Green Commuting – Car, Train or Bus?

solar bus

Image: Tindo solar bus, Adelaide

In 2008, Adelaide in South Australia launched the world’s first solar-powered bus. It has zero emissions and saved over 70,000kg of CO2-e in its first year of operation. China began introducing solar buses in 2012, and you can catch a solar-powered train in the Himalayas. In the UK, however, commuting options do not yet include such innovations.

According to the Association of Train Operating Companies, green initiatives for rail transport, (including implementing brake regeneration to return energy to the power supply, more efficient driving techniques and biofuel trials), should reduce CO2 emissions per passenger in the future.

However, the main countries of origin for biofuels are Argentina and Brazil, with the USA providing a comparable amount of biofuels as those produced in the UK (11 percent) so there are environmental factors to be considered in obtaining them. It is concerning that 56 percent of biofuels are known to be produced on land previously used for growing crops.

Commuters are actively encouraged by the government to choose bus or train travel as green alternatives. Passenger numbers using the railway grew by fifty percent over the past ten years. Bus use increased by more than 17 percent over the same period. Carbon emissions are higher on a bus that idles frequently while collecting passengers than the same bus operating on an express route. While an uninterrupted journey on an express bus is advantageous for both the environment and commuters traveling the entire distance from one major center to another in terms of time, the emissions savings are lost if the bus is not fully occupied.

Car sharing has the advantage of requiring fewer passengers to achieve the best possible environmental outcome. Car sharing in a fuel-efficient vehicle provides a reduction in carbon emissions that exceeds the emissions savings of traveling on a bus or train. Hybrid electric cars have a much higher fuel economy than traditional cars.

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In 2010, hybrid electric cars made up only one percent of new cars. In 2011, the Department for Transport introduced a Plug In Car Grant for UK motorists purchasing a qualifying ultra-low emission car. 3,021 claims were made through the Plug-in Car Grant scheme prior to 31 December, 2012. These vehicles promise the greatest environmental benefits of all transport options; yet, even with existing cars, car sharing is proving to be a very green alternative.

Transport Direct offers information for door-to-door travel, comparing public transport involving trains and buses, to the same journey by car with varying numbers of passengers. Car sharing will undoubtedly become more popular as more regions announce that carrying multiple passengers entitles a car to travel a less-congested car share lane than routes used by single-occupant cars. Some regions, including Devon County Council, are already actively promoting car sharing as a green-living option. There are social benefits as well as the benefits for the environment; a win-win situation.

Car sharing is, with few exceptions, the greenest alternative for general commuters in the city and suburbs.

About the Author:  David Young is working on the marketing team of Car Accessories Plus in the UK, helping them to realize a greener future for their company and customers.

Statistics were collected from:

UK Government Documents

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