Good Mag : Fuel Use

A cool graphic from Good Magazine.


19 Responses to “Good Mag : Fuel Use”

  • Duncan Watson says:

    I have seen this a few times lately. I think it is pretty cool.

  • Ben says:

    I love this graphic. I never would have thought that it is more efficient to hop on a bus (and presumably a street car) rather than walk. I know that your site likes to focus on the cycling aesthetic, but for me it’s all about the efficiency.

    Walking is generally done for much shorter trips, so it’s likely that it actually beats the other modes at that distance.

  • uber says:

    They are assuming full buses, planes, trains, and ships. As we all know…buses are rarely ‘full’ in most cities. Trains and ships are probably full most of the trips as they have scaled availability to usage. They try to do that with planes, but not too successful.

    So if they did the same for …i.e. a bus as they did for the car/SUV (1 driver, 1 driver + passenger, etc.) i think you’d see their fuel usage jump up considerably too.

    A bus with 5 passengers uses more fuel than a car with 5 passengers! So car-pooling is the best option when walking or cycling are not options.

  • Reuben says:

    uber is right. This would have been more transparent if it did not assume full buses, trains, planes, & ships.

  • brad says:

    There’s also a key difference between commuter trains, city buses, and trains/buses used for inter-city travel. For the latter type of trains and buses, if they don’t get enough passengers they will cancel the trip (as with airplanes). So in that sense, as a traveler on those vehicles you “own” a share of the environmental impact. But city buses and commuter trains run on a set schedule regardless of how many people get on. So the bus or train will run even if you don’t get on it, so the emissions associated with your particular use of that resource should be lower.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    @Uber, I have yet to see a commuter bus with 5 people on it. In fact I often have problems getting my bike on the bus as the rack spaces are taken already. I also don’t know any of the car poolers at work who have 5 people in their pool. It is generally 2-3 people who pool together. Car Pooling is also more inconvenient than public transportation, both in setup and execution.

    Your assumptions are highly questionable, additionally it makes sense to talk about capacity for transit and single use for personal transportation. We need to invest in transit and need to see what gains are possible. Transit also tends to get full as the infrastructure is developed. Take the 1/9 subway from Penn Station during commuter hours in NYC, you will be standing most of the time. No seats available. Yet the cars just outside Penn Station waiting in traffic are single occupancy.

  • jdmitch says:

    Note, for all but the mass transit options, they do list drive alone, driver plus one passenger and driver plus three passenger (note, nowhere do they list driver plus four passenger) numbers.

    I thought, on the good magazine website, that the mass transit options are based on a presumed half-full vehicle (though I could easily be wrong). However, yes, some more transparency on less-than-full numbers would be good. However, one thing to keep in mind, the MARGINAL cost of adding an extra passenger to mass transit is, essentially, zero.

  • Alan says:


    My experience mirrors yours; our commuter buses are standing-room-only everyday. The local Amtrak commuter line sees very heavy use as well, with near capacity ridership on a daily basis.

  • uber says:

    @Duncan: Funny how my post was to point out the lack of transparency to the chart and you took it to mean that i don’t want further investment in mass transit.

    Maybe before we start any discussion about energy savings through mass transit, we get the people on either extreme to leave the room.

    btw. you obviously live in New York City. Not a true representation of 98% of the rest of the United States when it comes to mass transit use.

    also, i used the 1 driver + 4 passengers to fully utilize a vehicle (there are 3 seatbelts in the backseat of practically every vehicle out there). I know there wasn’t a “Driver +4″ shown on the chart…yet another transparency issue on the whole thing.

    Trust me, i am definitely for the use of less fuel. it’s just that charts like these are easily shot through by those that are strongly against what we are all for.

    i am trying to explain that we need a better ‘bullet proof vest’ if we plan on convincing those that need convincing! this chart won’t do it.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Actually I live in the Seattle suburbs now. I lived in NYC, Munich, and Portland (OR) previously. In none of those cases are commuter hour buses down to 5 people at a time. Yet in all of those places personal vehicles are used by one person most of the time.

    This is because transit is shared and designed to be used by many, and personal vehicles are not shared. It is the nature of a personal car to be used by one person. It won’t get used by more as the infrastructure for personal vehicles is increased. In fact as more infrastructure gets dedicated to personal vehicles, more of those vehicles are single occupancy. Transit is the opposite, as the infrastructure increases you approach full utilization. In Toyko they shove so many people into the subway cars that they need outside employees to cram them all in there. In NYC I have been crowded so much in a train car that I could just fall slack against the press of the crowd and not fall down. In Portland I have been turned away from a MAX train as it was too full for more to enter.

    Counting the seats is a middle ground vs full cram down fitting of transit. It is also not unfair for transit users to show charts like the one above. The anti-transit crowd loves to point to their empty seat belts in the SUV they drive, but those seat belts are shiney with lack of use.

  • uber says:

    I am not arguing that transit is not used heavily during rush hour in some very ‘progressive’ cities around the world. Your list of cities are near the top as far as general public perception of environmental conciousness.

    But I would bet that buses (subways) in L.A., Miami, Dallas(?) don’t see the same use you have seen. But those would be places near the bottom of the list.

    So looking at cities in the middle…sure, there are more than 5 people on board during rush hour. But my original point wasn’t to say that a vehicle would end up using less fuel than a bus. My point was that a bus would use more than what is stated and a vehicle could end up using less. But due to the ‘selective’ scenario approach used in the poster…people can easily argue over it’s validity.

    again…i WANT more people to use transit. but i don’t want to use material that can be easily argued. i want it material presented to the public to be a ‘no brainer’ for convincing the ‘undecided’ that mass transit is the way to go.

  • jdmitch says:


    Then use the chart to illustrate the marginal added emissions of a user choosing to travel by one of the methods shown. Because it’s perfectly valid for that. No, it’s not a good illustration for showing why city planners should opt for more mass transit. But it is very good for illustrating why an individual should choose a mode of transit for a given trip.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    Transit has different purposes depending on the time of day.

    Commuting hours it is fully and totally MASS transit. Lots of people are using well over the seating numbers in many cities.

    Middle of the day hours, it is community/downtown errand usage.

    Evening/Late night, it is a mix of community/downtown errand usage and dinner, bar usage.

    Each has a different usage pattern and a different focus.

    Commuting is all about moving people to work, this is where a lot of the choose your mode comparisons happen. Because planning for commuting is the simplest thing to do and saves the most money if you choose well. Middle of the day is about keeping communities livable, this is more of a social benefit vs a ecological benefit. Evening/Late Night usage is all about social benefits. Giving people who drink transportation options is huge benefit in reducing the death toll that drunk driving exacts on our culture. Letting my Aunt Mary who can’t see 100ft get around on her own and do her daily shopping is a pretty large social benefit.

    These charts above are about the commuting choice and what transit does for commuting. Even in Denver “The Ride” has more than 5 people on buses during commuting hours. Heck even in Blacksburg, VA the buses get constant use by the University students.

    Chicago, Boston and DC are all better than Seattle as far as transit, so is the Bay area in CA. Many people are surprised how much transit is used in the cities of the US, because they choose to drive. The use of Phoenix’s light rail has been very high for instance. Some good numbers are coming out of their recent opening.

  • uber says:

    @jdmitch: good point. but it appears many are using this chart to compare/argue the fuel efficiency of various forms of transportation (see comments above?). So i agree with you but I would argue that the intent of the poster to begin with was not in the light you describe.

    @Duncan: so if we add up the ‘fuel saved’ during commuting hours and then off-set it with ‘fuel wasted’ in non-commuting hours (low ridership)…where do you think we stand?

    I understand (and agree) with your argument revolving around the ‘social benefits’ of mass transportation. But that’s not included in the issue i have with this poster/chart.

  • jdmitch says:


    Yeah, I agree that it doesn’t seem to be the intent of the graphic. However, as we all know, intent and best use are often two different things. ;)

    Different thought thread… The cities with the most use of mass transit are also the cities that have maintained municipal support of mass transit for the longest time and at the highest rate. It can quickly devolve into a chicken or the egg argument, though.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    So Mass Transit has multiple benefits but we still have to judge it by one benefit at a time? And it has to win on each? So the multiple benefits are instead multiple ways to oppose it?

    Most emissions and consumption occurs during rush hours. Moving that load to Transit, walking or biking is a massive savings in emissions and consumption. This chart is useful for comparisons and decisions about the daily commute, which is where a large percentage of our cost is.

    Why should I cede the ground to the Cato institute and let them judge transit on lowball averages of ridership including trains and buses being run to provide social benefits and to expand ridership by being more available. We build highways before demand needs them all the time. Why can’t we do that with transit?

    Rush hour is the proper place to look at this since that is where the savings are, it is a huge gain if we move people to buses and trains. And those gains easily overcome the cost of running after rush hours. The chart above is the saving PER person moving from SUV to bus. Maybe we should multiply the SUV chart by the capacity of the bus so its cost is more representative to the community. That would put the SUV cost at 17*50 or 850 gallons if the 50 people on the bus took the SUV instead. Representing the cost to the community of choosing to use an SUV instead of taking a bus.

  • uber says:


    read the following lines slowly….
    “i agree with what you are saying.”
    “i am not arguing the benefits of mass transit or the funding of increased mass transit.”
    “I am arguing that the chart/poster does not clearly display the data and in its present form can be used not only to show the benefits of mass transit, but also how it was put together selectively to show this point, and hence provide ammunition to those opposing its message (NOT ME!) due to its lack of transparency.”


    next step….deep breath.

  • Watson51 says:

    Perhaps the take home message from this post should not be the comparisons between transit and cars, but how riding a bike allows you to use much less foreign oil, and it stimulates domestic food production since we consume agricultural products (or Whoppers…) to make up the used calories.

  • jdmitch says:


    “Be a patriot, ride a bike. Anything else is un-American.”? Wow… that flies in the face of what most elected officials believe.

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