With growing interest in climate change and greater anticipation of energy cost increases, being sustainable has implications for the financial efficiency of transit agencies and on the image and appeal that transit has to offer current and prospective customers. Being more resource efficient can help the agency financially, increase its ridership and public support, and increase its contribution to broader national goals of moving toward a more sustainable transportation system. Collectively, these considerations provide strong motivation for transit to strive toward greater sustainability and articulate its contributions toward a more sustainable transportation system to the public and policy makers. Towards that end, this research initiative explores select aspects of public transit’s sustainability. The data regarding the fuel efficiency of public transit bus travel has been explored in detail, with results that may be surprising to many. First, the message from the data is confusing, as different sources show significantly different results. Closer scrutiny suggests that the actual performance of transit bus may be poorer than often reported and far poorer than commonly perceived. Based on national averages, transit bus use is not a more fuel efficient way to travel than auto, on average. (This does not apply to the marginal user who chooses to occupy available transit capacity.) When adjusted for context differences, bus and personal light vehicle modes appear to be virtually identical in terms of BTUs per passenger mile. Finally, transit may contribute to energy efficiency if, working with effective urban design, it attracts people to live in well-planned communities and to adopt travel habits that are less reliant on private vehicles. Transportation planning professionals are still learning how urban design can contribute to effective urban transit and greater overall energy efficiency.
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