Trains and buses

Last updated Wednesday 30 April 2008

Just the ticket for low-carbon travel

Sharing transport with dozens of fellow passengers can cut your carbon footprint. Are you on board?

Buses, coaches and trains are big vehicles that consume a lot of energy. But divide that tally by the number of passengers on a busy route and they're a far more climate-friendly option than the car. In fact, letting the train take the strain could cut your annual transport emissions by two-thirds.

Of course, depending on your location and journey, cost and convenience may come into play: Britain has the priciest trains in Europe.

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Photo: Trains and buses

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How will it make a difference?

Pub Fact

  • British commuters have the longest journeys to work in Europe with the average trip taking 45 minutes
  • We travel a fifth further on our commutes than we did a decade ago
  • French high speed trains run on nuclear-generated electricity with a very low climate impact
  • Seven out of ten people outside London travel to work by car
  • Car emissions during rush hour are almost twice as great as those during off-peak travel
  • The average Brit takes the train 17 times a year
  • Private car transport is responsible for over 10% of UK's
  • Swapping an average car commute of 18 miles for a train ride saves about a tonne of CO2 a year. That's almost as much as doing your commute in an electric car instead of a petrol one.
  • Passengers on a full coach from London to Birmingham are responsible for only a tenth of the emissions that a solo drive produces, according to National Express
  • Taking a light train instead of an urban bus can almost halve your carbon emissions for the journey
Transportg CO2/passenger km
Coaches20
Average train (electric and diesel)60
Buses89
Cars208

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What's the debate?

Are high-speed electric trains less energy efficient than the old diesels?

While the Association of Train Operating Companies estimates that the average electric train emits about a third less CO2 than the average diesel, other research suggests that emissions from high-speed electric trains are going off the rails. According to Chris Goodall, author of How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, high-speed trains can emit 30% more CO2 than diesels. So long as the longer routes are well subscribed, however, they remain more efficient than cars or planes. Read the BBC News article.

A nearly empty rural bus or train can be as bad as a car in terms of emissions per passenger.

A bus emits seven times more CO2 than a car per km. Detractors would argue therefore that the bus only becomes more efficient than a car when it is relatively full. That might have you reaching for the car keys, but adding a car journey to the same destination would add to emissions whereas another passenger on the bus would increase efficiency.

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What's stopping me?

"Never mind petrol prices - have you seen the cost of rail fares lately?"

Brits spend up to twice as much as the average European on tickets. Train companies say annual price hikes are to pay for improved service; critics say they are intended to reduce demand because the government has failed to expand and improve the network. (BBC News.)

Shocked by the prices and baffled by the system? Have a look at this BBC News article on ten legit ways to get a cheaper train fare.

"I don't have time to take the train"

Not always true. Taking the train from London to Edinburgh is almost three hours faster than driving, and drops you in the heart of the city centre, according to rail-traveller support site The Man in Seat Sixty-One.

Within London, a four-mile Tube trip takes ten minutes less than driving. The bus journey, despite the dedicated lanes, will take much longer than both. (Cycling is quickest, however.)

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How do I do it?

  • For long distance travel, the carbon conscious should take the intercity coach. Coaches may be slow but they're the cheapest and most energy-efficient way to cover big distances
  • Choose the train over the bus for urban errands or commutes
  • Let Transport Direct's door-to-door journey planner do the hard work
  • No train going your way? Filling up your spare car seats by sharing journeys with friends, colleagues or members of a car-sharing scheme can reduce your
  • For shorter distances, consider getting on your bike
  • Going on holiday in Europe? Check out how to make your trip climate-friendly

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Comments

Baz, Shrewsbury 2009-02-05

I agree with Kev, The efficiency figures quoted for public transport do not take into account low ridership figures. They assume the bus or train is fully occupied at all times. This must be a problem because when we commute to work, lets say Birmingham to Kings Cross, the train leaves to go back to Brum almost empty, this takes fuel. If the train is electric, as they normally are on main lines, this may seem green. But where is the electricity coming from? This does not seem to be factored into the equation. My car on the other hand, takes me from home to work and waits for me on the carpark making no carbon emmissions, then it takes me home again and waits again in the garage.
The advantages of public transport are highlighted by Hungerford 89, If traffic is heavy and the jouney is short, it works, but is still no greener. Just one other thing, train lines in Shropshire are few and far between, thanks Dr Beeching!

Hungerford89, Flintshire 2009-01-21

I've been using the train to/ from work since September. It's a 15min journey - with the (short) walk either end, this makes it a 35min journey door-to-door. As opposed to the 25min car journey I used to make. The advantages: cheaper

Kev 2008-10-02

Are you sure Trains are as green:
http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/science/article2195538.ece

Also trains and buses have to run when just 1 person wants to travel, wiping out all the good work it did all day when full.

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Glossary terms used on this page
CO2
CO2, or carbon dioxide, is made up of the elements carbon and oxygen. It exists quite naturally in our atmosphere, as part of the carbon cycle. Everyday processes in the plant and animal world both add CO2 to the atmosphere and take it out. However, because it is a greenhouse gas - meaning it affects the temperature of the earth - the exact level of CO2 is important. Burning fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere, hence the anxiety that extensive use of these fuels is causing climate change.
Carbon
Carbon is the fourth most common chemical element in the universe, and carbon compounds - in other words, carbon chemically combined with other elements - are the basis of all known life forms on earth. Pure carbon appears in many apparently diverse forms, from diamond to graphite to charcoal, but it is much more commonly found in substances such as coal, oil, natural gas, wood and peat that we use for fuel. When we burn these substances to provide energy - either directly in our homes as heat, or in power stations to produce electricity - the combustion process produces 'oxides' of carbon, including the gas CO2.
Diesel
Ordinary diesel, like regular petrol, is refined from oil but it is a thicker, heavier liquid with a higher 'energy density' - meaning it offers better fuel economy. On the down side, unless you buy an air filter, diesel exhaust is a significant source of particulates and other sources of air pollution. A type of diesel not derived from petroleum is increasingly widely available, commonly referred to as biodiesel.
Eco-friendly
Eco-friendly, or environmentally friendly, is a term applied to goods, services, processes or people deemed to do minimal harm to the environment. The term is shorthand for 'ecologically friendly', ecology being the study of the relationships between living organisms and their environment.
Emissions
Emissions are the CO2 (and other greenhouse gases) produced by energy use, usually calculated and stated as an annual tally: also referred to as your carbon footprint. Your personal emissions can be direct - such as the gas you personally use to heat your home or the petrol you burn to power your car - or indirect - meaning the energy use that has gone into the products or services you buy. The latter, such as the emissions caused by the manufacture of your new TV, or the packaging your food comes in, are also referred to as embodied emissions.
Energy efficiency
Something that is energy efficient achieves the greatest useful output for the least expenditure of energy, or improves the ratio between the two. For example, energy efficient car engines improve the car's fuel economy.

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