8 Benefits of Public Transportation


In your job as a planner, we know you're often fielding basic questions about public transit. We hope this Remix Primer blog series offers another resource as you educate your constituents.

When it comes to public transit, some cities in the United States stand out. New York City’s metro subway, New Orleans heritage streetcars, and San Francisco’s cable cars are all examples of excellent and memorable transportation. Whether they are transporting locals for their daily commute or tourists riding for fun on their travels, the benefits of public transportation are clear.

In cities and towns across the world, public transportation plays an important role in the lives of residents and visitors alike. Buses, subways, trains, and other public vehicles are designed to make life easier for everyone. From improved community health to affordability, public transportation systems create the foundation on which cities become more livable and prosperous in a variety of ways.

What is Public Transportation?

While public transportation comes in many forms, it can be defined as a system that moves people from one area to another in an efficient, affordable manner. The vast majority of public transportation is funded and operated by local government authorities. Public transportation systems can include:

  • Buses
  • Underground rail systems
  • Trains, including high-speed and light rail
  • Ferries
  • Cable cars

Designed as an alternative to automobile travel and to reduce unnecessary walking time, these vehicles may work within a city or connect one city to another. The benefits of public transportation are amplified when the systems are planned and engineered for interconnectivity, high-quality user experience, and efficiency.

Public transportation may include free amenities like public Wi-Fi, provide opportunities for private business sales, and encourage physical activity among riders. These systems, many with origins that predate the dramatic rise of car ownership in the 1950s, are also part of efforts to conserve energy on both a local and global scale.

8 Benefits of Public Transportation

Especially in the early planning phases of new public transit plans or prioritizing needed improvements, it’s worth considering the benefits of public transportation when determining budget and design. Here’s a look at eight transportation benefits to consider:

1.  Improves Community Health

For decades, urban planners have looked to public transportation to facilitate improvements in community health and wellbeing. Public transit riders must walk from their front doors to the nearby transit stop and back, which increases physical activity to help address the modern obesity epidemic. In fact, it's possible that people can achieve the 30 minutes of daily physical activity recommended by using public transit.

2.  Economic Benefits to the Community

Every dollar invested in public transportation can yield around $4 in economic gains in the community. This includes supporting a workforce for needed improvements, fostering business clusters, and attracting tourists for both business and pleasure.

People can more easily stop for a snack or a cup of coffee when walking to a transit stop as opposed to driving. This means small businesses can benefit as well. Also, if a homeowner is looking to sell residential property, they might receive a higher offer if it’s located close to a public transportation stop, which is good for the seller and the city’s overall tax base.

3.  Improves Fuel Efficiency

One of the most technical benefits of public transportation is the ability to outfit buses and other public transit vehicles with alternative fuel sources. Some systems are completely electric or utilize renewable resources for fuel.

Even compared to other gas-powered vehicles, public transportation is better in terms of fuel efficiency. The average miles per gallon multiplied by the number of private cars on the road versus transit buses or trains shows less fuel is consumed when using public transportation.

4.  Public Transportation Reduces Air Pollution

Less fuel burned means better air quality for cities that integrate public transit. Approximately 85% of the greenhouse gas emissions that come from transportation are due to day-to-day commutes. By leaving the car at home, a person can save up to 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions every day.

5.  Improves Road Congestion

No one likes to be stuck in traffic, but rising populations demand improvements in road infrastructure that can be costly and take a lot of time. However, road construction can often make the situation more challenging before it gets better. Another benefit of public transportation is that more people riding on buses, trains, and other public systems means there are fewer vehicles on the road to cause traffic.

6.  Improves Community Mobility

Inter-city transit systems help riders move throughout the area, regardless of the borough or neighborhood they live in. Many people do not have the capability to drive, so public transportation is sometimes the only option to help them get to their destination.

7.  Provides an Equitable Transportation System

One way to expand the workforce and improve a city’s economy is by giving more people the ability to get to their job, and public transport accomplishes this. This reduces the challenge of needing to be able to afford a car and gasoline — or rely on someone who owns a vehicle — to earn a paycheck.

8.  Public Transportation Improves Commuters Productivity

When someone is behind the wheel, they should only be doing one thing: driving. Many states even have laws against using a smartphone at all while operating an automobile. This multi-tasking limitation of driving can result in hours of ineffective time.

Alternatively, riders of public transportation have the ability to be more productive with their time during their commute. People can sleep, read, and relax on their way to work.

How Planners Bring These Benefits into Their Plans

City residents, officials, and planners who are considering improvements or expansion of their public transportation can maximize the benefits by working with professional planning consultants like our team here at Remix. Together, we can create and communicate transit benefits and plans effectively. This will allow projects to gain the necessary approval and funding in an effort to create more livable communities for residents and visitors alike.

We partnered with Ireland’s National Transport Authority (NTA) to address their challenge of providing public transportation to their many rural populations, who often live in isolated areas. NTA needed help planning effective public transportation routes and services to reach these rural populations, so they asked us to gather data and provide analyses to help them make the best route decisions.

As a result of working together, the NTA increased the number of passenger journeys by over 550,000 after just one year, and they reduced the route approval times for Demand Responsive services from six months to less than three months.

Want to learn more about how transit planners can achieve their community transportation goals? We’d love to connect. Reach out to remix.com/demo.