My goal is to eliminate fossil fuels from my daily life. I like to save my limited budget of carbon emissions for a few life enriching luxuries while making sure that my life would go on just fine if we banned fossil fuels tomorrow (as I think we should, given the #climatecrisis). And it was actually pretty easy to eliminate fossil fuels from my daily commute to work, through a combination of a bike and kayak commute (die-hards only), E-motorcycle (adventurous), and EV microcar (nearly anyone can do this!).
I was hoping to switch to a pure bicycle commute this Fall, without the kayaking part, since the replacement Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson was supposed to open its bike path during the Fall months of 2019. While I really get a kick out of paddling across the river on my way to work, it makes for a long commute – about two hours door to door for my 15 mile commute, including time spent uncovering and launching the kayak. The bridge bike path would cut 45 minutes off that commute time. So I didn’t even bother staging my kayak and east-of-the-river bike when paddling season came this year, hoping to have a one-saddle commute by Fall semester.
But a Fall opening of the bike path was not (and is not) to be, so have been mixing my e-moto, EV, bus, and paddle/pedal commute options this Fall.
I experimented with the bus for a week or so at the beginning of the semester. The advantage of the bus is that I can prepare for my nine o’clock class on the ride in, so the inevitable rush hour traffic delays don’t bother me. The new Hudson Link bus service even has a dedicated lane on the new bridge eastbound, but not on the rest of the cross-Westchester expressway (where the worst morning traffic backups occur). And with my #OKboomer senior discount, the round trip on the bus is just $2.70 – less than the bridge toll alone for a car. But the diesel bus is not carbon emissions free – the thirty mile round trip adds about four pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere (assuming 150 passenger miles/gallon and approximately 20 pounds CO2 per gallon of diesel). It’s too bad the new cross-Hudson bus system had to invest in diesel buses, but the 12-year design life for heavy transit buses means that maybe they can be replaced with battery electric buses just in time for the 2030 carbon emissions goals of the IPCC SR15 report.
The disadvantage of the bus (besides its carbon footprint) is the time it takes to get to the bus stop a mile plus from my house, and the half mile from the bus stop in White Plains to my office. I usually end up walking both ends, for exercise, which adds about forty or fifty minutes to the trip each way. Add the thirty minutes on the bus, and five or ten minutes of margin for on-time buses (or late buses), and the one way commute is well over an hour – comparable to what I expect a bike-only commute would take.
The new buses have bike racks, so while I am waiting for the bike path to open, I have a bike-to-the-bus-across-the-river-bike-to-work option. I used this option to get one of my bikes east of the river to set up my paddle and pedal commute. The $2.70 round trip cost is the same, but five miles each way on the bus is only one-third of the carbon impacts.
With one bike on the east side of the river and one on the west, I could start paddling my kayak across the river morning and evening in mid-September. Nothing beats the zen of paddling across the Hudson at dawn and dusk and biking over the hills on either side – especially as the leaves turn to a glowing gold in the long rays of the sun. Zero carbon impact and also toll free! My Garmin app tells me that I burn an extra 2,000 calories each day I do this, but I don’t think I eat that much extra averaged over a week where I paddle/pedaling two days. I do tend to buy lunch instead of bagging lunch on paddle and pedal days, which probably costs me about $4 extra.
With the end of paddling season this month (too dark, no docks in the river anymore) I am back to the EV and the E-moto. Motorcycle on nice days, EV on not nice days or when my dog comes with me. They are still the quickest way to work, door to door. For some reason, the motorcycle is faster than the car. The toll for the E-moto is $2.50, but the electricity is about fifty cents, so the bus is still cheaper. The toll for the car is $4.28 with the green vehicle discount, and the electricity is more like $1.20, so the EV is the most expensive way by far to get to work.
Paradoxically, the bus adds to my marginal direct carbon footprint, but the EV and E-moto do not. I only count direct marginal emissions in my carbon diet – these are the emissions I am inescapably ethically responsible for. With renewable electricity contract, charging at home is zero carbon. And it’s nice to know that according to this MIT Calculator, the embedded emissions per mile of my little Smart ForTwo are far lower than any other motor vehicle on the road. Unfortunately, they are no longer being sold in the US, but used ones can be a great deal.
So, the bus is the cheapest but with a marginal carbon cost, and the electric motorcycle is the quickest. I am looking forward to being able to bike all the way to work on the Mario Cuomo Bridge soon – but until then, I can still get to work without blowing my carbon budget.