How Many Gallons of Fuel Does it Take to Travel 350 Miles?

GOOD Magazine, in collaboration with Robert A. Di Leso, Jr., explores fuel use by various modes of transportation. In what is essentially a fancied up bar chart, we see how many gallons of fuel it takes for a passenger to travel 350 miles by cruise ship, Amtrak, Boeing 737, Sedan, hybrid, etc. A couple of non-fuel modes of transportation are included as well using caloric conversions. It’ll take about 48 Whoppers with cheese to walk 350 miles. Good to know, especially since I was planning on walking 350 miles today. Totally kidding. I’m walking 360. Like a circle.

[Thanks, Lawrie]


  • Wow, this is great. Good Magazine seems to have some other interesting visualizations, including this one about subway ridership:

  • I was amazed to see how much fuel was needed for all the cars given there capacity was about 4 people and this is a gallons used per person to cover 350 miles. Then I saw the legend and the dotted lines.

    This makes a significant difference but is hard to spot at first inspection. Maybe the should number or color the barrels. If I was playing the cynic I would say GOOD are trying to put cars in a bad light (which is no bad thing) but the point is the hybrid car is comparable with the bus if both are full.

    A great example of a chart that has been manipulated to show what they want. Technically all transport items should be considered full to be correctly compared.

    Also as a keen cyclist I’m glad this comes in best. You’d also look pretty buff after 350 miles :-)

  • Matt, your point about car occupancy is a good one. Some quick searching suggests that the average occupancy of a car is approx 1.5 passengers.

    I’m not sure how this would compare with mass transit options such as buses or trains, but I suspect that trains, planes, and buses need to maintain higher occupancy rates in order to stay profitable.

  • @Chris – Yeah, GOOD magazine puts out some good stuff – i think mostly for their GOOD sheets, although i personally have never seen one:

  • Oh yuck! Thanks to Matt’s observations I see just how misleading this graph can be (whether your interest is fuel cost, CO2, tropospheric pollution (which would include VOCs, etc.), or what).

    And then add the lack of data on typical occupancy rate for motor coaches, 737s, etc.

    GOOD? Not so much.

    p.s. and I’m not even going to mention the CO2/methane load from generating all those hamburgers :-)

  • Chris makes some good points about average car and public transportation occupancy though, which I think lends some more credibility to the graphic though. But yeah, the 1-2-3 probably could’ve been more obvious.

  • I agree with other commenters – this is a terrible visualization. The goal of visualization should be too simply the comprehension of data or to highlight information in data which is not otherwise easy to intuit. This chart does neither. Instead it takes different data sets and combines them into misleading results.

  • Hi All,

    IMHO this data visualization is borders on deception when they change the formula to generate a graphic midway through the graph.

    Looking at the graphic for a cruise ship there are 14 gallons per person (at full capacity) for 350 miles (350 miles * 121 GPM / 2915 people = 14.5). For the train you have 350 * 2.17 / 300 = 2.5. In the graphic you see 14 cans of gas and 2.5 cans respectively

    Using the same formula for the SUV you should have 350 miles * .048 / 5 = 3.36. As others have pointed out, the legend on the bottom accounts for the changes in the X axis and this change is indicated with rather small dotted line. This is not really adequate and the reader is deceived – I agree a color and/or symbol change would be appropriate.

    Frankly what surprised me was the motorcycle – I always figured they would rank much better.

    BTW their math seems a bit funny also, if you convert the cruise ship .009 MPG to GPM I get 111.1 not 121

  • This chart is misleading. It is not clear to me if that is gallons per passenger mile (the cruise boat???)

    Also, notice in the time for the cruise boa is in hours and minutes, but the time for walking is just in hours? It does not need to be this confusing.


  • Another point where this chart could have done a little more to help educate: Gas consumption should probably be compared with actual emissions and pollution. For example, the CO2 released by a jet is much worse than CO2 released by a car since it is much higher in the atmosphere and sticks around for longer.

  • constantnormal February 24, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    If you root around on he web and get some raw data for airline fuel consumption, you will see that the gal/mi/passenger for an airline is roughly comparable (less than a factor of 2 difference) to the gal/mi/passenger that one gets with a minivan carrying 4 persons on the highway. This is in stark contrast to the size of the bars on the above chart.

    Was this produced by the airlines?

  • agree with Phil, why using burgers as a unit, they take too much energy to produce, transport, freeze and deliver. What about comparing with kilos of apples?

  • How much energy to generate a cheeseburger? Meat production is highly inefficient (well compared to the energy available in the grass/corn cows eat) + transportation + cooking… yada, yada…

  • Michael Bean February 26, 2009 at 9:53 pm

    Here’s my attempt at cleaning up Good Magazine’s graphic:

  • Of course, bicyclists don’t actually consume gasoline, and converting gasoline to cheeseburgers is very ineffcient… here’s an interesting analysis:

    And a fairly thoughtful evaluation of the actual efficiencies of various forms of transit:

  • They say ’16 hamburgers or 1/4th a tank of gas” but it sounds like they’re comparing the direct energy. It would be more intresting if they calculated the actual fuel costs involved in producing the food. I’d bet it takes more fuel calories to produce calories of char-broiled beef then you actual get out of a hamburger.

  • That’s really an entirely different graphic. What about the cost of importing oil? Producing it? What was the cost of hiring workers? What about management? What was the time that it took for all that? What fuel was used in transportation? Where did the fuel to transport fuel come from?

  • In addition to the other astute observations about the poor analysis represented by this figure, I’d like to point out another problem. Many of these modes of movement represent different services provided, and thus, the bars are not on the same basis!

    350 miles travelled by someone in their SUV are (for the most part) miles they needed to travel. 350 miles travelled on a cruise ship just don’t t deliver the same amount of, well, function. Similarly, people don’t generally walk long, or even moderate distances to get somewhere. They’re trying to burn off the cheeseburgers!

    Plus, it’s not clear if these oil cans represent the total energy used or just the propulsion energy.

  • Kevin Wright April 23, 2009 at 11:45 am

    From my experience with long-distance biking, the cost of the food required to bike 350 miles far exceeds the cost of gasoline. I seem to recall 30-40 cents per mile for food is what I calculated.