Dump the Pump, Indeed

A letter to the editor in today’s Austin American Statesman suggests that the best option to reduce fuel consumption would be to drive a fuel efficient car rather than using mass transit.

I can’t imagine that our country would be better off in terms of fuel consumption, pollution, traffic congestion and even stress had many of the 10.3 billion trips provided on public transportation nationwide in 2007 been taken in individual cars instead.

Here are some additional mass transit benefits, courtesy of the American Public Transportation Association:
Energy Conservation – Reducing National Dependence on Foreign Oil:

  • Each year, public transportation use in the U.S. saves 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline. This represents almost 4 million gallons of gasoline per day.
  • The “leverage effect” of public transportation, supporting transportation efficient land use patterns, saves 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline – more than three times the amount of gasoline refined from the oil we import from Kuwait.
  • Public transportation use saves the equivalent of 300,000 fewer automobile fill-ups every day – 108 million fewer cars filling up annually.
  • Each year, public transportation use saves the equivalent of 34 supertankers of oil, or a supertanker leaving the Middle East every 11 days.

Individual Cost Savings:

  • Public transportation provides an affordable, and for many, necessary alternative to driving.
  • Each year public transportation households save over $1,399 worth of gas.
  • Transit availability can reduce the need for an additional car, a yearly expense of $6,251 in a household budget.
  • The average household spends 18 cents per dollar on transportation, and 94 percent of this goes to buying, maintaining and operating cars.
  • Americans living in areas served by public transportation save $18 billion annually in congestion costs.

Energy Conservation Benefits:

  • The “leverage effect” of public transportation reduces the nation’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually – equivalent to the electricity used by 4.9 million households. To achieve similar reduction in carbon emissions, every household in New York City, Washington, DC, Atlanta, Denver and Los Angeles combined would have to completely stop using electricity.
  • People living in households within one-quarter mile of rail and one-tenth of a mile from a bus stop drive approximately 4,400 fewer miles annually as compared to persons in similar households with no access to public transit. This equates to an individual household reduction of 223 gallons of gasoline a year.

9 thoughts on “Dump the Pump, Indeed

  1. M1EK

    It’s true that most people will see small if any economic gains from riding the bus, because the time penalties to do so are so ungodly high.

    Would that we built light rail instead of this commuter rail disaster; for that math would be changing by now for 46,000 people (instead of the 2000 people, max, who can take commuter rail, provided they enjoy shuttle buses).

  2. Tim

    The time penalties are high now, but CapMetro is adding buses. The more riders, the more buses, the lower the time penalties.

    I still think that if every CapMetro bus had WiFi we’d see employers providing all sorts of incentives to get employees on the bus and working during their commutes.

    That said, those Austin American-Statesman comments are just the last screams of our dying car culture. They’re going to continue to be loud. They’re going to continue to deny, but change is happening and there’s little they can do about it.

    My petroleum engineer father-in-law owns 3 V-8 vehicles (for two people) and can still afford the gas prices with ease. He was talking about buying a Corrola this weekend. The pendulum is swinging.

  3. M1EK

    No, the time penalties are exactly the same with more buses – I’m talking about a commute like this one, for instance.

    The time penalty exists because of a lack of dedicated right-of-way and because too many trips require transfers. Both are killers; put them together and you find that for most people, it really is cheaper to just get a fuel efficient car.

    And I’m as transit-positive as you get at a suburban employer like mine.

  4. Snowed In

    The other issue, as I have pointed out on m1ek’s blog, is that there are substantial portions of Austin that are not served by Capital Metro at all. It’s all well and good that people living within 1/10 mile of a bus stop save a lot of money by not having to drive, but a lot of Austin residents live more than a mile from the nearest bus stop, and Cap Metro has shown no interest in serving our areas anytime soon. (For example: Cap Metro seems to think that the south-side city limits are at Slaughter Lane, or at Convict Hill, if you go further west.) Repeated attempts to request extensions of service to my area have been almost completely ignored by Cap Metro–not just rebuffed, but ignored.

    (m1ek has responded, also on his blog, that at this point it isn’t practical for Cap Metro to extend their services, and that’s fine; just don’t expect me to give up my car anytime soon, and don’t presume to say that mass transit is a panacea for Austin’s traffic and/or economic woes.)

  5. Don Dickson

    Well, it’s a two-way street. Transit systems can’t always come to you. Sometimes you have to mold your lifestyle around the transit system. That’s what I did, by moving close to downtown. My rent is a little higher, but my entire monthly transportation expense is ten dollars. TEN DOLLARS. With NO “time penalty.” (It used to take me an hour and a half to bus to work…now if it takes more than sixteen minutes I start cussin’! LOL)

    Yesterday I traveled to Fort Worth (where I am writing from today). I took the TRE train from Union Station in Dallas to downtown Fort Worth. It was packed — and it wasn’t even rush hour. I laughed when I reminded myself of when I lived in Dallas, in the mid-80s, long before they had any trains. Back then people scoffed at the idea. “Ohh, nobody in Dallas is ever going to ride trains.”

    Nyuk-nyuk-nyuk. Now Dallas “gets it.” Here in Austin everyone’s in favor of building rail lines as long as they DON’T come anywhere near where they live or work.

    We still don’t “get it” in Austin. Property values INCREASE around transit lines and hubs. For heavens sake, people, why do you think it’s more expensive to live downtown?

    Well I’ve got news for you. We have reached the point at which its practically cheaper to live downtown.

  6. M1EK

    Fully with you, Don. Problem is that commuter rail line doesn’t come downtown, or at least not to the part of downtown anybody wants to go to. Nor does it go to UT or the Capitol; all of which were directly on the 2000 light rail proposal; all of which could have been served by a scaled back version of same that would have easily passed in 2004 or 2008; none of which can be served, ever, by commuter rail, or even feasibly by light rail now that commuter rail is squatting on top of right-of-way light rail needed to be a viable project.

  7. Don Dickson

    My point exactly…leave it to the people of Austin to wind up with a rail system that doesn’t serve the University or the Capitol complex of state offices. It’s insane. It’s like Senator Ted Stevens’ “bridge to nowhere.”

    It would be hysterically funny if it weren’t so disastrous for the future of this city and region.

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