Clean Motion December 2009

A monthly review of energy, climate, and public health issues related to transportation
December 2009


Travel Demand

Travel Choices

Vehicles and Fuels


Clean Transportation Measures Strengthened in Climate Bill

The energy and climate bill reported by the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee in November (Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, S.1733) includes provisions that would direct state and metropolitan transportation agencies to establish plans to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Similar provisions were included in the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) passed by the House of Representatives in June; however, the support of five Senators on the EPW Committee led by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) and Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) strengthened the bill’s policy provisions and increased funding to states and metropolitan regions to develop and implement GHG reduction plans. Approximately 2.5 percent of the allowance value created and distributed by the overall bill would be allocated for this purpose.

These plans would have broad flexibility in the measures used to achieve GHG reductions—including accelerated deployment of fuel-efficient vehicles and low-carbon fuels, reduced travel demand through land-use planning, telecommuting, and other means, and shifting travel to public transportation, biking, walking, and other low-GHG modes.

Attention on energy and climate legislation has shifted to other Senate committees with jurisdiction, including the Senate Finance Committee, which is likely to hold hearings in January, following their work on healthcare legislation. Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) has maintained that the Committee will exercise its jurisdiction over how any allowances in the bill are allocated.

Resources: Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, Streetsblog, Streetsblog, Logistics Management

Studies Point to Systems Approach for Reducing Transportation Emissions

New research and analyses released over the past several months suggest that effective strategies to reduce oil dependence and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the transportation sector will require integrated “bundles” of different measures. The most comprehensive of these studies is a report called Moving Cooler, commissioned by a diverse consortium of federal agencies, transportation organizations, and environmental groups. The report finds that most measures under consideration, if applied individually, would achieve relatively small reductions in oil consumption and GHG emissions—some measures would contribute one to three percent reduction from a “business as usual” baseline but many others would each contribute less than one percent. The GHG benefits of public transportation, for example, were found to be modest by itself, but were greatly multiplied when applied together with supporting infrastructure, community design, and development patterns.

The report finds, however, that deploying a full suite of complementary measures would add up to substantial reductions of nearly 25 percent. Further, total reductions could approach 35 percent below baseline if combined with nationwide deployment of variable pricing mechanisms for transportation infrastructure (variable pricing was the only measure that the report projected could achieve reductions approaching 10 percent, if applied alone).

Other studies by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the Urban Land Institute (ULI), the Center for Clean Air Policy (CCAP) and others have examined how promoting higher densities for employment and residential land uses and related smart growth strategies can cost-effectively reduce GHG emissions from the transportation sector. The NAS study notes that while the GHG benefits of increased density are significant, they can be difficult to measure in isolation and may be limited without applying other measures—similar to the findings of the Moving Cooler report. The CCAP study, meanwhile, shows that while smart growth strategies may take longer to implement, their benefits are long-lasting and can achieve more cost savings than most other GHG reduction measures, including non-transportation measures.

Resources: Moving Cooler report, National Academy of Sciences, Urban Land Institute, Center for Clean Air Policy

Transportation Choices, Livable Communities Top National Agenda

Federal agencies have developed programs to promote livable urban areas in the past; however, President Obama and his Cabinet have signaled that shaping the built environment of U.S. cities and towns to become more livable and sustainable communities will be a high priority for the current Administration. In June, the White House announced the creation of an “Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities” between the Department of Transportation, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency, aimed at expanding services and improving coordination among these agencies. The Partnership outlined six “livability principles” to guide agency efforts to meet federal transportation, affordable housing, and environmental goals, while streamlining transportation and land-use policies and practices.

This initiative is part of a broader White House agenda to revitalize the nation’s urban areas, including the announcement in March of a new White House Office of Urban Affairs as well as allocation of federal stimulus dollars towards urban programs. Critics have diminished the significance of such attempts at federal agency cooperation, but supporters point to projects such as Kansas City’s “Green Impact Zone,” which aims to revitalize an economically depressed area by developing businesses and employment opportunities related to energy-efficiency and renewable energy and helping residents reduce their energy bills. Such projects exemplify the “double dividend—economic and environmental—that investments in clean energy can achieve.

Resources: Washington Post, U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Kansas City's Green Zone, National Journal Blog on Livable Communities

Federal Agencies Directed to Curb Fuel Use and Greenhouse Gas Emissions

In an Executive Order issued in October, President Obama set sustainability goals for all federal agencies, including specific goals to reduce petroleum use by fleet vehicles, improve and expand energy efficiency, water conservation, and recycling programs, and integrate sustainability measures in government contracts. The order also directs agencies to submit plans within 90 days to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

President Obama stated that the government, as the country’s largest energy consumer, ought to lead by example by pursuing energy-efficient practices and purchasing low-carbon products. The order includes a 30 percent reduction goal for vehicle fleet petroleum use by 2020 through both vehicle efficiency and improved management of vehicle use. In signing the order, the President noted in particular the power of the Internet and related technology to dramatically increase efficiency in both the power and transportation sector.

Resources: Washington Examiner, White House

EESI Transportation and Energy Program Highlights

EESI has been educating Members of Congress, Congressional staff, and federal policy stakeholders on major energy and climate issues related to transportation.

Alternative Transportation Fuels—EESI has worked to help clarify the often-confusing options for alternative transportation fuels for federal policymakers. EESI held a series of Congressional briefings that compared different alternative fuels regarding their impact on energy security, climate change, and other economic and environmental factors. The three initial briefings focused on fuels derived from liquid coal, tar sands, and oil shale as well as different types of biofuels. Upcoming briefings will examine the future of electricity as a transportation fuel as well as policy options to advance clean, low carbon fuels.

Electric Vehicles—EESI has continued to highlight the potential economic, energy, and environmental benefits of “electrifying” the transportation sector. EESI has provided educational outreach to Congressional staff, including demonstration events where Members of Congress and staff could test drive electric cars and learn about them directly from manufacturers. With several electric vehicle models anticipated to be available starting late in 2010, EESI will increasingly focus on addressing infrastructure issues that will accelerate the transition to electric transportation.

Idle Reduction—EESI, in collaboration with the Utah Clean Cities Program and the National Energy Foundation, developed materials to help school officials implement an idle reduction program for school bus drivers and other transportation staff. By engaging drivers as partners, the curriculum addresses the importance of idle reduction to both save fuel and protect the health of young children.

Community Energy—Transportation and land use development are often a key focus for local communities working to make their energy use more efficient and more sustainable, but there are other important opportunities as well. EESI, in collaboration with the American Planning Association (APA), has been working to help local planners and other local officials address their broader goals to meet energy needs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and adapt to the impacts of climate change—including issues related to infrastructure, economic development, building and site design, and natural resources. EESI and APA have developed an online database of information sources related to different elements of these issues. A report synthesizing the results of this collaboration, Planning for a New Energy and Climate Future, will be published early next year.

EESI is building on its project with APA to develop its Community Energy Initiative, which will focus on overcoming barriers and identifying policy options to help local communities play a greater role in addressing their own energy needs.

Transportation and Climate Change Mitigation—EESI held two Congressional briefings in 2009 on transportation strategies that reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. The first briefing, cosponsored with the Transportation for America coalition, focused on the “Complete Streets” design concept to ensure communities accommodate all users—including transit riders, bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities—to minimize the need for personal vehicle travel. The second briefing examined a broader range of transportation system and vehicle efficiency strategies, with Congressional staff and representatives of the U.S. and Maryland departments of transportation sharing their perspectives.

Transportation and Climate Change Adaptation—EESI has increasingly focused on the challenge of adapting to the impacts of climate change. The built environment is a key focal point of this challenge, especially regarding transportation and infrastructure systems. Building on our project with the American Planning Association (see above), EESI is exploring key issues facing the transportation sector and how transportation agencies specifically need to equip themselves to manage anticipated impacts.

Jobs and Economy—EESI held a briefing for Congressional staff this fall to highlight a new report Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment. Among the findings were that every $1 billion of public transportation investment creates 36,000 jobs, generates $ 1.8 billion in short-term economic benefit, and yields $1.7 billion in long-term economic benefit.

U.S. Car Ownership, Travel Trends Slow As Developing Countries Catch Up

From 1980 to 2006, car ownership in the United States increased steadily, from roughly 600 to 750 cars per 1,000 residents. The United States continues to have the highest per capita car ownership rates in the world. Italy is a distant second, with its 2006 rate of ownership being well below where the United States was in 1980. The number of vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) in the United States has also increased steadily over that period from roughly 5,600 to 8,700 miles per capita—again leading all countries, with Australia in second at about 4,400 miles per capita in 2006.

However, between 2004 and 2006, VMT in the United States leveled off, and decreased in 2007 for the first time since 1980. According to a report by the Brookings Institution released earlier this year, this trend began even before retail gas prices began to spike. The Brookings report further found that VMT in rural areas began to decline as early as 2004, while urban rates did not drop until 2007, consistent with a long-term shift towards large-capacity urban roadways from 1980 to 2007. States in the Southeast and Intermountain West had the greatest increases in VMT from 1991 to 2006, while the Great Plains, Northeastern, and Pacific states experienced a slower rate of increase.

New reports from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Cambridge Energy Resource Associates (CERA), meanwhile, have highlighted a marked shift in global car ownership trends, finding that vehicle ownership rates in developed countries are reaching a “saturation” level, whereas in developing Asia, many cities are seeing car ownership double every three to seven years. The ADB report projects that if these trends continue unchecked, greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector will rise 57 percent globally by 2030, with developing countries accounting for roughly 80 percent of the increase (more than 50 percent from Asia alone).

China, for example, had only 20,000 private cars nationwide in 1985, but is expected to see its current fleet of nearly 20 million private cars increase sevenfold by 2030. Beijing alone has more than three million cars, but is experiencing much of this growth due partly to the fact that roughly 80 percent of the city’s jobs are located in the outer edges of the city. The ADB report notes that curbing car use is a much more viable political option than controlling car ownership and recommends measures such as parking policies, carpooling, congestion pricing and “judicious land-use planning” as ways to reduce urban sprawl, pollution and congestion.

Resources: Brookings Institution, Christian Science Monitor, U.S. Census Bureau, Asian Development Bank, New York Times, International Energy Agency, USA Today

Broadband Technology Makes Way for Telecommuting Expansion

Sharp increases in broadband subscriptions and new technologies are giving companies and transportation planners increased opportunities and flexibility to reduce travel demand and cut costs by promoting telecommuting. The percentage of Americans with a broadband internet connection at home has risen sharply in just two years—from 47 percent in 2007 to 63 percent in 2009. Congress, meanwhile, has tasked the Federal Communications Commission with developing a national broadband access plan by 2010. In addition, two telework bills introduced in Congress (the Telework Enhancement Act, S.707 and the Telework Improvements Act, H.R.4106) would expand telecommuting options for federal employees.

Accelerated deployment of broadband infrastructure and new technologies such as “cloud computing,” where data is stored on easily accessible remote servers, are enabling companies, especially small businesses, to save money on office space and related expenses, and increase productivity by allowing employees to work from home when necessary or desirable. A recent study by network hardware manufacturer Cisco estimated that telecommuting generates $277 million in annual savings and increased productivity for the company. Virtual conferences technologies also are advancing rapidly, with leading companies now offering options such as “virtual booth interactions,” cyber auditoriums for speakers, and tours of virtual exhibition floors, all accessible from any computer connected to the Internet. In a recent survey of marketing executives, 63 percent of respondents said they are less likely to attend an in-person event than a virtual conference, which typically costs one-tenth the amount of an in-person event.

Resources: Government Telework Policies and Legislation, USA Today, SF Gate, Brookings Institution, Pew Research Center, TMC Net

Ride-Sharing Pays, Sometimes Literally

Saving money is among the primary reasons that people participate in ride-sharing programs. As gas prices rise, ride-sharing programs tend to expand. For example, use of the South Florida Commuter Services ride-sharing service doubled when gas prices neared $4.00 a gallon last year. As prices fell, however, many commuters went back to their old ways, driving alone to work.

But what if ride-sharing were easier and more convenient and did not just save money, but actually paid money? A variety of innovative programs are experimenting with new ways to boost participation in ride-sharing programs, even in the absence of sky-high gas prices. For example, Commuter Connections is paying commuters $1 per trip ($2 per day) for new ride sharers on certain routes near Washington D.C. as a part of its Pool Rewards program. A German company is developing OpenRide, an application for smart phones that uses a search engine to let prospective ride-sharers connect in real-time, enabling spur of the moment ride-shares. Car-sharing company Zipcar has teamed up with the online ride-sharing community Zimride to integrate the two services. The duo’s pilot project is taking place at Stanford University and will soon be expanded to other universities.

The Victoria Transport Policy Institute compiled several studies on the travel impacts of ride-sharing programs and found that they yield the greatest results when incorporating multiple benefits. For example, ride-sharing programs typically attract 5-15 percent of commute trips when only information and encouragement were offered, but that they attracted 10-30 percent of commute trips when financial incentives such as parking passes or direct subsidies were included as well. Moreover, they found that because ride-share users tend to have fairly long commutes, ride-sharing programs reduced the number of commuting trips taken by 5 percent—but reduced vehicle miles traveled by 10 percent.

These reductions have real impacts for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. For example, a collaborative ride-sharing program created by NuRide and Chevron Corporation matched nearly 6,000 riders to reduce over 5,000,000 vehicle-miles traveled over the course of a year, resulting in a 2,300 metric ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Moreover, 60 percent of these people drove alone to work before this program was implemented. Two dozen sponsors ranging from restaurants to golf courses offered over $200,000 in rewards for the program’s users.

Resources: TDM Encyclopedia, GovPro, WTOP, Commuter Connections, South Florida Sun Sentinel, Washington Post

Would VMT Tax Be Better than Current Gas Tax?

Projected shortfalls in dedicated federal revenues for transportation infrastructure have sparked discussions about alternative funding sources. The federal Highway Trust Fund has depleted the surplus it accrued in earlier years and had an $8 billion deficit in fiscal year 2009. This deficit, if unaddressed, is projected to grow in subsequent years. Earlier this year, the National Surface Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission, created by Congress to explore alternative funding options, recommended an initial 10 cent increase in the federal gasoline tax (from the current 18 cents to 28 cents per gallon), but it also advised eventually replacing the gas tax with a vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) tax. A key question—aside from how much revenue a VMT tax would raise—is how a VMT tax could be used to reduce congestion and manage overall travel demand.

A VMT tax, which would be determined by electronic sensors that detect when a vehicle is driving on a specific road, would tie fees more directly to actual road use. The tax rate could be varied by road and time of day which could help distribute traffic flow more efficiently. A VMT tax would give transportation planners and budget managers the ability to set taxes that more accurately reflect the true costs of maintaining and operating roads and bridges. Such a tax may reduce the incentive to drive a more fuel efficient vehicle or use an alternative fuel source, unless vehicle or fuel type were somehow factored into the tax rate. A gas tax, on the other hand, provides a weaker incentive to economize on actual road use, but more directly charges for the emissions that accompany fossil fuel-powered vehicles.

A VMT-based system would be somewhat more complex to implement because they require a means of tracking travel, rather than simply charging for the amount of fuel purchased at the pump. However, there already have been several domestic pilot projects in locations ranging from Georgia to Oregon. A pilot project in Portland used an onboard mileage counter to transmit VMT information to pumps at participating gas stations. Using this information the VMT tax was automatically added to the driver's bill, while the gas tax was deducted.

Since reducing emissions, congestion, and fuel use and ensuring proper road maintenance are all worthy goals, pursuing a hybrid of these two approaches may be the best option. The Netherlands will begin implementing such a hybrid system in 2011. The tax will vary based upon location, time of day, and vehicle fuel efficiency. Moreover, it will be revenue neutral, as it will gradually replace the nation’s motor vehicle tax.

In the Washington, D.C. area, officials are seeking federal funds to study how the public would react to a VMT tax. Proposed by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and the Brookings Institution, the study would evaluate a range of road pricing options that would supplement or replace gas tax revenue, and the potential benefits for traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.

Resources: New York Times, TerraPass, Planetizen, Washington Post

How Pricey Would Road Pricing Be?

Several recent studies have highlighted the potential benefits of road pricing—both as a revenue source and as a means of managing travel demand. Road pricing can be applied by a variety of means from traditional tolls to taxes on vehicle-miles traveled (VMT). In June, the Brookings Institution released a report on different approaches to regional road-use pricing, including a VMT tax and comprehensive road tolls that would apply variable tolls to all roads depending on their level of congestion. The Brookings report estimates that average road-use pricing could range from 3-15 cents per mile and could reduce VMT by 11 percent.

The Brookings report describes how a road-pricing pilot program would be implemented in the Washington, D.C. area. Cars participating in the pilot study would be equipped with GPS transponders that would record motorists’ travel based on distance, level of congestion, and type of vehicle. The transponder would total all tolls or taxes and drivers would be charged accordingly when they purchased gas. Cars from outside the pilot area and other motorists lacking the GPS device would continue to pay the full gas tax. At an average price of between 9 and 15 cents per mile, such a policy would reduce congestion by an estimated 75-80 percent, according to information from the Federal Highway Administration cited by the report.

Meanwhile, raising gasoline taxes also would have an effect on travel behavior, fuel use, and subsequent greenhouse gas emissions. Economists Lutz Killian at the University of Michigan and Lucas Davis at the University of California, Berkeley have estimated the effects of increasing gasoline taxes on reducing carbon emissions, using U.S. historical data to project the likely result of increasing the gas tax. They found that in the short run, a 10 cent increase in gas taxes nationwide would yield a 1.5 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. A larger decrease would take place over the long run as more people, on average, would switch to more fuel efficient vehicles and live closer to their places of work.

Resources: Brookings Institution, Resources for the Future, National Bureau of Economic Research

Technology Fixes for Congestion Also Would Cut Fuel Use and Greenhouse Gases

“Intelligent Transportation Systems” (ITS) is the label given to a broad suite of technological tools that can help manage traffic flow more efficiently and smoothly. ITS measures have a variety of potential benefits from safety and congestion relief to reduced fuel consumption and air pollution. Using ITS to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions has received increasing attention from researchers, transportation planners, and policymakers.

Key areas where ITS could substantially enhance the overall fuel and GHG efficiency of regional transportation systems include advanced coordination of traffic signals, communicating traffic information to drivers, and prompting drivers to adjust speed and merge lanes where necessary. Using ITS to reduce accidents could also have inherent benefits for congestion relief and fuel efficiency. Empirical research on greenhouse gas benefits is still emerging in this area, but initial modeling studies and congestion studies suggest that widespread deployment could achieve GHG reductions on the order of one to five percent.

Resources: Reuters, Research and Innovative Technology Institute, Texas Transportation Institute, Brookings Institution

New High Speed Rail Group Touts Benefits, Challenges

In October, the U.S. High Speed Rail Association held its first major event, High Speed Rail 2009, which brought together businesses and advocates from 20 states and 10 countries to explore the opportunities and challenges of building a high-speed rail system in the United States. The group was created in June following an initial commitment of $8 billion in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (P.L. 111-5) passed by Congress in February and the announcement of a federal high-speed rail program by President Obama in April. According to the group, high-speed rail would help address two national goals, reduced oil dependence and lower greenhouse gas emissions, in addition to providing several other co-benefits. A 2006 report by the Center for Neighborhood Technology and the Center for Clean Air Policy analyzed the energy and greenhouse gas savings that would result from building high speed rail systems in 11 different regions of the country. These rail corridors would connect population centers and provide an economically viable alternative to automobile and air travel. The study found that building all 11 corridors would, by 2025, save approximately 2.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year or nearly 50 percent less than a business-as-usual scenario. All regions examined in the study would benefit from emissions reductions, but these impacts were not uniformly distributed. For example, the Midwest region was projected to see a seven percent reduction in air travel, while California would see a 114 percent reduction in airline traffic.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) undertook a similar study but focused only on the proposed Californian high speed rail system, which would run from Sacramento to San Diego. CARB found that high speed trains would consume roughly one fifth the energy per passenger mile of automobiles, and one third the energy per passenger mile of planes. Moreover, the trains would run on electricity—not petroleum, as cars and planes do at present—which would provide future opportunities to drive down greenhouse gas emissions as the electric grid shifts toward renewable energy sources. The major challenge noted by transportation officials lies in the details of planning routes for hundreds of miles of new or upgraded rail lines. Planning and engineering studies are expected to use a substantial portion of the initial funding.

Resources: U.S. High Speed Rail Network, Recovery Act, Center for Neighborhood Technology, California Air Resources Board, Politico

Transit Leads Shift to Clean Transportation

From electric cars to high-speed trains, “clean transportation” is projected to drive dramatic changes in the U.S. transportation landscape. Increasing transit ridership figures, as well as heightened concern about reducing oil dependence and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, have focused attention on the role of public transit. While the economic recession has created widespread budget challenges for transit operators, efforts to expand transit service while making transit service more fuel-efficient and lower in carbon emissions have continued across the United States.

In the Phoenix metropolitan area, the construction of a light-rail system that opened nearly a year ago has attracted more riders than expected, especially on weekends and for special events. Maricopa County, Arizona, which includes Phoenix, also launched a "green government" program this past year which included switching all the county's heavy-duty vehicles to biodiesel, reducing GHG emissions by an estimated 300 metric tons. This effort also provided thousands of residents with subsidized bus and light-rail passes, and created four special parking locations for hybrid and alternative-fuel vehicles.

In New York City, which has the largest diesel-electric hybrid bus fleet of any U.S. city, transit authority officials continue to tout the economic benefits of transitioning to hybrid buses, even though the upfront cost is nearly twice as expensive as conventional diesel buses. For example, the hybrid buses achieve 45 percent better fuel economy (four miles per gallon versus less than three miles per gallon for conventional buses) than traditional buses. New York City and Baltimore have been testing advanced, turbine-driven hybrid buses, which can run for up to two hours without any emissions before the vehicle's battery needs recharging.

Cost-benefit analyses for transit expansion also includes cost saving for consumers. A recent American Public Transportation Association (APTA) report found that, at current gas prices, commuters can save an average of more than $9,000 annually by riding public transportation, based on the average costs of driving, vehicle maintenance and parking costs. According to a 2009 Colliers International Parking Rate Study, the national average cost just for parking in downtown business areas is over $1,800 per year.

Resources: APTA, New York Times, Arizona Republic, New York Times, New York Times, APTA, APTA

Study Highlights Role of Public Transportation in Clean Energy Economy

In October, the Transportation Research Board’s Transit Cooperative Research Program released a study titled the Economic Impacts of Public Transportation Investment. The study analyzed employment, income, and other benefits associated with investments in infrastructure and equipment associated with public transportation. Key findings from the report include:

  • Public transportation investments have both short-term effects on the economy (jobs and spending) and long-term effects (increased efficiency, productivity, and cost savings).
  • Every $1 billion of public transportation investment creates 36,000 jobs, generates $1.8 billion in short-term economic benefits, and generates $1.7 billion in long-term economic benefits.
  • The $1.7 billion in long-term benefits include cost savings for those who use public transit instead of vehicles, savings for those who continue to use vehicles but experience less road congestion, and increased productivity as worker reliability improves and firms gain access to a broader labor market. These savings and productivity gains can enhance international competitiveness.
  • The direct economic benefits described in the APTA report do not include other important impacts of public transportation investment, such as quality of life, public health, and other social and environmental benefits.
  • Public transportation is already generating economic benefits in many cities and reducing annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by 37 million tons.

Resources: APTA

Transportation, Health, Safety, Greenhouse Gas Benefits Add Up for Bike-Ped Projects

According to new data from the National Household Transportation Survey, trips less than three miles make up nearly 10 percent of the total miles traveled by passenger vehicles in the United States. Providing opportunities to shift more of these short trips to bicycle, pedestrian, and other non-motorized forms of travel, however, provide more benefits than this figure alone might suggest. Recent reports by Transportation for America, AARP, and the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy highlight the transportation, safety, air quality, and public health benefits, in addition to greenhouse gas reductions and fuel savings, of investments in infrastructure for walking and biking.

Short vehicle trips, especially cold-start trips, use disproportionately more fuel per mile than longer trips, and may generate more than twice the amount of pollutants, such as particulates and ozone per mile. In addition, these emissions tend to occur in downtown areas where people are concentrated and exposed to air pollution. Walking and biking are important links in the transportation system and are often critical to maximizing the benefits of public transportation. Safe walkways and bikeways are also key to avoiding traffic-related injuries and deaths—since 2000, more than 43,000 people in the United States have been killed while walking across or along a road. Increased opportunities for physical activity add another major benefit to investments in pedestrian and bicycle options for short trips.

At the "Weight of the Nation" conference held in DC this summer, finding ways for Americans to become more active was a major focus, and expanded options to travel on foot or by bicycle were high on the list. A recent journal study found that only 17 percent of American workers walk or bike any portion of their commute to and from work, in many cases citing poorly maintained and unsafe bike paths, crumbling sidewalks, and long commuting distances as reasons for dismissing walking or biking. Many American cities, however, are taking steps to improve biking and walking access. In Boston, city planners announced the nation's first city-wide bike sharing system, to be launched in the spring of 2010. The city plans to create dozens of bike stations placed in high density areas such as subway and bus stops, tourist attractions, and main squares. Meanwhile, tools such as "Walk Score," a website that helps consumers find walkable places to live by calculating a walking-friendly score for specific addresses, are drawing attention to the need for greater investment in pedestrian infrastructure and highlighting places where such investments have been successful.

Resources: Transportation for America, AARP, Active Transportation for America, USA Today, USA Today, Boston, Walkscore

New Greenhouse Gas Standards Coming for Passenger Vehicles

In September, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced plans to establish new greenhouse gas standards for new cars and light trucks. This announcement follows the agreement that President Obama announced in May with major automakers, the United Auto Workers, and the State of California. This will be the first-ever national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions standard under the Clean Air Act. The joint program will ensure that EPA’s implementation of a GHG standard is coordinated with the new Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards contained in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (P.L.110-140).

The standards proposed would apply to passenger cars, light-duty trucks, and medium-duty passenger vehicles for model years 2012 through 2016. New vehicle fleets will need to meet an estimated combined average emissions level of 250 grams of carbon dioxide (CO2) per mile in model year 2016, equivalent to 35.5 miles per gallon (mpg) if the automotive industry were to meet this CO2 level all through fuel economy improvements. Automakers will not, however, be limited to per gallon fuel economy to meet this standard. The program establishes a system of credits that can be flexibly traded, banked, and averaged in order to help meet the requirements of the standard. Credits may be awarded for measures that integrate alternative low-carbon fuels and other advanced technology.

Resources: EPA, EPA, Politico, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, New York Times

Unconventional Fossil Fuels Face Uncertain Future

Recent volatility in oil prices, uncertainty about a global economic recovery, and prospects for international and national climate policies are causing some investors and industry watchers to re-evaluate the future for unconventional fossil fuels—including fuels derived from tar sands, liquefied coal, and oil shale. Tar sands deposits in the Alberta province of Canada currently yield approximately 1-1.5 million barrels of oil per day, much of which is exported to the United States. Fuel from liquid coal or oil shale is not presently produced at commercial scale in the United States, but interest and investment in these technologies had been rekindled by recently high oil prices.

Large, capital-intensive investments in these technologies are, by necessity, long-term in outlook. Studies suggest that for these technologies to be profitable, let alone competitive with other investment options, oil prices need to remain above $55-75 a barrel. Oil prices have recently crept above that range again, following a dramatic swing from historic highs to near-record lows over the past two years. Recent reports by Cambridge Energy Research Associates and other sources examining future world oil demand suggest that oil demand will remain relatively slack for the next few years under scenarios where a global economy recovery is weak or slow. Prices may continue to rise, but also may be accompanied by significant price volatility.

In addition, establishment of climate policies by major fuel-consuming nations may alter the business case for such unconventional fuels. The reason they are considered “unconventional” is that they are generally more challenging to extract and process into finished fuel. The additional energy required at different steps in production adds to the lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions associated with these fuels—estimated to be from 5-15 percent greater than the average for conventional petroleum fuels. In the case of liquefied coal, the carbon density of the fuel itself is an even larger concern—the lifecycle emissions of coal-based fuels, without methods for capturing carbon during processing, are estimated to be approximately twice that of conventional gasoline. Comparisons to “conventional” fuels, however, can be misleading. Lifecycle carbon emissions can vary significantly (up to 20 percent) among conventional sources—with light, sweet crudes generally requiring less energy for both extraction and processing than heavier, more sour petroleum sources.

A variety of policy responses have been proposed to address the potential of these fuels to add to overall carbon emissions. A recent study by the Council on Foreign Relations suggests that coordinating or integrating Canada with a U.S. program to limit carbon emissions would help address concerns regarding tar sands and reduce the need for a separate low-carbon fuel standard. Other experts and studies have suggested that transportation fuels will be the slowest sector to respond to a carbon price signal and that a low-carbon fuel standard is essential to drive innovation and lifecycle carbon reductions across multiple fuel types. The State of California is in the early stages of implementing a low-carbon fuel standard which other states are closely watching.

Resources: Yahoo News, Reuters, Bloomberg, CERA, CERA, New York Times, Scientific American

Mass-Market Electric Vehicles Move Closer to Reality

Several competing automakers had pegged 2010 as the year that a wave of next generation of electric vehicles would reach the U.S. consumer market. That wave still appears to be coming, though the timeline for some may slip past next year. The Los Angeles Show being held this month (December) provides the latest glimpse into the future of the auto industry. At a pre-show press event, General Motors held that its lead plug-in hybrid vehicle, the Chevy Volt (an anticipated 40-mile all-electric range, 300-mile extended range with gasoline engine, $40,000 price tag) will go on sale in late 2010. Nissan plans to have production models of its all-electric sedan, the Leaf (estimated 100-mile range, estimated price tag $26,000-$33,000) by December 2010. The battery in Leaf will initially be leased to EV owners to help reassure consumers about the reliability and longevity of the vehicle’s lithium-ion battery. Mitsubishi and Subaru, meanwhile, each began selling all-electric mini-cars in Japan this past summer. Mitsubishi has indicated it will begin selling an unspecified all-electric vehicle in the United States in 2011. Meanwhile, start-up automaker Fisker plans to release an all-electric luxury vehicle in mid-2010 with a tentative $87,000 price tag.

A number of conventional (non-plug-in) hybrids are expected to be released in 2010 as well. These models will fall in nearly every automotive category, from the BMW ActiveHybrid 7 Sedan, which will get around 20 mpg, to the sub-compact Honda Fit Hybrid, which could take the fuel efficiency crown for gasoline-powered cars from the Prius. While plug-in vehicles will have a relatively small initial distribution, hybrid sales are expected to grow in 2010 for the first time since 2007, and could reach three to four percent of the total auto market in the next few years. Hybrid sales will likely be heavily influenced by oil, which have been inching up in the $70s per barrel range as 2009 draws to a close. Other factors that warrant an optimistic outlook for the hybrid market include overall growth in the car market as the economy recovers, increased hybrid production capacity, and companies preparing for the implementation of the new CAFE standards in 2012.

Resources: New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles Times, Hybrid Cars, Business Week

Electrification Coalition Puts Focus on Charging Infrastructure

In November, the Electrification Coalition—comprised of a diverse group of automotive manufacturers, electric utilities, investors, and others—was announced with the release of its report, the Electrification Roadmap. The report lays out a vision for rapid expansion of electric vehicles in the United States (14 million by 2020) and assesses both the benefits and challenges of shifting the U.S. transportation sector toward greater reliance on electricity, and substantially reduced dependence on petroleum-based fuels.

Infrastructure for charging or swapping batteries that matches the needs of everyday drivers is the most important issue that needs to be addressed to enable a widespread transition to electric vehicles (EVs), according to the report. Many potential EV owners will not have a garage in which they can recharge their car’s battery. Most EV drivers are currently limited to the distance that they can travel on one charge because of the current dearth of recharging stations along transportation corridors. There is also a concern that electric utilities will have difficulty managing rapid and large changes in patterns of electricity use that widespread EV expansion would create.

Several efforts are already underway to meet these challenges and overcome potential roadblocks. The Cities of Portland and San Francisco have installed dozens of individual charging stations, and many more are planned. A set of five centralized recharging stations are currently being developed along the highway corridor between San Francisco and Los Angeles. These stations will be equipped with rapid chargers that allow EV owners to top off their batteries in 30 to 45 minutes. Initially, the service will be free of charge, although, ultimately, how electricity will be sold to drivers in remote locations is a key challenge. Project Better Place, spearheaded by software entrepreneur Shai Agassi, is tackling this problem another way by developing battery stations where sapped batteries can be swapped out for fresh ones. Finally, utilities such as California’s Pacific Gas and Electric (PG & E) have already announced plans to implement dynamic pricing to encourage EV owners to recharge their batteries at night, when there is excess electric capacity. PG & E will charge 5 to 6 cents per kilowatt hour for recharging batteries during off-peak hours, as opposed to 30 cents per kilowatt hour during peak hours. Scaling up innovations such as these will be critical to smoothing the transition to electric transportation.

Resources: Electrification Coalition, Washington Post, Popular Mechanics, SF Gate, Los Angeles Times

Tire Inflation, Car Maintenance Play Significant Role in Fuel Economy

A number of eye-opening statistics regarding tire pressure, fuel efficiency and car maintenance were revealed during the annual National Tire Safety Week in June. A Rubber Manufacturer’s Association survey released during the event found that only 9 percent of the more than 5,400 passenger vehicles examined had all four tires properly inflated, and that 82 percent of drivers do not know how to properly check tires. In addition, 20 percent of drivers surveyed incorrectly believe the best time to check your tires is after a car has been driven, when tires are warm, whereas manufacturers suggest checking tires when they are cold, prior to driving.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, properly inflated tires can improve fuel efficiency by more than three percent and save consumers the equivalent of up to $0.08 per gallon per gas. Meanwhile, maintaining engines in properly tuned condition can increase gas mileage by 4 percent, and fixing items such as a faulty oxygen sensor, which can reduce gas mileage by 40 percent, also can go a long way toward getting more miles out of each gallon of gas. The difference of a few percent may sound small, however, a one percent reduction in gasoline use would save approximately 1.5 billion gallons of gasoline per year, the equivalent of taking more than 2 million passenger vehicles off the road. A four percent reduction in fuel consumption would equal nearly 25 percent of the oil that we import from Saudi Arabia.

Resources: Rubber Manufacturer's Association, U.S. Department of Energy

Program Targets Driving Habits to Boost Safety and Efficiency

EcoDriving USA, a campaign initiated by the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, indicates that cutting back on aggressive "stop and start" driving can reduce the risk of accidents, improve fuel economy by up to 33 percent, and save consumers up to a dollar per gallon at the pump. The U.S. Department of Energy also notes that reducing maximum speed can reduce fuel use by up to 23 percent, estimating that driving even just five miles per hour (mph) above 60 mph can cost drivers from 20 to 60 cents per gallon on gas. In general, fuel economy decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. Several new technological aids, such as the "greenMeter" application for iPhone and iPod Touch users, enable drivers to compute a vehicle's power and fuel usage in order to drive more efficiently and reduce fuel consumption.

Information tools, including Eco-Driving USA's online quiz or the Alliance to Save Energy's “Drive Smarter Challenge” calculator, help drivers determine how current driving habits are affecting a vehicle's fuel economy as well as the potential cost-savings of improved vehicle maintenance.

Resources: Eco-Driving USA, U.S. Department of Energy, Eco-Driving USA, The Drive Smarter Challenge, "GreenMeter" Vehicle Application

January 26-28, 2010: EDTA Conference & Annual Meeting at the Washington Auto Show

The Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA) invites you to its annual conference at the Washington Auto Show. The event features two general plenary sessions, 12 breakout sessions covering all aspects of the electric drive industry, and pre-conference workshops. Delegates will also enjoy numerous social and networking opportunities. By registering for the EDTA Conference, you will have full access to the Washington, DC Auto Show—including the “Government Sneak Peek” on January 26. The EDTA Conference will also feature an Advanced Technology Superhighway, featuring EDTA members and other companies showcasing the latest in battery, hybrid, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell electric drive vehicles. Meet suppliers and infrastructure providers as well! To register, visit or call (202) 408-0774 x306.

Writers: Matt Logan, Cristina Mestre, and Jan Mueller

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