By on February 20, 2015

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A new chart from the Department of Transportation claims that taking the bus is actually less fuel efficient than driving a car or light truck. I’ll grab the popcorn while you read this and mull over Ronnie’s piece on EVs.

Hat tip: Glenn Mercer

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83 Comments on “Chart Of The Day: Cars Do Better Than Buses For Fuel Economy?...”


  • avatar
    Sigivald

    Buses have to be run almost empty sometimes, and that kills economy-per-passenger-mile, since they’re really “giant trucks” at heart.

    (No idea what the “gallon equivalent” of CNG is, though, or how relevant that is – around here all the buses are natural gas. Which is nice for air quality.

    Me, I think the point of buses is “subsidized travel, especially for poor people”, not fuel savings.

    But I’m a realist.

    Rail is real efficient! But you can’t re-route it to where people want to go if that changes, nor can you run rails everywhere, so … who cares?)

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      The beauty, and ugly, of rail is that it tends to change where people want to go. People build around it, but you need to build it first because putting it into a built up area leads to blood in the streets.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      And of course, if you already have a bus system in place, using it is much more efficient than using your car. And a bus full of passengers creates a lot less traffic than if each passenger drove themselves. Presumably peak ridership occurs at the the same time as peak traffic, so there’s a benefit to getting all those cars off the road.

    • 0 avatar
      Neutron73

      Ahhh, buses can be inefficient because they run no matter if people are on them or not. I use the bus to get me to work and home and I’m pretty sure, once it drops off the morning folks for work, it goes back on its southern route empty for the most part until it comes back north to deposit people in the business district. Still way better than all those people taking their cars to work.

      I’m a huge proponent of public transit, and trains in particular. We just need to build the rail network everywhere, which I know the American taxpayer doesn’t have the appetite for. I mean, out west, good luck. It’s a shame big cities like Las Vegas, LA, San Francisco, San Diego, Phoenix, Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Portland are not all linked by high speed rail, and the cities themselves don’t have big inner city rail networks. Pipe dream, I know (I was born in Vegas and have heard the high-speed rail dream to California all my life…..now I’m in my 40s and still nothing)

      • 0 avatar
        MBella

        The problem with long distance rail, (even high speed) is that it’s relatively slow compared to air. you’re talking about the west coast. I can fly from Seattle to Los Angeles in about two hours and for not much more than $200. Even if you have a train that can run at 268mph like the Chinese maglev, (which we wouldn’t) it will be constantly slowing down to avoid mountains, and for all the stops along the way. Once all is said and done, it would be ten hours if you’re lucky. (The current time by train is 35 hours, and I doubt they would be able to cut the time down to less than a third of that, but lets go with that hypothetical.) Since you’re spending an unnecessary amount of time on the train, you would expect way more room, and the cost would have to be way lower to make it a justifiable savings. These savings just aren’t possible. Train infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain, and costs go up drastically with speed. I remember when I was in Australia, and trying to figure out what the best way was to get from Melbourne to Sydney. I originally wanted to travel over land, to see things along the way. I looked at renting a car, but the charge to return the car in Sydney was high. I looked at taking the train. The train was about $250. I couldn’t believe how expensive it was. Then I went on Kayak, looked up flights. $165 after I added my luggage. Flight was a bit over an hour, compared to the whole day I would’ve spent on the train.

        Instead, why don’t we focus more on shipping our cargo by rail? Rail is very efficient compared to trucks. It would also help with the costs of interstate maintenance. It also wouldn’t have to be super high speed, but use existing rail infrastructure.

        • 0 avatar
          Landcrusher

          But why do we send so much by truck? If rail is really more efficient, should it not be cheaper and therefor preferred? I’ve always wondered about this. I don’t think the folks making the cargo decisions have an agenda, or a preference other than price and speed.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            LC, sometimes it is about flexibility. Rail is more efficient than trucking. But from the railhead a truck still has to take the cargo to its destination.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            I think you are likely correct, but I don’t think its energy efficiency. It’s labor or time driving the train. Hehe.

          • 0 avatar
            Slocum

            Compared to Europe the U.S. freight rail system is a huge success — moving much more cargo at a far lower cost:

            http://www.economist.com/node/16636101

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          @MBella,
          In countries like the US, Australia and Canada it is pointless to run highspeed trains.

          The only place I do see it as being feasible is in the NE, between DC and Boston.

          High speed rail will work in areas of very dense and massive conurbanations. In the EU from Liverpool down to Italy lives 1/2 of the EU people. The area is quite small by our standards.

          I do use the TGV in France and found it is quicker and handier to travel anywhere up to 800km or around 500 miles.

          The TGV generally takes you from city centre to city centre.

          Paris to Bordeaux takes round 3 hours. You only need to be at the train station 15 minutes prior to departure.

          At an airport you check in an hour early. Then most airports take 1/2 to 1 hour to get to and from.

          So, the way I see it is the actual flight from Paris to Bordeaux might take and hour and ten, but the screwing around is another couple of hours or more.

          Plus you pay economy airfare rates and have “business class” comfort and more to look at.

          Canada and Australia a high speed rail network is out of the question.

          Even though China is such a large country in area it has extreme population density and due to their income train travel will be cheaper than air travel.

          As you are more affluent or the cost of ownership of a private vehicle is small in comparison to your income any public transport is not very viable, until you have the population density to use it as travelling using private vehicles becomes a headache.

          • 0 avatar
            dtremit

            Train travel is never going to be the *only* answer in the US, but there are a lot more markets that would benefit than just DC-Boston. 50% of all US flights — representing 30% of passenger traffic — are on routes under 500 miles.

            A few obvious corridors are being worked on already. SF to LA is 380 miles and Dallas-Houston is 240.

            I think the more interesting network would be based out of Chicago. Chicago to Toronto is just a hair over 500 miles (by car), and Detroit is almost exactly in the middle of that route. From Chicago, you’re 90 miles to Milwaukee, 180 to Indianapolis, 300 to St Louis, 350ish to Cleveland and Columbus, and about 400 to Minneapolis.

        • 0 avatar
          heavy handle

          MBella,

          Seattle to LA (1200 miles) isn’t competitive by rail, but a more reasonable distance like Seattle to Portland, or to Vancouver is. Air journeys carry a “government probing tax” of an hour at the start, and US airports tend to be located far from populated cores, which can add another hour’s commute at either end of your trip. That built-in two hour head start is hard to make up if your train journey takes less than 4 hours.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            Or I could drive to Portland or Vancouver, and be there in just over two hours. Very few people are carless in the states, and definitely not enough to give such a train purpose.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    Ban the Bus! AGW! Diesel bad! Blah blah blah.

    Seriously though I do hate buses but am in favor of light rail whenever possible and better urban planning.

  • avatar
    Landcrusher

    What’s missing is a study on how much fuel is wasted by all the cars trying to get around the busses. Stops, starts, acceleration and accidents which are rarely the fault of the bus, but would not have happened without it.

    • 0 avatar
      benders

      Wat?

      We should just replace the 30 passengers on the bus with 30 additional cars. That will surely solve our traffic flow problems.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        “We should just replace the 30 passengers on the bus with 30 additional cars. That will surely solve our traffic flow problems.”

        I do not believe that is being said here. The people riding the bus either have no other alternative, or choose to do so because they may not be able to afford another alternative, like owning a car, bike, Vespa. For many riding a bus it is all about the lack of money.

        For instance, if bus service is available where I live or where I travel to, I still would not ride a bus. Too restrictive. Too limiting and too inflexible.

        I would either drive my own car or rent one at my destination, choosing when and where I drive to, at my convenience.

        That’s why Uber and Lyft are so popular in dense urban centers. They allow people to go when and where they want to go without relying on bus schedules. And moreover, they are tons better than taxi or livery service.

        • 0 avatar
          benders

          I was replying specifically to landcrusher, who apparently believes buses greatly increase traffic congestion due to their non-car behavior.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Benders,
            I think that busses cause other cars to use more gas, and that no one has measured that. Of course, people overreact sometimes to the bus and get on the accelerator more than they should, which isn’t the fault of the bus, but the extra stops certainly are.

            I have always thought the claims of fuel savings by the bus system were suspect, and this report confirms much of my skepticism.

            I don’t have an issue with busses as a public service, but don’t give me nonsense about fuel savings which are not there. I suspect even the park and rides might not really be all that great when you really dig into all the effects.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @landcrusher “don’t give me nonsense about fuel savings which are not there.”

            Actually the fuel savings is there. Buses are in fact more efficient than cars in denser urban areas. If you look at data for areas like Boston and New York city where there are higher ridership numbers, the data on the chart falls apart. The moron that did the chart also ignored disclaimers on every page of the data stating that comparisons of modal efficiency could not be made with the data. Government incompetency strikes again.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            I’ve noted this elsewhere, but we see that road construction doesn’t provide relief and road demolition doesn’t create problems because the traffic expands or shrinks depending upon the space. If you build a road in the right place, they come; if you remove it, they leave.

            Similarly, I doubt that good mass transit reduces congestion. What it does do is increase access, which makes a city more useful to more people. So the businesses and the real estate values directly benefit and it may add to quality of life, but the traffic is probably whatever it is that it was going to be. To reduce the car traffic, you’d have to take more drastic action, such as toll it to death or ban it altogether.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            mcs,
            I’d be happy to support a system that was that efficient, but most places have one system that covers the dense and not so dense parts of an area. So the average is still important.

            Add to that the inevitable over payments for labor as these systems inevitably become vote selling machines that over compensate, and They start looking like losers for most towns.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      In that case, what’s also missing is a study about how much bus fuel is wasted by the buses being tied up in traffic jams of cars. Stops, starts, acceleration and accidents which are rarely the fault of the bus, but would not happen if the cars were out of the way.

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        Perhaps your area is different, but we get the following issues where the busses just don’t get along with the rest of the traffic:
        – drivers take breaks leaving the bus sitting in the street with hazard like lights flashing.
        – same hazard like lights are used whenever the bus is at rest for a second or twenty minutes.
        – said hazard lights appear not to be in line with state law or federal laws for lights and simply designed to confuse other drivers on purpose.
        – turn signals are not used.
        – buses will not open doors unless exactly at the stop, thus wait an entire light cycle to pull up five feet and then stop. No indication this is about to happen, see above.
        – drivers recklessly pull to the far left lane of the freeway and then drive under the limit.
        – repeat process to get off freeway.
        – routes are made without concer for whether there is room for the equipment. One corner near me was a constant construction site to replace traffic lights being knocked over.

        So yes, we could get rid of all the cars I suppose. Why a guy on a car site would propose that is beyond me though. There is overwhelming support among the posters here for stricter standards for licensing.

      • 0 avatar
        Mr. K

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_rapid_transit

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      Actually it’s Fiat 600s! A couple of times a week I get behind this guy who drives 10-20 mph less than the speed limit. All the tailgaiting, risky passes, not to mention general frustrations. He should be riding the bus!

  • avatar
    FractureCritical

    it’s an irrelevant metric; trains generally run less than buses, so the ridership (on specific routes!) tends to be more concentrated.

    the real metric worth noting here is that low ridership on light bus loads is tolerable to transit operations because the cost of bus operations is low enough to make it worth the hassle. This is not true of rail transit.

    do yourself a favor and look up the per rider cost of light rail vs. bus. you will probably be very, very angry.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    People don’t like buses. In theory, they’re flexible and therefore desirable, but in practice, they are often thought of as low-rent.

    But trains would probably look less efficient if we had as many rail lines as we do bus routes. Rail lines tend to run along busier corridors and should in many cases attract more people by virtue of that alone.

    On the whole, we should probably rethink mass transit and approach it with greater flexibility. In low-density areas where virtually everybody drives, you might be better off subsidizing limited taxi service for the poor, instead of running buses occupied by air.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      The problem I see in the Dallas area is that the DART buses on the suburban routes are insanely large and mostly empty. They’re essentially big yellow traffic obstructions with advertizing on the side carrying fewer than 10 passengers. An airport shuttle type van would be better suited to the actual usage on most routes.

  • avatar
    bludragon

    Ah, but the bus will run whether you are on it or not. So in that sense, taking the bus is more fuel efficient…

    Interesting stat though. As mentioned above, it would be interesting to see cost per passenger mile as well.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    Any stat about “transit buses” as a whole is going to be wildly misleading, because it’s conflating two kinds of bus service which are entirely different:

    1) What’s called “coverage” service, which is intended to provide a transportation lifeline to the very poorest and those who can’t physically drive. This is the purpose of most rural and small-city bus systems, and of a few routes serving out-of-the-way neighborhoods in bigger systems. This service has poor (financial and fuel) efficiency, but the alternative is to leave a lot of the neediest people stranded.

    2) High-ridership, mainstream service on crowded routes in big cities. This service looks more like transit rail from an efficiency perspective. As an example, the bus I take to work every day on a busy, big-city route averages about 30 people on board from the first stop of the route to the last (with a peak of about 80 at the busiest point), and gets about 4.5 mpg, for an average passenger mpg of about 135. Even if you calculate numbers for the route as a whole, counting quieter trips in the “wrong” direction, late nights, and weekend mornings, you would get average passenger mpg over 50. And it’s also necessary in order to reduce traffic and prevent parking chaos in the center city.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      I get very skeptical when things get sliced and diced like that. I think perhaps the stats aren’t so much anti bus as they are informative about how we may not be using them properly. But, we will likely keep using them the way we do, so the stat is accurate and not really misleading at all.

      IOW, It may be informative that the busses could be more efficient, but that doesn’t matter if we can’t change the way they get used. If you run a transit system that beats the car stats, you can point that out, but if you are proposing extending bus service, you better have an answer for this stat.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        “Not using them properly”

        The whole point of my post is that we’re using buses for two entirely separate and different purposes with very different results, and that putting them together gives you a number that means nothing.

        It’s as meaningless as saying “The average passenger capacity of my cars is 5” when I have a Miata and a Suburban in the garage.

        • 0 avatar
          Landcrusher

          Only the numbers are not based on an average car capacity, but on an average mpg per passenger, right? Not seats, passengers.

          If you filter out the poorly used busses, you have to filter out the poorly used cars.

          The different stats have value, but you can’t make excuses for one segment only. When your leaders say they want more buses, you need to ask how they will be used. If they can’t be specific about usage, you have to use the average. Schemes to generally increase ridership need to use the average and that is not going to save as advertised.

          Of course, the stats could be wrong, or cooked, but if they are not then averages are averages and it’s not unfair.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            You’re not getting it. One of them is being provided as a form of welfare, and it isn’t being provided because of its efficiency. It’s being offered because the alternative is that these people aren’t able to travel.

            Ambulances aren’t “efficient.” But there are times when they are needed, and their lack of efficiency doesn’t change that.

            The lowest thing on the list are the paratransit vehicles, and there is a reason for that. Taking barely mobile people to their doctor’s appointments isn’t particularly efficient, yet they still need to go.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Look, I get it. I don’t think you guys get it.

            Why use a bus? Like you said, a taxi might be better. Come to me asking for more tax dollars for busses, and this stat is going to come out. You are the one who loves these factoids, at least when they back up your arguments.

            Now, you can come up with stats for non welfare use, or for park and ride, but ONLY if that’s the purpose. The days of “busses save energy” are apparently over. every transit system I am aware of tries to be both so the average is a good number.

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            Um, I don’t think a political debate is going to be productive here. That’s a change of subject and whether buses are worthwhile or not is a question of political philosophy. It’ll just boil down to “agree to disagree” and “looks like we agree on a couple things” between everybody involved.

            None of the B&B are going to change their opinion on this, and besides, I already have lots of facebook friends to present me with passionate political arguments ;)

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            I gotta ask, which posts here are apolitical? How would this discussion not be political?

          • 0 avatar
            JimC2

            “I gotta ask, which posts here are apolitical? How would this discussion not be political?”

            Yeah, it’s not really a fine line between technical-economic and political, is it? More like a gray area.

            Just trying to help keep the discussion on track… or rather on the road… or on the walk/bike/rollerskate multi-use path.

          • 0 avatar
            MBella

            One thing I never understood was the large buses used in places like metro Detroit. Those”Smart” buses that are lucky to have a passenger or two. If we are subsidizing them for low income people fine. Do they have to be so unnecessarily large though? Couldn’t a small van based shuttle achieve the same results, without the such waste?

        • 0 avatar
          JimC2

          Yup. Define “properly” in the context of “using buses properly.” There are two definitions, both equally valid.

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Properly would, to me, be in a way that saves money or time or pollution rather than wasting same. That’s all I mean by it.

            If we are making routes that have too many empty seats, then that’s not proper to me.

          • 0 avatar
            Lack Thereof

            As someone who spent years politically advocating for better transit service and more sensible bus routes… getting rid of the “empty” buses is politically impossible.

            I can give you a couple of examples why, from my own personal experience.

            1) Professional transit planners will ALWAYS be overruled by the politicians who hold the checkbook. You might have a bus route on one side of town where the ridership has been dwindling for 50 years that maybe a dozen people ride, and a bus route on the other side of town that is SRO (standing room only) every workday. Planners at the transit agency announce a plan to kill the failing route and re-allocate the buses to other, more crowded routes.

            Every single one of those dozen people on the dead bus, those final die-hard riders, will show up at planning meetings, will write and call their elected officials and jump and shout and scream. Then the elected politicians, smelling easy votes, tell the transit agency “You aren’t allowed to kill route 42“. Meanwhile, people on the other side of town wonder why their buses are so overcrowded.

            2) The false promise of “equal service” over a large geographic area. My local transit agency, King County Metro, covers an area spanning from Downtown Seattle to the farms and forests of Enumclaw and North Bend. Downtown, most of the major routes run every 15 minutes (or more often) all day long, and frequently run SRO. Meanwhile, out in Enumclaw, they get a bus that runs once an hour, and does so mostly empty.

            However, both of these communities are paying the exact same sales taxes. When the transit planners want to change a downtown route from 15 minute to 10 minute intervals to help with the crowding, the people out in Enumclaw complain – they want to know why THEY don’t get more buses, too. So rules get written to enforce service “equity” between areas.

            For a span of about a decade, in order to “balance” the level of service in different communities, King County Metro had a rule that for every Bus-Hour of service added within Seattle, an additional 4 times as many hours of service had to be added in the suburbs and rural regions of the county. Oh, but when the budget got tight in the mid 00’s and service had to be cut? It got cut evenly across the county. Formerly SRO buses inside the city started leaving people at stops, while out in farm country their buses just went from having 2 passengers to 3.

            Want to cut some of those rural buses and re-allocate the service to the overcrowded city routes? See point number one.

          • 0 avatar
            Pch101

            In the US, we are driven by pennywise/pound foolish budgeting practices and the squeaky wheel. It’s no wonder that we tend to overpay for what we get and that we misallocate resources as we do

          • 0 avatar
            Landcrusher

            Thank You, Lack.

            My point exactly. It doesn’t matter what the potential efficiency of a bus system is if you can’t change the systems. Its like the Prius being used as a sports car. If all the buyers were thrashing about in them, it wouldn’t be a good idea to keep selling them just because they SHOULD have a better mpg.

            That’s why it also can make sense to pay more for a train (of course, not too much more).

            Sometimes I think the greens (the ones really about the environment) would be better off making PSAs about how much better life can be if you just moved rather than stayed in a place that’s not fitting you anymore. Half the miles is much better than twice the mileage.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch

    I’ve eaten so much popcorn today, I think I’m going to explode.

    crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch

    Derek, can you please write just a couple of paragraphs tonight on something you like at Cadillac, praise just one decision.

    I think I’d stroke out from all the great comments.

    crunch, crunch, crunch, crunch

  • avatar
    JK43123

    If the miles people spend walking to/from the bus were included I wonder if buses would come close to cars? In other words, in a car you drive directly where you want to go.

    John

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      Your gonna need a whole lotta walking to make up that difference.

      I’d like to see programs to expand electric bicycle usage for the needy. Talk about efficiency.

    • 0 avatar
      Lack Thereof

      If only in-city / stop-and-go / urban situation fuel economy numbers were included, it would look a lot different.

      As-is, this chart is garbage. We’re comparing cars & trucks cruising on the highway to buses slogging through urban centers.

      • 0 avatar
        Landcrusher

        Is it really? It appears to be an overall average of real use, not theoretical. Unless I missed something? Otherwise the bus would beat the passenger cars because they have lots of seats.

  • avatar
    RHD

    The car and truck MPG figures must be based on at least 2 people in each at all times, which is pretty unrealistic. Most cars and trucks have only the driver in them.
    (The exception, of course, is the clapped-out Mitsubishi sedan or Honda Civic with 5 gang-bangers crammed in it).
    Seriously, though, motorcycles at 50.2 MPG? Must also be at 1.5 to 2 riders in the estimate, not the usual 1 that you will normally see.

  • avatar
    Carilloskis

    I have only lived in one area that had bus transit, and it ran year round, My friend s and I would use it to go to bars and clubs normally catching the last bus of the night, and the busses where always pretty empty. High Speed rail will not work in this country as it will compete directly with airlines in terms of price and be slower, to think that Southwest , Virgin America and Jet Blue will not leverage the rest of their network to under cut the high speed rail in California your dreaming. They are going to charge $86 to go between LA and San Francisco (http://hsr.ca.gov/docs/about/business_plans/BPlan_2014drft__Ridership_Revenue.pdf) If you book a flight at least a week out you can make the trip for $77 on American , Delta, US airways, Southwest or united. So what advantage does high speed rail provide, additionally the amount of tax payer funding required to build a less efficient transportation system.

  • avatar
    Signal11

    What the heck does “per gallon of gasoline equivalent” mean?

    Is that straight volume to volume for CNH/LPG, energy content, what?

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    This article only looks at fuel consumption and not the cost to park a vehicle in a large city. Also there are costs involved in keeping up a car besides fuel–maintenance, depreciation, and insurance. I do agree that a high speed rail system works better in urban areas with a high density of population but a bus system is better than no transit system at all. MPGs are not the only factor especially when looking at highly populated urban areas where the roads are more congested and where expanding roads is much more expensive and more limited. In places where the population is more spread out and there is less congestion a transit system would not make sense.

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      Careful Jeff, you’re getting too close to the truth. I was a highway engineer, we just built and maintained freeways and highways. The cost of using them? Not our problem. The user has to buy the car, pay for registration and licensing, pay for insurance, fuel, maintenance and repair, and provide a driver, as well as a place to keep the car, and often pay to park it at a destination.

      Mass transit has to include all of that in the price of a ticket, or ticket plus public up front costs and public operating subsidy. Public money is subsidizing the transit system directly, but indirectly subsidizing individuals who can’t afford the costs of private vehicle ownership, or don’t want to pay for it.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      “…but a bus system is better than no transit system at all.”

      Jeff I very strongly disagree. The 90+% of the population that doesn’t use public transportation would most certainly be better off not having to pay for it. Besides not having to pay for city buses, drivers could reclaim the right lane of streets blocked by stopped buses.

  • avatar
    heavy handle

    The numbers are obviously comparing full cars (38.9 mpg/passenger) to empty buses.
    Maybe that’s an accurate portrayal of the morning commute somewhere in the world, but not where I live. My morning commute consists of full buses and single-passenger pickups/SUVs.

    Sure, a lot of buses run near-empty off-peak, but they run very sparse schedules during those hours (2 buses/hour instead of 6-8).

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      This is what I thought as well, how many people oer car? Shouldn’t there be a listing for buses with lots of passengers. Seems to be another statistic designed to make a point rather than to inform.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      That looks like about 1.8 per car and 7 per bus average to me.

      • 0 avatar
        Glenn Mercer

        You’re very close… the data source, which is based on actual surveys of transport use, shows 1.55 people per car on average, 1.84 for light trucks (which probably includes minivans and SUVs, which probably means more kids on board?), and 9.2 per bus. (National Household Travel Survey) In 1970 the car number was 1.9, as we have seen the almost complete evaporation of car pools. The bus number is intra-city transit bus only, I am pretty sure. The 9 figure startled me but the source is APTA and (since many commenters here assume data is always rigged to support the bias of the source) I can’t imagine why the American Public Transportation Association would want to MINIMIZE this number.

  • avatar
    tekdemon

    All the buses where I grew up were packed basically 24/7 (NYC) and they’ve switched to hybrid electric buses that are even more efficient. Many municipalities use newer electric or hybrid buses anyways, and if you included schoolbuses (which are almost always packed) I’m sure you’ll get a much better overall bus figure.

    Honestly all this says is that in a lot of cities more people need to take the bus.

  • avatar
    Pesky Varmint

    Has anybody ever noticed that a Prius is not really much more efficient
    than a Suburban?

    Prius is rated 51/48mpg, with 4 passengers=204/192 passenger mpg
    Suburban is rated 23/16, with 9 passengers=207/144 passenger mpg

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      If you want to play that game how about this for efficience
      https://duckduckgo.com/?q=overloaded+truck+pictures&t=chakra&ia=images

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      It’s also less efficient than a vette if you try to make it perform like a vette.

      The beauty of averages like this one is that it gives you real world performance, not theoretical. The average ridership in a suburban is likely less than 4. So is the Prius. Do a study if you want to know.

    • 0 avatar
      Glenn Mercer

      I see your point, but Toyota shows the base Prius as seating 5 and the Chevrolet website shows the LS and LT Suburban seating 8. LTZ seats 7, also according to Chevrolet. So that would somewhat alter the numbers, but your point is still valid. Was there a GMC version of the Suburban that seated more? That might be where the 9 is from?

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        I’m pretty sure the front bench (actual 40/20/40) seat in the suburban/Tahoe actually costs $900 over the standard captain/center console. At least that’s how it was on the GMT900.

    • 0 avatar
      brandloyalty

      If the Suburban can carry 9, then the Prius can carry 5. And mileage claims for hybrids tend to be accurate, while mileage claims for non-hybrids do not.

  • avatar
    mcs

    I found the source of the data: http://cta.ornl.gov/data/tedb33/Edition33_Chapter02.pdf

    In the document, there is a disclaimer:

    Great care should be taken when comparing modal energy intensity data among modes. Because of the inherent differences among the transportation modes in the nature of services, routes available, and many additional factors, it is not possible to obtain truly comparable national energy intensities among modes. These values are averages, and there is a great deal of variability even within a mode.

  • avatar
    dtremit

    Another bus statistic from the opposite end of the spectrum: an article I recently read about transit in Boston (current obstacles aside) noted that the 11 busiest MBTA bus routes carry more passengers daily than the entire commuter rail system.

    Three of those routes also happen to still be operated by electric trolleybuses, which presumably increases their efficiency.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I took a quick look at the trackless/electric trolleybus stats for 2014. For a weekday, 203,026 inbound and 202,468 outbound. That’s just one section of the Boston area. I think the commuter rail is “only” 66,000 inbound on a weekday. But hey, nobody takes mass transit – right?

      • 0 avatar
        dtremit

        Yeah, that’s just four bus lines, with about 400 trips each direction among them. Compare that to about about 240 trips each direction daily for the commuter rail — with multiple cars each larger than a single trolleybus.

  • avatar
    toomanycrayons

    50 mpg/pm on a motorcycle? I must be having too much fun.

  • avatar

    When I wrote an article a few years ago looking at different policies for mitigating global warming, two transportation experts in the US and one in Europe told me that installing public transportation was an extremely expensive way to mitigate global warming, and not worth it for that goal. (They did say there were other reasons to do it.)

    http://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/117-a296/

    • 0 avatar
      dtremit

      “installing public transportation was an extremely expensive way to mitigate global warming”

      I think that if the goal is to reduce global warming by building transit to replace people’s existing car commutes, that’s probably very true. We have, in many places, an entire built environment centered around the car — and simply plunking down a train line between suburbia and the office doesn’t fix any of the other ways in which that environment is inefficient.

      What really drives energy efficiency is *density* — people living in smaller homes, closer to their workplaces. The average NYC resident consumes a quarter of the gasoline, and about half the electricity, of an average American.

      The catch is, you can’t achieve that kind of density without building transit — and frankly, buses aren’t good enough. To encourage people to pay a premium for city housing, you have to have a transit infrastructure they know is still going to be there when their mortgage is paid off. And that means rail, by and large.

  • avatar
    Mr. K

    Ohhh a chart from “The Department of Transportation”
    Impressive!

    What Department of Transportation would that be from? The US DOT? The North Dakota DOT? The Canadian DOT?

    What is the chart measuring? Inner city ridership at 3 AM? 500 mile intercity trips? What are the metrics used to measure ridership and MPG?

    With no link to the source it’s impossible to determine anyting.

    Clearly since Glenn Mercer, a “freelance automotive industry investment adviser” posted this on Twitter it MUST be true and indicative of…something!

    With such artful non information surely a position with a p̶r̶o̶p̶a̶g̶a̶n̶d̶a̶ lobbying outfit awaits Mr. Kreindler.

    FWIW:

    http://d35brb9zkkbdsd.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/kwan_fig1a-300×257.png

    No, I know none of the details of the chart I linked to above, but I think it’s purty, and it does show transit in a much better light then Mercer’s chart, Derek.

    Here is another link, a 26% delta between the best and worst airlines (and if you read the fine print, upto an 87% delta between airlines serving the same route).

    http://www.theicct.org/sites/default/files/U.S.%20Airlines%20Ranking%20Fact%20Sheet%20final.pdf

    Can’t wait for your next piece of bait, Derek.

    Perhaps something on the Kallikak family?

    Others besides me have made this point Derek: People on on mass transit are people out of cars.

    If mass transit were absent then more roads would be required, especially in dense urban areas where roads are the most costly to build.

    Such expense will result in higher road usage fees, and/or less money for rural, exurban, and suburban roads.

    I did like the Golf R review however!

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      Lol, greyhound isn’t public transportation. I don’t recall any subsidies for those guys.

    • 0 avatar
      Landcrusher

      Also, biggest fuel waste in airlines is the FAA inability to move to glide slope descents and approaches. SWA tried to get it implemented, but the controllers inevitably couldn’t make the switch.

    • 0 avatar
      Glenn Mercer

      Here is the source: “Beyond Traffic 2045: Trends and Choices.” US Department of Transportation. All statistics are national-level, for the US. The chart is on page 140. The data notes at the end of the chapter it appears in discuss the calculations in detail (e.g. a key source was NHTS, the National Household Travel Survey), but in short they took the total number of passengers by mode, the total number of miles those passengers traveled, and thus found passenger-miles. The bus number I believe is purely intra-city buses, no inter-city buses like Megabus. Then they used the total fuel each mode consumed. The entire report is some 300+ pages, can be downloaded here: http://www.dot.gov/BeyondTraffic

  • avatar
    Sky_Render

    This could be partially fixed by using smaller buses, methinks. In my city, they use these giant, full-size buses that I’ve never seen more than 3 passengers on. They could use a conversion van, instead!

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