The environmental impact of public transport is highly important to achieving a sustainable transport infrastructure. Firstly, having a number of people using a single vehicle is very energy efficient. Public transport services also provides users time to reflect and to engage in the local transport community, which enables a more cohesive and healthy society.
A low carbon future will see an increasing reliance on public transport in numerous forms. This could include the creation of community bus services and the extension of railways to reach more places. Two-wheeler vehicles can increasingly be used to get between these forms of transport and then we can quickly get on to our destination through mass transit.
The 20th century saw the growth of private vehicles and the rising cost of public transport. As our roads congested, transport behaviour shifted back to public transport, with the individual bearing the cost. The reliability of public transport continues to put off many potential passengers. However, new technology combined with increasing use could well see costs falling and reliability improving.
Here you will learn the environmental cost of all forms of public transport now and in the near future. Here we hope to inspire you with information to make more positive choices. You may also learn from other people’s experience and share your own on our community site to help us all properly understand the advantages of travelling together.
Although often single occupancy, taxis offer an important element to public transport systems and are efficient from the perspective of near continual use of a vehicle. However, for a single trip, taxis are still more polluting than taking your own car, with black cabs emitting 1/3 more carbon emissions than regular taxis.
Electric taxis are a lot better, with a fraction of the environmental cost of driving a petrol or diesel car, and if you are an irregular user of your vehicle, these offer a great alternative, both financially and environmentally. Our community has recommended a number of electric taxi firms and welcomes many more recommendations to ensure we can support people in using these low carbon alternatives.
Buses and coaches
Travelling on a local bus entails half the carbon emissions of using a standard petrol car. Using the bus also works out a lot cheaper when considering vehicle maintenance costs. In recent years there have been incredible improvements in bus travel as cities have demanded more efficient vehicles that pollute less. This has resulted in the first hydrogen powered bus fleet in London and in many other cities using hybrid vehicles which take off using an electric power train rather than the combustion engine.
As buses have historically been diesel, this has improved air quality as well as carbon emissions. In London, where bus standards are particularly high, buses emit 1/3 less carbon than other national buses. The trend is for buses to continue to improve in efficiency, making them a good low carbon form of transport.
Intercity transport via coach is very efficient. It works out as having a lower carbon footprint than taking a national train and often works out a lot cheaper! There aren’t incredible demands on coaches to improve in efficiency, but as vehicles trend toward increased efficiency, coaches will continue to be a good low carbon form of transport.
Trains and light rail
Trains are overall the least carbon-intensive way to travel; they are three times better than buses, and around five times better than your standard petrol or diesel car. The reliability of trains and the ability to use two-wheelers to get to and from train stations, makes them often a choice form of transport for commuters. The cost can be off-putting, but is often comparable to the regular use of cars when factoring in maintenance costs, with there being significant health and wellbeing benefits.
Long-distance travel can also be achieved by train. Due to the number of stops, types of train and their efficiency, international rail is 8 times less carbon-emitting than a national equivalent, making it 27 times more carbon efficient than driving!
The associated logistical and financial expense of taking such routes has often put off passengers. There are a number of initiatives which are seeking to tackle these issues, with route planning and booking in advance helping. Members of our community who have made long-distance train journeys have a good story to tell – they have seen a great deal more, and in some style! Time is also a factor, but when considering the potential for sleeping and working on trains alongside the long waiting times at airports, they can offer an interesting and different experience, and are a competitive means of transport.
If you were to choose a low carbon form of travel overseas you wouldn’t do badly by taking a boat, with or without a car. As a foot passenger, taking a ferry is actually more energy-efficient (mile for mile) than taking a local bus! And due to volumes of car passengers and relative efficiency of ferries, taking a car on a ferry emits a third less carbon than driving a standard petrol or diesel car the same distance!
A single passenger flying would, mile for mile, emit two times as much carbon as a car with two passengers on a ferry. It’s relatively cheap if you book in advance and there are some great options for overnight transit.
Due to the vast expense of creating a boat, most of these will need to live out their useful lifetime before being replaced. When they do, it could be that ferries are replaced by electric versions for short-haul trips. There are already electric ferries appearing in Norway, and soon there could be electric ferry transit across the channel. So watch out Eurostar!
If you need to get somewhere quickly, aeroplanes are often the only option. However, the environmental impact of time in the air is incredible. A single flight from London to New York emits the same amount of carbon as would heating the average UK home for six months (1.3t CO2). And even if you were to choose to go somewhere closer, like Rome, for a return trip it would be equivalent to eating 140 beef steak meals (0.7t CO2). Taking a standard single passenger flight consumes more fuel than the most carbon-intensive 4×4, with business flights consuming mile for mile the equivalent to a monster truck!
The advent of new technology to keep us flying is not coming quickly. The best current alternative to oil-based kerosene (fuel for planes) is produced from plant-based sources, with huge land requirements for crop growth. There are some interesting trials involving the superheating of waste plastics to produce kerosene, which can offer a short term solution to turn otherwise non-disposable waste into useful fuel. Electric flights aren’t coming quickly, but there is hybrid tech being trialled.
In the best-case scenario, a single passenger flight this century will be, mile for mile, equivalent in carbon emissions to travelling the distance in a standard petrol or diesel car. Flying is a luxury we cannot continue to enjoy without affecting climate change and having a significant impact on the next generation. It is a small number of people who are taking the majority of flights, producing around 4% of the global carbon budget. The true alternatives are to simply cut out flying, take the train or use a combination of transport alternatives. These may take more time, but at least they won’t cost the Earth!
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|Rail Easy||http://www.raileasy.co.uk/||Ticket purchasing system that splits long journeys|
|Green Frog Taxias||https://www.greenfrogtaxis.com/||Norwich|
|Green Tomato Cars||https://www.greentomatocars.com/||UK Wide|
Organisations campaigning for better transport infrastructure
|Campaign for Better Transport||https://bettertransport.org.uk||The Campaign for Better Transport is an advocacy group in the United Kingdom that promotes better bus and rail services, and campaigns for supportive policies and for less expenditure on road building.|
|Sustrans||https://www.sustrans.org.uk/||Support the movement to more sustainable transport systems|