UK: Buses Emit More Pollutants Than Automobiles

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Advocates of diverting tax money raised from motorists on mass transit insist doing so is essential for protecting the environment. Data published in August by the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) show that buses outside London produced an average of 221 grams per kilometer of greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than the figure given for small gasoline-powered cars, 210. Small and medium diesel-powered cars also beat the bus with scores of 172 and 215.

“Perhaps those who criticize lone car drivers should turn their attention to empty off-peak buses instead,” Association of British Drivers environment spokesman Paul Biggs said in a statement. “Although buses provide an important public service, even London can only manage an average occupancy of around fifteen passengers. Modern efficient cars outperform buses not just for CO2 emissions, but for genuine pollutants as well.”

Greenhouse gas emission figures represent the output of carbon dioxide — the harmless gas emitted by all human beings as an essential part of the respiratory process — combined with nitrous oxide and methane. Government official in the UK and US maintain these substances are causing global warming.

DEFRA’s bus figures are based on actual fuel consumption by bus operators and ridership data. It is consistent with figures obtained from a 1999 test by the Los Angeles, California Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). Diesel bus engines were tested on a central business district route simulation burning fuel at a rate of 4 miles per gallon with carbon dioxide emissions of 2571 grams per mile or 1597 grams per kilometer. Assuming the bus carries nine passengers on average, the carbon dioxide emissions were 174 grams per passenger kilometer (DEFRA’s figure was 184). A solo driver can beat that figure in a Toyota Yaris at 127, a Honda Civic diesel at 140. Even a large SUV like the Porsche Cayenne achieves a solo figure of 236, but with an average occupancy of 1.6 the Porsche still beats the per-passenger figure of the bus.

A March 2009 report by Transport and Travel Research Ltd found that on a per passenger kilometer basis, bus travel produced more particulate matter and other pollutants than automobiles.

“This report confirms that traveling by car is ‘greener’ than traveling by bus,” Biggs said on the report’s release. “Bus companies will have to invest heavily in fleet modernization and the retrofitting of emission abatement technology to even stand a chance of keeping up with increasingly cleaner cars. This is a ‘wake up’ call to politicians who persist with the transport and environmental mantras of, ‘The answer’s a bus, now what’s the question?’ Given that buses and coaches carry only 6.3 percent of passengers compared to the 86.5 percent who travel by car, van or taxi, should 6 percent of passengers be given up to 50 percent of the road via bus lanes?”

A copy of the DEFRA conversion report is available in a 1.8mb PDF file at the source link below.


GHG Conversion Factors for Company Reporting (UK DEFRA, 8/3/2011)


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  • Andrewpmk Andrewpmk on Nov 04, 2011

    The primary point of buses is to reduce traffic congestion, much more so than to save fuel. My city Toronto is horribly gridlocked on a normal day, but whenever there is a public transit strike the 401, DVP, Gardiner and other roads are total chaos. Cars sitting in traffic jams just waste fuel. Another purpose of buses is to reduce the need for parking, which is scarce and expensive in downtown Toronto. That said, I think that transit systems in big cities do use less fuel on average than single passenger cars, ignoring the effect of traffic congestion. All the busy bus routes in Toronto (Finch, Eglinton, Dufferin, etc.) and the two main subway lines are generally packed from early morning until 10pm in the evening or so, which means that they save fuel (for instance comparing a car with 30mpg city vs a 4mpg bus, if a bus on average carries more than 7.5 passengers it is more fuel efficient than the single passenger car). I realize that there are useless bus routes in this city (like 162 Lawrence-Donway which serves the extremely wealthy "Bridle Path" neighbourhood) which no one uses that waste fuel, but these account for a small percentage of buses on the road. Also bus systems in small cities like Kingston, Ontario tend to run lots of empty buses around which undoubtedly wastes fuel, but this is part because the bus service in many small cities is such utter c**p that no one uses it.

  • RogerdFedress RogerdFedress on Nov 07, 2011

    i think this is wrong prospective, automobile industry are more attractive than UK bus,like this auto wraps Charlotte

  • Danny I'm in total agreement that the Biden disaster of pushing electric vehicles caused this problem. We didn't even test this total heavier battery operated vehicles before they hit the market. I am sure with all the crashes with them that the costs and loss of life is greater with the added extreme weight. This winter their were problems with them even charging. Biden cut our nation's throat by stopping our countries oil drilling to push these stupid electric vehicles. These iwners don't even have a clue how expensive it is to replace those batteries in their vehicles. Biden really blew it on pushing this. Even he dies nit in one.
  • YellowDuck Moss Corner (T5) at Mosport.
  • Rob Woytuck I was saying if the average vehicle weight increases the capacity of the ferry will be affected. 18 wheelers go on ferries too. It not about individual weight its the cumulative effect. Same a for any other infrastructure. Probably even affects a multilevel car park if every car in it were electric.
  • Rob Woytuck I meant overall for a loaded ferry if every vehicle weighs more by volume. Not comparing the fact pickups or electric vehicles are on the ferry but rather the number of heavier vehicles total.
  • Analoggrotto Everything wrong with Tesla + (Everything Right with Hyundai * 100) = TTAC