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Portland is a PR machine for light rail & streetcar

Here are Some Facts About Portland Oregon          

“It must always be remembered how cost-effectiveness works in the public sector: the cost IS the benefit.” - author unknown

A Comparison of energy consumption of

Cars, Transit Buses Rail and air

Based on Table 2.10 from:

The Transportation Energy Data Book: Edition 25 - 2006 ,

(later edition is Table 2.14 of : http://cta.ornl.gov/data/tedb34/Edition34_Full_Doc.pdf)

a publication prepared for the U.S. department of energy

by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Energy consumption of car-bus-air compared

Table 2.10 lists energy consumption of various modes of passenger travel. It shows that modern, efficient, cars use less energy than rail, transit bus or commercial air. Here are the numbers from table 2.10 and below (btu is British Thermal Units and is a measure of energy):

The car number is an average based on the average current fleet and an average number of passengers. More efficient cars are readily available, for instance the $10,770, 2006 KIA Rio is listed at 32 MPG city. This is 3906 btu/vehicle-mile, or 2488 btu per passenger-mile using 1.57 passengers per vehicle, only 60% as much energy as a transit bus.

For Portland where we drive alone more, the passengers per vehicle is about 1.3, so the following apply:

With an average of 1.3 passengers, the 2006 KIA Rio becomes 3004 btu per passenger mile which is 26% less energy than Trimet busses per passenger mile. The Honda Insight at 60 MPG city is 2083 btu per vehicle mile (1602 per passenger-mile@1.3passengers), uses less then one-half the energy of a Trimet bus. At two passengers it consumes only 1042 btu per passenger mile - less than 1/3 that of a Trimet bus.

Do high density cities have lower transit energy consumption than the average?

No. See Figure 2.2.

Why do people think that transit buses save energy?

Because they did in 1970, but over the years, buses became less efficient and cars more efficient. See table 2.11.

What about using Europe as a model, they all take transit don't they?

Figure 3.1 shows vehicles per 1000 people from 1940 to present. It also shows European vehicles per 1000 at two points in time, 1994 and 2004. Viewing the chart, the U.S. has about 750 vehicles per 1000 people while Europe has about 560, or about 75% as many. Interestingly, Europeans have about 75% as much income as we do. They also pay a lot more for fuel.


The most practical way to reduce transport energy consumption is to encourage people to switch to small cars.

It will save more energy than transit and is more likely to succeed in actually reducing energy consumption.

PDF of this page set


btu/passenger mile

Car, hybrid

1,326   (Honda Insight-see below)

Van Pool

1,401   (National average)

Car, efficient

2,488   (2006 KIA Rio-see below)

Commuter rail



2,935   Amtrak

Light & heavy rail transit

3,228   Light rail & heavy rail transit  

Car, average

3,549   (National average)

Commercial air

3,587   (see note in link)

TriMet bus

3,792   (Data directly from TriMet)

Transit bus

4,160   (National average)