By Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club and William Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association
Big Oil's toll on our pocketbooks and our national security has never been greater. Families all over America are struggling to pay soaring gas prices, while oil-producing countries in the Middle East experience increasing conflict.
What if even for just one day, we could free ourselves from Big Oil's stranglehold?
That's what thousands of Americans will do today, National Dump the Pump Day. All across the country, people will ditch the gas pump and take buses, trains, and other shared transit to get to work, school and play, and show that given good public transportation choices, we will save money and gas and move closer to ending our addiction to fossil fuel.
This year, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the Sierra Club are proud to sponsor the sixth annual National Dump the Pump Day, bringing together millions of Americans across the country to call for smart public transportation choices. Public transportation helps American families save money and relieves congestion on clogged roadways. It also creates jobs, reduces dangerous carbon pollution and cuts our nation's addiction to foreign oil.
In cities both large and small, Americans are already "dumping the pump" and taking public transportation in greater numbers. Just in the first quarter of this year, Chicago added more than 300,000 riders to its public transit system. Suburban Pompano Beach, FL's commuter rail system, called Tri-Rail, saw a 9.9 percent rise in public transit ridership in May 2011, compared to May 2010.
More Americans are realizing that public transportation is a cheaper and easier way to get around -- and for good reason. The average American household can save more than $10,000 a year by switching to public transportation.
Taking public transit will also greatly reduce life-threatening pollution that dirties our air and makes us sick. Each year, our cars and trucks spew 1,100 million metric tons of life-threatening carbon emissions into our air, resulting in more poor air quality days, asthma attacks and contributing to climate disruption. Public transportation saves more than 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year -- an amount equal to the combined carbon pollution generated by New York City, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, Denver and Los Angeles.
Despite these benefits, however, many American cities still lack public transportation options. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only 54 percent of American households have access to public transportation and many rail and bus systems have felt the pinch of state and local funding cuts.
These are essential services that Americans rely on to get to work and school, and we must make meaningful investments in smart transportation systems nationwide to ensure that more families can reap the benefits.
Strong investments in public transportation will also create much-needed jobs -- investments in public transportation projects are already putting thousands of Americans to work building transit infrastructure, operating bus and rail systems and working at the small businesses that grow around public transportation systems. Every $1 billion invested in public transportation creates and supports 36,000 jobs.
And it gets better. For every $1 invested in public transit, $4 is generated in economic benefits.
To cut our addiction to oil and make our country a better, cleaner and more secure place, we must invest now in new and updated public transportation systems.
Now is the time to build a 21st century transportation system to support American families while helping to keep our air and water clean.
We hope you and your friends and family will join us today and Dump the Pump.
Follow Michael Brune on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bruneski