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China's public transit system continues to set world records — here's what the U.S. could learn

It would take a massive investment.

Other countries put the United States' public transportation systems to shame, and China offers an especially stark comparison.

In an essay for the South China Morning Post, Anthony W.D. Anastasi detailed how the U.S. could take a cue from the Asian power by investing dramatically in public transit to fuel the economy, create jobs, help low-income communities, reduce emissions, and revitalize urban areas.

Anastasi returned to Florida this summer after three-and-a-half years abroad and found getting around without a vehicle difficult. He suggested the U.S. should go far beyond its recent steps in infrastructure investment.

What is China's public transit like?

There are subway, light rail, tram, and maglev systems in China, many of which debuted in the last 20 years.

The country is home to the three fastest high-speed trains in the world, according to Railway Technology, and nine of the 10 longest metro rails, per Railway Gazette Group. The star may be the Shanghai Transrapid, also known as the Shanghai Maglev (for magnetic levitation), which is the fastest train of its kind.

As part of the China Railway 450 Technology Innovation Project, the country is also poised to debut the fastest high-speed train in the world, which has set a record of 453 kilometers (281 miles) per hour.

Even at such high speeds, China's bullet trains offer incredibly smooth rides. This was especially apparent in a viral Reddit post in which a passenger balanced a coin on its end on a windowsill while their train traveled at 348 kmh (216 mph).

This year alone, China has committed $1.8 trillion to transport, expanded energy generation capabilities, and created industrial parks. According to Anastasi, that's more than three times the U.S.' $550 billion investment in new transport, broadband, and utilities over five years via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

"During my years in Shanghai, I have never had the need to own a car," Anastasi wrote in the Morning Post. "Shanghai's 19-line, 802 km-long subway system is an incredible way to get around. Not only has it saved me money, when compared to my life in South Florida, but it has also made me healthier, thanks to walking more."

Why is this important? 

Countries worldwide must find ways to reduce their use of dirty energy to keep warming temperatures from rising more than the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.

In 2019, personal vehicles in the U.S. accounted for 58% of transportation emissions. The typical automobile emits 4.6 metric tons (about 5.1 tons) of carbon dioxide per year.

China accounts for one-third of global carbon dioxide emissions but intends for that output to peak by 2030 and to become carbon-neutral by 2060.

"Embracing a public transport system like China's offers a sustainable solution that would help combat climate change and create a more beautiful environment," Anastasi wrote. "By adopting buses, subways, and trains on a larger scale, the U.S. can significantly reduce its carbon footprint, leading to cleaner air and a healthier planet for future generations."

How can the U.S. follow China's lead?

It would take a massive investment, but Anastasi argued that such a move would "fuel economic growth."

"By expanding public transport infrastructure, the U.S. could generate millions of immediate job opportunities across construction, operations, and maintenance," he wrote.

"Additionally, accessible public transport connects low-income earners to employment centers, empowering them to secure jobs they previously could not reach. This inclusivity not only boosts individual livelihoods but also expands the overall labor force, fostering productivity and driving long-term economic growth."

A public transit revolution could transform U.S. cities and suburbs. More importantly, it might help the country meet its goal of cutting emissions in half from 2005 levels by 2030.

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