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Week Thirty-Eight - Mass Transport

A public transport commute saves 904 kilograms CO2e per person per year

My kindergartner

- I had a good dream. Santa came to me and my friends and said 'can you be my Pegasus ponies' and we flew through the air and delivered all the toys.


- Bet his route was more efficient than my supermarket home-delivery.

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How much CO2e comes from urban transport?

In Week Thirty-Six I found that urban transport generates around 3 tonnes CO2e for the average Australian, almost 2 tonnes CO2e for the average Canberran and 1.1 tonnes CO2e for me each year. That's a big chunk from a 20-tonne footprint but it's easy to cut back.

What is mass transport?

Mass transport moves groups rather than individuals, cutting back on single-person / driver-only car trips. If done well, this cuts congestion, cuts carbon, saves money for travellers and brings social and health benefits. Depending on where you live, your options might include any of these.

- Buses.

- Trains or light rail.

- Car-pooling either arranged privately or through an app like Coseats or Carpool Club.

- Home-delivery for online and supermarket shopping.

How much CO2e did I save?

For this week's experiment, I left the car at home and tried to use mass transport. I ride a bike far more than I use public transport so this was a big step out of my comfort zone. Results were mixed.

A bus into town during work hours was quick, I enjoyed my talking book and the drivers were terribly tolerant about my efforts to pay via a library card and a handful of loose change, but I missed the exercise I usually get from cycling into town. I coped, barely, with the once-every-two-hour weekend scheduling for a Sunday brunch, but if I'd been busier, this would not have worked. The website said it would take me 90 minutes and 3 buses each way to get to a cross-town meeting, so I abandoned my bus plan and used Uber and a car-pool instead. Home-delivery supermarket shopping was convenient and I thought it would be a great way to save carbon, but when I ran the numbers I found the truck's long route emitted more carbon than my car would have if I drove (see Notes for details). And once again, my kelpie missed out on dog-school because I had no way to get there.

If I stuck to mass transport like this, I'd save over 300 kilograms of CO2e each year, even if I used some car-pooling and a weekly Uber ride. But I can save as much carbon by bike and I prefer riding, so I'll stick to that with some driving and bussing on the side.

But the benefits of mass transport became clear for the average non-cycling Canberran. They start out with a higher carbon footprint and it drops drastically on the bus or light rail. On average, they'd cut over 900 kilograms of CO2e each year. This involves using public transport as the main mode for work and regular trips, walking some errands or the school drop off and only driving for 32 kilometres each week. Leaving the car at home is a great way to slash carbon.

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For me, the best thing about a bus is putting my bike on it, but it has big benefits for non-cyclists.

An interview with bus enthusiast, Hannah Gissane

l spoke to Hannah Gissane, who lives in Canberra's inner suburbs and works in town. Hannah has used public transport for most of her life. She catches the bus and light rail 15 times each week.

Why does Hannah use public transport?

'When I was younger, I used buses because I was a transport captive. Now we have a car, but I still walk and catch public transport as much as possible. It's better for the environment. It feels good to leave my car in the garage. I love listening to podcasts and people-watching on the bus.'

When does our public transport fail?

'Weekend trips take too long on the new schedule, so I often drive instead,' Hannah said. 'After-work functions can be a challenge. I don't like the 'hub-and-spoke' pattern at all. It suits commuters who live and work in town but it leaves out everyone else. We need more orbital and cross-town services to help people dropping off kids, running errands or going to the suburbs. It's often women running these trips, so they suffer most by cutting services. We also need a network that has a one or two hundred walk to the stop. 500 metres is too far for older people and those with mobility issues.'

What are the best things about Canberra's system?

'I rediscovered my bus love when I moved from Hobart to Canberra, because the system here is so much better. It's very convenient for where I live and work. I like the new tram. The weekday bus service runs every 20 minutes or so during peak hours, which means I can show up whenever I like and it's not catastrophic if I miss one. The NXT Bus app is good for planning. The in-bus screens are great for newcomers because they show the next stop coming up so no one gets lost. It's also a bit of an adventure! You see people and life when you're not locked in a car.'

What are the biggest barriers for public transport noobs?

'Trip-planning can be a challenge if you haven't done it before,' Hannah said. 'I often jump in and help people use the online journey planner. Once they get the hang of it, the bus is really convenient, but starting out can be tricky.'

Is there an app for that?

I work in ecommerce and I found Canberra's transport website a turn-off. MyWay's clunky online top-up says it takes 5 days to process, which was useless when I tried to recharge for the next day's commute. MyWay's online balance checker expected me to guess my secret question, then answer it, and gave no automated 'forgot password' email when I inevitably got this wrong. First contact these days is always online so we need a good interface to convert newcomers like me.

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Driving the kids to school? This grandpa snap shows what school drop-off used to look like.

Notes, data and spreadsheet calculations in the 'Notes' section, Week Thirty-Eight.