Bikes and Buses and Trains (Oh My!) Why You Should Reconsider Car Travel

Bikes and Buses and Trains (Oh My!) Why You Should Reconsider Car Travel

When we think about ways to live a more sustainable lifestyle, at the top of that list should be transportation.

While some may consider cars more convenient than other modes of travel, a 2017 study by the University of Michigan found that cars and light trucks emitted 1.1 billion metric tons of CO2e, equating to 17% of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions. By contrast, the same study found that rail, ship, and air transport put together accounted for 3.9% of total emissions.

Today we’ll be taking a look at several alternative modes of transportation and their corresponding greenhouse gas emissions. We will be looking at:

  • Biking
  • Public Transportation
  • Carpooling

Commuting by bike


There is certainly a case to be made for biking. Depending on where you live and how far your destination is, a bike allows you to get exercise and fresh air on the way and save money on gas. If that’s not enough to convince you, biking saves you the pain of searching for a parking spot, parallel parking on a busy street, or paying by the hour to stash your car in a parking garage.

Not to mention biking is 100% you-powered and therefore the ride does not release any carbon emissions.

Young African businessman standing on a bus listening to music

Public Transportation 

For those longer distances, consider taking the bus, train, or other form of public transportation. According to the US Department of Transportation, heavy rail transit, such as subways and metros, “produce 76% less greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile than an average single-occupancy vehicle.” Additionally, “light rail systems produce 62% less and bus transit produces 33% less.”

Maybe you’re thinking, “I’m just one person, what difference does it make if I take the bus?”

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has found that the higher the occupancy, the lower the CO2 emissions per passenger mile is emitted by public transportation. For instance, according to FTA estimates, at average occupancy, bus transit generates 0.64 pounds of CO2 per passenger mile. In contrast, at full seating, CO2 emissions per passenger mile drop to just 0.18 pounds of CO2.

If we compare this to the 0.79 pounds of CO2 emitted by the average passenger car per mile driven, we can see that even at average occupancy, public transport generates fewer emissions per passenger mile, but the more people use public transport, the bigger the difference in emissions compared to passenger cars gets.

Conclusion: each individual person riding public transportation helps not just lower their own personal level of emissions from travel, but also the average emissions for everyone else on board. So yes, you really can make a difference!

Businessman and his driver in the car


As someone who comes from a rural, geographically spread out area with no public transportation, I know that for some folks, driving in a car is the only feasible way to get around. If this describes you, fear not! While driving in a car is not as environmentally friendly as the alternatives mentioned above, there are ways to decrease your emissions without completely giving up car travel. Afterall, in the fight to lower our greenhouse gas emissions, every little bit counts.

Consider carpooling with a friend or coworker. According to FTA estimates, a single occupancy vehicle generates 0.96 pounds of CO2 per passenger mile, but a four-person carpool generates just 0.24 pounds. When you think about all of the driving you do on a regular basis, maybe getting to or from school or work, these savings in emissions really start to add up.

Doing Your Part 

It’s really important to note that some of these alternatives are not viable options for everybody. If you are someone who does have the option of biking or using other alternatives to car travel, this is all the more reason to do it. We are all in the fight against climate change together and it is by everyone stepping up in the ways that they can, that we are going to come out on top.