Shrink Your Car(bon) Footprint with These Driving Alternatives

If you’re striving to shrink your personal carbon footprint, you’ll go a long way toward your goal by forgoing driving wherever possible.

After all, transportation is the number one source of carbon emissions in America.

Short drives add up: car trips that are less than one mile total about 10 billion miles per year.

Even those short drives add up: A 2009 study found that car trips that are less than one mile ultimately total about 10 billion miles per year. And since the average passenger vehicle emits about 404 grams of CO2 for every mile traveled, that’s a lot of greenhouse gas emissions we could be avoiding. 

Ready to shake up your A-to-B routine? Here are six innovative alternative modes of transportation helping us lower the impact of cars on the environment.

Man using an electrically assisted bicycle as an alternative to driving
Photo by Snap Wire on Pexels

Electric bikes: For cyclists who want a little extra power

Need to know: These two-wheelers may look like normal bikes, but under their figurative hood is an integrated electric motor to propel the rider without pedaling (though you can pedal, too). This boost means less leg work, more momentum and greater ease on inclines. 

Environmental impact: A report by the European Cyclists’ Federation found that when they factored in everything from production to operation, the carbon emissions from normal bicycles and e-bikes were nearly the same (about 33 grams and 35 grams of CO2e for each mile cycled, respectively). 

Price range: Electric bikes are pretty affordable compared to owning a whip, but the cost does vary according to the brand, model and motor—anywhere from $1,100 (for an entry-level option) to $8,000-plus. There are (fairly nominal) maintenance costs, since these bikes endure more wear than your typical fixie. Factor in a tune-up every 500 miles or six months and the cost to charge. If you live in a colder climate, add studded tires for winter.

How to get one: E-bikes are widely available. Do some research to narrow down what you want, whether it’s for fun or commuting, then Google can guide you to a reputable dealer.

Small electric vehicle at charging station
Photo by Dizfoto from Shutterstock

Light quadricycles: For those who want an almost-driving experience

Need to know: If you’re in Europe or the UK, you may have seen a Citroën Ami and Renault Twizy zipping around. They look like extremely compact toy cars but fall under the “light quadricycles” category, which makes them closer to tricked-out, four-wheeled electric bicycles. In some places, you can operate one without a driver’s license, plus there’s room for two in the surprisingly roomy interior.

Environmental impact: The Ami and Twizy are 100 percent electric, so getting around generates zero carbon emissions. Once you’re out of juice, charging—which uses a normal household outlet—takes only a few hours.

Price range: At €6,000 for the Ami, and starting at £11,995 for the Twizy, these are relatively affordable, compared to other electric vehicles.

How to get one: Want in? Unfortunately, neither the Ami nor the Twizy are officially sold in North America right now (although the Twizy was once rentable in San Francisco). You’ll have to hop across the pond to get behind the wheel of this fancy go-kart. But considering how many other electric microcars are popping up abroad, this trend might just be getting revved up.

Electric scooter with woman in background
Photo by Kumpan Electric on Unsplash

Mopeds (electric or otherwise): For those who want to scoot around in style

Need to know: They may have a Euro-chic vibe, but mopeds don’t require a passport stamp to operate. Widely available, they’re a speedy way to maneuver about in nice weather (snow and ice aren’t ideal conditions for scooting).

You’ll need a valid driver’s license or motorized bicycle permit, and have to register the vehicle, get insurance and keep license plates up to date. 

Electric or not, making a compact moped your main ride is a lower-carbon alternative to cars.

Environmental impact: Mopeds are traditionally gas-powered, but it’s now possible to find fully electric models, too, like the stylish Vespa Elettrica, which delivers up to 62 miles of ride time per lithium-ion battery charge. But electric or not, making a compact moped your main ride is a lower-carbon alternative to cars, reducing traffic congestion and GHGs.

Some of the latest Vespa models, for example, can get your emissions down to about 96 grams of CO2e per mile—still substantially lower than carbon emissions from cars.

Price range: Costs vary; a pre-owned Vespa, for example, might run you $3,500, while the shiniest, latest models could cost twice as much (or more).

How to get one: There are dealers all over; do your research to figure out what works for your budget and lifestyle, then scope out the options at a dealership near you.

Man standing on hoverboard
Photo by Fedorovacz on Shutterstock

Hoverboards: For those who want to glide into the future

Need to know: You’re not truly hovering, but you’re on a board that’s suspended in the air a teeny bit and balanced between two tires. Kind of like skateboarding, a hoverboard takes some practice, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a really fun (and pretty cool) way to travel.

Hoverboards are electric and take about two hours to charge, and they can go as fast as 12 mph, lasting 8 to 16 miles per charge, depending on the model you buy. They range from 22 to 30 pounds, so be prepared for an arm workout.

According the U.S. Department of Transportation, 87 percent of the country’s daily trips happen in personal vehicles

Environmental impact: According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, 87 percent of the country’s daily trips happen in personal vehicles. But errands nearby don’t warrant a car ride every time, so a hoverboard may be exactly what you need to shoot past stalled traffic much faster than you could on foot.

They won’t emit carbon, but they do create a small footprint from their plug-in time. Because of their small size and limited parts, their production also doesn’t create a huge pollution ripple.

Price range: You can find a hoverboard for as little as $100 or as much as $700, depending on the features that come with it, like Bluetooth connectivity or LED lights.

How to get one: You can shop for hoverboards at many retailers; they’re so common, you can even find them in department stores. 

Man carrying electric standup scooter
Photo by Mearth Technology on Pexels

Electric scooters: For those who want to travel like it’s child’s play 

Need to know: In recent years, the toy from your childhood has gotten a grown-up, eco-friendly-ish makeover and taken over cities. We say “ish” because stand-up electric scooters (think: skateboard with handles) still have a carbon footprint—and in the case of scooter-sharing, that footprint may be larger than you expect. 

If you purchase your own e-scooter rather than renting, the impact is automatically lower.

Environmental impact: A North Carolina State University study looked at the global warming impact of shared scooters through their entire life cycle, and calculated an average of 202 grams of CO2e per mile traveled. That’s high—in part because the daily collecting and transporting of scooters to charging stations makes the carbon footprint much bigger. So while renting a quick scoot is better than driving, it’s not nearly as good as biking or walking (the activities that scooting most often replaces).

But don’t let that completely sway you. If you purchase your own e-scooter rather than renting, the impact is automatically lower.

Price range: You can find a bevy of choices, with varying costs to match; good budget options start at a few hundred dollars. Don’t forget to add a helmet to your cart, since most regular e-scooters rip up to 20 mph. 

How to get one: Electric scooters are widely available in stores and online. 

Cargo bikes: For those who want more space to cart around essentials

Need to know: Known as bakfiets, or “bike box” in Dutch, these cycles with a wagon-like design are popular in the Netherlands, primarily for parents schlepping precious cargo—their children. The cargo area generally has little seats and safety belts, plus a door and sometimes a roof. Many are even electric.

Environmental impact: The model you choose dictates the carbon impact you create, but as we mentioned in the e-bike section, the footprint is still small if you go for electric. 

Price range: Expect to pay less for a non-electric cargo bike, but options in both categories will run from $1,500 to $6,000-plus (or even higher), depending on the specs.

How to get one: Shop online or swing by your local bike shop to put some feelers out. Oftentimes you can even have your cargo bike assembled before shipping (for an extra cost).

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This article offers general information only and is not intended as legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. While the information presented is believed to be factual and current, its accuracy is not guaranteed and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada, RBC Ventures Inc., or its affiliates.

the Goodside Team
Written By
the Goodside Team

Goodside's team of climate keeners works hard to bring you need-to-know content on topics like global warming, sustainable living, carbon offsetting and more. We keep our meetings virtual for the lowest possible footprint.

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