The Human Truth Foundation

Public Transport is Good. The Advantages of Pooled Transport.

By Vexen Crabtree 2007


Wherever possible, public transport is a better optional than personal transport (except for planes). It is up to governments to encourage and facilitate the widespread and consistent availability of public transport - be that trains, buses, coaches, monorails or other services. Per passenger, they are better for the environment1 in producing fewer fumes, more economical for national fuel use, they reduce road congestion and are better for personal safety. They reduce national insurance costs (which are higher for personal vehicles) and improve national transport resilience and help prevent panic-buying when issues effect fuel supplies. Personal transport should be used as a last resort only when public transport is impossible.

Source: The Economist2

1. Advantages

The advantages of using public transport are generally synonymous but wider than the advantages of using pooled transport (where people get together to undertake the same journey together, in the same vehicle). There are benefits for the greater good, such as environmental protection; and for personal gain such as increased safety.

  1. Reduced damage to the environment1. One bus emits far fewer fumes than twenty cars (especially if it uses LPG fuel). Train emissions of CO2 "per passenger/Km are, on average, approximately half that of travel by car"2. Also, outside of manufacturing 'transportation is the largest single driver of fossil fuel energy consumption' says Bill Russo, founder of Automobility Ltd (2022)3 and the push for electrification is key to this3. Electrification is much easier when applied to public transport than to private.

  2. Reduced use of fuel. "In 1999 UK road transport consumed 80 times as much energy as rail, while the distance travelled by road passengers and freight was only 15 times as much"2.

  3. Buses and trains are safer than cars4. You are 9 times more likely to die travelling by car than by rail2.

  4. Reduced time spent on maintenance of personal vehicles.

  5. No need to find parking spaces at your destination.

  6. Reduced road congestion5.

Buses and trains can help overcome congestion, reduce carbon emissions, offer far higher fuel efficiency per passenger mile than the average car journey and provide socially inclusive forms of transport. The green credentials of public transport have been firmly established.

"Is Public Transport Always Best?" by Dr Gareth Evans (2021)1

Some people hold that public transport acts to "provide a social service for the poor [but rail] passengers are in fact overwhelmingly middle-class"6. This is probably due to the massive benefits of making daily commutes in pooled transport, therefore meaning many businessmen and workers use it.

Britain's railways have prospered over the past 10 years. Passenger numbers have risen by 40%, and trains now carry more people than they have in 50 years.

"Railway reform: The age of the train" in The Economist (2007)7

Passenger travel aside, there are also benefits for increasing the rail network in general. Traintracks use up less space than roads, are more easily concealable so cause less visual disruption, and with increased rail coverage comes increased freight. "Carrying freight by rail results in an 80% cut in CO2 emissions per Kilogram carried compared to road haulage" and can replace 50 lorry movements2. This is a massive environmental and commercial saving.

The cost to the environment is something that affects everyone. Economic concerns dictate that for future prosperity we must invest now, in a greener future. An initial cost will prevent massive costs later. Combining that with the freight savings of rail, it makes sense for governments and citizens to support the rail system.

There are additional advantages to saving on fuel usage, aside from the benefits to the environment. Politics and oil supplies are often uneasy bedfellows: by reducing fuel usage, we are making our country more independent of the major oil-supplying countries who sometimes disrupt our lives by restricting oil. If oil consumption dropped, then it will be less effective to use oil supply as a political weapon.

Half of all commuters in Copenhagen go to work by bike and Forbes magazine recently reported that cyclists save the city £20 million ($34 million) a year in avoided air pollution, accidents and congestion. [...] Taxis are obliged to have a bike rack to take you and your bike home if you have two glasses. Or a bottle. [...] There´s no social stigma to biking, and cycling is seen as another of Denmark´s great equalisers. It´s also said that 30 minutes of daily biking adds an average of fourteen months to life expectancy, according to a report published in the Environmental Health Perspectives journal.

"The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country" by Helen Russell (2015)8

2. Disadvantages and Failures


3. The Benefits of Buses

Buses have better fuel consumption and lower noxious emissions per passenger, and reduce road congestion.5,9,1. Buses are especially important for those on low incomes10,1. Buses provide an important and adaptable link between residents and fixed train stations, preventing the need for extensive and voluminous car parking solutions at stations, and linking together parts of the transport network. Short-distance park and ride schemes have been instrumental in alleviating entire cities' issues with clogged cars. It is important to have alternative modes of transport than personal cars - if buses are better, people panic less about petrol (helping to keep prices down) and more people can get to work and training.

4. British Buses: The Loss of a National Asset


In England and Wales, buses were privatised and deregulated in the 1980s10.Since then, the UK government - largely the Conservative Party - have systematically defunded services under the policy of commercialisation, having the effect of continually reducing the number of routes and the frequency of buses11 except in cities12. Remaining council-supported routes have been steadily defunded12; between 2010 and 2018 alone they lost 50% of their funding11,10. Bus Fares have risen and priced out commuters and individual travellers12. The result, according to the Campaign for Better Transport, is that "we are... seeing the emergence of `transport deserts´, with limited or no transport apart from individual cars"5 and unable to be a part of ordinary life planning. It's not only passengers and communities that suffer - bus drivers are paid just a scrape above the UK's National Living Wage and as a result, the industry has a growing shortage of drivers13. Despite the neglect, the benefits of buses are clear14 and the abandonment of them is causing long-term pain and damaging the status of the UK as a developed country.

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