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November 2, 2008

Getting There: Bus ridinig trend likely to stick

Mike Prager
Staff writer - Spokesman Review
November 3, 2008

Using mass transit is the single biggest thing the average person can do to slow global warming, a national leader in public transportation said in Spokane last week.

Riding the bus can reduce a person’s “carbon footprint” by two tons a year, said William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

“That’s about 10 percent of the average household’s carbon production,” he told a group of Spokane transit officials.

That’s more of a carbon reduction than can be achieved by replacing conventional light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs, weatherizing a home and getting a new energy-efficient refrigerator, he said.

In a two-adult household with two vehicles, getting rid of one of the two automobiles and using mass transit results in even larger gains while saving $8,000 to $9,000 a year in automobile-related expenses, Millar said.

In addition, using mass transit creates demand for U.S. products.

“The buses you buy are built in America. The people you hire come out of your job market,” Millar said.

Transit is expected to be an important element in future U.S. policy on energy and climate change, he said.

Congress is scheduled to rewrite the federal government’s six-year transportation funding bill starting next year.

Regardless of what happens Tuesday, it seems likely that the federal government will look more favorably at transit to reduce reliance on foreign oil and the increase in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, which scientists say cause climate change.

In Spokane, transit ridership has increased steadily for the past three years. Through September, bus use is up by 19.5 percent over last year. Spokane Transit Authority officials said that the number of rides taken in October is expected to surpass the one million mark for the first time ever.

Ridership nationally increased by 5.2 percent in the first half of 2008, but in cities the size of Spokane and smaller, the use of transit has increased at a faster rate – nationally at 11 percent, Millar said.

Experience in recent years shows that once people switch to transit they often don’t go back to their cars if the transit system meets their commuting needs, Millar said.

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