The case for public transit

Happy commuters

Courtesy Gracey Stinson


by Marilyn Skolnick

According to AAA, the average annual cost of owning and operating an automobile is $5,648. This figure takes into account the cost of fuel, maintenance, tires, insurance, license registration fees and taxes, and depreciation.

If you commute to work by car, you can figure about $52.20 in total vehicle expenses per 100 miles.

If that seems like a lot, public transportation should seem a bargain. But despite these facts and figures, public transit is still seen by many as a luxury that we can live without.

If you're not concerned about the cost of owning a car, consider the bigger picture:

  • Americans spend over $1,000,000 per minute to purchase foreign oil, making oil consumption a significant part of our nation’s trade deficit.
  • Economic studies have shown that capital investments in transit and funding of transit operations are much better sources of long-term job creation than the building of new highways.
  • Permanent jobs related to transit create an increase in tax and sales revenue for local communities. 
  • Every dollar that taxpayers invest in public transportation generates $6 or more in economic returns. Source: American Public Transportation Association study
  • 77 percent of New Economy companies rated access to mass transit as an extremely important factor in selecting corporate locations. Source: Survey  by Jones Lang LaSalle.  
  • 94 percent of welfare recipients attempting to move into the workforce rely on public transit. Source: American Public Transportation Association study
  • Taking a different route

Money aside, consider the effects that our cars and trucks have on the environment:

  • Motor vehicles are the largest source of urban air pollution, generating more than 2/3 of the carbon monoxide in the atmosphere, 1/3 of nitrogen oxides (which react to form smog), and 1/4 of the hydrocarbons (which also form smog).
  • Runoff from roads, bridges, parking lots, and other impervious surfaces can pollute drinking water and lead to changes in water chemistry that degrade habitat quality.
  • Leaking underground gasoline storage tanks contaminate groundwater.
  • Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is the largest contributor to climate change and the transportation sector is one of the largest sources of CO2. The U.S. is responsible for 9% of the world's total CO2 emissions.
  • The network of roadways all over the U.S. has fragmented much of the remaining wildlife habitat into small patches. Habitat destruction is threatening 80% of the species listed under the federal Endangered Species Act.

By creating compact communities that locate jobs close to housing, we could make more efficient use of our public transit. Integrated with land use planning, public transportation could enhance the quality, livability, and character of our local communities.

Marilyn Skolnick serves as co-chair of the Chapter's transportation and land use committe.

Published July 2007