Sometimes when I’m riding the Metro it occurs to me how remarkable it is that these metal boxes can move hundreds of people simultaneously across the city, underground, faster than any car could. It’s kind of wild if you think about it – and definitely kind of sci-fi if you think about it for too long.
Alas, these days public transportation often doesn’t get the love it deserves. The benefits of public transit get drowned in complaints about service issues or reliability. One of those benefits seems to have been forgotten completely by a lot of people: using public transportation is good for the environment.
It’s particularly vexing to see millennials abandon public transit for Uber and Lyft, as millennials are generally environmentally-conscious in many other ways. They are also the biggest users of car-sharing services, so their choices have significant consequences. While Uber’s convenience is alluring, it’s even worse, environmentally-speaking, than driving your own car (think of all the time the drivers spend driving in circles, waiting for their next fare). Even a pooled ride is not as good for the environment as taking a bus or subway (or, even better, walking or biking).
Public transportation in the U.S. undoubtedly needs more investment to make improvements that will draw more riders; but it also needs more riders to draw more investment. It’s a chicken-and-egg conundrum.
Using public transportation is not just an issue for people who live in cities where public transit is an option; it’s also an important consideration for travelers. Ride-hailing services are available in many parts of the world now, and when you’re in an unfamiliar city, getting a car to take you exactly where you want to go is tantalizingly easy. And I will concede that figuring out public transit can sometimes be intimidating. But I encourage all travelers to give it a try. You can find detailed information online about how to use a city’s subway or bus system, so you can figure it out before you leave home. It will make you feel more like a local as you explore. It’s actually kind of fun. And – best of all – it will reduce the environmental impact of your travels.
If you can’t get around by the power of your own legs, join your fellow humans on trains and buses. Public transportation is important, and it needs our support now if it’s going to be a part of our future.