The Our Power campaign has not been primarily focused on transportation, but we want to provide a basic set of action steps for this sector. Transportation is a major area of personal energy use (though usually not as large as home heating and electricity), and is often the one most noticed since gas purchases are very clear and visible while home energy use is not.
#1. Use Other Ways of Getting Around Than a Car
The cheapest forms of transportation are also those that use zero fossil fuel energy – walking and bicycling. An average person can save thousands of dollars each year by switching to walking and bicycling, especially if they can ditch their car altogether and avoid paying insurance, parking, and other maintenance costs. If you are traveling under five miles within the central part of an urban area, you can make similar time biking as in rush-hour traffic.
Minneapolis is rated the number one city in the United States for bike transit and the number two city for year-round bikers – thousands of Minneapolis residents bike to work and on errands all through the winter. A major added benefit of a biking/walking transit strategy is free and time-efficient exercise. Instead of adding an extra time consuming activity and or paying for a gym or equipment, it is convenient to build exercise into your transportation activities. Biking and walking is also increasingly a viable way to transport groceries, children, and other materials with the growth of bike lanes and the availability of paniers, bike trailers, and other low-cost transportation add-ons. Many organizations (Sibley Bike Depot, the Hub Bike Co-op) offer low-cost refurbished bikes and bike repair services, and some also offer classes on bike safety and winter biking for those who need it. For those looking for easy bike access but not ownership, a subscription to Minnesota Nice Ride could be a good fit.
For those unable or uninterested in personal power as your primary form of transportation, the public transit system is another great way to reduce your transportation energy use. For many people, the cost of public transit is similar or less than the costs of owning and maintaining a car depending on their travel habits. Buses and light-rail also have the added advantage of creating social spaces with others in the community and providing time to talk, read, or reflect rather than the stresses of driving. For longer trips, buses and trains may serve your needs – additional long-distance transit is under development.
Car sharing through HourCar is also a valuable way to get the flexibility and carrying capacity benefits of a car without many of the costs and dependency of ownership.
#2. USING A CAR EFFICIENTLY
Some tips for energy efficient driving:
- Strategically combine trips so you are using the car less frequently to maximize the ratio of work per trip.
- Drive at a steady pace, avoiding sudden starts and stops. If driving on the highway, the most efficient speed is usually around 55 mph. Shift to higher gears as soon as possible and coast in gear when slowing down.
- Avoid idling your engine when not even intending to drive. Also plan to bypass heavily trafficked areas durring rush hours to avoid idling while in traffic (and to save time).
- Keep your tires adequately inflated, and make sure to keep your car tuned with your air filters clean and oil changed.
#3 GETTING NEW CARS
Getting a new car, even a hybrid, is generally not the best thing to do to advance a better
energy future – even efficient cars advance and sustain car-dependent cities and fossil-
fuel based transportation systems. If you need a car and are seeking to buy a new one
or exchange an old one, get the most fuel efficient versions possible. Actual miles per
gallon is more important that hybrid technology – though many hybrids get excellent
fuel efficiency, some are not designed for this purpose. Flex-fuel vehicles and using
ethanol is generally not a significant improvement – corn ethanol uses lots of fossil fuel
energy to grow, harvest, and process the corn. Bio-diesel and vegetable oil vehicles are a
minor upgrade if you are using raw soy bean or vegetable oil (oil produced as a fuel) and
significantly better if using waste oil from fryers and other uses (in this case, it’s nearly
carbon neutral). Plug in electric vehicles are an excellent preparation for a cleaner energy
grid, but keep in mind that the current electricity grid is heavily coal powered, so you are
not saving fossil fuel energy or pollution by getting an electric vehicle and plugging in
to the current electrical grid. Again, a highly efficient car is not a substitute for efforts to