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windmills on a hill

Back in April 2016, we published a post explaining how public transit impacts sustainability, but what about the other end of that question: Why should transit agencies aim for sustainable practices?

Here’s a hint: It has practically nothing to do with saving the environment.

It sounds crazy, right? But, the truth is that, while a transit agency might not be concerned with sustainable practices, A LOT of people care about the environment, including our federal government—and they’ll pay to help agencies make a positive impact. The FTA has three separate grants available to public transit agencies interested in reducing their environmental impact and emissions:

In the same financial vein, aiming for sustainability as a transit agency is not only environmentally prudent, but financially smart. The more efficient transit agencies can be with their resources and assets, the lower their operating costs and higher their potential for revenue. For agencies, sustainability grows with ridership and increased ridership means greater transit efficiency (e.g., a city bus with only eight occupants isn’t as efficient as one carrying 42). Sustainable business practices can also lead to better transit planning, which can reduce operating costs and improve the return on invest for the agency’s existing resources. For example:

    • Flexible, on-demand transit options could help tackle areas of lower density or provide options for replacing fixed-routes during non-peak times.
    • Understanding passengers’ trip patterns and improving routes based on those actual patterns is the first step to applying design thinking to transit planning.

Finally, many riders choice to take public transportation stems from a desire to improve their carbon footprint—and knowing that their transit agency has a similar desire may help convert potential riders. No one wants to imperil the environment or make traffic congestion worse, so choosing not to take public transportation can weigh heavily on those conscientious individuals.

However, various barriers to use makes public transit a less popular option. Improving your agency’s image through sustainable initiatives, more effective route planning, and rider communication can help you convert drivers or increase current passengers’ ridership.

    • In urban areas, public transit means less traffic and more convenience. A bus carrying 40 passengers uses only 2.5 times more road space than a car carrying only one or two people, plus it consumes only about three times as much fuel as a car. Making your transit system more accessible and efficient can help convert potential riders into regular passengers. It’s all about how you spin it.
    • 23% of more than 158 million Americans choose public transportation to reduce their carbon footprint, a perfect target for increasing ridership through sustainable practices.
    • The private vehicle makes up 55% of a household’s carbon footprint, which means reducing one’s carbon footprint is as easy as taking the bus—as much as 30%! While 85% of cars on the road have one occupant, a single city bus has a capacity for 35-42. When you do the math, every full city bus takes approximately 42 cars off the road. Imagine the brevity of a morning commute with entire communities taking the bus instead of their individual vehicles. Now, imagine how much of an impact that would have on the air you breathe. Both of those awesome worlds you’re picturing are possible with your help.

Need more information on sustainability and how you can help support, promote, and participate in strategies that could help your agency succeed? Check out some of the resources below!


Post authors: Nicole Guernsey and Annabel Jones