another environmental cost of sprawl

MLewyn's picture

Randall O’Toole has another piece out on Cato Institute letterhead ( ) in which he argues that rail transit is less efficient than bus service. The details of his argument I will leave to people more expert than I in energy/environmental issues. But one thing grabbed me: O’Toole points out that “doubling the number of people on board any vehicle will cut the energy consumption and emissions of passenger almost in half.” Doesn’t that mean that sprawling development, by reducing transit ridership, makes transit less energy-efficient?

O’Toole’s own data suggest the answer is yes: Table 6 of O’Toole’s paper lists transit agencies by carbon dioxide per passenger mile. The lowest (in CO2 emissions) are transit-friendly New York (0.29 lbs. of CO2 per passenger mile), San Francisco (0.3) and Portland (0.36). By contrast, eight transit agencies emit over 1 pound of CO2 per passenger mile: Riverside, Richmond, Tuscon, Jacksonville, Dayton, Oklahoma City, Norwalk, and New Orleans - all highly car-dependent regions.

So sprawl creates a one-two punch for pollution: not only does sprawl reduce transit ridership, it makes buses and trains more polluting.

Which in turn means that using low energy efficiency to justify pro-sprawl policies creates a self-fulfilling prophecy: a policymaker who uses transit's alleged low energy efficiency to justify the status quo ensures that his or her city's transit system will continue to have low energy efficiency.


Write your comments in the box below and share on your Facebook!