06/21/2012 09:22 am ET Updated Aug 21, 2012

To Drive or Not to Drive, That Is the Question: June 21 Is Dump the Pump Day 2012

In Washington, D.C., too many leaders haven't gotten the word that our nation's love affair with oil is on the rocks. But across the nation, Americans who have access to public transportation aren't waiting -- they're making the break from oil and voting with their feet by "dumping the pump" in favor of solutions like public transit.

On June 21, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the Sierra Club are proud to once again cosponsor the seventh annual National Dump the Pump Day, an opportunity for millions of Americans across the country to celebrate smart public transportation choices.

Public transportation ridership is surging nationwide -- whether it's bus, light-rail or train, Americans are using transit. Not just in big cities but all over America, transit use was up by five percent in the first quarter of 2012 -- that's 125.7 million more trips than in 2011.

Public transit ridership is on the upswing for several reasons. The most obvious is financial: A family that downsizes by one car and switches to public transit can save nearly $10,000 a year. The cost of driving has become significant enough that more Americans are asking themselves each time they leave the house whether they should grab the car keys or opt for a more cost-effective way to get where they need to go.

But while volatile gas prices may have inspired more people to try transit, what's convincing them to stick with transit is its convenience. When you can leave the driving to someone else, it frees up valuable time for reading, working, surfing the web, or safely making a phone call.

What's more, technology is creating a higher-quality product and service. Technologies like smartphones and Google Maps make it easy to plan transit trips even in unfamiliar areas. Buses powered by cleaner fuels, real-time information on bus and train arrivals, and the availability of Wi-Fi on vehicles have all transformed the transit rider's experience.

Public transportation saves money and adds convenience for individuals, but its collective benefits for our society are equally compelling. According to the latest Texas Transportation Institute congestion report, Americans saved $19 billion in congestion costs alone because of public transit. And public transit doesn't just get Americans to work -- it puts Americans to work. The public transit industry employs more than 400,000 people.

Every dollar invested in public transportation generates approximately four dollars in economic returns. These returns aren't Wall Street dividends or oil company profits. They show up as salaries that pay mortgages, put kids through college, and take families on vacation. And as if the economic boost weren't a good enough reason to invest in public transit, consider that the 4.2 billion gallons of gas saved last year by transit users also slashed U.S. carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons.

Last spring the media worked themselves into a panic over rising gas prices. Each of us, whether we drive or not, shares concerns about the volatility of gas prices. Although millions of car-dependent Americans are directly affected, the economic instability that comes with high gas prices spares no one -- the recovery grinds to a halt, job creation slows down, and the price of just about everything else goes up, too.

How do we end this tyranny of the gas pump? The majority of Americans know that no amount of drilling, blasting, deep-sea diving, or strip-mining to get to more oil can ever make any significant difference in the price of gas. The only solution to high gas prices is for Americans to find ways to use less gas. By far the easiest and most effective of these is to switch from driving to riding.

Public transit saves money and puts America back to work. Public transit slashes our oil use and cuts our carbon emission, smog, and other air pollution. Public transit is a solution to volatile gas prices that's already working for millions of Americans. It's time for everyone to get on board and give all Americans the ability to "dump the pump."