Energy Efficiency You Can See: Public Transit and Bicycles

By Ben

We all know that energy efficiency is an essential part of getting beyond fossil fuels, and responding intelligently to the climate and ocean acidification crisis. But face it, wind turbines look way more sexy than fiberglass insulation. So energy efficiency often gets forgotten.

But what if there were dramatic ways to show efficiency in the sector that consumes the vast majority of tar sands oil globally, and is responsible for about half of Canada’s carbon footprint? It turns out that the most space efficient forms of urban transportation are also the most energy efficient, and people have found dramatic ways of showing how efficient public transit and bicycle transportation are.

Let’s start with some classics, from the 1940s and 1960s


1940s GE Electric Trolley Bus Ad


1969 London Transit Poster

Note that the 1940s GE bus is an electric trolley bus; it is far easier to quickly convert transit to run on renewable electricity than to attempt the same with millions of private automobiles. Travel by public transit typically uses only about one-tenth the amount of energy as driving in a car, so even diesel buses are a huge efficiency improvement over cars.

For a local example, we have this BC Transit poster with photos shot in downtown Vancouver (from early 1990s?) Note that everyone in the cars gets a seat on the one bus.


Even Des Moins Iowa has a version


Another way of making the same point is the ‘do the math’ style photo illustration. Anyone with basic graphics skills can add the number of people in any street scene. These are particularly effective for illustrating the advantages of dedicated lanes for transit and bicycles. (Please do try this at home!). Transit and bicycle lanes are powerful ways of increasing the capacity of road space while reducing oil consumption and carbon pollution.


(This one via


And easy to use on-line tools now make it simple to create animated GIFs from photographs. I did this one to illustrate how much sense bus lanes make. Transit lanes are also used by ambulances and other emergency vehicles, as well as by HandyDART (paratransit) vans, to get where they are going quicker.


These illustrations of space efficiency, which also equates to energy efficiency, are part of the basic knowledge people need to make informed decisions. Decisions like how to vote.

Big Oil has a clear vision. It involves more freeways to more automobile dependent suburbs with horrible transit service, forcing even lower income families to own multiple cars and purchase large quantities of gasoline. This model, exported to multiple countries, complements big oil’s plans for more and expanded pipelines combined with hugely expanded extraction of tar sands bitumen.

Tanker Free BC is campaigning for a Yes vote in the Metro Vancouver Transit Referendum. Big Oil claims that we need more pipelines, tankers and tar sands oil to get around and live well. We don’t, and people in Metro Vancouver have a historic opportunity to take a significant step in the right direction by voting Yes in the Metro Vancouver Transit Referendum.

Metro Vancouver residents can register and request a ballot up until May 15, and must be received by May 29 to be counted (which means mailing by Friday May 22nd or dropping off at an Elections BC service office up until 8pm on Friday May 29).