Nickels Joins Congressional, Transit Leaders to Tout Climate Benefits of Transit
By Kevin McCarty
October 8, 2007
Conference Advisory Board Chair Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels joined with Congressional leaders and transit advocates to praise public transit’s significant contributions to reducing harmful greenhouse gases.
Nickels delivered remarks at a Capitol Hill briefing September 26, where a new American Public Transportation Association (APTA) study, Public Transportation’s Contribution to U.S. Greenhouse Gas Reduction, prepared by the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), was released.
“As mayors, we can take you so far, but we have to have leadership at the national level. Today, there is a lot of talk, but tomorrow there needs to be action,” Nickels said.
Outlining key actions that are needed to support increased transit use, Nickels called for increased transit investment, tax policies including equalizing the treatment of commuter transit benefits with parking, land use decisions that help “people get closer to their daily needs” and new transit services, such as new streetcars that will soon be in service in Seattle.
He provided a chronology of events of the mayors’ efforts on climate protection, from the February 16, 2005 pledge by 141 mayors to meet the Kyoto Protocol to the “681 mayors who have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement.” Underscoring the climate challenges before the nation, Nickels said, “We have to reach a level of magnitude beyond the Kyoto Protocol.”
In discussing his city’s leadership on climate protection, Nickels explained that “Seattle has the largest inventory of LEED-certified buildings,” and that “Seattle is below its 1990 emission levels but still has challenges in meeting the goal of seven percent below 1990 levels.”
Oberstar Praises Transit’s Record
House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (MN) praised recent milestones in transit use and its potential to reduce carbon emissions. “Americans are making choices,” resulting in “one million new transit rides per day.”
Explaining transit’s potential, Oberstar said, “If we made a ten percent mode shift, we would save the equivalent of what we get from Saudi Arabia – 550 million barrels per year.”
“Everywhere you go, you see a re-awakening of transit services,” Oberstar said, before citing examples of how new transit investments supported with federal funds are exceeding projections. “Now, we are in charge and we are going to make America better,” he said.
An avid bicyclist, Oberstar also used his remarks to tout gains in the U.S. and significant progress in Europe in promoting bicycling as a mode of transportation. “Bicycling has achieved nearly a 40 percent mode share in Denmark.”
House Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chair Peter DeFazio (OR) also joined the event, emphasizing the need to increase transit use. “It is common sense that if you can get folks out of their cars, we can make an impact on carbon emissions.”
Shift to Transit Significantly Cuts Household Emissions
One of the study’s authors, SAIC Vice President Todd Davis said, “Transit can have a very positive effect on carbon as we wait for other changes, such as CAFÉ rules, to take effect.”
Davis explained that for the typical two-car household, 55 percent of household carbon comes from the transportation sector. According to the study, this household generates about 22 metric tons of emissions each year, as compared to the European average of nine metric tons. “A thirty percent of potential savings can be achieved by switching one car to public transportation trips,” he said.
APTA President William W. Millar underscored the report’s finding and the potential of public transit use during his comments. “Commuting by public transportation is one of the most significant actions a household member can take to reduce his or her carbon footprint.”
Millar referenced pending energy bills awaiting conference committee deliberations, noting Oberstar and his committee’s role in adding provisions to the House bill (H.R. 3221) to provide additional funding to transit providers to expand transit services and reduce fares to stimulate increased use. This legislation also includes the Conference-backed Energy Efficiency Block Grant program, which would allocate $2 billion annually to cities, counties and states to support their strategies to reduce energy use and increase energy efficiency.