Role of Transit in a Low-GHG California

From TransitWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search


Reducing the impact of green house gas (GHG) emission on the environment has become a national priority. The State of California had made it a goal to set targets for reducing GHG emissions through enacting Senate Bill 375.[1] About half of all GHG emissions in the U.S. come from transportation,and about 85% of those are from the surface transportation sector.[2] Sperling argues that oil supplies are still plentiful and that we can't rely on higher gasoline prices alone to reduce travel and lower GHG emissions.[3] Transit agencies can, however, play a significant role in slowing the growth of GHG emissions as part of a carbon reduction regime stressing improving connections between land use and transportation and increasing the availability and quality of public transport. The APTA states that public transportation can reduce CO2 emissions by 37 metric tons annually by reducing the growth in vehicle miles, easing congestion and supporting more efficient land use. This will be needed to meet 2050 federal mandate even with improved fuel economy from revised CAFE standards as private vehicle use represents over half a typical household's carbon footprint.[4] These efforts can be combined with support for bicycling, walking, and traffic and parking management, as well as higher density development that supports transit use.

Innovative Approaches

A Transit Cooperative Research Program report on international efforts to address climate change suggest that U.S. transit providers can benefit from some of the approaches taken in European cities for reducing automobile dependence.[5] Examples include implementing quality bus corridors (QBCs) which provide shorter journeys and more consistent service through dedicated bus-only lanes and traffic signal prioritization, and coordinated feeder routes. Munich uses a mobility management system to provide new residents with information about transit options, while Frieberg, Germany adopted a regional transit pass that can be used on multiple systems to make using transit easier and increase ridership. It also provides facilities for bicycle storage and rental at its central station, and offers free and discounted transit passes for those who subscribe to a car sharing program. The public transport authority for Milan, Italy has plans to improve parking outside the city center to encourage use of public transit, as well as supporting bicycle and car sharing programs, and improving pedestrian areas. The city's Ecopass program charges vehicles entering the center of town according to the pollution they generate with the objective of reducing automobile use so that public transit can provide better service. The fees collected are invested in sustainable transport. Metro Bilbao in Spain offers extremely frequent low-fare service on its two lines which is "fine-tuned" to match demand. Several continental systems are moving toward more energy efficient transit vehicles, purchasing lighter weight aluminum cars, adding regenerative braking and on-board capacitors for energy storage, monitoring energy consumption on cars, increasing their use of biofuels and hybrid-electric vehicles, and developing more efficient operating patterns. Despite historical differences between government frameworks and the role of the automobile between European and American cities, the authors of the report believe that transit can be can be a successful part of a climate change strategy.

Ahmedabed, India has replaced all its diesel public transit vehicles with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses and facilitated the conversion of all privately-operated diesel and kerosene powered rickshaws to CNG. Guangzhou operates over 8,000 Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LNG) buses and 15,000 LPG taxis, while Hangzhou, China encourages two-wheeled electric vehicles on city streets, though its environmental advantages are limited as much of China's electricity is still produced from coal. The country is, however, experimenting with "super-capcitor" quick charge buses in Shanghai along with develpment other new battery technology.[6] [7]

A number of US cities have already adopted innovative approaches including use of electric and diesel-electric hybrid vehicles, regenerative braking and energy storage, and use of alternative fuels including biofuel, natural gas, and hydrogen cell technology.[8] The American Public Transit Association has called for an investment of 1.6% of GDP to increase transit use up to 10% annually to put transit's market share on par with the European Union by 2030. It projects a net savings from the plan of 141.9 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year.[9]

Alternative Fuels

Although diesel engines used by many transit vehicles are much less polluting than previously, additional emissions reductions can be achieved by the use of alternative fuels, including biodiesel made from soy beans and other organic material, as outlined in a recent TRCP report.[10] Adding biodiesel to regular petroleum diesel can reduce emissions with only a small loss of fuel economy but also make cold weather operations more difficult, necessitating fuel management strategies. A blend of 20% biodiesel and 80% regular petroleum diesel is known as B20 and is easy to use in regular diesel engines. According to this study, concentrations of B20 or less can reduce total unburned hydrocarbons (HC) by 20%, both carbon monoxide (CO) and particulate matter (PM) by 12% each, and help reduce atmospheric carbon. The effect on NOx emissions is less clear. Higher concentrations, including pure biodiesel B100, can be incompatible with some engine materials and can gel at low temperatures, but there are ways to mitigate these effects. One main advantage of biodiesel is that the CO2 is actually consumed in the process of growing the crops to make biodiesel. A Department of Energy study showed that substituting B100 for petroleum diesel reduces life-cycle CO2 emissions by 78%, compared to 16% for B20.

Other alternative that offer promise for reducing GHG emissions from transit as they become more commercially viable in the future include hybrid-electric vehicles and vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells.[11]

Congestion Pricing and Transit

Another way to encourage more transit use is to direct revenues from roadway congestion pricing to fund enhanced transit service, especially along the toll route corridor. Examples include the I-10 and I-110 ExpressLanes project in Los Angeles.[12] An experimental system of congestion charges was undertaken in Stockholm that included sort-term increases in capacity to the public transit system. While a study found increased public support for the project as a result of the trial run (and voters later approved its continuation), interestingly it also found no greater support among public transit users compared to non-users.[13]

Further Reading

American Public Transportation Association, "Public Transportation Saves Energy and Helps Our Environment."

This short brochure highlights some of the economic and environmental benefits of using public transit.

American Public Transportation Association, "Public Transportation Reduces Greenhouse Gases and Conserves Energy."

This brochure outlines the environmental and energy saving benefits of public transportation and discusses how increased investment in transit is beneficial to future climate change and energy legislation.

American Public Transportation Association, "Transit on the Cutting Edge of Clean Technology," September 2012.

This white paper reviews the progress transit agencies have made investing in innovative clean technologies and fuels, including electric and hybrid vehicles, electric storage, biofuels, natural gas, and hydrogen fuel cells.

American Public Transit Association, "Changing the Way America Moves: Creating a More Robust Economy, a Smaller Carbon Footprint, and Energy Independence," Spring 2009.

This paper argues for a national commitment to invest in public transit to reduce congestion, save fuel and improve the environment. It documents the long-term benefits in reduced carbon emission from a 5-10% increase in annual ridership through 2030 and 2050.

Center for Neighborhood Technologies, "The Route to Carbon and Energy Savings: Transit Efficiency in 2030 and 2050," November 2010.

This report identifies 17 high-priority strategies that transit agencies can take to reduce energy use and GHG emissions and estimates the potential impacts of those strategies in 2030 and 2050.

ICF International(Linda Bailey), “Public Transportation and Petroleum Savings in the U.S.: Reducing Dependence on Oil,” January 2007.

This report, commissioned by the APTA, estimates savings from using public transportation for individual households and for the nation as a whole.

Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), "Public Transportation’s Contribution To U.S. Greenhouse Gas Reduction", September 2007.

This report addresses current and potential C02 savings from public transportation compared to non-public transportation commuting and what can households do to save more. It also discusses favorable land use, environmental and social benefits from public transportation.

Transit Cooperative Research Program, Research Results Digest 89, "Public Transportation's Role in Addressing Global Climate Change,", March 2009.

This TCRP digest prepared by the Eno Foundations summarizes the Spring 2008 mission performed under TCRP Project J-03, “International Transit Studies Program.” This digest includes transportation information on the organizations and facilities visited and their strategies to combat climate change through public transportation.

Transit Cooperative Research Program, Research Synthesis 72, "Use of Biodiesel in a Transit Fleet," 2007.

This report documents a full range of benefits offered by biodiesel and closely examines biodiesel implementation at two transit agencies as case studies, so that transit agencies can make informed decisions regarding its use. Topics covered by this study include engine manufacturer requirements and warranty considerations, maintenance implications, emissions testing results, cold weather operations, fuel specifications and procurement considerations, fuel storage, and delivery.

Transit Cooperative Research Program, Research Results Digest 103, "Sustainable Public Transportation: Environmentally Friendly Mobility," December 2011.

This TRCP digest provides an overview of an international study mission that explored how public transportation systems in several cities in India and China have implemented plans, policies, technologies, and strategies for creating more livable communities through bus, metro, bus rapid transit, rail, and light rail systems, designed to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions, lower operating costs, and provide safe and accessible transportation services.


  1. Juan Matute, “Greenhouse Gas Management: Local Efforts to Curb a Global Phenomenon,” Access 42, Spring 2013.
  2. APTA, "Public Transportation Reduces Greenhouse Gases and Conserves Energy." [APTA Brochure]
  3. Daniel Sperling,“An Innovative Path to Sustainable Transportation,” Access 45, Fall 2014.
  4. APTA Brochure
  5. TCRP Research Results Digest 89, March 2009.
  6. TCRP Reserach Results Digest 103, December 2011.
  7. Christopher Cherry, “Electric Two-Wheelers in China: Promise, Progress and Potential,” Access 37, Fall 2010.
  8. APTA, "Transit on Cutting Edge of Clean Technology," September, 2012.
  9. APTA, Changing the Way America Moves: Creating a More Robust Economy, a Smaller Carbon Footprint, and Energy Independence." Spring 2009.
  10. Transit Cooperative Research Program, Research Synthesis 72, 2007.
  11. Joan Ogden, “The Transition To Hydrogen,” Access 27, Fall 2005.
  12. cite
  13. Björn Hårsman and John Quigley, “Political and Public Acceptability of Congestion Pricing: Ideology and Self-Interest in Sweden,” Access 38, Spring 2011.