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Can We Please Stop Pretending Cars Are Greener Than Transit?

Freakonomics revives a tried, and tired, debate.
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It's Travel Day in America, so before we fight over the Thanksgiving wishbone, let's fight over who hurt the environment more while getting home. The subject comes courtesy of Clemson planning professor Eric Morris, who recently wondered at the Freakonomics blog whether cars might actually be greener than mass transit. Last week Morris's breakdown was echoed over at Marketplace radio under the headline: "Save the earth, drive your car?"

Morris offers essentially a three-pronged skepticism. Transit vehicles are environmentally friendly when they run full, he says, but quite damaging when they run empty. As a result, while systems in major cities like New York's have a low per-passenger carbon rate, those in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Memphis have a comparatively high one. In conclusion, people should be "very skeptical" about adding new transit services and instead focus on attracting riders to those that already exist.