It is no secret that much of the United States prefer private to public transportation. Georgians are no different, as we routinely reject expansions to our public transportation infrastructure. Even Gwinnett, which has begun to lean to the left, voted against expanding MARTA to the county.
Georgia’s resistance to investing in public transportation is bad policy and hurts the economy and the environment.
Expanding public transportation will reduce our energy consumption and allow us to live more sustainably. Public transportation decreases energy usage by lessening the need to build more infrastructure and new vehicles. Moreover, a study by ICF International reports that public transportation usage saved 947 million gallons of fuel in 2004 alone.
Public transportation can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve air quality as well. According to the Federal Transit Authority, transportation accounts for a sizable 29% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, highlighting the impact cleaner modes of transportation could have for sustainability efforts. Compared to an average single occupancy vehicle, heavy transit systems generate 76% less greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, because many public transit systems are powered by electricity, they often do not emit greenhouse gasses at all.
As Carol Cotton, head of the Traffic Safety Research and Evaluation Group and part-time assistant research scientist at the University of Georgia, explains, public transportation can reduce carbon emissions and congestion on our roadways.
“Public transportation is very good for sustainability and for relieving congestion,” Cotton said. “So it was surprising, I would say, that the resources are not going to be put forth for public transportation. It’s not something we can do without for much longer in the United States.”
Beyond the environmental impacts, greater public transportation infrastructure could spur economic activity and growth. Public transportation can also increase productivity, encourage private investment and raising property values. Labor markets can benefit as well from the relatively well-paying jobs and the improved ability for lower-income people to deal with “spatial mismatch.”
Qi Ren, a senior accounting major from Savannah, enjoys the easy transportation that the UGA provides and wishes that his hometown could offer something similar.
“All of the UGA buses are relatively fast,” he said. “The public transportation [in Savannah] is much less frequent. I’m from a suburb, so we don’t have many buses. I think Athens is a lot better.”
Public transportation offers Georgia a way to become more sustainable, increase economic activity, and make Georgians’ lives more convenient. It is time for us to put aside our reservations and invest in improving our public transit systems.