Green Update–>What’s the Cheapest Way to Commute?

Nissan Leaf

Last week, KickingTires did a story comparing typical round-trip (64.5 miles) commuting costs from a Chicago suburb to the Loop. Cars tested were: the Volt, Leaf (above, Car of the Year at N.Y. Auto Show), Prius, a 2012 Focus—and the Metra commuter train.

Well, the train didn’t win—unless you were to buy a monthly pass, which drops the daily cost to $4.28. The Leaf had the lowest cost, at $2.40, followed by the Volt at $4.79. The Prius came in at $5.02, and the gas-powered Focus at $8.72.

The writer stressed that the “study” controlled for variables, though important things weren’t taken into account, like the initial cost of the cars, maintenance/ownership costs, driving to/from and parking at the train station. Factor in these things, and the train looks a lot better, with the big plus that you don’t have to drive.

Barcelona high-speed rail link

Barcelona-Madrid high-speed rail link

President Obama’s abortive $53 billion high-speed rail plan has hit all kinds of snags but has just reallocated $2 billion for service upgrades in 15 states and the Northeast Corridor.

Controversies abound, and anyhow the plan falls far short of the $600 billion the U.S. High Speed Rail Association estimates a system would cost to put us on a par with those in Asia and Europe. Nobody wants to talk about this kind of money today.

But pollution, gas prices, impossible traffic and wasted time are all rapidly eating into the future of the automobile in cities.

France has announced a pilot project to ban cars, motorbikes, vans and heavy goods vehicles made before 1997 from eight of its largest city centers. Other European cities have had considerable success by introducing low-emission zones.

I drove last week through the heart of Mexico City, once home to the most polluted air in the world. Now, it is claimed, most of its pollutants have been cut by half or more. The traffic is still awful, but the city’s 21 million people can breathe and 1,000 of them are not dying every year.

The challenge in the U.S. is to learn from Mexico and Europe and finally get started on facing the future.

Petroleum-powered vehicles still cause most of the environmental problem in big cities. Do you agree?


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1 Comment

  1. Geesh, this is a real reach. I don’t know how you transitioned from efficient urban commuters to asking about pollution. I don’t know that using Mexico City as your measuring stick would be valid in measuring pollution abatement. Comparing them to Los Angeles in the 70s might be appropriate. It only makes sense that when you start at a hundred and get to 50 as far as pollution abatement is concerned, you’ve done very well. But in the case of LA you’d now be starting at 10 and hoping to be like the Mexicans and get to 5.

    Only problem with that logic is that it is much harder to get to 5 than it is to get to 50. It’s like the automakers saying they’ve reduced pollutants by 99%. That’s pretty good, but the EPA wants them to do better. What??? Cost benefit analysis tells us that this is insane and prohibitively expensive. So in Mexico maybe the birds aren’t dropping dead in mid flight, but the city is still very polluted and they still have a very long way to go. Now, how far and how much money will the Mexican government allocate to dramatically reduce said pollution??

    The key factor in pollution abatement is “what pollutants are you using to measure progress??” What good is it to brag about reducing sulphur dioxide or nitrous oxide when the real measuring point might be a reduction is true carcinogens. Most of the data used here is almost always measured using climate change data and that data has come under severe scrutiny. So in short, an answer to your query might be “what are you measuring and where does the data come from”?? Sure lots of pollution comes from autos but there are other culprits as well and unfortunately your research doesn’t give much mention to them. So I guess I would give you another homework assignment and have you check that out as well.

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