The Pros and Cons of Public Transportation

Submitted by SharpMan Editorial Team on Wednesday 13th October 2010
In this article
  • Public transportation and pollution.
  • A little extra pocket change.
  • Can you part with your Pontiac?

Americans took 9.7 billion trips using public transportation in 2001(American Public Transportation Association), an increase of three percent from 2000. This begs the question: is there something about taking public transportation you should know about?

What Is It, Exactly?

According to the American Public Transportation Association, public transportation includes all "multiple-occupancy vehicle services" that transport people to local and regional locations, including:

  • private and public buses
  • rail
  • ferryboats
  • Amtrak
  • intercity bus
  • taxi services operated under contract to a public transportation agency
  • any vanpool service operated by or under such a contract
  • and other transportation services for senior citizens and persons with disabilities.

In other words, just about anything other than the car sitting in your driveway.

In the past six years, use of public transportation grown by more than 24 percent in the U.S. This stat is even more impressive when you consider there were over 10 million cars sold in the U.S. in 1999 alone. And with newer, nicer models of all your old favorites hitting the market — like the revamped Thunderbird — it’s hard to make a case for turning in your keys for a bus pass. Here’s a go at it anyway:

Give a Hoot...

You may be one of the many Americans breathing unhealthy air, considering nearly half of all Americans are doing so. And since air quality in dozens of metropolitan areas has gotten worse over the last decade, your chances are steadily increasing. A study from the Surface Transportation Policy Project named transportation as a major contributor to air pollution nationwide.

Sure, public transportation vehicles emit pollutants too, but if you consider that public transportation is available whether you use it or not, but your car will only be on the road if you choose to use it, it becomes more clear that you have the power to reduce the amount of vehicles and pollutants hitting our streets and air.

Show Me the Money...

The study noted above also reported that transportation is "the second largest annual expense for American families, adding up to more than three times the cost of health care, and exceeded only by housing as an expenditure."

That isn’t too hard to believe when a $300 car payment has turned into something to cheer about. Add insurance, fuel, regular maintenance and repairs to that and you are looking at a pretty good chunk of change. By contrast, owning a car but electing to use it as a secondary mode of transportation may mean insurance savings to your carrier.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Aside from the environmental impact and the money savings associated with using public transportation, spending time at the light rail station or on a bus can actually give you a stronger sense of community. Spending day after day with many of the same faces makes people more aware of the world around them. And when you engage in conversation with one of your fellow riders, you make the world a, well, a friendlier place.

If you just aren’t a chatty person in the mornings and dread the possibility of someone acknowledging your existence, just throw on some headphones or stick your nose in a book. Studies indicate that people who use public transportation read more than their driving brethren.

Leave Loretta Home?

The main argument against public transportation is convenience. It’s just nice to stop at the store on your way home.

There is also a certain attachment people form with their personal vehicles. Whether you name your trusty Honda Accord Loretta or hang fuzzy dice from the windshield to give it that personal touch, people choose what car they drive and choose to love those cars for a reason.

For those SharpMen, consider a middle ground. Try riding the rails a few days a week, or on those days when you don’t have errands to run. You may be surprised by the amount to "you-time" you gain.

This article last updated on Wednesday 13th October 2010
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