If you’re between the ages of 18 and 34, chances are you care about the transit system in the area you live in. According to a recent study done by the U.S. Bureau of Transportation statistics, 80.5 percent of people in this age group cite local transit as an important feature of the community they live in or would like to live in. Young people want to live in places where they can easily travel to their jobs and visit friends and cosmopolitan areas without having to worry about parking or dealing with traffic congestion. Public transit offers a cheap and efficient alternative to the inconveniences that go along with owning a car in an urban area.
Young people have good reason to be concerned about transit in their area. Transit systems are important for reasons that go beyond convenience. Transit projects not only provide efficient ways to get from place to place, they also provide significant economic benefits to the communities they are a part of. Transit in the United States is currently funded at $26 billion annually, but according to the Center for Transportation Excellence, public transit provides a benefit of $34 billion annually by stimulating community growth and reducing expenses caused from traffic congestion and auto emissions.
On top of the financial benefit, Americans living in transportation intensive metropolitan areas save $22 billion annually in transportation-related personal expenses, such as buying gas or car insurance. As the nationwide economic recovery continues, more jobs are being created, and employees need convenient ways to commute to work. The CTE reported that without public transit systems, 10-million Americans would be without their primary method of transportation in getting to work.
The social justice benefits of public transit are also well-documented. According to the CTE, 93 percent of white households own at least one car and therefore don’t rely on public transit to get to and from work. However, only 83 percent of Hispanic households and 76 percent of African-American households own at least one car. Those who are less likely to own a car are more reliant on public transit for their daily commute. Not having a viable public transit system has a disproportionately negative effect on minorities including Hispanics and African Americans, as their employment is more heavily dependent on access to public transit. On top of that, according to the CTE, 94 percent of Americans on welfare attempting to enter the workforce don’t own a car. To get to their jobs, these Americans would also rely on public transit, making public transit essential for bringing former welfare recipients back into the workforce.
Most young people know that good transit systems have environmental benefits, but many are unaware of the magnitude of these benefits. As public transit systems are alternatives to car ownership, they play a large role in reducing carbon dioxide emissions created by the burning of fossil fuels. In fact, the CTE reported that public transit systems avoid the emission of 126 million pounds of hydrocarbons each year. For a generation that cares greatly about its environmental impact, public transit offers a sensible, cleaner alternative to cars.
Americans can also reduce the amount of gasoline they purchase and consume by using public transportation. Public transportation cuts the amount of gasoline purchased in the United States by 1.5 billion gallons annually, mitigating America’s dependence on oil and reducing the amount of hydrocarbons that are released by burning fossil fuels.
Public transit is an essential aspect of creating a desirable community to live in. Expanding public transit systems provides extraordinary benefits to the people in these communities. Considering the enormous economic, social justice and environmental benefits that viable public transit systems provide, it’s easy to see why young people are passionate about the transit systems in their communities.
This weekend the University’s chapter of College Democrats Committee on Environmental Issues, along with TruMich and the University of Michigan branch of the Roosevelt Institute, will be hosting a conference focusing on transit issues in southeast Michigan. The conference will bring together local politicians, activists, intellectuals and community members to discuss the current state of transit in southeast Michigan, the barriers to its expansion and the role young people can play in shaping the future of public transit.
Jace Morganstein is an LSA Senior. He is co-chair of EnvironDems within the University’s chapter of College Democrats.