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Free Buses Provide a Good Excuse to Go Car-Free

by: Kim Barto    17 August 2006

My previous column, which dealt with human-caused climate change, provoked a few heated responses from the "global warming is a left-wing hoax" camp. However, protecting our environment should not be an issue of politics, but of the survival of our species. No matter which side of the spectrum you subscribe to, it does not make sense to continue destroying our habitat and air supply without restraint.

Global warming is an intimidating problem, to be sure. Without adequate federal legislation to curb carbon emissions, it seems that we as a people must take responsibility into our own hands. Yet how can an individual citizen hope to make any difference against such a daunting foe?

Living without contributing to global warming is next to impossible, but we can certainly reduce our own climate impact, one step at a time.

Pollution from cars makes up a large part of our "carbon footprints." One person driving an average of 12,500 miles per year releases over 5.5 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, according to the EPA. This places a large amount of personal responsibility on each car owner to cut this figure as much as possible. But how?

As of last Monday, we have one more reason to leave those car keys at home. The city of Asheville is providing fare-free bus service until Nov. 11.

Kudos to the city for taking this action and expanding the evening bus routes to make public transportation a more practical option.

The American Public Transportation Association estimates that a bus with as few as seven passengers is more fuel-efficient than the average single-occupant auto used for commuting. And if the bus is full of riders, well, you can do the math.

In order to keep those buses full, however, the transit system must work to become competitive with cars.

A trip across town by bus can be time-consuming. Why wait an hour to get to the mall when I drive there in 10 minutes? Commuters are not going to abandon their automobiles readily if it means greater inconvenience in getting to work.

However, the benefits of bus travel go far beyond saving energy. People often do not change their habits unless you hit their wallets, and the ever-rising cost of gasoline may soon force us all to rethink our car addictions. Besides saving money on fuel and car repairs, riding the bus helps negate the downtown parking problem and reduces traffic congestion, accidents and noise pollution.

Better mass transit is just one facet of a sustainable lifestyle. If you don't feel like waiting for the bus, then get outside and use those legs.

Currently, 25 percent of trips in America are less than one mile in length, but 75 percent of those trips are accomplished by car, according to a survey by the Federal Highway Administration. The easiest way to go car-free is to tackle these short trips first. As a recovering car addict, myself, I'm currently using this plan to try and phase out my own driving.

Start by choosing one location, such as the grocery store, the gym, the school or another place you frequent regularly, and pledge to walk, bike or ride the bus every time you go there. Add more locations gradually, one at a time, until you're using alternative transport on a regular basis.

Sadly, the sprawling nature of Asheville and its environs means that it's not always safe or practical to travel on foot. If you absolutely cannot avoid driving, try to consolidate your trips or carpool.

Do you really need to go to the mall, anyway?

Walking and bicycling have all the cost-saving benefits of public transport, but with the added advantage of better health.

Almost everyone could stand to get more exercise, and the reduced air pollution will help us all breathe a bit easier.

As individuals, we cannot stop polluting entirely without drastically changing our lives and going off the grid, but reducing our dependence on cars is a reasonable first step to healing our environment. If you can't go "car-free," go "car-lite." It may be cliché, but every little bit helps.

Check out the carbon calculator at stopglobalwarming.org for other ways to reduce emissions and save money. Watch the savings add up, both for your wallet and our planet.