We all love the flexibility that personal vehicles give us – we’re not dependent on schedules, we ride in our perfectly climatized car alone, and we park in front of our home. But for each comfort that cars give us, there is a cost. It’s surprising how many people don’t understand or underestimate the costs of using their vehicles instead of public transportation. This is why we decided to sum up how much a household can save with public transit.
While we know that public transportation is far from ideal in most places in the US (kudos to all the people trying to make it better!), it was and will continue to be one of our best shots at achieving a higher living standard – not only in cities but in small villages alike. The past few decades were heavily dominated by cars and with talks about sustainability and carbon neutrality, it’s high time we double down on the effort to make public transportation the norm.
In this article:
- How do we communicate the benefits of public transit?
- Public transit is cheaper
- Public transit is eco-friendly and sustainable
- Public transit is healthier
- Public transit saves time
- Public transit helps you focus on the things you love
How do we communicate the benefits of public transit?
Apart from the obvious investment in technology, one important factor has to be taken into consideration. People need to see the benefit so that they make the conscious choice to use public transit instead of their cars. To help them with this (dare we say enormous) task, our team decided to compile a pack of educational marketing materials and give them for free so transit professionals can educate riders on why public transit rocks!
So, how much (and what) exactly can we save by using public transit instead of a personal vehicle?
Public transit is cheaper
A typical household with two cars spends 16 cents of every dollar on transportation. 93% of this goes to car maintenance; this is the largest expenditure after housing. Cars require fuel, regular check-ups, insurance, taxes, seasonal adjustments and more, which are expensive and time-consuming (remember this part!). By ditching one of their two cars, our typical household can save up to $10,000 each year. To put that into perspective, a 12-day transatlantic cruise costs an average of less than $1000 per person! We are currently experiencing extreme volatility in the prices of fuel globally so these numbers are likely to change further, making public transit an even better option in terms of money savings.
These savings do not take into account newer options like micromobility, for example – and they are still quite expensive. We can only hope the MaaS movement will gain momentum soon so that we can take advantage of micromobility at scale, reducing its cost and adding it up to the public transit mix.
Public transit is eco-friendly and sustainable
Did you know that personal vehicles are guilty of taking up 55% of a typical household’s carbon footprint? Using public transportation for daily commutes means a 10-30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per household. The U.S. public transit system alone saves 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Reducing carbon emissions, air pollution and congestion in one step might seem like something from a sci-fi movie, but we already have a very simple solution – public transportation. 29% of global CO2 emissions come from transportation – the largest share of all industries. Switching from single-occupancy vehicles to public transportation is a chance to reduce this number significantly. This, along with carpooling and demand-responsive transit, is a healthier and frugal way people can contribute to global carbon-neutrality pledges!
Public transit is also a sustainable model of transportation. With account-based fare collection systems that are optimized for improving fare collection ratio, whenever ridership increases, so do profits. These profits can be invested in transit improvements and even the creation of new transportation options.
Public transit is healthier
The first and most obvious benefit for the health of everyone in the city – not only commuters, is the reduced air pollution levels.
But we aim to look beyond this frequently advertised benefit. Noise pollution is another burden that will be reduced. It has long been acknowledged that noise pollution has an impact on human health. Although understudied, the scientific consensus on this type of pollution is that it can contribute to psychological, cardiovascular, and other health disorders. Constant traffic noise is also one of the biggest culprits to the reduced quality of sleep. Using available technology to reduce the noise made by vehicles on the roads and improving the roads themselves has proven somewhat ineffective taking into consideration the slack legislative efforts and the increasing number of personal vehicles. So, the most straightforward solution is to simply reduce the number of vehicles by increasing the usage of public transportation!
Another health impact of increased public transit usage on a personal level is reducing stress related to driving in heavy traffic. Risky situations, rude drivers, sitting in congestion while late for work – these are scenarios that we are all too familiar with. Public transportation takes this burden off people’s shoulders and gives them the free time they can choose how to use – to read a book, chat with friends, just relax and enjoy the ride.
Last but not least, a very important health benefit of switching to public transportation is, surprisingly, one of its shortcomings – the need to walk to a bus stop near you. We all know how important it is to move daily and taking a short walk to your nearest (or even the next one!) bus stop can easily add up to your daily steps goal (an average of 8000 steps/day may help prevent premature death and cardiovascular diseases).
Public transit saves time
This is a tricky saving to calculate as it depends heavily on people’s destination and the available public transport and its schedule. In cities where congestion is the predominant state of affairs for rush-hour traffic, public transport that doesn’t benefit from priority green lights at traffic lights and/or a designated bus lane may need the same amount of time as a personal vehicle (provided there are no other types of public transit such as subways or light train, for example). On the other hand, in cities that have a mix of transportation options and a strategy to give priority to public transit vehicles, time in transit can be cut significantly.
Options such as subways, light rail, monorail, commuter trains, etc. are not affected by congestion and can safely guarantee departure and arrival times that fit passengers’ schedules. With options such as dedicated bus lanes and intelligent traffic systems buses can also be quicker than cars, even if you take into consideration the time it takes to reach the nearest bus stop. Real-time passenger information systems can also help people plan their way better to avoid waiting at bus stops.
An important note to make is that when this effect of public transit is felt across a community, people are instantly drawn to returning to their cars – since there are no more heavy congestions. This creates a loop that needs to be addressed with adequate measures before it becomes a problem. Improving the quality of transit with the profits gained with increased ridership is one way to do that. Another is an ongoing educational campaign.
Public transit helps you focus on the things you love
But this isn’t the only ‘time’ we have in mind. While you’re driving your attention is occupied by the act of driving itself – you monitor the road, traffic lights, you’re constantly aware of the possibility of bad actors or potbellies. It’s tiring, to say the least. Whereas on a bus or train you can safely take out your Kindle and immerse yourself in your favorite book. You can catch up on social media and chat with friends. You can use this time to improve your language skills (we won’t tell Duolingo if you don’t!). You can simply relax. Falling asleep is not advised but we’ve all done it! Instead of two hours on the highway trying to stay sane in an endless line of air-polluting vehicles, you can have your own haven of sanity in your seat on the bus and the only thing you might want to invest in is a good pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
Share the love!
To put it in a nutshell, switching from single-occupancy vehicles to public transportation is cheaper, quicker, healthier and more eco-friendly. It’s a no-brainer but every transit professional knows that it’s difficult to convert car users to public transit users. So why not share this useful article and infographic – let’s help transit thrive!