Wednesday, July 21, 2010


Subject: Public Transportation. So many countries in the world advocate it. Mostly because it's supposedly more cost efficient, and uses a lot less oil. Greenie tree huggers also support this idea.

Question: Is it really that big of a deal?

Now, I do understand the Rush hour traffic part. Fifty people riding on one bus in the morning to work, and in the afternoon from work will obviously use a lot less gas, and emit a lot less CO2 into the air than fifty separate cars all driving on the same road at the same time. That totally makes sense. One vehicle versus fifty.

BUT, busses don't just run twice a day, do they? And people don't just use them to go to work and back. People use busses and subways and all manner of public transport to do all sorts of stuff. They need to run to the store, or go to the mall with friends, or visit the doctor's office. But not everyone needs to buy groceries at the exact same time. And not everyone goes shopping with friends at the exact same time. In fact, stores would be unbearable if they did.

So, because they don't all go at the same time, the only way to make a bus system even remotely useful is to have schedules, where certain vehicles go on certain routes at certain times a day. Some places, where busses aren't a main way to get around, only have a few stops, and a few times a day where they stop. But places that advocate more public transport have more busses running at more times in more places.

Which brings me to the question... If you have fifty busses in a town running in a circular route over and over and over again literally ALL DAY, is it really still better than people using their own cars, or does the constant repetition and non-stop driving offset the bonuses that are gotten during rush hour?

I'm not actually advocating one answer or the other. I really just want to know. But I'm phrasing it like this because every other thing I've ever read about public transport is all sorts of googly eyed about the environmental benefits, and I really honestly wonder if they even know what they're talking about.

Because when people run to the store in their car, they drive down, turn the car off to go in, drive home, and then turn the car off again. Yes there are lots of people doing it at once, and that does use a lot of fuel. But when you take a bus at a non-rush hour time, there's what, like five people on it at any given time anyway? Sometimes more, sometimes less, but it's only really full at certain times of day. And then, when the bus drops you off at the store, it doesn't turn off while you're in there and wait for you. It keeps on driving round and round, bringing other people to and from the same store ALL DAY.

So the constant driving is one factor. Another one is the time. With a bus or a train, there are loads of stops, because obviously not everyone is going to the same place at the same time. With stop and go motion, it can take an hour to ride the bus to some place that would literally only take 20 minutes to drive to in a car. (Walmart in Orem from BYU *cough cough*)

Does the benefit of carrying a few more people at a time actually offset the longer drive? During Rush hour, yes. As I said, when you've got the whole bus full, and they're all going to the same general area at the same general time, then of course that's going to be better than having as many cars all trying to drive there together. But when it's three people going to walmart, and another two going on to UVU, is the system justified? Is it really better?

On a different note, I realize this is a college town, and there are tons of people who don't have cars. I was one of them for 4 years. And we would have been stuck without food quite a few times without the busses. But I'm not really talking about the overall benefit of having a bus system. I'm just wondering if using them over personal cars is really any more environmentally friendly.

And, like I said before, I'm not actually advocating that they are or aren't. I'm simply posing the questions that keep occurring to me. Seriously, if anyone knows stats or something, I would be interested to know.

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