This Graphic Maps the Greenest Modes of Transportation

What's the most energy efficient way to go from New York City to Toronto? You might be surprised.

There are many ways to go from here to there.

And the mode of transportation we choose can have a big impact. It can affect time, comfort, cost, and other factors. But how we travel can also have a big impact on the planet.

In the U.S., the transportation sector is responsible for about 28 percent of total greenhouse gases, according to the EPA. That's the largest contributor, just edging out the energy sector.

And although cleaner alternatives are coming on board, such as electric cars and biofuels, over 90 percent of the fuel used for transportation in the U.S. remains derived from petroleum.

In this graphic, we break down the most efficient ways to travel on a typical trip:

When it comes to choosing the best mode of transportation for a trip, we typically weigh speed, cost, and comfort. What if fuel efficiency was factored in too? See the results of a case study for the journey from Toronto to New York City.

—Kelsey Nowakowski

A Traveler's

Footprint

To get from Toronto to New York, it’s a toss-up. While flying is fastest, the day-long drive means that a traveler might also reasonably choose to go by car, bus, or train.

CANADA

Toronto

NEW YORK

472 miles

352

544

UNITED STATES

New York

1,000 mi

1,000 km

Time

Fastest route selected

1h 35m

(352 miles)

Train

12h 30m

(544)

Bus

10h 30m

(472)

Car

8h 15m

(472)

Ranking Energy

Efficiency

The fuel economies across transit modes can be compared with a metric known as passenger miles per gallon (The Efficiency Equation, below). The results? Aside from electric cars, which are not yet widespread, the bus is the most energy-efficient way to travel between Toronto and New York.

Car

Electric

Bus

Greyhound

Train

Amtrak

Car

SUV

Plane

40

52

59

180

239

Passenger

miles

per gallon

11.0 kg

24.0

84.3

80.7

75.3

total CO2 per passenger

Car

SUV

Plane

Car

Electric

Bus

Greyhound

Train

Amtrak

The Efficiency

Equation

PASSENGERS

TRANSPORTED

ENERGY

INTENSITY

X

The energy required for a travel mode is calculated by convert-

ing fuel types to gasoline equivalents.

Passenger capacity varies by mode. The average passenger load was used to calculate occupancy.

DETERMINE EFFICIENCY

Each mode can be compared by calculating how far a passenger can be moved with a gallon of fuel.

Crunching

the Numbers

Fuel efficiency and carbon emissions are impacted by journey length—efficiency rises with distance traveled— occupancy, and vehicle design. A mode could fare better under different circumstances.

PLANE

The short flight and small aircraft size (fewer fliers), compounded by the intense fuel-burn of take-off and landing, reduce efficiency.

It improves on larger- craft flights over 1,000 miles.

AVERAGE

OCCUPANCY

ON THIS ROUTE

TRAIN

While the train from Toronto outperformed the SUV and the plane in fuel efficiency, its emissions were the highest of all modes, due to diesel fuel and a circuitous trip.

CAR

With highway travel, cars operate at their optimum efficiency. On longer road trips, such as this one, a higher occupancy is also assumed. Rank would be lower with one rider.

AVERAGE

PASSENGERS

PER CAR

EFFICIENCY

RISING

Lighter materials, improved aerodynamic design, and more fuel-efficient engines have increased the distance each mode can travel on one gallon of fuel.

2016

Latest data available for each sector

162%

PLANE

Domestic flights

2015

CAR

112%

Market average

of all personal

vehicles

2013

TRAIN

67%

2015

33%

BUS

Percentages are based on mileage per gallon of fuel used by the sector, not on passenger- mile per gallon.

1975

When it comes to choosing the best mode of transportation for a trip, we typically weigh speed, cost, and comfort. What if fuel efficiency was factored in too? See the results of a case study for the journey from Toronto to New York City. —Kelsey Nowakowski

A Traveler's Footprint

To get from Toronto to New York, it’s a toss-up. While flying is fastest, the day-long drive means that a traveler might also reasonably choose to go by car, bus, or train.

CANADA

Toronto

NEW YORK

Lake Ontario

ONTARIO

472 miles

352 miles

544 miles

Lake Erie

UNITED STATES

PENNSYLVANIA

New York

NEW

JERSEY

1,000 mi

ATLANTIC

OCEAN

1,000 km

DISTANCE

Time

Fastest route selected

352 mi

1h 35m

Train

12h 30m

544 mi

Bus

472 mi

10h 30m

Car

8h 15m

Ranking Energy Efficiency

The fuel economies across transit modes can be compared with a metric known as passenger miles per gallon (The Efficiency Equation, below). The results? Aside from electric cars, which are not yet widespread, the bus is the most energy-efficient way to travel between Toronto and New York.

Passenger miles

per gallon

total CO2

per passenger

239

11.0 kg

Car

Electric

180

24.0

Bus

Greyhound

84.3

Train

Amtrak

59

80.7

52

Car

SUV

75.3

40

Plane

A mode's carbon footprint doesn't necessarily rank with its fuel efficiency.

The level of carbon intensity varies by fuel type, since some emit more when burned.

The Efficiency Equation

ENERGY INTENSITY

X

PASSENGERS TRANSPORTED

DETERMINE EFFICIENCY

The energy required for a travel mode is calculated by converting fuel types to gasoline equivalents.

Passenger capacity varies by mode. The average passenger load was used to calculate occupancy.

Each mode can be compared by calculating how far a passenger can be moved with a gallon of fuel.

Crunching the Numbers

Fuel efficiency and carbon emissions are impacted by journey length—efficiency rises with distance traveled—occupancy, and vehicle design. A mode could fare better under different circumstances.

TRAIN

PLANE

CAR

The short flight and small aircraft size (fewer fliers), compounded by the intense fuel-burn of takeoff and landing, reduce efficiency.

It improves on larger-craft flights over 1,000 miles.

With highway travel, cars operate at their optimum efficiency. On longer road trips, such as this one, a higher occupancy is also assumed. Rank would be lower with one rider.

While the train from Toronto outperformed the SUV and the plane in fuel efficiency, its emissions were the highest of all modes, due to diesel fuel and a circuitous trip.

AVERAGE OCCUPANCY

ON THIS ROUTE

AVERAGE PASSENGERS

PER CAR

Efficiency Rising

Lighter materials, improved aerodynamic design, and more fuel-efficient engines have increased the distance each mode can travel on one gallon of fuel.

PLANE

CAR

TRAIN

BUS

Domestic flights

Market average of

all personal vehicles

2016

2015

2013

2015

1975

1975

1975

1975

Latest data available for each sector. Percentages are based on mileage per gallon of fuel used by the sector, not on passenger-mile per gallon.

When it comes to choosing the best mode of transportation for a trip, we typically weigh speed, cost, and comfort. What if fuel efficiency was factored in too? See the results of a case study for the journey from Toronto to New York City. —Kelsey Nowakowski

A Traveler's Footprint

To get from Toronto to New York, it’s a toss-up. While flying is fastest, the day-long drive means that a traveler might also reasonably choose to go by car, bus, or train.

CANADA

Toronto

NEW YORK

Lake Ontario

ONTARIO

472 miles

352 miles

544 miles

Lake Erie

UNITED STATES

PENNSYLVANIA

New York

NEW

JERSEY

100 mi

ATLANTIC

OCEAN

100 km

DISTANCE

Time

Fastest route selected

352 mi

1h 35m

Train

12h 30m

544 mi

Bus

472 mi

10h 30m

Car

8h 15m

Ranking Energy Efficiency

The fuel economies across transit modes can be compared with a metric known as passenger miles per gallon (The Efficiency Equation, below). The results? Aside from electric cars, which are not yet widespread, the bus is the most energy-efficient way to travel between Toronto and New York.

Passenger miles

per gallon

total CO2

per passenger

239

11.0 kg

Car

Electric

180

24.0

Bus

Greyhound

84.3

Train

Amtrak

59

80.7

52

Car

SUV

75.3

40

Plane

A mode's carbon footprint doesn't necessarily rank with its fuel efficiency. The level

of carbon intensity varies by fuel type, since some emit more when burned.

The Efficiency Equation

ENERGY INTENSITY

PASSENGERS TRANSPORTED

DETERMINE EFFICIENCY

X

The energy required for a travel mode is calculated by converting fuel types to gasoline equivalents.

Passenger capacity varies by mode. The average passenger load was used to calculate occupancy.

Each mode can be compared by calculating how far a passenger can be moved with a gallon of fuel.

Crunching the Numbers

Fuel efficiency and carbon emissions are impacted by journey length—efficiency rises with distance traveled—occupancy, and vehicle design. A mode could fare better under different circumstances.

TRAIN

PLANE

CAR

The short flight and small aircraft size (fewer fliers), compounded by the intense fuel-burn of takeoff and landing, reduce efficiency.

It improves on larger-craft flights over 1,000 miles.

With highway travel, cars operate at their optimum efficiency. On longer road trips, such as this one, a higher occupancy is also assumed. Rank would be lower with one rider.

While the train from Toronto outperformed the SUV and the plane in fuel efficiency, its emissions were the highest of all modes, due to diesel fuel and a circuitous trip.

AVERAGE PASSENGERS

PER CAR

AVERAGE OCCUPANCY

ON THIS ROUTE

Efficiency Rising

Lighter materials, improved aerodynamic design, and more fuel-efficient engines have increased the distance each mode can travel on one gallon of fuel.

PLANE

CAR

TRAIN

BUS

Domestic flights

Market average of

all personal vehicles

2016

2015

2013

2015

1975

1975

1975

1975

Latest data available for each sector. Percentages are based on mileage per gallon of fuel used by the sector, not on passenger-mile per gallon.

This article is part of our sponsored Urban Expeditions series.