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions. Metro’s buses and trains, too, still rely on fossil fuels whether it’s compressed natural gas used by buses or electricity created by burning natural gas.
But when it comes to burping out GHGs, transit usually does so more efficiently than someone driving alone in a car. And that’s something to chew on next time you consider leaving the car at home or must decide whether expanding transit is worth it.
Like many other people, I struggle to understand climate change and my role in it. I don’t think about it every time I turn the ignition on my car or board a train. But as they say near the end of “Before the Flood,” there are a lot of little things everyone can do — and many of them don’t require turning our lives upside down to do them.
And one of them is this: take the bus or train, even if only occasionally. It may feel like a small or insignificant step, but those steps by many people do add up and it’s one more reason having good transit networks makes a lot of good sense.