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Fall Theme: Energy

September Topic: Transportation

So Many Cars...

Did you know that according to the U. S. Bureau of Transit Statistics, in 2008 there were nearly 256 million registered passenger vehicles in the U. S.? 256 Million! 

Cumulative data from the United States Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration and the National Automobile Dealers Association show that since 1960, the number of motor vehicles has steadily increased. Since 1972, the overall number of passenger vehicles outnumbers licensed drivers at an ever-increasing rate. Very recent data indicates that this trend is slowing.

You are thinking, it’s always been like this, well, at least for as long as you can remember.  But, if you ask your grandparents or think back on your U.S. History classes—there weren’t always gasoline-powered engines and the first cars weren’t produced in the late 1800’s.  Check out for interesting information, like the fact that in 1910 Bailey completed a 1,000 mile run without a breakdown—remarkable given the unreliability of early “horseless carriage”. In fact, Thomas Edison thought electric cars would triumph over “ill-smelling oil buggies” but gasoline-powered engines won out for many market-driven reasons...but back to our discussion...

Around 1860, everything in terms of energy changed when oil fields began producing in Titusville Pennsylvania and at the Spindletop site in Texas. When the processes to refine the crude oil into useable hydrocarbon fuels that could produce sources of energy much more powerful than horses or human muscle power. Particularly after WWII when the U.S. was still geared up to produce manufactured goods, the personal automobile was a symbol of living the good life. For an overview look at:

So in the 1950’s, the Big Three American auto manufacturers, with the help of the new U.S. interstate highway system, saw the sky as the limit for producing all kinds and types of cars and trucks. With the explosion of huge luxury cars and sporty muscle cars, and with no apparent limit to the amount of oil available, gas-guzzlers reigned supreme in the U.S. From 1950–1970, in just twenty years, America’s consumption of oil nearly tripled from roughly 6 billion barrels a year to more than 16 billion. At the beginning of that time span, coal accounted for more than 65 percent of global energy use; by 1970, the roles of the two leading fossil fuels had been reversed—it was now oil that comprised 65 percent of our energy usage.

— “Power Trip” (2009) by Amanda Little is a terrific source of information on this topic is a very informative read, the history of how we got here and the implications.
Q?  Why do we need more vehicles than we have drivers?  Good question.

We have to rethink this trend today, when the number of vehicles on the roadways have staggering costs—costs to purchase and operate the car, licensing, insuring, maintenance and upkeep (priced tires lately or transmission replacement?), costs of building, paving and maintaining roads, parking lots and bridges, increasing air and water pollution caused by burning millions and millions of gallons of fossil-based fuels and blacktop. Talk about unsustainable!

There are also costs, environmentally and to our wallets for the production of the cars from the mining of metals, production of plastics, used of water sources, transporting these materials and the finished vehicles—that is a lot of resources and energy.  Not to mention getting those fuels and the refining and distribution costs, monetary and to the environment, as the BP Gulf Oil Spill painfully just showed us. 

And any engineering student can tell you that the internal combustion engine that powers our cars is very, very inefficient—we get only a small percentage of the “work” out of the fossil fuel that is burned.  Mostly we get combustion by-products like a lot of waste heat and tailpipe emissions like air pollutants. 

These statistics speak volumes, in fact they roar, like a big V8 engine in a black '64 Cougar with 10 mpg. Think Ride Share—just organize a group to ride together—more efficient use of energy resources and it saves money. There are plenty of other options like using mass transit, riding the shuttle or bus or your bike, or walking. Better for the environment and healthier, more active transportation options for you. Look around on the Sustainability Website for information about Miami Valley Rideshare, shuttle service, bike rack locations and more!

Welcome to Wright State—you’ve arrived! Since you just came on the campus in privately owned vehicles (cars, SUV’s, trucks, motorcycles, etc.), we are going to look at some facts and trends related to transportation and how transportation issues affect our campus community.

As you unpack your car or van to move on to campus, give some thought to what it took to get you here—not only your academic journey, but your actual trip to campus and all of the shopping trips and preparation of gathering the “stuff” you brought with you. Also, think about how you will use your car while you are here on campus.

In the last couple of years when gasoline prices reached $4.00/gallon, Americans did cut back on driving. Many turned to public transportation, like buses. Others started carpooling by organizing ride share groups. Others began to walk or ride their bikes to save on the cost of gas. Our air also benefited, just from that rather minimal change. We can do more by driving less often and combining our errands and trips and using human power to get around.

There are campus shuttles for you to use to get around campus and no campus parking permits for residents living in on- campus housing. View information about biking, shuttle schedules and campus transportation »

These green measures are intended to discourage driving half a mile or less and to encourage exercise—walking or biking. Bike racks are located near most campus buildings and there are plenty of walking paths all over Wright State. By not moving your car, you save money and fuel and help with congestion and parking hassles on campus. Reducing the use of vehicles also impacts the quality of the air and water as well as sustainability of our environment. Not driving also reduces air pollution and you get physical exercise as well as time to clear your mind.

Wright State University encourages students, faculty, and staff to find ways to minimize your driving. This will help you to be more physically active and healthier, help with pollution and atmospheric emissions, and it will help with less traffic on campus, which will also make your day more pleasant. You can watch the leaves falling and hear the birds singing rather than hunting for 20 minutes looking for a parking space!

Rethinking getting to and from campus – Reducing the stress of commuting

Riding the Wright State University shuttle and using other “green transportation” measures are intended to discourage driving half a mile or less and to encourage exercise—walking or biking.

Bike racks are located near most campus buildings and there are plenty of walking paths all over campus.

By not moving your car, you save money, fuel, and wear and tear on your vehicle. It also helps with reduced traffic congestion and parking hassles on campus. Reducing the use of vehicles also impacts the quality of the air and water and, of course, sustainability of our environment.

So, not driving that short distance from your room to campus is a win-win solution for you and the environment—it reduces air pollution, you get time to clear your mind or talk with a friend, while you get some physical exercise

The National Household Travel Survey conducted in 2001 by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, U.S. Department of Transportation state that 70 percent of Americans drove to work in cars. But in New York City, the rate of car commuters is only eight percent, making NYC the only locality in the country where more than half of all households do not own a car (the figure is even higher in Manhattan—over 75 percent). This makes sense given the costs of parking and the time spent in traffic snarls in NYC, taking the subway or bus, biking, or simply walking are preferred. With costs of operating a vehicle increasing, use of public transportation is growing. 

So think of campus as a city.

Use the shuttles to get to campus, ride your bike, or walk if at all possible—smart for your budget and for the environment, and convenient. No more wasting 20 minutes looking for a parking space and hoping you can still make it to your class on time.

We encourage students, faculty, and staff to find ways to minimize your driving. This will help you to be more physically active and healthier, help with pollution and atmospheric emissions, and it will help with less traffic on campus, which will also make your day more pleasant. You can watch the leaves falling and hear the birds singing, rather than hunting for 20 minutes for a parking space.

View shuttle service schedule→

For more information about environmental subjects like vehicle exhaust and air pollution visit the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Let's continue our transportation conversation by asking a couple of questions:

  • How do our vehicles affect our environment and sustainability?
  • Looking at CAFE Standards and MPG: What do those letters mean?

Presently, the average miles per gallon (MPG) in the U.S. is less than 20 miles per gallon and it varies widely depending on the vehicle and how it is driven. Taylor states that, "The average car manufactured by General Motors gets 19.2 MPG and produces 12,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year." (p. 61) - Go Green: How to build an earth-friendly community (2008).

After years of the automotive industry stalling the measure, the U.S. Congress passed new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for American cars. Foreign cars have been the industry leaders in fuel economy for decades. Signed into law in May 2010 by President Obama, the new CAFE regulations marked the first time there has been a nationwide standard for emissions of greenhouse gases. Between 2012–2016, CAFE standards require increasing the average mileage standard of 39 MPG for cars and 30 MPG for trucks from the current of 25 MPG average (includes foreign-made cars). We all need to be savvy information consumers but this is one of those times when Wikipedia provides an informative overview of this subject. This article has 79 excellent references including this NHTSA resource.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), green house gas (GHG) sources include industrial, commercial, recreational, and passenger vehicles. Carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants contribute to air pollution from engines in cars, trucks, motorcycles, school buses, boats, airplanes, semi's, ATV's, farm and construction equipment, lawn mowers, trimmers, chainsaws, and anything else powered by fossil fuels, diesel, gasoline, aviation fuel, etc. Light-duty trucks and cars regulated by recently adopted CAFE standards enacted and will be helpful in curbing GHG vehicle emissions.

As rates for asthma and other respiratory ailments are increasing, controlling air pollution is a priority across the country. States like California, with its history of heavily congested highways and dangerous air pollution levels has enacted strict air quality standards, were pleased to see national fuel economy standards rather than a very uneven and ineffective state-by-state approach. The U.S. EPA "Transportation and Climate" site gives us more insight about pollutants and emissions from U.S. vehicles and GHG.

What can I do to improve my MPG (miles per gallon)?

The first thing you should think of is driving less, combining trips, ride sharing, and turning off your car engine when you can. MPG according to the EPA "is based on a number of factors, such as weather, road conditions, your driving and maintenance habits, and your use of air conditioning. Although no single test can ever account for the wide variety of driving conditions and styles, the new methods will bring the MPG estimates closer to the fuel economy consumers actually achieve on the road."  For more information and tips for how to improve your fuel economy, visit Your MPG Will Vary and Gas Mileage Tips on

Take a look at the other tools available on the EPA website for personal emissions calculator, fuel economy guide, green vehicle guide, and other important information.

Driving smart means anticipating traffic flow—look ahead and don't race to a red light only to jam on the brakes. By the same principle, learn to coast whenever possible—you will use less gas, get much higher MPG, and have less wear and tear on brakes. Also, remember to keep tires inflated properly—every additional MPG counts!

Drive less, drive smart!

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Last updated: Tue. Oct-19-10, 16:05
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