Caltrain is the rail service running between San Jose and San Francisco
Tonight I am on my way to San Francisco for a meeting. Always when taking a trip I spend awhile analyzing ahead of time what’s the greenest way to get there. Can I avoid burning oil? Can I use mass transit? Is there a way to avoid flying in an airplane? If it is a long distance trip, do I have to rent a car at the other end, or is their mass transit system good enough?
The greenest transportation I know of is my feet. Walking, that is. But it’s impractical to walk the 40 miles to San Francisco leaving me in the question: What’s the best way to San Francisco without being partly responsible for burning up the planet? Woah, that’s a little heavy but this is how I live, scrutinizing minutiae of my life with an eye on the grand scale.
Normalthink would have me in my car on hwy 101. Two gallons of gasoline each way, associated environmental poisons released from the burnt gasoline, the risk of fiery death on the highway, and the hassle of finding parking in a city. Another option is my gas motorcycle, 1 gallon of gas each way and the same risks of death and parking hassles. My electric motorcycle doesn’t have the range to get there, so don’t even think about that. Fortunately I live in a house near Caltrain and it’s easy enough for me to ride my electric bicycle or motorcycle to the Caltrain station, ride Caltrain to San Francisco, and fortuitously this meeting is near enough the station to let me walk.
That’s good unless the environmental cost of the train outweighs the savings from not driving. The costs so far as I know are land, fuel, and resources. Mass transit systems make the most efficient use of land carrying the most passengers per square mile, so the more people riding mass transit decreases the need for roads and parking lots for the cars they would not be driving. For the fuel used to drive the train, it may be that amortizing it over the number of passengers turns out to be less fuel per passenger mile than if they each drove a car. Similarly while a train takes more material to build than a car, it’s amortized over the passengers using the train and may well turn out to be less material per passenger mile than cars.
All that logical reasoning is fine as far as it goes, but the core reason for me is much simpler. Taking the train lets me sit back, let someone else do the driving, while I have my laptop open writing blog posts. Seems like a win-win-win to me.
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