Time to Pump Up Transit


Dump the pump. Save money. Ride transit.

That's the message for Dump the Pump Day tomorrow, an annual event promoted by our friends at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) -- of which NRDC is a proud partner. On this day people who typically drive are encouraged to forego high gas prices and traffic jams by taking transit to work or wherever they want to go.

I'm lucky that I live close to a Metro station so I can conveniently commute to work by  train. Every day I get to dump the pump! And more and more Americans are doing the same, as evidenced by transit ridership rising to levels not seen since the 1950's.

In addition to the time saved by avoiding congested roads, APTA’s most recent Transit Savings Report shows that households can save on average nearly $9,800 a year when they “dump the pump” and take public transit instead. Check out APTA's cool fuel savings calculator to see how much you can save by taking transit instead of driving.

For those reasons, it should be no surprise then that people everywhere love transit. APTA's recent public opinion survey proves that there is growing support for an already strong majority of people in favor of expanding public transportation. The survey, Americans Support for Public Transportation, shows that nearly 74 percent of respondents favor using tax dollars to create, expand and improve public transportation in their community -- that's up from 69 percent last year.

That mirrors NRDC's own nationwide poll last year which found that 63 percent (more than three in five Americans) would rather address traffic by improving public transportation (42 percent) or developing communities where people do not have to drive as much (21 percent) – as opposed to building new roads, an approach preferred by only one in five Americans (20 percent).

"This survey provides evidence that there's growing support for an already strong majority in favor of expanding public transportation," said APTA President Michael Melaniphy.

Over the years, APTA and transit experts have called on lawmakers to fund public transportation improvement projects. They argue that walkability and access to rail and bus services are key factors for helping boost local economies. An APTA study released earlier this year found that communities in Boston, Chicago, Phoenix, Minneapolis-St. Paul and San Francisco had retained or improved their property values mostly due to their proximity to transit corridors.

Obviously, NRDC agrees with APTA about the importance of providing Americans with more transportation choices, in large part by expanding public transit to make it a more accessible, convenient alternative to driving. But so does the conservative Free Congress Foundation, which just released a new report calling on America to get serious about investing in transit in metropolitan areas.

The Free Congress Foundation has a Center for Transportation which advocates for pro-transit policies. Here is an excerpt from its website:

American transportation is a system in crisis. Congestion, lack of resources, and infrastructure problems are just a few of the obstacles impeding the efficient delivery of people and goods in many urban and rural areas around the country. Our transportation networks need to be rebalanced and modernized to fit current demand...The Free Congress Foundation Center for Transportation believes we must seek solutions that provide maximum choices for the traveling public. Those choices are impaired by traffic congestion, inefficiency of public transportation and crumbling infrastructure and roads. The Free Congress Foundation will offer proactive solutions consistent with our conservative principles.

In its statement of principles, the foundation insists -- just as NRDC does -- that "the public should have available alternative means of travel from which to choose."

In the book A World Made by Hand a character says this about what the previous generation wrought: "The car wrecked the southland. It wrecked Atlanta worse than Sherman ever did. It paved over my Virginia. They made themselves slaves to the car and everything connected with it, and it destroyed them in the end. Well, here's to the New South. May it rest in peace."

I thought of that sentiment when I read in the New Congress Foundation report [PDF] that young, educated people now flocking to our cities are demanding better transit options. Whereas the returns on investment in highways are declining, transit investment offers substantial economic benefits to metro areas. As the report's author notes, following World War II there was a "flight to the suburbs" but now we're seeing a return to the cities. The new urban residents of the 21st century economy want "walkable communities, social and cultural amenities and good public transportation services that will enable them to access all the opportunities that vibrant central cities have to offer." That certainly comports with what's happening in places like Charlotte, North Carolina, where a grassroots campaign fueld by local college students just persuaded the city council to vote for an expansion of the streetcar line. 

Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that a right-leaning think tank is embracing public transportation. After all, what's more conservative than a return to America's rail-loving roots when cities thrived on transit? 

And what's more American than reducing our nation's oil dependence by leaving the car at home and taking transit? Public transportation use saves the equivalent of 900,000 automobile fill-ups every day, according to APTA, which is 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually.

On this, people across the political spectrum can agree: Dump the pump!