Minimizing the total costs of urban transit systems can reduce greenhouse gas emissions: The case of San Francisco

Han Cheng, Chao Mao, Samer Madanat, Arpad Horvath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Public transit systems with efficient designs and operating plans can reduce both total costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Total costs are a sum of user cost and agency cost. In previous work, we explored in various hypothetical city scenarios possible tradeoffs between GHG emissions and total costs for optimally designed transit systems. However, most current transit systems were not designed to minimize total costs. This study aims at finding the potential emission impact when optimizing the total costs of such a system, the MUNI bus network for the city of San Francisco. The continuum approximation (CA) method is used to obtain a stylized representation of the network. Total costs and emissions are derived as functions of system attributes such as headways and spacing. We analyze the optimal total costs and emissions and the corresponding attributes. Our result shows that a significant reduction in GHG emissions is achieved when total costs are reduced simultaneously. The cost-optimal MUNI bus system has a total cost of 0.15 billion $/year and emits 1 680 metric tons of greenhouse gases. These figures 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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-48
Number of pages9
JournalTransport Policy
StatePublished - Aug 2018


  • Continuum approximation
  • Cost minimization
  • Greenhouse gas emission
  • Transit system design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Law
  • Transportation


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