Climate change is a hot topic nowadays. As the atmosphere warms, drastic changes are taking placing in the environment that are slowly but surely compromising the future of our world. There are numerous contributing factors to global warming, and one of the main culprits is the use of gasoline and diesel. Burning these fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas (GHG), into the air and excessive accumulation of these gases results in the warming of Earth’s atmosphere.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the biggest contributor to U.S. GHG emissions is caused by transportation. Since travel is an everyday necessity, that poses a problem. How do we combat climate change while also functioning in our modern world? That’s where sustainable transportation comes in.
In order to understand sustainable transportation, it’s essential to take a look at both words separately before we think about the term as a whole. Here’s a breakdown on what sustainability and transportation mean in today’s world.
In an environmental health context, the word “sustainable” is something akin to words like “green” or “environmentally friendly.” When something is considered sustainable, it means that the production or consumption of an entity is compatible with the preservation of Earth’s natural resources. In essence, it means that the plant and humanity can continue to coexist in a way that will benefit both.
There are many metrics by which we can measure the wellness of humans and the natural world, making sustainability a complex problem that must be considered thoughtfully. With nearly 8 billion people on the planet, there are countless cultures, ideologies and social structures to consider when addressing sustainability. Conversely, the world is a rich and naturally diverse environment with its own nuances and needs.
The conversation about sustainability is making changes in many industries, including fashion, manufacturing, agriculture and housing, but the industry with the most pressing urgency for sustainability is transportation.
The Truth About Transportation
Transportation is how people get from one place to another. Walking was the original form of transportation for the human race, but over time, we’ve developed new forms of travel. As society grew, humans learned how to broaden their reach on horseback, then in chariots or carriages, on boats, in trains, in cars and then in planes. The success of the latter four was due to the engine, which operates by burning fossil fuels, whether that be coal, gasoline or diesel. Our ability to connect places near and far through these vehicles created the world which we know today, an invention of connection that has only recently been rivaled by the internet.
There’s more to transportation than just getting from point A to point B. The document Mobilizing Sustainable Transport for Development identifies transportation as not an “end” but a “means,” allowing people to access daily activities and necessities like their occupations, education and social interaction. That means accessing reliable transport is fundamental to the well-being of people and societies around the globe and should be treated as a valued resource.
Caring for Society and the Environment
When we talk about sustainable transportation, we are referring to transportation methods that are compatible with protecting the planet’s limited resources while accommodating humanity’s needs at the same time. While it may be noble to want to ban the burning of fossil fuels altogether, it may not be realistic for humanity as a whole. In fact, society would cease to function if we quit using all of Earth’s resources at once. In the United States, transportation is classified as a critical infrastructure sector that is crucial to national and economic security and public health. Halting access to these modern necessities could create socioeconomic divisions for those who can’t afford alternatives to traditional travel.
In the Geography of Transport Systems, Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue states that flexible transportation modes, like cars, are fundamental to urban society and are still necessary to many people’s lives. Therefore, the ideal scenario for sustainable transportation is a mutualistic relationship, one where people and the environment can thrive, as opposed to a parasitic relationship, where one side benefits at the expense of the other.
How Does It Work?
The path toward sustainable transportation is built on three categories — the mode of transportation, the means of that transportation and the infrastructural support for that transportation.
To demonstrate this framework, let’s examine the standard car. The car itself is the mode of transportation and gasoline or diesel are the means of that transportation. There are several critical infrastructures that support cars, including manufacturing, the maintenance and creation of roads and highways and the market prices of cars and fuel. If the well-being of any of these sectors is impacted, the sustainability of car travel could be critically impacted.
Clearly, there’s a lot that goes into maintaining an effective mode of transportation, let alone developing a sustainable one. Fortunately, there are several ways people are getting places in a greener way. Here are a few prime examples.
1. Walking and Cycling
For those who live close to essential businesses and even their place of work, walking or cycling poses an excellent alternative to using a vehicle. Some people may argue that humans breathe out GHG every second, but remember, our efforts need to be sustainable for both people and the planet. While the “emissions” of 8 billion people may be substantial, the effects are insignificant compared to those of fossil fuels.
Walking and biking has minimal environmental impact, and the health benefits of moving outside are fantastic. That makes it an especially sustainable solution — it’s good for you and the planet.
The disadvantage, however, is that walking or biking outdoors can be contingent on the weather and requires you to live within a reasonable distance of your destinations. This makes it a less suitable option for intemperate climates and rural communities. Still, a little goes a long way, so walking or biking to some destinations for half of the year can still reduce your carbon footprint.
2. Alternative-Fuel Vehicles
There are currently a number of fuel alternatives that can power cars and other vehicles, as well as hybrids that use two distinct power sources to run the vehicle. Let’s take a look at some of the popular options available today:
- Flexible Fuel Vehicles (FFVs): These vehicles can run on a combination and E85, a speciality fuel made of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. E85 is available at over 2,000 stations in the U.S. today.
- Plug-in Hybrid Vehicles (PHVs): These vehicles contain both a combustion engine and an electric motor and use a combination of gas and electricity power. They can run on electricity but resort to a fuel tank if a charge wears out.
- Electric vehicles (EVs): These vehicles runs strictly on battery power and are charged with electricity.
- Fuel-cell vehicles (FCVs): These vehicles use pressurized hydrogen, provided by a leak-proof connection, to power a fuel cell that runs the vehicle.
Alternative fuel options aren’t just regulated to cars either. Scooters and motorized bikes are excellent alternatives that can either run very efficiently on gasoline or solely on electricity. These can be great options for people living in proximity to community essentials.
Though many of these alternative powers are also gaining traction for cars and trucks, the technology is still relatively new and can be pricey. While some car manufacturers are committing to electric-only vehicles in the next decade, we still have a long way to go before a majority of gas-powered vehicles are out of commission.
3. Car Pooling
Another sustainable transportation method is car pooling. If it’s not realistic to walk or bike to your destination or if you can’t afford an alternative-fuel vehicle, car pooling with colleagues, family members or neighbors is a great choice. Most people go from place to place alone, meaning they are severely underutilizing the transportation power of their vehicle. For a sedan, only one seat out of four or five is actually being used! Car pooling reduces the number of cars and emissions on the road and saves people money by splitting the cost of gas.
Some cities and communities even promote car pooling efforts by installing specially designated high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on highways, which are usually less congested. Other places offer “park and ride” lots where people can meet up and ride together the rest of the way to their destination.
The advantage of this method of sustainable transportation is that most people have access to someone with a vehicle or live in reasonable proximity to those who may be traveling the same places they are. Though it may not be as convenient as hopping in your vehicle and going wherever you want on your own time, the benefits easily outweigh the cost.
4. Public Transportation
One of the most powerful tools in the sustainable transportation arsenal is public transportation. It serves communities in a similar way to car pooling, only it serves urban dwellers of all socioeconomic statuses. Many city-dwellers forgo car ownership due to space availability or affordability. When a transportation company offers free or affordable rides while bearing the brunt of vehicular maintenance, it creates a system that is conducive for society.
The way it benefits the environment is by reducing the need for cars. Obviously a motorcoach can carry far more passengers than the largest personally-owned vehicle, transporting masses of people to and from their destinations. Additionally, companies that run public transportation are able to create a network of routes and stops that give access to a variety of locations, not just the ones your colleague or neighbor plan to stop at on that day.
If there’s a disadvantage to public transportation, its due to infrastructure limitations, lack of availability for all necessary destinations and lack of accessibility for rural communities. Bolstering the public transportation industry could be a powerful step toward creating sustainable transport for all members of society, regardless of their residence or economic status.
What Are the Benefits?
There are many benefits to sustainable transportation that go beyond climate change, though that’s an important one too. Here are some of the ways sustainability can benefit humans and the planet.
1. Lowers Environmental Footprint
Until they find another habitable planet in the universe, Earth is the only home humans get. If the environment continues to sustain this level of injury, it will eventually cease to sustain us. In the wake of COVID-19 lockdowns, the lack of human impact on certain ecosystems allowed these places to recover briefly, demonstrating that human activity has a negative effect on nature.
On the flip-side, the lack of human intervention caused unexpected fallout too. Poaching went unchecked, while conservation funds and efforts dried up. This left endangered populations and restoration efforts very vulnerable. The earth needs humans. We need the earth. If transportation is one of the largest detractors from environmental well-being, then it behooves us to make strides toward sustainable transportation.
2. Reduces congestion
If you’ve ever felt your blood boil as you sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic, you’re not alone. Did you know that it also costs billions of dollars a year? The Texas A&M Transportation Institute reports that traffic congestion costs the U.S. economy an average of $179 billion annually, while commuters spend somewhere around 54 hours in traffic per year. That’s a waste of resources and productive time. Congestion also increases the demand for additional roadways to handle the number of travelers, further making a dent into surrounding habitats.
Fortunately, sustainable transportation addresses the very real problem of vehicular congestion. Car-pooling and public transportation consolidate the number of vehicles on the road, reducing traffic jams, accidents and the amount of fuel that needs to be burned to keep things running.
3. It’s Economical
We already covered how reducing congestion could save billions of dollars, but that’s not the only savings to be had. Utilizing public transportation saves people the cost of maintaining a private vehicle and buying gas for it. Even the cities that do bear the financial responsibility of maintaining public buses and trains by reducing the upkeep of roads and parking lots.
Public transportation also creates a demand for drivers, maintenance workers and engineers, while demand for alternative fuel stations requires experts and additional attendants to supervise the process. As a whole, sustainable transportation can help impact society on a large scale and leave people and the planet better off than they were before.
Arrow Stage Lines Advocates for Sustainability
At Arrow Stage Lines, sustainability in the motorcoach industry is one of our top priorities. The environmental, economical and societal benefits are too great to ignore. Our fleet of 250 vehicles adheres to a strict maintenance schedule for our motorcoaches, while our drivers are trained in our idle-free education program. We operate vehicles with advanced engine technology, which increases fuel savings and lowers our emissions impact. We promote a sustainability philosophy that is leading us toward a greener future.
Arrow Stage Lines strives to afford environmentally conscious people the ability to charter green motor coaches for a number of destinations. To request a quote for your charter, fill out our online form today!