We’re worse than we think

Winnipeg drivers underestimate fuel consumption, idling time


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Winnipeg  drivers over­estimate the fuel ef­ficiency of their cars, underestimate the time spent idling in traffic, and lowball the emissions pumped out on every drive.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 24/05/2009 (4881 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Winnipeg  drivers over­estimate the fuel ef­ficiency of their cars, underestimate the time spent idling in traffic, and lowball the emissions pumped out on every drive.

After analyzing data from 20,000 trips around the city, Terry Zdan knows a few things about this city’s driving habits.

The University of Winnipeg’s Centre for Sustainable Transportation studied close to 100 Winnipeggers last summer, fitting each of their vehicles with a special black box. The dashboard gadgets tracked not just travel time, but how many minutes each car spent idling, and the carbon dioxide released in the process.

Wayne Glowacki/ Winnipeg Free Press Terry Zdan, Research Direc­tor with the Centre for Sustainable Transportation places an Otto driving companion in a Free Press car.

The drivers travelled 200,000 km over 60 days and idled far more than many expected, said Zdan, research director for the centre.

And people heading home through rush hour traffic can spend hundreds of dollars more on gas, and release over 1,000 kg more emissions annually.

The study group was small due to the cost of the black boxes, said Zdan, but the results are backed up by previous research.

Here are some of the findings:


Check out the map prepared by researchers and you’ll see a mess of red dots all over Winnipeg, representing idling hot-spots. Downtown is "a blossom of idling," said Zdan, and big intersections and malls are bad too.

But drivers often miscalculated how much time they spent idling at stop lights, railway crossings or in the drive-thru line. More than half of participants thought they spent 10 per cent of trips idling, max. In most cases, the actual figure was 20 per cent or more.

Anyone who’s fought through traffic congestion to get home from work won’t be surprised to learn idling spikes in the late afternoon and early evening, and drops later in the evening. People heading home in the peak hours of 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. spent nearly a quarter of their time idling, but those who went home between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. idled for half as much time.

Zdan said someone driving home in the peak hours will spend an average of $366 more on gas per year, compared to non-peak hours. They’ll also release around 1,100 kg more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Winnipeggers with less rigid schedules can save cash and curb emissions by avoiding peak hours, Zdan said. Some offices let employees work flexible hours, meaning they have more say on when they head to and from work.

"It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for every kind of job," he said. "But there are some good working examples."



Leaving the car at home for short trips is a staple of green commuting advice, but it didn’t seem to matter in the study. Half of the 20,000 trips logged were 10 minutes or less, and of those, about 5,000 were for trips that capped at six minutes. Drivers also made a lot of trips for just one purpose, said Zdan, like going to the bank or grocery store on separate occasions.

Ash Raichura, an engineer at Dillon Consult­ing, with a bicycle he and staff use to run errands.

The problem isn’t just that many trips were so short a bike ride or brisk stroll could have done the trick. Fuel efficiency suffers on short drives, said Zdan, and many vehicle components need to be heated up to run properly. Drivers could be more fuel-efficient by "trip chaining," he said, and trying to get more errands done at once.



Drivers in the study didn’t just underestimate their emissions — they also had a hard time understanding the numbers.

Most participants thought the carbon dioxide emissions from their vehicles would be less than 190 grams per kilometre. In reality all the vehicles were in the range of 225 grams/km.

That hefty output is a far cry from the European target of 130/km for new vehicles by 2012.

Zdan said participants generally didn’t know what to make of the emissions figures. Many people also thought their vehicles were more fuel-efficient than they turned out to be, said Zdan, even small, compact cars.

"How people drive vehicles affects the fuel economy," he said.



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