10 August 2007
Greener by car
Patrick Crozier

Longrider points to a government report (not that that is anything to go by) that suggests that the car (assuming you buy into the whole global warming argument) is frequently a greener option than rail.

This is an idea we are not entirely unfamiliar with here at Transport Blog.

I commented that the report did not seem to mention occupancy rates.  As I have mentioned before these have a big impact on a train’s overall score.

Hey, hey TGV; was it you who caused the rising sea?
  1. Occupancy rate is indeed the nub of the issue, and the single-occupant automobile is often “singled out” as an example of wastefulness. 

    But operating a common-carrier conveyance at 100 percent occupancy factor, all of the time, is wishful thinking as the demand for that conveyance varies, and the closer to 100 percent, the more unpleasant the experience.  U.S. domestic airlines famously after deregulation trended to high occupancy factors which leads to such inconvenience as being charged highly variable fares for essentially the same service, being turned away from travel at times of one’s choosing, and making air travel ever so unpleasant relating to ever so long boarding queues, contention over carry-on luggage space, sitting in close quarters for long periods of time with increasingly impolite (and sometimes ill) strangers, and long times to disembark.

    Running a low load factor in an auto (single occupant) is often done for convenience of not having to coordinate with car pool members and so on.  Running a low load factor in a common carrier conveyance improves the quality of service through 1) empty seats reduce the crowding and sense of stress associated with travel, 2) one is less likely to be turned away at times one would like to travel.

    Getting back to U.S. domestic air travel, it is certainly nothing like consulting a schedule and deciding when one would like to travel.  Making air travel reservations involves a kind of haggling in a bazaar.  You make your reservations as soon as you are able to, which may be 2, 3, or 4 weeks in advance, and you look at the days paged off the calendar against concerns of locking in travel plans too early.  When you call, you explain where you are going, what day you want to leave and when you want to come back (you often need to volunteer flexibility on the day to get an inexpensive fare or even to get a ticket at all).  Then you enter the bargaining process where the agent offers “I have a flight for $300 dollars, but that one leaves as 6:20 AM and changes in Memphis.  Or I can get you on a 1 PM flight for $400, but that one changes in Chicago and gets you in at 8 PM.”  Then you are on the spot to choose—do you value your normal sleep and rising pattern at $100, but then you heard bad things about missed connections in Chicago, and 8 PM is rather late to get to your destination where you have a long ground-transport leg.  But then again, the Memphis connection involves a Regional Jet—will it have enough carry-on space to accomodate a portable computer?”

    If part of the value of a train is that you just show up and buy a ticket and board, perhaps a 40 percent average occupancy factor is the price of having enough train seats for the busy times.  Common carrier modes operate at low occupancies for the same reason as private autos—for convenience and service.  That common carrier modes only operate at near 100 percent occupancy by becoming inconvenient needs to be factored into energy-efficiency comparisons.

    Posted by Paul Milenkovic on  20 August 2007 at 06:05 am

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