Someone wrote asking why pay more attention to gas mileage than to subsidizing mass transit.
With a change in culture — we give up the ability to accelerate from 0 to 80 in 2.1 seconds on our crowded freeways, and even in locations where itâ€™s possible — some big mandates on car mileage, and well, more big changes in culture — are we really cramped in a Prius? could we rent a pickup truck or pay the delivery costs when we buy sheet rock? — we could come close to doubling car mileage in the time it takes to turn over car stock.
How much oil/carbon emissions could we save by changing our car behavior? How much by increasing our subsidies of mass transit? I suspect it makes more sense for us to increase gas mileage and for us to start taking mass transit, rather than to emphasize increasing subsidies.
Right now (2003 statistics), we in the US consume 20 million barrels of oil/day, about 850 million gallons/day. In two decades, this is expected to be close to 30 million barrels of oil/day. Today’s use is just under 3 gallons/day per person. Some of that goes to your car, some is for air transit. (Figure one gallon/34 passenger miles if you fly, so if you fly from one coast to the other and back, that’s about 180 gallons; one bicoastal trip adds 1/2 gallon/day to your total.)
Remember, the goal is to reduce carbon emissions 70% worldwide, more than 90% per person in the US, to the level the oceans can absorb, and then to cut back even further to protect the oceans.
Currently (2001), we drive more than 3.7 million million miles/year, cars and light trucks, close to 13,000 miles per person (if there are two of you in the car, credit yourself with only half the miles). We fly almost 600,000 million miles/year (domestic only), about 2,000 miles per person. We take the bus (city bus + intercity bus) and rail some 90,000 million miles per year.
Obviously, the two biggest numbers to tackle are cars and light trucks, and air.
How much does subsidizing mass transit shift away from car use? Probably not much. Buses are a net loss, carbonwise, unless they are used. Most municipalities provide them as subsidies for children and the elderly, poor, and disabled, rather than for energy purposes.
The SF Bay Area smart growth group, Transportation and Land Use Coalition, analyzes local bus subsidies in one of the five major mass transit centers in the US (also, NY, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago).
“More than 6.8 million people live in the San Francisco Bay Area, making nearly 20 million trips every day, more than 80 percent of them by private automobile. Public transportation also plays a critical role in the region’s travel patterns. While only two percent of all trips in the U.S. are taken on transit, in the Bay Area this share exceeds six percent. And for commute to work trips, transit’s share is even higher — 9.5% in 1990.”
See their Table 2.5 for capitol and operating cost/passenger mile, and the share of that coming from the passenger and subsidies. AC (Alameda County) Transit is the East Bay, Berkeley-Oakland and points north and south. Muni is SF, and I am surprised to see it more expensive per passenger mile than AC Transit, perhaps it’s the underground trains. Golden Gate transit services wealthy Marin. SamTrans services wealthy San Mateo County, south of SF, and connects to SF. Santa Clara VTA services the even wealthier Santa Clara County south of San Mateo.
The total cost/passenger trip ranges from $0.87 to $5.55. The passenger share ranges from $0.21 – $1.45 â€“ apparently buses are used mostly by children, seniors, and disabled users, or/and those with monthly cards. The subsidy/passenger trip ranges from $0.66 to $5.19.
Note: if you live outside the five major mass transit areas, the subsidies you pay are probably closer to the Santa Clara numbers than to the Alameda County numbers.
I think that most car drivers would be willing to chip in fifty cents to each bus rider, as it reduces congestion. But more than $5?
Most transit districts and Amtrak could absorb a doubling or even greater increase in bus and train ridership without increasing their own costs (this is not true of long distances buses such as Greyhound, which would have to run more buses, though at a lower marginal cost). Doubling mass transit use in this country would dramatically affect mass transit finances. Doubling bus ridership would only require a small percentage of drivers to shift their habits.
If we change our behavior, driving less, driving smaller, more fuel efficient, less powerful cars, if we check the tires and drive at more reasonable speeds, if we fly less, we will cut back on oil consumption. If we shift away from cars and plane towards the train and bus, then the subsidies become reasonable and justifiable to the taxpayer and we can ask for more funds for mass transit. But it does much less good to talk about subsidizing mass transit while continuing to drive.
I prefer to live more cheaply sans car, more restfully sans car. This can lead to longer trips, but I prefer reading to fighting traffic, and usually find reading less stressful than a shorter commute by car. Often the trips really arenâ€™t any longer if I consider the time to pay for the car. On the other hand, commutes to San Francisco by BART are often considerably faster — by a factor of 2 or more — than commutes by car. (Yet people drive, and occasionally tell me that itâ€™s faster to drive!!)
More on Smart Growth
The population of greater SF is expected to continue to grow rapidly, from 6.9 million in 2000 to 8 million in 2020. It isn’t practical to add new lanes (tear down houses to expand the freeways?) Some people are going to need to get out of their cars.
Locally, people are trying to find solutions. For example, mixed commercial (first floor) and residential buildings very close to mass transit, particularly BART (the local metro), have attracted people willing to pay more in order to live without a car. Some BART stations apparently are putting a second story parking lot and then apartments on top of the BART parking.
The population of greater SF is expected to continue growing rapidly for the next two decades and more. Thank goodness Transportation and Land Use Coalition and other smart growth groups, and local governments, are addressing the rapid changes. But we could make their job more doable if we consider the financial, time, and environmental costs of our transportation systems, and begin shifting to a reduced dependence on the car.
The details above are local, but the concept applies elsewhere â€“ solutions must involve a willingness to change our behavior, and must involve structural changes that will encourage others to change theirs.