To Fight Climate Change, Support Public Transit

Electric cars may garner a lot of attention these days, but significantly reducing carbon emissions and urban congestion means investing in high-quality mass transit.

November 5, 2021, 5:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Miami Bus

Jorg Hackemann / Shutterstock

Andrew J. Hawkins argues in favor of boosting public transit as a crucial way to fight climate change, warning against the potential "death spiral" caused by declining ridership which reduces revenue, leading to worse service which discourages riders even further. As Hawkins writes,

There’s more at stake than good buses and trains. The recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that a hotter, wetter, more inhospitable future is all but certain. The transportation sector is responsible for nearly a third of greenhouse gases, most of which come from tailpipe emissions. High-quality mass transit can do a lot to fight climate change, but only if people are willing to use it.

Since the start of the pandemic, transit agencies have struggled against a raft of challenges as some riders abandon their systems while essential workers and other transit-dependent commuters rely on public transportation more than ever. Agencies around the country are implementing major service changes and reducing or eliminating fares in an effort to get riders back on board and expand the reach of their systems, with mixed results. These initiatives will create more benefits than just improved transit service for those who use it, transit supporters argue. As Hawkins concludes, "high-quality transit is the only real solution to our vast, seemingly intractable problems with climate change, inequality, land use, and housing." 

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