Impact of Public Transportation

If you had to take a quick guess as to what it costs to own and operate your car over, say, a five-year period, what do you think it would be? Would it shock you to find out that, if you’re an “average” motorist, the AAA estimates that you’ll spend almost $45,000 over five years to keep your car on the road? But public transportation can help you save money and help the environment.

Now ask yourself, what would it cost if you used public transportation to get to and from work, and just leave the car at home? The figures might just surprise you, and it’s not just the dollars and cents savings that give pause for thought. The health benefits of using public transport are pretty impressive, too.

Some recently released figures from both the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) and the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) make for some very interesting reading. It seems that families who change from being multi-car families to single or no-car families accrue a number of unexpected benefits, in addition to the financial perks associated with letting someone else do the driving (as in a bus driver or a train conductor). Some of the more interesting facts and figures include:

  • An average daily commute of 10 miles each way, to and from work, will cost about $4.50 each day in a standard car.
  • The same commute using public transit, according to APTA, would cost just $1.02 each way, or $2.04 per day, which is less than half the cost of the car journey.
  • Public transportation also offers cleaner air! APTA has produced studies which show that buses, trains and light rail carriages offer passengers air with 95 percent less carbon monoxide, and about half as much carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide as cars and other private vehicles.
  • The hidden health benefits are incredible. They show that:
    • The average American walks just six minutes per day, but the average public transport user walks 19 minutes every day. That’s a 300 percent increase in exercise.
    • Light rail users are 80 percent less likely to become obese over time!
    • People using automobiles are 25 times more likely to be injured in traffic accidents than those people who use public transport
  • RITA figures also show that 150 million Americans live in areas where the air quality is below the recommended national standard. In the areas where those 150 million people live, between 25% and 51% of air pollutants come from motor vehicle emissions.

Of course, it’s completely unreasonable to believe that every car could just be taken off the road while the entire nation jumps on buses and trains. Public transit systems simply don’t suit every family or every lifestyle, and the American love affair with cars isn’t likely to cool any time soon.

It would be equally fair to say, however, that many people could and should take a closer look at some of the public transport options available and ask themselves if maybe they could get more out of what’s available. Now that the financial and health benefits are clear for all to see, it only makes sense for people to look at:

  • Do the public transit options in your area offer routes that are convenient and flexible enough for your travel requirements?
  • Are the times suitable? Do they match up with the beginning and end of your work day?
  • Does the bus or train stop within a reasonable walking distance of where you need to be? What if the weather is bad?
  • Are you healthy enough to make the walk from the bus or train stop to your work place?

If at the end of the day, public transit options don’t meet your requirements, there are still additional options that could be considered. For example, what about carpooling? Could you share a ride to work with a friend, a relative or a work colleague?

The decision, of course, will ultimately come down to the individual, but it would certainly be a good idea to at least take a look at the public transport options that are out there. Portland, as one example, offers an outstanding public transportation system in TriMet. Their fares compare very favorably with similar services offered in other major metropolitan areas.

Think about the bus.  Think about the train. Think about the light rail system or developing a driving rota with your friends at work. Then think to yourself, “What would I do with that $45,000 I could save in five years?”