Transit funds are vital for clean air

Courtesy Port Authority of Allegheny County


by Pat Beaudet

Dedicated funding of public transit is necessary if it is to remain a viable alternative to automobiles. Without such state funding, transit officials will have no choice but to hike rates and cut service, making public transit unaffordable to many and its value negligible to those who need transportation outside of traditional weekday rush hours. Those most adversely affected by the loss of public transit include the urban poor, the young, and the elderly.

Because every bus used takes 40 cars off the road, Nancy Parks, Chair of Sierra Club’s Clean Air Committee reports that “Transit is a necessary component of a healthy city.  It reduces air pollution and improves congestion like no roadway can.” Since 1991, Philadelphia has battled its air pollution in an attempt to lessen ground-level ozone smog that inflames the lungs of the young and the elderly alike. Now, Philadelphia is striving to put new limits on ozone smog and the newest pollutant targeted for combat and control: fine particle soot known as PM 2.5 (particulate matter, 2.5 microns in size).  PM 2.5 is a tiny particle that settles deep into the lungs, aggravating respiratory disease and sickening even healthy people who spend time outdoors. According to Ms. Parks, “Both Ozone and PM 2.5 pollution are strongly represented in the toxic brew of emissions coming from our enormous inventory of motor vehicles. Both gasoline and diesel powered alike.”

Emissions from the thousands of additional automobiles that would be needed to replace current public transit services would drastically affect the air quality in many urban areas. Philadelphia, where air quality is now classified by the EPA as Severe, would take a double hit if public transit does not receive dedicated funding: additional pollution from more vehicles on the road and the curtailment of Federal grants and expenditures that would result from the city’s failure to meet the EPA's Air Quality Conformity criteria. 

Pat Beaudet is chair of the Pennsylvania Chapter's Southeastern Group.