Workshop at Center Highlights Benefits of Public Transportation, Ways Transit Systems Can Collaborate to Offer Better Service

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 7, 2011

Nearly 20 transportation directors and other transit professionals discussed ways to offer more services at the Transportation Workshop: “Breaking down Barriers to Collaboration in Public Transportation” February 16 at the Center for the Environment facility on the Catawba College campus.  They also learned more about the economic development, health, environmental and cost benefits of public transportation.

Center Executive Director John Wear facilitated the meeting, which was spearheaded by directors of the CK RIDER and Cabarrus County transit systems. “It is our great pleasure to assist the transit systems in the area as they determine better ways to communicate and collaborate to address our regional transit needs,” Wear says. “We will continue to work with them to facilitate this process.”

The directors discussed the need for a regional marketing program and a regional mobility manager, both of which would enhance area public transit.

Shelia Armstrong, the Center’s air quality outreach coordinator, told the group that an estimated 50,000 vehicles a day commute from Cabarrus County into the Charlotte metropolitan area. Emissions from cars and trucks are the primary source of ground-level ozone, and ozone is the predominant cause of air pollution in this area.

Public transportation has multiple benefits, Armstrong said: It saves money, reduces fuel consumption, provides economic opportunities, reduces air pollution and lessens our carbon footprint.

Cost Benefits

The cost benefits are considerable. Americans travel more than 40 billion miles on transit each year, reducing traffic congestion. In fact, without public transportation, congestion costs would be $13.7 billion higher, according to the American Public Transportation Association.


In addition, “Americans living in areas served by public transportation save 646 million hours in travel time and 398 million gallons of fuel each year in congestion reduction alone,” Armstrong said. This amounts to a savings of about $1.2 billion.


Riding public transportation saves individuals on average $9,600 a year. “The average household spends 18 cents of every dollar on transportation,” she said. “A total of 94 percent of this goes to buying, maintaining and operating cars, the single largest expenditure after housing.”

Health Benefits

Not only is riding the bus 170 times safer than auto travel; riding public transit lessens air pollution, which impacts health. Air pollution causes 70,000 deaths in the United States each year – twice the number caused by traffic accidents. It is associated with multiple respiratory ailments, like asthma, chronic bronchitis and even lung cancer. It also has been linked to heart problems and Hodgkin’s disease.


Armstrong told the group that during the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, expanded transportation services reduced morning peak auto use by 22.5 percent and therefore reduced vehicle emissions. The result was a 44 percent reduction in asthma-related medical visits among HMO enrollees.


In the Charlotte-Gastonia-Salisbury metropolitan area, which has a total population of over 2.3 million, nearly 190,000 children and adults suffer from asthma.


Economic Development Benefits

Armstrong noted that public transportation in North Carolina is a $250 million industry, employing more than 5,000 people, according to the N.C. Public Transportation Association.


Environmental Benefits

Individuals who ride public transit have a bigger impact on air pollution than they might think. “For each vehicle we take off the road for just one day, we can decrease our air pollution by approximately one ton annually,” Armstrong said. “This is for a person who typically drives about 40 miles a day.”

Each mile driven is equal to one pound of pollution, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Compared with private vehicles, public transportation produces, on average, per passenger mile: 95 percent less carbon monoxide, 92 percent fewer volatile organic compounds, 45 percent less carbon dioxide and 48 percent less nitrogen oxide.

Larry Kopf, manager of service development in the Charlotte Area Transit System, said the meeting helped to connect the multiple transit providers in the area. “When most of us in the business think of transportation, we’re concentrating on our own county or own city,” he said, “but citizens don’t live their lives based on the borders. We all go across the borders into other counties and different cities all the time.

“So seeing who some of the other providers are and determining how we might be able to cooperate to help people get across some of these boundaries is important,” Kopf said. “I think there could be some practical applications that we might be able to come up with that will help people get around better.”


The Center for the Environment at Catawba College was founded in 1996 to provide education and outreach centered on prevalent environmental challenges and to foster community-oriented sustainable solutions that can serve as a model for programs throughout the country.