Planning hierarchical urban transit systems for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions

Han Cheng, Samer Madanat, Arpad Horvath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Public transit systems with high occupancy can reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions relative to low-occupancy transportation modes, but 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. In previous work, we explored the unintended consequences of lowering transit LOS on emissions in a single-technology transit system. Herein, 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, we provide a quantitative basis for designing and operating integrated urban transit systems that can reduce GHG emissions and societal costs. We find that highly elastic transit demand may cancel emission reduction potentials resulting from lowering LOS, due to demand shifts to lower occupancy vehicles. 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 find that the potential for unintended consequences increases with the size of the city. Our results are robust to uncertainties in the costs and emissions parameters.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)44-58
Number of pages15
JournalTransportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016


  • Elasticity
  • Feeder transit
  • Greenhouse gas emission
  • Transit system design

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Transportation
  • General Environmental Science


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