Transit is good for the environment

Don’t believe everything you read. Despite a recent National Post story, taking transit is good for the environment. The story, which uses statistics in the damn lies mode, is very narrowly focused on the relative fuel efficiency of buses vs cars. It ignores the political realties of transit planning, something Jared at Human Transit does quite well. The story also gives voice to all the usual suspects with regards to anti-transit advocates, namely Randall O’Toole and Wendell Cox show up to spout their usual talking points.

One major mistake in the article is the failure to properly describe the link between transportation and land use. Walkable density begets transit use, sprawl begets automobile use. Both are self-reinforcing loops, something Todd Litman of the Victoria Transportation Policy Institute has effectively shown in a recent study (PDF).

The article mentions the Stockholm congestion pricing scheme, which was reimplemented after passing a public referendum in September 2006. A recent study, entitled Lessons from the Stockholm congestion charging trial, published in the Transport Policy journal, showed that nearly 25% of the work trips into the congestion zone switched to the “environmentally unfriendly” public transit. Given the only other change in work trips was departure time change, it is reasonable to assume that without public transit, the congestion charge would have had nearly zero effect on work trips, neatly defeating one of its purposes.

But beyond all that is the unavoidable fact that people in cars, no matter how efficient, will take up more road space than somebody in a bus. So even if buses are less efficient than the best cars, we are going to need more roads. Roads require a whole host of resources and are estimated to emit about 17 MtCO2e per 1000 sq feet (PDF).  MtCO2e stands for Million tonnes of C02 equivalent. Lets see the anti-transit promoters talk away that inconvenient statistic.