Traveling Green Can Save You Some Green

This article was printed in the Winter 2008-2009 issue of Earthwise, the UCS quarterly member newsletter. To read other Earthwise articles, or to subscribe, click here.

The holidays are among the busiest travel periods, and the heat-trapping emissions generated by all those planes, trains, and automobiles contribute to global warming. But in spite of that fact and Americans’ worries about high gas prices and an uncertain economy, we need not be stuck at home all winter. Analysts at the Union of Concerned Scientists have found that, with the right choices in our mode of transportation, we can plan a trip that is easier on both our wallets and the environment.

Hop on the bus. Buses (or motor coaches) are one of America’s best-kept green travel secrets. Compared with flying, traveling on a bus generates 55 to 75 percent less global warming pollution per passenger, depending on the distance traveled. And from a cost perspective, bus travel is much less expensive than flying and can even be cheaper than driving—some bus companies offer fares as low as one dollar each way. Since there is no single online resource for booking tickets from different bus lines, you’ll have to search for those companies that serve your departure and destination cities.

Rent a car. If you don’t own a fuel-efficient vehicle, think about renting one when driving on longer trips. Economy-class vehicles, which typically get 30 or more miles per gallon, can save more than $100 over a 500-mile trip compared with driving an SUV you own (including fuel costs, rental fee, maintenance, and depreciation), while generating almost half the global warming pollution. Upgrading to an even more efficient hybrid can further reduce emissions without increasing your total costs (the lower fuel costs offset the higher rental fee). Before you arrive at the rental counter, consult www.fueleconomy.gov to obtain fuel economy estimates for all of the cars available at that location.

Take the train. On average, U.S. passenger trains emit approximately 0.43 pound of global warming pollution per passenger mile compared with 1.08 pounds for a typical car carrying a single person. Train travel can also save you money when traveling between large cities, since train stations that are often much closer to city centers than airports allow you to avoid cab rides into town.

Fly with budget airlines. Try to choose airlines that offer coach-class seating exclusively. Because first-class seating takes up more space than coach seating, the average first-class passenger on a domestic flight is responsible for twice as much global warming pollution as someone seated in coach. Some airlines, in an effort to improve operating margins by increasing the number of passengers per plane, have eliminated first-class seating altogether. This allows these airlines to reduce not only their coach fares, but also their per-person carbon emissions (on the order of 10 to 15 percent).

Avoid peak travel dates. Whether you’re sitting on the tarmac or stuck in traffic, the congestion associated with peak travel times translates into more global warming pollution. When a car or SUV is stuck in traffic, its fuel consumption rate can be double the rate it gets at steady cruising speeds. So, considering that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says 574 million vacation days went unused in 2006, why not attach an extra day or two on either end of your vacation to avoid peak travel congestion—and higher transportation fares as well?

From all of us at UCS, we wish you a safe—and green—new year.

Take the Pledge—Reduce Global Warming Pollution

Pledge to reduce the global warming pollution from your vacation travel in the new year.  Then send along e-cards to your friends and family, so they can join you in making greener travel choices.

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