Thursday, June 24, 2010

More Transit = Fewer Emissions

TCRP Synthesis 84: Current Practices in Greenhouse Gas Emissions Savings from Transit states the equation flat out that the more we use transit, the fewer emissions we will produce. "Each time someone decides to take an existing bus or train and leave his/her car at home, GHG emissions from that trip are reduced immediately." For metropolitan areas, the equation has a corollary, which is the reduction of congestion, a big producer of emissions.

Direct Correlation in Metropolitan Areas
By encouraging compact development, transit indirectly affects even the travel patterns of people who do not take transit. Compact communities typically allow people to travel shorter distances to get from place to place, as homes and businesses are closer together. Those who do drive can drive fewer miles. Compact communities also tend to be friendly places for walking and biking, which eliminate vehicle trips altogether; and areas rich in transit tend to have lower rates of car ownership than other areas.
One study concluded that though the best energy savings are from rail, bus and vanpool transportation produce significant reductions compared to automobiles.

"The most successful transit systems are not a product of one transit agency working alone, but of a partnership of transit and other public agencies supporting transit through good urban planning and policy." Turns out coordination is needed whatever the setting.

Improving Quality of Transit

The report delivers an obvious and crucial answer to the question of what prompts people to use transit - better service - which the report translates as improving "geographic coverage of routes, increasing service frequencies, extending operating hours, and adding new transportation modes."

I will add competitive travel times with the single occupancy vehicle. No one who has access to an automobile is willing to take a bus if takes three times longer to arrive at a destination. Funding for frequent express and local service by whatever mode creates a transit-rich community. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) adds proximity to bus stops and rail stations, part of geographic coverage, but user focused.

What is wonderful about the report is that it backs up its pronouncements with evidence from a multitude of studies. For example, specific studies demonstrate that expansion of geographic coverage and frequency of service producing significant increases in transit ridership. And these improvements extend beyond their particular times and places. "In Dallas, new weekend service on suburban shuttles prompted a measurable increase in weekday ridership." (You will have to read the report for more. I am told that blog posts should only be so long.)

Attracting Riders

The report spouts the familiar link between fare prices and elasticity of ridership. No surprises here. What is surprising is the lack of study of transit public relations and marketing efforts, whether they work or not and why. Also missing is evidence of what designs yield the best results for attracting riders. Though the report covered bus stop design, it acknowledged that no one wants to wait at them very long. The report discusses innovative strategies for speeding up transit, such as enforcement of parking regulations to allow for buses to maneuver on the street.

Energy Efficiency, Savings and Measurements

Not explored in this blog post is the report's in-depth discussion of increasing the energy efficiency of transit vehicles, maintenance and facilities. That would produce way too much sleep for this writer's work productivity.

The report also spends a long time exploring transit-relevant measurements for modal shifts, congestion reduction, cost of emissions, and compact development as well as the challenges to transit systems in taking those measurements considering the coordination and money required.


Most research on transportation planning and GHG emissions has focused on the roles and processes of MPOs and state DOTs, and has largely focused on road-based transportation. While transit agencies are partners in the transportation planning and funding exercises led by these agencies, their roles and their internal processes have received less attention.
In other words, transit has to be at the table for planning and implementing air quality improvements. To fully realize transit's role in emission reduction, the report declares, requires coordination with land use planning, congestion mitigation, and the full range of transportation planning. Other strategies, such as telecommuting, bike paths, vanpooling and slugging, as just a few examples, fell outside the parameters of the report.

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