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About this Article
Written by: Sofia Mohaghegh
Written on: May 1st, 2003
Tags: civil engineering, transportation
Thumbnail by: Giodude/Wikimedia Commons
About the Author
In the spring of 2003, Sofia was a student at the University of Southern California.
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Volume V Issue II > Futuristic Rail Systems vs. the Humble Bus: An Infrastructural and Environmental Dilemma
Photochemical smog, created by any gasoline-powered vehicle on the road, is a major concern in Los Angeles today. Buses, despite being implemented to reduce this pollution by lessening the number of cars on the streets and freeways, are smoke-spewing machines that pose a risk to environmental and public health. They are also inefficient; most Los Angelenos opt to continue using their cars because of the long wait time and lack of punctuality of bus transportation. One solution that this article with discuss is The Gold Line, a new railway that will hopefully reduce dependence on cars and alleviate freeway congestion.

The Problem

Matthew J. Brown/Wikimedia Commons
Figure 1: There is a major concern for pollution-causing transportation in Los Angeles today.
On some days, one is barely able to see the sun in Los Angeles--a city ironically famous for its sunny skies. The cause is a phenomenon familiar to Angelenos - photochemical smog - created by the millions of cars, trucks, and other gasoline-powered vehicles traveling through the large urban area. Smoke-spewing buses used for public transportation are thus a major concern here, as they pose a risk to the environment and to public health (see Fig. 1). This sharply contrasts with one of the aims of public transportation, namely the reduction of smog by lessening the number of cars on the streets and freeways. The supposedly environmentally-frie​ndly bus system, a solution implemented by civil engineers decades ago, has compounded this problem.

The Irony of Environmentally-Frie​ndly Buses

Overcrowded buses have led to demands by frequent riders for more buses. Though increasing the number of buses in Los Angeles will not have a positive impact on the existing poor air quality, such a solution appears more viable when contrasted with the costly new rail systems being implemented. Additionally, the use of alternative bus fuels could mitigate environmental problems. However, the railway systems come with positive side-effects, because they do not pollute as the buses do and do not add to motor-vehicular traffic. If more public interest is stimulated, underground and surface railways could become a valuable transportation resource for this car-congested metropolis.
Most buses used for public transportation in Los Angeles and around the nation run on diesel gas. Burning this unclean fuel releases toxic particles and noxious gases, such as nitrogen and sulfur oxides and ozone gases, into the air. These chemicals interact with the environment in a process called thermal inversion. This trapping of noxious air by ocean currents and mountain barriers causes the distinctive yellow-brown coloring of Los Angeles' troposphere. The Sierra Club explains the negative effects of buses:
The bus's major drawback, in fact, is its reliance on polluting diesel technology. More than 92% of U.S. buses are diesel powered; even new ones create as much smog as 50 cars, and spew as much soot as 279 cars. These tiny soot particles (also known as particulates) collect in the eyes and nose and worsen respiratory problems, especially in children, the elderly, asthmatics, and people with heart or lung disease. \Motovalli\
The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority [1] is aware of these findings and has begun to replace old diesel buses with newer buses that run on natural gas. According to Alternative Fuel News and the Los Angeles Times, L.A. has a higher number of natural gas-powered buses than any other U.S. city. Yet, despite this, L.A. continues to be one of the nation's worst smog-ridden cities.