Economics should be open

May 19, 2009

CO2 emissions of transit, redux

Filed under: Uncategorized — howardchong @ 8:57 pm

I had always thought that driving was way worse for the environment than taking mass transit. Just think of it; I’m lugging around 2 tons of metal to move me from one place to another. A motorcycle is much better, but a car is so dang convenient. And the road network is perfectly designed to work best with cars.

 

But out comes some studies with contradictory evidence that says that transit may actually be worse for the environment. The key here, is that a bus gets about 5-7 mpg; so you need about 6 people riding on average (for the whole line, not just the middle) to equal each person driving separately by car. Where this is true, it’s very carbon efficient. Where it is not, well, that may be what’s happening in Cleveland, OH.

 

This has a more local perspective and focused on the San Jose light rail system.
http://www.templetons.com/brad/transit-myth.htm has a good comparison by city about halfway down.
Buses and light rail produce more CO2 than cars. Here, I believe they count up all the energy use of transit systems, not just those during active service. In other words, this comes from aggregate data.
Commissioned from the alternative perspective. Which comes up with the opposite result. Here, I would *guess without careful reading* that they restrict energy use to active use. Hence, they may use a bus’s MPG and then divide by average passengers to get passenger miles per gallon.

The original article: http://ideas.4brad.com/green-u-s-transit-whopping-myth

This has a more local perspective and focused on the San Jose light rail system.

http://www.templetons.com/brad/transit-myth.htm has a good comparison by city about halfway down.

 

Cato Institute, Table 1: http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-615.pdf

Buses and light rail produce more CO2 than cars. Here, I believe they count up all the energy use of transit systems, not just those during active service. In other words, this comes from aggregate data.

 

Compare this to: http://www.buses.org/files/ComparativeEnergy.pdf 

Commissioned from the alternative perspective. Which comes up with the opposite result. Here, I would *guess without careful reading* that they restrict energy use to active use. Hence, they may use a bus’s MPG and then divide by average passengers to get passenger miles per gallon.

 
— Some personal thoughts.

 

Sometimes I feel guilty and ride the bus. I get a free CalPass from UC Berkeley, so it costs nothing; and for certain trips, it is very convenient. But going anywhere out of the way is a giant pain.

Plus, if I had to pay my own way, I don’t think I’d ride the bus, or even get city carshare. It’s just too cheap to own my own car, and most of the costs are fixed costs: like insurance and maintenance (I know maintenance isn’t fixed, but it is blocky and not like going to get gas, which is the main time-of-use price). For me, the crux is that carshare is about 4 times more expensive than owning my own car (incl maintenance and insurance), and less convenient with the scheduling. I’d love it if there were a way for me to loan out my car to people, but the insurance contract terms makes this very iffy to do so in return for money. For now, I just let friends borrow my car. Someday, if there is fractional car insurance or pay-at-the-pump insurance, this could have big policy advantages.

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