Public Transportation in Charlotte, North Carolina

by Addie Renner

There needs to be greater investment in infrastructure and the electrification of public transportation in Charlotte, North Carolina. Poor public transportation infrastructure has many consequences and is discussed often, whether it’s the airport worker complaining about having to spend half her paycheck on bus fare because she has to change busses multiple times, a lecture about the transportation sector accounting for a significant proportion of emissions, or a professor leading a discussion about the absence of convenient public transportation access at Duke that disproportionally impacts workers, public transportation is at the front of sustainability and justice issues. There needs to be policy pushing [EA1] on the local level for the infrastructure and the electrification of public transportation. Additionally, air pollution is one of the greatest pollutants in many urban areas that has several health and environmental impacts. There needs to be further climate focused policies [EA2] on the local scale that address investment in and the development of an accessible electric mass transit system to reduce emissions and air pollution effects. 

The United States has a unique challenge of personal vehicle dependency, most residents own a vehicle rather than relying on alternative modes of transportation. Charlotte is a prime example of this dependency, according to UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, only 7.9% of Charlotte households do not own cars. Charlotte is very car dependent due to the lack of walkable neighborhoods.[1] The 2018 State of the Environment Report for Mecklenburg Countystates that “90% of ozone-forming air pollution in Mecklenburg County comes from mobile sources like cars, trucks, and construction equipment.”[2]  Additionally, the report states that “Mecklenburg County only narrowly meets the health-based standard for ground level ozone.”[3] It is clear that air pollution, more specifically ground level ozone, is an issue that Charlotte residents are experiencing along with its many health and environmental effects. The Charlotte residents are not alone in this, much of the U.S. population consists of rural land that is completely void of any public transportation systems. The effects experienced in Charlotte from air pollution could be reduced by environmental policies geared toward infrastructure and development [EA3] of emission free mass transit systems.

Considering the serious impacts that ground level ozone has on the health of residents and the environment[EA4] , there should be climate policies in place to reduce the sources of this pollutant.[4] Since the greatest source of this pollutant is personal motor vehicles which residents are extremely dependent upon, the need for an electric public transportation system is crucial. Electric vehicles are essential for the reduction of emissions created by the transportation sector. Currently in Charlotte there are two methods of public transportation, the bus, and the Lynx light rail. The current development of the light rail is not practical or developed to the extent that would make it an accessible option for most people. Increasing the development of the light rail and having multiple lines would increase the accessibility and potentially reduce the number of cars, decreasing emissions from the transportation sector. Additionally, pollutants are not confined to city lines or state boarders, air pollution is a nationwide issue that impacts all citizens. 

Increasing the accessibility and efficiency of public transportation has many benefits beyond reducing harmful greenhouse gasses. According to the drawdown project, “with good urban design, mass transit can help embed mobility, livability, and sustainability in cities.”[5] Investment in the development of electric mass transit system would not only benefit the climate but also increase mobility and livability in the United States. The broad scope of impacts can aid in the formation of policies, especially if not framed as an environmental issue. Urban infrastructure, clean energy industries, economic mobility and environmental justice are all areas that stand to improve from policies, and the narrative can be shifted to create bipartisan support around this environmental issue. 


[1] Reid, Carolyn. “Car-free in Charlotte? It isn’t easy | UNC Charlotte Urban Institute | UNC Charlotte.” n.d. https://ui.charlotte.edu/story/car-free-charlotte-it-isn%E2%80%99t-easy.

[2] “2017-2018 Annual Monitoring Network Plan – Mecklenburg County Air Quality.” 2017. Environmental Protection Agency. A Division of the Mecklenburg County Land Use and Environmental Services Agency. Accessed March 4, 2024. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2017-12/documents/ncplan_mecklenburg_county_2017.pdf.

[3] “2017-2018 Annual Monitoring Network Plan – Mecklenburg County Air Quality.” 2017. Environmental Protection Agency. A Division of the Mecklenburg County Land Use and Environmental Services Agency. Accessed March 4, 2024. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2017-12/documents/ncplan_mecklenburg_county_2017.pdf.

[4] “Health Effects of Ozone Pollution.” EPA, Environmental Protection Agency, https://www.epa.gov/ground-level-ozone-pollution/health-effects-ozone-pollution. 

[5] Jones, Heather. “Public transit | Project drawdown.” 2023. Project Drawdown. August 14, 2023. https://drawdown.org/solutions/public-transit.


 

2 thoughts on “Public Transportation in Charlotte, North Carolina

  1. Throughout my travels, I am always in awe of the public transit systems in other nations. When I visited the Netherlands, I remember being floored by how efficient and clean their trains were, and in Singapore, I was shocked by how cheap the public transit was since it was so high quality. I agree with your blog that the US has a major issue with addressing “car culture” and it was very similar to the experience I had living in Australia. One big difference I noticed in Australia was the prevalence of cyclists and walking commuters in cities. In the context of country size, I understand the necessity for cars for longer travels to potentially unconnected or remote places, but for day-to-day activities, I felt like Australian cities were less dependent on cars to commute. While recognizing there are other potential cultural differences, Australian cities being walkable seemed to contribute to a difference in culture within the city itself. Cities are cleaner, air pollution is less and people are healthier. Even this minor change in walking and biking infrastructure had a major impact on the lives of city dwellers in a nation with a similar car culture to ours. I think, however, it is important to note that the car as a cultural icon and sign of wealth may have a different and more prominent role in our culture. This could contribute to the resistance to develop better public transit or walking paths and reduce overall car use. Cars I saw in Australia (particularly in Western Australia and Tasmania) were more frequently utility vehicles. In the US, many people purchase cars as status symbols and not taking public transit is often viewed as a symbol of financial success. While electric public transit would be massively beneficial, I think we first need to figure out how to improve the efficiency and cleanliness of our existing public transit and figure out how to incentivize people to use it (potentially make toll rode more prominent or expensive?). This increase in use will put pressure on the system to expand to new locations and will help to address the problematic car culture we have in the US.

  2. Hi Addie, great post! Transportation is a really important environmental issue and I really liked your inclusion of anecdotes at the beginning of your blog. I agree that transportation emissions must be mitigated, but your statement about electric vehicles might be taken out of context to mean that all personal electric vehicles are good alternatives. As you hint to, electrified mass transit options are more equitable, more environmentally sound, and safer alternatives to both gas and electric cars. I also recently learned about non-engine emissions, which occur when tires erode and emit pollutions into the air and water. Electric personal vehicles actually emit more of this type of pollution because they are heavier. I was also really interested that you talked about transportation being a potential bipartisan solution and was wondering if you had heard more on that! Overall great job!

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