Green Manolo » What’s the Greenest Way to Travel?

What’s the Greenest Way to Travel?

By Christa

With various holidays on the horizon, I thought it would be fun to chat a bit about green travel. But truthfully, it wasn’t the holidays that got me thinking about green travel, but rather Coach America, a charter bus company here in the U.S. On their web site, they make a big show out of how green they are:

A bus, by its very nature, is green! … Motorcoaches currently provide 184 passenger miles per gallon (MPG), more than double the second most fuel-efficient sector, commuter rail at 86 passenger MPG. … Coach America is using biodiesel in Portland, OR and other cities. … Each motorcoach has the potential of removing 55 autos from the highway.

That all sounds very good, if you’re traveling on Coach America out of Portland, but what if you’re hopping the Fung Wah in New York City? Fung Wah is not biodiesel-friendly and their fleet is definitely not fuel efficient, based on their maintenance records. But what IS the greenest way to travel overall? Train? Bus? Car with four buddies? Obviously, walking and biking are *the* greenest ways to travel, hands down, but they doesn’t get you very far, very fast.

Now the important thing to know is that some sources measure green travel in terms of emissions and some measure it in terms of passenger miles per gallon. Some even measure eco-friendliness in terms of BTUs. On top of that, things change pretty dramatically depending on whether you’re traveling with a couple of friends or relatives. Not to mention the make and age of your car, bus, train, or aircraft; how much baggage you have; how many stops you make along the way; ground and air congestion; wind and weather; what kind of fuel you’re using; and dozens of other factors.

Add it all up, and it can be pretty difficult to figure out what’s the greenest way to get to your Christmas dinner or Hanukkah party.

There are sites that aim to help, though. Trip Footprint – currently in beta – will calculate the travel CO2 emissions for your trip for various transportation methods and routes – not taking into account infrastructure costs or secondary travel. I decided to calculate the greenest way for my family of three to travel from Boston to Florida, and according to the site, it’s driving in a hybrid. Green, for sure, but still not something I’m willing to attempt with a toddler (another element of my green threshold).

On the other hand, if I examine the same trip using passengers per gallon – basically, efficiency – modern, fuel-efficient charter buses become the greenest option, mainly because you’re traveling with 50 other people on a packed trip. Trains are the second greenest option – if, that is, there is even a train hub where you’re going.

But what if you’re traveling solo? For trips of more than 500 miles, if you’re traveling alone or with just one other person, it’s greener to fly direct in coach than to drive, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. But again, that packed bus and the train may still the best green travel options, if not at all practical for many or even most people. Unless, that is, you include infrastructure carbon costs for building and road and track maintenance and secondary travel that results from the need to get from a bus or train station to one’s final destination.

Green travel, gah. I feel like this is another one of those areas that it’s impossible to calculate the greenest possible option! How do you approach green travel?

4 Responses to “What’s the Greenest Way to Travel?”

  1. cadpig Says:

    I find this confusing… if using an SUV leaves a footprint ~ = to 3600 for 1 person but the addition of more riders only increases the footprint marginally for the SUV why doesn’t the same rule hold true for a plane. IF we assume that for one rider the ~2007 CO2 emissions from air travel is correct then the marginal increase of extra riders shouldn’t almost double the emissions… the fraction of CO2 emissions increased for the SUV per added passenger is nominal (barely registers even)…

    Very confusing and seemingly counter intuitive.

  2. Christa Says:

    @cadpig See, that’s part of the problem with these calculators – there are so many ways you can calculate this sort of thing and most of them don’t take every possible thing into account.

  3. Phyllis Says:

    I’m diaappointed the train did so badly, I love train travel!

  4. Christa Says:

    @Phyllis I think that’s when we have to start asking ourselves how many people are on the train? How accessible is it to your final destination? Because while taking the train to Orlando isn’t necessarily the best choice, taking the train from Boston to NYC seems like a much greener way to travel than driving since I’m sharing my ride with so many people and I end up exactly where I want to be.

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