Why Improved Public Transportation Benefits Us All
By: Devin Morrissey
Even in the smaller big cities around the U.S., getting from one place to another in the same city can involve the need to travel a long distance. For the homeless population, as well as people without access to a vehicle, public transportation is a necessary part of the day. However, public transportation in some cities is not only inaccessible financially, it’s also simply not fleshed out enough to serve the public in enough places and throughout enough of the day.
With so many people relying on public transportation to get to medical appointments, job interviews, work, somewhere to sleep, and somewhere to access food, it should be a civil priority to have high-functioning public transportation. Improving public transportation benefits not only our most vulnerable population, but all of us by clearing up our roads, air, keeping people from drinking and driving, and providing citizens with a necessary resource.
The Many Benefits of Public Transit
In order to improve public transportation for everyone, it must be made more affordable. In some cities, public transportation can be too expensive for even the low-income population. For individuals who are living in poverty, are disabled, or homeless, accessible public transportation can be a lifeline for them and their pets.
Each year, about three million dogs enter animal shelters nationwide. For homeless people and their pets, having access to public transportation can sometimes be the difference between whether or not they have the resources to keep their animal companion. Although service dogs are always allowed for free on public transportation, some buses and trains in certain cities require that pets be in a cage, on a leash, or require that the pet owner pay a standard fare for their dog.
Public transportation that requires dog owners to keep dogs in a cage or to pay for their dog’s fare can create serious obstacles for the homeless population that could cause them to lose their animal companions. However, by dedicating local government resources to making buses and trains more accessible for homeless people and their pets, cities can help give the homeless community the help they need to get back on their feet and can provide a needed service to the rest of us who could also benefit from more accessible transportation for us and our pets.
Aside from the direct benefit to a city’s constituents, there are a large number of consequential benefits that occur by improving public transportation. One of these is the environmental benefits that come as a result of getting cars off the road by making public transportation more convenient. The use of public transportation helps decrease CO2 emissions by 37 million metric tons each year by reducing the number of cars on the road. This helps reduce greenhouse gases, improves the air quality in cities and decreases a community’s environmental footprint.
Another benefit of improving public transportation is increasing the safety of the community. In 2016, there were over 37,000 people killed in traffic-related accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Almost 6,000 of these deaths were pedestrians, and 840 of them were bicyclists. The number of pedestrian deaths increased by 11 percent from 2015, and one reason for this was distracted driving. Public transit helps to keep distracted drivers off the roads, and gives one person the job of driving attentively and carefully for many people.
Improves Pedestrian Travel
Decongesting roads helps make pedestrian travel safer, more comfortable, and generally more pleasant. This helps everyone, including the homeless population, feel more comfortable keeping their dogs by their sides, knowing that cars and traffic won’t be as large a risk, especially for pups who are frightened easily by traffic and loud noises. This type of relaxed environment can help increase the quality of life for people and their pets.
Feeling comfortable having your pet with you is super important when someone experiences any kind of mental or emotional problems, such as depression and anxiety. Dogs often serve as emotional support animals for people who are homeless, providing them relief from the loneliness they often experience without a stable life and home. Similarly, having a pet with you can help you feel safer, especially as a homeless person who may worry about being assaulted.
Improving the roads for pedestrians and their pets can help everyone feel safer, and can encourage people to spend more time relaxing outdoors and taking walks. In cities with excessively congested roads, many people avoid exercising outside, which is sometimes the only place they can afford to exercise. By making the roads safer for pedestrians, people will be encouraged to reap the benefits of light exercise, such as improved circulation, a stronger body, and decreased stress.
Public Transportation is the Future
With the growing populations in cities, the resources needed for the homeless population and the pressing need to address climate change, accessible public transportation is the future. In many U.S. cities, it’s becoming more and more common to see nonprofits advocating for the need to make public transportation accessible to homeless populations in order to help them attain the resources they need to survive.
In 2016, the Transit Riders Union (TRU) of the Seattle, WA area delivered petitions and letters to county officials and testified at public hearings, insisting that public transportation be made more accessible for low income and homeless communities. The organization works to expand and improve public transportation services, and after their efforts, the city was receptive and increased the cap for people riding on public transportation. They also slashed the price in half, making transit significantly more affordable.
As more people demand accessible public transportation, and more city officials recognize the many benefits of providing this resource to their communities, public transportation will become an integral part of cities in the future. The benefits are significant, and include better air quality, improved health, and an overall increase in community satisfaction. As cities begin to invest more in their public transportation systems, the homeless population, their dogs, and everyone else will experience some relief and a greater quality of life.