For those of us who drive, cars are a way of life. It’s hard to imagine not using one’s vehicle, let alone taking a bus. I mean, buses aren’t that convenient and probably pollute more than a car…right? Unfortunately, for those of us who wish to rationalize car usage, no, such statements represent a widely erroneous belief.
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Public transit has a rich history, and more importantly, contributes greatly to the support of our environment. Those riders we see in the morning, looming on the corner, waiting for their elongated steel carrier, cut down on air pollution and lessen the already chaotic traffic situations in a tremendous way.
First, let’s orient ourselves with a quick history lesson. While it is hard to pinpoint a specific date for when public transportation originated, many look to the late 1820s of New York City. Starting with omnibuses (large, horse-powered stagecoaches that ran along a fixed route), public transportation gradually evolved into cable cars, trolleys, and eventually into trains and subways. It wasn’t until 1905 that the Fifth Avenue Coach Company introduced more recognizable, gasoline-powered double-decker buses. Needless to say, we’ve ditched the horses.
Modernly, when comparing US cities and their public transit use, New Yorkers carry on their tradition and enjoy a number one ranking. In fact, according to the 2000 U.S. Census, “New York City is the only locality in the United States where more than half of all households do not own a car[…]the figure is even higher in Manhattan, over 75%.” That translates into a huge reduction of vehicle-based pollutants making their way into the atmosphere and surrounding environment.
How huge? On daily, approximately 700,000 cars are kept out of New York City's central business district. Good for traffic, yes, but even better because it means there are “400 million fewer pounds of soot, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons, and other toxic substances released” each year. Wow.
That’s not to say West Coast Angelenos aren’t gunning for the top spot. LA enjoys the nation’s largest clean-air fleet, thoughtfully provided by the local Metro. Think that CNG sign slapped on the gas tank is just for PR? Think again.
Here’s a quote from Metro’s Clean Fuel Program information guide: “Metro’s buses are 97% cleaner than the diesel buses they replaced. They reduce cancer-causing particulate matter by 98%, carbon monoxide by over 80% and greenhouse gases by over 20%…[this reduces] air pollution by more than 152,000 pounds each day.” (For those of us who enjoy math, that’s about 60 million pounds saved yearly by switching to clean buses). Once again, wow.
With new plans to further extend accessibility, and in effect pull cars off the road, on May 28th 2010, Metro approved a new budget plan that allocates “$4.2 billion to extend the existing subway system to the Westside of Los Angeles.” It is Metro’s hope that this will land a solid strike against the more than 425,000 people that pass through the Westside daily. Though such a plan will take years to implement, it remains a powerful addition to Los Angeles’ effort to support clean, easily accessible transportation.
Availability, for some, is perhaps the most notable benefit to public transportation. As a public transit user myself, I cherish the fact that I walk less than half a mile round trip and still end up getting from deep within San Fernando Valley all the way to UCLA on the Westside. After buying a summer Metro pass, discounted for students, I end up averagely paying less than a dollar a day for a nearly 40 mile round-trip. If you are a skeptic, try planning your trip on the Metro website – I think you’ll be surprised just how close you are to a local Metro line.
Trains, trolleys, cable cars, and buses all beat the steadily rising gas prices and contribute to bettering the environment through pollution reduction. Most importantly, however, public transportation is something easy to integrate into one’s life, and eventually, come to love.