Planes, trains and automobiles

Electric Trains, Electric Cars, or Electric Bikes?

You’ve swapped your petrol car for a plug-in hybrid.

Or perhaps you’ve gone full electric.

Maybe you’ve given up the car entirely to take the train to work instead.

Many of us are playing our part in trying to fix the climate crisis we’re all facing.

Though you might be surprised at the environmental cost of seemingly green modes of transport.

Before you buy that electric scooter, you’ll want read this.

Methodology

travelandmobility.tech have curated a great data set analysing the environmental (carbon) impact of a range of popular transport types.

  • Operation (direct): The environmental impact caused by the direct operation of the vehicle (e.g. abrasion emissions from brake linings, wheels…)
  • Operation (indirect): The environmental impact of indirect operation is determined, which primarily includes the provision of energy (e.g, processes from energy extraction from the environment to delivery to the tank…).
  • Maintenance: All the processes required to keep the vehicle roadworthy during its service life are counted (e.g. changing the tires of cars and replacing consumables in railway trains…).
  • Manufacture & Disposal: This category includes all processes that affect the manufacturing of the vehicle that are not included in maintenance (e.g. raw materials, operating emissions of the production facilities…)
  • Roadway: The construction, maintenance, and disposal of all types of tracks are counted (e.g for road transport these include roads, car parks etc., for rail traffic these include entire lines, safety walls, bridges…)

The impact of each of these factors is measured as carbon emissions in grams per passenger kilometre.

There are a number of assumptions that have been made to compile the data, including average level of occupancy per transport type (although in cases of transport types that carry multiple passengers, this figure if not reported) and the average lifetime (distance travelled) for each transport type.

Results

Operational Emissions

Carbon emissions for transport operation in grams per passenger kilometre

Download chart.

Category Operation (direct) g p/pkm Operation (indirect) g p/pkm Operation total g p/pkm
by Foot 0.00 0.00 0.00
Bike 0.00 0.00 0.00
E-Bike 0.00 1.01 1.01
E-Scooter (Vespa-Like) 0.00 2.28 2.28
E-Kick-Scooter (Dockless) 5.92 0.00 5.92
Tram 0.37 13.63 14.00
E-Bus 1.45 14.31 15.76
Car (Electric) 4.07 12.68 16.75
Car (Plug-In-Hybrid) 20.35 5.68 26.02
Bus (>200km) 32.32 6.31 38.63
Train (Highspeed) 0.03 40.65 40.68
Bus (<200km) 43.30 8.43 51.73
Train (Regional) 9.11 45.15 54.26
Scooter (Gasoline) 75.64 15.15 90.79
Car (Hybrid) 86.22 20.96 107.18
Motorbike (Gasoline) 97.24 24.82 122.05
Car (Diesel) 106.01 20.65 126.67
Autobus 112.25 22.10 134.35
Ferry (<200km) 123.65 23.86 147.51
Car (Gasoline) 130.23 34.11 164.34

Full table.

A gasoline car has the highest direct operating emissions (130.23 grams per pax km) and indirect emissions (34.11 g p/pkm). That’s more than a ferry (123.65 g p/pkm // 34.11 g p/pkm).

High-speed trains are very efficient for day-to-day direct operation (0.03 g p/pkm), though the indirect costs are carbon expensive (40.68 g p/pkm).

Combined, an electric car is more carbon friendly than a train from a direct and indirect operational perspective (4.07 g p/pkm // 12.68 g p/pkm).

Manufacture & Disposal Emissions

Carbon emissions for transport manufacture and disposal in grams per passenger kilometre

Download chart.

Category Manufacture & Disposal g p/pkm
by Foot 0.00
Train (Highspeed) 0.55
Train (Regional) 0.73
Tram 1.38
Bus (>200km) 1.75
Bus (<200km) 1.88
E-Bus 2.80
Autobus 3.28
Ferry (<200km) 3.75
Scooter (Gasoline) 5.40
Bike 5.91
E-Bike 10.96
Motorbike (Gasoline) 16.36
E-Scooter (Vespa-Like) 23.09
Car (Gasoline) 32.69
Car (Hybrid) 37.30
Car (Diesel) 39.48
Car (Plug-In-Hybrid) 42.20
Car (Electric) 62.57
E-Kick-Scooter (Dockless) 63.00

Full table.

Electric powered transport is by far the most expensive to create and dispose of. That said, the carbon cost of this is likely to reduce significantly in future years as technology advances.

Currently, an E-Kick-Scooter is the worst type of transport based on the carbon cost (63g p/pkm) — that’s more than an electric car (62.57 g p/pkm)!

Despite their size, trains and trams have a low carbon cost to manufacture and dispose of (high-speed train 0.55- g p/pkm) – this is almost certainly due to the amount of passengers they carry in comparison to other forms of transport considered.

Lifetime Emissions

Carbon emissions total for transport in grams per passenger kilometre (2019)

Download chart.

Category Total g p/pkm
by Foot 0.00
Bike 7.64
E-Bike 16.12
E-Bus 25.15
E-Scooter (Vespa-Like) 29.84
Tram 37.47
Bus (>200km) 44.64
Train (Highspeed) 49.90
Bus (<200km) 58.20
Train (Regional) 59.64
Car (Plug-In-Hybrid) 82.30
Car (Electric) 92.37
Scooter (Gasoline) 100.57
E-Kick-Scooter (Dockless) 126.00
Motorbike (Gasoline) 145.02
Autobus 145.41
Ferry (<200km) 151.45
Car (Hybrid) 158.06
Car (Diesel) 179.60
Car (Gasoline) 208.28

Full table.

Adding in maintenance and roadway costs, in addition to other factors considered, traditional diesel and gasoline cars are the most polluting over their lifetime (179.60 g p/pkm and 208.28 g p/pkm, respectively).

Plug-in hybrids have half the carbon impact compared to tradition hybrids (82.30 g p/pkm and 158.06 g p/pkm, respectively), and are even more emission friendly over their lifetime than pure electric cars (92.37 g p/pkm).

How far to generate a tonne of C02?

How many km transport type to generate tonne of co2 per pax 2019

Download chart.

Category How many km for tonne co2 / pax?
by Foot
Bike 130,868.61
E-Bike 62,028.67
E-Bus 39,761.43
E-Scooter (Vespa-Like) 33,516.37
Tram 26,685.14
Bus (>200km) 22,401.85
Train (Highspeed) 20,040.19
Bus (<200km) 17,182.13
Train (Regional) 16,767.27
Car (Plug-In-Hybrid) 12,150.77
Car (Electric) 10,826.13
Scooter (Gasoline) 9,943.46
E-Kick-Scooter (Dockless) 7,936.51
Motorbike (Gasoline) 6,895.58
Autobus 6,877.08
Ferry (<200km) 6,602.84
Car (Hybrid) 6,326.73
Car (Diesel) 5,568.01
Car (Gasoline) 4,801.13

Full table.

In a gasoline car it takes on average just 4,800 km for each passenger to contribute a tonne of carbon dioxide. A passenger in an electric car will generate a tonne in just under 11,000 km, and a high-speed train in just over 20,000 km.

Note, it is important to stress, most of the emission are down to manufacturing costs (e.g. a Land Rover Discovery in 2010 required 35 tonnes CO2e for manufacture). See Methodology section for assumptions on lifetime distances.

Improvements

As the authors of the dataset note:

… [the results] not illustrating scientifically-proven results but provides our best guess on average carbon emissions produced by transport type based on existing third-party research that we were able to identify and combine.

It is also clear, air transport is missed. Interestingly, one of the data sources referenced is Lufthansa Innovation Hub.

It is impossible to get true figures for an analysis, there are simply too many variables, that said, the numbers used for analysis in this post could definitely be improved for a more accurate output.

tl;dr

In a gasoline car it takes just 4,800 km for each passenger to contribute a tonne of carbon dioxide. A passenger in an electric car will generate a tonne in just under 11,000 km, and a high-speed train in just over 20,000 km.

Footnotes

  1. Data sources + data used in this post.
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