My dad’s decisions

Tom writes*

Everyone buckle up while I take you along on my dad’s daily commute to work. Before you ask yourself why you have to care about the travels of some middle aged man that you have never met, let me explain.

Passenger cars drove 100 billion kilometres in the Netherlands in 2020, emitting 5.3 billion kilogrammes of carbon. Emissions of passenger cars could be decreased if people like my dad switched to public transport. I will use him as an example to show that time, comfort, and prices play a deciding role in the choice of transportation for commuters.

So, back to my dad.

My dad works for an insurance company in Eindhoven, which is 143 km from his house. Five days a week he drives 1.5 hours each way in his trusted Renault Mégane. The car uses diesel fuel and has a mileage of 5.6 litre per 100 km. Which, after a quick calculation, means that he uses 16 litres of diesel per day. This will be important once we start comparing prices. However, for now I would like to highlight that his car emits 118-129 grams of carbon per km [pdf]. Taking an average of that and multiplying it by the amount of kilometres he drives, we find out that his car alone emits 35.3 kilograms of carbon each day.

My dad cares about the environment, and is reasonably up to date about climate change consequences. So why does he keep using his car when he has the possibility to take the carbon-neutral train to get to work?

For this, he gave me three reasons: time, comfort, and money.

To get from his house to his work would take around 3 hours by public transport, depending on the time of day and available trains and busses. This is “such a waste of time” compared to his 1.5-2 hour commute. Public transport requires 20 minutes of walking and a lot of waiting.

“What if it rains?”

I did not have a counterargument to a man who has to give presentations and talk to clients all day. He also enjoys air conditioning in summer and heated seats in winter.

Then, as foreshadowed, we come to money. Getting to work (with a regular OV-chipcard) would cost a whopping €28, or €56 per day. Since diesel costs 1.67 euros per litre, his 16 litres of consumption adds up to €27 per day, only half of the cost of public transport. My dad is not willing to pay that difference.

Bottom line: Cars emit carbon and add to air pollution. Public transport is often suggested as a solution, but it’s not always the substitute we need it to be. The example of my dad has shown the mindset of a regular commuter, and how they are often not willing to give up their time, comfort, and money to decrease their CO2 emissions.

* Please help my Environmental Economics students by commenting on unclear analysis, alternative perspectives, better data sources, or maybe just saying something nice :).

Author: David Zetland

I'm a political-economist from California who now lives in Amsterdam.

2 thoughts on “My dad’s decisions”

  1. Fuel cost is part of the total cost of owning an auto. According to a slightly outdated calculation for Dutch auto (, fuel cost is only half of the variable cost (km dependent), and next to that there is a fixed cost (km independent) which can not be ignored.

    Take the “mini klasse” example, its fuel cost is 10 cent/km, while the variable cost (including fuel cost) is 18.7 cent/km.

    If dad is driving the “mini klasse” example, his fuel cost will be 28 EUR per day (which is aligned with Tom’s calculation), while his variable cost (including fuel cost) will be 53 EUR per day. We have not factored in the fixed cost yet. People can go cheaper by using a fuel-efficient diesel and owning it for a long time, but only up to a limit.

  2. Thank you so much for your reply.
    Since my dad’s car is leased through the company he works for, they pay his fixed costs, so that is not something I took into account.
    I do see that this makes him less of a common case than I first had in mind because paying fixed costs is entirely normal for most commuters. So thank you for bringing that up.

    However, since the km independent costs are there anyways, car owners would not be able to omit these costs by taking public transport once in a while. The decision to me then would look like getting rid of the car or not, and I do think that that is a bit extreme behaviour for regular commuters.

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