Public Transit and Health Benefits

In many cities in the United States, public transportation is often viewed as an option of last resort — something for people who don’t have access to a car, or who can’t drive. And while there are many reasons why some people don’t like commuting to work by bus or train — waiting, crowding, and inconvenient routes come to mind — there may be a reason more people should consider using mass transit: the health benefits.

Last month, researchers presented the results of a study on the relationship between how people commute and their health at the American Heart Asociation’s 2015 Scientific Sessions in Orlando, Florida. According to an article on the study at Medical News Today, the researchers looked at data from nearly 6,000 Japanese adults who took part in a health exam and were asked how they get to work. These participants were divided into three groups: those who drove to work, those who took a train or bus, and those who walked or rode a bicycle. The average age of participants in each group was between 49 and 54.

Advertisement

The researchers found that compared with those who drove to work, participants who used public transportation were 44% less likely to be overweight, 34% less likely to have diabetes, and 27% less likely to have high blood pressure. Surprisingly, these conditions were even less common in public transit riders than in those who walked or biked to work. The researchers speculated that this may be because people who walk or bike to work tend to live very close, so public transit riders might end up exercising more on their walk to and from the train or bus station.

It’s also possible, of course, that people’s health conditions could affect how they choose to commute to work. People who walk or bike may be trying to improve their health, while those who drive to work may be less healthy or less likely to care about their health than the other two groups. But other studies — including one from earlier this year — have shown that people’s health tends to improve when they switch from driving to taking public transit, so it’s unlikely that self-sorting alone explains why people who rode a bus or train (or walked or biked) were healthier.

This research was presented at a time when members of Congress were negotiating to finalize a five-year transportation bill that funds roads, highways, and public transportation across the country. Yesterday, as reported by The Washington Post, a final agreement was reached in which current spending levels will go up over the next five years. Highway spending will be raised by $2.1 billion over the current level of about $50 billion in the first year, and rise to $6.1 billion over the current level in the fifth year. Spending on public transit, by contrast, will rise by only about $2 billion over the next five years, on top of the current level of $8.6 billion annually.

What’s your take on this study — has it made you reconsider how you get to work? If not, is that because you enjoy how you currently get to work, or because the other options aren’t feasible? Would you walk, bike, or ride public transit to work if doing so were safe and didn’t take too long? Would you rather get exercise as part of your daily commute, or as a stand-alone activity? Should Congress — or state or local legislative bodies — try to encourage more people to take public transportation or walk or ride to work, such as by increasing funding for public transit and bike lanes or trails? Leave a comment below!