Sunday, December 5, 2010

Save the Planet: Don't ride mass transit

We're often chastised by the Usual Suspects™, being told we need to get out of our Gaia-Killing cars and trucks (I'm looking at you, JayG!) and into "green" mass transit.  The problem, is that mass transit is even worse for the environment than private autos (and possibly even private light trucks):

Yet there are very good reasons why public transit occupancy rates will never rise much above their current levels of about one-fifth full. Suppose you take a bus or train to work during rush hour and it seems full. But it really only seems full as it approaches the center of town. It is likely to be nearly empty when it starts its journey in the suburbs, and be nearly full only when it gets close to the city center. Over a single, one-way journey into town (or out of town in the afternoon), the vehicle is likely to average only about half full.

Plus, that bus or train has to return in the other direction, and then it could be nearly empty. Now the transit line averages just one-quarter full.

So take the typical energy cost quoted by your neighborhood Usual Suspect™, and divide by 4. Actually, you should divide by 5, but 4 covers you even under the "what if we got more people to use mass transit" argument.

Plus, fuel is actually a smallish part of total energy costs for rail:
As shown in the table above, the high rail non-fuel costs cancel out the slight fuel-related energy savings of rail transit over cars. In any case, the only strategies that might make transit energy efficient are to run it only during rush hours or only in dense city centers–and even then there is no guarantee.
Cars and trucks seem at least 25% more energy efficient than rail transit.  Do drive to work.  Don't you love mother Gaia?

Remember, it's not what you don't know that hurts you.  It's what you "know", but which is dead wrong.


SiGraybeard said...

It has been long known among civil engineers that mass transit only works in a few specific cases. It works in Manhattan, say, but doesn't pay in most other places.

There's a important corollary here: a way to make transport more efficient is to force people into city centers. There was an announcement out of Russia the other day that they intend to do just that, de-develop outlying areas and move industry into certain cities.

They don't necessarily have to go all Stalin on you and point guns, they can simply radically increase the cost of living away from your constant monitoring. Make electricity more expensive, make fuel and food scarcer, basically make every aspect of life harder. There's just a host of ways you can be "nudged" (with all due reference to Cass Sunstein) to live closer to the city center.

No, your masters don't care that you like open places and do your best to avoid cities. It's for the children and mother Gaia, don't you know.

Wally said...

I remeber a report from perhaps 2 years ago, detailing the ridership and cost of the bus routes in Los Angeles.

The result was that it would be cheaper for the transportation department to mothball the busses and pick up the tab for each of their riders to take a taxi everytime.

Mark Alger said...

Something else that nobody ever seems to consider. I first noticed this back in the '70s when the transit workers here in Cincinnati went on strike and there was no bus service.

Allofasudden, traffic got a whole lot lighter.

Buses, you see, block traffic. When a bus pulls into a stop and doesn't get properly curbed, it backs up the cars behind it -- frequently carrying more passengers than the bus (with between three and seven passengers by my unscientific observation).

This increases congestion, fuel use, and air pollution. Not to mention requiring an inefficient allocation of resources when fares in no way cover the costs of operation.

Park the bus, drive a car.