Transitioning to a more efficient transportation structure could save Israelis billions of shekels and prevent enormous amounts of pollution annually, the founders of an air pollution monitoring app have concluded.
Seemingly minor changes like optimizing traffic flow, filling buses to near capacity and improving bus exhaust pipes could be instrumental in both attracting Israelis to use public transportation as well as curb pollution levels that plague the country’s cities, according to environmental engineers Ziv Lautman and Ran Korber, co-founders of the BreezoMeter air pollution monitoring app. Lautman and Korber recently analyzed a slew of data about air pollution emitted by vehicles, originally compiled by Yaniv Ronen, at the Knesset Center for Research and Information in December 2010.
BreezoMeter, which went live at the end of June, offers real-time access to 300 air pollution monitoring stations around the country and using an algorithm to calculate a user’s air-pollution level at any given location. BreezoMeter was founded by Lautman and Korber along with software engineer Emil Fisher, after they raised $200,000 in seed funding from the venture capital firms Jumpspeed and Entree Capital. Today, the app has accumulated more than 11,000 downloads – about 40 percent of which represent daily users.
The data compiled by the Knesset Center for Research and Information indicated that the emissions level of a full bus is equivalent to that of between 20 and 24 private cars. Assuming that there are about 1.2 passengers on average per private car, and a busy bus line contains about 65, a full bus eliminates the need for about 54 cars on the road – thereby saving more than twice the air pollution, Lautman said.
Looking at these numbers, Lautman and Korber concluded that “the real contribution of buses in reducing air pollution” actually lies today in the tendency of Israelis to travel in nearly empty private vehicles. Meanwhile, they saw that when the occupation of a bus is only 24 out of the 65 total passengers, the pollutant emissions data per passenger compares to that of a private vehicle.
“A bus has the potential to contribute significantly to the reduction of air pollutants, but if the lines are not optimally designed or if there are less busy hours, full private vehicles can also be a good alternative,” Lautman and Korber wrote in their analysis.
The two environmental engineers also examined the impact of Israel Railways operation on the country’s air pollution levels. While the effect of train operations on the country’s air pollution balance is minimal on a national scale, the diesel engines may have a significant impact on a local scale, particularly near major train stations, Lautman and Korber said.
Despite the fact that studies conducted around the world have shown that massive transitions to public transportation can sharply reduce hospitalized asthma events and ozone levels measured in urban space, private car travel in Israel has increased significantly alongside population growth, Lautman and Korber explained. While train travel has also grown considerably in recent years, bus travel has dropped – in terms of the number of buses, number of passengers and amount of seats available, they said.
Many initiatives can be taken to overhaul the country’s transportation structure, thereby saving billions of shekels and making the air more breathable, according to Lautman and Korber. Some such measures include synchronizing traffic lights for better vehicle flow, limiting speeds for reduced fuel burning, improving bus exhaust pipes, encouraging vehicle sharing and bettering both bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, they said.
“There are many more things that we can do in order to cut down air pollution and make our environment better,” Lautman told The Jerusalem Post.
While it is crucial to encourage people to make more use of public transportation modes, doing so means not only investing in the buses themselves, but also in increasing bus frequency, Lautman said. Revamping the country’s transportation structure requires “a more holistic approach,” which takes into account the diverse array of factors that allow travelers a smooth drive, he added.
As far as the BreezoMeter app is concerned, Lautman said he and his colleagues are please to see people using the app’s features particularly in the morning and the afternoons. Following the request of many users, they will soon be upgrading the app to include the most offensive pollutants in a user’s location, rather than just a general pollution level.Just a week ago, BreezoMeter won the StartUp Open Israel competition in Tel Aviv, held as part of the city’s DLD Digital Conference.
“I think air pollution is the next big thing,” Lautman said.