It is undeniable that public transport is not always a pleasure to use. Whether you’re a student or worker, we all hope to rely on trustworthy transportation for our time-sensitive schedules.
The results when using public transportation, however, aren’t always ideal. Students are often late for class, and workers are late for their shift. Currently, the only viable solution is to be exceptionally early for a class or meeting. We need to revolutionize the current public transportation to eradicate the frustration people are facing. Furthermore, getting more people to use public transit can play a significant role in minimizing carbon emissions.
In order to get more people to use public transit and reduce carbon emission, we need to dive deep into the history and logistics of public transportation.
Vehicle ownership became a public trend in 1908 when Ford Motor Company made cars available to the public in mass quantities. Owning a car often represented social status, and in contrast, having no car or sharing with others was often associated with lower status. Those unable to afford personal vehicles had to turn to public transportation — a cheaper alternative — which quickly became popular among the working and lower classes.
However, public transportation usage has greatly diminished. In 2019, only 5% of the United States population chose public transport as a day-to-day mode of transportation, according to the American Community Survey. Taking into account that public transportation has been popular in the past — with about 60% of the U.S. population utilizing it in the 1940s — this raises questions as to what has changed. Did we all get rich? Are the working classes the minority now?
No. The answer to these questions is simply because American public transport has terrible service.
The soaring U.S. economy has conditioned people to fast-paced, time-sensitive schedules, prompting many workers to purchase personal vehicles. High housing prices are also a relevant factor, since many workers are forced to commit to long commutes to the workplace. With the high demand to travel far distances while saving time, people refuse to use public transport because the unpredictable schedule of trains and buses could cause delays of anything from five minutes to an hour. Even though personal vehicles come with liabilities like money, gas, insurance and depreciation, owning a vehicle is still considered more convenient than waiting 30 minutes for the next stop.
However, there is no free lunch. The benefit of personal vehicles is founded upon environmental degradation.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States comes from transportation. Personal vehicles alone account for 35% of emissions. Calculating the carbon footprint by estimating one gallon of gas per 20 pounds of carbon, Americans use about 123 billion gallons of gas a year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. We released roughly 2.4 trillion pounds of carbon into the atmosphere in 2020.
The magnitude of damage caused by emissions, however, does not stop there. Many people justify their vehicle’s carbon emission by owning electric vehicles, or EVs, which are advertised to be environmentally friendly. While EVs do reduce carbon footprint and should theoretically work seamlessly in the near future, most of the electricity that people currently pump into the EV market solely depends on burning fossil fuels, which makes electric vehicles’ carbon dioxide impact on the environment just slightly less than that of an average car.
The environment is not the only fallen victim to this ownership, as humans and animals are negatively impacted as well. Due to consumerism with high demand and low supply, many private companies have outsourced their production to third-world countries. Locations with high unemployment rates that are in need of economic uprisings are primary targets for this mass, low-cost and loose environmentally-regulated production. Consequently, these profit-seeking companies cause environmental destruction, directly harming labor workers as well as any life surrounding an emission zone. The environmental impact of being near an emission zone includes “increased salinity of rivers and contaminated soil and toxic waste,” according to the museum and library Welcome Collection. For workers, breathing air from mining lithium — a material used to make batteries for EVs — causes a build-up of fluid in the lungs.
Capital demand or evil corporations exploiting labor and harming the environment for money may be to blame, but we can also minimize this threat with a simple solution: Improving public transport services.
It is well established that the majority of U.S. citizens’ interests are primarily focused on saving time and money — and public transportation was originally born to satisfy that.
We should also look to other countries outside the United States as examples. Citizens of many other well-developed countries like Turkey, Japan, Russia and South Korea don’t primarily travel to work by personal car; they travel using public transportation. These countries’ total share of carbon emissions globally is less than that of the United States. If they can reduce emissions through public transport, why can’t we?
Many argue that a lack of funds may be the issue, but the statistics for this argument don’t add up. For example, the lack of funds has been justified by the United States spending mostly on its military and defense. The funds, however, have accumulated to more than the top 10 GDP countries combined, including Russia, China and Japan. It gets to the point where the government doesn’t know what to do with its unspent $128 billion. Instead of this “unused” money getting refunded to the U.S. Department of the Treasury, we should direct it toward fighting climate change and funding public transportation.
The main point of this argument is that you don’t necessarily need to have a breakthrough in sustainable fuel or invent teleportation in order to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles. We could make a significant change by simply encouraging people to use public transportation after improving its service. It’s not a complete solution to climate change, but it can be immediate. The solution can give us more time to fight for and possibly lay a foundation for an altruistic society. People can learn to share more in general, but first, let’s share rides.