Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why I Ride, Part 2- It's Not Easy Being Green

Part two to my slow-news-day series, "Why I Ride". Part 1 available here.

The people reading this blog are likely to be American liberals (not necessarily Americans, but liberals in the American sense rather than the classical one), though I welcome all types here. I, as I state in my profile, am a proud liberal. Anyone who's been on the left-hand side of Western politics has heard a thing or two about global climate change. It is real, it is happening, and we need to do something about it NOW. Most respectable scientists claim that it's not really a matter of IF climate change is happening, but rather of HOW MUCH will happen, and that depends entirely on us. While there are serious structural changes that need to be made in our society before we can truly claim that our economy is sustainable, there are a few things that can be done about the impending global calamity individually and immediately.

One of those is riding the bus.

First of all, public transit is more efficient. Think about how much metal is in your car. Even if you drive a small vehicle, you're probably moving a ton or two of metal for every hundred pounds of person when you drive alone. Filling your car to capacity helps this, but even a 5-person two-ton car doesn't compare to a fully loaded transit bus, with 80 or so souls crammed into it. Add in the fact that RTA has a fully CNG-powered fleet, excepting the cutaway vans, and you can see that operating a bus is better for the environment than driving a car.

Second, the buses will run anyway, whether you're on them or not. The incremental environmental cost of carrying your particular behind is next to nothing when compared to the cost of moving the bus itself. Since the bus is already moving, emitting the pollutants that it does (because they're not completely clean), it makes more sense to fully utilize the capacity of that vehicle, rather than adding another vehicle, with it's own pollutants, to the road.

Third, public transit is more easily converted to alternative fuels than the private vehicle fleet. San Francisco's Muni, as well as Vancouver's TransLink, King County Metro in Seattle and the MBTA in Boston, use electrically-powered trolley buses for their more popular routes. In the cases of San Francisco and Vancouver, this electricity comes primarily from large hydroelectric generating stations, which have their own problems but nevertheless are a renewable source of energy. (I'm not saying Boston's power doesn't, but I don't know.) Nearly every large urban transit agency has some experience with running electrically-powered rail vehicles, be they light rail (like Metro's Blue and Gold lines and Muni's Metro lines), mid-capacity rail (like Vancouver's SkyTrain), or heavy rail (like BART and the Metro Red Line). Contrast this with efforts at getting consumers to convert to electric cars, and you can see how it'd be easier to convert a heavily-used transit system to green power. (And don't talk to me about hybrid cars. Even plug-in hybrids are a stop-gap measure at best. They're more a response to high fuel prices than to green issues.)

In the coming years we will all be called to make changes in our lives to ensure that our civilization may live. Start now, and ride the bus.

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