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Different fuels

Transport is the use of vehicles to move people and goods. Moving objects have kinetic energy. This energy has to come from a source. We call energy sources for transport fuels. The most commonly used fuel, petroleum, is a fossil fuel refined from crude oil to make diesel, petrol or aviation fuel. The picture below shows how much it costs us to travel in the UK.

Average cost per passenger mile by mode: 2002/03
Rail Bus Car
Text equivalent: Rail17p per mile
Text equivalent: Bus22p per mile
Text equivalent: Car28p per mile*

Plain text equivalent of above diagram

Average cost per passenger mile by mode: 2002/03
Rail Bus Car
17p 22p 28p*


*includes cost of purchase, road tax etc   (Source: UK Department of Transport, 2006)


Why do we persist in using cars when they are the most expensive mode of travel available to us? Can you think of three reasons?

The costs to our pockets are clear but what about the impacts of these differing fuels on the environment. All of the above involve the use of fossil fuels to widely varying extents. Burning these fuels produces carbon dioxide that contributes to the Greenhouse Effect and climate change.

What about other countries? Do they use their cars more or less than us?

The table below shows the number of kilometres travelled (in billions) by people  for  different modes of transport in different countries.

Passenger transport mode 2003 (in billion passenger kilometres)
  Cars Buses and coaches 
Great Britain 677.0 47.0 40.9
Czech Republic    68.6 9.4 6.5
Japan 757.0 86.0 239.0
USA 7,008.0 226.0 22.0

(Source: UK Department of Transport, 2006)

To find the answer to the above question, make a pie chart for each row of the table. You can do this quite quickly if you copy and paste the table into a spreadsheet program. Can you also find which country uses rail the most? And which country uses buses the most?

Greenhouse gases from fuels

What's your opinion?

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Read comments

Karen 16-05-08 10:48
This is a very simplistic page for example there is no data to back the costs for the same journey using different modes of transport so any comparison will be unfair. Also, no information considering other factors e.g. availability of transport in rural areas / for shift workers - just a general comment for pupils to consider these factors for themselves - and this is probably this bit they would need most help in. The data on journeys in different countries seems to make no allowance for the population in each country which again is the minimum needed to make some sort of fair comparison
NOT RATED Jocelyn 16-05-08 12:14
These are all good points and exactly the sort of thing we need to point out to support students in discussing these issues.

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Text equivalent:

Avoid harm

Should we continue to run our vehicles on fossil fuels that contribute to global warming and pollute our environment?

Text equivalent:

Future generations

Polluting the environment with waste products from burning petrol and diesel will mean life will be less pleasant and possibly more dangerous for our descendants

Quality of lifeText equivalent:

Quality of life

Does having a car enhance the quality of your life? At whose expense?