Sustainability | Renewable Energy

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Environmentally Friendly and Efficient Mass Transit

Sustainable Public Transit

Sustainable mass transit reduces CO2 emissions, helps to produce numerous financial benefits, creates urban centers of productivity, and reduces dependence on foreign oil. As far as carbon-based transit, the amount of fossil fuels used per passenger is greatly reduced with any type of sustainable mass transit compared to the use of standard fossil fuel-dependent vehicles. Fuel technologies that represent new global trends in modern, cleaner, environmentally sound, cost-efficient, and energy-efficient mass public transit include:

  • biofuel (biodiesel and ethanol) buses,
  • electric transit,
  • electric-biofuel, electric-diesel, electric-natural gas hybrid buses, as well as a wide range of hybrid vehicles (see below),
  • electric light rail, and other types of electric rail such as streetcars, trolleys, and trams

The higher the quantity and quality of public mass transit options, the greater becomes the opportunity and incentive for people to look beyond traditional car use.

Types of Modes/ Fuels for Sustainable Public Transit

Modern mass transit systems include various clean energy technologies. The dominant form of renewable fuel in mass transit globally is biofuel. All-electric and hybrid buses, BRT systems, electric light rail, EVs, and other cutting-edge mass transit technologies (such as hydrogen transit options), are all exciting advances in sustainable transportation.

Hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs) are all fairly new transportation technologies that are poised, along with other technologies in the sustainable transportation movement, to make a positive transition for human transit. The newest and brightest of these technologies is hydrogen fuel. Hydrogen is used in mass transit vehicles in many countries in Europe (especially in Denmark, Norway, and Iceland), and Japan – just to name a few. One great benefit of hydrogen fuel is that it produces absolutely zero emissions, with water vapor being the only by-product. Nations of the entire world must embrace low and zero-emission sustainable transportation technology now to help fight global warming and climate change.

The dominant low-carbon fuel for transportation globally are biofuels. Biofuels are derived from biomass; plant and animal waste by-products, or simply from kitchen oil (in the case of biodiesel). Such materials can be replenished readily for use in sustainable mass transit. Biofuel (ethanol, biodiesel) is a cost-effective and environmentally cleaner alternative to petroleum and other fossil fuels. Due to the large contributions made by fossil fuels to global warming, biofuels are an attractive alternative to lower greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Biofuel blends, especially biodiesel blends, are the most used sources of renewable energy to fuel alt-fuel buses worldwide.

SkyRail in Vancouver, Canada
SkyTrain (electric rapid transit light rail) in Vancouver, Canada 

Electric Rail

In addition to biofuel buses, another sustainable mode of public mass transit is rail. Particularly clean and efficient is electric urban light rail and electric commuter rail. Light rail is energy-efficient and cost-efficient; and has low maintenance needs and low energy demands.

Electric vehicles (EVs) as public mass transit options in world cities, come in the form of electric and hybrid buses. Another electrified mode of mass public transit is electric light rail (rapid transit light rail, tram, streetcar, trolley, or other light rail). EVs for sustainable mass transit can also be in the form of electric vans, electric commuter rail, electric high-speed rail, (and even some electric ships).

Environmental benefits of electric light rail (and other electric mass transit) include the reduction of carbon dioxide, as well as the reduction of other greenhouse gases caused by vehicle traffic such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. Traffic congestion is greatly reduced in any urban environment with light rail, and ultimately light rail systems can replace highways. Light rail creates jobs both by producing a new source of capital and by creating new, busy economic centers. Not only does electric light rail replace the use of fossil fuels, but the development cost of light rail systems (light rapid transit rail, trams, trolleys, streetcars, etc...) is about half that of building freeways.

Optimistically, another form of sustainable mass transit that can dominate the world's future market for low carbon transit options is high-speed rail. With pioneering high-speed rail lines in Japan, as well as more recent additions throughout Asia and Europe, there is every reason to hope that high-speed rail can gain momentum to serve transit needs globally. If the on-again, off-again, extremely slow roll-out of high-speed rail in California is an example, however, the world might just have to make due for now with the many various Asian and European high-speed rail lines.

Bus rapid transit in Curitiba, Brazil
Bus rapid transit in Curitiba, Brazil

BRT, Hybrid Buses, Other Modes of Sustainable Public Transit

Another exciting sign of progress in clean, low emissions, sustainable mass public transportation is the further development of electric-only, biodiesel/ ethanol-fueled, and hybrid buses. As far as a complete departure from oil dependency, the world must embrace sustainable mass transit technologies now available which run on renewable energy sources (biofuels). In the meantime, as the world transitions public mass transit away from fossil fuels, there are many clean, green, low emission transit options for public buses.

These cleaner mass transit options (than vehicles just running on fossil fuels) include buses that run on liquefied natural gas (LNG), compressed natural gas (CNG), diesel-electric hybrid buses, and LNG/ CNG-hybrid buses. Electric,  biofuel, and hybrid buses are an effective means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in public transit; markedly when bus routes are developed to be widely accessible throughout a city. Examples of successful, highly efficient mass public transit, particularly in terms of clean, green bus utilization with high rates of ridership, is in London; and another is Curitiba. Curitiba has its fair share of biofuel and hybrid buses in the city's bus fleet; and also has one of the world's best examples of a successful BRT system in a metropolis.

Curitiba, Brazil exemplifies the ideal use of a bus system to maximize sustainable public transit options for a city; a successful BRT system. Bus rapid transit (BRT) represents a revolutionary new trend in mass transportation, streamlining bus transit networks to increase the efficiency of bus systems with: express lanes on highways, elevated platforms for efficient loading and unloading of buses, innovative ways to streamline paying bus fares for riders, and more. Curitiba, Brazil represents an early adopter of BRT systems and a pre-eminent success story in public mass transit.

The Curitiba BRT system is one of the greatest examples of successful mass transit in the Southern Hemisphere; and the bus system in London is another great example of successful mass transit in a metropolis, in the Northern Hemisphere. Today almost half of London buses run on biofuel, are hybrid diesel-electric, or are all-electric. All new double-decker buses in London will be hybrid, electric, or hydrogen-fueled, focusing on only running the greenest, cleanest buses. In central London, all single-deck buses will emit zero exhaust emissions. By 2037 at the latest, all 9,200 buses across London will be zero emission.

Please see>>> 

Vancouver: alternative transit capital of North America

Green city: bus rapid transit and urban planning in Curitiba

Green city: London [and Mass Transit in London]

Please see:

Benefits of Hybrids, Plug-in Hybrids, and Electric Vehicles

Please also see:

Solutions to Fossil Fuels


Clean Hydrogen in European Cities (CHIC); H2BusEurope

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  1. Please let us here at Green City Times know what you think in a comment; and we’ll try and answer any questions as well.

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    [Dan Braff is the founder of GCT –

    Daniel Braff]

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