Green Living Money Savers

Reduce Your Transportation Footprint (and Save a Ton!)

Reduce Your Transportation Footprint

Nothing would protect the environment and decrease our dependence on oil more than taking steps to reduce your transportation footprint. Transportation accounts for more than 30 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions.

In big cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, and Washington, D.C., car pollution causes the grey smog that leads to hotter summers and those horrible orange, red and even purple air-quality days that cause asthma attacks in children and other health problems in adults.

That $4 a gallon you pay for gas does not even begin to cover the costs that the use of that fuel places on our economy. American’s end up wasting 1.9 billion gallons of gasoline just sitting in traffic jams every year. This costs American’s over $100 billion dollars per year in fuel alone.

Then, If you factor in all of the hidden costs (externalities like climate change due to CO2 emissions, health care and lost work and school days due to smog-induced illness, pollution remediation, etc.), then the actual cost per gallon for gas is much closer to $15 or $20 per gallon!

No matter how you cut it, we are paying the real costs for every gallon of gasoline, one way or the other.

On the other hand, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), public transportation in the United States saves approximately 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline and about 1.5 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Yet only 14 million Americans use public transportation daily, while 88 percent of all trips in the United States are made by car—and many of those cars carry only one person.

The Cost of Commuting on Our Health

Ground-level ozone, or “smog,” is one of the most dangerous airborne pollutants. Smog is made when nitrogen oxide (NOx), a by-product of burning fossil fuels like gasoline, combines with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in sunlight, and becomes a colorless, odorless, gas.

Because of the role that sunlight plays in its production, ground-level ozone is more prevalent during the sunny months, from about mid-May until mid-September, which is often called the “smog season.”

Every year, smog causes thousands of emergency room visits, costing our health care system millions of dollars to treat unnecessary respiratory illness. What’s worse is that about 9% of all non-accidental deaths are due to smog. The chemicals in smog also put you at significantly higher risk for rheumatoid arthritis, autoimmune disease, cancer, brain damage, heart disease, lung disease/COPD and asthma.

Children are particularly vulnerable to smog because their lungs are still developing, they spend more physically active time outdoors, they breathe faster than adults and inhale more air per pound of body weight, and they are shorter than adults, which exposes them to more vehicle exhausts and heavier pollutants that concentrate at lower levels in the air.

In fact, in children, smog has been found to:

  • aggravate asthma, leading to more frequent and severe asthma attacks;
  • increase the number of respiratory infections;
  • aggravate and induce allergies;
  • increase school day absences; and
  • increase emergency room visits, hospital admissions and premature deaths.

Idling your vehicle is a major source of smog, and is particularly an issue at schools because many bus drivers and parents sit with their vehicles idling while waiting to pick up their children, creating a huge cloud of pollution for them to walk into as they leave the building. This is compounded by the fact that smog is already at its daily peak at the time when most parents are picking up their kids.

TIP: If you are going to be stopped for more than 30 seconds (except in traffic), turn off your engine. Idling your vehicle for longer than 30 seconds uses more fuel than it would take to restart the vehicle.

Solutions to Smog

Since ground level ozone and smog (not to mention tons of CO2) are created primarily by vehicles, the solution is simply to drive less, or travel in a vehicle that produces fewer or no emissions.

While living close enough to walk or bike to work is the healthiest, cheapest and most eco-friendly way to reduce your transportation footprint, public transportation and carpooling are very good, frugal choices, too.

Public transportation has the added benefit of creating jobs and improving commerce wherever it is supported. In fact, every $1 billion of investment in the nation’s public transportation infrastructure supports and creates 47,500 jobs and yields $3 billion in increased business sales.

In addition to public transportation, you can even further reduce your fuel costs and your contribution to smog pollution if you can arrange to work from home a few days a week. Maybe you can team up with another family to do your shopping errands in one trip.

And if and when you are in the market for a new car, a hybrid or electric vehicle has very low or zero emissions and will save you a ton of money on fuel! They seem to be getting cheaper and more efficient with every new model.

Here’s how commuting wisely could make a difference for your family:

  • Energy Independence. If just one in 10 Americans used public transportation daily, U.S. reliance on foreign oil could decrease 40 percent.
  • Safety. Riding a bus is 79 times safer than riding in an automobile, and riding a train or subway is even safer.
  • Health. Studies have shown that people who use public transportation regularly tend to be healthier than people who don’t, largely because of the exercise they get walking to and from bus stops, subway stations and their homes and offices.
  • Cost savings. According to an APTA study, families that use public transportation can reduce their household expenses by as much as $6,200 annually, more than the average U.S. household spends on food every year. If you can bike or walk, you’ll save even more.

But perhaps the best reason to leave the car at home is that on a bus, train or carpool, you can sit back, read the paper and avoid the stress and headache of dealing with rush-hour traffic. And that’s not only sustainable for our planet, but also for your peace of mind!


This article was excerpted from my book Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. For more money-saving, planet-friendly tips, pick up a copy today!

About the author

Dawn Gifford

Dawn is the creator of Small Footprint Family, and the author of the critically acclaimed Sustainability Starts at Home - How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. After a 20-year career in green building and environmental sustainability, chronic illness forced her to shift her expertise and passion from the public sphere to home and hearth. Get the whole story behind SFF here.


Click here to comment. (Please note our comment policy. Comments close after 365 days.)

  • When choosing our last home. I made sure I could walk to a drug store, grocery, bank etc… Saves in many ways. The children at the bus stop sure makes me pause and think. Great read. Thanks for sharing at The Gathering Spot last week.

  • You already know I love this and am sharing it! My husband bikes to work every day and we are within walking distance to the kids schools when they start! I am very excited. We use the car (we only have one) for groceries and long distance errands mostly. Thanks so much for this and for sharing on Natural Living Monday!

  • I couldn’t agree with you more. Having spent a lot of the time in the US, it is hard to imagine people giving up their cars. Your entire country is designed around the use of the car. In urban areas I agree, public transport is provided and it’s sensible to use it for all the reasons you mention above. However, the only solution I see nationwide, is the development of hydrogen and other forms of zero carbon personal transport. I just wish personally, they’d get on with offering us all an affordable alternative to fuel driven cars.

    • Fortunately, California is rapidly building the infrastructure for electric cars. There are charging stations up and down the highways, as well as in many retail parking lots now. As more and more people buy these cars (and California offers great rebates and incentives) their efficiency will improve and their cost will come down.

  • I am happy to say we’re not one of those schools where the parents sit in their idling cars waiting for the kids. If the weather is nice, the moms get out and chat, creating community. The buses are on the other side of the building, though I have a feeling they’re running while waiting for the kids.

  • Great article! Thanks for mentioning the cloud of pollution outside schools; I can’t believe so many parents seem not to notice it!

    I have been commuting to work by public transit for 16 years. I love being able to read while someone else does the driving. I often see friends on the bus or fall into conversation with strangers.

    A lot of people told me I would “have to” give up public transit when I had a child. It just isn’t true! My son and I commuted together by bus when he was 2 to 5 years old, and we took an entire family vacation by public transit when he was 6. It works just fine, it’s actually safer (per mile traveled, a child in a car in a proper safety seat is more likely to die than a child riding unrestrained in a bus), and I think it’s good for his manners and social responsibility.

  • Thanks! Some great ideas and thanks for pointing out not only the environmental issues but also other reasons to change.

  • Thanks for providing those interesting facts! Cycling or walking helps one stay fit and also helps to de-stress. This creates a safer and healthy surrounding… Also we need to conserve our natural resources like water. Water conservation tips can be found at

50 Ways to Love Your Mother - Simple Steps for a Greener, Healthier Planet


The Monthly Harvest newsletter is full of seasonal tips, recipes and articles, AND exclusive "first dibs" on giveaways, discount coupons and classes that will help you be greener, healthier and more self-reliant.

Thank you! Please check your email now and be sure to CONFIRM your subscription to receive your ebook.