Efficiency of Transportation Alternatives


Many forms of transit are much less efficient than commonly believed. Rail and bus transit systems make many stops, requiring re-acceleration of massive vehicles which weigh at least 10X more than the passengers. (A bicycle, by contrast, is a small fraction of the cyclist's weight).

This applies as well to the electric vehicle. Even though its motor is much more efficient than the internal combustion engine, it still weighs as much as (and potentially more than) a fueled vehicle. (The GM EV1 was an exception, of course, being an extremely aerodynamic vehicle.)

Combining fuel-to-wheel efficiency (10%-20%) and passenger:vehicle weight ratio (1:10), an automobile, train or bus is likely to be on the order of 10%-20% (fuel-wheel) 10 (weight) = 1%-2% efficient. And this is the state of the art in the 21st century?!

Move less mass!

Mode Load (#pass) BTU's /pass-mile Watt-hrs /pass-mile FTE* Gas mpg Diesel mpg km/liter
Solar Race Cars 1 102 30 2.8 1119 1359 577
Podcars 1.57 433 127 12 264 321 136
GM EV1 1 563 165 16 200 247 86
Vanpool 6.1 1,322 389 36.6 86.6 105.1 44.7
Motorcycles 1.20 1,855 546 51.3 61.7 74.9 31.8
Rail, Amtrak 20.50 2,650 780 73.3 43.2 52.5 22.3
Rail, Transit (light & heavy) 22.50 2,784 819 77 41 50 21
Rail, Commuter 31.30 2,996 881 83 38 46 20
Air, domestic 96.20 3,261 959 90 35 43 18
Cars 1.57 3,512 1033 97 33 40 17
Personal trucks 1.72 3,944 1160 109 29 35 15
Bus, Transit 8.80 4,235 1246 117 27 33 14
Demand response (Taxi) 1.0 14,301 4207 396 8 10 4


* FTE is Freight Train Equivalent. Long-haul freight and sea borne shipping set a "gold standard" of about 436 ton-miles per gallon of diesel.

Sources: Calculations of fuel efficiencies, DOE Energy Use, jPods



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