Transportation is a key part of life. We transport ourselves to work, to visit friends and family and to run errands. In short: whenever we go from one place to another. So, relying on sustainable and cheap transportation is a simple way to both be financially savvy and reduce one’s impact on people and planet.
You might have noticed that a lot of my posts centre around the idea that the cost and sustainability of things often go hand in hand. This is true for transportation as well. When considering the main types of transportation – walking, bicycling, taking public transportation and driving* – price and environmental impact increases incrementally.
*Flying – whether for business or leisure – will be covered in a future post. Scooters and the like are not covered, but I assume they land somewhere between bicycles and cars in terms of price and environmental impact.
Cost of different types of transportation
Of the four types of transportation mentioned above, the cheapest definitely is walking. All you need is a pair of shoes. I don’t really have anything to add here. Walk on!
However, walking takes a long time, which is why I personally opt for bicycling to where I need to go. Sure, you need a bicycle, but you can get a decent new one for around €500. Or you may be fortunate (or skilled?) enough to find one for really cheap at an auction or second hand. There are some maintenance costs, but if you treat your two-wheeled friend nicely, these shouldn’t be too bad. Low prices and maintenance costs make the bicycle a very affordable choice. In most cities in Denmark, you can get around by bicycle quickly and easily.
For rainy days, lazy days, and distances that are not easily covered by bicycle, public transportation is a great, albeit more costly, choice. Eventually, train and bus tickets will cost more than a bicycle, although you can save money by buying a monthly pass. Public transportation does, however, have the benefit of not requiring any maintenance on your part whatsoever.
Finally, there’s the car. The preferred mode of transportation in many places. And one of my least favourite (did I mention I am scared of driving and also I get car-sick?). Renting, leasing or owning a car is expensive. First, there’s the cost of the car itself. On top of that there’s insurance, taxes, gas, maintenance and car loan payments. So if it is at all possible to get around without a car, I recommend you do so. If not, see if you can find a cheaper car with good mileage, or perhaps engage in ride-sharing.
Environmental and health impact of transportation types
Let me go through each of the four types of transportation again, now considering the sustainability aspect. The first, walking, has a negligible environmental impact. It also has the added bonus of free exercise, which is important for your health.
Similarly, bicycling does not exhaust any foul gasses and it is great exercise. Bicycle production does of course require materials and exhaust greenhouse gases, but less so than with trains, buses and cars. Bicycles, therefore, are a very sustainable option.
Now, public transportation such as buses and trains do emit CO2, which is bad for the environment and the air quality in the cities. Fortunately, a lot of buses and trains are becoming electric. The electricity required is often produced by burning fossil fuels, though. So there’s still some way to go. However, the good part is that buses and trains fit a lot of people, so the environmental impact per person becomes much lower.
Cars, like buses and trains, emit CO2. They emit less than buses and trains, but the environmental impact per person is higher. This is because most households in Denmark own one or more cars, which means that most cars on the road only transport one person each. This also means there are many cars in the cities. The air quality in the cities is negatively affected by car exhaustions, which impacts people’s health too.
So what is sustainable and cheap transportation?
Sustainable and cheap transportation is the choice that best combines the cost aspect with the environmental and health aspect. I hope that this post has made it clear that affordability and sustainability go hand in hand.
Looking at the above, it is clear that walking is the best option, bicycling the second-best, third comes public transportation and lastly, the worst option in terms of cost and sustainability is the car.
Does this mean that everyone should walk or bicycle to where they need to go? No, not necessarily. I do whenever I can, and I think you should too. But of course it depends on your specific situation: the distance you need to travel, the logistics of your day and so on.
I think what matters most is that you make a conscious and well-informed decision. Whether the bicycle or the car is the only choice for you, consider how you can make that choice more affordable, more sustainable and better for your health.
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