Transportation Energy Costs

The average car on the road consumed 4,700 British thermal units (BTUs) per vehicle mile in 2015, which is almost a 50 percent reduction from 1973, when Americans drove some of the gas-guzzliest cars in history. The average light truck (meaning pick ups, full-sized vans, and SUVs) used about 6,250 BTUs per vehicle mile in 2015, which is also about half what it was in the early 1970s.

By comparison, the average transit bus used 15 percent more BTUs per vehicle mile in 2015 than transit buses did in 1970. Since bus occupancies have declined, BTUs per passenger mile have risen by 63 percent since 1970. While buses once used only about half as much energy per passenger mile as cars, they now use about a third more.

. . . The same table reports that rail transit uses slightly more energy per passenger mile today than it did in 1970. However, the rail numbers in the table must be read with caution: a footnote warns that “Only end-use energy was counted for electricity. Previous editions included primary energy use for electricity which included generation and distribution losses.” Generation and distribution losses are about 67 percent of electrical energy, so the BTUs in the table must be tripled to get the actual amount of energy consumed to move people by electric transit.

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