Because transportation activities contribute the largest portion of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in both the U.S. and Washington State, transportation choices are an important area for us in the Inland Northwest to consider if we want to mitigate climate change.
In a previous blog I discussed some of the government and market level transportation decisions that impact climate change. Those government and market level decisions limit and shape the choices we face as individuals who want to do something to mitigate the impacts of climate change.
In a 2017 article that examined the potential impacts of individual actions on GHG emissions, of the four actions found to be the most effective, two related to transportation: living car free and avoiding airplane travel. (The other two were eating a plant-based diet and having one fewer child.)
As the City of Spokane’s Comprehensive Plan acknowledges, people want transportation choices that are viable. When we look at our options for transportation in the Spokane area, the viable choices that do not depend heavily upon fossil fuel single-occupant vehicles (SOV) include driving hybrid or electric vehicles, using public transit, bicycling, and walking. The factors that most affect their viability are safety, comfort and convenience. With regard to the bicycling and walking, physical ability is also a factor.
The Toyota Camry Hybrid: mileage, reliability and roomy seating.
Hybrid and electric vehicles (EV) offer most of the safety, comfort and convenience that we find in fossil fuel-powered vehicles. Hybrid vehicles utilize a combination of electricity and fossil fuel. Their contribution toward reducing a traveler’s carbon footprint is most simply indicated by the miles per gallon (mpg) of fossil fuel that they use. LiveStrong Reports says that the GHG reduction obtained by driving a hybrid automobile is somewhere between 10 and 21%. According to U.S. News and World Report the following are the highest ranked hybrid cars for 2018:
Toyota Camry –51 city/53 highway mpg (starting at $27,800)
Toyota Avalon –40/39 ($37,500)
Chevrolet Malibu –49/43 ($27,920)
Toyota Prius –54/50 ($23,475)
Honda Accord –49/47 ($29,605)
Hyundai Ioniq –57/59 ($22,200)
Toyota Prius Prime –133 miles per gallon equivalent ($27,100)
Toyota Prius V –43/39 ($26,675)
Kia Optima –39/46 ($25,995)
Hyundai Sonata –39/45 ($26,000)
Most EVs are not able to go as far as fossil fuel cars before requiring refueling, and refueling is not as convenient as stopping at the gas station for a few minutes. Battery charge times vary widely depending on voltage of the charging station (110, 220, or 440) and size and type of battery pack. Still, EVs are rapidly becoming a more viable option. Utility Dive says that “almost every major auto manufacturer has public plans for an EV model by 2020.” According to US News and World Report of the 2017 models the following were the 10 best EV options:
Chevrolet Spark EV –82 mile range (starting at $13,050)
Fiat 500e –84 ($31,800)
Mercedes Benz B250e –87 ($39,900)
Kia Soul EV –93 ($32,250)
Nissan Leaf –107 ($30,680)
BMW i3 –114 ($42,400)
Hyundai Ionic Electric –124 ($29,500)
Volkswagen e-Golf –126 ($28,995)
Chevrolet Bolt EV –238 ($36,620)
Tesla Model X –295 ($85,500)
Tesla Model S –335 ($68,000)
The Chevy Bolt: 238-mile range, under $30,000
If you can afford a new car and the cost of installing a fast charging station (estimated at $1200), an EV may be your best transportation option to reduce your carbon footprint. Used EVs are also a possibility. (A recent check of CarMax showed a couple of 2011 Nissan Leafs in the Spokane area priced under $10,000.)
Biking as an alternative approach to non-recreational transportation may not be as comfortable or safe as riding in a car, but it can reduce your carbon footprint dramatically. According to a Keith Group report compared to driving an average American car, a bicyclist who eats an average American diet has 4.6 times less climate impact (vegans have 7.5 less impact). Biking can also be combined with public transit for a low GHG emission commute trip.
Are bikes electric? This one is.
Commuting on an electric bike would not reduce your GHG emissions as much as commuting on a bike without a battery but it would still reduce your GHG footprint quite a bit compared to a driving a fossil fuel powered SOV, so it is an alternative worth considering if you need an assist getting up the hills. The price of some electric bikes is similar to the price of a used car. For example, the HP Velotechnik Scorpion FS 26 S-Pedelec, a fancy recumbent tricycle, retails at $8,495. Still, more typically electric bikes run between $1,299 (VoltBike) and $1,699 (Juiced Bikes Crosscurrent S)—not as much as a decent used car, but more than you might expect to pay for a bike. It is also possible to purchase a used electric bike for under $200.
Walking is an extremely low GHG emission option that can be incorporated into your commuting practices. Some people can choose to take more time for their commutes by walking to work. Others can walk to a bus stop. The City of Spokane’s 2015 Pedestrian Master Plan found that there was much work to be done to meet the standards that the City has set for itself. For example, the Plan says: “Many arterial sidewalks have frequent obstructions, such as utility poles and signs. … Many sidewalks are in need of repair … [Moreover] sidewalks are missing on 38% [of the streets] suitable for sidewalks.” Only about 55% of City streets have sidewalks on both sides of the street.
As I mentioned in a previous blog, we are fortunate in Spokane to have a public transit agency that is explicitly concerned about climate change. Spokane Transit Authority has used hybrid buses for years and is committed to adding electric buses to its fleet, especially (but not exclusively) for its Central City Line. STA fares are reasonable (only covering about 20% of the total annual budget). Currently, single-ride fares are $1.75. It is also possible to obtain multiple ride fares in a variety of packages: for example, Day Pass $4, 31 Day Rolling Pass $50, Student Pass $42, Youth Summer $50. (All of these fares will increase about 14% to 24% on July 1, 2018.)
A study of Los Angeles public transit’s potential impact on GHG emissions found that pure transit trips had 77% lower GHG footprints than automobile trips. Those trips that combined auto and transit had 52% lower GHG footprints. But convenience is an issue that keeps people from considering public transit as an option in Spokane. For some, bus frequency is a problem. For others, getting to and from the bus stop is the main discouraging factor (especially during winter). The STA is working to reduce these problems, but there is only so much they can do.
All of these alternatives to commuting by fossil fuel SOVs have advantages that make them worth considering. In future blogs, I will focus on each option in more depth.