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Why Travel Via Public Transportation


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Why Travel Via Public Transportation


Energy Conservation

Congestion Reduction


Avoiding Hassles




Reducing Sprawl

How To Use Public Transportation








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Why travel by Public Transportation? - The reasons are many and compelling. It helps the environment, saves energy and reduces congestion. It is relaxing, saves money and avoids many of the hassles of driving. Public Transportation is essential for those who do not or cannot operate a motor vehicle because of personal preference, low income, disability, youth or old age. It is a safe alternative to driving and helps reduce sprawl by supporting higher density development. Public transportation is conducive to meeting fellow travelers along the way unlike the isolation encountered when driving.


Energy Conservation

Congestion Reduction


Avoiding Hassles




Reducing Sprawl


In recent years, the need for environmentally sound forms of transportation has become obvious: transportation that uses less fossil fuel, that emits less toxic gases and transportation that helps eliminate the need for more or larger roads. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (which represents the consensus of the world’s leading climate scientists and was approved by member governments including the U.S.) concluded that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 50 to 85% by 2050 in order to limit global warming to 4 degrees Fahrenheit, thereby avoiding many of the worst impacts of climate change. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation will require a broad range of strategies, including increasing vehicle efficiency, lowering the carbon content of fuels, and reducing vehicle miles of travel. Public transportation can be one part of the solution.12

Automobile use is one of the largest contributers to smog producing pollution

We are becoming painfully aware of our contribution to environmental problems when traveling by private automobile, one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Transportation accounts for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.1 Of this 34% is generated by passenger cars, 28% by light duty trucks, sport utility vehicles and minivans and 7% by commercial aircraft.15 Trains, buses, ships and boats combined generate less than 7%.11 The pollution generated by fuel extraction and transportation, oil spills, car manufacturing and disposal and road construction must also be considered. Furthermore, transportation is the fastest growing sector for greenhouse gas production in the United States, growing 47% between 1996 and 2006.2 By moving more people with fewer vehicles, public transportation can reduce greenhouse gas emissions substantially.

Global warming is no longer only a theory. It has become obvious the we need to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions substantially before the damage to our planet becomes irreversible, before it causes substantial reduction to our mobility, destroys our health and makes life unbearable. Using public transportation is one of the most effective actions individuals can take to reduce their environmental impact.

The auto industry is just beginning to seriously consider hybrid, electric and other fuel efficient cars, but even these cleaner cars have environmental costs.

Increased car manufacturing and driving increase the need even more roads, parking lots and other related infrastructure. Public transportation use reduces the need for road construction, new car manufacturing, old vehicle disposal and fossil fuel extraction, meaning less environmental impact.

Even small increases in public transportation use would have a significant effect on air quality. A person using public transportation instead of driving generates, on average, 95 percent less carbon monoxide, 92 percent less volatile organic compounds, and only half as much carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide.6 The more passengers riding a bus or train, the lower the emissions per passenger mile. For instance, US. bus transit, which has about a quarter of its seats occupied on average, emits an estimated 32% lower greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than the average single occupancy vehicle. The savings increases to 83% for a typical diesel transit bus when it is full with 40 passengers.12

Amtrak Electric Train

Most local rail transit systems are powered by electricity as is Amtrak's Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington. Those relying on electricity from a low emissions source, such as hydroelectric, not surprisingly, have much lower emissions than those relying on coal power plants. As the electric power industry shifts to more renewable sources of energy, as being mandated in several states, electric public transportation systems will provide even more emissions reduction benefits. When the electricity is generated from a zero emissions source, such as wind, hydroelectric, or solar, the public transportation systems that use these power sources are also zero emission.12 Each passenger traveling on electric public transportation systems contributes substantially to the reduction of greenhouse gases and other pollutants. Other transit vehicles, such as buses, use alternative fuels such as compressed natural gas (CNG), liquefied natural gas or fuel cells which produce fewer pollutants. Many other buses, traditionally fueled by diesel, are being replaced with hybrid-diesel or bio-diesel buses.4

Public transportation can minimize its own greenhouse gas emissions by using efficient vehicles, alternative fuels, and decreasing the impact of capital project construction and service operations.2 Public transportation can also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by facilitating compact development, which conserves land and decreases the distances people need to travel to reach destinations.

Moreover, by reducing congestion, transit reduces emissions from cars stuck in traffic.

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Energy Conservation

Oil is not a renewable resource and is rapidly becoming scarce. It has become apparent that we may be running out of oil sooner than we thought and may even see a catastrophic shortage of oil in our lifetime. Petroleum use in private vehicles and growth in vehicle miles traveled are among the main drivers of the growth in energy usage in the United States. With the growth in energy use by emerging economies, the demand for scarce resources is increasingly outstripping supply. Public transportation encourages energy conservation, as the average number of passengers on a transit vehicle (10 for bus, 25 for a rail car) far exceeds that of a private automobile (1.6). Even as a single transit vehicle consumes more energy than a private vehicle, the average amount of energy utilized per passenger is far less. By moving more people with fewer vehicles, public transportation has an inherent advantage in energy conservation and efficiency. Transit also decreases the need for constructing and maintaining more transportation infrastructure (roads, parking lots, etc.), manufacturing new vehicles, disposing of old vehicles and extracting more fossil fuels, meaning further energy savings.5

A study in June 2002 by leading economists finds that if one in ten Americans used public transportation regularly, our reliance on foreign oil could be reduced by 40%.6 If we increase that to just three in ten, we could probably eliminate our reliance on foreign oil completely. Isn't that a goal worth attempting?

The amount of fuel necessary when driving is substantially reduced when using public transportation. An additional passenger on a train or bus will not add to its fuel consumption.

Public transportation use reduces the new for new power plants

Automobile manufactures are beginning to offer more fuel efficient cars to meet new, more stringent government standards, but it will be a number of years before they become readily available and even longer before they become affordable. Furthermore, most forecasts predict that miles traveled will increase enough that total fuel consumption by automobiles will not drop even when these fuel efficient cars are widely used. When you use public transportation, the fuel savings is immediate and less costly and is probably the most important action you can take to reduce your energy use.

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Congestion Reduction

If you have driven on an Interstate or other major highway recently, you are probably aware of how congested these roads have become. Their design capacity has been exceeded resulting in substantial delays and longer travel times. Over the past 25 years, highway funding has been increased by 100 %, thanks in part to fuel tax increases, yet congestion has increased by 300%.9 It has become obvious that building more roads or enlarging existing roads does not reduce congestion.

Using public transportation does reduce congestion. Since most car trips are by a single person driving alone, a bus substituted for driving can take 20, 30 or more cars off the road while a train has the potential to reduce congestion by hundreds of cars. A rail line can carry substantially more passengers using less physical space than a highway. Public transportation not only reduces congestion on the roads, but helps eliminate the necessity of building additional roads and benefits those who continue to travel by automobile, whether by choice or necessity.

Congestion relief through the use of transit also saves fuel as vehicles stuck in gridlock waste fuel and generate emissions. The Texas Transportation Institutes's 2007 Mobility Report estimates that if public transportation service was discontinued nationwide and the riders traveled in private vehicles instead, urban areas would have suffered an additional 541 million hours of delay and consumed on the whole 340 million more gallons of fuel in 2005. The value of the delay and fuel that would be consumed if there were no public transportation service would be an additional $10.2 billion congestion cost, a 13 percent increase over current levels.5 Considering how congested our roads are now, an increase of this magnitude would be unbearable.

You are most likely to encounter congestion in urban corridors, in or near major cities, areas that are also likely to have frequent and extensive transit services. Heavy traffic, frequent traffic lights, double parked cars and delivery trucks and limited parking make driving in the city formidable and public transportation use logical.

Public transportation supports higher density land development, reducing the distance and time people need to travel to reach their destinations, meaning fewer emissions from transportation. Compact development also leaves more land in the region for parks, wildlife preserves, forests and other uses such as agriculture. Finally, it reduces the need for pavement, meaning less run-off that degrades the water supply.14

Public transportation use reduces congestion.

Public Transportation use means freedom from the chronic congestion encountered when driving or flying - freedom from hours wasted sitting in traffic, in airports, or on runways and costing billions in lost time and fuel.13


The economic crisis and the resulting wild fluctuations in fuel costs currently being experienced are convincing ever more people to consider public transportation as an option for at least a portion of their travels. Using public transportation may appear expensive, especially for some intercity services, but when the costs of owning and maintaining a car are taken into account, public transportation is a bargain. Insurance, registration and garaging all add substantially to the day to day expenses such as gasoline, parking and repairs. In many cities, parking fees alone are higher than public transportation fares.

By economic yardsticks, the annual benefits that transit returns to the national economy easily out pace costs (by $26 billion in 1997). During the 1990s transit returned $23 billion per year in affordable mobility for households that prefer not to drive, cannot afford a car, or cannot drive due to age or disability; $19.4 billion per year in reduced congestion delays for rush-hour passengers and motorists; $10 billion per year in reduced auto ownership costs for residents of location efficient neighborhoods; up to $12 billion per year in reduced auto emissions; $2 billion savings per year in local human service agency budgets; and a 2 percent boost in property tax receipts from commercial real estate.7

Some would have you believe that public transportation is heavily subsidized by federal, state and provincial governments while road costs are completely covered by usage taxes paid by drivers. In fact, the Highway Trust Fund ran more than a $3 billion deficit in 2009.9 And this doesn't include related costs such as police patrols, ambulance costs and time lost in traffic jams. Public transportation subsidies appear high due to the more visible method used for dispersal, but when compared fairly it becomes obvious that highways and roads require a much higher subsidy. In addition, public transportation use can mitigate some highway related costs. The more people that use public transportation, the less is needed for road maintenance, traffic enforcement and new road construction. For every $1 invested in public transportation, $4 is generated in economic returns.8 This benefits not only those who use public transportation, but also those that must or choose to drive. The funds freed up by those using public transportation becomes available for much needed roadway and bridge repairs. Taking these facts into account, it becomes apparent that public transportation is less expensive and economically superior to driving.

Public transportation use creates and maintains jobs. Train operators, bus drivers, ticket agents and vehicle mechanics are permanent jobs necessary for operation. The only real permanent jobs relating to highway operation are for road maintenance.

Car rentals may be necessary when public transportation doesn't serve your destination but can be expensive if there is a public transportation alternative. To basic rental costs, you must add insurance, taxes and numerous other imposed fees. Frequently these additional costs can double the basic rate.

An alternative where public transportation doesn't exist is a car-sharing service, such as ZipCar. For a yearly membership fee and very reasonable hourly fees, you have access to a car when needed in a number of cities and university campuses in the United States and Canada. You can use the car for as little as one hour up to all day and the fee includes insurance, gasoline and maintenance.

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Avoiding Hassles

Using public transportation eliminates or reduces many of the annoying situations encountered when traveling by automobile. Problems and inconveniences that may and probably will occur make driving a stressful experience.

  • Scraping snow or frost from the windshield.

  • Changing a flat tire.

  • Mechanical breakdowns.

  • Traffic congestion.

  • Road rage.

  • Road construction delays.

  • Missing or misleading road signs.

  • Finding available parking.

Problems do occur when using public transportation as well, but are solved by the service operator. Basically, you just have to get to the train station or bus stop with enough time to meet the schedule.

Kurt Nordstrom Photo Licenced Under Creative Commons Attribution Share Alike 2.0 Generic

You don't need to be concerned by traffic congestion, mechanical breakdowns, parking, fueling, inclement weather and road rage. Snow or frost will have been removed before the train or bus starts the route. Fueling of the vehicle when necessary en route is usually handled during rest or meal stops, so you can enjoy a cup of coffee or lunch rather than pumping gas.

Most public transportation operators have their own mechanical and repair departments employing professional mechanics familiar with the vehicles. They provide preventative maintenance frequently, meaning breakdowns are rare and when the occasional breakdown does occur, they are responsible for the repairs.

Trains, normally are immune to traffic problems as they operate on private rights-of-way. Buses do sometimes encounter traffic congestion or road construction, but often the driver knows alternative routes, an advantage when traveling in an unfamiliar area.


The American lifestyle has become so fast and stressful that our health is endangered. Public health officials have determined that stress plays a major role in physical as well as mental health problems. Long term stress can increase the risk of diseases like depression, heart disease and a variety of other problems and aggravating already existing health problems. Considering the inherent stress encountered when driving, is would seem logical to drive less for the benefit of your health. Yet we continue to ignore the health risks and drive as if our life depends on it, while, in fact, the opposite is true.

  • Is there enough gas in the tank? Do you have time to fill the tank before your next obligation?

  • Do you have enough insurance in case of an accident?

  • Does your car need repairs? Do you have time to schedule the repairs?

  • Is traffic backed up? Are drivers behind you growing impatient?

  • Is the weather making visibility bad? Do you have to clear snow from the car?

  • Can you find parking? How expensive is the parking?

  • Do you know the route? Can you find a place to stop to check the map?

When using public transportation, most of these stress producing events are eliminated or greatly reduced. Think of the possibilities when you don't have to concentrate on the road and other traffic: read a newspaper or book, take a nap, watch the passing scenery or visit with fellow travelers. When you reach your destination you are less stressed and more relaxed. Can the same be said after fighting traffic, road rage and breakdowns. Isn't it worth a little extra time to arrive calm and relaxed, if in fact it does take extra time. Public transportation is often faster than driving.

Most likely, it will be necessary to walk or maybe bike to the nearest train station or bus stop. Both walking and biking, even for short distances, are excellent exercise that promotes healthy lifestyles, and this is accomplished while you are getting to your destination. Who knows, if you walk or bike frequently enough, you may be able to cancel your gym membership. Driving, on the other hand promotes an unhealthy lifestyle generating greenhouse gases and other pollutants, wasting valuable energy resources and eliminating the exercise you get when walking or biking to the train or bus.

Using public transportation gives you a chance to watch the passing landscape and enjoy the scenery missed when driving. Watching the road, other drivers and often misleading road signs eliminate the possibility of enjoying the view.

Amtrak Lounge

Long distance trains are enjoyable and relaxing, especially when your trip includes an overnight segment. These trains usually offer a full service dining car, lounge car for drinks and lighter meals and sleeping accommodations. Watching the passing scenery while enjoying a meal in the dining car is an memorable experience. Imagine watching the sun go down behind the mountains of the West, the plains of the Midwest or the ocean on either coast while enjoying your meal. After dinner, retire to the lounge for an after dinner drink or coffee while visiting with your fellow travelers before heading to your on board bedroom for a relaxing night's sleep. A sleeper on the train may seem expensive, but remember, you are saving a night's hotel cost and meals are included, so you save restaurant costs as well. You arrive rested and relaxed, ready to enjoy the area you are visiting.

Most major cities have extensive public transportation systems that operate frequently and serve large areas including most tourist sites and points of interest. Rapid transit such as subways and streetcars are available in many cities, generally operating on reserved rights-of-ways providing a fast and easy way to get around the city. Local buses with frequent stops, usually several per mile, make it possible to reach almost any location in the local service area.

In contrast, driving in just about any large city can be daunting, especially if you are not familiar with the area. Cities are more densely settled, with more businesses and residences in a smaller area, so traffic is heavier as more cars compete for space in a smaller area.

Traffic lights are frequent and often blend into nearby surroundings making it easy to miss a red light until you are almost on top of it and may not be able to stop. Lane usage on city streets can be confusing and local drivers familiar with the area are often intolerant of those who are not. Parking rules can sometimes be almost impossible to understand as each city has its own unique rules. Residential parking rules, parking meter time restrictions and restrictions in unmarked spaces are confusing to those not familiar with the area. When you are unsure of your location or where the next turn is, finding directions can be difficult and stressful. When slowing down to look for route or street signs, you back up other traffic. If you decide to pull over and check the map, you first need to find a legal stopping point. Traffic signs are often confusing, unclear or hidden by tree branches. When you use public transportation, the train operator or bus driver can provide helpful information such as which stop is near your destination and which way to walk once you disembark. Fellow travelers are also helpful.

Many non-urban areas are also served by convenient and reliable public transportation. For example, Martha's Vineyard Island in Massachusetts has an extensive bus system that stops at or near most points on the island. VTA serves beaches, scenic vistas, quaint towns and villages and stops at the ferry docks and the airport where service is available to the mainland. Schedules are coordinated so you rarely have to wait more than a few minutes when changing from one line to another.

A common assumption it that traveling by public transportation takes too long and that driving or flying is faster. But, is that always true? Driving may seem faster, but consider the time spent in traffic congestion, waiting in line at the toll booth, finding parking, filling the gas tank, waiting for the engine to warm up on cold winter days and taking the car to the garage for repairs or preventative maintenance. When these situations are taken into account, is it really that much faster? The scheduled time for flights may seem faster, but when you take into account the time needed to get to and from the airport and navigate the security lines, trips of 500 miles or less are usually faster on the train or bus.

In some areas public transportation is noticeably faster than driving or flying. Amtrak's Northeast Corridor between Boston, New York and Washington is a good example. These trains operate from city center to city center with additional stops at suburban stations such as Route 128 outside Boston, Metropark in New Jersey and Capital Beltway near Washington DC for those not traveling to or from city centers. Interstate 95 parallels this route and is notorious for its congestion, especially in or near the many large cities it passes through. Amtrak trains speed past this congestion as if the cars are standing still, which they frequently are.

When it does take longer to use the train or bus, is it really such a negative? You arrive rested and relaxed, ready to enjoy the area you are visiting. Isn't that worth a few extra minutes?


Affordable mobility is a valuable benefit of public transportation, providing low cost transportation for people who do not, or cannot operate a motor vehicle because of personal preference, low income, disability, youth or old age. If you are one of these people, public transportation will give you the ability to visit family and friends or places of interest such as national parks and historical monuments.

Frequently, public transportation is a reliable alternative for business travel where service is frequent. This also presents the opportunity to go over your notes or fine tune your presentation on the way to your meeting.

Recreational areas such as sports arenas, ski resorts and beaches are frequently accessible by public transportation. Sometimes trains or buses operate special services to sporting events with times coordinated to the start and finish of the game. Many ski resorts operate shuttles from hotels in the vicinity and include ski racks and sometimes lift tickets.

Using public transportation means freedom from the chronic congestion encountered when you drive or fly, freedom from hours wasted sitting in traffic, in airports or on runways and costing billions in lost time and fuel.13 When your travel plans include a necessary flight or a few miles of driving, every trip on a train or bus means a little less congestion on the road or at the airport. And when you do encounter congestion, you will be thankful it is only a small part of your trip.

Public transportation is an efficient way to maintain mobility while also reducing contributions to greenhouse gas emissions and gasoline usage.

Other Resources:


Public transportation provides a flexible, safer alternative to traveling by automobile. Currently, transit is one of the safest modes of travel per passenger-mile traveled. According to the National Safety Council, passengers on the Nation's bus, rail, or commuter rail systems are 40 times less likely to be involved in a fatal accident, and 10 times less likely to be involved in an accident resulting in injury.16

Fatality Rates by Mode of Travel


(Average Deaths per 100 Million Passenger Miles)


Vans, SUVs, Pickup Trucks

Intercity & Commuter Rail

Intercity Buses

Transit Buses







American Public Transportation Association: 2009 Public

Transportation Fact Book, Washington, DC, April, 2009.

Why Is Public Transportation Safe?

  • Public transportation vehicle operators are highly trained to drive defensively and anticipate potential safety problems.

  • Public transit vehicles are generally much larger and more substantially built than personal automobiles or vans.

  • Most people on rail cars and busways travel on separate rights-of-way. Light rail, commuter rail and cable cars encounter grade crossings, many of which are protected by crossing gates.

  • Providing more security than roadways, many transit systems feature new visual, voice, and data communications systems linking vehicles, stations and riders with state-of-the-art operations centers.

American Public Transportation Association: Public Transportation Fact Book, Washington, DC, June, 2008.

Traffic crashes kill about 40,000 people annually on U.S. roads, and cause many more injuries and disabilities (BTS 2008). Crash casualties have lower average ages than victims of other major health risks, such as cancers and cardiovascular diseases, and so cause a relatively large numbers of years of life lost. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, traffic crashes caused an estimated 1,186,070 years of life lost in the U.S. in 2006, which reduces average lifespans approximately 0.4 years or about 5% (NCIPC 2009).17

Public transit is a relatively safe mode, with only about one-twentieth the passenger fatality rate as automobile travel (Beck, Dellinger and O'Neil 2007). Even considering risks to other road users, transit travel tends to have a lower fatality rate per passenger-mile than automobile travel under the same conditions.17

Reducing Sprawl

Public transportation use reduces sprawl

Public transportation can support higher density land development, which reduces the distance and time people need to travel to reach their destinations, meaning fewer emissions from transportation. Compact development also leaves more land for parks, wildlife preserves, forests and other uses such as agriculture. It reduces the need for pavement, meaning less run-off that degrades the water supply.14 In many cases, higher density development would be more difficult without the existence of public transportation because more land would need to be devoted to parking and travel lanes. By facilitating higher density development, public transportation can shrink the footprint of an urban area and reduce overall trip lengths. In addition, public transportation supports increased foot traffic, street-level retail, and mixed land uses. In other words, in areas served by public transportation, even non-transit users drive less because destinations are closer together.

A recent study used modeling to isolate just the effect of public transportation on driving patterns (rather than that effect combined with denser land use creating a need for improved public transportation). That study, conducted by consulting firm ICF and funded through the Transit Cooperative Research Program, found that each mile traveled on U.S. public transportation reduced driving by 1.9 miles. It concluded that public transportation reduces U.S. travel by an estimated 102.2 billion vehicle miles traveled (VMT) each year, or 3.4% of annual U.S. VMT. A study published by the Urban Land Institute found that within areas of compact development, driving is reduced 20% to 40% compared to average U.S. development patterns.12


1. Department of Transportation, FTA Sep 2008 EPA Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2005, (2007), Table 2-14

2. Public Environmental Fact Sheet.

3. Department of Transportation, FTA Sep 2008

4. Department of Transportation, FTA Dec 2008

5. Department of Transportation, FTA Aug 2008

6. Department of Energy, EERE News Jul 2002

7. Department of Transportation, FTA Feb 2007

8. Public Facts

9. DOT, FTA, 11th Annual Transportation Summit August 2008

10. Department of Transportation, FTA Aug 2008

11. Climate Change Clearinghouse, DOT

12. “Public Transportations Role in Responding to Climate Change” Department of Transportation, FTA Jan 2009

13. Department of Transportation, FTA Aug 2008

14. Department of Transportation, FTA Aug 2008

15. Transportation and Climate Change Clearinghouse, USDOT

16. Department of Transportation: Strategic and organizational goals safety strategic goal

17. Evaluating Public Transportation Health Benefits, Victoria Transport Policy Institute

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