Carbon Footprint Comparison: Car vs Bus vs Bike

Different modes of transportation carry different energy expenditures. This is your carbon footprint, which measures how much you contribute to warming the planet through carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Here, you can see how different vehicles emit according their gas usage. Some results are quite surprising.


The average car emits approximately 19 pounds of CO2 gas per gallon of fuel burned. According to the EPA, that rounds up to a ton of CO2 every year for a small car. A midsize car or SUV on the other hand, will release 1.3 tons, and a full-size SUV or truck will put out 1.9 tons. These are conservative estimates per capita, but a single car can emit up to 6 tons of carbon dioxide in a year. Carpooling and finding rides where you can will effectively cut these numbers greatly, especially if you do so regularly for work or other routine activities. Three people taking the HOV lane in a carpool, for example, effectively eliminate two thirds of the CO2 they would use if travelling separately.


bicycleWhile buses are much larger than most vehicles and only get about 7-12 miles per gallon, they take many other emitters out of the equation. Any bus accident attorney can attest to the power and weight of these vehicles, but more power doesn’t necessarily mean a larger carbon footprint. In fact, a single school bus can eliminate up to 36 cars. Since over 480,000 school buses travel in the U.S. each day, that accounts for 17 million less cars on the streets in a single day. This translates to an average of 8.8 million gallons of fuel saved daily, as reported by PR Newswire.


Often thought of as an obvious carbon-free mode of transportation, bicycles may use more energy than you think. Firstly, bicycles use energy to be produced in factories, but this pales in comparison to the monstrous energy needed to make even a small car. The focus of expenditure relating to bikes comes from the food consumed by humans needed as energy to ride them. According to a Harvard study, the energy needed to create and process such foods in a meat-centered diet for example, would translate to nearly as much energy as a Prius going the same distance as the bike!

Virtually everything around us consumes energy in some way or another, resulting in a carbon footprint. But by taking measures to reduce our carbon footprints like changing our methods of transportation, we can reduce emissions and keep our air cleaner. Additional practices like driving the speed limit, choosing high-efficiency appliances, and reducing consumption of beef and dairy can further reduce CO2 emissions and protect the environment.

Shae Holland is the author of this article.

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