Tuesday , June 18 2024
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Economics of long-distance travel

Summary:
A comment on an AB thread recently reminded me that I needed to update my understanding of the economics of long-distance travel by plane vs car:“In 1970, flying was twice as energy intensive as driving, but that has reversed. In 2012, the most recent year counted, driving one person one mile took 4,211 BTUs, while flying required just 2,033.“The numbers for driving are based on the average fuel economy of all light-duty vehicles (that’s passenger cars, SUVs, pickups, and vans, which averaged 21.6 mpg), using data from the US DOT. Sivak counted only cars with internal combustions engines—no plug-in hybrids and EVs, which comprise less than 1 percent of the American fleet. The flight figures count major, large national, and large regional airlines,

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A comment on an AB thread recently reminded me that I needed to update my understanding of the economics of long-distance travel by plane vs car:

“In 1970, flying was twice as energy intensive as driving, but that has reversed. In 2012, the most recent year counted, driving one person one mile took 4,211 BTUs, while flying required just 2,033.

“The numbers for driving are based on the average fuel economy of all light-duty vehicles (that’s passenger cars, SUVs, pickups, and vans, which averaged 21.6 mpg), using data from the US DOT. Sivak counted only cars with internal combustions engines—no plug-in hybrids and EVs, which comprise less than 1 percent of the American fleet. The flight figures count major, large national, and large regional airlines, adjusted to account for freight and mail carried on passenger flights.”

My wife and I are currently on vacation and we flew from RI to Salt Lake City for the first leg of the trip. If we had driven, we would have used a Honda Fit, which gets ca. 32 mpg. So should we have driven instead? Setting aside the discomfort and hotel rooms and restaurant costs of a multi-day drive, it still doesn’t tip the balance in favor of driving:

“Any car that gets more than 44.7 mpg beats the plane. These days, that opens up some options. There are all the electrics, of course, and the plug-in hybrids, along with the Toyota Prius and hybrid versions of the Volkswagen Jetta and Honda Accord and Civic.”

We’re a long way from 44.7 mpg yet, so no, we made the better choice by flying.

Fly or drive?

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