The transport sector is considered to be one of the biggest contributors to pollution on the planet, accounting for around a quarter of the world’s CO2 emissions, globally. Greenhouse gas emissions from petrol and diesel vehicles are a major issue when it comes to climate change as they are responsible for the poor air quality in urban areas and have been proven to have a devastating impact on public health as well as the environment. This is precisely why governments around the world are all beginning to acknowledge the importance of sustainable transport.
Let’s take a look at what sustainable transportation is, why it’s important and how can the U.S. come up with better, more effective strategies and policies to avoid potential climate crisis in the future and advance in building sustainable cities that offer environmentally friendly modes of transit.
What the figures show about the impact of air pollution
It’s estimated that around 1 of every 25 deaths in the U.S. occurs prematurely because of direct exposure to air pollution. Bad air quality is thought to claim the lives of roughly 110,000 Americans annually, more than all transportation accidents and shootings combined.
A report presented by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) shows that air pollution and climate change cost American citizens an average of $2,500 in health care, every year. The report also depicts the costs of air pollution in the form of ozone, soot, and allergens, along with vector-borne infectious diseases from ticks and mosquitos, which thrive under warm temperatures caused by climate change. By including damages caused by climate-change-related disasters such as heat, wildfires, and hurricanes, the total for health-related costs amounts to over $820 billion, on an annual basis.
What is sustainable transportation and why is it important?
Sustainable transportation essentially refers to low- and zero-emission modes of transport that are energy-efficient, accessible, and affordable. By definition, this type of transportation does not rely on the world’s natural resources such as coal, oil, and gas, further depleting them, but rather relies on electric and alternative-fuel vehicles, as well as domestic fuels.
Sustainable transport is important because it contributes to the reduction of damaging carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions which directly benefit the environment, further decreasing atmospheric pollution and improving air quality in cities.
An example of sustainable transportation can be an electric vehicle that runs on renewable energy sources and does not emit polluting exhaust fumes as well as vehicles that use alternative fuels like hydrogen and biofuel. This can include public forms of transport such as metro, trains, trams, and eclectic buses along with private and personal vehicles and bikes. Greener transportation also incorporates other modes of active travel in the form of cycling, scootering, and walking to make a positive environmental impact.
What are the benefits of sustainable transportation in the U.S.?
One of the most obvious advantages of sustainable transportation is that it reduces the environmental footprint of a nation. Public transport systems are leading the way when it comes to sustainable modes of transit, especially in densely populated urban areas. It’s a faster, safer, accessible, and more efficient way of transporting large groups of people, producing fewer emissions per passenger mile than single-occupancy vehicles and reducing the overall number of cars on the road.
Less pollution and improved air quality
Despite the consistency in the usage of green energy, over 90% of the fuel used for transportation still happens to be petroleum-based. Every vehicle that is on the road releases an average of one pound of CO2 per every mile driven. If we look at the statistics, they show us that taking public transportation instead of a personal vehicle, reduces CO2 emissions by 45%, decreasing pollutants in the atmosphere and improving air quality. Additionally, it’s estimated that through the use of public transit systems in the country, around 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide are saved on an annual basis.
Various public transportation systems are making the switch to electric vehicles and achieving substantial results in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Transit providers who are unable to switch to electric or low-emission vehicles can find clean diesel to be an appropriate alternative. Incorporating more sustainable methods of transporting people is critical to achieving progress in this field with many countries now actively advocating for greener methods of getting around such as cycling which shows us that even a moderate increase in bicycle use could save an estimated 6 to 14 million tons of carbon dioxide, every year.
Sustainable transportation is energy-efficient
It’s a well-known fact that the transport sector is a major energy consumer. Oil and gas are the main non-renewable energy sources used to produce the energy consumed by vehicles while renewable energy sources like solar and wind energy have shown great progress in solving this problem.
The decrease in traffic and congestion as a result of sustainable transportation will also save money and energy. Vehicles idling in traffic daily waste a significant amount of fuel from constantly having to start the engine and stop, further increasing pollution. A single transit vehicle might use more energy than a personal one, but fewer resources are used per passenger. Therefore, using greener forms of transportation such as walking and bicycling promotes energy conservation.
Improved communal health and equity
Sustainable transportation has been shown to make a positive impact when it comes to people’s health and well-being. Better air quality means that there is less chance of health-related illnesses such as respiratory ailments in the form of asthma or even cancer occurring amongst the local population which also reduces the economic strain on the nation and the healthcare sector as a whole as less money is being spent. Sustainable modes of transport further stimulate citizens to be active by walking more or cycling.
Another vital aspect of this type of transport has to do with societal factors such as equity which is an objective of sustainable transport. Individuals, regardless of their social and economic status should all have access to public transit and non-motorized means of transportation.
Sustainable transportation creates a safer environment
Using public transit has been proven to be over ten times safer per mile than bringing your car into the city. Additionally, commuters can reduce their risk of being involved in a car crash by more than 90% by making the switch to using public transportation. Road accidents are among the largest causes of death for children and young adults between the ages of 5 and 29 and account for over 1.35 million deaths annually.
Every year, millions of U.S. citizens are injured or disabled as a result of road accidents. Safe mobility is a key component of sustainable mobility. The number of accidents and fatalities associated with transportation will be drastically decreased with the employment of new technologies and additional safety measures incorporated in systems that are part of public transit.
Sustainable mobility promotes economic development
Sustainable modes of transport provide a variety of benefits when it comes to the economy. If a city has built a well-functioning public transit system that citizens rely on and use frequently, a significant amount of money will be saved and re-directed towards programs and initiatives for further development and progress in those urban areas. Some studies also indicate that commercial activity and related profits increase significantly in regions where motorized traffic is prohibited and access is available only to pedestrians and bikes.
More job opportunities are created
Sustainable mobility relies on advanced technologies and the skills of various people working in different fields such as designers, innovators, construction professionals, maintenance workers, drivers, and safety officers. The requirement of professionals with a wide range of skills and abilities naturally creates more job opportunities that are beneficial for communities.
As more alternative transport solutions become available, cities will need extra helping hands. There will be a higher demand for workers in mass transit stations and electric charging stations.
Maintaining a personal vehicle is generally costly due to the prices of fuel, maintenance, initial purchase price, and tax fees. Sustainable transport encourages the use of public transit systems which are cheaper for citizens, in many cases faster and more efficient and there is less damage to the environment. Other forms of greener travel such as electric vehicles also come with a variety of benefits in taxes, low-interest loans, and subsidies to encourage citizens to make smarter travel choices. It is also estimated that it costs far less to maintain public transportation networks than it does to repair and maintain roadways.
There is less congestion on roads
According to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, traffic congestion costs the US economy $179 billion annually, with the average commuter spending around 54 hours in traffic every year. Sustainable transportation can alleviate this problem significantly. Congestion will naturally reduce if citizens prioritize using more sustainable methods of transport such as public transit as opposed to their private vehicles. Commuting times (and idling) are also reduced for those who still prefer to drive along the highways and roads as well as for those who use public transit.
The initial investment in sustainable transportation may seem costly when it comes to purchasing newer more sustainable vehicles and building infrastructure or implementing smart technologies, however many countries have already proven that investment to be a wise decision.
Although the U.S. has achieved some success in the past when it comes to reducing fossil fuel emissions and replacing them with renewable energy sources, significant policy changes are critical to allow access to clean fuels and technologies by 2030 as a way of addressing health inequities, achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, and alleviating the effects of climate change.