Kaid Benfield Archive


How efficient is your mode of transportation, really?

Kaid Benfield

Posted February 12, 2009 at 6:34PM

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Want to assess or reduce your carbon footprint?  Ever wondered how rail travel compares to, say, a Prius when it comes to energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, on a per-passenger-mile basis?  If so, GOOD magazine has a chart for you that compares how much energy is consumed, relatively speaking, by ten different ways of getting around:

relative fuel consumption, MPG and travel time for 10 modes (by GOOD magazine)

My colleagues Amanda and Geoff will be pleased to note that a bike is the most fuel-efficient of all, clocking in at over 900 miles per gallon, when a rough comparison is made between the energy in a hamburger and the energy in a gallon of gasoline.  But it's also one of the slowest modes, bested (or worsted) in that category only by walking.  (They obviously weren't tracking Amanda's speed in their calculation.)

Leaving hamburgers and bike racers out of it, though, six modes (rail, bus, regular car, hybrid, motorcycle, SUV) all will get you where you need to go at roughly the same pace, and there's a huge difference in efficiency.  the bus (by: Thomas Hawk, creative commons license)The bus wins by a lot over each of those modes other than the train, which comes in a respectable second but gets you there a bit faster.  Your average SUV comes in last; you'd be better off for efficiency's sake if you went by cruise ship.

Click on the image for the full-sized original.  There are some devils (and angels) in the details, as the authors also give alterations to the comparisons for the personal vehicles based on whether each is carrying one, two, or three passengers.  You can read a bunch of informed and not-so-informed comments on the chart here.

This was my first peek at GOOD, and I'm impressed.  Interesting, somewhat offbeat information, cleverly presented.