Transit rail's green effect

The Cato Institute has released results from a recent study that says transit rail is “ineffective at reducing carbon dioxide emissions.”

Because “most” transit-rail agencies supplement their systems with feeder bus services that often have low ridership, the systems still have high energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile, according to the study.

“Only a handful of rail systems are more environmentally friendly than a Toyota Pruis, and most use more energy per passenger mile than the average automobile,” according to Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the public policy research foundation.

His recommendations? Instead of pursuing rail projects, cities should power buses with alternative fuels, increase the concentration of buses on heavily used routes, build new roads, implement tolls and encourage drivers to purchase more fuel-efficient cars.

(Since this blog is intended to focus on transit rail’s role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, I will refrain from commenting that building new roads seems to only attract even more people to those roads, not to mention there’s no way we can build highways fast enough to accommodate growing traffic. And, having driven on Illinois’ tollway just last weekend, I feel pretty confident in saying the tolls don’t appear to be reducing highway congestion. But that’s just my unasked opinion.)

I’m sure Mr. O’Toole has plenty of research and statistics to back his claims. But while we’re on the subject, I’ll relay some information that the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released last month about transit’s ability to reduce greenhouse gases and conserve energy:

• Communities that invest in public transportation reduce the nation’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually — equivalent to the electricity used by 4.9 million households.

• A single person commuting alone by car who switches a 20-mile round trip commute to existing public transportation can reduce their annual CO2 emissions by 4,800 pounds per year, equal to a 10 percent reduction in all greenhouse gases produced by a two-adult, two-car household.

• By eliminating one car and taking public transportation instead of driving, a savings of up to 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions can be realized.

• Public transit encourages efficient land use. Creating higher-density development allows for closer proximity to housing, employment and retail, thus reducing driving distances. With its over-arching effects on land use, public transportation is estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by 37 million metric tons annually.

Hey, how’s this for irony: APTA just emailed me a press release about Earth Day, which falls on April 22. Celebrate the day by taking the train or bus to work, or buy a Toyota Prius.