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Americans Are Still Buying Gas-Guzzlers, But Here Are 7 Signs That the Market for Green Transport Is Exploding

More and more Americans are finding other ways to get around in greener fashion, from Smart Cars to Vespas.

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That sounds like good enough reason to start riding.

6. Why Not Just Share?

Of course you don't have to own a vehicle of any sort to get around, if you are willing to share. The ever-savvy and eco-conscious Europeans started car-share programs years ago, and they've finally caught on in the U.S., where there are now more than 200 programs in more than 600 American cities.

Clean Fleet Report says, "Each shared vehicle results in 6 to 23 cars not being owned. Once someone joins a car-share program, they cut their vehicle miles traveled up to 80 percent."

Zipcar is the most popular of car-sharing programs and boasts over 260,000 members. San Francisco is one of the leading cities for car-share programs with Zipcar and City CarShare, which has more than 6,000 members in the Bay Area.

"Two-thirds of our members either sell a car or don't buy a car," said City CarShare CEO Rick Hutchinson.

Speaker of the House Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said: "I'm proud to be a long-time supporter of City CarShare, and I applaud their members for saving more than 1 million gallons of gas over the last five years."

7. Better Yet, Just Go Public

Instead of adding to the 250 million cars on the road in the U.S., it would be more prudent to invest in our public-transportation infrastructure -- each weekday 14 million Americans opt for public transit, and 28 million ride it regularly.

The American Public Transportation Association reported that, "Americans took more than 7.8 billion public transportation trips in the first nine months of 2006, up 3 percent from the previous year," Katharine Mieszkowski wrote for Salon.

Light rail had the highest percentage of growth among all modes of transportation, with an increase of 5.4 percent. Double-digit growth was seen in Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, New Jersey, Philadelphia and Sacramento, Calif. Other big gainers include Buffalo, N.Y., and Houston."

In 2007, Americans took 10.3 billion trips on public transportation, the highest number since the Model T and its progeny took over the nation. In the second quarter of 2008, commuters from New York to Los Angeles took almost 140 million trips by buses, trains and streetcars, an increase of 5 percent over the same period in 2007, according to the American Public Transportation Association. At the same time, the number of miles that Americans traveled by car declined 3 percent, reports the Federal Highway Administration. Three words: high gas prices.

So, much of our attitude toward public transit is related to money, not surprisingly. Overall, our interest in riding the rails and buses has fallen as we've gotten more attached to our cars. And as government money has been poured into highways, our public-transportation systems have often been forsaken. Recent budget cuts in states like California have resulted in fare hikes on public transit, and sometimes decreased services, too.

Hopefully we can turn that around, because you would be doing a lot more for the environment (and your savings) by riding public transit.

E Magazine reported that: "APTA released a study that found that transit saves 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline every year, the equivalent of 108 million cars filling up, almost 300,000 each day. If twice as many Americans had transit choices, we'd save 2.8 billion gallons. Two-worker households that use public transit on a given day save more than $6,200 a year on average."

While there may be an exciting new horizon we're approaching with electric cars like the Tesla Roadster and hydrogen- and solar-powered vehicles in prototype stages, the most bang we can get for our buck is likely to be from the least-energy-intensive forms of transit, so that means encouraging walking, biking and public transportation. That also mean investing in the infrastructure to make it safe and efficient. When gas prices shoot through the roof again, maybe more F-150 drivers will join the green revolution, but let's hope they don't all wait until then.

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