Go Green – Take SamTrans or Caltrain
Despite falling gas prices and an economic recession, Americans took 10.7 billion trips on public transportation in 2008, the highest level of ridership in 52 years. One of the reasons for this increase is a growing public awareness of the environmental benefits of taking transit.
“Every year, public transportation saves 4.2 billion gallons of gas and reduces the nation’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons,” said San Mateo County Transit District General Manager and CEO Mike Scanlon. “Clearly, public transportation is part of the solution for reducing our nation’s carbon emissions.”
Earth Day, which will be celebrated April 22, is a great time for San Mateo County residents to learn how Caltrain and SamTrans are the way to “go green.”
A typical five-passenger car Caltrain takes as many as 650 cars off the road. Caltrain also reduces pollution and energy consumption by adopting “green” practices in many of its day-to-day operations.
People working or living near the San Francisco Caltrain Station and San Jose maintenance facility may not be aware that Caltrain has expanded its ground power and compressed air systems at these facilities. Before this project was completed, crews had to rely on the locomotives’ engines for power while performing routine maintenance work on trains. Now, crews can plug into 480 volts of ground power, allowing the locomotives to be shut off.
In addition to reducing pollution and noise, this practice has resulted in a significant reduction in fuel consumption. Caltrain consumes between 4 and 5 million gallons of diesel fuel per year. At the San Francisco station alone, monthly fuel consumption has been reduced nearly 10,500 gallons.
In the future, electrifying the rail system will result in a 90 percent reduction in overall emissions. Since electric-operated trains are more efficient than Caltrain’s current diesel trains, this also will result in significant savings in energy use because electric-operated trains use less energy per mile compared to diesel locomotives.
Electrified trains also provide a quicker trip, enticing more people to trade their car trip for a train ride. The modernization of Caltrain’s line through electrification as well as the potential shared use of this corridor with California high-speed rail service between San Francisco and Los Angeles can set the stage for smart development adjacent to the rail system.
New buses and hybrid cars
More than 56,000 people take SamTrans on an average weekday – imagine the traffic congestion if, instead of hopping on the bus, all these people chose to drive a car. As more people become aware of the environmental benefits to transit, SamTrans is working to “green” its services and grow ridership.
By the end of the year SamTrans will replace nearly one-third of its buses with new ultra low emissions buses, which will reduce NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions an additional 60 percent. The District also is developing plans to begin a demonstration project to operate SamTrans buses on locally produced biofuel blends. And, with a view towards the future, SamTrans is a partner with AC Transit, Valley Transportation Authority and Golden Gate Transit in the advanced demonstration of zero emissions fuel cell technology in buses.
The District recently approved a contract to purchase 21 compact hybrid cars. The energy-efficient vehicles, which will be uses by field supervisors to monitor SamTrans service, are expected to result in a significant reduction in fuel consumption and emissions. They will replace older vehicles that produce significantly higher carbon emissions.
“Commute calculators” on the SamTrans and Caltrain Web sites put the cost of driving side by side with the cost of taking transit, allowing users to figure the cost of their individual commute. Commuters enter a check list of data: the number of miles driven each day, commute days per month, parking fees, the current price of gas, average miles per gallon and toll bridge costs, if any. The average vehicle cost per mile is included in the calculation.
To encourage more people to jump on the green bandwagon, the District will host its first Earth Day event from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursday, April 23 at the Redwood City Transit Center. In addition to SamTrans and Caltrain information, the lunch-time event will feature a variety of booths to educate people about how they can “green” their life and their community.
Regionally, the District joined the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which operates Muni, VTA and AC Transit in a marketing campaign to encourage Bay Area residents to “Go Green” by taking transit. The campaign is timed to build on the heightened awareness surrounding Earth Day.
The campaign for a “Healthier Planet, Healthier Youth” is reinforced by an interagency supported Web site, www.healthierplanethealthieryou.com, as well as print and broadcast advertisements. The two print ad themes offer a playful take on serious environmental and health issues. The first ad encourage Bay Area residents to adopt a “Low Car Diet” while the second highlights the ubiquity of cell phones and ask people to “Answer the Call” from Planet Earth to protect the environment. A television ad will feature a character named Terry Firma as an unhealthy Planet Earth seeking medical attention.
For an individual, there may be no better choice for reducing their personal carbon footprint: switching to transit reduces individual carbon emissions by 20 pounds per day or 4,800 pounds per year. Make this the year you go green. For help planning your trip on SamTrans or Caltrain, call 1-800-660-4287.