Time-based life-cycle assessment for environmental policymaking: Greenhouse gas reduction goals and public transit

Mikhail Chester, Alex Cano

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


As decision-makers increasingly embrace life-cycle assessment (LCA) and target transportation services for regional environmental goals, it becomes imperative that outcomes from changes to transportation infrastructure systems are accurately estimated. Greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction policies have created interest in better understanding how public transit systems reduce emissions. Yet the use of average emission factors (e.g., grams CO2e per distance traveled) persists as the state-of-the-art masking the variations in emissions across time, and confounding the ability to accurately estimate the environmental effects from changes to transit infrastructure and travel behavior. An LCA is developed of the Expo light rail line and a competing car trip (in Los Angeles, California) that includes vehicle, infrastructure, and energy production processes, in addition to propulsion. When results are normalized per passenger kilometer traveled (PKT), life-cycle processes increase energy use and GHG emissions up to 83%, and up to 690% for smog and respiratory impact potentials. However, the use of a time-independent PKT normalization obfuscates a decision-maker's ability to understand whether the deployment of a transit system reduces emissions below a future year policy target (e.g., 80% of 1990 emissions by 2050). The year-by-year marginal effects of the decision to deploy the Expo line are developed including reductions in automobile travel. The time-based marginal results provide clearer explanations for how environmental effects in a region change and the critical life-cycle processes that should be targeted to achieve policy targets. It shows when environmental impacts payback and how much reduction is achieved by a policy-specified future year.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)49-58
Number of pages10
JournalTransportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Energy
  • Environment
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Life cycle assessment
  • Light rail
  • Policymaking
  • Transit

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Transportation
  • Environmental Science(all)


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