Archive for the ‘transit’ Category


Mandatory High MPGs: Shell’s Ex-Chairman Thinks We Need Them Now

February 4, 2008

The BBC today reported that Sir Mark Moody-Stuart, former chairman of Shell Oil, says that the EU should mandate that all cars sold achieve at least a 35 mpg rating. While unfortunately it’s realization is a remote possibility, I think it’s fantastic to hear an industrialist propose something sustainable.

The two major adversaries to such a regulation are car companies and the public. This is true both in the EU and the US. Politicians don’t want to piss off the factory workers that build gas-guzzlers, nor the constituents that drive them. And let’s face it: as a Western culture we are addicted to big and fast. We want that spine-tingling pedaltothemedal zoom that you just can’t get in a Prius. And the movies never show Johnny getting Susie’s shirt off in the back of a Civic hybrid. It’s a giant van spewing the same amount of smoke outside that is *cough* “occurring naturally” inside.

Changing our attitudes about cars is tough. We’re romantically involved with the idea of limitless boundaries of speed, size, and distance. It’s hard to give those up in the name of a globally-conscious ideal that often just doesn’t have the same sex appeal. But starting to equate big=bad and efficient=sexy is the way to eventually make not only an mpg regulation a reality, but a culture centered on sustainability. Let that tingle your spine. With the public on their side, politicians would willingly tell the auto companies to step it up.

While breaking a cultural addiction sounds truly daunting (and near impossible) there are some easy ways to start changing both your mindset and those around you.

  • Next time you see a hybrid or high-efficiency vehicle, (even if it’s old or small or puke yellow) compliment it. To the owner or to your friend; demonstrate that it’s a quality you appreciate in the world around you.
  • Next time you see a jaw-dropping, souped up racer, keep your mouth closed. Even if it’s owner is begging for attention. There’s no need to be whiny or condescending and ask about the horrible gas mileage it gets, your silence will be enough to send the message.
  • When deciding which car to take (often an issue in my group of friends) always suggest the one with the highest mpg. Feel free to disclose your reasoning if asked, but just saying “oh I like Rachel’s car..” will make Rachel feel good and cause your other friends to think of her car in a positive light. Mind you, if you’re always suggesting Rachel’s car it’s a good idea to help with the gas money. It shouldn’t be much.

I try to keep this mindset when I’m at home. My mother drives a Prius, my father a Yukon, and there’s about a 30 mpg difference between them. If I have to borrow a car, my first choice is always the Prius. When we make long trips to visit family I try to suggest it as well, although it doesn’t always work. But me nagging about the “behemoth” is just going to make Dad tune me out.

The basic idea is to praise the sustainable while keeping mum about the less-so. Keeping a positive tone will do more than constantly worrying others about pollution. And while I would never encourage a girl to go to second base just because it’s a hybrid, maybe a second date is an option? After all, with the savings in gas money he can buy you dessert.

How do you support high-efficiency vehicles?
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Break Transit Summary: Car (with Parents)

December 9, 2007

12-9.jpgThis is the final post of a 4-part series evaluating my varied travel experiences over a week holiday.

After a delicious Thanksgiving holiday I headed home from St. Louis with my parents in my dad’s 2005 GMC Yukon. In my ideal world we would have taken my mother’s 2003 Toyota Prius which gets about 40 mpg. However as my aunt had made my mom a sizable piece of furniture for her birthday we needed the Yukon’s trunk space and so settled with the painful 17 mpg highway. To be completely honest, we probably would have taken the Yukon anyway, even though it costs $120 more in gas and releases 1236lbs in extra CO2 roundtrip. My dad prefers the Yukon’s roominess. I must admit it’s pretty easy to fall asleep in the backseat, but I abhor driving this behemoth.

This was easily the “worst” leg of my journey environmentally. But it fascinating to learn just how “green” the Prius really is when compared to the current kings of the road. My efficiency data came from; a site I highly recommend for anyone considering a car purchase. Besides showing the EPA’s estimate of gas usage, they display information graphically and with “real-life” assessments such as “how much does it cost to drive 25 miles?” Nearly all makes and models from 1985-present are included. Surprisingly, the figures were recently recalculated to reflect more accurately driving speeds and climate, which has caused most of the ratings to go down. Go see how your car compares!

Other posts in this series:





Break Transit Summary: Train

December 1, 2007

This is the third post of a 4-part series evaluating my varied travel experiences over a week holiday.

I was looking forward to my first Amtrak train ride that was the result of research into carbon emissions of different methods of transportation. Picking up my ticket upon my arrival to Chicago instead of just before boarding made catching the train far less stressful than it could have been, as there was a lengthy line for a security checkpoint with a K-9 unit. The security came as a slight surprise after my experiences in Europe last year, but is still far less than any airport.

The train itself was a pleasant surprise. Amtrak’s superliners are two-level cars, with the main seating areas and car-to-car access on the upper level. The lower level hosts extra luggage storage, handicapped seating, 5 toilets, and 2 “dressing rooms.” The dressing rooms were probably geared more towards overnight passengers, but were a perk for an afternoon ride. The best part by far are the seats; I could have sworn I had accidentally entered first class. There was more legroom than I had ever seen, with a fold-up legrest that along with a tilted back allowed for lazy-boy posturing. Again, while this may be only tolerable for overnight passengers, for this trip it was fantastic. My train also boasted a lounge and a dining car. The lounge car had skylight windows and conversational seating arrangements, although I preferred my own car with its more comfortable chair. The dining car appeared to have reasonable offerings and prices, but I overheard some extensive delays with the reservations.

My carbon emissions for this trip were probably higher than I previously calculated. The cars were slightly over half full, and I was grateful for the empty seat next to me. But the reservation delays were blamed on the high volume of passengers traveling that day, so I don’t believe that Amtrak regularly runs full trains. This changes the per capita carbon emissions for my journey. As I had a similar experience on Megabus, I think in the future it is imperative to calculate the carbon emissions based not on full occupancy, but instead on the price point load for each system, assuming that information is available. The train would probably still be a better choice than the bus, but both might more closely approach air and car travel levels.

If there was one thing I regretted bringing, it was Dramamine. The second level of the train swayed far more than I expected, and the overall track condition was worse than I had experienced in Europe. The first few hours of the trip were filled with trying to sleep away a stomachache. However the other passengers seemed to be doing just fine, so I would recommend motion-sickness pills only if you have had problems in similar situations, such as riding in a car through mountains or on an airplane.

Surprisingly, Union Station was not Union Station. We were approximately 30 minutes late arriving into St. Louis, the result of traffic on the rails. We pulled into Union Station and I “detrained,” only to find myself on a gravel shoulder next to a parking lot and a building smaller than the train it serviced. This was not the grand St. Louis Union Station with food and entertainment at which my parents were waiting. After a hectic phone call and some visual reconnaissance we determined that the two were only three blocks apart, and I was indeed not lost in the middle of industrial St. Louis at night. Apparently Amtrak will be constructing a more formal train and bus terminal soon, but I’ve learned it’s always a good idea to check your depots on Mapquest rather than assuming they are the traditional stations of 60 years ago.

Recent events shouldn’t make passengers more wary of train travel. A speeding Amtrak train coming to Chicago from Michigan rear-ended a freight train that was on the same track. 71 out of 187 passengers were taken to area hospitals, although only 3 were held overnight. While this collision could have been avoided, no transportation method is completely safe. What is significant is that even with such a collision there were no fatalities or permanent disfigurements. I can’t recall hearing of that kind of outcome in any recent plane or bus crashes. The risk of injury in a train crash can be lessened by some common sense practices: don’t be out of your seat more than necessary and don’t leave extraneous objects unsecured where they can become projectiles in a crash.

Overall, I would highly recommend train travel for 50-500 mile journeys. It was an extremely comfortable ride aside from the swaying and my stomach. There was far less stress surrounding boarding and packing than compared with air travel, and I reached my destination with reasonable timeliness. Once I move to Chicago after graduation I anticipate utilizing Amtrak frequently to visit my relatives and new niece in St. Louis.

Other posts in this series:



Parents (car)


Break Transit Summary: Bus

November 24, 2007

This is the second post of a 4-part series evaluating my varied travel experiences over a week holiday.

I have to admit, thinking about bus travel usually causes me to flashback to the 22-hour ride from Florida to Ohio with my high school band. After incurring a delay, we got in hours late and approximately 2 days since any of us had seen a shower. And somewhere in the process of generally occupying 3.75 square feet of space for almost a day I managed to pick up a freshman stalker that followed me around for the rest of junior year. Overall, the experience doesn’t make my top ten favorites.

Even with that as prior experience I was looking forward to my 7-hour Megabus ride to Chicago, mainly because it was 7 hours I could sleep instead of drive. The bus was pleasantly empty, with only 12 passengers the first leg of the trip and perhaps double that for the second. Our chariot was a late-model coach liner that seemed very clean and provided appropriate temperatures, lighting, and a restroom that didn’t even smell bad. Even with a 20-minute stop for lunch, one passenger stop, and a driver smoke break we made it to Chicago on time, early even. Perhaps that’s just good estimating, but I have great appreciation for transit that gets me somewhere when it said it would. The only sour note is that since Megabus has not paid for an indoor waiting area in Union Station all passengers must wait outside unless they patronize one of the shops within. While this was no inconvenience during drop-off, if one were waiting for a ride in winter I could see a slight problem.

In terms of cost, financially this trip set me back a whopping $20.50, saving at least $10-15 in gas costs. A carbon footprint calculator says 63 lbs of CO2 were released with my journey, although my share is probably much higher given that the bus was sparsely populated. However, it still doesn’t reach the 190 lbs of CO2 that would have been released had I driven.

Overall, if you are a single traveler with a slightly flexible schedule, I highly recommend utilizing inter-city bus transit. If you’re part of a couple it’s still probably worth it. Not only will you save the environment and cash, but you’ll free yourself from the hassles of driving and the risk of falling asleep at the wheel. If you are traveling with a group, the cost benefits decrease, so it’s important to look at what works best in each situation.

Other posts in this series:



Parents (car)


Break Transit Summary: Car

November 17, 2007

Although I successfully drove 6 hours and change from college to home, there were a few missteps along the way. I realized I should evaluate my trips this week based on my earlier advice in posts here and here. Here is the first installment of that summary:

Yesterday I drove myself from my school in the rural mid-Atlantic to my home in central Ohio, a journey of about 360 miles over the Appalachian Mountains and rolling hills of southern Ohio. Although I did post on a rideboard, I failed to gain any passengers for the trip. Ohioans do not form a large percentage of the student body, nor was my early morning departure conducive to the schedules of most students.

At the first gas station I checked the air in my tires against the ratings printed along the rim. Finding them vastly under-inflated, splurged 75 cents for the air pump along with my tank of gas and a candy bar. BAD IDEA. It was only after driving about 200 miles that I spoke with my mother who informed me that the psi rating on the tire is the maximum limit, and that tires should only be inflated to the amount listed on the edge of the driver’s side door. As my tires were somewhat overinflated I was lucky to not have suffered a blowout.

Contrary to my own advice, I found it very difficult to resist going at least a few miles over the speed limit. On a 6 hour journey each extra mph equals about 5-6 minutes saved travel time. This coupled with the high speed limits on interstate freeways meant I was certainly not optimizing my gas mileage. However, I calculated that my miles per gallon for the trip was 28.7, which is higher than the highway rating for my ’98 Chevy, so it’s hard to feel horrible about that time saved.

Although my driving habits may not be perfect, I do feel pretty good about the condition in which I left my room. I brought my valuables home to avoid theft, which was easy given that I don’t own many expensive things. I also turned off my power strips to avoid phantom drain during the next week. The only item left on was the mini-fridge, but we needed to keep the butter and a few other items cold during our absence.

Today I travel by bus to Chicago. It’s my first trip using a commercial bus line, so I’m curious to see how it fares in terms of comfort and convenience.


Do You Have the “Right of Way?”

November 15, 2007


I’ve been thinking about traffic recently as a result of conversations here and here. Bicyclists always seem to be at the low end of the traffic totem pole. They technically have the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles, but like a Geo in a sea of tractor-trailers they lack the muscle to assert their presence. Add giant slow-moving buses, hurried pedestrians, and the occasional skater (or thousand skaters as above) and it’s a wonder more accidents don’t happen during rush hour.

Who takes precedence? I’ve seen cars nudge in front of buses, bikes slide up columns of waiting cars, pedestrians dart out from nowhere, and even buses cutting off crosswalks. Legally, pedestrians, as the slowest and least protected, get the right-of-way.  Otherwise, it seems that legally cars, bikes, and buses are all on the same page, with special exemptions for bus stop areas and bike lanes.

It comes down to courtesy and respect, neither of which is prevalent on today’s roadways.  When driving I believe I should be last in line for anything.  Pedestrians, bicyclists, and buses get to go in front of me.  As my car is the quickest and most comfortable transportation open to me, anything I can do to make someone who utilizes a less convenient option’s trip easier is a good thing.  I can wait that extra 5 seconds at a crosswalk, because there’s a great song on the radio.

Who do you think has the “right of way?”


Getting Your Green Degree: 8 Tips for Thanksgiving Break

November 8, 2007


Getting Your Green Degree is a new series aimed at helping college students make their 4 (or 5!) years of learning more sustainable. During my past 4 years at a large public university near the Appalacian Mountains, I’ve seen horrible abuses of energy and the environment, but also many instances of activism and community stewardship.

Thanksgiving break is nearly here, and whether it’s your first trip back home or just another break from classes; between travel, family, friends, and that paper you’ve putting off, it seems as if you’ll need another break just to get over the first one. Thankfully, (pun!) there are a few ways you can reduce this stress both on yourself and the environment.

Consider leaving the car at school. Especially if you are only going to be home for a few days, try using alternative transportation. If you’re deciding between bus, train, or plane, the difference in carbon emissions can be astonishing. My state even offers a special student bus service that runs direct from public universities to the major metropolitan areas. If public transportation doesn’t fit, try your school’s “rideboard”, usually located in the student center. For just the cost of gas you can catch a ride with another student going your way, but as with responding to any community posting, be safe. Alternative transportation saves gas, reduces traffic, eliminates the chances of a speeding ticket, and perhaps most importantly: you can sleep on the way! This last one is what I’m looking forward to as I take both a 7 hr bus ride and a 5 1/2 hr train over my break.

If you must drive, take a passenger. This is the complementary part of the rideboard system. If you’re driving home, post your destination, departure time, and any major highways used on your school’s rideboard. Not only do you get some company for the journey and reduce your per capita carbon emissions, but you can usually charge at least 50% of the gas money. If you really trust the person, let them drive part way and catch some ZZZs. Don’t let your destination limit the people you can give rides to, oftentimes my passengers lived along my route or their parents were willing to meet me at a highway exit in order to save them hours of driving. Overall I probably saved $30-40 a trip by giving rides. Again, be safe! Facebook is a great way to check someone out before giving them a ride, but if they seem suspicious, don’t feel guilty about telling them to look elsewhere.

Power down before you leave. Take the time to unplug electronics and small appliances so they don’t phantom drain while you’re gone. Turn down your thermostat if you have one. Consider defrosting your mini fridge if there is nothing perishable in it.

Eat Sustainably. We all try to eat as much as possible before returning to campus food. But make wise choices in your indulgences, environmentally-friendly food is usually better for both your stomach and your waistline. Lay off the overly processed foods and stick to the classics; the Pilgrims learned the hard way how to be sustainable. If you have a say in the grocery shopping, this is a great chance to try out the 100-mile diet.

Again, if you simply must drive, check your car before you leave. Keep your car in proper working order and you’ll get the best gas mileage. You’ll also reduce the chances of a automotive mishap that can take a perfectly good holiday and turn it into a nightmare. Check your tire pressure and fill the tires if necessary. You can find the recommended range on the tire. See if your air and fuel filters are clean, and get an oil change if it’s been longer than 3,000 or so miles. Top off your windshield wiper fluid in case of inclement weather. Not only will this lessen the impact of this trip, but it give your car a longer useful life and keep it out of the junkyard!

Secure your belongings while you’re gone. Thieves know a campus empties for Thanksgiving, so lock your doors and take anything truly valuable with you. We’ll assume you’re more of an environmental steward than they are.

Take your sustainable habits home. Has college been your first brush with a recycling bin? Show Mom&Dad what you learned! (Leave out the part about it being filled with beer cans). Toss empty cans and plastics from home in a bag in the garage, then before you return to school drop them off at your local recycling center. You can usually find online where the nearest one is located. The key is to drop them off yourself, even if you bring a parent along for the ride. It can be a nice brief bonding experience and maybe you’ll even inspire them to start recycling on their own!

Again Again, if you MUST drive, don’t speed! According to the EPA, a vehicle loses about 1% in fuel economy for every mile driven above 55 mph (found here). It sucks to not be able to brag about beating your personal best driving time, but so do speeding tickets.

Got more tips? Add them!