A comparison of the sustainability of public and private transportation systems: Study of the Greater Toronto Area

A macroscopic assessment of the impacts of private and public transportation systems on the sustainability of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is undertaken from economic, environmental and social perspectives. The methodology draws upon the urban metabolism and sustainability indicators approaches to assessing urban sustainability, but compares modes in terms of passenger-kms. In assessing the economic sustainability of a city, transportation should be recognized as a product, a driver and a cost. In 1993, the traded costs of automobile use in the GTA were approximately balanced by the value of the automobile parts and assembly industry. But local transit costs 1/3 to 1/6 of the auto costs per person-km, in traded dollars, mainly because local labour is the primary cost.Public transportation is more sustainable from an environmental perspective. Automobile emissions are a major contributor to air pollution, which is a serious contemporary environmental health problem in Toronto. Public transportation modes are less energy intensive (including indirect energy consumption) and produce CO2 at an order of magnitude lower, although these benefits are partially undermined by under-utilization of transit capacity and the source of electricity generation.The social benefits of automobile use are likely more significant than costs in determining GTA residents' preferential mode choice. The speed and access of auto use provide important economic benefits, e.g. relating to employment and product choice. Nevertheless, offsetting the service attributes of private transportation are large social costs in terms of accidents. The costs of automobile insurance provide one tangible measure of such negative impacts.In order to improve the sustainability of the GTA, innovative approaches are required for improving the performance level of public transportation or substantially reducing the need for the service level provided by automobiles. Efforts such as greater integration of bicycles with public transit, or construction of light-rail systems in wide roadways, might be considered. But to be sustainable overall, a transportation system has to be flexible and adaptable and so must combine a mixture of modes.

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