Transportation in Vancouver seems quite good to me. There are regular buses, skytrain, and metro services, well developed cycling lanes (and it’s not too hilly), and multiple competitive car sharing services. I can switch modes depending on my journey length, the weather, or my journey’s urgency. Also, some of the public transport is relatively green – Vancouver is one of the only places I’ve lived with electric trolley buses, and a relatively green supply of electricity to power them. I wanted to investigate how green the public transport system actually was in Vancouver. What’s best from an emissions perspective in Vancouver public transport, cycling, or car sharing?
What vehicles does TransLink use?
As of the start of 2017, the transit fleet consisted of:
- 262 electric trolley buses (14%)
- 116 compressed natural gas buses (6%)
- 226 diesel-electric hybrid buses (12%)
- 697 low-emissions diesel buses (38%)
- 147 gasoline community shuttle buses (8%)
- 47 diesel community shuttle buses (3%)
- 3 SeaBus vessels (<1%)
- 48 conventional diesel and hybrid buses (3%)
- 307 HandyDART vehicles (17%)
What were the emissions for the fleet?
In 2017, the fleet emitted 136,819 tonnes of CO2 and 713 tonnes of air contaminants. As you can see below, most of the emissions come from the bus fleet (ex. trolley buses).
How many journeys were made?
In 2017 there were 408 million boardings, and 248 million journeys, which is an average of 1.65 boardings per journey.
BOARDING: When a passenger enters a fare-paid zone, i.e. begins their journey, or transfers between vehicles.
JOURNEY: A complete trip on public transport, regardless of the quantity of transfers.
What are the emissions per passenger journey?
Using the above figures for emissions and passenger boardings/journeys, we can estimate that average fleet emissions were around 330 g/CO2 per passenger boarding, or another way, 550 g/CO2 per passenger journey. And around 3 g/contaminants per passenger journey. These figures match with TransLink’s 2017 report.
I couldn’t find the average fleet journey length, but in 2016 the average bus journey length was about 7 km. This results in about 60-80 g CO2 per km per person for a bus journey.
How does this compare to cycling and car sharing?
Based on quick estimates from the internet, cycling emits 5-20 g CO2 per km per person. These emissions are mainly due to the energy used to make the food consumed by the cyclist. So this depends on diet of the individual rider (more for meat eater, less for vegan). Also whether they’re ingesting additional calories due to the cycling itself (unlikely).
Car sharing in Vancouver creates about 115-200 g / CO2 per km, depending on the vehicle you use (hybrid vs petrol), the quantity of passengers (double the passengers, halve your emissions), and your driving style (slow and smooth is best). EVO car share uses the Toyota Prius C hybrid which has lower emissions than the Car2Go fleet, as discussed in this article comparing Evo and Car2Go.
Vancouver public transport vs cycling vs car sharing
Cycle whenever possible. It’s best for the environment, but also your health and mood!
Then use public transport, especially if you’re in an area of Vancouver with trolley buses. Supporting public transport ensures the development of the system and turnover of the fleet. TransLink are moving towards electric buses outside of the trolley bus network, but it’s early days (see https://www.translink.ca/Plans-and-Projects/TransLink-Tomorrow-2/Pilot-and-Demonstration-Projects.aspx).
If there’s a group of you without bikes, car sharing could be best to use from an emissions perspective, especially Evo. With 3 of you in the car, your emissions could be lower than public transport.
If you’re interested in car sharing, check out our concise review of the services in Vancouver here – Vancouver car sharing comparison table.