When Sustainable and Active Transport Becomes a Public Health Matter


Taking public transit? You mean exposing myself to millions of microbes from complete strangers? Yeah, right. Walking to work… and losing 2 hours of my life? No, thanks. Winter cycling in temperatures below -20° C? Are you crazy! I’ll stay with my oh-so-comfortable car, if that’s ok.

What if we told you that this decision, opting for using your car alone, had an impact on more people than you think? Today, one out of six deaths worldwide is related to pollution, ‘’three times as many deaths as AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined’’, according to The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. In Europe, poor air quality causes the premature death of more than 400 000 people annually, with road transport being the biggest emitter of air pollutants.

The biggest health challenges of the 21st century are not the ‘’deadly public transport flu’’ or violent frostbites, but chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. We know the magic vaccines against these illnesses: physical activity, good nutrition, not smoking, stress reduction, a healthy and safe environment – and, of course, sufficient income to check all of these boxes.

Ok, but what does that have to do with sustainable and active transports?

Increased accessibility and use of public (and active) transit affect many of these parameters. In sum, public transport:

  • Lessens air pollution.
  • Reduces deaths and injuries from vehicle crashes.
  • Encourages physical activity. Every bus/train/subway ride starts and ends with a walk.
  • Diminishes commuting stress. A study conducted by the Université de Montréal found a car commute of just 20 minutes can be so stressful that it significantly increases the risk of professional burnout.
  • Saves you money, as much as several thousand dollars per person, on average, each year.
  • Increases social equality, by improving access to jobs, services, friends and family, especially for those with low income, disabilities, and seniors.

For all these reasons, opting for public transit is part of an eco-friendly societal approach for public health. As Jean Todt, President of the International Automobile Federation (FiA) and UN special Envoy for Road Safety, said on stage at Movin’On 2017 : ‘’safe mobility is both an economic factor, and a basic human right.’’

Oh and by the way, for all you germophobes who stopped reading when they saw the word ‘’microbe’’ earlier, this study published in mSystems, a journal of the American Society for Microbiology, should allay your anxieties about public transit.

Discover strategic pollution solutions and success stories from London, Paris, Copenhagen and Seoul in the 2017 Movin’On Minutes. Join us for Movin’On 2018, May 30 – June 1, in Montréal, and help us find solutions to move from ambition to action.