CO2 Smackdown, Step 4: Commuting Smarter

Simple Steps will help you be the biggest loser on your block (and we mean this in the best way possible): Over the course of our "CO2 Smackdown, Lose 10 Tons in 2010" series, we'll help you drop 10 tons of heat-trapping pollutants. In Step Four, we provide a strategy to get out of the car and commute to work by foot, bicycle, bus or other means.

On average, we drive 12.1 miles to work every day and the vast majority of us do this alone. Every gallon of gas consumed emits more than 25 pounds of heat-trapping pollutants, making transportation the next biggest planet warmer after energy production. And this isn’t to mention sulfur dioxide and other unhealthy elements in smog. Appallingly, only 12 percent of the energy from gas actually is used to move the car forward—the rest is lost to idling and other inefficiencies.


Changing driving habits can be challenging, not just because it can require finding new options for travel, but because it can also mean altering your morning schedule to match the transportation options available. Yet finding the right transportation options can free up your morning in ways that remain invisible from within the confines of your car.

1) Measure the length of your commute
Finding out just how long your commute is will help you determine whether it's feasible to walk, ride a bicycle, carpool or bus to work a regular basis. It's important to measure the distance and not just consider the time it takes for the drive since other transportation options such as bicycling may actually be quicker if traffic congestion is a constant problem.

2) Investigate transportation options in your area

a) Check bus routes, trains, walking paths and bicycle routes. It's best to allow yourself more than one option for commuting given inclement weather or the chance of missing an infrequent bus.

b) Check your city’s website for bus and train schedules. You can find public transportation directions and travel times for some cities at and Google maps provides directions for bicycling that follow public bike routes, as well as public transport and walking routes. Urge your city to convert its bus fleet to hybrid or compressed natural gas since these provide much greater clean air benefits and reductions in heat-trapping pollutants than diesel buses.

c) Find out if your bus or train stations provide bicycle shelters that will allow you to ride to the nearest station and leave your bike in a secure area during the workday.

d) Check your workplace for an indoor bicycle lock up. If none exists, talk with your employer about providing one.

e) See if your employer has a carpooling program. If not, discuss the possibility with your human resources officer and canvass fellow employees about carpooling. If you can’t join a carpool at work, there are many sites working to connect riders, such as and

3) Try each of the options available
Over the next couple of weeks, take the bus, ride your bike or any other combination of options. You don't need to do this every day, but finding out which will work best for you before you settle on any single mode of travel is critical to changing your commute permanently. If you bike, be sure to do so safely following these guidelines. What you may find, is that you prefer to walk on mornings with a little more leisure time available and bicycle, carpool or take public transport on other days.

4) Switch modes as needed.
Don’t let a single bad experience on the bus send you back into your car, but by the same token there’s no reason to get in a rut on your route to work. Ride your bike on a nice days and explore your city a bit; take the bus or carpool when it rains.


Annual savings (when compared to driving a car and assuming the average 24.2 mile r/t commute):

1,385 pounds/year for every weekday you bicycle to work. If you do so every day of the week for 50 weeks in the year, you'll save 6,925 pounds—that's 3.46 tons!

1,264 pounds/year for every weekday you ride to work on a peak-occupancy commuter rail train such as the New York's Metro-North Railroad; if you do so every day of the week for 50 weeks in the year, you'll save 6,320 pounds or 3.16 tons.

1,262 pounds/year for every weekday you ride to work on a peak-occupancy heavy rail train such as the New York City subway or San Francisco's BART; if you do so every day of the week for 50 weeks in the year, you'll save 6,310 pounds or 3.16 tons.

1,240 pounds/year for every weekday you ride to work in a full van pool;  if you do so every day of the week for 50 weeks in the year, you'll save 6,200 pounds or 3.1 tons.

1,228 pounds/year for every weekday you take a peak-occupancy light rail train to work; if you do so every day of the week for 50 weeks in the year, you'll save 6,140 pounds or 3 tons.

1,167 pounds/year for every weekday you take a peak-occupancy bus to work; if you do so every day of the week for 50 weeks in the year, you'll save 5,835 pounds or 2.9 tons.

749 pounds/year for every weekday you carpool to work with one other driver (of course, the more drivers, you add the fewer trips each of you will make in your own cars). Carpooling with one other driver every day of the week for a year, will save you 3,745 pounds, or 1.9 tons.

How to Calculate Your Commute's Emissions

To determine more precisely how much CO2 your commute produces annually, run the numbers. The formula is:

Round trip commute (in miles) ÷ Your Car's MPG X 5 days/week X 50 weeks/year X 25.3 lbs. CO2/gallon = Pounds CO2 emitted per year

For example, if your commute is 40 miles roundtrip, and your car gets 19 MPG, the calculation is:

40 miles ÷ 19 miles/gallon X 5 X 50 X 25.3 lbs CO2/gal = 13,316 lbs CO2 (or 6.7 tons)

You may then reduce the numbers of days per week in the calculation to take into account your shift to bicycling, carpooling or riding the bus (and if you happen to have a long vacation in the work year, you can knock some weeks off for that too). For the number of pounds of CO2/passenger mile for public transportation, see the U.S. Department of Transport's document "Public Transportation's Role in Responding to Climate Change."

As little as $50 for a used bicycle and about $450 for a new bicycle

Approx. $2.50/day for public transportation

Gas costs for carpooling


If you don't have a bicycle, you don't need a top-of-the-line model. Check out used options to get started, then put aside the money you're saving on gas to buy the bike you want. You can always resell the older bike.

Check if your employer provides incentives to ride public transportation, such as subsidized monthly passes.


Telecommute all (or some) of the work week.
While this may not be feasible, if you can free up tight office space while being productive at home, your employer might consider the option—and may even take sympathy when confronted with the distance you drive on a weekly basis.



Nowadays, a lot of work can be done from home with an internet connection, and for this reason some companies no longer need a physical office to operate – it saves money on office leases, furniture, equipment and increases productivity at the same time. Regular office meetings can be held in cafes which employees eagerly look forward to. Regards, Matt
Great advise! I haven't red the other "simple step yet, but I will. Changing habits can be difficult, especially in places were driving is the norm and public transportation is of low quality. One thing to add is to get support from others. Riding the bike or bus to work is more fun then going alone, and if it become a social thing the change may be easier. One objection I often come across when talking about the commute is "but the public transportation is so slow and noisy and not safe, and I cant cycle as there are no safe roads". Well, urge the politicians to do something about that then. Make a petition, be active, make your voice heard... If the politician don't get to hear about the need for commute options, he/she can't do anything about it... I like the add up part of the article. Seeing the numbers work both as a "scare" and as motivation, that is a lot of CO2. May I suggest some kind of visualisation, to make it even more clear? The formula for calculating CO2 seems fine, if a bit... difficult... By using a CO2 calculator, like Commute Greener! the calculation get easier. It is an Iphone application aimed at changing commuting habits by instantly showing how much a journey emit, and compare to the normal commute pattern (ie for example; your normal pattern is driving to work, and you start to take the bus instead). Then you instantly see the gains in saved CO2 compared to the normal travel pattern. Check it out at / Fredrik
Great tips! I hope people reading this really take the "ride your bike" advice seriously. I've been riding my bike daily for the past two years and I've never been happier :)
Another way to reduce carbon-dioxide emission into the atmosphere would be to urge your local and national legislators to trap the emissions of power plants using the carbon-sequestration process that has been developed by Dr. Brent Constantz of Stanford University. Ms. Carla A. Wise a jounalist for the High Country News has estimated that " ..... electricity generation accounts for 35% of human-caused carbon-dioxide emissions...." and that Dr. Constantz's sequestration technology "..... removes 90% of the carbon dioxide from power-plant emissions......" Ms. Wise has written about Dr. Constantz in the High Country News, and you can find out more about his work by typing Calera Corporation on the net.
Thanks for the tips. Living in suburban New Jersey with lots of highways and high speed roads, it's tough to cut my car miles down, but i'm going to see what I can do. I've mapped out a 15 mile bike route to work so maybe on nice days . . . . My family and I just walked 20 minutes into our town for dinner. Wonderful night and so glad we left the car at home. We should take greater advantage of the services of small town America and do so on foot or by bike - - it's good for us and good for the environment. Thanks again.

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