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Opportunities to Develop Cost Effective and Sustainable Sources of Transportation Systems with Multiple Societal Benefits

Author: Philip Wilcox, President of a 501C3, the Niagara Greenspace Consortium

Regardless of opinion against the overwhelming science of climate change, there can be no debate about an increasing urgency to find alternatives to the finite quantity of fossil fuels that the world economy is still highly dependent on. Recent attempts for US National policy change indicate an intent to extract and use even greater amounts of fossil fuels for short-term economic benefits.

Technology extraction methods have improved so dramatically, that the supply of both natural gas and oil from domestic sources have resulted in low prices and are expected to remain there for the foreseeable future.  Attempts to mine greater amounts of US based coal is intended primarily for export purposes, as coal use in the US has dropped off considerably in the wake of abundant and cheap natural gas.

The current generation can reap short-term economic gains from continued use of low-cost fossil fuels, but the stark reality is that if cost-effective replacement to fossil fuels, primarily for power generation and transportation, are not aggressively developed, future generations will be doomed economically for sure, and environmentally as well if the avalanche of climate change evidence is factored in.

The good news is that the low-cost of both natural gas and transportation fuels are at record low prices, making the transition to sustainable sources ideally timed to keep overall costs stable or even below recent averages.

For example, the impact of technologies into domestic fossil extraction have taken wholesale electric prices from an average of $95 in 2009 to $28 in 2016, and a few short years ago, gasoline averaged $4 a gallon.  Domestic enhanced oil recovery has accelerated extraction and flush domestic supply now has gas priced significantly lower.

This generation is likely safe from the apocalyptic scenario of depletion of fossil fuels, absent broad-based, cost effective, sustainable replacements.  

But look your children in the eyes and tell them you intend to deliberately deny their children a future.  Why would any rational person procreate knowing the agony future generations may suffer, absent urgent action?

Examining the impact of investments into sustainable replacements for fossil based electric generation in New York, we have seen investments into renewable energy secured from retail electric bills – known as a System Benefits Charge (SBC).  As well, a Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative price embedded into the wholesale power market of New York and other RGGI partners has also been invested into sustainable, renewable sources of power generation.

Some may be startled that these investments have been so effective that transportation has surged past power generation for carbon emissions in New York State. Last year, the NYS DEC listed carbon emissions from transportation at 34%, while power generation dropped considerably to 20%.  Once again, if you set aside climate change concerns, carbon emissions are the objective tool to measure fossil fuel use:

  1. With stunning evidence that SBC and RGGI applied to electric generation has had such a remarkable impact on reductions of emissions and associated fossil fuel use, it is now time to get aggressive on a similar campaign and have that impact on the transportation sector.
  2. There is considerable documented evidence that public transit systems will deliver a much smaller carbon footprint, even in systems propelled by fossil fuels.  There is also data supporting the fact that regions on the rise economically – such as in Buffalo, NY – will suffer set-backs if public transit systems do not at least keep pace with regional growth.

Examine this short list of public transit benefits

Public Transportation Benefits

Public transportation in the United States is a crucial part of the solution to the nation’s economic, energy, and environmental challenges – helping to bring a better quality of life. In increasing numbers, people are using public transportation and local communities are expanding public transit services. Every segment of American society – individuals, families, communities, and businesses – benefits from public transportation.

Public Transportation Consists of a Variety of Modes

  • Buses
  • Trolleys and light rail
  • Subways
  • Commuter trains
  • Streetcars
  • Cable cars
  • Van pool services
  • Paratransit services for Senior citizens and people with disabilities
  • Ferries and water taxis
  • Monorails and tramways

Quick Facts

  • In 2014, Americans took 10.8 billion trips on public transportation – – the highest in 58 years.
  • Since 1995, public transit ridership is up 39 percent, outpacing population growth, which is up 21 percent, and vehicle miles traveled (VMT), which is up 25 percent.
  • People board public transportation 36 million times each weekday.
  • Public transportation is a $61 billion industry that employs more than 400,000 people.
  • More than 7,200 organizations provide public transportation in the United States.

Public Transportation Reduces Carbon Footprint

Public transportation use in the United States reduces our nation’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually. This is equivalent to Washington, DC; New York City; Atlanta; Denver; and Los Angeles combined stopping using electricity.

One person with a 20-mile round trip commute who switches from driving to public transit can reduce his or her daily carbon emissions by 20 pounds, or more than 4,800 pounds in a year.

A single commuter switching his or her commute to public transportation can reduce a household’s carbon emissions by 10 percent and up to 30 percent if he or she eliminates a second car.

Public Transportation Enhances Personal Opportunities

Public transportation provides personal mobility and freedom for people from every walk of life.

Access to public transportation gives people transportation options to get to work, go to school, visit friends, or go to a doctor’s office.

Public transportation provides access to job opportunities for millions of Americans.

Public Transportation Saves Fuel, Reduces Congestion

Public transportation has a proven record of reducing congestion.

The latest research shows that in 2011, U.S. public transportation use saved 865 million hours in travel time and 450 million gallons of fuel in 498 urban areas.

Without public transportation, congestion costs in 2011 would have risen by nearly $21 billion from $121 billion to $142 billion in 498 urban areas.

Public Transportation Provides Economic Opportunities & Drives Community Growth and Revitalization

  • Every $1 invested in public transportation generates approximately $4 in economic returns.
  • Every $1 billion invested in public transportation supports and creates more than 50,000 jobs.
  • Every $10 million in capital investment in public transportation yields $30 million in increased business sales.
  • Home values performed 42 percent better on average if they were located near public transportation with high-frequency service.

Public Transportation Saves Money

Using public transportation is the quickest way to beat high gas prices.

According to APTA’s Transit Saving Report, a two-person household can save, on the average, more than $10,174 a year by downsizing to one car.

Public transportation provides an affordable, and for many, necessary, alternative to driving.

Public Transportation Reduces Gasoline Consumption

Public transportation use in the United States saves 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually.

Households near public transit drive an average of 4,400 fewer miles than households with no access to public transit.
In Summary

For the purpose of this discussion, consideration should be given to secure a meaningful investment into the New York Public Transit systems – from the MTA downstate, to the NFTA in the Western part of New York, and all points in between.

While several ideas for revenue generating can be considered, it appears none may be more effective than securing a fee at the fuel pump, just as a direct fee from wholesale and retail electric costs have had the dramatic fossil use reduction impact on that sector.

The exact quantity should become the immediate focus for discussion, as well as transportation experienced committees to determine how the exact investment into transportation systems should be invested into respective regions, such as:

  • Expanding light rail
  • Focused shuttle services to expanding areas experiencing parking challenges
  • Infrastructure
  • Relieving traffic congestion
  • Employment opportunities matching experienced applicants with difficult to reach employment destinations.
  • Ultimately marketing the region as one ahead of the impending need to replace increasingly challenging fossil fuel transit with sustainable, reliable and cost effective public transit.
  • Rapid deployment of EV charging stations

If you’re interested in learning more about Sustainable and Expanded Public Transportation, click here to join the conversation.

Lead image: NFTA Amherst Extension Comes Into Focus

Written by BRo Guest Authors

BRo Guest Authors

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