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The Trouble with Off-Peak Buses

Via Berkeley’s Center for Future Urban Transport is a new study that I imagine will be generating some discussion. The work, by Mikhail Chester and Arpad Horvath, is meant to: “develop comprehensive life-cycle assessment (LCA) models to quantify the energy inputs and emissions from autos, buses, heavy rail, light rail and air transportation in the U.S. associated with the entire life cycle (design, raw materials extraction, manufacturing, construction, operation, maintenance, end-of-life) of the vehicles, infrastructures, and fuels involved in these systems. Energy inputs are quantified as well as greenhouse gas and criteria air pollutant outputs. Inventory results are normalized to effects per vehicle-lifetime, VMT, and PMT.”

Among the more eye-raising findings noted:

• Roadway construction particulate matter emissions are as large as tail-pipe emissions for the automobile per passenger-mile-traveled.

• Urban buses with peak-hour occupancies have the best energy and greenhouse gas performance, followed by rail and then air systems, and trailed by automobiles. But off-peak bus travel is the worst performer.

• Air travel is environmentally competitive with rail travel and can outperform rail modes when the aircraft is about 80 percent utilized.

• The use of ground support equipment at airports contributes roughly one-third of the total carbon monoxide lifecycle emissions for aircraft.

• While rail systems are the best energy and greenhouse gas performers, they exhibit the largest shares from infrastructure effects in the lifecycle. This results from environmentally much larger infrastructure requirements per passenger-mile served.

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008 at 3:23 pm and is filed under Energy, Environmental factors, Etc.. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

4 Responses to “The Trouble with Off-Peak Buses”

  1. Steven Levy Says:

    Off-peak buses aren’t independent of the rest of the transportation system. How many people take buses instead of cars because they know that there is (almost) always another bus if they miss one?

    The bus line closest to my house is largely empty in the evening; it runs every 30 minutes until roughly midnight in a large American city. But its presence encourages people to use the bus when it *is* efficient, secure in the knowledge that they will eventually get another bus. (Me, I walk home if I miss it….)

  2. disgruntled Says:

    What Steven said… here we have five buses a day, which means none of them are full, because only those who have no alternative (and no social life after 5pm) use them.

    In London, many of the buses are going over to LPG or even hybrid. I wonder if that changes the arithmetic much?

  3. sasha Says:

    Toronto has a large fleet of hybrid-electric buses but there has been some speculation that there is no advantage. In fact they believe they cost more and are only equally efficient as a ‘regular’ bus. The Toronto buses are older so the new technology with the batteries should improve future hybrid-electric buses.

    Off-peak buses is an issue here to. As long as your on the subway or streetcar it seems to be ok, otherwise it is quite a hassle to travel by bus. I frequently ask for rides to my local subway stop!

  4. Matt Says:

    I live in London, and make good use of the off-peak buses. It’s not unusual to have to stand at certain times of night, e.g. just after 3am — and that’s on a double-deck or articulated bus! Some of them are every 15 minutes or less all night, almost all seem to be at least every half-hour. That’s a good service — people don’t want to wait at a bus stop at night, especially alone, so without this service they won’t go (and it’s not just people partying, there’s people working at night too).

    Where my parents live (small city in England) the bus is every hour in the evening, and the last is at 23:10. That’s so infrequent as to be useless — I don’t want the risk of waiting for 50 minutes! For people to use a bus service it needs to be at least half-hourly.

    It’s interesting to note that the off-peak bus is as efficient as the SUV, and more efficient than the pickup, even though it’s less efficent than the sedan.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

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