BBC BLOGS - Ethical Man blog
IN ASSOCIATION WITH
« Previous | Main | Next »

Why cars are greener than buses (maybe)

Justin Rowlatt | 20:00 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009

cars on the autobahnI am going to commit a green heresy.

What I am going to say will challenge everything you have heard about environmentally friendly lifestyles.

I am going to argue that cars can be greener than public transport.

But before I do, I should put my cards on the table. I'm a pretty ordinary bloke. I love driving and have been a car owner and driver ever since I passed my test. But I was forced to get rid of my car after I was press-ganged by the Newsnight editor into a year-long experiment in ethical living.

It was a sad moment as I stood with my family in 2006 and watched my precious Saab being winched away from outside my home.

You can see my humiliation for yourself here and judge for yourself whether you think my experiences have clouded my judgement on this issue.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.


Since that fateful day - and I've remained car-free all this time - I've been studying the carbon consequences of car ownership.

So let's look at the facts.

It is true that at first glance cars appear to compare very badly in terms of carbon dioxide emissions to other forms of transport.

The average car emits something like 180g per passenger kilometre.

You may be surprised to learn that, on that basis, taking the car is less environmentally friendly than taking a typical, well-filled short-haul plane, which emits 150g/km per passenger.

a pendolino trainThe figures show trains to be much greener, as you might expect. According to its publicity, one of Virgin's new Pendolino trains travelling half full up the West Coast main line clocks up just 27g per passenger kilometre.

But it is quite easy to tilt the statistics in favour of the automobile.

Cars appear very inefficient because, more often than not, just one person travels in a car. Pack in extra passengers and you quickly make the car a dramatically greener option.

The extra weight does increase fuel consumption - but only very marginally. Why? Because each additional passenger only weighs a tiny fraction of the weight of the car itself.

Think about it. The average car weighs in at over a tonne. Meanwhile the average passenger weighs around 70kg (the average British woman weighs 65kg and the average man something like 75kg).

That means each additional passenger adds just 7% of extra weight. Taking our average vehicle, that works out at just over 12g/km per extra passenger.

So, if I pack my family of five into a car, the average emissions per passenger falls to just 45g/km (and that's not taking into account the fact that most members of my family are very small).

train passengersBut - I can hear the greens amongst you protesting - the train still wins out. Does it? Really?

Earlier this year, the Guardian and New Scientist writer Fred Pearce dug a bit deeper into the green claims made by train companies.

He found that most Virgin trains are nowhere near as clean as the Pendolinos. Virgin's most modern diesel train, the Voyager, emits 74g per passenger kilometre when travelling half-full. That's almost three times as much as the Pendolino, and half as much again as each member of my family travelling by car.

Travel on a Voyager when it is a quarter full and your emissions per kilometre travelled are about the same as sitting in a fullish plane. "More leg room", says Fred, "but no greener."

Catch a half-full sleeper up to Scotland and your carbon footprint is much worse. He calculates that with 12 people in a carriage you'd be lucky to emit less than 200g/km.

And the truth is, buses don't do much better. According to figures from the US Department of Energy, a bus with average occupancy (9 people) is more polluting than a car with average occupancy (1.57 people).

buses in central LondonThe figures are likely to be pretty similar in the UK. Some suburban bus routes in London are subsidised to the tune of £10 per passenger journey apparently (at least, that's what a mole inside the Mayor's office tells me). That suggests very low occupancy, and therefore a whopping carbon footprint.

But am I being fair comparing a car full of people with an empty bus or train?

It is true that full buses and trains are significantly less polluting per passenger than cars (even cars full of passengers). The problem is, for most of the day our buses and trains are far from full.

I couldn't find good occupancy figures for UK public transport systems - please help me if you can - but it seems most of our buses and trains are far from full most of the time.

That's because public transport systems are designed to meet peak demand.

Double-decker buses make a lot of sense in the rush hour but rumble around our cities almost empty in off-peak periods. Indeed, even at peak times every packed rush-hour bus is likely to make its return journey nearly empty.

And public transport has to offer a frequent service all day long. People won't use buses and trains unless they know they can get to where they want when they want.

We could run smaller buses in off-peak periods to cut emissions but think of the cost: bus companies would have to buy twice the number of vehicles. Read more about why public transport can be high-carbon here.

Should we conclude from this that the green choice is the car?

1925 motoring picnickers.jpgHere's where I get back on message. Even though travelling by car can be less polluting than public transport you should always take the public transport option.

That's because buses and trains are running anyway. They will be out there generating CO2 whether you ride them or not. So when you choose to take your car, the pollution you create will be on top of whatever the public transport option is producing.

The other key point is that my argument only really holds so long as you have other people in your car with you. Travel alone - the statistics show - and the car is, just as the greens claim, one of the most polluting forms of transport on earth.

So how have I got on without my Saab?

Well, despite my misgivings about getting rid of it, the truth is I found life without it much easier than I thought.

I recognise that giving up the car will not be so easy for most people. I live right in the heart of London, where public transport is almost always quicker and easier than taking the car.

But if you insist on continuing to use your car, you can get some tips on driving the low-carbon way in this video (made several months after I gave up the Saab). You can also see how a friend and I came up with a novel way of using my car to cut both our carbon footprints.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions. If you're reading via RSS, you'll need to visit the blog to access this content.


Comments

Page 1 of 3

  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 3.

    Living over in Brussels with our extensive tram system, your argument about peak demand is particularly relevant. There are lots of almost empty trams at various times of the day yet at rush hours and for special occasions/events, they are absolutely full. In the 'green' spirit, many new tram tracks are now being laid down, often reducing the avaiable road width for cars. Are trams really that efficient? Seems logical but after reading your article, I'm not so sure.

  • Comment number 4.

    So we've already made one unethical choice by forcing expensive and polluting mass transit systems on an apathetic public (at least here in America), and now we're supposed to compound the error by forcing another choice to use said mass transit systems "because they are already there"??

    The misplaced logic is staggering.

  • Comment number 5.

    Dear Justin,
    It's good to know the background details and, yes, I can imagine that sometimes public transport is more polluting.
    I also get by very comfortably without a car here in Cologne and would like to add one extra reason why public transport is better, even if at times a particular journey may be more polluting than with a car.
    This reason is the 'chicken and egg' scenario of urban sprawl: Yes, if you own a car then you feel that you can buy a home either out of town or in a green suburb. You then find that public transport is not an option, that your spouse (and children) then also need cars and that at every turn (work, school, shopping) you need to use a car. If you hadn't had a car in the first place, you would have stayed either in the city or in a compact suburb where you could cover most of your needs on foot and on bicycle and then use public transport for longer journeys.
    So for me the main comparison wouldn't be the CO2 per mile but rather what effects does car-ownership have on the transport requirements of a particular society? It acts as a 'centrifuge' which spins cities out into sprawling car-centric CO2-factories.

  • Comment number 6.

    The idea that you can find a Virgin train that is only 25% full (or even 50%) is laughable. Every time I travel by Virgin it is more like 80%.

  • Comment number 7.

    Probably also worth checking whether manufacturing/decommissioning and infrastructure CO2 are important factors. Also there is the congestion externality (extra cars cause more congestion and thus slower speeds and more co2 per km. CO2 is not the only pollutant - how about the costs of particulate pollution on health - not sure how this works for cars and public transport - buses seem to be much worse offenders in general

    Finally what is the impact of increasing car efficiency and potential widespread use of electric vehicles?

  • Comment number 8.

    If I understand you, you are arguing that we should continue to underuse buses, because underused buses are more polluting?

  • Comment number 9.

    It's one thing to encourage people to use public transport when possible and another to tell people to use it because, well, we can't do anything about the waste created by public transport anyway.

    Surely, having a public transport system that is more flexible and adapts to people's needs rather than having bus routes and train lines that are not being utilised fully. It's also alright for people living in and around London, as they have access to a public transport system that earns the name.
    If you live in the countryside, for example, you're often lucky to get a (mini)bus passing through once a day these days. This also makes the car even more attractive as people cannot live their lives according to what the local council is prepared to subsidise (or not).
    Not only that but since privatisation of most of the bus routes a lot of the buses used are old and polluting and do not inspire much confidence either.

    The conclusion being, that firstly: the public transport network needs re-nationalising, to get a properly integrated bus and train system secondly: despite the car's environmental downsides it is not as polluting as some might make it out to be. The argumentation of the author of this piece being that public transport is the only solution, what he should be saying is that people should be trying to cut down the number of journeys they make and that if you drive somewhere, to try and organise as much car sharing as possible.

  • Comment number 10.

    We seem to be being pushed quickly back towards cave dwelling technology in the name of what? Climate scientists now seem to be in agreement that manmade global warming is a fallacy and always has been. It has been proven that people like the author of "The Inconvenient Truth" didn't actually know what the definition of truth was.

    Even if we want to lower our individual carbon footprint, for whatever reason, nobody is looking at the individual footprint as a whole. I see ads telling me I should drive 5 miles less a week. Why? When I only drive about 3,000 in a whole year. If we do need to go down the carbon reduction route then please allocate a personal budget so I can choose how I spend my carbon credits.

  • Comment number 11.

    Cars greener than buses? - I would say 'sometimes' rather than 'maybe'

    On my way to work early AM in a rural area I regularly find myself trapped behind a single deck bus with ONE teenage passenger. As you say figures are (suspiciously) difficult to come by but I have seen 9 litre (!) diesel engine doing 9 miles per gallon as a fair indication for buses.

    Not that difficult for me, travelling alone, in my car to beat that figure for efficiency.


    (No, I couldn't get on the bus and make it 2 passengers. It doesn't start where I live and it doesn't finish where I work - again a fairly common limitation for buses)

  • Comment number 12.

    WRONG GREEN: There is much talk of emission levels here, but which emissions are the most harmful? I'm suggesting that there is a wrong green. Most cars in the UK run on petrol engines. Most commercial and public transport vehicles run on diesel. This includes buses and taxis. The impact of diesel fumes on air quality, and human respiratory problems, is far worse than that of petrol fumes, perhaps 25 times worse for each particle of carbon emitted. Saying that public transport is greener than using your car is an insult to the victims of these diesel emissions. (The high levels of asthma attacks can be blamed directly on diesel emissions.) The solution is a prompt ban on diesel vehicles in our city centres and a shift to alternative fuels for public transport. City vehicles are the best candidates for alternative fuels since they only make short journeys and can refuel easily. Until diesel fuel is replaced in city centres, nobody should be critised for using his/her petrol-fuelled car.

  • Comment number 13.

    You make cars sound greener by comparing a full car with a half empty train or bus. But don't you have to compare like with like? The fact is that when most people do their travelling - in rush hour - most cars are carring one person and most public transport is very full. Which kind of blows a hole in your argument.

  • Comment number 14.

    As a former insider in London's public transport, I recall that average ridership was about 14.7 persons per bus. There are approximately 8 million single bus trips per day in London.
    Other points:
    - Public transport has to run, whether it has an economic number of passengers or not - most private car journeys are because they are (perceived as being) necessary.
    - Cars spend most of their time standing idle, but the problem with car club-type solutions is that they can't cater for all needs (do you want to borrow a car that someone has used to take his garden waste to the tip?)
    - Public transport is (generally) fine for single person trips in urban areas but try taking your weekly groceries home on a bus - or better - try taking your recycling on a bus ...
    - The cost of fares is a significant factor - and how much energy do you use earning your wages in order to pay the fares?

    The most ethical question is not related to mode of transport but rather whether your journey is really necessary at all.

  • Comment number 15.

    I would love to use public transport for more things, but (and I have done the maths on this) it is actually cheaper to travel by car for the majority of the journeys I make where I cannot walk it, even for one person. If two people travel from where I study to back home then it's around £15 in an average car, compared with £40 for the train, not to mention that I can do it in half the time.

    Cities need something which is like the car (it goes where you want, when you want it) but which behaves from an environmental perspective like mass transit. PRT systems (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_rapid_transit) look like they might have the idea, but are massively expensive to install and rely on unproven technology.

    Intercity transport simply needs better planning and timetabling, as well as looking at capacity issues. I've been on several completely empty two-carriage trains for one half of a journey then standing in the middle of a single packed carriage for the second half. Perhaps something like a national, publicly owned railway company...

  • Comment number 16.

    Lol, what Justin and some of the posters have conveniently ignored is that as suitable alternatives to car ownership arise - via clean, convenient and sensibly priced public transport - and car journeys fall the alternative becomes more environmentally sound. The carbon footprint of any 'full' public transport is considerable less than the single passenger in the car option.

    Try getting on a train during peak, often they are cramped. So the real issue here is not about the carbon footprint of public transport per se' but the allocation and time tabling of that transport.

    Any talk about public transport without mentioning its social role is disingenuous at best. Public transport timetables are there because many people that do not own cars and find using taxis too expensive still need to be able to get from A to B.

  • Comment number 17.

    I don't think this article invalidates the general rule that cars are less efficient than public transport.

    If everyone only used their cars when they contained at least two people, and used public transport the rest of the time, this would improve the average occupancy of both cars and public transport and hence the fuel efficiency of both.

  • Comment number 18.

    Based on your calculations about public transport, if I have to stand on a bus or sit on the floor of a train because there are no seats, do I have a negative carbon footprint?

    Also I challenge you to simulate my lifestyle by living in the midlands and working in London during the week, and taking public transport - you would SO wish for your car back !

  • Comment number 19.

    Dear Justin,

    Firstly, thank you for posting a factual and interesting blog item. Our puritan UK society seems to have reached the conclusion that whatever we do, if it isn't uncomfortable or unpleasant, we're ruining the climate.

    Interestingly, at this point in time your comments are correct, but that's assuming that busses and trains continue to run directly on diesel or electricity based on fossil fuels. So as a snap shot your stats are correct.

    However, what is clear is that we have abundant sources of none CO2 energy potential, some of it is consistent - always on - such as geothermal or nuclear energy, and other sources are not so reliable, such as wind/wave and solar energy. That said the key here then is storage and transportability of this energy, and there I believe we are on the edge of that revolution with new technologies: lithium air batteries, ultra capacitors, fuel cells to name a few. Only one of these technologies, or a combination there of, needs to advance a little to really change our dependence on the easily convertible dense energy sources that are combustible fossil fuels.

    Batteries and electrical storage technologies only need to get two or three times better, in terms of energy density and recharge times, to make off grid storage of energy viable, providing a buffer for our inconsistent energy sources. Given that those energy storage media could be installed in trains cars and busses, all our transport needs could be made to run with a zero carbon footprint easily once the technology is in place.

    A good example I read about recently was a Chinese bus service. The buses are electric, the pick up a charge on an array of Maxwell super capacitors, at each stop (in a number of seconds), and in this way they are able to complete their route without the need for diesel or heavy batteries. These capacitors can be ordered off the shelf today, but they just don’t quite make the grade in energy density.

    In short, we shouldn't discount science and innovation in our need to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Remember two years ago, plasma screens where being criticised as too energy hungry, we can now only buy LCD and LED LCD screens that consume less and less energy.

    The progress is being made, but sadly it’s not going on in the UK and I’m afraid that in ten years we’ll be buying our solutions from the Chinese.

  • Comment number 20.

    You know what I do? I take public transport if I have to travel alone and it suits my schedule, allows me to work during longer journeys or it is nearly impossible to park.

    At all other times, car it is.



    When exactly did we stop using common-sense?

  • Comment number 21.

    Another factor is the value of time - from where I live I can be in central London in just over half an hour by train, one hour by car and over two hours by bus - so the train wins, despite its cost. However, to go to the local computer store would take half an hour by car or half a day by public transport (literally).
    Horses for courses.

  • Comment number 22.

    Where on Earth does Annsome get the idea that "Climate scientists now seem to be in agreement that manmade global warming is a fallacy and always has been"

    There are many, many people who question man-made global warming, and I am not necessarily saying they are wrong to do so, but as a group, climate scientists are not among them. I can't say I have read a single report by reputable climate scientists, other than those funded by oil companies perhaps, that would support Annsome's claim.

  • Comment number 23.

    Smoke(carbon)and mirrors aka miss-direction. Per person, per kilometre estimations are false because they make too many assumptions and exclude to many inconvenient factors - such as the CO2 emissions required to move personnel into position in order to operate a train service.

    Proper comparison of emissions between two modes of transport must include the total minimum amount of CO2 emitted, when travelling empty (except for driver) during a set period - say 24 hours - by each mode to make a particular journey possible.

    A ton of CO2 placed in the atmosphere is still a ton of CO2 no matter how many people put it there. And it is incredible to insist a train causes less CO2 emissions over a set distance than a car, a fraction of its mass.

    Suppose London to York by car verses train. A number of trains will travel London/Edinburgh/London a number of times per 24 hours; The car need only make a single journey London/York to provide the journey possible.

    The CO2 emissions to make the London/York journey possible is the total emitted by the train service and the total emitted by the car. The car wins. Even if we just consider moving the train once from London to York - car still wins.

    Similar miss-leading claims are made for low energy light bulbs. Again the whole is not considered. It is assumed and stated as fact that the notional CO2 saved by the reduced consumption of a low energy bulb results in the same reduction in CO2 emitted by generation. In fact if the demand decreases on the grid, generators are still kept turning because the base load must be maintained, and some generators are kept running and disconnected from the grid because to ensure a stable tension at all times their output must be available at very short notice. Thus CO2 is still emitted but it is not being used to produce any electricity.

    The amount of CO2 "saved" is thus considerably less than claimed. And, Human nature being what it is, because low energy bulbs are dim and "cheap" to run, most people use more of them and are less scrupulous in switching them off when not needed.

    Notional and estimation can be whatever someone wants them to be to support their view or fantasy World. In the real World things are what they are and have an annoying habit of not being what we think they should be.

  • Comment number 24.

    Interesting. You talk a lot about the "cost" in terms of g of CO2, but don't mention much about the underlying financial cost of the transport choices. By underlying, I mean the costs without the distortion of the taxation or subsidies.

    I think this is important for two reasons.
    1) I believe that the true financial cost of a choice, in a competetive market, is often a good initial proxy for the energy costs. The cost of any good or service is fundamentally just the energy cost + the labour cost, and much of each labour cost is ultimately an energy cost when you think about it.
    2) A choice that reduces the CO2 output of a journey but increases its overall financial cost must tend to have the effect of reducing the economic output per unit of CO2 produced. A reduction in the efficiency of resource use (CO2 in this case) - I'm not sure that's the hoped for outcome.

    Now, assuming that our aim is to increase energy efficiency - of transport in this case - then ignoring the financial or economic costs and benefits of the choices you make prevents any opportunity to understand the consequence choice in a fuller context.

    So, what would be useful would be an analysis of your comparative costs, including the subsidy you contribute via taxes, for the choices you made, and an extension of that to estimate the costs to those not living in cities of making the same choices. I strongly suspect that the result, if properly done, would tell us that the private car is extremely efficient (economically and in terms of CO2) in many situations. I suspect this, because we can, and do, impose massive taxes on the cost of private motoring and supply large subsidies to public transport and yet private motoring is still very popular.

    Ultimately, would it not be "unethical" to make a transport choice that reduced the overall efficiency with which energy is used and hence increased the amount of CO2 emmitted for the benefit obtained?

  • Comment number 25.

    Public Transport is all very well if you live in a City in the UK where it is hardly economical to have a car anyway.

    But, move out by a few miles (I'm still within the M25) 2 buses to get to my local 'big' town taking at least 40 minutes (when it is 10 minutes in the car). So when you consider that one of these bus routes runs a 2 hour schedule between 8am and 4 pm and the other a 1 hour schedule between 10am and 3 pm, you can see that not using a car is nigh on impossible.

    If the Government wishes us to get out of our cars to 'Save the Planet', I would suggest they wait until they can offer a viable, relaible alternative before I myself consider it

  • Comment number 26.

    I'm fairly sceptical about CO2 causing global warming. What I'm not sceptical about is the effect of small particles of unburnt diesel and other products of combustion directly affecting our health. How many people have sat in traffic behind a bus choking on a cloud of black smoke?

    My city has a few ethanol powered buses and many cities have some electric buses but the majority of UK buses are diesel powered and often not in great automotive condition. In contrast there are many new cars such as the Prius which switches to electric power when in traffic or the new Audis or Fiat 500 that turn their engines off when stationary.

    Another thing to consider is that I have a 6 mile drive to work which takes about 20 minutes door to door (Counting parking time) but drive directly from A to B. The only way I could do it by bus is to take a bus into the city centre then another bus out again to work. It would be over 10 miles and take an hour. THAT must affect the relative carbon footprint of the two journeys too.

  • Comment number 27.

    Much of the problem is related to lifestyles.

    When I was a child, most people lived within walking or easy bussing distance of their place of work. Children went to their local school and many walked.

    We now have a situation where many people commute (often in their cars) up to fifty and more miles to work. Children (because of freedom of parental choice) attend schools at the other end on town. Many are driven to school, by their parents, often in 4x4s.

    I am not saying that we should return to how things were in the past; but when I read the writings of environmentalists I have never seen reference
    to the above factors.

    It is also not surprising that people prefer car to train travel. Travelling by car is a fraction of the cost of most "walk-on" rail fares.
    You can only get reasonable cost rail fares by either booking far in advance or travelling at inconvenient times.

  • Comment number 28.

    Justin, you say:
    Even though travelling by car can be less polluting than public transport you should always take the public transport option.
    That's because buses and trains are running anyway. They will be out there generating CO2 whether you ride them or not. So when you choose to take your car, the pollution you create will be on top of whatever the public transport option is producing.

    But they won't be running anyway if we don't use them enough. Many services are far from frequent in the evenings, in rural areas, etc.
    Thanks for keeping a tab on the spin and keeping us informed of the data - much appreciated.

  • Comment number 29.

    I think this article may need some follow up with some real world numbers (I think they are available: search a bit more Justin!), all it says now is that a badly managed and underused transport system pollutes, which does sound like kind of obvious. (Furthermore: it ducks the question why our livestyles have changed to use more transport: regardless of mode of transport living 5 km from your work is much better than living 50 km away).

  • Comment number 30.

    And there is of course the very BIG difference in that if you have a car just sitting outside ready to go with a turn of the key then you are much, much more likely to hop in it (on your own) to make a journey that you could have taken by foot, cycle or bus.

    I got rid of my car in 2003 and walk and cycle almost everywhere in town, rain or shine. At one of the local weekly meetings which I attend there are about four of us that cycle and about half that arrive individually each week at our meetings in the middle of town by car - because they can, or it's a bit chilly, or it is raining or might do. This underlines one of the main problems with cars in that people simply use them all the time for journeys that could be mad in a much environmentally friendly way, but the sheer convenience and warmth and personal space and music on the CD trumps all those other concerns almost every single time. And of course when you've already paid for the insurance, the road tax and the servicing and the tank's nearly full of fuel, you are likely to ask "What's the point if I don't use it?"

    You don't just take a train on a whim although a bus journey may be spontaneous.

    Perhaps one of the other reasons that buses and trains are less well used is because all those people than might be using in them are out there clogging up the roads in their cars instead. Just a thought.

    And finally, 'annsome' - you say "Climate scientists now seem to be in agreement that manmade global warming is a fallacy and always has been." Nothing I have seen on any climate science web site or pronouncement from the IPCC supports such a statement! Could you please provide your source for that assertion? You may want to have a look here (just as a start, there are many others): http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/climatechange/guide/quick

  • Comment number 31.

    This is a multi-faceted arguement.
    More cars means more spend on roads and infrastructure, which is the wrong place to be spending transport monies. Best to use what we have most effectively. More people in a car may well be just as good as more people on a bus. We should inform commuinities of the alternatives and allow them to make up their own minds.
    I enjoy driving and my car etc but am aware that lot of those who question public transport have not been on a bus since they were kids!
    Worth trying.. a lot of bus services have moved on since the 70s & 80s.
    It may even surprise everyone to know that the choices are not binary..you are allowed to do both!

  • Comment number 32.

    Evidently the write of this article hasn't travelled on many virgin trains! Half full? Every time I have used their trains there has been approx 1.5 people per seat. The statistic he uses is far from representative of reality, and undermines the whole argument.

  • Comment number 33.

    I read somewhere that a fully loaded Jumbo jet uses less fuel and produces less emissions per passenger mile than your average family car over the same distance.

  • Comment number 34.

    This reflects an interesting issue about transport in rural areas where there are few people doing the same journey at the same time. For these types of journeys buses are necessary for those without access to cars, but they are certainly less environmentally efficient: sometimes empty, often with only one or two passengers (why not use small MPVs for some of these routes?). In town it's a different matter. This suggests policy should reflect the most effective form of transport for the purpose, not dogmas based on a lack of research. And of course increase the efficiency of all vehicles: there's no reason why the average car shouldn't be sub-140g/km, and falling.

  • Comment number 35.

    I also live in Brussels and should say that the Belgian transport system is not bad.

    However, as someone who tries to tie together the various 'green aspects' of - in this case - the car I think things are not really as clean cut and easy. My family and I combine public transport, a bike whenever possible (often), and a car. The car is used often in conjunction with moving 'large loads' which can be my work material, lots of people etc, and of course the famous big shop as already mentioned. However, as someone who often works at night, I notice immediately the problems of transport between towns (there is hardly any). Of course when one works late in Brussels taxis are very useful and weekends provide night buses.

    But all these things really only cover local needs and Justin's experiences without a car are all much fun until he and his family start to confront other long distance problems. Trains can be used for such as holidays, visiting family and friends and the like, but in my experience can become very expensive and often don't even get you to your final destination - you may need a taxi, car, or bus still. In my experience we really need to solve more long distant travel solutions for people, or return to a more local existence, or many people will not give up cars and the like. We should remember that we are now creating economies that rely on tourism - and it's their only income in some cases. People could travel just as much IF much more public (long distance) transport such as trains, buses etc were more frequent and much, much more cheeper. Otherwise long distance travel will be only for the rich and that I suspect is a step in the wrong direction.

    Finally the idea of getting rid of the car seems only one point in a long list. After all Justin mentioned the supermarket trip which most of us all know. It seems obvious that until governments start to boost local economies such as small shops, post offices etc, we will have a hard time deciding on what transport system to use. For all of those living in the countryside the lack of good schools, bakeries, post offices, small (but not very expensive) shops such as grocers etc will have to be encouraged back into the community. Other things such as entertainment, theaters and concerts in local pubs/cafés will also help cut down on mass migrations into large cities, shopping malls and may even convince some people to move back to the countryside?

    Anyhow the list and the debate could (and will) go on. Who's next?

  • Comment number 36.

    Its strange how no body mentions motorcycles in the green transport debate, I've been using one to get to work for the last 18 years, a small one is very fuel efficent and you don't waste fuel stuck in traffic

  • Comment number 37.

    Motorbikes are clearly the way forward!
    They start from your doorstep, and finish at your destination - giving the convenience of a car. They generally have much smaller engines than cars - which, with their smaller mass, gives the potential for far better fuel economy - think around 90-100mpg for a 125cc, while even a respectable 500cc can manage 60-70mpg with care. Pollution from manufacture is a fraction of that produced in making a car. And, to top it all,they take up far less space on the road, which = less congestion.

    Just have to wrap up warm through the winter!

  • Comment number 38.

    A friend of mine once pointed out that in general, public transport is a means of getting from where you are not, to where you don't want to go, at a time you do not wish to travel, in the company of people you would normally cross the street to avoid.

    When it is much cheaper, much quicker, on average more comfortable and much more convenient to get on a motorcycle in Carmarthen (a town 250 miles from London with a mainline railway station) and ride up to the smoke than it is to get on an 'express' to London, I'd say that public transport has demonstrably failed to compete. The cost of coercive measures to force people onto unpleasant, slow, inflexible and expensive or even unavailable modes of transport will be seen in economic stagnation. And subsequently, electoral anihalation for whichever politician tries to impose such a thing.

    If I could get on a train in Carmarthen and arrive in London less than 2 hours later, a la TGV, then people might consider that the advantages of the train outweighed the many other disadvantages, and the M4 would be less clogged as a result. But then the problem would be paying for the high speed lines...

  • Comment number 39.

    I have a another question I have never been able to find an answer to. Train Rails need to be relaid every few years. Is the CO2 generated by the steel refineries included in the per passenger figure for trains? If not, why not?

  • Comment number 40.

    As a follow-up I have just checked on the alternative public transport offerings that would get me from Hinckley to Staines on a Sunday evening and back again on a friday evening (both after 1900).
    Out: Hinckley > Tamworth > Birmingham > Reading > Staines = 4hrs 12mins, Cost = £48
    Back: Staines > Reading > Birmingham > Hinckley = 3hrs 47mins, Cost £48
    Now add the fact that I live 2 miles from the station at Hinckley and that's a taxi ride each way @ £20 and 10mins.
    So that's £136 and 8 hrs and 19 mins travel time per week.
    (and I've cheated with the outward travel as there is no train from Hinckley AFTER 1900)

    And with a car? £19 fuel, £11 costs (tax/ins etc) and 5 hrs 30 mins. And I get to have a sunday evening.
    The car wins hands down - sorry!

  • Comment number 41.

    Maybe a web-based solution could be helpful for the problem of undersubscibed public transport. You tell the transport company well in advance when and where you wish to go so that they can use their resources most effectively. The benefit of doing this is a lower rate with a guaranteed place on the transport. People who haven't pre-booked pay a higher rate and may find that there is no space.

    When writing this (with buses in mind) I realized that this is pretty much what happens anyway for trains - having an idea of how many people are going to be on a train helps the company decide how many carriages it needs. Maybe a more modular "carriage" system would be feasible for buses?

  • Comment number 42.

    You can debate the greenest form of transport ad infinitum.

    The fact is moving things around needs a lot of energy.

    The solution is not to move around more than necessary. Consumption is the issue, not efficiency!

  • Comment number 43.

    PS: Those who suggest that in order to reduce the need for cars, everybody should reorganise their lives to live and work in the same postcode, in order to fit into a future where personal transport has been banned by some "Green" Dictatorship, are being... somewhat unrealistic. Just think that through for a moment...

  • Comment number 44.

    The author appears to critique the public transit system by saying "public transport systems are designed to meet peak demand." However, in this regard automobiles are certainly no better which require well over 1000 kg of energy- and resource-intensive steel and plastic to transport barely over 100 kg of flesh and blood (given average occupancy of 1.6 people). Worse yet, the occupancy rate is further reduced to 1.1 persons per vehicle during commute times. This is utter madness! Not to mention that automobiles sit around unused for roughly 90% of the time collecting dust and losing value.

    Regarding issues of soot emissions by buses, most new diesel buses come with filters which reduce particulate emissions by 85% and more. Retrofits are also possible, and in some cities mandatory in order to reduce the negative health effects of public transit.

  • Comment number 45.

    I have raised the argument myself in the past that public transport will always be green as they will be running if you catch them or not too. And true the point is. However, being a bit of a leftie, I think we could go further with that in respect to prices, and therefore make it easier for people to make the decision to ditch the car.

    If a train will be running from London to say Manchester every hour every day weather it has passengers or not, then why should the ticket cost different prices for different distances? For example why not make it a fiver where ever you want to go? It doesnt cost the train company any more money if you get on it or not as it's already going there. I respect things are perhaps not as simple as that, but generally people like convenience, but a massively cheaper option would easily sway a huge amount of people.

    An ad-hoc visit to London from the north of England could easily hit over £100 for a round trip, when you could jump in the car for less than £80 (I'm adding the cost of a parking ticket too here to make it more comparable!!) Truth is I still can't believe that public transport is value for money, and until it is, people wont like it.

  • Comment number 46.

    Another thing: A car takes you directly where you want to go, which often requires less total distance than making the same trip by mass transit -- especially if the mass transit trip requires making a transfer. If for example getting from point A to point B takes 4 kilometers by car but 6 kilometers by mass transit, then you really must adjust the mass transit's pollution figures upward by 50% to compare them fairly.

    Sometimes a trip by mass transit does require less in-vehicle distance than driving, but only because it doesn't take you the whole way. First you have to walk to the station, then at the other end you have to walk from the station to your actual destination. That's really a point in favor of driving though (pollution aside).

    In mass transit's favor, it does eliminate the need to drive around looking for a place to park and the extra pollution this entails.

  • Comment number 47.

    The passenger emissions/km figures that you use can perhaps be viewed from a different angle.
    It is not fair to calculate public transport on the basis of only the passengers that were on board, what about the potential passengers who might have waiting at the next stop, or otherwise had an interest in the bus/train being there.
    I did not use the late night bus home last night, but on some occasions I do, thus I have an interest in that bus being there, whether I was on board on not.
    Perhaps we could say that half or less of the emissions are attributed to the passengers on board, the rest should be shared between all the potential passengers, that is pretty much every UK citizen.
    A significant part of public transport emissions should be treated as essential UK infrastructure, and attributed to us all equally, whether we are on board or not.
    That would shift the emphasis of your calculations rather.

  • Comment number 48.

    Some interesting logic but not really adding anything to the green debate. People might start to listen to the powers that be about green matters when they do something about it themselves rather than telling us to cut our emissions by driving electric cars, etc. As usual the government offers no incentives but instead taxes to death the non-compliant.

    How about making the entire train and bus network electric before enforcing us to drive electric cars that barely last the rush hour queue before running out of charge? Buses only make short journeys so they are ideal for electrification, and in any case there is more space in buses for larger batteries than in cars.

    Might encourage the government to install some electricity points, too, rather than leaving the public to recharge at home (which isn't practical when you need to travel a distance of more than about 2 hours and can't get back without running out of charge).

    When they go green, I'll go green.

  • Comment number 49.

    The idea that everyone should live within a few miles of their work is lovely.

    Sadly in the real world what happens is this: I bought a house 20 mins walk from work. My boss then quit and took up a better post elsewhere. I then get made redundant and have to take up a job 12 miles away which I hated and forced me to buy my first car. 18 months later I managed to escape & got a new job 6 miles away which has no direct bus links.

    With house prices and mortgage availability what they are we live where we can afford to live and most of us need two incomes to pay the mortgage so BOTH partners will need to find 'local' jobs. Thats simply not possible.

    #35. I'd question whether 'small local shops' are greener than supermarkets. Supermarkets have centralised distribution systems and get their deliveries in bulk. Contrary to popular myth their wastage levels are incredibly small (less than 2%... and before you start condemning this remember that the vast majority of items sold by supermarkets are tinned or packet dry goods). A small number of very large trucks will be preferable to many smaller ones. There are a couple of supermarkets within a couple of miles of my house whereas being a mostly residential area (and mostly victorian housing stock before you blame modern planning) there are remarkably few local shops beyond corner newsagents nor anywhere to build a 'local' shopping street.

  • Comment number 50.

    Some interesting comments. But the argument that the buses and trains are running anyway so we might as well use them instead of our car cuts both ways. Since a Boeing is going between London and New York anyway, I can fly transatlantic with a clear conscience, knowing that I'm not contributing any more carbon. If my weight is trivial compared to the weight of my car, how much more trivial is it compared to the weight of a 747?

  • Comment number 51.

    It's good to see someone looking at actual data on this subject. Perhaps a few other important factors could be considered next time, too?

    For one thing, comparing emissions in terms of g/km ignores the fact that a car journey is typically door-to-door, or fairly close to it. Journeys by bus or train could easily travel twice as far, or more, to get from the same starting point to the same destination, because they go by indirect routes.

    It's also all very well claiming that public transport is near full at busy times, and of course mass transportation is more efficient on busy routes at busy times, where there are plenty of people making similar journeys. But then to be realistic, you have to divide that passenger level by two for many public transport routes, because at times when things are packed in one direction, there is often hardly anyone going the other way.

    Finally, the focus in this article is very much on CO2. Of course, that is an important pollutant to consider, but so are nitrogen oxides, sulphur oxides, particulates (PM10s)... These other emissions cause or aggravate a variety of health problems, some of them very serious, and the big diesel engines in buses are much, much worse at generating them than a typical petrol car engine.

  • Comment number 52.

    Compare horses with horses. You are comparing a full car with an empty train, but nearly all cars have one person in them. If you are using an empty train to comparee with you need to use an empty car also.

  • Comment number 53.

    Being BBC employe's you will presumably have completed an up to-date Health and Safety course so there will be no need to remind you that it is illegal and extremely dangerous to have an unrestrained shoulder mounted camera on a camera persons shoulder whilst in a moving car. If the majority of camera persons sensibly abide by these rules then I see no reason why a self shooting BBC staff producer should be allowed by management to abide by a different set of rules. Try explaining your actions to the contributors family after the unrestrained camera fly,s forward and smashes him in the back of the head during an accident.

    Irresponsible, illegal, dangerous and plain stupid.

  • Comment number 54.

    Maybe just maybe someone should study why we're all moving so much creating congestion etc, rather focusing on moving the problem around from planes to trains, to cars and buses!

    Maybe a tax on businesses for employing outside of a local area would be a good idea? More perks for people that walk/cycle to work?

  • Comment number 55.

    Mass transit is all very well but we must consider the costs, financial and otherwise, associated with the complete journey.

    Take my trip to see my parents, as an example. I can get in my car and drive the 80-odd miles. If I can avoid peak traffic it normally takes me about an hour and a half, from my front door to theirs.

    If I take the train it takes me 10 minutes to walk to the station, then 10 minutes to travel to the interchange, then usually 75 minutes to get to the destination station. But that's still 15 miles away with only one bus every two hours, so a car is still needed for the last 15 miles. And, allowing time to buy a ticket and take into account the vagaries of train times (time to cross stations, and allow waiting times between one train arriving and the next leaving) we're looking at 2 hours or more, plus the time to get from the final station to the final destination.

    Any journey that involves crossing London is even worse. So, for instance, if I wanted to go from Southampton to Edinburgh I could struggle on the train, or I could argue that the plane is going to fly even if I'm not on it, so by being on it I can save myself a lot of time, a lot of money, and for no less inconvenience than taking the train.

  • Comment number 56.

    Perhaps now would be a good time to consider a new generation transport system (PRT - Personal Rapid Transit) by people and leaders who are concerned about the environment and the well-being of citizens in general. It seems that everything we are doing at present is not making things better, so perhaps it's time for a radical change? One system in particular, called MISTER (Metropolitan Individual System of Transportation on an Elevated Rail) ticks all the right boxes. It is a cross between a taxi and a metro and can solve all city transport problems. Including goods delivery and refuse removal.
    There are several of these PRT systems around the world currently in development, including ULTRA at Heathrow and another system in Masdar, UAE, but if comparing their parameters and functionality to MISTERs', they are a long way off. If anyone is interested, more info can be found at http://www.mist-er.eu/home-page.html

    MISTER fan

  • Comment number 57.


    Surely you need to consider the time of day here. Yes, public transport is not so green during off peak times, but during rush hour in most (if not all) UK cities buses/trains are full to the brim. What are the average figures? I'm sure on average, public transport is greener. And most people won't take all 5 members of their family in the car with them when they travel to work.

    As you said, you can change statisitcs to show anyway, with a few 'ifs' and 'buts'

  • Comment number 58.

    The problem with public transport is its very nature.

    People want personal transport, to go where they want and when they want without having to work around scheduled timetables and journey plans.

    Cars must be made more fuel efficient and the only way to force that change is by raising fuel duty to put the price of a litre of UNL/Derv up to 1.60 or 1.70

    Scrappage schemes should only provide subsidies to the most fuel efficient replacements.

    This would also push long distance freight off the roads and back onto the railways where it belongs.


  • Comment number 59.

    #45. On small flaw in your plan. The train only runs at all because the train company has a small number of people paying £100+ to travel between London and Manchester. If you could get away with just £5 the journey would be running at a massive loss and frankly no-one would be fool enough to book at full price. Frankly neither me, nor the country has enough spare cash to effectively pay for people to travel by train for free because your scheme would need massive subsidy from somewhere. Just this week the company running the east coast main line has given the franchise back to the government because it doesn't pay. The taxpayer is already susidising the rail network to a huge extent via network rail. Public transport certainly won't be value for money if you're being forced to pay for it whether you use it or not.

    #48 The problem isn't just availability of charge points but the time it takes to charge the battery. It takes me 2 or 3 mins to put 50L of petrol into my car. A decent electric car battery will take 16 hours to charge at domestic amperage. 'Electric' cars running from fuel cells (methanol or hydrogen) are a more viable option but generating both fuels requires more carbon going into production than is saved by not burning petrol. Releasing hydrogen from water, then chilling it to a liquid, transporting it and storing it is incredibly energy consuming.

  • Comment number 60.

    I taught English at a car factory (TPCA) here and remember a statement that the environmental manager told me - the average car consumes more energy whilst being made in the factory than it ever will on the road.
    If that is true, it alters the debate considerably. Why replace an older car with a more efficient modern one if the latter uses large amounts of energy (and other resources) in the production process?
    So, do we need to add energy consumption in the production of trains, planes, buses etc into the debate?

  • Comment number 61.


    #54 - wonderful idea. Shame about the people who live in remote areas of lower employment who can't afford to move. Your proposal would make them unemployable and their homes unsaleable.

    Oddly enough I think you'll find most people would prefer to live near to where they spend their time. I can't think of anybody I know who enjoys a long commute. But unless you want to see heavy industry mixed into residential areas you're always going to have people commuting.

    Just for good measure, how would you define "local"? If we look at areas of London, for example (a good example since property prices range from excessive to insane within a short distance). To use an example, travelling from SW London means somewhere like Guildford can be reached in 15 minutes. Croydon is half the distance but more than double the journey time. Which one gets taxed?

  • Comment number 62.

    Dear Justin,

    The environmental impact of car culture is not simply in carbon dioxide emissions, although even here the figures in favour of cars that rely on a full load of passengers simply don't reflect everyday usage.

    Instead the environmental impact can be seen in the vast range of negative social consequence from car culture. Others have already talked about the greater suburban sprawl that has a negative impact on community cohesion. Then there's the obvious destruction of vast swathes of countryside (and town green areas), and the urban isolation caused by living near busy roads. Children being allowed kept inside their houses for fear of them being run over. The huge death and injury toll every year from road traffic incidents. Even small things like the tarmaccing over of gardens to provide driveways and that subsequently contributes to faster rain run-off rates and increased urban flooding.

    The sudden introduction of solar cars wouldn't prevent the continuing negative consequences of the way that cars are shaping our society. And there still wouldn't be any more parking spaces...

  • Comment number 63.

    I drive a 15 year old diesel car that gets 60mpg. I commute 200 miles per week, and spend approximately £18 in diesel. I pay for mot and tax anyway, so I would still have these costs if I used the train for work. If I stopped using my car this would require a daily 3 mile taxi trip to the station to catch the train (£4.50), train ticket to the town I work in (£9.00 return), another £4.50 taxi trip to reach my company. I would then have to repeat the taxi trips in order make it home in the evening. If I tavelled to the station in my car to start and finish my train journey I would be hit with a daily £8 parking fee (not much different to the taxi trips). As for the bus, it does not run early enough in morning to be of use, and still £5.00 return to the station if it was a convenient option. It's also as old as, and more polluting than my car. All of these options probably produce as much carbon as going in my car, and as for cost comparison's I cannot see an valid argument. Send a bus to my street to pick me up in the morning, then have it wait at my workplace in the evening and I would use it. If I could avoid the daily drive I would do so as its not how I would choose to start my day had I another option. But economics and convenience rule I'm afraid.

  • Comment number 64.

    The key insight that I have taken away is that buses and trains are greener than cars but only when occupancy rates are quite high. This requires people to leave their cars in the garage and use public transport more often helping to push this number up. This is how we can collectively make a difference to our environment, a message sadly omitted from this story.
    Also, the government and the green lobby needs to put pressure on transport groups to reduce emissions through a more fuel-efficient fleet, as well as eliminating routes which have high emissions per passenger mile.

  • Comment number 65.

    #54. Why is EVERY green solution apparently a punitive tax? If you choose to live a long way from your place of work and drive then you already pay about 80% of the cost of your fuel in tax, plus road tax (and in my case because I work in a hospital £300 a year for a parking permit). Slapping an additional tax on businesses who employ the best candidates rather that the bloke who lives round the corner just seems a great way to finally kill our economy off. You don't see the really big global polluters like the US or China doing this. If it wasn't for the already massive tax bill of those of us who work there'd be no subsidy at all for 'Green' tranport such as the massive white elephant that is Nottingham's tram system.

  • Comment number 66.

    The average man must weigh more than 75kg! 75kg is my weight, an athletic male, and most men these days are carrying more fat.

  • Comment number 67.

    Some good points by KiltedGreen.

    I'd like to add that there are many people who would like to do their journeys by foot, cycle or bus, but the large numbers of cars on our roads puts them off. So they get a car instead.
    A lot of people are nervous of cycling in heavy traffic and alternative provision is not being made quickly enough.
    Cars take up an excessive amount of road space, and make bus journeys slower. (If you can get across the road to your bus stop in the first place, that is).
    People end up driving their kids everywhere because it is safer.

    In addition to this,personal car usage has encouraged firms to build out of town shopping centres which can only be reached by car.

    The whole car culture creates a spiral of increasing travelled mileage which shouldn't be necessary.

  • Comment number 68.

    I was just reading the comments and saw one relating to how full Virgin Trains are.

    "Every time I travel by Virgin it is more like 80%." -- this has to be at peak times. When I travel by Virgin Trains, I usually go during the day at around lunchtimes (mainly at weekends as well when you expect the trains to be busy) and in the evenings at about 7pm onwards. I find that almost all Virgin Trains at these times are next to empty, maybe 10 people in each carriage and even less in the quiet carriages.

    The point about public transport running constantly is completely valid in my experience. I live in Lancaster and the public transport system is hugely accomodating, everywhere I look I see a bus running, I live at the end of a one-way street and there are still buses running down it during the day.

    Public transport is always running and they have to, people expect it to be there when they need it. Bus drivers, train drivers, tram drivers etc. can't just stop their vehicle because it's empty, they have to carry on driving regardless.

    If you sat at your local bus station from when it opened to when it shut and counted the number of buses that had less than 5 people on them, I bet it would be over half of the services.

  • Comment number 69.

    I can't afford to be "green"!

    I have a car.

    I sometimes use the train or buses - when I have to. But I do so VERY grudgingly, because for most journeys, I can take the car for a fraction of the cost. For example, I will be flying from Heathrow Airport soon (less carbon emissions than driving!) and will be away for six days. My wife and I could walk to the station (with our luggage) and get the train (luckily she has a railcard for discounted travel) for a grand total of £55. We could get the bus, for £45 (the bus arrives at Heathrow two hours after our plane departs, and there's a seven hour wait for the bus when we return). Or we could get in our car from our driveway and drive 23 miles each way, and pay to park next to the airport. All for less than the cost of the discounted train tickets.

    Isn't London Transport planning £2 for a single bus trip? Again - think of a group of five friends who want to get from one end of Oxford Street to the other - they'd be crazy not to get a taxi (especially if they don't have Oyster cards or pocketfuls of pound coins to buy tickets from those stupid machines).

    Until this pathetic excuse for a government reduces the cost of public transport, I, along with millions of others, will continue to get in my comfortable, convenient, air-conditioned/heated, exciting (relative to a bus) car. People will resist using public transport because it is stupidly expensive. That is an irrefutable fact.

    Basically the planet is beyond redemption anyway, so the only option is to stop breeding so the world can cope with a substantially reduced population. The population will substantially reduce whether mankind stops breeding or not - if we carry on breeding, famines and water shortages will inevitably ensue, which will drastically reduce the population anyway. I believe the world is far more resilient than most people give it credit for - admittedly it may take several millennia (a blink of the eye in geological timescales) to recover from mankind's destructive efforts, but nature will win out in the end.

    I do not have children and have no plans to burden this planet with additional polluters (and have them live through what will undoubtedly be a pretty unpleasant few decades). If you have kids, you have already slammed another nail in the coffin of the Earth, unless you can be sure that your offspring will become a genius and develop some sustainable energy source (nuclear fusion?) to "save the planet" (or, even better, develop and release a virus which sterilises at least half the population).

    Wow....this rant has really gone on. Time to put the heating on and open the windows! * not really *

  • Comment number 70.

    Firstly, Justin, you don't seem to know too much about public transport! I use public transport all of the time and have done for years owing to the fact I've never learned to drive (too expensive for me). In the first instance, public transport companies only put on enough buses to meet public demand at any given time. It is uneconomical for them to provide a peak-time service all of the time so they don't do it. Moreover, the bus routes around my way (Coventry) are largely full most of the time.

    Secondly, Justin, a tonne of CO2 dumped into the upper atmosphere by an aeroplane is far more damaging than a tonne of CO2 dumped out of vehicles and so forth at ground level.

    Thirdly... Jon Bowman from post #23... The comment about the energy saving light bulbs is somewhat valid, although I think you miss the point a little. but ss for your comments regarding a hypothetical journey up to York from London? Well, I find your lack of logic disturbing. Your post looks like you're feeling guilty and trying whatever you can to justify your current habits without thinking about what you're saying.

  • Comment number 71.

    Suppose that you need to go to the shop. In you car it is 1 km. So you emit 360gm to drive (1km each way). Now you take the bus. The bus doesn't go directly to the shop so the route is longer. So you are on a bus,emitting a lower emission per passenger kilometer, but you are travelling farther so the emissions are ... the same. Actually worse. The actual emissions for a bus are the total distance a passenger travels/divided by the total miles the bus travels.Anyone who has been into the center of Oxford knows that at the end of the route, the bus leaves empty.

  • Comment number 72.

    I am glad you have raised this issue. It is important that we know accurately how much carbon public transport uses on average otherwise we will not be making sensible plans. These figures should be published by transport companies along with their annual accountants.
    Similarily - Why are we still tied to a 19th century model for trains. There were plans drawn up to provide Bristol (I think) with a train system based on small self propelled Cars. There would be no timetable. You would get into a waiting car, Enter you Destination and be taken Directly there. The station would in effect be siding with trains joining a contiuous flowing central rail system. Computers would control trains joining and leaving the flow rail. This System could be energy efficient and though the speed of the vehicles would only be 30mph Journey times would be short because there would be no stopping.
    Computer analysis has shown that for over 96% of passengers a Car would be waiting.
    Whilst this system may not be suitable for every situation it has enough promise that it should be developed and tried.

  • Comment number 73.

    #54 & #61: You have both hit the nail on the head. Until PLANNING laws change we will NEVER solve this problem. Land is classified as either AGRICULTURAL, INDUSTRIAL, COMMERCIAL or RESIDENTIAL - in that order. It is not uncommon for the use of the first 3 to be switched but heaven-forbid if they are switched to residential use. The planning authorities just don't allow it. If I bought a plot on a commercial estate and tried to build a house I would be blocked.
    Thus houses will never be built on business parks and offices never on housing estates.
    Plus the howls of complaint from the NIMBYs.

    So there you have it - to solve the green issue - change the planning laws.

  • Comment number 74.

    #60. I'd find the idea that the car takes more energy to make in the first place than it will ever consume on the road hard to believe (although as an open minded guy I'll admit its possible). I do agree with you about the relative merits of old v new cars though. I've got an 11 year old vauxhall astra with about 60,000 miles on the clock, have it serviced every 6 months and keep the tyres at the correct pressure, my oil topped up and drive as efficiently as possible (not least because in an 11 year old car you don't want to thrash the engine and kill it!). I can get 250 miles urban driving or 450 miles motorway from a single tank of fuel. I don't believe that the fuel savings from getting a smaller or more modern car could possibly offset the cost of building the new car.

    Hybrid cars in particular are very un-green to build in the first place. You have to build a petrol car then add in the cost of producing the copper and acid batteries for the electric side of things. Copper mining is incredibly damaging and usually done in places like Chile.

  • Comment number 75.

    Your conclusion doesn't match your headline!

  • Comment number 76.

    #40. At 10:45am on 20 Nov 2009, grahamtuer

    Not going to comment on your lifestyle choice as we all have our reasons for living there, working here etc... But, is it fair to compare car travel to train travel when you probably chose were to live and work based on your options made possible by car? i.e. If you had to use public transport you wouldn't have made that choice and lived/worked somewhere else to accommodate that fact?

  • Comment number 77.

    i spent 7 years living without a car simply because i couldnt afford one. i'm not 'lucky' to live within walking distance of my work place, i looked for a place to live that was within the distance or on public transport route *because* i didnt have a car. so it kind of worked the other way around.

    having used public transport quite a bit as you can imagine (not buses very often as if its short enough to bus its usually short enough to bike, but using trains a fair amount) my main beef with the trains is the cost! if i had to travel on peak time and without booking in advance (both of which happend quite a lot because i had to take unpredictable journeys at times) i was paying like £22 for a return to the nearest major city 50 miles away. it also took as long as the same trip by car (though i prefer train travel because you can do other things during traveling time).

    if the costs were cheaper then a lot more people would use the trains (but would there even be the capacity to cope with that?)!

  • Comment number 78.

    More astonishingly bad journalism from the BBC 'I am going a green heresy' We're not really interested in you Justin, or what you do. We're interested in reading a story. You are a green journalist in the truest sense of the word.

  • Comment number 79.

    #63 Colin: See point #40 - I made exactly the same point about my weekly commute.
    Plus time is a factor: Avg wage = £25k = £19k after tax, Avg hours per year = 1900, value of personal time = £10 per hour. If you start to factor this value into the calculations the arguments for public transport are shot to pieces. I value my time.

    #60 : You are so right about the cost of car/bus/plane production vs usage. So if everyone kept their car for an extra year than they planned to then massive savings would be made.

    But fundamentally people are like water and will always choose the easiest route, thus if a car is available they will take it. And there's the weather. Doesn't it rain in this country? (Apologies to those in Cumbria).

  • Comment number 80.

    There is the social cost to those too old or infirm to drive - they need easily available public transport. It will make it easier for them ot have some kind of social life, and complete normal tasks like shopping, and it will keep people off the roads who could be considered a danger, since we all feel the need to drive 'skilfully' and 'fast'.

  • Comment number 81.

    #13 You only blow a hole in your own argument.
    If everyone travels during rush hour why do we continue to run empty buses throughout the day?

    To summarise the blog:
    Full bus greener than full car? Yes
    Empty bus greener than empty (driver only) car? Yes
    Empty bus greener than full car? No
    As many posters have said though, only those with access to buses have a choice.
    Has anyone mentioned the weather yet? How many walk out their front door and past their car to wait on a bus in torrential rain/snow and/or howling wind?

  • Comment number 82.

    #79 I posted before your post appeared.

  • Comment number 83.


    Did anyone ever consider the logistical problems associated with trying to be green?

    I bought a mountain bike six months ago - partly for recreation and partly to replace the car for shorter trips where no bulky bags are required. But then I hit a problem. Where do I park my bike? Where can I leave it, secure in the knowledge it will still be there when I return?

    As it stands I need to secure the bike to a solid post. No problem there. But I need a lock to secure the rear wheel and frame, a cable to secure the front wheel, and I need to take the lights, GPS mount and saddle with me to prevent them from being stolen. London Police's own crime fighting advice is to take anything with you that's quick release. Er, that means the entire bike except for the frame. So it seems I can't take my bike into town in case someone nicks it. The bus is smelly and unreliable, and by the time I've walked to and from stations I might as well have driven. So I guess I'll take the car after all.

    If we can get secure cycle parking and get away from the idea that "cycle provision" means a green bit of tarmac beside the main road so people can park in it, perhaps we'll get more people out of cars and onto bikes. Until then, cycling remains a recreation rather than a viable means of transport.

  • Comment number 84.

    Someone suggests "looking harder" for the information about the distance travelled with passengers and the distance without. GOOD LUCK. I've been saying this about busses for years after noticing heavily polluting busses pass my workplace every 5 minutes with only the driver on board almost every time. YES it was near the end of the route, but even at peak times and on the busiest parts of the routes there were rarely more than 10 people on board.


    No-one has ever been able to provide me with this information, and at least one bus company has told me that it's "impossible to record" this information.

  • Comment number 85.

    #76: Please see my comment #73 regarding planning laws.
    I would dearly have loved to live near my work but my work regularly takes me to different places AND I had to move here due to the high cost of housing in the SE. If the planning laws were altered and allowed me to afford to live near my work I would gladly give up my weekly commute. As it is, I do it as efficiently as I can by travelling out of peak hours. Life is not perfect, but public transport certainly isn't.

  • Comment number 86.

    Empty bus greener than empty (driver only) car? Yes
    **************************

    I don't think so, how can it be greener for a bus with an at least 4 litre diesel engine weighing 3-4 tons be greener than an empty 1.6 litre 1 ton car?

    That is too obvious to me.

  • Comment number 87.

    Derek: Cars take up an excessive amount of road space, and make bus journeys slower

    Actually, buses take up an excessive amount of road space and make car journeys slower. Mostly by taking up the bus lane and the car lane when they stop at bus stops. The last round of bus driver strikes were a joy here - traffic flowed so much more smoothly, even though a) there were more cars on the road and b) cars STILL couldn't use the bus lanes.

  • Comment number 88.

    I've never understood why the carbon cost of maintaining the entire railway infrastructure is not included in the comparison. Hundreds of railway stations, maintenance buildings etc across the railway network all consumer significant amounts of power, resulting in CO2 emissions. In fact, it's very possible this infrastructure results in as many tonnes of CO2 emitted over a 24 hour period as the trains themselves. Roads don't need stations.

  • Comment number 89.

    #69 Paul: Well done - you dared mention children. (Like you I have none).
    IF man is responsible for the demise of the planet (I think the planet is quite capable and does not need our help - just look at the state of roads that are rarely driven on, then the logic goes that anyone who has more than 2 children are responsible for furthering its demise. Can I claim my 2-child carbon credits now please?

  • Comment number 90.


    Re: green punitive taxes only hit car drivers.


    from another post :-

    'I drive a 15 year old diesel car that gets 60mpg. I commute 200 miles per week, and spend approximately £18 in diesel'


    If the fuel duty was raised so that a litre of derv was 2.20 (double what it is now)
    and your car manufacturer raised your mpg to 120 then you would still only be spending 18 pounds per week on diesel.

  • Comment number 91.

    I think that this is a really interesting contrarian post.

    It is proving massively hard to shift consumers (myself included) out of cars but there are sites that are trying at least to get to choose greener cars. Unfortunately the age old debates about whether Prius's are really green given that they are complex technology shipped from Japan rage on...Sites such as http://www.whatgreencar.com do an excellent job at informing the public as to what is going on in green cars as well as helping them choose the most environmentally friendly ones. Interestingly WhatGreenCar makes the new Prius its Car Of The Year 2009!

  • Comment number 92.

    So we need to invent public transport that's just like a car. Hmmm. That's really difficult. Why don't we make a car that's available to the public. We could call it a 'taxi'. When nobody wants to use it it could sit on a 'rank' and not emit any CO2. Maybe we should subsidise taxi's rather than inefficient public mass transit.

  • Comment number 93.

    "The average car emits something like 180g per passenger kilometre"
    Is this the average car with only the driver in it or the average car with driver and 3 passengers? You say pack in passengers but I believe the average car is the one with the driver only, that is where the problem lies. Where there may be buses and trains empty off peak there are certaily cars with driver only off peak and all the rest of the time too.

  • Comment number 94.

    Post #10 Annsome wrote "Climate scientists now seem to be in agreement that manmade global warming is a fallacy and always has been" ...I think it is possible to count the number of Climate scientists who disagree with man made global warming on one hand - but carry on ignoring the blatant inconvenient truth if you so wish.
    Climate change aside, we still need to conserve our resources and look to move to a low carbon economy for the following reasons:
    - National security and energy independence
    - Oil is only going to get more expensive
    - Have renewable energy resources so we are not dependant upon finite resources

  • Comment number 95.

    #86

    Sorry posted in a rush

    Should have said

    Empty bus greener than empty (driver only) car? No

  • Comment number 96.

    I used to go to work on the train 1 or 2 days out of 4, until the office moved from the town centre to a new out-of-town development. I tried it once (with added extra cost and time of a bus journey) but have always travelled by car since then.

    However, the only thing that makes it practical for me to work 35 miles from home (as a contractor, not a permanent employee, so it's not worth trying to move house) is the motorway. Without it I would have to drive miles through the city or suburbs which would take too long and I wouldn't have contemplated taking the contract.

    The more we improve our roads, and develop sites with road transport in mind, the more we encourage people to increase their CO2 output.

  • Comment number 97.

    So why not argue to fill up trains and buses rather than cars?!

  • Comment number 98.

    Justin, one big issue often ignored in favour of the car is the carbon footprint of the public transport infastructure and the journey to the public transport point which can often be in the wrong direction.

    Factor the above in and public transport suddenly becomes very ungreen compared to the best design green cars.

    More on this and other related issues at the Internet-Public-library.org

    Average Bus occupancy in Cardiff 5.5 passangers (average for all bus journeys 2006 source: Cardiff Bus Company).

    National average bus fuel consumption is 5.6 mpg (1328gm/km CO2) and average occupancy 9 passengers (Source Cambridge Energy 2007)

  • Comment number 99.

    It always amazes me that we only ever focus on the most easily measured culprits for CO2 emmissions. The arguments above tend to focus on useage and a few variations on the complexities of usage.

    However, has anybody ever produced believable figures regarding the Carbon Footprint associated with the production of different forms of Transport, e.g. small/medium/large Car, Train, Bus, Plane... starting with the extraction of base/mineral Resources, working through the formation/manufactuer of base Products used in the production of Parts/Materials, moving through the Vehicle Manufacturing Process right up to final delivery to a Sales Point ?????

    It would be very interesting if somebody conducted such analysis, including the CO2 emmissions associated with the use of all Enery Sources used at every stage of that process.

    In other words, how does the CO2 footprint to get a Vehicle 'on the Road' compare with, say, the footprint for its first year of typical use ??

    Food for thought

  • Comment number 100.

    You might want to dig out the research from Lancaster University on the greeness or not of public transport, carried out some years ago. It was very quiclky 'disappeared' by governments and the media, presumably because it conveyed the wrong message.
    When governments brief the IPCC to deliver a report with the worst case scenario and then send it back for redraft because it's not bad enough, you know that climate change has become a political football, with a healthy, attached industry represented by a strong and vibrant lobby group. The fact that 'hundreds of world scientists agree' distracts attention from the FACT that those who agree are mainly climate modellers, not climate specialists. These people have a vested interest in promoting modelling and obtaining funding for their industry.
    The FACT that a petition, signed by 1750 of the world's leading climate scientists, denounced the IPCC's findings as unscientific, never made it to the headlines in front of our cereal bowls may give free-thinking individuals a clue as to the drivers...

 

Page 1 of 3

More from this blog...

Topical posts on this blog

Categories

These are some of the popular topics this blog covers.

Latest contributors

BBC iD

Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.