PlaNYC Report Takes a Restrained Approach to Promoting Electric Cars

Electric_Car_London.jpgAn electric car in London. Image: exfordy via Flickr.

Last week, the Mayor’s Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability released its newest report, "Exploring Electric Vehicle Adoption in New York City" [PDF]. In a breezy 22 pages, it lays out some strategies to maximize electric vehicle purchases by so-called early adopters in the next five years. 

As a sustainability initiative, the merit of the proposal depends on whether trips in these new electric cars will replace trips powered by internal combustion or trips by foot, bicycle, and transit. According to the report, electric vehicles charged on New York’s grid would emit as little as a quarter as much carbon per mile as conventional automobiles. "Electric cars are cleaner than conventional vehicles," said Natural Resources
Defense Council vehicles analyst Luke Tonachel, "but walking,
biking, and transit are all cleaner still." 

Switching to electric cars also does little or nothing to improve street safety, decrease congestion, or promote good urban design — impacts that also benefit more sustainable modes of transport. Which seems to have been overlooked elsewhere, even in countries with enlightened transportation policies. As Charles Komanoff wrote on Streetsblog in November, Denmark’s roughly $40,000 tax on conventional automobiles doesn’t apply to electric vehicles, and EVs get free parking in downtown Copenhagen — big perks that will lead more people to drive and fewer to bike or use transit. So is New York City planning to subsidize electric cars the same way they’re doing in Denmark?

Thankfully, the PlaNYC report doesn’t recommend using financial incentives to push people toward electric vehicles. "The absence of endorsements for such subsidies is a strong signal that the Bloomberg administration does not intend to follow Denmark’s mistake of subsidizing EVs in ways that would encourage more driving," said Komanoff. "This is very good news."

Instead, the report offers policies that mainly remove barriers for people already willing to pay a premium to own an electric car. The recommendations are pretty mild, like educating potential buyers about electric vehicles and then assisting them in finding or installing charging equipment. (The report also includes some fascinating insights into the psychology of early EV adopters. Because "not only do early adopters want to be the first on their block to own the latest vehicle technology, they would like everyone else on their block to be aware of this fact as well," it suggests recognizing early adopters, perhaps by planting trees in front of their homes.)

The big policy choices will come when or if the city decides to promote electric vehicle usage beyond the small set of early adopters. If electric vehicle production scales up in the next few years, the report suggests that the city should expand its focus to a new set of consumers. The city’s response targeted at those consumers is the one to watch out for.

  • That Pdf link to the report didn’t work for me. This one did:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/planyc2030/downloads/pdf/electric_vehicle_adoption_study_2010-01.pdf

  • Noah Kazis

    Link changed. Thanks Daniel!

  • The report does have a tech flaw that leads it to overstate the reduction in emissions from substituting electric for gasoline vehicles. It applies the current 40% of electricity that’s from non-carbon sources, to EV’s, yet adding EV’s won’t add to the volume of non-carbon supplies. Accordingly, essentially all of the incremental electricity to supply EV’s will come from fossil-fuel generators for quite some time. Correcting this mistake reduces the air and carbon advantages of electric over gasoline vehicles somewhat but by no means eliminates them. (Surprising to see this elementary error in a report by a very smart group of people.)

  • anon

    Noise, noise, noise!

    The value of electric cars isn’t just cleaner city air. It’s also that they are super quiet. More electric cars make our streets quieter. They make it possible to carry on a conversation as you walk down the street. They decrease stress for people living on busy roads.

    The #1 complaint in NYC is noise. Electric cars would help address the #1 complaint. Why isn’t this even mentioned as a benefit?

  • garyg

    “Electric cars are cleaner than conventional vehicles,” said Natural Resources Defense Council vehicles analyst Luke Tonachel, “but walking, biking, and transit are all cleaner still.”

    Some transit is a lot cleaner than some cars, but on average transit is at best only slightly cleaner than cars. I don’t see how transit is cleaner than electric cars that are four times as efficient as the average existing car.

  • garyg

    The report does have a tech flaw that leads it to overstate the reduction in emissions from substituting electric for gasoline vehicles. It applies the current 40% of electricity that’s from non-carbon sources, to EV’s, yet adding EV’s won’t add to the volume of non-carbon supplies. Accordingly, essentially all of the incremental electricity to supply EV’s will come from fossil-fuel generators for quite some time.

    Adding electric cars won’t add to the volume of either carbon or non-supplies of electricity. So why do you assume that “essentially all” of the incremental electricity to supply EVs will come from fossil-fuel generators? I would expect the additional electricity to be generated using the same mix of carbon and non-carbon sources as existing supplies.

  • New York City Transit’s average emissions is equivalent to 90 passenger-mpg, which is cleaner than an electric car running on New York’s coal-heavy electricity.

    But that’s beside the point. Hybrids cost $22,000, and have only a 3% share of new car sales in the US. Why should $40,000 electric cars do any better?

  • garyg

    New York City Transit’s average emissions is equivalent to 90 passenger-mpg, which is cleaner than an electric car running on New York’s coal-heavy electricity.

    How do you know? And where do you get your “90 passenger-mpg” number from? Show us the data.

    Nissan says its Leaf electric car will get the equivalent of 367 mpg. That’s 4 times as efficient as your claimed average for NYCT even with just one passenger. At the average passenger occpancy of 1.6, the Leaf would be more than 6 times as efficient.

  • Anon: “The value of electric cars isn’t just cleaner city air. It’s also that they are super quiet. More electric cars make our streets quieter…. The #1 complaint in NYC is noise. Electric cars would help address the #1 complaint.”

    Wow, are you telling me electric cars are not equipped with horns? I never heard that before. Wonderful! Bring ’em on!

  • The report does briefly mention noise:

    “Electric vehicles could provide a signi? cant reduc-
    tion in fuel usage, greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and local air
    pollutionFigure 2: Wheel-to-Well Emissions Comparison for Combustion Engine
    and Electric Driving in New York City”

    This swings in both directions though. Quiet vehicles are nice, but they do represent a safety hazard for the hearing-impaired (or just distracted) pedestrians. This is why Japan has considered requiring hybrids to be noisier. I’m not sure what I think of hundreds of cars chirping along to their own tune. I can hear personalized ringtones now.

  • Doug

    “Some transit is a lot cleaner than some cars, but on average transit is at best only slightly cleaner than cars. I don’t see how transit is cleaner than electric cars that are four times as efficient as the average existing car.”

    In power or fuel savings, you have a point, but materials also have an environmental cost. A car meant to be used by only one or two people every day has a higher materials impact than a bus or train meant to be used by hundreds or thousands of people every day. The cleanest running car on the market is still made of materials that take energy to create and, in most cases, contain petroleum-based plastics.

    As for the noise, you can engineer noise into an electric car that makes it able to be heard by pedestrians while still not being as loud ad existing gas-burning cars.

  • Wow. Mangled quote.

    And I meant “visually impaired”

  • garyg

    Doug,

    I’d like to see the bus that has “hundreds of thousands” of riders per day. That’s some bus. I doubt that even a New York subway train has hundreds of thousands of riders a day. Most transit trains certainly don’t.

    On average, transit buses run with around three-quarters of their seats empty. So a lot of the materials energy cost isn’t providing useful transportation. It’s just hauling around empty seats. Even if the materials cost of mass transit is lower per passenger-mile of transportation than the materials cost of electric cars, it seems unlikely to be so much lower as to offset an advantage to electric cars of four times or more in operational energy use.

  • Doug

    Hundreds OR thousands. That’s what it says.

  • garyg

    I misread. My apologies.

  • Doug

    garyg, I think you are arguing particulars which can be changed by better planning. i don’t disagree that an empty bus offers little to no energy savings or simply a fair amount of energy waste, but the fact that a bus or train runs empty some or a lot of the time is not, in and of itself, an argument in favor of cars. it’s an argument in favor of smarter schedules, an energy-free resource.

  • garyg

    Doug,

    There may be bus and train routes where load factors could be improved through better scheduling, but the fundamental constraint on efficiency is the variation in demand between different times of the day, different days of the week, and different routes and route segments. You can improve the effciency of transit by cutting off-peak services where demand is low, but that has a social cost to people who are dependent on such services, so it may be politically infeasible. Transit planners use sophisticated computer models to try and maximize efficiency within the political, economic and practical constraints under which they are working. I doubt there’s some magic bullet for improving efficiency that they’re not aware of.

  • Car Free Nation

    And what about the energy used to create a place to store that car? You are either taking up space that could be used for carbon absorbing plants, or you are building either above or below a residential area. And because you have to make room for parking, you’re placing things farther away from each other, which means that more people have to drive to get anywhere.

  • Garyg, as usual, is using figures from other parts of the country that have little relevance here in NYC.

  • garyg

    Buses and trains need parking and storage places too. Train stations, bus depots, maintenance yards, etc. all take up land.

    If cars do cause things to be farther away from each other, that’s a tradeoff people seem willing to make in return for the shorter travel times, greater comfort, greater convenience and other benefits they get from car travel.

  • And where do you get your “90 passenger-mpg” number from? Show us the data.

    The subway gets 114.5 passenger-mpg (see page 11 here). The buses average 18 passengers per bus (i.e. not three quarters empty) and 3 mpg per bus, which gives 53 passenger-mpg diesel, or 46 passenger-mpg gasoline equivalent. With the passenger-mile ratios of the two modes, the weighted average is 90 passenger-mpg.

    I know that it’s hard to figure out. Wendell Cox said New York City Transit produces more emissions per passenger-mile than a Prius, so it must be true, and all evidence to the contrary is faulty. The National Transit Database is surely lying about how full the buses are, and the Federal Transit Administration is just making up numbers. The alternative explanation, that Cox is full of shit, is just impossible.

    Nissan says its Leaf electric car will get the equivalent of 367 mpg.

    Nissan’s assuming all electricity is zero-emissions in its calculation. By that standard, the subway gets an infinite mpg rating. In charge-sustaining mode, electric vehicles get about 50 mpg and that’s the average you should be comparing things to.

    Besides which, there’s the question of how many people are going to buy $40,000 electric cars. We know the answer isn’t high because hybrid cars, which cost $22,000, are only 3% of new vehicle sales in the US (they’re 22% of new bus sales). But how low it’s going to get, we don’t know.

  • Again, Garyg, “people seem willing to make” that tradeoff when the developers build that for them in places like Levittown and Scottsdale. People live in New York because they want the shorter travel times, greater convenience and rest that they get from transit.

    Every thread you try to post these Kotkinesque statements, we refute them, but then you come back in the next thread without acknowledging anything we’ve said in the previous thread. It’s like your memory gets reset every time.

  • If cars do cause things to be farther away from each other, that’s a tradeoff people seem willing to make in return for the shorter travel times, greater comfort, greater convenience and other benefits they get from car travel.

    Travel times don’t get shorter in the suburbs. Commute times do; the tradeoff is commute time versus errand time. In fact travel times are essentially constant worldwide. Faster travel causes people to move further out; shorter commutes are balanced with longer travel time to the supermarket and vice versa.

    As for bus depot space: Vukan Vuchic did the calculation, and found that it’s much less than freeway and interchange space.

  • garyg

    The subway gets 114.5 passenger-mpg (see page 11 here).

    The page you refer to contains no data on passenger-mpg. It’s a chart of CO2 emissions per passenger-mile. But even if the subway does get (the equivalent of) 114.5 passenger-mpg, at 367 vehicle-mpg the Nissan Leaf is still three times as efficient as the New York subway even with just a single passenger. At an average occupancy of 1.6 passengers, the Leaf is five times as efficient as the New York subway.

    The buses average 18 passengers per bus (i.e. not three quarters empty) and 3 mpg per bus, which gives 53 passenger-mpg diesel, or 46 passenger-mpg gasoline equivalent.

    Then the Nissan Leaf is eight times as efficient as New York City Transit buses, even with just a single passenger. And almost thirteen times as efficient at an average occupancy of 1.6 passengers. So the numbers aren’t even close. The Nissan Leaf beats the efficiency of New York City Transit buses and trains by a landslide.

    Nissan’s assuming all electricity is zero-emissions in its calculation.

    No, it isn’t. It isn’t assuming anything at all about emissions. The calculation (which comes from the EPA) is an energy efficiency conversion from electrical energy into the gasoline equivalent.

  • garyg

    Travel times don’t get shorter in the suburbs. Commute times do; the tradeoff is commute time versus errand time. In fact travel times are essentially constant worldwide. Faster travel causes people to move further out; shorter commutes are balanced with longer travel time to the supermarket and vice versa.

    Your own citation contradicts you. It states that: “Variations in commute time appear to translate almost one-for-one into variations in total travel time.”

    Indeed, the idea that travel times for commutes tend to be shorter for car users but not travel times for other kinds of trip makes no sense intuitively anyway. Commuting is the kind of trip for which transit is generally at its most competitive with cars. At peak commuting times, transit service tends to be more frequent, and roads tend to be more congested. At off-peak times, transit service is less frequent, and roads are less congested, meaning the time advantage to car users at off-peak times should if anything be even greater than it is at peak travel times.

    The authors of your citation also concluded that: “higher density and concentration, whether of people or jobs, always led (weakly) to more total travel time, even though origins and destinations are closer together. This appears to be a mark against the travel minimization hypothesis.”

  • garyg

    By the way, Alon, this…

    The buses average … 46 passenger-mpg gasoline equivalent

    …means that even a Toyota Prius with a single passenger is more efficient than New York City Transit buses. The EPA’s fuel econony rating for the Toyota Prius is 50 mpg (actually, 51 for city driving). And at an average occupancy of 1.6 passengers, a Toyota Prius is almost twice as efficient as the average New York City transit bus.

  • The typical hybrid bus gets 4 miles per gallon, which pales when compared with the 50 m.p.g. of the Toyota Prius, but a city bus weighs 20 tons, compared with a 3,000-pound car. The average all-diesel bus gets about 2.75 m.p.g., Mr. Smith said.

    That means that the hybrid buses (almost all the new city buses) get 72 mpg, which I think would be about 62 mpg gasoline equivalent. More than a Prius with one person, and not much less than one with 1.6 people. And I don’t think you’re going to get every driver in the city to switch to a Prius.

    Garyg is pretty good at arguing efficiency, but don’t forget that transit is also good for clean air and water, safety, health and a fairer society.

  • garyg

    That means that the hybrid buses (almost all the new city buses) get 72 mpg, which I think would be about 62 mpg gasoline equivalent. More than a Prius with one person, and not much less than one with 1.6 people. And I don’t think you’re going to get every driver in the city to switch to a Prius.

    According to Alon’s link, NYCT’s hybrid buses, although the largest fleet in the country, account for less than 20% of the agency’s total fleet. And it’s taken more than 10 years to achieve even that modest share. If all the buses were hybrid, it would increase the efficieny of the total fleet by only about a third, not remotely enough to match the efficiency of the Leaf, Nissan’s first-generation electric car. Not even enough to match the efficiency of the Toyota Prius with 1.6 passengers.

    don’t forget that transit is also good for clean air and water, safety, health and a fairer society.

    The case that transit is significantly greener than even today’s automobiles is weak, let alone the much cleaner, much more efficient automobiles we are likely to be driving 20 or 30 years from now. Highway safety has long been improving, and is expected to continue to do so. Volvo thinks it will have an injury-proof car by 2020. I have no seen no credible evidence that transit promotes health or fairness.

    In any case, even if transit is superior in some respects to cars, cars are much better overall. That’s why they have become the overwhelmingly dominant form of transportation in virtually all of the wealthy democracies.

  • You really like comparing apples to oranges, Garyg! But I’m tired of repeating myself in the face of your repetitive car propaganda.

  • garyg (#5): “So why do you assume that ‘essentially all’ of the incremental electricity to supply EVs will come from fossil-fuel generators?”

    Answer: Because F-F generators fulfill the “swing” function of varying their output in proportion to load. In contrast, non-carbon sources, having the lowest incremental running costs, are base-loaded to the full extent of their availability. During some hours of the year on a few grids — the hydro-endowed Pacific NW is the prime example — there may be a little non-carbon power that can be cranked up as loads increase. But not in NY State and probably nowhere in the eastern U.S.

    “I would expect the additional electricity to be generated using the same mix of carbon and non-carbon sources as existing supplies.”

    Answer: As did the authors of the report. On this score, they’re incorrect, as are you.

  • No, it isn’t. It isn’t assuming anything at all about emissions. The calculation (which comes from the EPA) is an energy efficiency conversion from electrical energy into the gasoline equivalent.

    So it’s not an emissions figure… just letting you know. There are no reliable emissions figures for electric vehicles yet; claims such as 100 mpg or 367 mpg are just marketing. Energy consumption is not a good figure because it doesn’t account for losses in transmission, which can be substantial when you’re charging and depleting batteries.

    If you ignore losses in transmission, Japanese trains already get about 500 passenger-mpg emissions equivalent. And Japanese-style train service actually exists in the real world, whereas widespread adoption of electric cars isn’t.

    One always wonders why auto enthusiasts think that electrified transit is doomed because it’s a 120-year-old technology that lost out to the gas-powered car, but electric cars are great despite being a 110-year-old technology that lost out to the gas-powered car.

    even a Toyota Prius with a single passenger is more efficient than New York City Transit buses.

    The buses work together with the subway.

    According to Alon’s link, NYCT’s hybrid buses, although the largest fleet in the country, account for less than 20% of the agency’s total fleet.

    Hybrid cars account for less than 2% the national vehicle fleet. For new orders, the corresponding numbers, nationally, are 22% for buses and 3% for cars. Buses have adopted hybrid technology faster because their costs are dominated by labor, not technology. You can expect buses to adopt all-electric propulsion faster, as well.

    The case that transit is significantly greener than even today’s automobiles is weak

    Said without any proof, or evidence that this is the expert consensus. On the contrary: consensus opinion among economists as well as environmentalists is that cars are heavy polluters and need to be heavily regulated or taxed. Greg Mankiw proposed $2.21 per gallon excluding the effects of a carbon tax.

    One wonders if there’s anyone who’s not a paid shill of the highway industry who believes cars are greener than transit.

    Highway safety has long been improving…

    …but it still obeys Smeed’s Law, which says road fatalities depend only on the number of cars on the roads. More cars means more fatalities per capita and fewer per VMT.

  • garyg

    Charles Komanoff

    The primary non-carbon forms of electrical power generation are nuclear and hydro. Both of those can vary their output just like fossil-fuel generators. If most electric car recharging is done at night when there is lots of unused capacity, and non-carbon sources have the lowest incremental (marginal) power generation costs, one would expect unused capacity in non-carbon sources to be tapped before unused capacity in carbon ones.

  • garyg

    Alon Levy

    You claimed an energy-efficiency figure for the NY subway of 114 passenger-mpg. The corresponding number for the Nissan Leaf is at least 367 passenger-mpg. At average occupancy, it’s more like 587 passenger-mpg. The emissions per kWh of power consumption will be about the same for a Leaf in NYC as for the NY subway, since they will be drawing power from the same grid. Given the huge discrepancy between the energy-efficiency numbers (between 3-to-1 and 5-to-1 in favor of the electric car), if these numbers are even remotely accurate there is simply no way that the New York subway is as clean as the Nissan Leaf in CO2 emissions. And using your own numbers, New York City Transit buses are even worse by comparison than the subway — between about 5 times and 13 times as dirty as the Leaf. And the Leaf is just the first-generation model of Nissan’s electric vehicles. We can reasonably expect subsequent generations to be even more efficient.

    You keep going on about hybrid buses. But again, according to your own source, it has taken NYCT over 10 years to replace less than 20% of its bus fleet with hybrids. Even if New York’s entire bus fleet were composed of hybrids (how long will that take? 20 years? 30?), it would still be less efficient than even today’s Toyota Prius, according to your numbers. And compared to the typical cars we are likely to be driving 20 or 30 years from now, the Toyota Prius is a gas guzzler. There is simply no way you can spin these efficiency numbers in favor of transit, even in New York City, where transit tends to be more efficient than the national average because of its high volumes of passengers and relatively high load factors.

  • J. Mork

    The main problems with electric cars are the same problems as with regular cars. In urban areas, there isn’t enough room for them and in other areas there is too much room for them.

    In the first case, this means that the minority who use cars end up using a majority of available public space, taking this space away from the majority who don’t use cars, whose lack of a car is what makes it possible for the car users to use one (just imagine what would happen if NYC had 100% car ownership).

    In the second case, this means sprawl.

    From an urban perspective, the space problem is much worse the the efficiency problem.

  • garyg

    Alon Levy,

    [Highway Safety] still obeys Smeed’s Law, which says road fatalities depend only on the number of cars on the roads. More cars means more fatalities per capita and fewer per VMT.

    No, it doesn’t. Highway safety in the United States hasn’t obeyed Smeed’s Law for decades, if ever.

    In 1980, there were about 51,000 fatalities from about 156 million registered motor vehicles among a population of about 240 million people, for a rate of about 21 fatalities per 100,000 people. By 2006, the number of fatalies had fallen to about 43,000 even though the number of motor vehicles had increased to about 244 million and the population had increased to about 300 million, giving a rate of about 14 fatalities per 100,000 people. The trend has been a steady decline in fatalities both per VMT and per capita. There is no indication that this trend will end. Indeed, new automobile and road safety technologies promise to make future cars and roads much safer than today’s. See, for example, the link I posted previously about Volvo’s plans for an injury-proof car.

    Highway fatality data here.
    Population data here.
    Motor vehicle data here.

  • Ian Turner

    Garyg,

    I rate this troll 4 out of 5. It got a rise out of me!

    Cars are much better overall. That’s why they have become the overwhelmingly dominant form of transportation in virtually all of the wealthy democracies.

    I loved the way you waited until the very end to make the coup de grâce of unreason, by taking a fact from reality and then extending it well beyond reasonableness. The only way you could improve the effort would be to bury the twist of logic somewhere in the middle, so that readers are forced to buy the crazy conclusion because they cannot see where you made the jump. You’re persistent, though, so I’m sure you’ll make it there eventually.

    Those who are tempted to buy Gary’s assertion should have a look at this list, and of course one needn’t even reference the world’s second largest economy.

  • Garyg, I didn’t claim anything; the FTA claimed a carbon emissions equivalent figure of 114.5 mpg for the subway. It wasn’t an energy efficiency figure. Did you actually read the link?

    As for hybrid buses, let me remind you that they have much more market penetration than hybrid cars. And even if the 97% of cars on the road that weren’t hybrid became Priuses, New York City Transit would still emit less per passenger-mile.

    Go troll elsewhere.

    Highway safety in the United States hasn’t obeyed Smeed’s Law for decades, if ever.

    Right, Smeed was one of those liars who refused to see the obvious truth of Prophet Cox that more highways equals better society for all.

    The 1980 versus 2010 figures are a density issue. A higher vehicle density reduces fatalities per vehicle.

    See, for example, the link I posted previously about Volvo’s plans for an injury-proof car.

    There’s no evidence this car will actually exist. People rave about their future plans all the time. If you actually believe that hype, I have a bridge to sell you, for real cheap.

    Right now, cars are inefficient and deadly. Everything else is just futuristic hype.

  • Those who are tempted to buy Gary’s assertion should have a look at this list, and of course one needn’t even reference the world’s second largest economy.

    But one does need to reference the world’s awesomest economy. Thanks for that chart, Ian!

    Since Garyg keeps mentioning the so-called “injury-proof car,” I want to point out that that car has been discussed previously on Streetsblog.

  • garyg

    Ian Turner,

    Those who are tempted to buy Gary’s assertion should have a look at this list, and of course one needn’t even reference the world’s second largest economy.

    The list you cite (for which Krugman provides no citation), assuming its numbers are correct, is misleading. It’s true that Europeans do a smaller share of their travelling by car, and a larger share by transit, than Americans, but the difference is relatively small. On both continents, cars are the overwhelmingly dominant mode of transportation. On both continents, rail and bus transit is a tiny component of the total transportation system. In the U.S., cars provide about 85% of passenger-km of travel, and in Europe about 74%. Most of the difference is accounted for by differences in long-distance rail and bus travel, not urban transit. What’s more, Europe is playing catch-up with America. The number of cars per capita is growing faster in Europe than in the U.S. Europe’s motorway network is growing much faster than America’s interstate/express highway network. For economic, geographic and historical reasons, cars will probably never dominate travel in Europe quite as much as they dominate travel in the U.S. But they already dominate both continents. Eurostat, the EU statistics agency, provides a good overview of the state of transportation in Europe and recent trends in its Panorama of Transport. The facts and numbers I state above are taken from that document.

    As for Japan, its much lower share of car travel is clearly the result of its demographics and geography. Japan is a densely-populated, mountainous country with little room for sprawl. So its urban areas tend to be very dense and its transportation system much more oriented to public transportation. America, in contrast, is sparsely-populated and has plenty of land suitable for development. So America’s urban areas tend to be much more sprawly than Japan’s, and America’s transportation system much more oriented to cars.

  • garyg

    Alon Levy,

    Garyg, I didn’t claim anything; the FTA claimed a carbon emissions equivalent figure of 114.5 mpg for the subway.

    No, your FTA citation states that the subway emits 0.17 pounds of CO2 per passenger-mile. The “114.5 mpg” is your own personal invention (you still haven’t explained how you produced that number). And it doesn’t make sense in the context you’re using it anyway. Miles-per-gallon is a measure of fuel or energy efficiency, not emissions.

    As for hybrid buses, let me remind you that they have much more market penetration than hybrid cars. And even if the 97% of cars on the road that weren’t hybrid became Priuses, New York City Transit would still emit less per passenger-mile.

    On average, combining buses and subway, New York City Transit appears to be more efficient, in operating emissions at least, than today’s average car. But using your own numbers, NYCT buses are less efficient than today’s Toyota Prius, and NYCT in total is only slightly more efficient than today’s Toyota Prius. Electric cars, which are the subject of this thread, appear to beat the efficiency of both NYCT buses and NYCT subway by a landslide. It’s not even close.

    The 1980 versus 2010 figures are a density issue. A higher vehicle density reduces fatalities per vehicle.

    Your speculations about the relationship between density and fatalities are irrelevant. You claimed that highway safety obeys Smeed’s Law. In the United States, for at least the past few decades that claim simply is not true. Population has increased dramatically, the number of vehicles has increased dramatically, the number of VMTs has increased dramatically, but fatalities have declined. And fatalities per capita have declined even more, by about a third between 1980 and 2006.

  • No, your FTA citation states that the subway emits 0.17 pounds of CO2 per passenger-mile. The “114.5 mpg” is your own personal invention (you still haven’t explained how you produced that number).

    It’s not my personal invention. The bottom of the graph gives a conversion: the average sedan emits 0.96 pounds per mile, based on a fuel efficiency of 20.3 mpg. You can get the same conversion from the EPA.

    I have the same question as always: do you actually bother to read the links? They explain those things.

    NYCT in total is only slightly more efficient than today’s Toyota Prius.

    It’s not slightly more efficient. First, at 1.57 people per car, a Prius gets about 75 passenger-mpg, which is still somewhat worse than NYCT.

    Second, you can’t even compare the numbers because New York streets are more congested. Both hybrid and non-hybrid buses consume 50% more fuel per mile in New York than in the rest of the US, according to the FTA (you can also check the BTS, which gives the average bus fuel economy as 4 mpg, 50% higher than for the non-hybrids of NYCT). A Prius is no different, and in fact there’s recurrent criticism of EPA city fuel economy figures for being overstatements. So cut the Prius from 75 to 50 passenger-mpg in New York. Outside New York, travel distances are much longer, which more than offsets fuel economy gains.

    And third, the average occupancy for commute trips is 1.2-1.3. The higher overall figure of 1.57 includes intercity trips, which are not where the Prius is competing with NYCT. So cut the Prius from 50 to about 40-45 passenger-mpg.

    Electric cars, which are the subject of this thread, appear to beat the efficiency of both NYCT buses and NYCT subway by a landslide…

    …if their energy is generated from 100% emissions-free sources and if NYCT keeps generating its energy from coal.

    But yes, electric cars have the advantage that if you compare the right kind of apple to the right kind of orange, they look better than cars. Currently available cars have no such advantage.

  • As for Smeed’s Law, it does hold in general. Two data points don’t make up a refutation any more than showing that one particular transit trip is less efficient than one particular auto trip is a refutation. Think in terms of averages.

  • glenn

    Wow…crazy thread.

    First and foremost, NYC’s transportation system is insanely efficient for one reason: Mixed Use Density. Basically, there’s a lot of stuff really close to each other. MPG is almost besides the point in a city as dense as NYC. When I was on crutches for 6 weeks, I was able to go about 4 blocks in any direction and still get access to all of life’s necessities and many luxuries.

    And before we start publicly subsidizing private electric cars, it might be nice to electrify the bus system in NY. In SF, the electric buses are clean, quiet and last forever. All our discussions about BRT lane separation would be moot if you ran electric wires for buses. Electric buses are a highly successful mature technology. Electric cars will probably work best in older suburbs that have more short distance driving and parking garages.

    Don’t fall into the traps set above by people trying to isolate out one variable, cherry pick data and try to justify their auto-lifestyle.

  • glenn

    Just one more point about Diesel vs. Electric. I totally agree with CK about the incremental electricity would (all other things equal) come from FF. However, I think we are headed for a liquid fuels crisis in the next 5-10 years (either an outright shortage or at least very high prices). Electrification of MTA buses is a partial hedge against that. I think in a liquid fuel crisis, we would be able to have the political will for massive changes in energy conservation at all levels.

    Another way to put it is that while Diesel might be about the same from an emissions standpoint, electricity can be as green as the political will is to conserve energy and create new renewables.

  • garyg

    Alon Levy,

    It’s not my personal invention. The bottom of the graph gives a conversion: the average sedan emits 0.96 pounds per mile, based on a fuel efficiency of 20.3 mpg.

    Yes, it is your invention. You still haven’t explained how you got your “114.5 passenger-mpg” number for the NY subway. I’m guessing that you divided the emissions number for “Private auto (SOV)” by the emissions number for “New York City subway” and then multiplied the result by the fuel efficiency number for “Private auto (SOV).” So that’s 0.96/0.17 * 20.3 = 114.6.

    Apart from the obvious problem that you cannot simply assume that the fuel-efficiency ratio for autos vs. subway is the same as the emissions ratio, another obvious problem is that your calculation is completely bogus anyway. You cannot calculate an average “passenger-mpg” number for the subway from the minimum passenger-mpg number for autos. It’s apples to oranges. Using the average occupancy for autos, your calculation would yield an average “passenger-mpg” number for the subway of only about 71. Not your bogus 114.5.

    That means that even today’s Toyota Prius is more efficient than the NY subway as well as NYCT buses. And the Nissan Leaf is even more efficient compared to the subway than I previously said – more than 8 times as efficient as the NY subway at average occupancy. Even with just a single passenger, the Leaf is 5 times as efficient as the NY subway.

  • garyg

    Alon Levy,

    As for Smeed’s Law, it does hold in general. Two data points don’t make up a refutation

    Smeed’s Law does not hold in the United States. It hasn’t held for at least 30 years. This fact isn’t based on “two data points,” it’s based on 30 year’s worth of annual population and highway fatality data. See the links I gave you earlier. The number of highway fatalities per capita declined by about a third between 1980 and 2006. Cars and highways are getting more safe, not less safe.

  • garyg

    Alon Levy,

    Both hybrid and non-hybrid buses consume 50% more fuel per mile in New York than in the rest of the US, according to the FTA

    I see nothing in the FTA document you link to stating that buses consume 50% more fuel per mile in New York than in the rest of the U.S.

    You have repeatedly linked to documents that do not say what you claim they say. You make up your own numbers, and then falsely attribute those numbers to documents that do not contain them. In at least one case (your comment #23) the document you linked so explicitly contradicts your claims, as I pointed out earlier.

  • Russell Bartels

    A new technology approach for the commuters in the outer parts of the outer boroughs, an urban NYC version of park and ride. What if NYC rented a fleet of electric or hybrid MIT City Cars to commuters in the outer parts of the outer boroughs? Parking at some outer borough subway and rapid-bus stations based on first-in, first-out would take less than one-sixth the space of a traditional sized cars. Fees based on Time, Distance, Place using GPS would encourage driving to the outer borough station or other destination rather than Manhattan. http://cities.media.mit.edu/projects/citycar.html

  • garyg

    Alon Levy,

    And third, the average occupancy for commute trips is 1.2-1.3. The higher overall figure of 1.57 includes intercity trips, which are not where the Prius is competing with NYCT. So cut the Prius from 50 to about 40-45 passenger-mpg.

    Another apples to oranges comparison. You can’t compare the efficiency of autos to transit using commute-trip occupancy for autos and average occupancy for transit. It’s completely bogus. You have to use the average occupancy for both autos and transit.

    I’ve been kind to transit by assuming an average auto occupancy of only 1.6. In fact, the National Household Transportation Survey found that the average occupancy of automobiles in New York City is 1.68. So the Toyota Prius and the Nissan Leaf are even more efficient compared to NYCT transit than I have previously stated.

  • glenn

    GaryG- what’s the point of your narrow analysis? what’s your proposal? How are you going to get millions of people around NYC (especially midtown Manhattan) in small private electric vehicles? There’s no street space for movement or parking on that scale. Please, please explain why you wouldn’t electrify the buses first.

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