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Why Buses Are More Sustainable Than Cars

May 19th, 2022

The earliest bus system dates back to Paris, France in 1662 when regularly scheduled horse drawn carriages ran a circuit through the streets of the city. 

Since then, a lot has changed in how people commute and how people travel. Buses are a familiar sight in any major city and nearly every school around the country utilizes buses for transportation. Even more recently, buses have become a popular choice for lower-emissions trips, especially to commuters. 

Here’s why buses have been praised as a sustainable choice in a world of cars, fossil fuels, CO2 and single-occupant vehicles. 

Why are buses good for us and the environment?

They greatly reduce CO2 emissions

Personal vehicles are some of the largest contributors of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in an everyday household. An average household consisting of two cars has three main areas of CO2 emissions: electricity, natural gas and private vehicles. Electricity takes up around 25% of the total emissions, natural gas takes up about 20%, and the remaining 55% is all contributed by personal vehicles. 

Of course, with the rise in personal transportation and the affordability of personal vehicles, it's no wonder that cars are such large contributors to CO2 emissions in today's world. And while there are certainly advances in fuel efficiency and CO2 reduction strategies, the overall number of vehicle miles traveled is still steadily increasing, meaning that overall CO2 emissions from personal vehicles will likely not decrease at the rate we need them to. 

Buses are part of the solution to reduce CO2 emissions from personal vehicles, as they reduce the number of miles driven on a personal vehicle and generate less emissions per passenger.

An average transit bus can fit up to 42 people, which means a full bus can remove 42 single-passenger cars from the road during a commute. A handful of full buses running every 15 minutes or so along one commute route can take up to 168 cars off the road each hour, including those cars' emissions! 

One person who switches from a 20-mile single-occupant vehicle commute to a public transportation commute can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by 20 pounds per day and around 4,800 pounds per year! For that average, two-car household, one switch to public transportation could mean reducing total vehicle emissions by half!

Because of its great effect on vehicle emissions, public transportation has the potential to reduce CO2 emissions by 37 million metric tons each year! 

Buses are more affordable in the long run

Bus fares are relatively affordable for their value. Average bus fares run at around $1.52 per ride, and monthly bus passes cost around an average of $58. 

Take Oklahoma city, for example, as it's portrayed here in this study. The average commute in this city is around 15 miles and the average car gets about 20 miles per gallon driving in the city. If gas costs around $3.25 per gallon (if only!), then each commuter would spend around $5 each day using 1.5 gallons. That's about $25 each week, $100 each month and about $1,200 each year, all just to go to work. If gas is more expensive, then that person would spend even more. 

If one of those commuters would use the bus just twice a week, that person would save around 156 gallons of gas and around $500 per year, not to mention reducing carbon emissions by 40%!

Thanks to public transportation, the United States saves an equivalent of around 11 million gallons of gas per day, amounting to a whopping 4.2 billion gallons of gas each year.

Buses make for cleaner, greener communities

Most buses today are diesel-powered, with a slow introduction of hybrid and electric-powered buses. For the most part, though, buses are powered by fossil fuels and still emit carbon dioxide emissions at a higher rate than vehicles do. 

So, what's the point of using buses, then? If a bus emits more emissions than a car, how can it be more environmentally friendly?

Well, like we said earlier, buses filled with people not driving their personal vehicles can save over four billion gallons of gas per year in this country alone. Buses will run regardless of whether they are full, so opting for a mode of transportation that's already being used, one isn't adding any more emissions to the planet during their commute. 

One of the biggest reasons to advocate for buses, though, is the fuel efficiency. Yes, they emit more CO2, but their fuel efficiency makes them a natural choice for sustainable living thanks to their person-miles per gallon rate. If five people drove their cars 25 miles at about 25 miles per gallon, then each person would emit about one gallon's worth of emissions all on their own. That's five gallon's worth of emissions in total.

If those same people were in a bus going the same route (with a similar miles-per-gallon rate), then those five people would only use one gallon's worth of emissions in total. That takes the gallons-per-person rate from one gallon per person to one-fifth of a gallon per person for the exact same trip! Each person has a lower carbon footprint for that trip because they have collectively used fewer gallons to travel, and that's why buses have better person-miles per gallon rates than single-occupant vehicles!

Communities, then, have a collectively lower carbon footprint when buses are integrated into everyday life. 

Another communal benefit to using buses comes in the form of cleaner streets and faster travel. Fewer cars on the roads means less traffic, and less traffic means there are fewer idling cars, less vehicle emissions and less time on the road. There would be more space for cyclists and pedestrians to travel safely, and people would get to their destinations faster thanks to more open streets. Plus, buses allow passengers to rest on their commutes and are less likely to get into fatal accidents than those driving personal vehicles. The benefits are endless, and the possibilities are limitless. 

Why buses?

So, why do buses play a key role in a sustainable future? Let’s recap the facts. 

  • Buses could reduce carbon emissions by as much as 37 million metric tons per year. 
  • Buses are an affordable and reliable option for commuters.
  • Buses reduce the amount of gas burned by up to 4.2 billion gallons per year.
  • Buses are more fuel-efficient than personal vehicles.
  • Bus riders have a lower carbon footprint per trip.
  • Buses make for cleaner, more open roads with less traffic. 

If you have a bus system in your city, give it a whirl and see how it can not only get you to where you need to go, but how it can connect you to your city in a whole new way. 

Good luck!

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Featured photo courtesy  Pixabay/balticmedia

Author of Article

Colleen Ford is a South African who now lives in Spokane, Washington. She loves to travel, camp (in warm weather) and bake.

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