Cities Move Toward Renewable Power for Transit

This edition of Green Gazette includes updates on U.S. cities’ conversion from petroleum power to green options for municipal transit, butterfly garden certification programs, and more.

Photo by Getty Images/Spondylolithesis

The transportation sector — made up of the fossil-fueled planes, trains, and automobiles that transfer us to and fro — is the biggest contributor to U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. So, in some cities, businesses and local officials are attempting to lower those emissions as well as ease traffic by implementing various public transportation programs — many of which rely on existing infrastructure, rather than the brand-new frameworks required for high-speed rails.

Accessible Transit

In late 2019, the Kansas City, Missouri, city council and Mayor Quinton Lucas unanimously voted to make transit free to ride, becoming the first major U.S. city to pilot free fare. Their decision aims to make transit accessible to all who live in the city, and they believe that the policy will have an especially profound impact on passengers living paycheck to paycheck. Previously, 25 percent of passengers, including veterans and students, were riding free of charge; now, all riders will have more guaranteed access to jobs, education, and health care farther from home. The move could reduce congestion and emissions from private vehicles, and, according to the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, research shows local tax revenue will increase from the boost in economic activity caused by people’s newfound mobility. Zero-fare transport will cost Kansas City $8 million, which the city manager will recover by redirecting funds from the city budget, as part of the council’s resolution to fund changes that will improve equity, safety, capacity, and efficiency.

Cities are also using bus-only streets and dedicated bus lanes to increase ridership and decrease emissions. New York City banned private vehicles during peak hours on 14th Street, a major throughway, creating a “busway” that allows public transportation and pedestrians to proceed unimpeded by congestion. Such lanes boost the speed and ease with which a bus can transport passengers, increasing efficiency without requiring adjustments to the city’s infrastructure. The UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies report “Best Practices in Implementing Tactical Transit Lanes” says such lanes can reduce peak congestion times by 20 to 28 percent, and dramatically decrease variability in travel times, making the system more reliable for riders.

Innovative Energy

Electrified transit is another strategy a number of cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle, have investigated. The public transportation agency in Long Beach, California, is trying a ground charging pad that uses inductive charging to power up buses from below while they idle. The boost gives the buses a greater range throughout the day, which Long Beach Transit (LBT) Executive Director Mike Gold says has helped them expand the city’s electrified transit faster. “We’re really proud that we’re on the forefront of battery electric and zero-emission tech. Long Beach has the second-largest port in the country, so the people we serve are impacted by the emissions that come from the port and freeways. We don’t want to be contributing to the pollution that’s already occurring here, so that’s why we’re testing these and wanting to get to a zero-emissions fleet.”

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