Active Transport (Part 2): Walking and biking counter high gas prices and bad health: PART 2

Pain at the pump may actually be a blessing. Maybe now we will venture to try alternate modes of transportation that could improve our health, productivity, air quality, and save us money.  Photo: morganglines

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2012 – How does the average monthly transit fare compare to the average cost of driving per month?

Since President Obama took office in 2009, gas prices have doubled from $2.00 per gallon to now nearly $4.00 per gallon. According to the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) “Annual Fuel Cost Calculator,” if gas prices remain steady at $4.00 per gallon and you drive 13,500 miles this year with a car that gets 28 miles per gallon on average, then you would incur more than $1,800.00 in fuel charges at the end of the year. This is $150.00 per month, probably twice the amount you pay for your cell phone monthly, and at least triple the amount you pay for cable television monthly.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) “Transit Savings Report” sought to determine how much someone working in a big city could save if they decided to sell their car, and instead bought an unlimited monthly transit fare pass each month for a period of 1-year.

APTA calculated the average monthly transit fare rate in the 20 cities that have the highest rates of public transportation, such as New York, Boston, San Francisco, and D.C. Next, they used the AAA average cost of driving formula, which accounts for common expenses associated with driving such as fuel, maintenance, finance charges, insurance premiums, taxes & fees, repairs, and depreciation. They also factored in a monthly unreserved parking space fee of $161.56, which is the average fee for those working in a downtown business district in these bigger cities.

Monthly and Annual Savings of Taking Mass Transit in Various Cities as Reported by the American Public Transportation Association’s (APTA) “Monthly Transit Savings Report”.

The APTA report concluded that you can save anywhere from $700-$1200 per month by taking public transportation in these cities, or $9,000-$14,000 per year. In D.C., the average monthly savings turned out to be $829, and the average annual savings was approximately $10,000.

For some of us, giving up our cars all together and the freedom it bring us may be impractical or far-fetched. It is true that we value our independence, and may find that relying solely on public transportation would be an enormous sacrifice. As a compromise, you can keep your car and save a substantial amount of money if you use your vehicle sparingly. This will reduce the probability of obtaining a traffic ticket issued by an officer (or mailed if you are really unlucky) and the probability of getting into a collision as well. Most important, your fuel costs will drastically decline.

This will set off a domino effect: driving less will mean reduced insurance premiums as your driving record will improve with fewer accidents and tickets (as per the law of probability), your demand (and thus cost) for fuel will drastically decline, and you will mitigate the need for repairs by reducing your mileage. Also, less mileage on your car means that it will not depreciate nearly as much as it would if you drove your car the customary 13,000 miles each year.

Mass Transit Reduces Carbon Footprint

According to a report by Ward’s (the information center for and about the global auto industry), the United States has the largest car population in the world with 239 million cars. The global vehicle population surpassed 1-billion in the year 2010, and is predicted by some experts to climb to 2-billion by the year 2050. This is a recipe for disaster, which will result in large quantities of smog, and dirty air that could cause major health complications.

The car population’s upward trend is troubling because according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), it is the major contributor to air pollution. The exhaust fumes from our car’s engine contain a number of different chemicals that are potentially life threatening by polluting and contaminating the air we breathe.

Many of us working in big cities know that congested traffic is a problem, causing us to wake up earlier for work, and placing undue stress upon us as our patience is tested daily. But there is another problem, one you can’t see, smell, or touch, and can be fatal: carbon monoxide. Concentrations of carbon monoxide are highest in congested traffic because of the high levels of the chemical emitted in traffic jams, lack of fresh air in the vicinity of the area, and the duration you are exposed to the chemical during traffic congestions.

Carbon monoxide is emitted from fumes from your car and blocks the flow of oxygen to the bloodstream, which in turn can damage your vital organs (heart, brain, etc.). Lower levels can cause fatigue and chest pains, while higher levels can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, or confusion. At extremely high concentrations, carbon monoxide can be fatal.

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), more than 15,000 people are hospitalized each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, and more than 400 people die due to exposure. It is no wonder they nicknamed it “The Silent Killer”.

If you drive roughly 12,000 miles this year, your car will emit approximately 575lbs. of carbon monoxide. As the percentage of carbon monoxide in the atmosphere continues to increase due to congestion on our highways and roads, the needed exposure timeto the chemical before it becomes fatal or causes health complications will begin to diminish. In fact, the growth in vehicle population which is anticipated to occur in the next few decades may offset the benefits of driving hybrids and other “environmentally friendly” vehicles.

This is exactly why each person who makes the decision to commute using public transportation can play an important role in preserving air quality and preventing health complications from vehicle emissions.

Productivity and Opportunity

Driving to work can be a major stressor which could hinder our productivity. Often times, we have to wake up at the wee hours in the morning to beat the morning commute. This makes it much more difficult for us to get the recommended 8-hrs of sleep we need to stay alert and energetic throughout the day. The cumulative effects of sleep fatigue are well documented and can lead to numerous issues such as deficits in attention span and cognition. Not a good thing considering that these are key ingredients of success at work and school.

Some of us simply dislike driving, and others only dislike events that occur while driving. For instance, the lack of control that we may feel by driving could cause us anxiety and make us irritable. This could be due to an inability to find away around traffic that has come to a standstill, or it could be due to a traffic light that just won’t turn green, or a detour due to construction which extends your commute time. These are only some examples of things that are beyond your control that cause irritation and anxiety and may very well carry over to your work day. Such events can be avoided by walking, biking, and/or taking the metro, where the most stress inducing event would probably be a delay in the train’s arrival or braving the fierce summer heat.

Furthermore, driving requires your full concentration, whereas on the bus or train you essentially have your own personal driver, making it possible to work on a variety of tasks. Being that we are very busy during the week,any additional free time, even if only an hour a day, can be significant. Now you can read the paper to stay abreast of current events, finish that novel you began reading a few months ago before things became hectic at work, or maybe just work on a crossword puzzle to get your brain activated for the day. The point is that this is now essentially a window of free time for you to use to devote to tasks, personal growth, or just simply relax.

Also, as aforementioned, countries such as China, Japan, and India who utilize mass transit the most, enjoy the lowest rates of obesity. If the availability and usage of mass transit increases, the obesity rate may decline substantially. What does this mean? Less absenteeism, reduced healthcare costs passed on to employers, and improved concentration and less fatigue while at work.

Public transportation also provides opportunities for advancement to people who cannot afford to own a car, or just want to reduce expenditures associated with their automobile. Today, many middle class families keep the same vehicles for longer than 5-years, since the cost of purchasing a new car has become so expensive. These older model vehicles, with their high mileage, may be unreliable and in need of frequent costly repairs, making it necessary to look to alternative modes of transportation. Thus, public transportation serves as an impetus for the professional and educational advancement of those in the lower and middle socioeconomic strata, providing them with a golden opportunity to save money and to commute to work and school efficiently and in a safe manner.

Increasing the availability of public transportation and frequency of services through billions in funding is something that could pay major dividends in the future. Fortunately, such projects have taken place in California, Northern VA, and New York, where low and high-speed rails are being constructed.

But this is not enough, as city planning projects should incorporate a plan to construct more sidewalks and bike paths, and incentive programs should be implemented for companies who subsidize employees taking public transportation. Furthermore, free fare passes for a month can be sent to people to help encourage them to try it out.

Investing substantial dollars and putting the proper infrastructure in place for mass transit projects will cut obesity and the cost associated with this pandemic, lead to greater financial health, help reduce carbon footprint and other pollutants while increasing productivity, and providing opportunities for advancement and growth.

Overlooking such benefits would be tantamount to disserving our nation at a time where our economy is fragile, and where a recession has adversely affected our standard of living.  


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Michael Janati

Michael Janati is a certified personal trainer through the American Council on Exercise, and CPR/AED certified through the American Red Cross.  He has an undergraduate degree in Psychology, and a Masters of Science in Health Promotion Management.

Michael has worked as a fitness manager for a large commercial gym, and has experience training a variety of clientele.  During his employment at an outpatient day program for clients diagnosed with severe mental illnesses, he conducted fitness outings and health/wellness groups.  There, he played an integral role in helping motivate clients to become active as a means of coping with their illnesses.

Michael is competitive in races, having successfully completed a half-marathon, sprint triathlon, an indoor triathlon, as well as a number of 5Ks.  He enjoys running, swimming, tennis, strength-training, flag football, and bowling.   

Currently, he resides in Michigan, where he is working towards his Juris Doctorate.

 

 

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