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Daily transportation and commuting choices have future impact - May 11, 2014

Daily transportation and commuting choices have future impact - May 11, 2014

     In the 1950's the car was synonymous with the United States. As soldiers returned home from World War II, the economy turned from producing war related items to producing items for the more modern consumer based economy we see today. The rate of car ownership skyrocketed as cars became less expensive due to improved manufacturing techniques, an increase in the workforce and cheaper metal due to less competition with the war efforts. Prior to 1950 there were only 25 million cars registered in the United States, but by 1958 that number had increased to over 67 million cars, more than double the amount only a decade prior. Fast forward more than 60 years into the future and by 2011 the amount of cars registered in the U.S. was roughly 253 million, an increase of roughly 3 million new registered cars per year over the past six decades. Globally, the number of cars used worldwide is enormous. In 2010, the number of cars used per year was around 1.015 billion and we can assume that number has increased by several million each year since.
     The need for safe and fast transportation, whether it be for personal or business reasons, is one of the many reasons why there are so many vehicles on our roadways. Unfortunately, the byproducts emitted from our current forms of transportation are becoming increasingly dangerous to our environment, our communities and ourselves. Carbon Dioxide and Carbon Monoxide, along with certain hydrocarbons are problematic greenhouse gasses that are created as byproducts from the current combustion-style engines used in many vehicles today.
      The EPA has found that the average passenger vehicle in America, like a personal car, mini-van or truck, puts out an average of roughly 5.1 metric tons of Carbon Dioxide a year. This number can vary from person to person and country to country based on any number of different factors including how many miles an individual drive, fuel type, fuel economy of the vehicle, city or highway driving and more. However, with over one billion personal vehicles being driven worldwide, it is easy to see why we have seen such a dramatic increase in greenhouse gases globally. As information and awareness about the negative impact of greenhouse gases, smog and air pollution, and the damage done to our environment from fuel extraction becomes more widespread, there has become an increasing movement to steer away from large personal vehicles and use more eco-friendly methods of transport such as public transportation, bikes, electric or hybrid cars or even just walking in our daily lives and in our daily commute.
     In the U.S. alone there is an estimated 128.3 million commuters who must travel to work. While nearly 51% of these individuals only have to travel 1-20 miles to get to work and back home, almost 11% or close to 14 million individuals have to travel 60 miles or more every day for their commute. The individuals who are regularly traveling more than 60 miles a day or more are more likely to drive themselves individually or carpool with fellow co-workers than they are to take public transportation or other methods of transport, mostly due to convince and time considerations or a complete lack of affordable public transportation options.
     Out of all Americans who must commute to work, 75.7% of American commuters drive individual vehicles to and from work, roughly 97 million people, which can  explain why rush hour traffic and smog can get so bad around large cities and urban areas. Carpooling has actually become more popular over the past few years for a number of reasons, with roughly 12 % of Americans carpooling to work everyday as opposed to 10% in 2009. Public transportation, such as buses or subways, are usually more popular in cities and other large urban areas with centrally located populations, however recently there has been a larger push to implement and update public transportation in smaller towns and cities. Out of all Americans, only 4% nationally take public transportation, however in large cities such as Boston or San Francisco, it is around 31%. In New York City alone, nearly 51% of commuters take public transportation to and from work every day.
     While taking public transportation and carpooling is a great alternative to driving individually to work, there are also those who choose to bike, walk, or take some other mode of transportation to and from work everyday. Only 0.38% of Americans bike to work, however that number has been growing steadily over the past few years as many major cities such as New York, San Francisco, Seattle and others have created dedicated bike paths, bike sharing programs and other bike friendly laws and regulations.
     Public transportation, biking, walking and other similar methods of transportation will never be as popular as the personal car, truck or mini-van for many Americans who choose not to live in a city or urban area. Car manufacturers and engineers must work towards designing and building the next generation of alternative energy cars that are safe, reliable and affordable for the public. While our current personal vehicle and fuel needs are inescapable they are also unsustainable. We must use our creativity, technology and ingenuity to make realistic and attainable goals and actions to reduce our carbon footprint, nationally and internationally, throughout the public and private transportation sectors.

Harrison Jackson is the Coastal Stewards Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.


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