Environmental Defense Fund: Gas Prices Too High? Take the Bus!

  • Published on July 17th, 2008 by

This post is by Andy Darrell, vice president for Living Cities at Environmental Defense Fund.

The high cost of gas has pushed retail gas purchases down 2 to 3 percent. What are people doing instead? Taking public transportation!

'NJ Transit bus, photographed by Adam E. MoreiraThe first quarter report from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) found that use of public transportation is skyrocketing in tandem with gas prices. Last year 10.3 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation — the highest in 50 years. Ridership on streetcars, trolleys, commuter rails, subways, and buses are all up. Even Amtrak ridership is soaring.

This shift presents an historic opportunity.

It was hard to get us Americans out of our cars when gas was cheap, but now we’re trying public transportation in record numbers. And once people try it, odds are they’ll prefer it, which is great news for the environment.

Good public transportation is more pleasant than a private car (you can’t read while you’re driving), and far cheaper. A calculator on the APTA Web site shows how much you can save by leaving your car parked at home.

Public Transportation Savings CalculatorThe problem is that too few Americans have convenient and reliable access to public transportation. When the transportation bill comes up for reauthorization, Congress will have an opportunity to address this. Instead of the usual tired formula that favors roads over innovative transit, we need to fund public transportation that delivers real choices.

Public transportation doesn’t have to mean gigantic investments in infrastructure. Shuttle buses can ease the growing parking problem at commuter rail stations. Bus Rapid Transit — buses that operate in dedicated lanes, bypassing traffic — can be as quick as a subway train, but are much cheaper to deploy.

Buses can be pleasant, too. Google provides shuttle buses for its employees with leather seats and wireless Internet access. New York City’s new Select Bus Service has traffic-signal priority that boosts rush-hour service up to 20 percent.

Cities need the resources to try innovative ideas like these. It’s time to reinvent our country’s transit system to make public transportation accessible to everyone.

How would you rather get to the beach this holiday weekend — speedy and effortless Bus Rapid Transit, or creeping along bumper to bumper watching your fuel tank (and wallet) getting emptier?

About the Author

  • Mike Weston

    Ironically, by living in the environment (within 1/4 mile of two open space preserves), I also have no public transportation anywhere within a 20 minute drive of me, by which time I’m 2/3 of the way to work. There’s also close to 2000′ of elevation difference, making biking a challenge at best. Which is why I have a deposit down on an Aptera and installed solar panels last year.

    That said, I vote in favor of public transit items when it comes up in elections.

  • one thing you have to keep in mind, is that in urban settings the buses are very over stuffed. It is NOT a fun time getting to work on a bus with 400 other people.

    In nice suburban settings it’s probably a great thing. But when I lived in Culver City, Ca. getting to Downtown LA to work was like the 5th level of hell. No one ever talks about that aspect of “going green”

  • Leslie Valentine

    Unfortunately, many places in the U.S. do lack sufficient public transportation — but there is hope. New bipartisan legislation introduced in Congress would allocate funds to expand public transit, encourage less driving and spur more walking, biking, carpooling and transit options. You can read more about this bill: “The Transportation and Housing Options for Gas Price Relief Act of 2008” (H.R. 6495).

  • Crosius

    Where I live, the city bylaws prohibit bikes on the commuter train during peak commuting hours, effectively eliminating the option of using bicycles as part of a hybrid commute. The ecologically minded must complete their morning commute before 06:30 am, and not board a train until after 18:00 if they want to take their bike on the light rail system. There are only 3 stations in the entire city that have bike lockers, so if you don’t live (or work) near one of those stations, you can’t even bike for the first (or last) leg of your commute.

    The city still subscribes to the idea that the bicycle is a piece of exercise equipment. One you bring (usually via car) to a “facility” (like a park), ride around a closed loop and put away afterwards. When people see a bike being used as a means of transportation they frequently treat it with scorn or a sort of pitying amusement. Many cyclists get asked if they’ve lost their license to a DUI conviction.

    Toss in winters that get as cold as -40ºC, and you have to be extremely dedicated to bike-commute in Calgary.

  • Another option for workers who want to cut down on their fuel bill is to start working remotely. Remote Office Centers lease individual offices, internet, and phone systems to workers from multiple companies in shared centers located near where people live (around the suburbs). Remote Office Centers allow people to skip long and expensive commutes, by taking advantage of office space near where they live.

    There is a free web site for people who are interested in finding a Remote Office Center near where they live: http://www.remoteofficecenters.com

    The best way to cut down on fuel consumption and cut down on carbon in the air is to cut down on miles driven each day. Remote Office Centers offer an easy solution to an important problem.