Guest Column: Sustainability or comfort? Striking a balance


Guest Columnist Bukola Oni questions how to balance a sustainable transportation system and comfort.

Bukola Oni

Sustainability has become an issue of concern globally, with so many initiatives to combat environmental issues such as climate change that have been eating deep into our system, thereby gradually reducing the quality of living of inhabitants. Across the seven continents of the world, we can hardly see a city that is not receiving its fair share of the impacts of climate change.

Generally, sustainability revolves around social, economic and environmental factors, methods and/or measures that help to enhance human living. This means that even the littlest things contribute immensely to achieving the sustainable development goals propounded by the United Nations.

The city of Ames is undoubtedly one of the cities mentioned above, despite the several measures guiding against practices and methods that contribute to global sustainability issues. Ames is facing several environmental issues such as climate change, transportation and large amounts of waste being generated. Undoubtedly, efforts have been made to combat these issues, but more can be done to address significant transportation issues that lead to an increased carbon footprint. 

One effort to reduce the impact of transportation is the CyRide initiative (public transit) that is geared toward effective commuting and reduction of carbon emissions. However, with over 67 percent of Ames population driving alone, approximately 10 percent walking and over about 9.3 percent commuting through public transportation, it is evident there is a high level of predictable threat on the sustainability in the city, as the use of cars increases the carbon footprint in the environment. This statement proves true with more than 50 percent of the students owning personal cars for day-to-day commuting and students comprising most of the population in Ames. One comment under an Iowa State Daily editorial from 2018 exemplifies this.  

“… The other claim that hybrid buses are environmentally sound is only true at peak ridership when they are full of passengers, usually in the morning and late afternoon. Buses travel mostly empty most of the day, which means they pollute more per passenger than cars. If there are only three passengers on a bus that carries thirty, you might as well be riding a coal-burning smogmobile.”

This is a call to action for agencies to enhance the optimization of the public transit system, for individuals to be conscious of the sustainability of their transport system and strive to create a balance between sustainability and comfort.  

As an international student, it is hard to go by a day without having the thoughts of owning a car soon, largely because of the distance from my apartment to the office space. It might be interesting to know this happens to most students, especially when one experiences missing the bus by just as little as five seconds or waiting to catch the bus during extreme winter. This ignites a question on our mind: Does it mean the public transportation system is not adequate, or are the number of buses not enough to cater to the needs of people?

While I opine that the public transport has been effective most of the time, the bus schedule can be unpredictable, particularly for new students. This situation (for instance, the change of schedule in summer) results in missing the bus or running late because they are not aware of the bus systems, and no one mentions these things before then.

While on the one hand, the debate goes on and on about striking a balance between sustainable transportation and the comfort of citizens, on the other hand, people have an opinion about not optimizing the public transport system in the city. As stated earlier, the constant thoughts of owning cars for enhanced comfort while commuting might result in a sustainability tradeoff. Therefore, striking a balance between these two essential factors suggests that people should either go for the expensive electric cars or the relatively costly bicycles that cannot be used in the rain or when it snows.

This brings us back to the starting point: how exactly do we create this balance that we seek?

Bukola Oni is a graduate student in civil engineering at Iowa State.