Dumping the Pump: Opt for Transit on June 21st


The American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) 7th Annual National Dump the Pump Day is this Thursday, June 21st—a day of awareness-raising about how using public transportation such as commuter rail reduces our need to buy gas, thus saving money and reducing our carbon footprint.

The latest APTA Transit Savings Report shows that a two-person household that downsizes to one car can save – on average – about $10,000 a year. Do your own calculation on their transit savings calculator. Or, figure out your carbon savings using public transportation—you’ll discover that you emit about a pound of CO2 per mile with a car that gets 20 MPG!

Dump the Pump Day offers a catchy mantra for everyone who thinks they have to hop into their car to get where they need to go without considering other options.

While gas prices have dropped slightly, they are still averaging over $4 per gallon. Many Americans have no other option besides driving to do their daily rounds—getting back and forth to work, dropping the kids at school or daycare, etc. Efficient and reliable public transportation is not available everywhere and to everyone.

In spite of this, demand for public transportation is sky high partly because of the cost of gas. Now more than ever we need more public transportation service routes and miles.

APTA released a report earlier this month showing that public transportation ridership surged in the first quarter of 2012, as Americans took nearly 2.7 billion trips, an increase of 5% over the first quarter of last year. Several public transport modes saw significantly high increases: light rail use increased by 6.7% and heavy rail use increased by 5.5%. 

“High gas prices were part of the reason for this large first quarter ridership increase,” said APTA President and CEO Michael Melaniphy.  “More and more people are choosing to save money by taking public transportation when gas prices are high.

We face fiscal constrains and budget cuts at all levels of government: local, state and federal, which sends us in a vicious cycle. Elevated gas prices dampen economic growth, which puts a squeeze on budgets, which leads to cuts in public transit. Transit agencies should be increasing services, not cutting them.

The Senate version of the transportation bill, passed in March and now being mulled over in a bi-partisan conference committee, would alleviate this by increasing the amount of funding for transit operating expenses, paying for the labor required to run public transport routes. I think it makes full sense for federal money to go towards transit operating expenses during this time of economic distress to sustain crucial services for both the employed and jobseekers.

Dallas is a shining example of a city that is investing in public transport. They now have the longest light rail network in the country at 72 miles, with 19 more under construction. San Antonio is working to build its first line as well. In fact, as I've written before rail is becoming increasingly popular in the south and west, with popular services now available in Denver and Salt Lake City too. Light rail and bus rapid transit are the fastest growing and dedicated route types in the nation—and they compliment each other nicely.

Another public transportation option is vanpooling. The company vRide, whose logo is “Don’t be an S.O.V. (single occupancy vehicle)” matches up 5-15 people with similar commutes and helps them save time and money by riding together. For more on vRide, here's an interview their spokesperson did with me a couple of weeks ago:

So while it's a time to celebrate public transportation, dumping the pump is about other fuel-saving transportation choices too.

I challenge every reader to pause before you turn your car door key. Take a few deep breaths, repeat the “Dump the Pump” mantra and then consider your options: public transportation, biking, walking, carpooling or telecommuting. You’ll surprise yourself with how many choices you really do have, and how much more you’ll enjoy using them to get around.