The urban bike magazine

Efficiency Master – a Comparison of Different Modes of Transportation

Space, energy and time – the most precious resources in urban mobility. Which modes of transportation is most efficient in these categories? A comparison.

christoph_(c)_alex_rauch_square
Thick profiles, small profiles, uphill, downhill – he loves it all - except for flatness. A bike afficionado which is impossible to proselytize. For him the bicycle is more than just a tool. He writes down, what others cannot formulate in words. He's one of the creative minds behind the LINES magazine.
Image © Cycling promotion fund

Effective does not necessarily mean efficient. Traffic planners now understand this more than ever. Since 2007, more people are living in cities than in rural areas. This means many journeys within limited space. Resources are scarce and need to be used carefully. Selecting the right modes of transportation is not just a concern for traffic planners, as this also brings us more quickly and more efficiently from A to B. An efficiency comparison across three categories.

Utilisation of Space

When we cast our eye over the streets of a city, one thing is clear: Cars are not efficient when it comes to utilisation of space. There is a lot of space for relatively few passengers. The poor balance is based particularly on below-average capacity utilisation. With around 1.4 persons on average per car, space requirements per person per car (travelling at 30 km/h) work out at around 65.2 m2, compared to 5.5 m2 for tram (at 20% capacity utilisation) and just 4.5 m2 for bus (at 40% capacity). Based on the calculations of the Austrian Traffic Club (VCÖ), a tram operating at full capacity (145 people) saves around 124 cars in Vienna. Travelling by foot saves even more space: 0.95 m2 is the estimated figure here, at a speed considerably slower than 30 km/h. The significantly increased space requirements in accordance with speed are evident from the example of a bicycle – from 1.2m2 while stationary up to 41 m2 at a speed of 30 km/h (factoring in braking distance and safe distance).

Ownership of a form of transport also involves significant space requirements, as highlighted by journalist Tom Schaffer. Private cars and bicycles do not disappear after use, but still require space even though they are not being used. Sharing rather than owning is more than just a trend, but is a logical approach. A car-sharing vehicle saves between 8 and 15 private cars. Public transport, on the other hand, is available at all times and to many people at once.

Consumption of Energy

For forward motion, we need energy. Regardless of the mode of transportation. Even on foot, a person weighing 70 kg has an energy consumption of around 0.075 kWh per kilometre. This makes walking the second-most efficient form of transport. Only cycling is a more energy-saving form of transport, with a peak value of 0.025 kWh. At the other end of the scale is the car (0.56 kWh), according to the Federal Environment Agency. According to the French energy and environmental agency ADEME, aeroplanes (0.52 kWh) and motorbikes (0.51 kWh) are similarly inefficient. The most energy-saving form of public transport is the tram or underground train, at just 0.05 and 0.08 kWh per kilometre travelled. Using the ADEME calculator, energy and CO2 consumption can also be calculated for the selected form of mobility.

Time from Door to Door

To find out which mode of transportation is the fastest in urban environments, the German Traffic Club (VCD) carried out a test in Berlin. The test involved the route from Schlesisches Tor to Humboldt University. The winner? The bicycle. 14 minutes travel time from door to door. The same journey by car requires 23 minutes, 3 minutes longer with public transport, and 49 minutes walking at a leisurely pace. Note: the journey is shorter by bike and by foot (4 km), and longest by car (6.5 km). This is not just efficient, but also really effective.

christoph_(c)_alex_rauch_square
Thick profiles, small profiles, uphill, downhill – he loves it all - except for flatness. A bike afficionado which is impossible to proselytize. For him the bicycle is more than just a tool. He writes down, what others cannot formulate in words. He's one of the creative minds behind the LINES magazine.

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