Adapt to the future of fuel: choose transit - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Adapt to the future of fuel: choose transit

Part Two in an ongoing series linking energy consumption and development patterns

With the price at the pump topping record levels, many advocacy groups have published their own versions of "10 Tips for Reducing Your Energy Consumption." While individual efforts – as well as critical thinking in the ongoing alternative fuels debate – are integral, communities also must start planning carefully to achieve the only sure-fire method for curbing America 's oil addiction: cutting car trips. Imagine the possibilities if we stopped subsidizing unnaturally low gas prices, and started letting the market catch up to rising consumer demand for pedestrian and bike-friendly communities near jobs, retail and public transportation. This is Part Two in an ongoing Metropolitan Planning Council Web series, highlighting how we, as a region, can start recognizing every chance to grow or rebuild as another opportunity to diminish our auto dependency. Check back every other Thursday to learn innovative ways we can beat our oil addiction through sensible growth.

No one wants to pay $3 for a gallon of gas, much less $8. Yet experts agree: gas prices will only continue to rise over the long term. It’s a simple supply and demand equation that obeys no political process. Indeed, temporarily distorting the market to keep fuel prices artificially low will only make it more painful for residents, businesses, cities, and towns to adjust to real market prices when we can no longer afford the subsidies.

Thankfully, metropolitan Chicago offers convenient ways to adapt to the evolving energy market: most obviously, our extensive transit system. The six-county region boasts a bus and commuter rail network that, while not perfect, provides more than 1.6 million rides per day, giving millions of residents and visitors each year an easy alternative to the expense and hassles of driving.

That’s a big deal, especially when considering that, next to housing, transportation is the second highest cost for American families, outpacing both food and health care costs. Yet public transportation isn’t important only to those who ride it: the entire region benefits from reduced congestion, faster delivery of goods and services, and lowered emissions levels. Simply put, choosing to take transit is fastest, easiest way to free ourselves from pump anxiety, especially if we make it a priority to live near a train or bus line – a choice more and more people are making.

To demonstrate that public transit offers the quickest, simplest alternative to the high cost of driving, the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) – which oversees the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace – will join with other public transit systems across the country for National Dump the Pump Day. The event is sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), a nonprofit association of more than 1,600 member organizations, including almost 400 public transit agencies.

“By using public transit on a regular basis, a person can save between $300 and $3,000 in fuel costs per year,” said RTA Executive Director Stephen Schlickman. “We also encourage employers to look into the RTA Transit Benefit program that allows a company and its employees to take advantage of tax law changes to reduce commuting costs. Those savings could be used for necessities such as food and medicine, help pay a student loan, or make the dream of a family vacation a reality,” he said.

Of course, as more and more of us walk past our cars on the way to the train or bus – or forgo car ownership altogether – the transit system also must continue to adapt. In order to keep the system reliable, convenient, safe, and clean, state and local governments will have to provide enough resources to the RTA. According to the RTA, the agency needs $1 billion per year just to maintain the current transit system, including its rail cars and busses, stations and passenger facilities, tracks, signals, and communications equipment. To expand northeastern Illinois ’ transit system in order to serve more riders, the state must deliver at least 20 percent of the $7 billion authorized for New Start projects in the most recent federal transportation bill.

The realities of the energy market – and the changing transportation needs of our growing region – mean that we cannot afford to let our transit system become crippled by basic maintenance problems. The RTA’s new Strategic Plan initiative promises to chart a course allowing our more than 100-year-old transit system to adapt to meet the demands of our evolving travel and lifestyle habits. We can do ourselves a favor by getting involved in the planning process and telling our leaders we expect them to support more resources for our transit systems. Click here to read more about the RTA Strategic Plan .

Read part one of the series on energy consumption and development patterns.

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For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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