Management & Operations

Increased transit use reduces smog, energy dependence

Posted on July 1, 2002

An independent study shows that increased public transportation use is the most effective way to improve air quality and reduce energy consumption without imposing new taxes, government mandates or regulations. The study, “Conserving Energy and Preserving the Environment: The Role of Transportation,” authored by three top economists, concludes that public transportation generates 95% less carbon monoxide (CO), 92% less in volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and about half as much carbon dioxide (CO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) per passenger mile as private vehicles. Commissioned by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the study demonstrates that if just one in 10 Americans used public transportation regularly, U.S. reliance on foreign oil could be cut by more than 40%. Environmental benefits would also be significant. Without any new government mandates, regulations or taxes, the U.S. would be able to reduce CO2 emissions by more than 25% of the standard set under the Kyoto Agreement. APTA President William Millar said the nation’s overall environmental and energy policies hinge on increased use of transit. “We can continue to debate domestic oil exploration, emissions requirements and the stability of foreign sources of energy, but any serious plan to reduce oil dependency and air pollution must include ways to increase public transportation use,” said Millar. “This is our country’s greatest opportunity to conserve energy and improve the environment.” In energy conservation, the study shows that public transportation already saves more than 855 million gallons of gasoline or 45 million barrels of oil a year, which is equivalent to the energy used in one-fourth of American homes annually. “The national capital region is saving more than 75 million gallons of gasoline every year — and 250,000 gallons per day — as a direct result of our Metro system,” said Washington (D.C.) Metropolitan Area Transit Authority CEO Richard White. The study also states that even small increases in transit usage would help improve the air quality of many of the 16 major U.S. cities, which currently fail to meet Environmental Protection Agency air-quality standards for CO or smog. “If we don’t make transit a national priority by increasing investment, America’s enduring economic and environmental health will be in jeopardy,” said Millar. The study’s other major findings:

  • For every passenger mile traveled, public transportation is twice as fuel efficient as private automobiles, sports utility vehicles and light trucks.
  • If one in seven Americans used public transportation for their daily travel needs, they would help prevent global warming in the U.S. by cutting CO2 by the equivalent of nearly 20% of the CO2 emitted from fuel burned for residential uses and more than 20% of all CO2 emitted by commercial enterprises.
  • If one in five Americans used public transportation daily, it would help reduce CO pollution by more than all the CO emitted from the entire chemical manufacturing industry and all metal processing plants in the U.S. For more information on the study, visit
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