There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Lifesaving value of transit

Want to stop the war? Ride the bus.

OK. That's a bit of a stretch, but everyone can agree that if America were to reduce its reliance on foreign petroleum supplies, national security would benefit.

In January of this year, the American Public Transportation Association released "Public Transportation and Petroleum Savings in the U.S.: Reducing Dependence on Oil," a study prepared for the association by ICF International, a global consulting firm that specializes in the connection between transportation and energy.

Sacramento Regional Transit's local system is part of a national effort that, according to the report's executive summary, "reduces U.S. gasoline consumption by 1.4 billion gallons each year. In concrete terms, that means:

  • 108 million fewer cars filling up – almost 300,000 every day.
  • 34 fewer supertankers leaving the Middle East – one every 11 days.
  • Over 140,000 fewer tanker truck deliveries to service stations per year.
  • A savings of 3.9 million gallons of gasoline per day.
"These savings result from the efficiency of carrying multiple passengers in each vehicle,
the reduction in traffic congestion from fewer automobiles on the roads, and the varied
sources of energy for public transportation."

The study goes on to explain that "if public transportation services were expanded so that ridership doubled, the total national fuel savings from public transportation would double to 2.8 billion gallons per year, or more if improved coordination between land use plans and public transportation could replace even more car travel."

And if those benefits aren't enough motivation to leave the car at home and ride the bus to work, the report explains that riding transit helps households save money. A household with two adults and one car that uses public transit saves an average $6,251 every year, compared to an equivalent household with two cars and no access to public transportation service. When you consider that the average household spent $5,781 on food in 2004, it's obvious that using transit can save bread and buy it, too.

The savings come first from just driving less. "The average household in which at least one member uses public transportation on a given day drives 16 fewer miles per day compared to a household with similar income, residential location and vehicle ownership that do not use public transit – a savings of hundreds of dollars a year," the report noted.

In addition, a household with just one car instead of two saves $5,586 a year, which is the annual average cost of operating a vehicle in 2006, according to American Automobile Association.

Which begs the question: Why did California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers feel it was useful to cut state funding of transit? What sort of a future does the governor, who professes such concern for global warming, envision for the state? He wants Hummers running on bio-diesel, but what value is that if the transportation system is gridlocked?

California can do better. We need a vision of a better tomorrow.

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