Saturday, May 15, 2010

Comparison of transportation segments

I was doing some analysis about fuel consumption by common modes of transport, along with their emission levels.

Though some facts were superficially obvious, drilling down into the data and accounting for "per capita" contextualization, some results were surprising. You can view the spreadsheet here.

  1. Train transportation is peerless in terms of emission and comfort. Data for CO2 levels for train is hard to determine because electricity is used. But account for 1000 people traveling at a time, it intuitively becomes obvious it is very hard to beat a train. Add the fact that on overnight travels, you can sleep and travel, it even fudges the time factor to an extent
  2. Bus is almost as good in terms of emission levels and cost per head. However, it takes a back seat when it comes to travel comfort
  3. Surprisingly, emission levels from an aircraft are not that appalling if you factor in "per capita". In fact, its better in some instances than traveling by car.
  4. Aircraft travel, hands down beats all other transport segments on travel time. I think this is one area where no other segment even comes close
  5. Diesel cars are the cheapest when it comes to traveling on full load (4 folks). 
  6. Again, diesel cars emit highest levels of CO2  at lowest load (one person traveling).
  7. Petrol cars are the costliest mode of transportation. No surprise!

The verdict?

  1. Hop on a train. You can travel without guilt and rest in peace. However, availability is a factor. If you account for multiple parameters (emission, cost, convenience and over night travel fudging the time to an extent as well), there is no comparison to a train. There is also the advantage of dedicated transportation lane which removes uncertainty on speed compared to bus or car.
  2. Ditto for bus travel, if you can take the discomfort. For a lot of folks the discomfort is a big deal. Additionally, ladies might find restroom breaks overnight to be an issue.
  3. Use an airplane if you're too crunched for time. It's not a good idea to get used to the "reduced time" as a convenience factor. One thing to keep in mind is that air-travel includes hidden time (travel to air port, check in / security checks and some waiting time to the tune of 30 minutes to an hour). They are practical bottlenecks and must be accounted to get a true picture.
  4. Diesel cars are cost effective. If on full load, they are ultra-cost effective. Convenience is an issue
  5. Avoid, if possible, long distance car travel alone. The balance vis-a-vis cost and emission levels makes it painful.
  6. If you are traveling very long distance - 700 kms plus - there is no overnight luxury. A good part of your day will get eaten up. I think as distance increases, air travel is the only viable option. Some people enjoy the long snake cruising across multiple states (Dhyan Yatra comes to mind!), which is also an option if you have the time.
  7. If people own private jets (big CEO's mostly), you can see it is a massive fail! Why not travel 1st class on commercial aircraft to factor in per capita consumption? The only way this is ok if you're doing world work that is hugely impacting the global mass on a positive way. Anybody fits the bill?
  8. International travel pretty much rules out every other form of transport except air!

  1. Aircraft fuel consumption information taken from ATR website. Needless to say, differing aircrafts will have different consumption levels. But it does provide a good benchmark reference to how airplanes perform. Same argument for car consumption also.
  2. Gasoline/Diesel emission levels from EPA.
  3. Some aircrafts travel higher speeds (800 kmph for example) - which tilts the equation more in their favor in terms of time.

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