Public transport may seem dirty – but air pollution is worse

It is all too familiar to many – the line up of cars, the honking of horns and the collective sigh of commuters as they see another set of brake lights. There are times that attempting to get out of the city of Toronto can take you hours. In 2018, there is no longer “rush hour”. Everyday, and almost every hour there are a stream of cars attempting to get into or out of the Toronto area back to their homes in the GTA. But the question is, why do people continue to consciously subject themselves to this unsustainable and unsafe form of transportation?

It is estimated that at any given minute during business days, there are around 400,000 people commuting in Toronto. Out of this, only 40,000 are on the subway, buses or streetcars. Move a yard away from the Gardiner to the Go Train service, a comfortable, reliable and convenient form of transport. At non rush hour times, the service is a ghost town. The street cars and subways mirror the same process.

Riding the bus, streetcar or subway contributes significantly less air pollution to move one passenger per kilometer than a single occupancy car. The idling and “stop and go” cars experience produces drastic levels of CO2 and Nitrogen Oxides. The latter can lead to a variety of unwanted impacts such as reduced lung function, irritation of eyes and respiratory illnesses. Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas is produced by heavily trafficked city streets. The toxic gas enters the bloodstream via lungs and forms carboxyhemoglobin, which inhibits the bloods capacity to carry oxygen to organs and tissues.

Speaking of health, studies have also shown that people who use public transportation clock more “steps” than those who drive, from walking to and from bus stops and subway stations. It can also be shown to improve mental health compared to the stress of driving. It brings pleasure to daily activities through sightseeing, conversation and the feel of community.

Understandably, these seemingly intangible health issues are most likely not going to be a citizens deciding factor to brave the heat or the cold to walk or transit to work everyday. What about this? Riding a bus, streetcar or subway is 79 times safer than riding an automobile. Families can also save up to $6,200 annually by switching from car to public transport.

With soaring gas prices, higher stress levels from driving cars and ozone levels rising, there should be no better reason to ride on public transport. Unfortunately, these factors will still not be enough to deter people from driving everyday. It may seem like a localized issue. Cities have attempted smaller roads to prevent the flow of traffic, some have classified roads as “bike and pedestrian only zones”. There have been innovators who suggested allowing half the licence plates on the road, switching each day. More drastic levels have even been barricades and police enforcement during high occupancy days.

What needs to be understood is that this is no longer a localized issue of “traffic”. But a global epidemic of an extreme dependency on the convenience and fast paced lifestyle. The issue of air pollution and deaths from car accidents can no longer be ignored. With a rising population, where do people think the traffic will go?

Issues with public transport need to be discussed now – not when it is too late. More efficient, longer routes and more convenient stops need to be integrated into the public transit system. Cleaner transit is a must. And making it less expensive may be key to turning the tables to a more efficient city.

As a public commuter everyday, using the Toronto TTC streetcars, buses and subway system, as well as an avid weekend Go Train user, I know I will never need a car in the city. Getting to know my neighbours as we wait for the bus, commuting alongside my penniless college friends and getting to know the ins and outs of my city more than a car user will ever understand. Public transit is so much more than a stop from A to B, but a way to connect with our cities and the people in it. Hopefully in the future, the idea of taking a car or an Uber will be overrated and inefficient, making room for a new wave – a safe, welcoming, clean public transport based city.

By Earth Restoration Service Blog Writer Sydney Preston