Earlier this year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released findings that global CO2 levels have surpassed 400 parts per million (ppm). This new peak in CO2 concentration represents the continued impact that human activities are having on the environment. Climate scientists around the world agree that actions must be taken immediately to reduce CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid drastic consequences of climate change.
The United States is one of the largest producers of pollution that contributes to climate change. The Environmental Protection Agency reports that 14 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted in the US come from cars and light-duty trucks. In other words, some of the key contributors to pollution are sitting right in front of our homes. The average American drives 12,000 miles per year, pumping over 5 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Proposed projects to improve existing public transit systems and create new routes to serve suburban communities can alleviate this type of pollution. According to the American Public Transportation Association, the average mile traveled in a bus produces 33 percent fewer emissions than the typical car. Include a ride on a subway or metro train and emissions are cut by 76 percent.
Public transit has the potential to reduce the United States’ annual CO2 emissions by 37 million metric tons. That’s the equivalent of over 7.2 million cars off the road and 4.2 billion gallons of gas saved each year. In Chicago, the CTA estimates that its buses and trains keep 400,000 cars off regional roads every day. And, demand for public transit in Chicago is increasing: total CTA ridership jumped by 2.4 percent in 2012, with rail ridership increasing by 4.2 percent.
The benefits of expanded transit aren’t just reserved for train and bus riders. By taking cars off the road, public transportation reduces traffic congestion, saving motorists time and money. Support for new transit projects comes at a time when the economic and environmental advantages of transit are clear. At this pivotal moment in the fight against climate change, meeting the needs of commuters in Chicago and around the country with more sustainable transit is a smart investment in our future.