Do you hope that the earth will continue to be a livable planet in the future? Are you supportive of possible solutions to reduce human-induced climate change? Would you be willing to set down your keys and pick up a bus pass?
Did you hesitate after the previous question?
Public transportation can effectively reverse a portion of the unprecedented rate of increase in global warming in recent years, given that emissions from automobiles are one main human culprit.
Dr. Rachael Shwom, a specialist in climate and society at Rutgers University, included transportation in the top three contributors to greenhouse gas emissions, along with household energy use and the food system.
She said that scientific consensus on climate change has been growing, and while there have been some natural variations in the global temperature across decades, “we certainly know that the increases in global temperatures are tied to anthropogenic – or human – sources of greenhouse gas emissions.”
Virginia Miller, the senior manager of media relations at the American Public Transportation Association, quoted a report on traffic congestion, which stated that if there hadn’t been public transportation services in the 498 urban areas they studied in the U.S. in 2011, people would have consumed 450 million more gallons of fuel.
She also cited that “if an individual has a 20-mile round trip commute and decides to take public transit instead of driving a car, then his or her carbon emissions will decrease by 4,800 pounds per year.”
“So see? People can make a difference,” she said. “Individual decisions are important.”
However, many people do hesitate to hang their keys on the hook and instead invest in a bus pass or another form of public transportation.
Shwom said that studies conducted on the public’s belief about climate change revealed that approximately 10 percent of people embrace true denial of climate change and claim it is a myth, while a much broader portion of the United States is simply uncertain or confused about climate change.
At MSU, the vast majority of students is aware of and believes the hype surrounding anthropogenic climate change. Out of a random sample of five students, all five said they believe in human-caused global warming, and all five said that they feel public transportation could have a significant impact in reducing carbon emissions.
However, only two students reported that they frequently use the public transportation options on campus, while the remaining three almost immediately said that they would not be willing to give up their cars to rely solely on public transportation.
“Not in its current state,” said grad student Emmalilly Hoxsie. “Definitely if it was more reliable.”
Ryan Kneisel echoed Hoxsie’s thoughts.
He said “public transportation does not go everywhere and is not always reliable.”
For MSU student Kelsey Patten, however, it is more so a question of convenience. “Having a car is just easier; if you have a certain time to be somewhere you don’t have to wait. You can be on your own time,” she said.
But Miller said that once people simply start taking public transportation – typically in response to high gas prices initially – they realize that there are other benefits as well.
“When you’re not driving, you can sit back and relax – you can listen to your music, you can text your friends, you can work on your laptop, read a book, or even go to sleep. You can just relax,” she said.
Furthermore, Miller said, “One thing we say to people is even if you’re not going to take public transit, you should want your community to invest in it. It’s going to help congestion, and it’s going to help the growth and vitality of your community.”
And considering that “tens of millions” of people currently use public transportation according to Miller, the industry is having quite a significant impact on lessening the emissions entering the atmosphere.
“One thing for sure is: public transportation is leading the way when it comes to having environmentally friendly vehicles,” said Miller. The industry is also committed to reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oils. She mentioned several of their options, from diesel-electric hybrids to a completely electric “zero emissions heavy duty bus,” which charges at a docking station in the middle of its route in less than 10 minutes.
In 2012, there were 10.5 billion boardings for trips on public transportation, Miller said – the highest number since 1957. Shwom indicated that the one real barrier to further increasing this number is that “only so many people have access to decent, well-run, on-time public transportation.”
Shwom said that it is important to keep encouraging participation in public transportation before the impacts of emissions – such as increased storm intensity, changes in precipitation patterns, droughts, and long-term sea level rise – become much more urgent and begin to impact people’s quality of life.
“In this century, there’s been kind of a renaissance of public transportation, and a realization that we need livable, walkable, sustainable communities,” Miller said. “And a key part of serving a livable community is having public transportation as a travel option.”