Explores different environmental factors and how transit is involved.
How much of an environmental impact are we having?
Most of us know that by taking the bus or Light Rail Transit (LRT) instead of driving, we can substantially cut down on pollution. It is estimated that we can reduce our environmental footprint by 28% in terms of lower greenhouse gas emissions per trip taken by car versus transit. Using public transportation can have an even bigger impact on the environment when we encourage more effective and environmentally friendly land use. A transit-oriented city usually has a more compact urban design. This can mean less vehicle travel and more efficient, better performing routes. In larger cities, the environmental impact from transportation through improved land use can be several times that of the direct environmental impact of taking cars off of roads. Transit is a catalyst that helps achieve this substantial improvement in environmental sustainability outcomes.
What are the costs of not knowing our environmental impact?
A clear understanding of current energy use is essential for Edmonton. The upcoming Alberta Climate Leadership Plan will implement a carbon tax which is estimated to cost Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) $4 –$6 million per year based on current operations. The current emissions data reported by the City has room for improvement in terms of measuring the full impact of public transportation.
An environmental framework that includes both historic and future measurements of energy use and other environmental impacts could help quantify and assess both current and future impact of various initiatives. Tracking ridership data and also sustainable development patterns caused by improved transit connections to key destinations will help us see the full impact of transit and make informed decisions about the City’s future, especially where those decisions involve increased investment in transit versus increased investment in private transportation options.
What are some strategies for the future?
A sustainability planning process can assess objectives, impacts and options as part of a long-term approach to transportation and land use planning. This helps ensure that individual, short-term decisions are consistent with strategic, long-term goals. To realize the potential for improving environmental sustainability in transit, the following areas have been identified for further consideration:
- Strengthen and clarify the environmental sustainability policy for transit that is consistent and compatible with existing policy frameworks.
- Identify appropriate and achievable environmental sustainability performance indicators that take account of the transportation sector’s full impact on the environment and clearly identify transit’s potential contribution to reducing that future impact in terms of:
- Lower greenhouse gas emissions
- Better public health outcomes including:
- Reduced rates of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases
- Fewer transportation-related deaths
- Reductions in ambient noise levels from transportation
- Less money and time spent in private vehicles
- Continue to enhance the existing Enviso Environmental Management System to improve operational performance of transit, particularly the bus fleet
- Choose appropriate comprehensive performance indicators to benchmark progress over time
The City’s Transit Strategy will help us identify the long term vision for transit. Part of the task ahead of us is to determine what our transit priorities are as a community. We know that transit has a major role to play in improving the environmental sustainability of Edmonton. To fully understand its impact, we need to take a holistic approach that looks at future ridership potential and includes the potential for transit to be a catalyst for land use effects to increase Edmonton’s environmental sustainability, and boost the efficiency of the transportation system as a whole over time.