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So, how does transit stack up against other modes, really?  I’ve approached this question in earlier posts, but I decided I’d look at it a little differently this time.

It is relatively easy to get agency data on trip numbers, energy, operating costs, miles traveled, route miles installed, and so forth.  Each transit agency reports this data to the FTA as a condition of receiving federal aid, no matter what mode they operate, A lot of transit agencies receive federal aid, and a lot of them dutifully report this data.  536, in fact, from Surprise Dial-A-Ride to Chicago Transit Authority.

I figured it would be more interesting to look at the data as it was, rather than trying to calculate some dull average.  That way, the bus service in Akron would be represented along with that in New York, and we could see what the range of performances was.

I picked the first two of those, energy, and operating costs, tabulated for each transit agency.  Some cities might only operate a metrobus and van pool, while others could operate everything from ferries, to subways, to aerial tramways.  This data let’s us compare the performance of 16 different “modes” of transit, vastly different in way and propulsion*.

They are all similar in their primary purpose, however: trips.  Getting people from where they are to where they want to be is a function of any transportation mode, and is a far better measure of transportation performance than distance traveled or time spent traveling.

So how do the various modes of transit stack up against the average energy and operations costs of traffic, biking and walking?

BTUTripTrips/BTU

Biking  and walking are not shown here or on the next graph because they perform much better than transit or traffic. on energy (0.18 and 0.25 Trips/BTU for biking and walking, or 150x the scale shown above) and price (8.78 and 2.34 Trips/operating $, or 2x the scale shown below.  Then again, they don’t move as fast, and require us to be “outside”.  How quaint.

So, we see that Trips/ BTU for most transit modes is higher than the average for traffic, the green line across the bottom of this graph.  The mode that is closest to traffic in energy inefficiency is also the most like traffic: VanPool

OperTripTrips / Operating Cost

In the case of operating cost, transit does not stack up nearly as well as traffic.  Only Inclined Plane (IP), Bus Rapid Transit (RB) and Aerial Tramway (TR) offer more rides per dollar.  There is one aerial tramway reported in the US**, though I can think of at least two, and many more if skiing is your goal.

Of course, transit agencies typically have to operate the ways as well as the vehicles, while traffic has an installed base of over 8 million lane miles to drive across.  Those are the numbers, however, and I’d like to explore them further in the coming months.

I’ll get into the star performers in each of the modes in a later post, perhaps as early as next week.

By the way, the modes are:
CB    COMMUTER BUS
CC    CABLE CAR
CR    COMMUTER RAIL
DR    DEMAND RESPONSE
FB    FERRYBOAT
HR    HEAVY RAIL
IP    INCLINED PLANE
LR    LIGHT RAIL
MB    METROBUS
MG    AERIAL GUIDEWAY
RB    BUS RAPID TRANSIT
SR    STREETCAR
TB    TROLLEYBUS
TR    AERIAL TRAMWAY
VP    VANPOOL
YR    HYBRID RAIL

** And it’s not the one I’ve ridden, it so happens.

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