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A car that is sitting still with the engine running is getting zero miles per gallon, no matter how efficient the aerodynamics or how great the hybrid powertrain is. Spread out over the entire U.S., all those zero mile per gallon situations – i.e. traffic jams – means Americans are wasting 1.9 billion gallons of gasoline a year, according to a new Treasury Department report. Another way to look at that is that congested roads cost Americans over $100 billion a year (calculated both as wasted fuel and time). It's not much better in the skies, where Treasury discovered that "more efficient air traffic control systems would save three billion gallons of jet fuel a year."

The report (PDF) is part of President Obama's transportation infrastructure proposal. The report calls the president's plan "bold" and says it, "includes a $50 billion up-front investment connected to a $476 billion six-year reauthorization of the surface transportation program and the creation of a National Infrastructure Bank." Revamping the national infrastructure is important, since the report claims that out of every seven dollars the average American earns, one dollar goes to pay for transportation costs.

The Treasury's 1.9 billion number is roughly half as much as an Urban Mobility report found about fuel wasted in the U.S. in 2010, which was 3.9 billion gallons, but we don't know the methodologies used in determining the two numbers. However things were calculated, it's clear that we could use more technologies like start-stop as well as improved infrastructure to minimize traffic jams in the first place. Of course, since researchers have found potential links between traffic jams and autism and brain cell damage, fuel and money aren't the only things we need to worry about when we're not getting to where we want to go.


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  • 47 Comments
      Dave D
      • 2 Years Ago
      Well, let's see: The US consumes about 20 million barrels of oil per day. We get about 19 gallons of gasoline per barrel of oil (http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=24&t=6) and the rest goes to other things like jet fuel, plastics, etc. So that means that between 1.9-3.9 billions of gallons, depending on whose numbers you believe, are wasted every year which comes to between 100m -200m barrels per year wasted. Or between 5-10 days worth of our driving needs. Frankly, I think this greatly understates the case. If you look at avg mpg city vs highway, I think it is more accurate to include the energy lost from stop starts as well as the time spent sitting at idle. The top 4 cars sold in the US last year (F150, Silverado, Accord, Camry) get 40% better mileage on the hwy than they do in city driving. But if you take the Camry hybrid, it gets 10% BETTER mileage in the city. So I assert that we waste > 40% of our oil consumption by not using at least mild hybrids. Therefore, a better headline/article would be: "The US waste 115Billion gallons of gas per year in city driving" There, NOW you have everyone's attention.
        EVSUPERHERO
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dave D
        Applause, bow and salute you, David Martin. Excellent comment about the OEM's touting their hwy mpg's and ignoring city, "PR". I love sitting in my EV while waiting to get on the hwy during rush hour. But Prius is just sitting as well, so I should not feel so cool. I sit and wonder, with two lanes choked for 6 blocks either way, wonder how much energy is being wasted by all these cars idling? Then we all get on the hwy and speed up and slow down for 30 mins.
        mapoftazifosho
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dave D
        Camry Hybrid gets 10% better fuel economy in the city than it does on the highway, but it gets about 40% better city fuel economy than the same non-hybrid Camry.
        PR
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Dave D
        You are right, these numbers do greatly understates city vs. highway driving MPG differences. Because it only accounts for the additional fuel that gridlock burns compared to driving the same commute without gridlock. They don't even try! So your logic is very strong that much more attention needs to be paid to city MPG than we currently do. A whole lot of the added MPG technology for traditional gassers is being put towards better highway MPG, like better aerodynamics, lockup torque converters, more gears in auto trannies, higher gearing for lower highway RPM's, etc. These do very little for city mpg, yet stuff that does, like auto-start/stop doesn't even get measured in the EPA test. But the car makers will all line up to brag about their 40+ mpg cars, and only mention in small print that the 40 mpg is highway, and not even mention combined or city MPG anywhere in their ads. There definitely needs to be a push for more attention to city MPG.
      Michael Weiser
      • 2 Years Ago
      Since 94% of commuters commute by themselves, the entire passenger sides of cars are complete and utter wastes of space that could be used as passing lanes for bicycles, motorcycles, and ultra-narrow cars. The solution is to manufacture and drive ultra-narrow cars like Commuter Cars' Tango and France's Lumeneo Smera. See www.commutercars.com for more information.
        JP
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Michael Weiser
        I'm sure all the people buying SUV's and trucks to drive to work and get a bag of groceries will be all over those micro cars. You can make all the small cars you want but they are no use if people don't buy them. Gas needs to get a lot more expensive before that will happen.
          Michael Weiser
          • 2 Years Ago
          @JP
          The idea of one car for all trips is an outmoded approach. The selling point for narrow cars is speed. Check out any lane splitting video on YouTube and you'll see how easy it will be to sell. People will be able to cut more than one half their commute time by driving narrow cars. Plus, most people could fit most of their grocery shopping bags in the seat(s) behind the driver's seat. The unused passenger sides of cars block possible passing lanes for bicycles, motorcycles, and ultra-narrow vehicles. They are complete and utter wastes of space. People will switch to narrow cars rapidly once they have a choice because it will speed up the commute times.
      Spec
      • 2 Years Ago
      Well hybrids boost the City MPG up like crazy. If you can drive on electricity alone when driving at slow speeds, you can really up your MPG. The EPA should revise their testing regime to better capture this issue. I can understand not wanting to change the existing regime since that would make it so you can't compare older and newer cars as easy. Perhaps they can add a new 'gridlock' MPG that tells how well the car does in stop & go traffic.
      Greg
      • 2 Years Ago
      There are very simple solutions to this problem--no need to roll out new technology (but that does help, too). Most non-freight fuel use is for commuting. If people's homes & work sites were closer, they would have a direct reduction in fuel need. But additionally, the less distance they drive, the less interactions they have with other drivers (traffic). Less traffic means less gridlock and better efficiency from their existing vehicles. Every big city I've been to has had a concetration of professional jobs in central business districts, but a lot of those professionals live in distant suburbs. Typical solutions include public transportation to herd the workers or cramming more housing into the downtown areas. What I don't see is a movement of jobs to the suburbs. That's where the people live, if they could work there as well, they could get out of everyone else's way. They wouldn't clog freeways going into town; fewer parking garages would be needed; less expensive mass transit would have to be built.
      2 Wheeled Menace
      • 2 Years Ago
      You know what would be easier than spending half a trillion dollars? mandating start and stop tech a few years into the future, which comes at a very low cost to the consumer, actually saves the consumer money over the life of the vehicle, and requires zero dollars of our money. Oh wait, we're talking about politics. I'm using the wrong logic :)
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        You have a great point. I see how it can be painful in stop and go. I wonder if a better system has been conceived since? Also, do you have an override button? a start and stop system should have one.. Really, the solution for traffic congestion is going to be ultra, ultra expensive. Traffic light idling is easy to fix. Let's look at which one would provide more benefit for your dollar.... i'm going with traffic light idling... and start and stop will help somewhat in traffic jams too..
        PR
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        Not only have you veered off into politics, you've even violated your own Libertarian free-market ideology in doing so....
        Nick
        • 2 Years Ago
        @2 Wheeled Menace
        I have stop-start in my car, and here's my opinion: -It's great at the stop light, which can last up to a minute or so. - Not so great in stop-and-go traffic. You stop, the engine shuts off, but then you need to move another 7 feet or so, and need to turn the engine back on. IMHO a start-stop system should come with a low-speed electric motor for up to 5mph in stop and go traffic.
          2 Wheeled Menace
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Nick
          ^-- yeah it has.. Prius C for $19k? hell yes..
          mapoftazifosho
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Nick
          A full-hybrid fixes this and over the past ten years...the price has dropped immensely for this technology.
      goodoldgorr
      • 2 Years Ago
      It might be dangeurous to be struck in a traffic jam with a bev because there is always an energy consumption even if we go 0 mph because the air conditionner take many electricity or if it's the night then it's the lighting that take electricity or if it's cold like canada then it's the heater that take electricity. Also there is the on board cumputer and the radio.
        Ele Truk
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Simple math here: 24 KWH battery, Heater draw 1.5 KWH (max) Everything else, .5 KWh (max) So minimum time an EV can sit still with everything on full blast - 12 hours. Or lets put that another way. For every hour the EV sits still, you lose 8 miles of range. Cost of fuel spent sitting still with everything on full blast - $0.36 (@ .18/KWh) per hour. Amount of gasoline wasted 0.00
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        "there is the on board cumputer " You really shouldn't do that while you are driving. ;-)
        marcopolo
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        @ Everyone, Why is poor old Gorr down-rated for stating the obvious, yet those who agree with him get uprated? There are certain pitfalls to traffic jams no matter what the mode of transport, and vehicles that run out of fuel add to the problem. It's a draback everyone who has sat in a traffic jam when low on gasoline can understand. The biggest difference is that in an EV, you are not polluting ypurself and everyone else!. Do they still make those little bituane pocket heaters that looked like cigar cases?
        Nick
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Isn't that the same issues as with an ICE car? It also keeps on wasting energy while stopped.
          Letstakeawalk
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Nick
          Yep, and traffic jams are often made worse when people run out of gas...
        solas
        • 2 Years Ago
        @goodoldgorr
        Let's see, it's really dangerous to be driving around in a bev in traffic jams with the lights on. I mean, the lighting system in its entirety takes 400 watts or so. On a 24kWH battery, the car will only last 60 hours, certainly not long enough to last in LA traffic jams. Sheesh, what an epic fail. They play mozart too, and the moon is made of green cheese. Am I interested to buy?
      george costanza
      • 2 Years Ago
      I think all comments make too much sense. vote out all incumbents. and let ordinary americans who actually work for a living make the decisions. I can't imagine ANYBODY enjoys hours of wasted time polluting their own environment causing increased health problems, climate change, pollution, higher food costs. there are options. high speed rail should be rolled out as much as poss. I used to think humans were smarter than have to be goaded to do the right thing by not being able to afford gas, ie. 'the hard way'. now in US anyway probl have to have people bankrupt themselves before they will do 'the right thing' and get off oil start stop makes too much sense. occam's razor doesn't apply in the US.
        EZEE
        • 2 Years Ago
        @george costanza
        George and EV say the same thing for two different sides, and both are downvoted. Tough crowd. I usually needle George for his 'happy' posts, but is anything that bad that he said? And, like it or not, EV is correct on the budget. Nothing out of the senate for what...3 years now? And the President's budget was bad enough it was voted down by a unanimous vote (bringing two sides together, evidently). If you are on the right, it is OKAY to be mad at Bush for his spending, and If you are on the left, it is OKAY for you to be mad that your dreams did not come true, even with a filibuster proof senate. By standing by 'your guy' no matter what his actions are, you provide cover, so things never change.
        EVnerdGene
        • 2 Years Ago
        @george costanza
        "and let ordinary americans who actually work for a living make the decisions" That's what our founding fathers had in mind about congress when they wrote the Constitution. Somehow it has turned into a bunch of prostitutes that only worry about being elected the next term. Can't even balance a budget; err, there is no budget. Where's the "change" you morons thought you were voting into office ? It's worse than before.
      marcopolo
      • 2 Years Ago
      The US Treasury Department thinks the US has problems with traffic jams! They dwindle into insignificance in comparison to the PRC! On a recent visit to Beijing I met a successful entrepreneur runs a service supplying meals, water, medicine, massage, battery charging, fuel, music, TV hire, blankets, clothing, games, even mobile portable toilet/shower/bathrooms to the PRC's frequent traffic jams. Some of these jams can last days, weeks or even months! He also will provide a car minding service for those who wish to leave their cars and bicycle (EV) or scooter, to the nearest train station! He even has a popular website ! The smog is incredible as the PRC's idea of exhust controls on vehicles is very different to US standards.
        EZEE
        • 2 Years Ago
        @marcopolo
        'a car minding service.' That actually really makes me happy. If the Chinese have moved that far away from the classic communist model, to where entrepreneurs create stuff like this, well, great job! And, how cool it would be to have some blonde (well, okay, in china she may not be natural blonde) massage therapist show up and rub on my during a traffic jam. You need to blog about your adventures, and especially once you get your new cars.
          marcopolo
          • 2 Years Ago
          @EZEE
          @Ezee Oddly enough, although in the Southern PRC, (Guangdong and Zhuhai etc) , that sort of girl is common, the further North you travel the more strictly the law against such activities is enforced! Travel in the PRC is fascinating. Although, there are businesses springing up everywhere, and although most of the CCP is pretty corrupt, there are lot's of remote places still functioning as they did during Chairman Mao's era. In one town I passed through, it was as if the 1970's never happened. An estimated 15% of PRC citizens believe Mao is still alive!
          EZEE
          • 2 Years Ago
          @EZEE
          Sweet. Thanks to you both!
          Dave D
          • 2 Years Ago
          @EZEE
          EZEE, I've spent a lot of time in China, and I find it to be the most amazingly strange thing in the world: The country is communist as a "people" but as individuals, I've never met someone who DIDN"T have a side company that they owned or operated! The CEO you just met with? He has a business that provides connections for foreigners to do business in PRC. That bus boy who just carried your dished back to the kitchen? He has a business that gets local medicines for people "cheap". The lady behind the desk at the hotel? She has a business that.... and on and on and on. I've never met anyone over there who wasn't hustling something in their own business on the side. Strange to see these same folks live as a "people" in a communist society.
      Dan Frederiksen
      • 2 Years Ago
      obviously electric cars is the answer...
      EZEE
      • 2 Years Ago
      He's got you there 2 wheel. I guess none of us are purists....remember, you (pr) were called a corporate shill for commenting on Ford Motor, and I was a 'hippie' for being happy with electrics? :)
      • 2 Years Ago
      Ignoring potential range issues, I wonder how the energy consumption of an ICE compares to a BEV in traffic jams.
        mapoftazifosho
        • 2 Years Ago
        Not even comparable!
        EVSUPERHERO
        • 2 Years Ago
        EV is made for rush hour. If your regen is on the accelerator pedal you hardly use the break. Speed up with electrons and slow down with regen. Not only is a EV 7 to 8 times more efficient in propelling a vehicle forward, the regen while slowing down allows less energy wasted while slowing down in the back and forth or slow and speed of rush hour traffic. EV's are most efficient at 40 mph and below and this is a large majority of rush hour type traffic. Above 40 mph they must push air and because my car's whole tank consists of the energy of one gallon of gas, I see the effects of over 40 mph driving and the difference between 55 and 70 mph are large in a EV with one gallon of gas as energy on board to go 130 miles. 33 kwh pack is approx one gallon equivalent.
        Peter
        • 2 Years Ago
        The worst case scenario for the BEV is the depth of winter in the GM test center in Kapuskasing, Ontario where you have an electric element heating the car (99% efficient) versus an idling engine that sends waste heat to the car. Idling a car will consume a gallon an hour = 1.3 x 10*8 Joules The electric element, even a 500W heater (think 5 * 100W lightbulbs) = 1,8 x10*6 Joules So in rough terms a BEV is 100 x as efficient (if that is the term to use) than an ICE in a traffic jam.
        MTN RANGER
        • 2 Years Ago
        I get very good MPC in traffic jams. If it is just slow moving 30-40MPH, I get even better.
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        Well, an ICE wastes about 80% of it's energy input as heat. A BEV wastes 20% of it's energy input as heat. Does that help answer your question? :)
      Peter
      • 2 Years Ago
      "A car that is sitting still with the engine running is getting zero miles per gallon, no matter how efficient the aerodynamics or how great the hybrid powertrain is" Hybrids, including the mild ones with start/stop, might get 0 mpg while idling, but they get infinite mpg when the engine is stopped. Unless we get into a world when the computer controls both the accellerator and brake of everyone in traffic, traffic lights for onramps and the like will help less than mandating stop/start (or changing the EPA testing to allow for the fact that stop-go traffic is a fact of life for many commuters).
        2 Wheeled Menace
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Peter
        Do not try to divide by zero. Trust me on this one.. ;)
          Doug
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          sin(0)/0 = 1
          Joeviocoe
          • 2 Years Ago
          @2 Wheeled Menace
          I just tried.... and the Booming voice of Chuck Norris echoed all around me and said, "I dare you!"
        Dan Frederiksen
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Peter
        Peter, you got a little confused on the math. a car idling at standstill gets 0 mpg. with start stop it has no mileage at stand still and can maintain an overall reasonable mileage even with extensive stops
        Spec
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Peter
        Yeah, I was going to point this out as well. The whole point of hybrids is to turn off the gas engine in such situations. If designed with a decent sized battery, they will use zero gasoline in such situations.
        Doug
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Peter
        "mild [hybrids] with start/stop ... get infinite mpg when the engine is stopped." zero divided by zero does not necessarily equal infinity.
          Peter
          • 2 Years Ago
          @Doug
          @Doug I thought about that as the engine gets turned off in a Stop/Start when you are coasting to a stop it does mean infinite instantaneous mpg, but we are fighting over semantics. @Bill Worst case scenario for BEV efficiency vs ICE is Canadian winter vs an idling ICE that produces waste heat 'for free' and the BEV has to use an electric element. An idling ICE car consumes 1 gallon an hour = 1,3x10^8 joules a 1.5 kWh electric element heater (15 x 100W light bulbs of heat) will consume = 5,4 x 10^6 joules .: BEV 1/20 the use of energy of the ICE in this worst case even a Leaf 1 without a heat pump can handle that draw for 16 hours
        PR
        • 2 Years Ago
        @Peter
        The math doesn't matter, but Peter's main point about the EPA test needing to account for automatic stop/start technology is the real issue. This is a technology that will go a long ways towards reducing our oil consumption. PS-- on the math thing; A car that isn't moving travels no distance, so will always get zero miles per whatever. There is no need to even divide by zero, because zero miles traveled will always result in zero miles per unit of whatever is being consumed. MPG simply cannot measure fuel consumption of a vehicle that is not in motion (unless it is averaged into when the vehicle IS in motion to get MPG). To measure idle fuel consumption, you need to measure gas vs. time, not vs miles. Like Gallons per Hour while not in motion.
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