On Ya Bike, Take A Hike & Other Green Travel Tips

Barclays Boris Bikes

While my previous post on deforestation might have made it sound like we’ve got nothing to worry about in terms of the carbon footprint of travel (it makes up 13.5% of the global total), it is an area where we can all take action to not only save on CO2 but to also reduce the impact on our wallets.

What with travel costs eating into family budgets ever more, the following tips should be welcomed by many and they can certainly help to shrink personal or household carbon footprints.

Everyone knows that driving is bad for the environment and as I showed, electric cars are probably not quite the solution we need just yet so it’s time to come at the problem from another angle.

There are many journeys taken by car every day across the UK that could probably be replaced with alternate modes of transport and such changes will lead to significant savings in the amount of CO2 emitted.

The School Run

A common sight in many towns and cities across the country, the morning and evening school runs are becoming a bit of a blight on the roads and particularly in the areas surrounding the schools themselves which can come to complete standstills.

Not all of these journeys by car are avoidable and I accept that but given 24% of all journeys made by residents of urban areas during term time are for the school run, there is no doubt scope for cost and carbon savings here.

The first action school run mums and dads can take is to adopt the park and stride approach. Parking the car a little way from the school to leave a 10 or 15 minute walk not only reduces the miles driven but also the congestion around the school gates (which in turn makes it safer for kids). Extra benefits include the exercise that you and your children get during the short walk and the fact that you aren’t fighting for parking spaces. This is a particularly good scheme for those who cannot walk all the way due to the distances involved.

If your school has a walking bus then you should be taking advantage of it wherever possible. It will require you to volunteer for supervision duties every so often but on all the other days you should actually be able to get to work quicker so your boss should see sense in letting you come in a little late once in a while.

If no walking bus exists then you might even want to consider starting one up. It takes perseverance and dedication but there is a good book to guide you through all the stages from planning through to completion.

When I was at secondary school, there were several coaches that would ferry pupils too and from school from some of the towns and villages nearby so again it’s worth finding out about these and getting your children signed up.

Also, in many cities there are free or massively subsidised bus/train tickets for school and college students.

GreenSteve tip: get your children used to walking to school from a young age (where possible) as they will then be used to walking throughout their time at school. I had to walk to school from day one and I then accepted it as standard for my entire school life.

Carpooling Commuters

If you drive to and from work every day then there are several ways to reduce your cost and carbon footprint but one of the easiest ways of doing this is to simply share the journey with a colleague.

I have family members who have either done this in the past or who still do it and aside from very small detours for the person driving, it has worked seamlessly. This does rely on starting hours being the same or similar and one or more of your colleagues living within a short distance of you but since you are near enough halving the carbon emissions per person per journey it makes great environmental sense.

Carbon savings also translate into cost savings for anyone who participates and you benefit from the company of a friend during your daily commute.

If none of your colleagues live near enough to you then you may want to consider public car share schemes such as LiftShare and National Car Share where you can search for commuters who are taking a very similar route to you each day and propose a car pool.

GreenSteve tip: it is possible to car pool with someone who doesn’t have a car – just ask politely that they pay half of the petrol costs and away you go!

Pedal Power Over Petrol Power

I live in the most densely populated area in the UK and while I walk anywhere I can, the number of cyclists on the roads is noticeable. I have friends and colleagues who cycle on the famous “Boris Bikes” (named after Mayor of London Boris Johnson) every day and a few who even take things one step further with cycle routes as long as 10 miles each way.

My dad is also a keen cyclist and for years I remember him coming home every day in his high visibility jacket and full waterproofs. He is now in his 60s but still makes the journey to and from work by bike most days of the week.

Apart from the emissions released in the making of the bike and of some negligible maintenance costs, a bike is not only much greener than a car, it is also a huge amount cheaper too.

And you can get help with the upfront cost by encouraging your employer to adopt a cycle to work scheme whereby you effectively rent a bike while optionally paying for it over time.

Sadly only 2% of journeys are made by bike in the UK and this is even more surprising given that 20% of journeys under a mile in distance are made by car. I think this balance needs to be addressed and safety, security and road quality are three of the biggest problems facing cyclists so these are probably good places to start.

GreenSteve tip: if you drive to a train station every morning, why not cycle instead? If you are worried about leaving your bike locked up all day, you could buy a folding bike that you can take with you!

Public Transport Puts In A Good Shift

In areas where public transport capacity is utilised well, the emission level per passenger mile is pretty good even when you take into consideration the full take-up of seats during both peak and off-peak times.

Indeed Transport for London did a study on the Tube network and found that the average emissions generated per Tube journey were 48gCO2e with the same report putting the figure for an average car journey in London at 138gCO2e.

While I admit that not everyone is able to take buses or trains to and from work and while they may sometimes appear to be the slow option, there are some good reasons to opt for this mode of transport.

  1. You can basically switch off. You may even be able to get a little extra sleep time if you can get a seat. But even if you do find yourself standing, the mind can still drift to other things whereas driving takes a lot more concentration and some might say causes more stress.
  2. If you really want to, you can get more work done. I have seen many people sit on the tube here in London with their laptops out typing away on this, that or the other.
  3. If you find it relaxing to read, listen to music or play computer games then public transport allows you to do this too.
  4. Public transport is a lot safer than driving, you are much less likely to be caught up in an accident (some figures suggest buses are 7 times safer and trains are 15 times safer than private cars).
  5. When you take into consideration all the costs of a car including fuel, tax, insurance, servicing, maintenance and depreciation (which many people overlook), public transport is almost always a cheaper option than driving.
  6. Public transport reduces congestion, noise pollution and air pollution in the local area.

Now I admit that in some areas the public transport can be a bit of a nightmare during rush hour and certainly in London I used to occasionally find myself squashed in like a sardine but improvements to networks across the country are meant to sort out this overcrowding problem.

Until I moved within walking distance of my work, I was a commuter on the London Underground network for two and a half years and while it was a little unreliable at times, I would never have been able to work where I worked without it so I will be forever thankful that it existed.

GreenSteve tip: consider speaking to your boss to see if you can shift your working hours by half an hour either earlier or later. Your journey will be a lot more enjoyable if you avoid the extremely busy periods in the morning and evening rush.

If You Have To Drive…

Some people cannot avoid driving but when this is the case there are a couple of things you can do to ensure your impact on the environment is as low as possible whilst motoring around:

  • drive in the highest gear possible – driving at 40mph in third gear uses 25% more fuel than the same speed in fifth gear.
  • make sure your tyres are inflated to the correct pressure – tyres that are underinflated by 6psi can lead to a 1% rise in fuel consumption.
  • pack light by removing any weight that is unnecessary – any extra 50kg of weight can reduce fuel efficiency by 2% (so take those golf clubs out of your boot!).
  • take things like roof racks off when they are not in use to improve aerodynamics.
  • to keep cool, open windows at low speeds but use air con at higher speeds.
  • get your car serviced regularly – a poorly maintained engine is far less fuel efficient

Using these tips combined can help you achieve a 10% saving on your fuel usage and this of course saves you 10% of the cost too. At the time of writing, the price of petrol is just 3 pence off the record high set in May, the amount saved at the petrol pump can really make a difference to your monthly budget.

If you take a look at my own carbon footprint, you’ll see that travel accounts for very little because I walk or take public transport nearly all the time but I do not underestimate the scale of the change required by car drivers in adopting other ways of getting from A to B.

It certainly isn’t easy to switch straight from one to the other overnight which is why my last tip is to make the transition a gradual one. You could try having one car free day per week; you’ll find that over time the optimal routes to take will present themselves and the whole thing will start to become habitual. Slowly increase this to two days a week, then three and so on until the car is used sparingly for occasions where no other means are available.

What do you think? Could you give up your car for the majority of journeys? Leave a comment and let me know your opinions.

Steve (152 Posts)

I am chief writer and editor on Green Steve. Blogging since 2011, I like to delve into a wide number of topics to help people reduce their carbon footprint. You should follow me on Twitter here. And add me to your Google+ circles here.


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