Driving to NC

PriusA while back, I talked about driving from Bloomington to Chicago (and beyond) compared to a similar train or plane ride. Driving to Raleigh, NC last week gives me the opportunity to see if the results are similar with a different car, number of people, and destination. This time, I also plan to compare costs, which I ignored in my last analysis.

The numbers produced by the carbon calculator and my estimates were off by quite a bit, so I used my calculations and their estimate of CO2 per person-mile. I believe the difference is that I use exact mileage (as provided by the transportation company) and I’m not using a multiplier for the plane to represent that fact that its CO2 is released in the upper atmosphere.

The driving distance from Bloomington to Raleigh is about 670 miles. At 49 mpg, that’s almost two tanks of gas (8 gallons each) at $3.40/gallon. That makes the out-of-pocket cost about $50. According to Consumer Reports (subscription required), a Prius has maintenance costs of $2,971 per 75,000 miles. That’s an amortized rate of $26.54 for our trip for a total cost of $76.54. Using the same carbon calculator as before, the trip also produced 274 pounds of CO2 (19.56 lbs per gallon burned). Since we’re also travelling back, that would double the results but that’s negated by the fact that there are two of us in the car.

Driving the Prius: $76.54, 274 pounds of CO2, and 26 hours.

There are direct flights from Indianapolis to Raleigh, but Indianapolis is further away from Raleigh than Bloomington is. The total distance is about 990 miles. A round-trip flight for one of us would be 436 pounds of CO2 (0.44 lbs/person-mile for a medium-length flight) and $245 (assuming we get tickets a month out). The flight itself is 2 hours but it would require another hour to make sure that we’d be able to get through security on time. We’d also have to drive to Indy from Bloomington, which would produce 39.12 pounds of CO2, cost $6.80, and take 2 hours round-trip.

Flying: $252, 475 pounds of CO2, and 8 hours

The Amtrak website is pretty hard to navigate (it kept timing out and giving me errors). The biggest problem is that if you’re switching zones (Midwest to South in this case), it won’t suggest routes for you. You have to figure out what the connecting city is on your own. Going from Indianapolis to Raleigh requires a stop in Washington, DC (which actually might have worked out well, since Maggie is making an extra trip up there to visit a friend). The Indy to DC leg would cost $82 and take 18 hours. Going from DC to Raleigh is $43 and 6 hours. Ignoring any layover time, that’s $125 and 24 hours for one person going one-way. The trip is over 720 miles each way, which is 302 pounds of CO2 (0.42 lbs/person-mile). That makes the round-trip train ride cost $250, produce 604 pounds of CO2, and take 48 hours. We also have to add in the additional travel time up to Indy (39 lbs of CO2, $6.80, 2 hours).

Train: $257, 643 pounds of CO2, and 50 hours

As with the train and plane, we’d have to head up to Indy to take a Greyhound bus. There are 2-3 transfers and it’s about 700 miles. Those 700 miles would produce 462 pounds of CO2 (0.66 lbs/person-mile). Depending on when we left, it could take anywhere from 16.5 to 22 hours. All of the routes are the same price ($222), so I’ll assume we’d pick the shorter one. Once again, we add in the trip to Indy (39 lbs of CO2, $6.80, 2 hours).

Bus: $229, 501 pounds of CO2, and 35 hours

It’s table time!

Cost lbs CO2 Time (hours)
Car $77 274 26
Plane $252 475 8
Train $257 643 50
Bus $229 501 35

Once again, the car seems to be the best choice. It costs about a third less than the next cheapest alternative and produces almost half as much CO2. Even though the car is better in all categories than the train and bus, the plane is much, much faster (over three times as fast!).

It’s pretty obvious why Amtrak makes such a dismal showing. Going all the way to DC before going south adds a whole lot of distance, which increases everything else. While doing some research after my last post, I found out that inter-city buses average less than 7 mpg! With two of us in the Prius, the effective person-mpg is about 100. For a bus to do that well, it’d have to have 15 passengers, assuming that it goes the same distance. Unfortunately, the buses have further to go as well, since Indianapolis is further from Raleigh than Bloomington and they make some detours for stops. I’d guess that a bus would have to have around 20 people in it to match our person-mpg. Based on its CO2 production, it looks like the expected number for a trip like that is more like 11. I haven’t actually ridden from Raleigh to Indianapolis, so I don’t know if this is accurate for that trip, but it seems plausible based on the size of the bus.

Running the numbers again really makes it hit home why people in the US prefer their cars (and occasionally planes). Trains cost way more and take much longer. Buses are a little better, but aren’t as comfortable and still require you to get to a station somehow. Airplanes cost a lot and produce a lot of CO2, but at least they get you there faster. In fact, if you look at cost as a proportion of time, the airplane costs almost exactly as much as the car ($78), so you’re basically just extrapolating the cost of the car. That is, if you could pay to increase the speed of the car, you’d have to pay as much for it to get there in 8 hours as you’d pay for a plane ticket.

That doesn’t even begin to account for the convenience. Since we were driving, we were able to carry a bunch of boxes for Maggie’s friend Laura and Maggie was able to take a short side-trip to DC to visit her.

Basically, if you care about cost and have at least one passenger, it makes more sense to drive than anything else. I wish it were otherwise, but until they get some zeppelins up and running, I think we’re stuck with it.

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Comparing Hybrid Oranges to Hybrid Apples

My friend Lisa recently got herself a new car and wanted to get a hybrid.  She test drove a Toyota Prius (which is what Will and I drove all day yesterday) but didn’t like the crazy space-age dashboard interface and the fact that it’s hard to see out the back window.  So she hopped on down to the local Honda dealership and got herself a Hybrid Civic.  She was super excited and decided to go one step further and change her driving style in order to maximize her gas efficiency.  I confess I don’t know much about hypermiling but the techniques she tried were similar to what I’ve heard about – accelerate slowly, try to maintain a constant speed with minimal acceleration and deceleration, allow your car to speed up a bit going downhill and slow down a bit going uphill, and forget about being a speed demon aggressive driver.  Hybrids also have little gauges so you can see what your efficiency is in real-time and adjust accordingly.

Alas, she was working hard to drive like an old lady and was getting unimpressive mileage results, especially in town.  She kept trying and ignoring the honks from the lead-footed drivers around her.  She took the car to the dealership and asked why she wasn’t getting the 50mpg mileage they touted but they told her the car was performing just fine. 

Finally, one week she got distracted and went back to her normal driving habits.  Her mileage improved although it still seemed better on the highway than in the city.  So she has returned to her old driving habits and is feeling a little better about the car but still disappointed.

I mentioned this story to my dad and he said that what most people don’t realize is that there’s a big difference between the Toyota hybrid system and the Honda hybrid system – the Toyota is a full hybrid system while the Honda is a power assist hybrid.  Both have an electric motor and a gas motor.  In the Toyota (the Prius), the electric motor operates the car at start-up and at slow speeds so it is very efficient for puttering around town in stop-and-go traffic.  In the Honda (the Civic), the electric motor operates as as a booster for the gas motor so it accelerates more efficiently and cruises at high speeds on the highway more efficiently.  So, with the Prius it makes a big difference if you accelerate slowly because you can run on the electric motor for a long time.  However, with the Civic you’re always using the gas motor so the in-city mileage is never going to be as good no matter how you drive.

That’s my understanding, anyway.  I did a very small amount of research using Wikipedia and JDPower but I’m afraid my engineering brain has been called upon too many times already today as we prepare for Rob and Angel’s weddin – fixing pumps, arranging landscapes, scaling up recipes…  So let me know if I’m off.

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Help! I’m a Driving Junkie!

drivingHi. My name is Maggie and I’m addicted to driving. I knew I was driving a lot just by looking at my budget and seeing how much money I spend on fuel but during our Eco-Challenge month I thought I’d track my daily mileage and find out specifically how it all adds up. Well, it’s not pretty. Today is May 13th so in just under two weeks I have driven a total of 392 miles, or an average of 30 miles a day.

That’s pretty startling when you realize that Bloomington is about 10 miles wide at its widest point. Some of the mileage is unusual – 86 miles down to Paoli and back to work on Brambleberry Farm , 45 miles out to Beanblossom Bottoms to see the eagles nesting. However, that still leaves 261 miles.

Of those, 78 miles were trips I had to take for my Sycamore Land Trust job. I love the fact that I get paid for mileage but it’s frustrating that I have to travel to a lot of places that aren’t accessible by public transportation (schools outside city limits, nature preserves, etc.). On the other hand, at least for now I think the job (environmental education) is important enough to justify some extra travel time.

The remaining 183 miles were used driving around town and that’s the part I’d like to improve on. A lot of it comes down to a question of routines and habits. It’s really easy to think “Oh, while I’m out, I’ll just swing by the bank” when the bank isn’t actually anywhere on my route. I’ve also gotten into the habit of coming home for lunch, which is very relaxing and I tend to eat more nutritious, cheaper food but it packs on the miles. And there’s also the cold hard fact that I *could* take the bus more places if I were willing to make the extra effort. It’s slower and less convenient and makes it harder to haul my junk around. But I’m ready to give the bus another chance and to plan my day around its schedule. Hopefully I can cut back dramatically on those in-town mileage.

Alas, the last week of this month I’m taking a trip by car to Raleigh, N.C. and then up to Washington, D.C. so I’m pretty sure this is not the month for kicking my addiction completely. Maybe in June…

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House & Home Edition

Perhaps my office shed could look like thisAccording to the New York Post, some analysts think we’ll be paying $10 a gallon within 2-3 years. The Freakonomics blog wonders if this’ll encourage people to ride the bus. I’m wondering what effect rising gas prices will have on housing. Will this increase the number of people working from home (and thus needing a home office)? Will people move from rural to urban areas so that they can take advantage of public transit? Will smaller urban areas (like Bloomington) start creating nice, smaller houses and apartments so that more people can live close to town?

Since Maggie and I are on the lookout for a house again, we find ourselves rehashing these questions again. Even if a larger place further out from town is good now, rising gas prices might make it much less attractive. Although equity isn’t our most important qualification when looking at houses, it sure seems like downtown property has much better potential to increase in value over the next few years.

The “country mouse” home (only about two miles away from downtown, so still within biking distance) has enough space around it that we could definitely have a large garden plot, chickens, and maybe even a goat. Even if we had to pay more for trips around town, we might make up for it in savings on food! The cost of fertilizer has tripled, so farmers aren’t growing more corn even though corn prices have doubled in the last year. Part of this is the weird weather we’ve had for the past year, but part of it is also the long-term rising cost of transportation and cultivation. I’m not as interested in raising chickens and goats as Maggie is, but it would be nice to be able to set up a little “office shed.” I could either buy or build a little shed and toss a 165W solar system on top (only $1100 after federal tax rebates) for an awesome work space that feels separate from living space.

On the other hand is the “city mouse” home. Actually a duplex, it’s more expensive and has less land (and less appealing land for farming, since it’s very shady). A duplex makes sense to me as both an investment and as a way of reducing impact since we’re fitting two families into the same space as we would otherwise be fitting one. Although I might be able to get away with an office shed, chickens are probably out of the question. It sure would be nice to be able to wander around downtown and see people whenever I get the urge, though.

The middle-of-the-road option is a smaller place near the duplex that also has a little land. I’m worried that the space will be hard to divide the way we’d like, but 37signals had a timely entry today pointing to a NYT article on making a tiny space work well. You owe it to yourself to at least skim the article even if you don’t watch the slideshow. The highlight is the raised floor they added to one end of the one-room apartment. Not only does it create a separate-seeming living room area, the bed can be pushed underneath the floor when not it use! When we visit the middle-option house again, I’ll have to look at it with an eye towards creating spaces that we can expand and shrink as we change what we’re doing during the day.

This has been a long post without much new info in it, but house stuff has taken over my mind recently, so I’ve been seeing appropriate links everywhere. If you got this far, I’d love to know what aspects of your current living situation you really like and really dislike. Maybe that’ll help make this choice a little easier!

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The Crunchy Chicken Extreme Eco-Challenge

Extrme Eco Challenge - Crunchy Chicken It’s almost May and it’s time to decide whether or not Will and I are going to accept Crunchy Chicken’s Extreme Eco Challenge. She is a blogger like us who leads a pretty normal life but is working to make life a little greener. One of her favorite methods for greening the world is creating challenges for her readers. This winter she offered the Freeze Yer Buns challenge asking folks to lower their thermostats and this month she’s running a Buy Nothing Challenge. Next on the agenda is a hardcore eco-throwdown.

There are seven options, increasing in difficulty. According to the rules, participants may have one day off a week (sorta like Lent, depending on which teachings you follow). Here they are along with some of my thoughts.

1. No plastic (don’t buy or consume anything in plastic). I initially had visions of starving to death. No tubs or shrink wrap or produce bags or bread bags, which means no frozen food, no cheese, no condiments… Will told me I was being melodramatic and with a little more thought I realized it was manageable. But definitely challenging.

2. No paper products. This seems easier to me except for three items: my calendar, my notebook, and toilet paper. I have been experimenting with a TP-free method but so far I’m not ready for a total switch. Hmmmm.

3. No driving. Will says he would happily do this and let me chauffeur him but I told him I didn’t think that would count. Actually, he would have very little trouble giving up his car but I use mine almost daily to commute to work and to field trips that are not accessible via bus. I’m sure I could cut back my usage dramatically but I couldn’t go car-free. And we do have a driving vacation planned at the end of the month that involves his brother’s wedding…

4. Local food only. I’m thinking about trying this challenge in July but right now we’d be eating an awful lot of eggs and salad greens. I also think that eating 100% locally is too extreme and it makes more sense to shoot for a diet that’s about 80% local so you can still enjoy other cuisines and foods that simply don’t grow where you are. But maybe I’m just a wus. 🙂

5. No garbage output (compost and recyclables only). This is a noble goal but it seems pretty unattainable. No waste at all? There are pieces of trash like candy wrappers that literally just appear in our yard. And there are a few things I’m not sure will ever be recyclable or reusable. Used dental floss? Sticky labels from produce? I think we already do pretty well minimizing our trash. Still, I’m sure if we took up the challenge we could find a few more areas of waste to trim.

6. No excessive water usage (drink as much as you want but use a bare minimum for bathing, brushing teeth, washing clothes, washing dishes, etc).
This actually sounds easier than some of the others although I do enjoy long hot showers and using the automatic washing machine. And if I took Crunchy Chicken’s advice and really thought about what it would be like to haul in all the water I use from a stream, I’m sure I could cut back on my usage dramatically.

7. No electricity (you can leave your fridge on if you must). There are three big challenges for this one. One is heat, which we could probably do without in May. One is cooking, since we have an electric stove and oven, although I guess if necessary we could eat cold food most of the week. And the last is computers. Will really needs his for work and he works from home most of the time. So maybe we could do a modified version with an allowance for computer use for work only. Oh, and it would suck a lot to not have hot water. But maybe I would be motivated enough to procure a solar shower bag. And I’m sure we’d find a whole new set of ways to entertain ourselves in the evenings without electricity.

Which one should we try? Which one would YOU try? Or has this crossed over into the realm of crazy crunchy eco-extremists? Let us know quick – May 1st is just around the corner!

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