Our transportation choices obviously have a major impact on the environment, so what can we do to lessen our impact on the planet and reduce our dependence on oil?
The Federal Transit Agency(USA) reports, “Americans lose more than 1.6 million hours a day stuck in traffic. Without transit, the nation’s $40 billion in annual traffic congestion losses would be $15 billion higher. In fact, if all the Americans who take
transit to work decided to drive, their cars would circle the Earth with a line of traffic 23,000 miles long.”
Long-distance trains, so-called “heavy rail,” are making a comeback, despite setbacks. Amtrak in USA, as a whole has lost about $25 billion since it was created in 1971, a staggering sum until you consider the $40 billion annually spent on highways.
Rapid-transit ferries can compete with cars in commuting times. The city of Sydney, Australia, for instance, makes major use of ferryboat commuting, as does Hong Kong, Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia. There are some environmental problems and some
cost issues with ferries, but, overall, when you have feasible water routes, it’s a great mode of transport.
Biking is also gaining in popularity, for health, for its environmental benefits and to eliminate auto-related costs. The National Personal Transportation Survey found that approximately 40 percent of all trips are less than two miles in length—which represents
a 10-minute bike ride or a 30-minute walk. Fifty-four percent of all commuters live within 10 miles of their worksite—making their commute time by bike or car just about the same.
Employers also benefit, because studies show that people who bike to work are more productive and take less time off for illness. Bikers cut down on an employer’s need to subsidize employee parking, and exercise tends to make workers more alert.
Europe is showing the way forward in many ways.
European car-free zones have become very successful. Sixty cities have declared that they’re going to make their centers car-free. Britain has developed a car-free day, which is supported by 75 percent of the British public. Similar ideas have spread to
Central and South America. In some places, such as Athens or Singapore, because of pollution problems, you can drive only every other day (license plates ending in an odd number one day, even the next), and London now is charging cars a hefty fee to enter
the city center. In Copenhagen, Denmark, 30 to 40 percent of commuters get to work by bicycle.