Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions from Optimizing Urban Transit Networks

Potential Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reductions from Optimizing Urban Transit Networks
PI: Samer Madanat, UC Berkeley; Co-PI: Arpad Horvath, UC Berkeley

Abstract: Public transit systems with efficient designs and operating plans can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to low-occupancy transportation modes, but many current transit systems have not been designed to reduce environmental impacts. This motivates the study of the benefits of design and operational approaches for reducing the environmental impacts of transit systems. For example, transit agencies may replace level-of-service (LOS) by vehicle miles traveled (VMT) as a criterion in evaluating design and operational changes. Previous studies have demonstrated in an idealized singletechnology transit system the potential of reducing GHG emissions by lowering the transit level-of-service (LOS) provided to the users. In this research, we extend the analysis to account for a more realistic case: a transit system with a hierarchical structure (trunk and feeder lines) providing service to a city where demand is elastic. By considering the interactions between the trunk and the feeder systems, the study provides a quantitative basis for designing and operating integrated urban transit systems that can reduce GHG emissions and costs to both transit users and agencies. The study shows that highly elastic transit demand may cancel emission reduction potentials resulting from lowering LOS, due to demand shifts to lower occupancy vehicles, causing unintended consequences. However, for mass transit modes, these potentials are still significant. Transit networks with buses, bus rapid transit or light rail as trunk modes should be designed and operated near the cost-optimal point when the demand is highly elastic, while this is not required for metro. We also find that the potential for unintended consequences increases with the size of the city. The results are robust to uncertainties in the costs and emissions parameters. The study also includes a discussion of a current transit system. Since many current transit systems have not yet been optimally designed, it should be possible to reduce their GHG emissions without sacrificing the LOS. A case study of the MUNI bus system in San Francisco is used to validate this conjecture. The analysis shows that reductions in GHG emissions can be achieved when societal costs are reduced simultaneously. The cost-optimal MUNI bus system has a societal cost of 0.15 billion $/year and emits 1680 metric tons of greenhouse gases. These figures only amount to about half of the cost and a third of the emissions in the current MUNI bus system. The optimal system has a lower spatial availability but a higher temporal availability of bus service than the current system, which highlights the potential benefits of providing more frequent express bus services.

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