Unintended greenhouse gas consequences of lowering level of service in urban transit systems

Julia B. Griswold, Han Cheng, Samer Madanat, Arpad Horvath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Public transit is often touted as a 'green' transportation option and a way for users to reduce their environmental footprint by avoiding automobile emissions, but that may not be the case when systems run well below passenger capacity. In previous work, we explored an approach to optimizing the design and operations of transit systems for both costs and emissions, using continuum approximation models and assuming fixed demand. In this letter, we expand upon our previous work to explore how the level of service for users impacts emissions. We incorporate travel time elasticities into the optimization to account for demand shifts from transit to cars, resulting from increases in transit travel time. We find that emissions reductions are moderated, but not eliminated, for relatively inelastic users. We consider two scenarios: the first is where only the agency faces an emissions budget; the second is where the entire city faces an emissions budget. In the latter scenario, the emissions reductions resulting from reductions in transit level of service are mitigated as users switch to automobile.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number124001
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2014


  • greenhouse gases
  • optimization
  • public transportation
  • transit demand

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • General Environmental Science
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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