Thursday, August 18, 2011

Assessing the Cost of Transportation Options

I recently read a study entitled Life Cycle Assessment of Transportation Options for Commuters, by Shreya Dave, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, February 2010. I appreciated the following language from the introduction:

American commuters travel an average of 15 miles to
work each way, usually alone, and often in vehicles that
are designed to transport more than the single passenger
(US Department of Transportation). In light of an energyconscious
society, ride-sharing, fuel-efficient vehicles,
telecommunication technologies all aim to reduce the
impact of commuting. Still we may question why a 3000-
pound vehicle is used to transport a 150-pound person.
Each type of transportation option requires a certain input
of energy, not only to operate but also to manufacture and
assemble. In addition, energy is required to construct and
maintain the infrastructure required for operation. The
energy and material input required for production and
operation of any product has a certain environmental
Life Cycle Assessment of Transportation Options for Commuters,
p. 3.

The study interestingly concludes that the environmental impacts of walking, bicycles, and electric bicycles are comparable, and all far less than other modes of transport. Notably, buses do not fare well, since they often operate off peak. To my mind, buses also falter because bus fleets are often old and poorly maintained, and thus have higher emissions than they should. In any case, an interesting study to read, and I particularly liked the neutral phrasing in the introductory paragraph above.

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