Why is Public Transport Better for the Environment? The Truth Revealed

Apr 23, 2024 | Transport

Imagine a world where the air is fresher and the streets are less crowded. Public transport may be the key to this more sustainable future.

Across cities and towns, public transportation systems stand as pivotal infrastructure, not only moving people but also mitigating environmental impact.

From buses to subways, these community lifelines reduce the carbon footprint by limiting reliance on individual cars.

In this article, we explore the multifaceted role of why is public transport better for the environment and how it is helping to preserve our planet, by examining its invaluable benefits to the environment, urban landscapes, and society at large.

Join us in uncovering how embracing public transportation can lead to:

  • cleaner air,
  • less congestion,
  • energy conservation,
  • healthier urban environments,
  • and even economic gains, as we delve into strategies that make cities more habitable and preserve the ecological balance of our planet.

Why is Public Transport Better for the Environment? The Benefits of Public Transport

Public transport offers a myriad of environmental benefits that extend far beyond the reduction of personal carbon footprints.

Embracing public transport not only chips away at carbon emissions but also weaves a stronger social fabric by connecting people to essential services, fostering community engagement, and shoring up economic growth.

When we consider the environmental impact of transport, the role of public transport systems cannot be overstated.

Replacing car journeys with bus or train travel can lead to a 42% reduction in CO2 emissions for buses and an even more impressive 73% when travelling by train.

This significant cutback in harmful emissions is a key factor in the push towards achieving net zero emissions goals.

But the advantages of public transport don’t end with environmental gains. It also reaches into rural communities, offering residents access to vital services such as healthcare that might otherwise be out of reach.

Enhancing both the accessibility and affordability of public transportation can drive positive socioeconomic changes.

These range from increased wages and job creation to improved social connections, a decrease in loneliness, and an opportunity for enhanced physical activity, thereby supporting an overall upliftment in quality of life.

Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Adopting public transportation as a primary mode of travel has powerful implications for the fight against climate change.

It is a potent tool in reducing CO2 emissions, offering a 45% decrease compared to driving alone. This translates to saving an astonishing 37 million metric tons of carbon annually in the U.S.

The impact is just as significant on Scotland’s roads, where one double-decker bus equates to the removal of 75 cars.

Passenger-kilometre emissions analyses demonstrate a sharp contrast between the carbon footprints of buses and trains compared to that of private vehicles.

Buses can cut greenhouse gas emissions by two-thirds per passenger kilometre, proving indispensable in our endeavour to curb climate change.

Given that over a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the transport sector, shifting commuters from cars to public transit is a critical step in lowering global emissions.

The Pros and Cons of Demand Responsive Transport: A Comprehensive Analysis

With more individuals taking the bus or train, fewer greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere, making a noticeable difference in efforts to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Improving Air Quality

Air quality is yet another beneficiary of expansive and effective public transportation systems.

Public transit’s contribution to reduced CO2 emissions, by up to 45%, can lead to a decrease in pollutants that spoil the air we breathe.

By producing fewer emissions per passenger-kilometer, public transit helps maintain healthier urban atmospheres.

Cities that integrate high-quality public transit systems witness residents owning fewer vehicles and depending less on personal driving.

With half as many kilometres driven, public transit use soars, resulting in a palpable improvement in urban air quality.

Regional plans that prioritize transit development have been shown to significantly prevent premature deaths and cut down on health costs by cutting back on traffic-related air pollution.

Lower vehicle counts on the roads equate to lesser air pollution. In turn, this contributes to a more breathable, cleaner urban environment, which not only benefits our lungs but also contributes to a more aesthetic and pleasant living space.

Reducing Traffic Congestion

Traffic congestion is a pervasive issue plaguing cities around the world, leading to lost time, increased stress for drivers, and a surge in greenhouse gas emissions.

However, the adoption of public transportation holds the promise of significantly reducing these congestion-related problems.

Decreasing the Number of Private Vehicles on the Road

One of the most effective ways to combat traffic jams is to decrease the number of private vehicles on the road. Public transportation plays a pivotal role in this endeavour.

By offering efficient and reliable alternatives to car travel, people are enticed to leave their vehicles at home, thus reducing the overall volume of traffic.

For example, cities that have invested in robust public transport networks often experience a marked reduction in CO2 emissions—by as much as 50%.

Transitioning to public transport can lead to a staggering up to two-thirds reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per passenger per kilometre when compared to private vehicles.

Encouraging this shift not only helps clear our roads but also alleviates the environmental burden.

Governments and city planners have successfully nudged urban populations toward mass transit options by creating policies that limit private car use—such as congestion pricing, restricted traffic zones, and prioritizing road space for buses and bikes—which reinforces the environmental and congestion-reducing benefits.

Efficient Use of Road Space

Allocating road space intelligently is vital for creating efficient urban transit systems that contribute to reduced traffic congestion and environmental impact.

Reallocating road space for public transit, as well as for cyclists and pedestrians, has demonstrated its effectiveness across various European cities, resulting in a decrease in vehicle kilometres travelled.

This approach doesn’t just cut back on greenhouse gas emissions—it also maintains, and sometimes even improves, traffic speeds for remaining road users.

In the U.S., designated transit lanes have enhanced the reliability and speed of public transport, which, in turn, boosts ridership and improves the overall traffic flow.

Such measures, complemented with improvements in cycling infrastructure and pedestrian pathways, prompt a behavioural shift where citizens increasingly opt for these greener modes of travel.

The Cost of Congestion: The Economic Impact of Transport Problems

Vancouver’s modelling suggests that investing in public transit and a built environment that supports active transportation—coupled with road network tweaks—can keep vehicle travel constant despite population growth and cut GHG emissions in the transport sector by 15% by 2050.

A well-thought-out urban design that amps up transit stop access, density near transit routes, connectivity to key destinations, and overall ride comfort significantly contributes to the increased use of public transportation.

The more appealing public transit becomes, the more people are inclined to ditch their cars for their daily commute, thereby easing road congestion and reducing their environmental impact.

Decreasing Energy Consumption

Efficient public transport systems can lead to substantial energy savings and minimize the environmental footprint of our daily commutes.

Trains, known for their ability to move a large number of passengers at once, stand out as particularly energy-efficient.

This efficiency comes from the fact that the same amount of energy is used whether a train is full or not, so when it is filled with passengers, the energy consumed per person plummets drastically.

When comparing the energy consumption of different modes of transport, a robust public transport network consistently comes out on top for energy efficiency.

Investments in public transportation can also alleviate the consumption of non-renewable resources, such as rare earth minerals crucial for vehicle electrification.

TransLink’s modelling suggests that strategic enhancements to public transit infrastructure could halve emissions.

Implementing road pricing and upgrading urban designs have been tied to declines in total vehicle kilometres travelled, indirectly contributing to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over time.

The phenomenon is evidenced by cities that have reallocated road space—that was previously dominated by personal vehicles—to public transit and active travel.

This transition is a win-win, as it not only reduces traffic volumes but does so without major drawbacks to traffic flow.

In making public transport more accessible and affordable, there is a domino effect of benefits—reduced emissions, wage boosts, job creation, enhanced physical activity, stronger social connections, and decreased loneliness among urban dwellers.

Transitioning to Greener Vehicles

Public transport is evolving fast, with environmental consciousness driving the transition to greener vehicles and strongly supporting the argument for why is public transport better for the environment over traditional transport.

Cities such as Amsterdam have made strides by incorporating electric buses into their fleets, yielding a significant dip in emissions and notably fresher air quality.

These shared mobility solutions are amongst the greenest transportation options when at full capacity.

Hybrid technology, like that used by Coca-Cola’s delivery trucks, is showing promise in the quest for greener engines, boasting a 30% fuel efficiency increase and a corresponding emission reduction.

Public transport authorities are not falling behind, with entities like TfGM embracing diesel-electric hybrid buses and even fully electric buses.

Evidence of the eco-friendliness of public transport comes from the US EPA Automotive Trends Report, which highlights that on a per-passenger mile basis, a fully occupied bus can emit notably less CO2 than a car with only one occupant.

Moves like these from public transport authorities articulate a strong commitment to lowering the carbon footprint of our daily journeys.

Empowering Communities with Rural Transport Solutions

Encouraging Active Travel

Incorporating active modes of travel like walking and cycling into our routines can not only bolster personal health but also contribute to environmental conservation.

For instance, the average person can achieve half of their recommended weekly exercise by simply walking to and from the bus stop.

Public transportation not only serves as a connector to active travel but also performs well on the environmental scale—local bus journeys emit just over half the greenhouse gases compared to a single-occupancy car trip.

Further plans to roll out electric and hydrogen buses promise to slice bus emissions down even more.

However, tackling transport emissions requires more than just cleaner buses; it calls for fundamental structural changes that advocate for responsible, eco-friendly choices.

Implementation of urban planning measures, such as low-speed zones for cars and the construction of dedicated bike lanes, can revamp streetscapes, making them safer and more inviting spaces for walking and cycling.

This can then encourage a healthy, active lifestyle alongside environmental stewardship.

Promoting Sustainable Cities

Public transport plays a critical role in promoting sustainability and fostering the development of eco-friendly cities worldwide.

Buses, trams, and trains are not just modes of transit; they serve as the arteries of a healthy urban environment, pulsing with benefits both for the planet and the populace.

The capacity of public transport to reduce greenhouse gas emissions per passenger, per kilometre, compared to private vehicles, is staggering—up to two-thirds less.

This represents a significant step towards the decarbonization of the economy and alignment with climate change objectives.

The adoption of public transportation correlates strongly with a myriad of societal enhancements.

Lower traffic fatality rates, improved air quality, and increased physical activity are just a few of the tangible benefits. It broadens access to jobs, education, and urban services, creating a ripple effect that promotes equitable and sustainable growth within city bounds.

Experts agree that to limit global warming to a crucial 1.5 degrees C, doubling global public transport capacity by 2030 is essential.

This not only demonstrates the pressing need for substantial infrastructure development efforts but also spotlights the sector’s paramount role in mitigating the severe impacts of climate change.

Making the switch from private to public vehicles is more than just an eco-friendly decision; it’s a sustainable lifestyle choice that encourages both physical and mental well-being.

Utilisation of public transport helps societies inch closer to environmental targets, fostering urban centres where clean air, green living, and community health become the norm rather than the exception.

Enhancing Access to Transit

Public transport is a powerful catalyst for social equity, facilitating affordable and independent access to essential services and opportunities for diverse populations.

Newcomers, women, seniors, and individuals with mobility challenges stand to gain immensely from improved transit networks.

Access to public transport in rural and isolated regions bridges crucial gaps, connecting residents to healthcare and other vital services.

Investing in public transportation infrastructure can yield remarkable dividends: lower emissions, higher wages, job opportunities, increased social interaction, and a reduction in societal isolation.

As a bonus, these improvements catapult physical activity and communal health to new heights, enhancing the overall quality of life.

Transport Economics Unveiled: From Theory to Real-World Applications

Notably, in almost half of the world’s nations, transportation is the most energy-intensive sector, underscoring the urgency of prioritizing the expansion of affordable public transit solutions. Doing so is imperative not only in the fight against the climate crisis but also in the battle against inequality.

Preserving Green Spaces

Choosing public transport over private vehicles is vital in the effort to combat climate change and safeguard the environment.

Public transit is proven to cut CO2 emissions significantly, with some urban areas reporting up to a 50% decrease following initiatives aimed at reducing reliance on private cars.

The overwhelming emissions from private vehicles leave a hefty carbon footprint, affecting both air quality and the integrity of our cities’ green spaces.

An increased dependence on public transport for daily urban trips helps to preserve the environments we cherish, mitigate climate change, and cultivate healthier lifestyle choices.

Environmental experts like Peep Mardiste of the Estonian Green Movement highlight the relationship between thriving public transport systems and the stewardship of natural spaces.

Through the thoughtful promotion of public transit, cities can not only decrease their environmental impact but also create regions rich in biodiversity and greenery, benefitting all forms of life within their realms.

Economic and Social Benefits

Public transport isn’t just a means to an end; it is a pivotal component in creating inclusive, thriving communities.

When public transit systems are improved, we lay the groundwork for a cascade of positive economic and social impacts that reverberate throughout societies.

It starts with emissions: enhancing public transportation can lead to a significant decrease in harmful emissions.

Meanwhile, economic incentives like increased wages and employment opportunities sprout along transit corridors, further invigorating local economies.

The fabric of societies is strengthened with the increase in physical activity and improved social connections that accompany regular public transit use, addressing issues such as loneliness and societal isolation.

As we delve into these multi-dimensional benefits, it becomes evident that well-established public transport systems serve as much more than practicality; they are the cornerstone for equitable and sustainable cities of the future.

Saving Money on Fuel

Fuel expenses are a heavy burden on household budgets, but the benefits of public transportation offer a welcome relief.

The transition of public buses to alternative, cleaner fuels such as Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) has proven not only environmentally advantageous but also economically wise.

The data speaks loudly: such conversions have slashed greenhouse gas emissions by 1,870 metric tons while unlocking substantial cost savings.

Collectively, public transportation use saves the U.S. an astronomical 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline each year. That’s a daily sparing of over 11 million gallons, equivalent to 300,000 fewer car fill-ups every single day.

With these impressive figures in mind, it’s clear that escalated public transit adoption isn’t only a reduction in air pollution; it’s direct financial savings for the average citizen.

The trend of incorporating green energy into public transit fleets is on the rise. By 2009, 29% of America’s public buses embraced cleaner-burning alternative fuels, highlighting a conscious move towards both environmental and economic sustainability.

Boosting Local Economies

The value of public transport extends far beyond its immediate environmental benefits; it is an indispensable economic engine for local communities.

Is Demand Responsive Transport the Future?

Access to reliable public transit opens a treasure trove of work opportunities across a variety of sectors, increasing the flow of income and stability in the community.

This accessibility breeds increased social and cultural exchange, enriching local culture and fostering a sense of community belonging.

Take working parents, for example – with dependable public transportation, they can manage their schedules more effectively, gaining priceless additional moments with their families.

This bolstered quality of life extends into the local economy, as businesses thrive from a reliable customer base and employees with enhanced well-being.

In essence, public transit is the lifeblood of the urban area, ensuring a dynamic, connected, and economically buoyant society.

Improving Quality of Life

A robust public transportation system offers a prescription for healthier, happier communities. Beyond its prowess in reducing emissions, it has been found to catalyze a ripple of life-quality enhancements.

The access to increased job opportunities leads to higher wages. Employment spikes in areas well-served by public transport, fostering a broader tax base and better services.

The realm of public transport also acts as a social mixer, bringing together individuals from diverse backgrounds and promoting greater physical activity as part of the daily routine.

Indeed, the extended reach of transit networks into rural areas connects individuals to critical services like healthcare while curbing emissions and reducing the overall carbon footprint.

When public transport options grow to be more accessible and affordable, the doors open wider to mobility, economic prospects, health improvements, and more profound environmental stewardship.

The wheels of public buses and trains don’t just transport individuals – they carry forward a vision of communal well-being and environmental consciousness.

The layout of these benefits in both economic and social light paints a clear picture of the vital role public transport plays in nurturing environmental health and social prosperity.

Its broad-reaching influence is undeniable, marking public transit systems not only as a greener choice but as a driving force for quality-of-life improvements and economic vitality.


In this article, we explored why is public transport better for the environment.

Public transport plays a vital role in nurturing environmental health, social prosperity, and a greener future.

At Road XS we’ve been developing demand responsive transport (DRT) technology to assist services deployed to demand and reduce dead stops on traditional fixed bus routes but provide greater convenience to passengers so that the use their cars less and less.

This is a huge step forward not only for public transport operators but anyone operating in the community transport arena and even commercial areas as they all benefit from the technology.

To learn more about our technology and how we’re doing our best to help the environment, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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