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July 2011
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Planes, Trains and Automobiles

I’m heading up to Ottawa this weekend for a track and field meet. Turns out I’m going to fly, which from a sustainable, triple bottom line perspective is the most viable. I was hoping that taking the train would have been best option, the idea of driving, alone, up to Ottawa before the meet just sounded really unappealing.

Why is flying the most sustainable?

The triple bottom line analysis consider the economic (the raw cost of travel), the environmental (my carbon footprint) and equity (the social cost).

The Economic Cost

I decided to redeem some travel rewards so the flight cost me $161.88 (for taxes, security and admin fees). The least expensive ticket one can book according to Expedia this morning was $499. When I looked earlier in the week both Air Canada and Porter had seat sales on; flights were $338. Given that I booked the flight earlier in the week I’ll use the $338 value in my analysis.

Via rail is Ontario’s only rail carrier. You can take the GO train within the Greater Toronto Area but it does go beyond the GTA borders. When I looked at booking it was $155, but when searching today it was $202.50. (And knowing me I would have bought my ticket at the station today!)

If I was going to drive I’d have to spend $117.68. According to my car requires premium gasoline and goes 11.5km/L on the highway. The round trip distance is 888km and for simplicity I’ll say that the drive is all highway kilometres (10km total is not on the highway). Thus it will require 78L of fuel (round up to 80L and ignore any congestion encountered on the way). Gas was $1.47.1 at my corner gas station according to Toronto’s Gas Prices this morning.

Summary: Flight: $161.88, Train $155, Drive $117.68

The Environmental Cost

The carbon footprint cost. How much damage am I doing by going to Ottawa? According to Carbon Finance one could sell a tonne of carbon on the European market for €12.32 or $16.64CAD today.

When I booked my flight Air Canada stated me that the total carbon footprint for my portion of the flight round trip was 0.21tonnes of CO2 emissions for a value of $3.49.

According to each km of long distance rail travel emits 0.49lbs/mile or 0.12kg/km. The Toronto Travel Guide says it’s 446km, which totals 107kg (.107tonnes) of CO2 emissions round trip or $1.78.

The footprint of my car is 174g/km according to NextGreenCar but that is based on a combined urban and highway driving. For simplicity I’ll use this value, so for my 888km my calculated footprint would be 154kg (.154tonnes) of CO2 emissions, bringing the total cost to $2.56.

Summary: Flight $3.49, Train $1.78 or Driving $2.56.

The Equity Cost

It comes down to what I value my time at. I remember when I wrote my thesis (in 2007) that the average value for an hour of work was $20. I could have valued at what my current salary pays me at, or I could have been a little more conservative and used my ski coaching salary. Both of these were greater than $20 so I think I’ll stick with that (Note: I do value my time more than $20/hr! )

Ignoring the time it takes to get to each mode of travel here is what the cost breakdown is for travelling to Ottawa.

My flight is 1hr gate to gate, probably 40mins in the air. Roundtrip, $40.

The train varies between a 4 hr&24min trip and 4hr&48min trip, for an average of 4hrs&36mins. Cost of my time to take the train roundtrip is $184.

For the drive lets assume I drive the speed limit, the 444km trip would take just under 4.5hours. Round trip the total cost would be $190.

Summary: Flight $40, Train $184 or Drive $190.

From the table you can see that the cost of flying is by far the cheaper option. Even if I only valued my time at $10 it is still significantly cheaper to fly, driving is $30 more than flying and taking the train is more than $60 more. However, if I’d had to pay for the full price ticket (at $338) it would make flying the least viable option; I guess that reminds us all to collect and redeem those travel miles!

(Note: This was a quick, basic way to calculate my triple bottom line total cost of travel. I do not claim that it is the most accurate method to calculate the cost of traveling. This exercise was merely meant to demonstrate the ability to account not just for economic costs but also the environmental and equity (social) cost).