Mass transit in the Northeast was hit hard by Sandy. New Yorkers had to do without the subway, for example, but now the transit system has mostly recovered. It’s a perfect time to be thankful for the extensive network of public transportation that exists in the city. In fact, it means that New Yorkers have one of the smallest per-capita carbon footprints in the U.S.
But you’re probably sensing a hidden side here, right?
"Mass transit can be an incredible boon for the environment," says Eric Morris, a regular contributor to Freakonomics and a professor of urban planning at Clemson University. He told Freakonomics' Stephen Dubner: "It can also not help the environment or maybe even hurt the environment."
“Obviously, the energy expenditure in moving around a transit vehicle per passenger mile depends on the number of passengers," Morris continues. "Whether you have one passenger in a bus or 40 passengers in a bus, you're going to be expending almost the same amount of energy. So it all depends on the ridership and the occupancy that transit vehicles and, for that matter, autos carry."
So here comes the rub. The average American car carries 1.6 people -- not many, of course, when you're comparing it to mass transit. On the other hand, the average bus carries only 10 people. And a bus burns a lot more fuel than a car. Not exactly what mass-transit advocates would have us believe.