Going Green

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When this webpage was in the planning stage, I resolved that “not no way, not no how” (to borrow a line from the Wizard of Oz) would I include anything controversial. It would be a webpage solely dedicated to collecting transit badges—pure and simple. Well, as this page demonstrates, I didn’t quite live up to my resolution. However, I’m hoping that no rational person will be insulted by one slight deviation from my original purpose, especially when one considers that it’s for a vital cause. But, if I’ve misjudged, then please accept my apology and invitation to click on the return arrow. For those still with me, let’s move onto the green thing.

My interest in public transit began in the 1950s when my mother would take me downtown for her weekly shopping trip on a city bus—an “Old Look” GM bus no less! It was also in the 1950s when my father and I rode a shiny new double-decker Greyhound bus—a Scenicruiser—from Evansville, Indiana, to St. Louis, Missouri. From that time on I was hooked on pubic transit. By 1968 that interest had matured into my becoming an active public transit advocate. The advocacy thing came about when my hometown’s privately-owned bus company ran out of money and the “city fathers” refused to honor previous commitments of financial aid. For the record, that didn’t end well: the “city fathers” did what politicians usually do (i.e., broke their promise) and allowed the transit system to fail. That put yours truly and a few thousand others on foot. Alas, that dismal outcome proved to be the catalyst for my becoming an active public transit advocate for the next five decades. (If you want the inside story of that tangled mess, I invite you to read my book, Meet Me at the Bus Stop: 141 Years of Public Transportation in Owensboro & Daviess County, Kentucky, 1878-2019, which is available on this webpage under the tab “Owensboro, Ky. Transit History” or clicking the above title, which is an active link.)

Some years ago the legendary folk song writer/singer/activist Pete Seeger recorded a song called “GARBAGE.” ( Click on the title link if you want to hear the song!) Allow me to recite some lyrics from that song:

Mr. Thompson starts his Cadillac and winds it down the freeway track Leaving friends and neighbors in a hydrocarbon haze He’s joined by lots of smaller cars all sending gases to the stars There to form a seething cloud that hangs for thirty days And the sun licks down into it with an ultraviolet tongue Turns it into smog and then it settles in our lungs Oh, Garbage, garbage, garbage We’re filling up the sky with garbage What will we do when there’s nothing left to breathe but garbage.”(2)

Why did I toss in these lyrics? So I would have an excuse to climb upon my public-transit soapbox and preach a little, which I’ll do by first taking you back to a scorching-hot summer afternoon in the mid 1970s: the place is Los Angeles, one of the most car-saturated and air-polluted cities on earth.

As far as the eye could behold was a sea of single-occupant cars inching along the Hollywood Freeway in a sweltering 101° heat. And there I sat, with a million other idiots, trapped inside my little white unairconditioned 1963 Ford Falcon—with red vinyl seats, no less—contributing my fair share of “garbage” to the infamous lung-stinging carcinogenic smog of the San Fernando Valley. The only hint of sanity in this sea of human madness was the occasional RTD bus, loaded to the gills with passengers, zipping past in the high-occupancy vehicle lane, or Diamond Lane.(3)

Okay, I will fess up: I didn’t immediately go out and scrap my little gas-belching Falcon. I didn’t forever foreswear the internal-combustion engine—indeed, I’ve owned lots of the things over the last forty-five years. But, and this is a super “but,” I did become very serious about “going green,” which, if I remember right, was a slogan that caught on sometime in the 70s.(4) From that time on, whenever feasible for someone living in L.A., I parked my car and used the ever-reliable RTD bus. In fact there were times back then when I didn’t drive all week, which I feel was a notable accomplishment, given my locale!

This wasn’t a smug, self-righteous act on my part. It was a sincere realization that the cure for what ails our planet starts with me, and that is why Pete Seeger’s rendition of “Garbage” has become something of a theme song in my determination. In other words, for me “going green” means doing my part to clean up what you and I suck into our lungs about twelve times a minute, and I truly believe that one of the best solutions to air pollution is mass transit—getting Americans out of their automobiles and into a bus, or into some other form of mass people movers, or, heaven forfend, even on a bicycle or on foot!

Way back in 2002 there were some 531 million cars worldwide, and each of these gas-bangers produced an average of twenty pounds of CO2, or carbon dioxide, for every consumed gallon of fuel. According to the latest stats, the average new car now gets 24.9 mpg, and the average one-way work commute is sixteen miles. Let’s add to these stats the fact that 76.4% of all commuters drive alone. However, most commuters aren’t driving new cars, meaning that their engines are sucking a lot more fuel than any 24.4 mpg. So let’s be liberal with the numbers and say that the average round trip commute spends one gallon of fuel. That’s 20 lbs of CO2 spewing into the heavens per commute.

Why am I boring you with this? Because I want to tell you about a super people-mover called a bi-articulated bus. This thing, which resembles a bus accordion, can carry up to 270 passengers.(5) Now, using the above stats, and considering American drivers’ single-occupancy vehicle habit, one fully-loaded bi-articulated bus could take 270 cars off the road, sparing us all 270 x 20 lbs, or 5,400 lbs of atmospheric poison per round trip commute!(6) Think of the results if all those single commuters, inching along a jammed, miserable LA freeway, would dump their cars for a biarticulated bus. What kind of dent would a thousand of those things make in rush hour traffic? What effect would that have on the carcinogenic air we all are forced to breathe? What would it do for Mother Earth?

I’m not offering some unknown solution here, because most people know that mass transit is a major remedy to our poisoned atmosphere. But you and I know that humans are well practiced at ignoring anything that would cramp their style. It’s why we stuff our faces with junk food, habitually suck tobacco smoke into our lungs and simply will not dump our cars for public transit.

One more time and in plain English: a viable solution to our poisoned atmosphere—a “hydrocarbon haze”— is as simple as going to the corner and catching the next bus!

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1 Beginning in 1940 Yellow Coach, which was a part of General Motors, designed and produced a bus that resembled a loaf of bread. In 1943 Yellow Coach was renamed General Motors Coach Division and the same bus design continued under the GM logo. Although a new model was introduced in 1959, the old model continued in production alongside the new until 1969. Thereupon the older models were called “Old Look” while the new design was called “New Look.” Some 38,000 “Old Look” buses were produced between 1940 and 1969 and thus it is one of the most recognizable bus designs in the world.

2 Quoted from the lyrics of Bill Steele’s song, “GARBAGE” and recorded by Pete Seeger in his Grammy Award-winning album “Pete.” Pete Seeger died on January 27, 2014 at age ninety-four.

3 The Southern California Rapid Transit District (referred to as RTD), was the successor to the original Metropolitan Transit Authority, or MTA. It was created by an act of the California State Legislature in 1964. The RTD merged with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on April 1, 1993.

The 1970s saw numerous steps to clean up the environment: the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act, the founding of Earth Day, the banning of DDT, the Water Pollution Control Act, and the Endangered Species Act. These “save the earth” measures were highlighted by the disasters at Love Canal in 1978 and Three Mile Island in 1979, which terrified the public with the visible consequences of toxic waste, pollution, and contamination.

5 Each bi-articulated bus is equipped with five doors by which passengers can quickly load and unload only at enclosed stations where passengers have already purchased passage. Regarding the efficiency of intercity buses, one Greyhound bus takes an average of nineteen cars off the road and achieves 170 passenger miles per gallon of fuel.

6 Information from The American Public Transit Association, cited in the on-line article “Does Bus Transit Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?” April 5, 2010 at: http://reason.org/news/show/1009762.html#sthash.aVQfC2PT.dpuf “Average one-way commute time is 26 minutes (over an average distance of 16 miles)” http://abcnews.go.com/Techn ology/Traffic/story?id=485098&page=1. The New Times “Commuting’s Hidden Cost” October 28, 2013. By JANE E. BRODY “According to the Census Bureau, more than three-fourths of all commuters drove to work in single-occupancy vehicles in 2009. Only 5 percent used public transportation, and 2.9 percent walked to work. A mere 0.6 percent rode bicycles …” http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/10/28/commutings-hidden-cost/. “How much carbon dioxide do people produce each year?” Answered by Science Channel: http://curiosity.discovery.com/ques tion/carbon-dioxide-people-produce-year. Journalist’s Resource “U.S. residents, how they commute and what it costs” http://journalistsresource.org/studies/environment/transportation/us-residents-how-they-commute-what-it-co sts-research-roundup#.

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A site about collecting transit badges and discovering the histories of the companies that issued them.

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