UCS Blog - The Equation, Clean Vehicles

How Freight Impacts Communities Across California

Photo: Luis Castilla

Today, UCS and the California Cleaner Freight Coalition (CCFC) released a video highlighting the impacts of freight across California. This video – and longer cuts of individual interviews here – touch on the many communities across California affected by freight.

Freight is a big industry in California. Nearly 40 percent of cargo containers entering and leaving the United States pass through California ports. California is also the largest agricultural producing state, supplying nearly one fifth the country’s dairy, one third of the country’s vegetables, and two-thirds of the country’s fruits and nuts.

Truck traffic on I-5 heading north towards the Central Valley near Castaic, CA.

Farm in Shafter, CA.

This means California is home to many ports, rail yards, warehouses, distribution centers, farms, and dairies – all of which are serviced by many trucks. Despite the latest (2010) engine standards and significant financial investments by the state and local air districts, air quality in California remains among the worst in the United States, due in large part to truck emissions.

The most polluted cities in the United States. Source: American Lung Association, State of the Air 2016.

Communities impacted by freight are often burdened by other sources of pollution

In the Central Valley, a trash incinerator is opposed by community groups yet classified by the state as a source of renewable energy. Biomass power plants emit significant amounts of particulate matter. Oil drilling operations contribute to both air pollution and unknown water contamination.

Dairies in the Valley contribute not only to methane emissions, but also to other health hazards including particulate matter (from reactions of ammonia in excrement with nitrogen oxides (NOx) from cars and trucks), smog/ozone (from reactions of NOx with volatile organic compounds produced by decomposing animal feed), and contamination of aquifers. Just like real estate prices drove dairies from the Inland Empire to the Central Valley, warehouses and distribution centers are following suit despite being 150 miles from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Silage (animal feed) pile near Shafter, CA.

Two views of a large Ross Distribution Center in Shafter, CA (measures over 1 mile around the building and 2 miles around the entire lot).

In the Los Angeles region, not only are roadways and the two ports major concerns for communities, but so are oil refineries and over 1,000 active oil drilling sites.

Most of these urban oil sites are within a few football fields of homes, schools, churches, and hospitals. Despite all of the “green” accolades bestowed on California, it is the 3rd largest oil producer in the United States after Texas and North Dakota.

Pumpjacks in California can be found next to farms, hospitals, and even In-N-Out.

So what’s the solution?

For trucks, we need stronger engine standards for combustion vehicles, commitments to and incentives for zero-emission vehicles, and roll-out of battery charging stations and hydrogen fueling stations with electricity and hydrogen from renewable energy.

Just last week, the California legislature passed bills (1) to get zero-emission trucks integrated to fleets owned by the state and (2) allocating $895 million from cap and trade revenue for cleaner heavy-duty vehicles. The California Cleaner Freight Coalition is working on a range of solutions from the state to local level and UCS is proud to be a member of this coalition. Watch and share the video!

Photo: Luis Castilla Photo: Jimmy O'Dea Photo: Jimmy O'Dea Photo: Jimmy O'Dea Photos: Jimmy O'Dea Photos: Jimmy O'Dea

Tax Credits and Rebates for Electric Cars Benefit US Drivers and Automakers

Leadership on vehicle electrification is critical to tackling climate change, protecting consumers from volatile oil prices, maintaining the competitiveness of US automakers, and creating 21st century manufacturing jobs. However, electric vehicles (EVs) currently cost more to manufacture than comparably sized gasoline-powered vehicles, which can mean higher prices and slower adoption.  One important policy solution to help accelerate the rate of EV sales is to offer purchase incentives to potential EV buyers, as discussed in a new policy brief “Accelerating U.S. Leadership in Electric Vehicles” that I co-authored with my UCS colleague Josh Goldman.

Incentives, such as tax credits and rebates, encourage EV sales while automakers scale up manufacturing and technology improves. Much of the additional cost of making an EV is due to the battery, and this scale up of EV manufacturing, along with improved and novel battery technology, will reduce the cost of manufacturing EV batteries and make EVs more cost competitive.

Modern EVs have only been offered for seven years, yet during that time we have seen impressive reductions in the cost to produce automotive battery packs. Initially, costs of EV battery packs were estimated to cost over $750/kWh of storage capacity. Now battery costs have fallen to around $200/kWh, with further reductions predicted by industry analysts. Once battery costs reach the range of $125-$150/kWh, the costs of EVs are projected to reach parity with conventional vehicles.

As battery costs continue to decline the cost difference between EVs and conventional gasoline vehicles will fall, although the exact date at which EVs achieve cost parity ($125-150 per kWh) depends on the rate of EV sales and other factors. References for data sources available online.

It may make sense to reduce broadly-available incentives after EVs become more price competitive, but removing them too soon would stall U.S. leadership in a critical technology.

The US federal income tax credit, in particular, is a vital investment in the transition to electric vehicles. The credit provides a credit of up to $7,500 per EV, based on the size of the battery. Most battery-electric and long-range plug in hybrids qualify for the full credit value. However, this credit begins to phase out for a manufacturer once they sell 200,000 electric vehicles in the US.

Market leaders General Motors, Nissan, and Tesla are already over 100,000 cumulative EV sales as of mid-2017. General Motors and Tesla will likely hit the phase out first, probably before the end of 2018, especially if their new more affordable long-range EVs (Chevy Bolt EV and Tesla Model 3) sell well. Therefore, this phase out has the perverse effect of penalizing some of the leaders in EVs and notably EVs that are coming off assembly lines in the US (including all Tesla, General Motors, and Nissan EVs sold in the US), while other manufacturers like Honda would have incentives available for years to come.

The federal EV income tax credit phases out for a manufacturer’s EV models once they exceed 200,000 sales. General Motors and Tesla are on pace to hit the sales cap within 18 months, and Nissan is not far behind.

State incentives are also important to accelerate the switch from gasoline to electricity for our driving. The largest program, California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, has helped over 200,000 buyers make the change to electric drive. And other states have also stepped up to support the transition to cleaner cars. For example, Josh Goldman blogged recently about Oregon’s newly enacted EV rebate program.

Increasingly, we are seeing studies that predict sales of EVs will overtake gasoline cars in the next 10-20 years. However, it is still important to support the nascent EV industry, both to increase the number of EVs on the road now and to support the US automakers that are leading this vital transition.

Purchase incentives for plug-in EVs have been a critical policy tool, accelerating the manufacture and adoption of EVs and making them accessible to car buyers. These investments in EV technologies are helping automakers transition to new technologies and enabling Americans to drive cleaner and cheaper.

In particular, the federal EV tax credit is essential. Not only is it important for US drivers, but it also for US manufacturers. With a number of countries announcing bold EV efforts (such as France, China, and India), letting the tax credit expire for leading US EV manufacturers could be a costly mistake.

Now is not the time to end a policy that works. Instead, the federal government should extend the credit to ensure continued progress, build upon success, and keep the United States in the lead with 21st century automotive technology.

What the Northeast Could Build With a Transportation Cap and Invest Program

While the Northeast region struggles to make significant progress in reducing pollution from transportation, our neighbors and allies in California and Canada are investing billions of dollars in clean mobility solutions thanks to their successful implementation of a cap and invest program covering transportation emissions.

Today California finalized its plan to invest over $2 billion over the next year on initiatives designed to reduce our use of oil and pollution from transportation. These investments will make it easier for California residents to purchase an electric vehicle, or to save money by trading in an old gas guzzling car for an efficient conventional vehicle or hybrid. They will improve public transportation services, both in California’s big cities and its small towns and rural counties. They will provide more affordable housing in communities near public transportation. And they will create jobs, reduce emissions, and save consumers money.

Meanwhile, our neighbors in Ontario and Quebec are projected to spend $2.1 and $1.9 billion respectively on clean transportation programs by 2020.

These jurisdictions are making investments on a far greater scale than anything currently happening in any state in the Northeast. They are able to do so because unlike the Northeast, California, Ontario, and Quebec have enacted a comprehensive climate policy that establishes enforceable limits on pollution from transportation, holds polluters accountable for their emissions, and provides a dedicated funding source for clean transportation investments.

This policy, known as “cap and trade” but which could be more accurately called “cap and invest”, is run through the increasingly misnamed “Western” Climate Initiative (or WCI), an international carbon market that now limits emissions in a region covering over 60 million people in the United States and Canada.

Cap and invest is not new to the Northeast. Under the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (or RGGI), the Northeast established the first market-based limit on pollution from power plants, and used the funds generated by the program to invest in efficiency and clean energy. Thanks in part to this policy, Northeast states have dramatically reduced pollution from electricity. Unfortunately, the Northeast states have yet to take the next logical step and enact a similar policy to limit emissions from transportation, which is now the largest source of pollution in the region.

As a result, Northeast states are missing out on an opportunity to make investments that will reduce pollution, save consumers money, increase economic growth, create jobs, improve public health, and reduce our use of oil. If the Northeast had a program similar to WCI covering transportation pollution, it could raise up to $4.7 billion every year for clean transportation initiatives in the Northeast.

Here are some of the things that we build in the Northeast with a cap and invest program:

Better transit

Unlike diesel and natural gas vehicles, electric trucks and buses, like the BYD articulated bus pictured here, produce no hazardous exhaust emissions.

At a time when we need to be making transformative investments in public transportation, the transportation agencies tasked with maintaining and expanding our public transportation systems are broken. While public transit use is near an all-time high, a variety of factors including inflation and increasing fuel efficiency are reducing real gas tax revenues. Limited transportation funding has led to several well publicized transit failures in New York City, Boston, New Jersey, and other cities in the Northeast.

State Revenues at $14.75 per ton  (million$) Transit (48%) Sustanable Communities (26%) Clean Vehicles (26%) Connecticut 246.33 118.24 64.04 64.04 Delaware 67.85 32.57 17.64 17.64 D.C. 17.70 8.50 4.60 4.60 Maine 143.08 68.68 37.20 37.20 Maryland 452.83 217.36 117.73 117.73 Massachusetts 469.05 225.14 121.95 121.95 New Hampshire 109.15 52.39 28.38 28.38 New Jersey 954.33 458.08 248.12 248.12 New York 1181.48 567.11 307.18 307.18 Pennsylvania 983.83 472.24 255.79 255.79 Rhode Island 66.38 31.86 17.26 17.26 Vermont 53.10 25.49 13.81 13.81 Total 4745.08 2277.64 1233.72 1233.72

Almost half of the transportation funding from California’s program will go towards improving public transportation services in the state. The long list of programs and projects that will be funded (at least in part) from California’s climate program includes transit expansions in every major metro region, high speed rail, bus service improvements in dozens of small towns and rural counties, replacement of diesel buses with electric buses, and programs to provide low or reduced fares for low income residents and college students.

Clean vehicles

Both California and (most) Northeast states offer rebates to make electric vehicles more affordable for drivers but California’s programs are larger, more comprehensive, and more specifically target moderate and low-income drivers. For example, low-income drivers who trade in a gas guzzler for an electric vehicle can qualify for a rebate of up to $14,000 through the state’s Enhanced Fleet Modernization Program.

California is also expanding their efforts to provide vehicle financing assistance to help residents who lack the credit to purchase or lease clean vehicles. These investments have helped California achieve electric vehicle sales numbers six times higher than the Northeast.

California also provides a rebate of up to $110,000 for businesses that replace diesel buses and trucks with zero-emission vehicles, which can have a dramatic impact on air quality in low-income communities. Finally, California is using funds from their climate program to build electric car-sharing networks in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

Sustainable communities

People want to live in communities with access to multiple transportation choices, if they can afford it. But rising demand and limited supply for transportation-accessible housing is contributing to a housing affordability crisis that is impacting every major metropolitan area in the Northeast. Five of the eight metro areas with the highest monthly rent in the United States are located in the Northeast; the other three are in California.

High housing costs have enormous implications for racial and economic equity. The cost of housing also has a significant impact on climate emissions. As families find themselves unable to afford communities with strong transportation choices they are forced to relocate to communities with cheaper rent but higher fuel consumption.

California has spent over $700 million to date from their climate program on affordable housing and sustainable community programs. The largest of these programs is the Affordable Housing and Sustainable Communities program (AHSC), which provides grants for affordable housing and bike and pedestrian infrastructure projects that reduce global warming emissions. In the most recent year in which data is available, AHSC-funded projects created 2427 affordable housing units near transit that will reduce emissions by over 800,000 metric tons.

Pollution from transportation is the largest source of emissions in the Northeast region, responsible for over 40 percent of our total emissions. Solving this problem is going to require bold new policies to transition our transportation system away from gas guzzling automobiles towards electric vehicles, transit, and sustainable communities. Cap and invest is a policy model that has been proven to be effective, in the Northeast under RGGI, and as a strategy to reduce transportation emissions in California, Ontario and Quebec. We encourage the Northeast states to consider adopting this model as a key component of our strategy to promote clean transportation in the region.

Truck and Bus Legislation to Watch in California

Today’s the last day of the California legislative session. It gets hectic in Sacramento this time of year, but here are two bills I’m paying attention to that could help reduce air pollution and global warming emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.

As a reminder, heavy-duty vehicles make up just 7 percent of vehicles in California but disproportionately contribute to global warming emissions and air pollution, contributing 20 percent of global warming emissions from the transportation sector, for example. And as we work to improve public health, we must also remember that communities of color are disproportionately exposed to pollution through proximity to roadways, ports, warehouses, and other sources of emissions.

Cleaning up state-owned trucks and buses

That’s what Assembly Bill 739 by Assembly member Ed Chau would do. This bill sets a target for zero-emission trucks and buses purchased by the state: 15 percent of purchases made in 2026-2030 and 30 percent of purchases made in 2031 and later. This is an achievable target with eight years’ worth of technology development and agency planning to enable its implementation.

The target would apply to vehicles with gross vehicle weight ratings (the maximum weight at which a fully loaded vehicle is rated to operate) above 19,000 lbs. For a sense of scale, think transit buses, large U-Haul-type trucks, garbage trucks, etc. The bill only applies to state-owned vehicles, which includes everything from buses at the Cal State universities to work trucks operated by the Department of Parks and Recreation and Caltrans. The purchase goals do not apply to vehicles with special performance requirements necessary for public safety, such as fire trucks operated by the Office of Emergency Services.

This bill walks the talk. There’s been a lot of planning and workshops on how to get zero-emission trucks and buses on the road in California, from the Sustainable Freight Action Plan to standards for trucks, buses, and airport shuttles. This bill holds the state fleet to a similar standard.

It is important to note that the 15 percent and 30 percent targets in this bill apply only to purchases, not the overall composition of the state’s fleet. Suppose a given type of vehicle typically lasts 14 years. This means roughly 7 percent of those vehicles are turned over each year. A 15 percent purchase target in this case corresponds to 1 percent of the total fleet (15 percent of 7 percent).

There are many zero-emission heavy-duty vehicles already commercially available today and more on the way. Cummins recently unveiled an electric truck and Tesla will reveal its electric truck with a 200-300 mile range at the end of next month. Many other major companies have also signaled their interest in zero-emission trucks, including Daimler, Peterbilt, and Toyota.

Large scale funding for clean vehicles

That’s what recent amendments to Assembly Bill 134 (the budget bill) would do. The legislation proposes $895 million in funding for clean vehicles using revenue from the state’s cap and trade program. If that sounds like a lot of money, it is compared to previous years ($680 million for the last four years combined). But it’s not compared to the level of action needed for the state to meet its air quality and climate goals.

Oversubscribed incentive funding programs that offset the upfront purchase cost of electric trucks, buses, and cars for businesses and consumers receive much-needed funding in this bill, including $180 million for the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP). This program provides rebates for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, with zero-emission trucks and buses receiving larger incentives than combustion technologies. The $35 million in HVIP designated for zero-emission transit buses alone could allow half of the roughly 700 buses purchased in California over the next year to be battery electric vehicles.

The budget bill also includes $140 million for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (CVRP), which provides consumers with rebates for plug-in hybrid electric, battery electric, and fuel cell electric passenger cars. This program has helped put over 200,000 clean cars on the road in California since 2010. There’s a lot more in the budget bill for clean vehicles ($575 million), but the CVRP and HVIP programs are ones UCS has been especially involved with.

These two bills are very different in scale – AB 739 applying to a fraction of state-owned vehicles and the budget bill providing incentives to businesses and consumers for vehicles across the light-, medium-, and heavy-duty classes. But to reach the end goal of clean air for all Californians and dramatically reduced climate emissions, we need actions that span all scales.

Jeff Turner/CC BY 2.0 (Flickr) A Caltrans diesel dump truck. Photo: California Department of Transportation

The Good, Bad, and Ugly Self-Driving Vehicle Policy

A Waymo self-driving car on the road in Mountain View, CA, making a left turn. CC-BY-2.0 (Wikicommons).

Automakers and their advocates have been busy in the halls of Congress and Department of Transportation. The U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that will make it easier for self-driving cars to hit the road, the Department of Transportation replaced an Obama-era self-driving vehicle policy with a more industry-friendly approach, and the Senate had a hearing on a bill that would also speed the deployment of self-driving vehicles, including trucks.

The Good News

The bill that passed the House and the bill being considered in the Senate include some positive provisions. For example, each establish an expert committee that will be tasked with identifying how self-driving vehicles could affect: mobility for the disabled and elderly, labor and employment issues, cybersecurity, the protection of consumer privacy, vehicle safety, and emissions and the environment. Establishing a structure for a Department of Transportation-led committee to examine these issues is important for informing future self-driving vehicle policy that can help this technology create positive outcomes and avoid its potential consequences.

Both bills also draw a brighter line between federal and state authority related to vehicle safety. The way this division works for regular cars today is that the federal government regulates the vehicle and states regulate the drivers. But this distinction doesn’t quite work with self-driving vehicles, because who is the driver? The person sitting in the driver’s seat, eating pita chips and watching Netflix while the car drivers itself? Or is it the vehicle itself?

To better clarify the distinction between federal and state authority, both the House and Senate bills give control over the design, construction, and performance of self-driving vehicles and self-driving technology to the federal government. States retain their right to enact laws related to how these vehicles are registered, who can use them, and how they interact with state or local roads and infrastructure. However, states would be preempted from enacting any law that can be read to be an “unreasonable” restriction on the design, construction, or performance of a self-driving vehicle.

Self driving vehicles are set to hit the road sooner than you may think. Companies like Google, Uber, Ford, and Tesla are all rushing to get the best self-driving vehicle on the market. Image via; https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Driving_Google_Self-Driving_Car.jpg

The last bit of good news is that the bills require automakers to submit detailed cyber-security and safety evaluation reports to the Department of Transportation. The bills also note the need to inform consumers of the capabilities and limitations of self-driving vehicle systems, so that users better know when the system can be engaged or needs to be turned off.  In fact, the National Transportation Safety Board recently found that Tesla’s autopilot lacks the appropriate safeguard to prevent drivers from using it improperly.

The Bad News

It wouldn’t be federal legislation if there wasn’t something bad tucked in, and both the House and Senate self-driving vehicle bills have some potentially dangerous provisions.

Both bills allow self-driving vehicles to be granted exemptions from federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS). Any vehicle, whether self-driving or not, can be granted an exemption from FMVSS, and the law currently allows up to 2,500 exemptions per manufacturer per year.

Self-driving cars will surely need FMVSS exemptions. They might not have a steering wheel, for example, so they couldn’t possibly comply with the FMVSS for steering wheels and, as a result, couldn’t be tested or sold in the U.S. The whole FMVSS playbook will likely need to be updated by the Department of Transportation to respond to self-driving vehicle technology. But before then, self-driving vehicle makers will look for exemptions to sell their product.

The problem is the number of exemptions that the House and Senate bills are offering self-driving vehicle manufacturers. Both bills would grant a single manufacturer up to 100,000 exemptions from FMVSS after a couple years. (The Senate bill starts with 50,000 in year 1, for example.) This means that an automaker could make a self-driving vehicle and exempt it from any safety regulation that would “prevent the manufacturer from selling a motor vehicle with an overall safety level at least equal to the overall safety level of nonexempt vehicles.” Given that self-driving vehicles will likely have similar, if not better, safety ratings than regular vehicles, I could see this language as having very broad appeal for getting the Department of Transportation to approve exemption requests.

Exempting self-driving cars from FMVSS for testing purposes makes sense, but the quantity of exemptions allowed in the House and Senate bills is excessive. Once self-driving cars are on the road, there’s no putting the self-driving genie back in the bottle. Transportation analysts, academics, the government, and the public need to better understand the safety, congestion, labor, and other impacts that self-driving vehicles will create before automakers get a free pass to each put 100,000 self-driving vehicles on the road.

Limiting the number of FMVSS exemptions closer to the current cap of 2,500 per manufacturer would put the introduction of self-driving vehicles at a pace to better understand how they function in actual driving conditions, not on the test track (or test city). In addition, several groups and two former heads of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have expressed skepticism that the agency even has the resources to process additional FMVSS exemptions or conduct adequate oversight in this area.

The Ugly News

In 2016, the Obama-led Department of Transportation put together a thoughtful, lengthy memo that detailed where the Department was headed on self-driving vehicle regulation. Earlier this week, the Department tossed that out the window and replaced it with a streamlined set of voluntary guidelines that self-driving companies should seek to follow.

Like the Obama-era guidance, nothing in the new federal guidance is mandatory. But unlike the previous guidance, the new guidance isn’t very specific. Consumer advocates like Consumer Watchdog and Consumers Union lambasted this approach as being a handout for industry, and they have a point. The guidance “encourages” the industry to do a lot of things, like collect data on when self-driving vehicles malfunction or crash, or submit a “voluntary” safety self-assessment that isn’t subject to any sort of federal approval.

Overall, the tone and vagueness of the document, combined with the choice to just throw out, and not build upon, the previous self-driving vehicle guidance puts this move by the Department of Transportation squarely in the ugly category.

The Northeast Should Limit Pollution from Transportation

Vehicle pollution is a major issue for human health and the environment.

Over the past decade, the Northeast region of the United States has helped lead the country—and the world—in supporting and developing clean, renewable sources of electricity. Taken together, the policies of Northeast states, from Maine to Maryland, have generated billions of dollars in investment for solar, wind, and efficiency. One driving force behind this investment is a regional initiative that caps emissions from the electricity sector, charges power plants for the emissions they generate, and invests the funds generated by those fees into efficiency and clean energy programs. This initiative has helped fundamentally change the region’s electricity sector: we have achieved unprecedented penetration of renewables, nearly eliminated the use of coal, and reduced overall electricity use at a time of economic expansion.

The next big step for the states of the Northeast is to bring that same sense of commitment, ingenuity and purpose towards clean transportation.

Regional policies have helped drive down electricity-related emissions, while transportation-related emissions have been mostly stagnant.

Transportation is the largest source of pollution in the Northeast region, comprising more than 40 percent of total regional global warming emissions. In addition to the health impacts associated with rising temperatures, soot and ground-level ozone from the region’s cars and trucks are responsible for more than 50,000 asthma attacks, 1,000 deaths, and other pollution-related illnesses that incur approximately $27 billion in total health costs every year. The health impacts of transportation affect all of us, but especially vulnerable are children, the elderly, and people in low-income communities (who often live in or near freight corridors).

Our transportation system pollutes because it is dirty, wasteful and inefficient. It’s also expensive. 92 percent of all transportation is powered by oil. Every year Northeast drivers send billions of dollars out of state to purchase fuel, enriching oil companies at the expense of our economy. Congestion, a growing problem in every Northeast metro area, is a waste of our time and a source of endless aggravation for Northeast drivers. 4 of the 5 states with the longest commute times are located in the Northeast. At the same time, inadequate access to affordable transportation remains a major barrier to opportunity, particularly for poor and marginalized communities, rural residents, the disabled and the elderly.

We can create a better transportation system

The good news is that we have the tools and the technologies to build a better, cleaner transportation system in the Northeast. Exciting technologies such as electric vehicles offer the promise of cars and trucks and buses that can operate without tailpipe emissions and that can be powered by clean energy. Thanks to our relatively clean grid, in the Northeast EVs can get the emissions equivalent of a 100+ mpg vehicle.

New transportation modes such as ride-sharing and automated vehicles, if given the proper incentives, have the potential to challenge the dominance of personally owned, single-occupancy vehicles and open up new possibilities for greater system efficiency. Use of public transportation in the six largest transit systems in the Northeast  has increased over 8% since 2008. And a younger generation is coming of age that shows ever greater interest in transit, cycling, and urban living.

Together, these present-day technologies and trends point towards a possible future still on the horizon.  A transportation system that does more but costs less and pollutes less. Where a network of shared, electric vehicles, working in concert with a first-class public transportation system, gets everybody where they need to go without burning a gallon of gasoline or getting stuck for an hour in traffic.

A transportation system that doesn’t contribute to air pollution, doesn’t contribute to climate change, and doesn’t concern itself with the price of oil.

We need new policies to make this happen

This future won’t happen on its own. We need policies to get us there. Just as there was no one, silver-bullet policy that is responsible for the progress that we have made reducing emissions from electricity, reducing pollution in transportation will require a coordinated set of policies and regulations. It will require cooperation between local, state, regional and federal governments, and between government and the private sector. Ultimately, it will require policy leaders to identify new sources of funding for clean transportation priorities.

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recommends that Northeast decisionmakers do the following to get the region on the path toward a cleaner transportation system:

  1. Create a regional limit on transportation emissions. The Northeast’s success in reducing electricity-related emissions lies in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI); under RGGI, which came into force in 2009, Northeast states established an overall limit on emissions from electricity consumed in these states. The RGGI process brought together key stakeholders in the business community and guided local, state, and regional policymakers’ decisions about clean energy and efficiency investments. Establishing a similar program for the region’s transportation sector would ensure that communities and governments take a comprehensive, coordinated approach to identifying and investing in clean transit solutions.
  2. Enforce this limit through regulations that hold oil companies accountable for their emissions. Under RGGI, the emissions cap is enforced by requiring power plants to purchase allowances for every ton of pollution they emit under the cap. By limiting the number of allowances available, the program guarantees overall emission reductions. Revenue from allowance sales is used to support a range of clean energy and efficiency initiatives that save consumers money and reduce pollution. This “cap-and-invest” strategy has successfully reduced the region’s electricity emissions while cutting costs for consumers.For the transportation sector, a cap-and-invest program could require polluters (in this case, oil companies serving the Northeast) to purchase allowances under a designated cap, and communities could use the funds generated from allowance sales for clean transportation programs. This strategy has been used successfully to reduce transportation-related emissions in California, and in Ontario and Quebec, Canada.
  3. Invest in clean transportation solutions for Northeast residents. There are many valuable projects and programs in the Northeast region that could help reduce consumer costs and expand clean mobility choices. For example, states could offer subsidies for lower-income residents who want to purchase an electric vehicle; several states outside the region offer such a program, including California, which offers low-income consumers up to $13,500 in rebates when they trade in a vehicle. States could also invest in infrastructure to make electric vehicle charging more convenient for drivers. Increasing our investments in affordable housing and transit can ensure that people who want to live in communities with multiple transportation choices, or who want to live car-free, can do so. And replacing older and less-efficient buses and trucks in with electric models could significantly improve air quality in urban environments.
  4. Engage communities and stakeholders in a broad conversation about clean transportation. We need to be thinking about how to provide clean transportation options to all communities in the region, from our big metro areas, to our medium-sized post-industrial “Gateway Cities,” to suburban and rural areas. It is especially important for states to think carefully about how a new investment in clean transportation solutions can benefit communities that are currently poorly served by our existing transportation system, including many communities of color, rural communities, the disabled, and the elderly. Engaging community groups early in the process can help policymakers understand the real transportation needs of Northeast residents, and shape resulting policies and programs for maximum benefit.

The Northeast has long been a leader in addressing pollution from fossil fuels, and its multistate initiative to reduce electricity sector emissions has set an example for other regions to follow. With the federal government abdicating responsibility for our environment and our climate, state and regional leadership is more important than ever. Working together, we can create a clean transportation system that works for all our residents, and the result will be a cleaner environment, a stronger economy, less spending on fuel, and a safer climate.

Hurricane Season’s Impact at the Pump and Why Fuel Efficiency Matters

Texas Army National Guardsmen assess damage to a gas station in Victoria, Texas, Aug. 26, 2017, caused by Hurricane Harvey. Army National Guard photo by Capt. Martha Nigrelle.

Gas prices are spiking. This week EIA reported an increase in the average price of gasoline of 28 cents per gallon – with some states seeing more than 40 cent increases. That’s the largest nationwide weekly gas price increase since hurricane Katrina in 2005.

What’s 28 cents worth you ask? More than a $100 million a day it turns out.

That’s bad, but it could be worse. Without vehicle fuel efficiency and emission standards that are currently in place, American drivers would be paying an average of $50 million more per day on fuel costs.

That’s right, vehicle standards that went in to effect in 2011 are already saving Americans $50 million a day. By 2030, these same standards will deliver more the $300 million per day in fuel savings.

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, Gasoline and Diesel Fuel Update.

Fuel efficiency is insurance against volatile gas prices

Harvey. Irma. Each one of these devastating storms reminds those in their path the importance of having insurance to protect their families and their property. Buying flood insurance if you live in a flood prone area is a prudent economic decision. Same goes for buying other types of insurance like health insurance and car insurance that protect you – and your household budgets – from unforeseen events

Making our cars and trucks more efficient provides insurance against volatile gas prices. More efficient vehicles mean less economic pain when oil prices spike.

But it’s even better than that. Normal insurance only pays off when disaster strikes. More efficient vehicles save on fuel costs no matter what the pump price. The fuel economy and emissions standards currently on the books through 2025 are expected to cut fuel costs by 40 percent when they are fully implemented. That means savings no matter if gas costs $2/gallon or $5/gallon.

The average household in the U.S. has already saved about $250 since 2011 because of more efficient new vehicles. And every state in the nation aims to benefit.  See what the savings in your state are from federal efficiency and emission standards.

By 2030, that total household savings are expected to rise to $2,800. That is if the Trump administration allows the standards to be implemented as currently written.

Ironically, while the country absorbs the largest price spike at the pump in recent years, the EPA held its first public hearing to reconsider federal emissions and efficiency standards for vehicles that are on the books through 2025 – the same standards that are saving consumers billions of dollars at the pump.

This is like calling your insurance agent to reduce your homeowner’s coverage while your house is on fire.

Despite the irony and the fact the agencies have shown the industry can achieve and even exceed the existing standards, Administrator Pruitt’s EPA is moving ahead to potentially weaken the vehicle standards.

My colleagues Dave Cooke and Richard Ezike testified at the hearing on Wednesday. They weren’t the only ones making the case for why it makes sense to make our cars and trucks less polluting and more efficient. Dozens of other supporters called for maintaining strong standards – everyone from concerned moms, to ministers, veterans, and unionized laborers. Concerned voices dominated the more than 100 testimonies.

UCS will continue to use the best available science to defend the standards and ensure consumers have more fuel efficient, lower polluting vehicles in every class to choose from.

If you agree keeping our vehicle efficiency and emissions standards in place makes sense to protect against future gas price spikes, or for all the other health, climate, and economic benefits from reducing our oil use, you can:

3 Reasons Why You Should Care About Vehicle Efficiency and Emissions Standards

Merely typing “vehicle efficiency and emissions standards,” feels like I’m prompting you to click off in search of the latest cat meme or 8,000th story on President Trump. But the next battle in the war for better vehicles looms, and you can help defend against automaker efforts to rollback a program they agreed to not so long ago.

Here are the top 3 reasons why you should care about the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “Request for Comment on Reconsideration of the Final Determination of the Mid-Term Evaluation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Model Year 2022–2025 Light-Duty Vehicles” (aka federal vehicle efficiency standards) and what you can do about it

Vehicle efficiency standards save money for all Americans, but especially low- to middle-income earners

Researchers at the University of Tennessee analyzed 34 years of consumer spending data and found that not only did households from all income levels save money because of improved vehicle efficiency, but low- to middle-income households saved a greater percentage of household income compared to higher earners. Better fuel efficiency saved an average middle-income family as much as $17,000 over the study period – even after households paid more for new and used cars equipped with fuel-saving technology. Vehicle efficiency standards, the researchers concluded, are therefore a true progressive (as opposed to regressive) policy because they benefit lower earners more than higher earners.

Interested in more of these findings? Check out this UCS fact sheet.

Without fuel efficiency standards, automakers would only make gas guzzlers

Free market advocates argue that fuel efficiency standards aren’t necessary. If there is demand for fuel efficient vehicles, then automakers will create a supply to meet that demand. While that sounds good in theory, in practice it doesn’t happen.

In the absence of federal standards, fuel efficiency largely stagnated (see below) and automakers proved reluctant to offer fuel efficient options outside of small sedans.

In response to the 1973 oil embargo, Congress established fuel economy standards for new passenger cars in 1975, then again in 1978. These standards were intended to roughly double the average fuel economy of the new car fleet to 27.5 mpg by 1985. No fuel efficiency standards passed until 2007, when Congress set a target of least 35 miles per gallon by 2020, and required standards to be met at maximum feasible levels through 2030. The standards now at issue cover vehicle model years out to 2025. Source: EPA 2016 Fuel Economy Trends Report. Appendix D: Fuel Economy Data Stratified by Vehicle Type. Available at, https://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/download-co2-and-fuel-economy-trends-report-1975-2016

But Americans largely don’t want small sedans. We want SUVsand fuel efficiency! Fortunately, the vehicle efficiency standards incentivize automakers to make vehicles across all classes – including SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans – more efficient. Because the standards do not require automakers only to make small, ultra-efficient vehicles, they prompt automakers to create innovative technologies that boost the fuel-saving performance of the larger vehicles that Americans tend to prefer.

For example, the 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, a full-size SUV, gets a combined 29 miles per gallon. That’s what I average in my mid-sized 2012 Subaru Outback Sport. Not too long ago, the 2001 Highlander only got a combined 18 mpg and the 1995 4Runner (the Highlander predecessor) got 13 mpg. And, the standards are incentivizing automakers to develop electric vehicles. There are growing numbers of electric vehicle models and several auto companies are set to release full electric SUVs in the next several years.

By providing automakers with flexible ways to comply with the standards (aka compliance pathways), the federal vehicle efficiency program has been instrumental in giving consumers more fuel efficient choices no matter what sort of vehicle they need.

Vehicle efficiency and emissions standards are the single most important federal climate policy

I’m guessing that you care, at least tangentially, about climate change. You are reading a blog from the Union of Concerned Scientists, after all. So, you should know that the standards are set to achieve the largest reduction in global warming pollution from a single federal policy (other than the Clean Power Plan, which is mired in legal trouble and threat of repeal from the current Administration).

Transportation is one of the biggest sources of global warming pollution in the U.S., having accounted for 27 percent of emissions in 2015. Cutting emissions from transportation is challenging as our nation continues to rely on personal vehicles and driving has become incentivized by relatively low gas prices and may become further incentivized by the introduction of autonomous driving features. 2016 had the largest increase in national vehicle miles travelled (VMT) since regulators began tracking this data in 1971 and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. More cars were sold in 2016 than ever before, adding to the 263 million registered vehicles on American roads.

Transportation is one of the biggest sources of global warming pollution in the U.S. Source: EPA Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2015. Table ES-6. Available at, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/inventory-us-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-sinks

That’s why – along with electric vehicles, better biofuels, and better transit options – improving the fuel efficiency of vehicles is so important. When including the emissions reductions from the finalized standards for heavy-duty vehicles, the federal fuel efficiency programs will cut emissions by an estimated 550 million tons in 2030 alone. That would be a reduction of over 3 percent of today’s transportation-related emissions and would achieve more reductions over time as the vehicle fleet turns over and gradually becomes more efficient.

How you can help protect the federal vehicle efficiency and emissions standards

UCS is leading the way on telling the EPA and Department of Transportation that consumers want to stick with the current standards. Not only are the standards cost-effective and feasible to meet, the agencies’ research showed that automakers could even exceed them. Help protect standards that are savings Americans money at the pump and reducing the risks of climate change.

Head on over to the UCS Action Center for a couple easy actions you can take, including

 

Warehouses As an Environmental Justice Issue

Photo: Atomic Hot Links/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 (Flickr)

When we think of locally undesirable land uses, we often think of large power plants, puffing single plumes of pollution. But many plumes of pollution from trucks traveling to and from warehouses can have equally large impacts on health. 40% of US imports enter through the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. Trucks travel frequently to deliver the goods to warehouses, and further move the goods from those facilities to more customers. In the era of e-commerce, high demand for express deliveries further contributes to the massive expansion of the warehousing industry.

As an Angeleno commuter, I am deeply impressed that a large number of giant warehousing facilities emerge in the suburbs along the Interstate 10 when I drive to work. But what do these facilities bring to our communities besides consumer goods?

The significant expansion of the warehousing industry

Figure 1 Percentage changes compared to the Year 2003 in the number of establishments in selected industry sectors (Data sources: County Business Pattern 2003-2015)

Over the last decade or so, the warehousing industry has expanded substantially, especially compared to the other industry sectors. In the Los Angeles Metropolitan Area, the number of warehouses and storage facilities increased by 21% between 2003 and 2015 (see Figure 1). However, during the same period, the construction sector got a 9% increase, wholesale and retail generally remained the same, and the manufacturing sector experienced a 23% plunge. While these traditional sectors in the economy stagnate, the warehousing industry becomes a star that is experiencing continued prosperity in the recent decade.

Figure 2 Number of establishments in warehousing and storage industry in the largest eight metropolitan areas in the U.S. (Data sources: County Business Pattern 2003-2015)

Expansion of the logistics industry isn’t limited to Los Angeles. Among the largest eight metropolitan areas in the US, the number of warehousing establishments increased by at least 20% in six of them: Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Philadelphia and Miami (see Figure 2). The growth rate in Houston reached as high as 40%. The spatial expansion of warehouses is especially dramatic in metropolitan areas with abundant cheap suburban land. Warehousing developers favor this type of land as it offers many conveniences for warehousing development: low rent, large parcels, weak regulations, and good regional connections.

What impacts can warehouses have on communities?

The increased number of warehousing facilities not only consume large tracts of land, but also bring about substantial environmental externalities. Freight trucks generate air pollutants, noise, pavement damage, and traffic safety threats while moving into and out of warehouses.

According to studies in public health and traffic engineering, a truck creates significantly higher environmental impacts than a passenger vehicle. The exposure of local residents, especially children and elderly people, to truck related emissions like NOX and particulate matter would cause health outcomes including asthma and respiratory allergies.

A street view in the City of Carson where trucks (right) occupy all road lanes next to a residential neighborhood (left) (Photo: Quan Yuan)

Roads filled with semi-trucks are a familiar sight in areas and neighborhoods with warehouses. It suggests the great impacts that frequent truck movement could have on the local communities. More and more residents are becoming aware of these externalities associated with warehousing activities. Some of them have organized to fight against the siting of new warehousing projects. For instance, the World Logistics Center, a major warehousing project under review in the City of Moreno Valley, is opposed by local resident groups, environmental advocates, and public agencies including the South Coast Air Quality Management District. This huge project, with floor space totaling around 40 million square feet, rouses concerns about the environmental risks associated with substantial truck movement.

Do some neighborhoods receive more warehousing facilities than others?

Figure 3 Spatial distribution of warehouses and two selected types of neighborhoods in the Los Angeles region (Date sources: Costar, Inc.; American Community Survey 2010)

Given that warehousing facilities are regarded as locally undesirable, an important question arises: are they disproportionately distributed? Unfortunately, the answer is yes. My recent analysis of warehousing location in Los Angeles revealed that low-income and medium-income minority neighborhoods contain a vast majority of warehouses and distribution centers (see Figure 3). Apart from traditional industrial clusters in the East LA and Gateway cities, suburban neighborhoods in the Inland Empire are rising hotspots for warehousing development. Econometric model results confirm the spatial patterns that minority neighborhoods receive significantly more warehouses than white neighborhoods, after controlling for household income, land rent and many other variables. The empirical evidence implies a classic environmental justice problem.

But why? Warehousing developers search for locations with low land rent, low-wage labor pool, weak political power, and favorable public policies. Economic, sociopolitical and institutional factors are equally important in the dynamics. When local authorities are indifferent about warehousing development, minority residents may not be able to resist this spatial inequity, or unequal spatial distribution of warehouses.

This environmental justice problem is drawing the attention of the public, academia, and policy makers. Land use regulations, environmental standards, vehicle fleet upgrades, and techniques (such as using plants as buffers) are all potential options for alleviating the problem. As warehouse development continues to increase, let’s take seriously this environmental justice issue, and come up with feasible solutions that stop burdening our minority communities with air pollution.

Quan Yuan is a Ph.D. candidate in Planning and Policy Development at Sol Price School of Public Policy, the University of Southern California. His research interests mainly lie in urban transportation planning, freight, parking, and environmental sustainability.

Science Network Voices gives Equation readers access to the depth of expertise and broad perspective on current issues that our Science Network members bring to UCS. The views expressed in Science Network posts are those of the author alone.

Morgan Stanley Is Wrong About Tesla’s Electric Cars

Last week, investment bank Morgan Stanley was quoted as claiming electric vehicles are responsible for more global warming emissions than gasoline cars. The firm’s report says Tesla isn’t a ‘green’ company because of this (incorrect) conclusion. There are likely plenty of reasons to invest in the electric car and solar panel maker, and certainly many reasons not to bet on Tesla, but the false claim of dirty cars isn’t one of them.

Why did Morgan Stanley get the wrong answer? It’s hard to say because no underlying data is shown to back up Morgan Stanley’s assertions, so I can’t check their calculations. However, you are welcome to inspect ours; we wrote a report in 2015 comparing the emissions of electric cars and gasoline vehicles, and recently updated it with new electricity generation data.

What are the global warming emissions from electric cars?

The emissions that result from using an electric vehicle (EV) depend on part on where the vehicle is recharged, as electricity generation varies significantly across the United States. Based on where EVs have been sold so far, the average electric car generates global warming emissions equal to a 73 MPG gasoline car. Overall, over two-thirds (70 percent) of Americans live where driving an electric car would result in lower global warming emissions than even a 50 MPG gasoline car.

 

Manufacturing emissions are small compared to savings during use

 

Even when considering the emissions from the manufacture of the EV’s battery, EVs over their lifespan result in significant global warming emissions savings. Over the lifetime of a car the size of the Tesla Model S, the emissions savings are about 53 percent, when compared to a similar gasoline car.

Electricity is getting cleaner, making EVs better over time

Very few details are given in the article about Morgan Stanley’s analysis, however one of the few statistics given (regarding the fraction of electricity from fossil fuel in the U.S.) is wrong.

Nationally, we currently derive about 65 percent of electricity from fossil fuel and only about 31 percent from coal, down from 50 percent in 2006.

Both fossil-fueled electricity and coal generation have declined substantially over the last decade, making driving EVs cleaner. And as we increase the amount of renewable electricity in the U.S., driving on electricity can be even cleaner.

 

LA Metro’s Opportunity to Lead

Today, Los Angeles Metro, the second largest transit agency in the United States, will vote on a plan to transition its fleet to zero-emission buses. If this sounds familiar, you’re right. It looked as though Metro would vote on this in June, but the vote got bumped to July.

Leading up to last month’s vote, Joel Espino from The Greenlining Institute and I blogged about the importance of this commitment and Metro’s leadership on clean vehicles. Metro’s decision will impact Los Angeles’ efforts to clean the air, fight climate change, and expand economic opportunity. We applaud the proposal put forward by Metro staff to transition the entire fleet to zero-emission vehicles.

So what else has happened in electric bus news this past month? Let’s catch up:

Major labor agreement announced

Last week, Jobs to Move America and BYD, an electric truck and bus manufacturer in Lancaster, California, announced commitments by BYD to create job pathways for underrepresented and underserved populations in Los Angeles County.

The legally enforceable agreement includes a hiring commitment for 40 percent of BYD’s workers to be from populations facing barriers to employment, such as veterans and returning citizens; creation of training and apprenticeship programs for metal work, electrical wiring, and vehicle assembly; and job retention efforts such as transportation options for workers without a car. This agreement sets an excellent precedent for creating good, accessible jobs in the electric vehicle industry.

ARB analysis shows electric buses are cost competitive today

Last month, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) released a draft analysis for the total cost of ownership for electric buses. This analysis takes everything into account from the purchase of a bus to its maintenance and electricity costs.

ARB found that the total cost of owning a battery electric bus in Los Angeles is on par with a compressed natural gas (CNG) bus. Metro’s fleet is entirely CNG today. The spreadsheet released by ARB will be an excellent resource as transit agencies in California and elsewhere analyze the potential financial savings from electric buses.

Buses powered by electricity from Southern California Edison (SCE), the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) are cost competitive with today’s diesel and natural gas buses. Both SCE and DWP provide electricity service to LA Metro.

Life cycle emissions analysis shows benefits of electric buses operated by Metro

Our life cycle emissions analysis of electric buses here, here, and here shows that on today’s grid in California, battery electric vehicles are the cleanest option. But what about for LA Metro, which has 9 of 11 bus depots that get electricity from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP)?

DWP serves as its own grid operator or “balancing authority,” meaning it oversees electricity generation to meet demand within its service territory. So, a bus charged with electricity provided by DWP will have a different amount of life cycle global warming emissions than a bus charged with electricity from another part of the state (e.g. balanced by the California Independent System Operator).

Concerns have been raised by various groups that DWP’s current power mix, which relies on 24 percent coal (compared to 7 percent in the rest of the state), would neutralize any emissions reductions from the addition of electric buses to LA Metro’s fleet.

Using data from DWP’s Integrated Resource Plan and correspondence with their engineers, we found that on DWP’s grid today, life cycle global warming emissions for an electric bus are significantly lower than emissions from Metro’s current fleet of natural gas buses.

As DWP’s grid gets cleaner (notably with the phase out of coal by 2025 and increasing fraction of renewables to 55 percent by 2030), the life cycle global warming emissions will decrease even further (see graph above).

Metro’s proposal calls for 105 electric buses to be deployed in the next few years and the bulk of its electric buses to be deployed after 2020, meaning life cycle emissions are best represented by DWP’s grid post-2020.

Even more electric bus news in California…
  • AC Transit (Alameda County) recently announced one of its 13 fuel cell buses achieved 25,000 hours of service, far surpassing the expected 4,000 hours and illustrating the durability of fuel cells and electric drive trains.
  • The National Renewable Energy Laboratory released its second report on Foothill Transit’s (San Gabriel Valley) electric bus fleet. The report found maintenance and fuel costs for electric buses were similar if not lower than natural gas buses. The fuel efficiency of electric buses also showed an eight-fold improvement over natural gas buses operating on the same route. Averaged over all routes, battery electric buses showed a four-fold improvement in fuel efficiency over natural gas buses.
  • And just yesterday, Proterra opened its West Coast battery electric bus manufacturing facility in the City of Industry outside of Los Angeles, expanding the company’s current capacity with its East Coast manufacturing facility in South Carolina and a battery facility in the San Francisco Bay Area.

This is an exciting time for clean vehicles and public transit. We encourage Metro to seize the opportunity to be a leader in fighting global warming and air pollution by adopting a strong plan to transition to zero-emission buses.

Electric Cars Are Critical to a Clean Future

Electric vehicles (EVs) are an important part of how we will reduce climate-changing emissions, air pollution, and petroleum consumption. Are they the only way we will cut pollution from personal transportation? Of course not. EVs are critical, but we’ll also need to be smart about using urban design, transit, and shared mobility to reduce the amount of driving from all vehicles. However, a recent U.S. News & World Report article puts EVs in a false competition with these other strategies, while also repeating myths about the environmental impacts of EVs.

EVs reduce emissions now

On average, EVs on the road today produce less global warming emissions than the average new gasoline car.

The emissions do depend on where in the U.S. the EV is used, because electric power generation comes from different sources depending on the region. Because many of the EVs have been sold in regions with cleaner power (like California), the EVs being used today are, on average, responsible for fewer emissions than any gasoline-powered car.

Based on sales through 2016, the using the average EV is responsible for global warming emissions equal to that of a 73 MPG gasoline car.

EVs are still responsible for fewer global warming emissions, even when you consider the additional energy and materials needed to manufacture the batteries that power EVs. We found that these extra emissions are offset quickly by savings during use; on average after 6 to 18 months of use.

There are also other concerns mentioned in passing in the U.S. News article, such as the impact of mining for battery raw materials. But the negative impacts from raw material extraction are largely due to lax regulations and can be addressed through better policy and corporate responsibility.

For components like cobalt and rare earth metals, all high-tech consumer product companies need to ensure that they have environmentally responsible supply chains that also protect the rights and health of those impacted by mining. This is as true for Apple and Samsung as it is for EV manufacturers.

There have been positive developments from batteries suppliers and technology companies, but they can and should do more to ensure responsible battery production.

At the same time we also need to consider the negative impacts of gasoline production, from human rights abuses to massive environmental disasters during oil extraction, to the unavoidable air pollution damage from refining and burning gasoline in our cars. .  All our personal transportation fuels – gasoline, diesel, biofuels, or electricity – can be cleaner if fuel producers are held accountable to reduce their pollution.

Moving to EVs faster will help to reduce emissions even more

Another attack on EVs in the U.S. News article is that EVs only make up a small fraction of the vehicles on the country’s roads today. This is true, but is not a reason to turn back. The first mass-market EVs only went on sale at the end of 2010. From those two models (Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF), the market has now grown to some 30 EV models available today. However, many of these EVs are not sold nationwide and are not marketed effectively.

In one notable case, Fiat Chrysler has decided to not even let customers outside of California know that it’s new minivan comes in a plug-in version.

Still, EV sales are increasing and hitting new milestones, especially in places with strong regulations and incentive programs like California where manufacturers have also placed much more effort to sell EVs (when compared to the rest of the U.S.)

In the first quarter of 2017, EV sales in California were nearly 5 percent of all new car sales and for some manufacturers were much higher. For example, General Motors’ Chevrolet brand had plug-in cars make up over 15 percent of all new sales in the first 3 months of 2017.

Having more options for new car buyers to pick a plug-in car will only help make the market grow. And it’s important for the market to grow as quickly as possible. Because cars often stay on the road more than a decade, it’s critical to speed up the transition from petroleum to electricity.

The future is electric, but also needs shared transportation

The future of driving is electric. It’s not just our opinion at UCS, both car companies and governments realize that EVs are the future. CEOs of Ford and  VW have gone on record with predictions of high volume EV sales. And France, Norway, and India are among the countries that have set impressive goals to transition to EVs.

But EVs alone aren’t enough to meet our climate goals. It’s important to also reduce the impact from transportation by reducing the number of miles we drive, even from electric cars. Shared transportation, whether via transit, carpools, or new ridesharing services, will also be important to make significant reductions in pollution. But this is in no way in competition with EVs. Instead, EVs are complementary to many of these shared transportation options.

 

 

 

40% growth? The Latest Electric Vehicle Sales Numbers Look Good

US electric vehicle (EV) sales are up 45% for the twelve-month period from July 2016 through June 2017, compared to the prior twelve-month period. What does that mean for the future?

As I’ve noted previously, the US EV market saw 32% annual growth over 2012-2016. This rate would, if continued, result in EVs being 10% of all new car sales in 2025.

For perspective on this target: according to UCS analysis, California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program would result in about 8% of California’s vehicles being zero-emissions (mostly electric) by 2025. California leads the nation in EV market penetration by quite a bit. According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, nearly 4% of California’s light-duty vehicle sales in 2016 were EVs, compared to less than 1% for the country as a whole. And this was without major automakers Honda and Toyota offering a plug-in vehicle in that year. Sixteen cities in the state already see EVs exceeding 10% of vehicle sales.

California has achieved this through a mixture of policy, infrastructure, consumer awareness and interest (although the Northeast is not far behind on that count), and automaker efforts. Seen in that light, the entire country reaching 10% EV sales in 2025 would be pretty good.

But what if the market were actually hitting a “tipping point” such that this recent growth could continue? If a 40% growth rate could be sustained for the next six years, then we would see EVs reach 10% of US vehicle sales in 2023, and possibly near 20% by 2025. Cost reductions from technology improvements and economies of scale would help sustain the growth rates, as well as expanded charging infrastructure.

What are people buying?

The Tesla Model S was the top seller both in June and year-to-date. This is an all-electric vehicle with a range of 249-335 miles, depending on the configuration (the 60 kWh versions, with ranges of 210-218 miles, were recently discontinued).

Figure 1: Tesla Model S. Source: tesla.com.

Plug-in hybrids are proving quite popular, as the #2 vehicle year-to-date is the Chevy Volt, and the #3 is the Prius Prime.

Figure 2: Chevy Volt. Source: chevrolet.com.

The Volt, with a 53-mile all-electric range in the 2017 model, is a well-established mainstay by the standards of this young market. It has been a consistent top seller since its introduction in December 2010.

Figure 3: Toyota Prius Prime. Source: toyota.com.

The Prius Prime is a new market entrant that was the May sales champion. It has a 25-mile electric-only range, so it could likely do most daily driving in all-electric mode if workplace charging were available (even a standard wall outlet would replenish the battery in 8 hours). Plug-in hybrids have a gasoline engine if needed for longer drives, but I’ve heard that drivers of these vehicles tend to keep their batteries topped off to do as much driving in electric mode as possible. If you don’t yet drive an EV, you might not realize the extent of the existing charging infrastructure, but it’s out there; Plugshare is a great resource.

Tesla’s Model X crossover SUV is the #4 vehicle year-to-date, while Chevy’s new all-electric Bolt, with its 238-mile range, rounds out the top 5 (the Nissan LEAF is just behind the Bolt). The top five models make up just over half the market, with a long list of other products also selling in the United States.

What’s missing?

Given the market strength of the newcomer Prius Prime, what other new vehicles might take a turn at the top of the sales charts in the months ahead?

Well, there are a number of other new models from Kia, Chrysler, Cadillac, Volkswagen, and others. Certainly, the Tesla Model 3, with its first vehicles shipped in July, looks to be a contender. There are over 400,000 reservations for the vehicles worldwide, so it could easily become the sales champion if Tesla can ramp up production quickly enough. But in years to come, we might see something very different.

There is one category notably lacking among US EVs sales: the pickup truck. The best-selling light-duty vehicle in the US has for 35 years been the Ford F-series, with 820,799 units sold in 2016 (this is more than double the sales of the top-selling car in 2016, the Toyota Camry).

Figure 4: Ford F-150. Source: ford.com.

Some companies perform aftermarket conversions to turn trucks into plug-in hybrids, and others have announced plans to build brand-new electric pickup trucks (such as Tesla, Via, Havelaar, and Workhorse). Trucks have a wide range of needs and duty cycles, and not all applications would be suited to electrification at present. There are definitely engineering challenges to resolve.

Still, a plug-in version of the F-150 could serve the needs of many owners, and could propel Ford to the top of the EV sales charts. This is not in Ford’s plans at the moment (although a basic hybrid F-150 is), but what if the company experiences positive results from its other electric and plug-in products? Might we see an electric F-150? Or would the Chevy Silverado or Dodge Ram (the #2 and #3 selling vehicles in 2016) have plug-in versions first?

The pickup truck market is too big to ignore. As battery technology continues to improve, it should become easier to make electrification work for at least part of this segment.

What’s next?

Typically, the second half of the year sees higher sales volume, with December being the biggest month. It should be particularly interesting to watch the growth of Tesla’s Model 3 production over the next six months. News items such as the new study from Bloomberg, Volkswagen’s investments in charging infrastructure, and other developments may heighten public interest in EVs generally.

The most effective means of raising consumer awareness of and interest in EVs are ride-and-drive events. If you haven’t tried one out yet, look for an event near you during Drive Electric Week!

How the Oregon Rebate for Electric Cars Works

If you’re an Oregonian and thinking about an electric car, you may want to wait a bit as a bill is about to be signed into law that will establish a rebate of up to $2,500 for electric vehicles sold in the state. This rebate can be had in addition to the $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs, which means Oregonians can get up to $10,000 off an electric vehicle!

The bill also establishes an additional rebate of up to $2,500 for low to moderate income Oregon residents, who can then collectively save up to $12,500 on a qualifying electric vehicle. The rebate program will go into effect in early October 2017.

Which electric vehicles qualify for the rebate

A qualifying vehicle for the new Oregon rebate must:

  • Have a base manufacturer’s suggested retail price of less than $50,000
  • Be covered by a manufacturer’s express warranty on the vehicle drive train, including the battery pack, for at least 24 months from the date of purchase
  • Be either a battery electric vehicle OR a plug-in hybrid vehicle that has at least 10 miles of EPA-rated all-electric range and warranty of at least 15 years and 150,000 miles on emission control components.
    1. $2,500 goes to vehicles with battery capacities above 10 kWh.
    2. $1,500 goes to vehicles with a battery capacity of 10 kWh or less.
  • Be a new vehicle, or used only as a dealership floor model or test-drive vehicle
  • The rebate will apply to new electric vehicles that are purchased or leased, with a minimum 24-month lease term.

How the electric vehicle rebate will be given

  • Send in your rebate application within 6 months of buying the vehicle or starting the vehicle lease.
  • You may need to send it to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality, or a third party non-profit. The application details have not yet been released.
  • The rebate will “attempt” to be issued within 60 days of receiving the application (the bill says attempt).

Additional rebates for low-income Oregonians (aka charge ahead rebate)

Ideally, EV rebate programs should provide additional financial assistance to low-income drivers. Low-income households typically spend more on transportation than higher earners, and transportation can comprise up to 30 percent of low-income household budgets. So, being able to save on transportation fuel and vehicle maintenance by choosing an electric vehicle can mean even more to low-income households in Oregon and beyond.

Fueling an electric vehicle in Oregon is like paying the equivalent of $0.97 for a gallon of gasoline. In addition, battery electric vehicles have fewer moving parts and don’t require oil changes, so electric vehicle maintenance costs have been estimated to be 35 percent lower than comparable gasoline vehicles.  The eGallon price is calculated using the most recently available state by state residential electricity prices. The state gasoline price above is either the statewide average retail price or a multi-state regional average price reported by EIA. The latest gasoline pricing data is available on EIA’s webpage. Find out more at www.energy.gov/eGallon.

How the Oregon charge ahead rebate works
  • Have a household income less than or equal to 80 percent of the area median income (low income) or between 80 and 120 percent of area median income (moderate income).
    1. Area median income is defined by the Oregon Housing and Community Services Department and is tied to the closest metropolitan area in Oregon.
  • Live in an area of Oregon that has elevated concentrations of air contaminants commonly attributed to motor vehicle emissions.
  • Retire or scrap a gas-powered vehicle that has an engine that is at least 20 years old AND replace that vehicle with an electric vehicle.
  • The electric vehicle can be used or new.
  • Send in an application to the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality or third party non-profit. Details are still be worked out.
  • Get up to an additional $2,500 in rebate off the electric vehicle.
How the Oregon electric vehicle rebate is funded

These rebates are being established as part of a broader transportation package, so the funding mechanisms in the bill are being levied not only for electric vehicles but also for maintaining Oregon’s roads, bridges, and tunnels and other transportation projects.

Beginning in 2020, electric vehicles will be subject to greater titles and registration fees in Oregon, expected to be about $110.

Oregon will also pay for road work with a 4 percent gas tax, increasing incrementally up to 10 cents by 2024. The bill also enforces a $16 vehicle registration fee, a 0.1 percent payroll tax, and 0.5 percent sales tax on new vehicles.

The bill additionally allows Oregon to introduce rush-hour congestion roadway tolls. Cyclists aren’t off the hook, either. Adult bicycles (defined as bikes with wheels at least 26 inches in diameter) over $200 will be subject to a $15 excise tax. These funds will go toward grants for bicycle and pedestrian transportation projects.

Overall, the electric vehicle rebate fund will be at least $12 million annually, though other monies, like donations, can be deposited into the fund too. $12 million is enough cash for 4,800 full $2,500 rebates each year.

Oregon residents bought 1,969 new pure EVs and 1,506 new PHEVs in 2016, so there’s still a good amount of room for this rebate to help grow the Oregon electric vehicle market. Overall, this is a wonderful program that will both help increase electric vehicle sales in Oregon and help expand the benefits of driving on electricity to those who need it the most.

Tesla Model 3 vs. Chevy Bolt? What You Need to Know Before Buying an Electric Car

It’s 90 degrees here in our nation’s capital but it might feel like the winter holiday season to those who reserved a Tesla Model 3. Expected to have a 215-mile range and sticker price of $35,000 (or $27,500 after the federal tax credit), the Model 3 will compete with the similar spec’d Chevy Bolt for the prize of cornering the early majority of electric vehicle owners.

No other automaker has a relatively affordable, 200 mile-plus range electric vehicle on the market, yet (the nextgen Nissan Leaf will compete too), and one or both of these vehicles may be a pivotal point in the modern shift to electrics.Assuming you’re already sold on the benefits of driving on electricity, here are a couple tips for you to consider if you’re prepping for an electric vehicle.

#1 Prepare your home charging

There are two main options for charging an electric vehicle at home: (1) 120V charging from an ordinary home outlet and (2) 240V charging from either an upgraded home circuit or existing circuit for a heavy electric appliance like a drying machine.

There is also DC fast charging, but that is only applicable to charging on-the-go and described in more detail below. Before deciding on how to charge, talk with a couple licensed electricians to better understand your home’s electrical capacity. Mr. Electric appears to win the Google SEO for “electrician for electric vehicle,” so maybe head there for a start.

Electric Vehicle Charging Level 1 (120 volts) – about 4-6 miles of range per hour of charge

  • Uses an ordinary wall outlet just like a toaster.
  • Typically won’t require modifications to electric panels or home wiring.
  • Confirm that your home’s electrical circuits are at least 15 or 20-amp, single pole by consulting with a licensed electrician.
  • Slow, but can get the job done if you don’t drive that much on a daily basis. If you only need 20 miles of range, for example, only getting 20 miles of charge each night is not a problem. For road trips, most EVs are equipped to handle the faster charging options that can make charging pit stops on road trips pretty quick.

Electric Vehicle ChargingLevel 2 (240 volts) – about 10-25 miles of range per hour of charge

  • Installation costs vary, but here’s a 30-amp charger from Amazon that is highly rated and costs around $900, including installation, and here’s one that includes an algorithm to minimize charging emissions and costs.
  • Will likely require a new dedicated circuit from the electric panel to a wall location near the EV parking spot.
  • Consult with a licensed electrician to verify that your home has a two-pole 30 to 50-amp electrical circuit breaker panel.

Electric Vehicle Charging Level 3 (aka DC fast charging) (400 volts) – Not for home use, but can charge battery up to 80 percent in about 30 minutes

  • The fastest charging method available, but prohibitively expensive for home use.
  • Some vehicles can get an 80 percent full charge in as little as 30 minutes, depending on the electric vehicle type.
#2 File your tax credit(s)

Purchasing an electric vehicle should qualify you for a federal tax credit of up to $7,500. Here is all the information and form to fill out when you file taxes. You better file quick because the federal tax credit is capped at 200,000 credits per manufacturer. Some manufacturers, including Nissan and Chevrolet, are forecast to hit the 200,000 cap as early as 2018. If Tesla delivers on its 400,000 Model 3 pre-orders, not every Model 3 owner will be able to take advantage of the full $7,500 savings, so act fast!

Also check this map to see what additional state incentives you may qualify for.

#3 Locate public charging stations

Tesla has a network of fast charging stations exclusively for Tesla owners, but there are thousands of public charging stations that any electric vehicle driver can use on the go too. You may be surprised to find chargers near your workplace, school, or other frequent destination. Check out this Department of Energy station locator, or this map from PlugShare. The Department of Transportation has also designated several charging corridors that should be getting even more EV chargers.

#4 Contact your utility

Give your utility a heads up that you are getting an electric vehicle, and inquire about any promotional plans for vehicle charging. Some utilities have flexible “time-of-use” rates, meaning that they will charge you less when you plug a vehicle in during off-peak times (typically overnight). Your utility might also have its own electric vehicle incentives, like a rebate on installation or charger costs, or even a pilot project on smart charging where you can get paid to plug in your vehicle.

#5 Say goodbye to internal combustion engines, forever!

Driving on electricity is not only cheaper and cleaner than driving on gasoline, it’s also a total blast. Prepare to never want to go back to gasoline-powered vehicles as you cruise on the smooth, silent power of electricity.

An Important Step to Clean Air and More Equitable Communities in Los Angeles

By Joel Espino and Jimmy O’Dea

Tomorrow, LA Metro, the second largest transit fleet in the United States, will decide what types of buses to purchase through 2030. The decision will impact Los Angeles’ efforts to clean the air, fight climate change, and expand economic opportunity. We applaud the proposal put forward by Metro staff last week to transition the entire fleet to zero-emission vehicles.

LA Metro can be a leader

Today, Metro’s 2,200 buses operate entirely on natural gas. While natural gas was a better option than diesel when Metro began switching fuels more than 20 years ago, it no longer deserves the “clean” branding seen on Metro’s buses. Advances in technology have made electric buses an even cleaner and viable option. It’s time for Metro to continue its leadership in fighting pollution and transition to the cleanest technology available today: electric buses powered by renewable energy.

Earlier this year, a coalition of bus riders, labor groups, and public health groups launched a campaign urging Metro to be a leader and transition to an all-electric bus fleet powered by renewable energy. A central part of this campaign is that communities most affected by poverty and pollution should be first to reap the benefits of bus electrification, such as improved air quality and more high-quality, skilled jobs. Mayor Garcetti recently urged Metro to make this transition by 2030 and just yesterday, the Los Angeles Times expressed its support for Metro’s path to zero-emission buses.

Despite years of work and improvement, Los Angeles’ air still ranks among the worst in the country. Heavy-duty vehicles like buses are a major source of air pollution.  Today, residents of communities like Wilmington or Bell Gardens, who live near highly trafficked roads and freight corridors, suffer the consequences of air pollution like increased risks of lung and heart disease and premature death.

Last fall we found that electric buses result in far lower air pollution and global warming emissions than natural gas buses. Electric buses have zero tailpipe emissions, cut global warming pollution, and create new jobs. They are better for bus riders, bus drivers, and communities with heavy traffic and severe air pollution.

Our analysis found the potential for good jobs in manufacturing of electric buses, construction of charging infrastructure, and maintenance. With the right training and hiring practices, this industry could bring an economic boost to communities most in need.

Electric buses are the cleanest

There are two types of electric buses Metro could purchase; both have significant benefits. Battery electric buses have 70 percent lower global warming emissions than natural gas buses. Fuel cell electric buses have 50 percent lower global warming emissions than natural gas buses. That includes the emissions from producing electricity and hydrogen. Both types also cut smog-forming emissions in half compared to today’s natural gas buses. As we generate more of our electricity with clean sources like solar and wind, electric buses will be even cleaner.

Electric buses also have lower life cycle emissions than the newest “low-NOx” natural gas buses fueled with biomethane from waste sites such as landfills. Capturing fugitive methane emissions from sources of waste is an important strategy in reducing California’s global warming emissions and can help displace natural gas use in vehicles, yet the limited amount of biomethane available from sources of waste could meet just 3 percent of California’s natural gas demand.  This resource should be used prudently across California’s economy.

The technology is here and ready

Electric buses fueled with hydrogen have had ranges over 200 miles for many years and battery electric buses recently passed this mark. With fewer moving parts and durable electric motors, maintenance costs are lower for electric buses. Electric buses can also accelerate and climb hills as well or better than diesel or natural gas buses.

Metro’s bus investment would boost the regional economy, including at least eight electric bus and truck manufacturers in the LA region, and spur job training in underserved communities, creating a workforce capable of accelerating electrification in other areas of transportation.

Metro can’t switch to electric buses overnight, but as it retires natural gas buses it should replace each with a clean, quiet electric bus. Nearly 20 transit agencies across the state have stepped up to the plate and begun incorporating electric buses into their fleets, many with significant, if not full, commitments to zero-emission buses. California and its poorest and most polluted communities depend on it.

This blog post originally appeared as a joint op-ed at https://laopinion.com/2017/06/20/tipo-de-buses-que-comprara-la-metro-afectara-los-angeles-por-anos/.

Joel Espino is Legal Counsel for Environmental Equity at The Greenlining Institute. Jimmy O’Dea is a Vehicles Analyst in the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Wind Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Young by global standards, Boston is still one of the oldest cities in the United States. It has a fascinating and well-preserved history, with monuments, museums, and plaques everywhere you look. At the same time, it is a center of research and innovation, investigating the technologies that will shape our future. (Okay, I’m biased – I do love this city.) That dichotomy, respecting the past while looking towards the future, is also the story of wind power.

For Father’s Day, I went out to the Boston Harbor Islands with my family. We had a picnic on Spectacle Island, with a great view of Boston.  The weather was perfect.

As it happens, the Tall Ships were in town. While aboard the ferry, we could see a number of the sailing ships docked along the waterfront, and more of them going in and out of the harbor.

Tall Ships. Source: www.sailboston.com.

This brought to mind a paper I had written on energy transitions in the United States. One of my observations was that the United States in 2010 used six times as much wind power per capita than it did in the Golden Age of Sail. That was a few years ago, so the numbers have changed since then. Let’s take another look.

Wind in the Golden Age of Sail

Through the late 19th century, wind was a significant energy resource for the United States. Sailing ships conveyed goods and people up and down the coast and across the Atlantic Ocean. Sailing vessels took fishermen out to sea and back home again. Mechanical windmills pumped water and ground grain. Massachusetts was a hub of the shipbuilding industry, constructing naval vessels like the frigate U.S.S. Constitution and clipper ships from Donald McKay’s shipyards, as well as the fishing boats that set out from Gloucester, New Bedford, and Cape Cod.

The first US steamship appeared in 1807, and steam gradually took over a larger share of nautical propulsion. Steamships accomplished this technological transition through diffusion, starting in specific high-value niches (such as river ferries) where their advantages justified their higher cost, then spreading to more applications as their performance improved and cost declined. We see the same pattern for the spread of electric lighting, or of solar power. Elon Musk explicitly invoked this pattern of technological diffusion with Tesla’s original Master Plan, beginning in small but high-value niches and branching out.

However, sailing ships did not disappear overnight; they continued in use for decades. Some of the ships you might see at a Tall Ships event are either replicas of or inspired by “clipper ships,” designed in the 1850s to operate in one of sail’s remaining niches, fast long-distance transport of high-value cargoes such as tea or spices. Prior to the resurgence of wind power in the 1990s, wind power reached its greatest utilization in the US around 1860 (in absolute terms) or 1810 (in per capita terms).

In 1860, the U.S. population was about 31 million. The nation had about 100,000 windmills and a sailing fleet of 4.5 million tons. I calculated that the energy harnessed from wind was around 5.65 petajoules; in the units of the day they might have noted it as 2 billion horsepower-hours.

On a per capita basis, wind power contributed 67 horsepower-hours (equal to 50 kilowatt-hours, although at the time the only use of electricity was in telegraph batteries). Compared to other sources, in 1860, wind power in total was greater than power from watermills; less than that obtained from draft animals; and roughly equal to the power output from human labor or to that of coal-fueled engines (in locomotives, steamships, and factories).

Output of Mechanical Work (Motive Power) by Resource, 1780-1880. Source: O’Connor and Cleveland (2014).

Wind was not the largest source of motive power, but still a significant one that accomplished tasks other energy resources could not.

Wind today

Steam engines continued to move into more applications, until diesel engines came to dominate marine transport in the 20th century. Sailing vessels became limited to small recreational craft. Windmills for water pumping peaked around 1920 or 1930, and declined after that, although small wind turbines for electricity generation appeared in some rural areas.

Wind power, though, has made an astounding comeback in recent years. Increased deployment supported by state and federal policies led to rapidly declining costs and improved performance. Wind turbines and solar panels together provided 0.07% of US electricity in March 1997, nearly 1% in March 2007, and over 10% of US electricity in March 2017, most of that from wind.

Wind turbines on a farm. Source: www.awea.com.

In 2016, wind power generated 226,872 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. The Census Bureau estimates that the population of the US on July 4, 2016 was 323,148,587. Therefore, wind power in 2016 provided about 700 kilowatt-hours per capita. Some wind energy is still harnessed directly—like by the Tall Ships and water-pumping windmills—but most of the wind energy we use today comes from wind turbines. The per-capita wind power contribution is now about 14 times what it was in 1860.

Wind Energy Inputs to U.S. Economy, 1790-2016. Source: Author’s calculations.

I find that pretty remarkable.

Wind tomorrow

What does the future hold for wind power? Well, it won’t grow its share tenfold in the next ten years, but its continued expansion seems likely.

Many regions have successfully integrated wind power into their electricity systems at relatively low cost, utilizing a combination of forecasting, turbine controls, geographic distribution, and grid flexibility. What were once considered difficult levels of wind to incorporate are now seen as simple. Taller turbines may enable wind power to spread in the Southeast.

Offshore wind, widely used in Europe, is now (finally) on the move in this country, too.  Although some construction costs are higher, the environment allows for installation of much larger turbines that would be difficult to transport to sites on land. Larger turbines can access winds that are both stronger and more constant at higher altitude. New Bedford, a hub of the old wind industry of sailing ships, might become a hub of the new wind industry, with potential jobs in offshore wind turbine construction  (subscription required).

A strong base, smart policies, technological advances, and a skilled workforce: wind will continue to provide clean energy, jobs, rural economic development—and power for sailing. Even if some of the new sails don’t quite fit in a Tall Ships event.

The “Skysail” system can offer annual fuel savings of 10-15% for freighters. Source: www.skysails.info.

 

How Many Rides Do Lyft and Uber Give Per Day? New Data Help Cities Plan for the Future

In the span of about 7 years, app-based ride-hailing (i.e. Lyft and Uber) has gone from non-existent to ubiquitous in major metro areas. But how are these services affecting important aspects of our transportation system like congestion, public transit, and vehicle emissions?

The San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) made a big first step last week towards answering these questions. The agency released data showing when, where, and how many rides start and end within San Francisco.

These statistics are important because passenger vehicles are the largest source of climate emissions in California, a major source of air pollution, and play a central role in our transportation system, which greatly affects social equity. If ride-hailing continues to grow, it has the potential to positively or negatively impact many aspects of transportation, including the reliability of public transit; costs of travel; extent of air pollution and climate change; safety of pedestrian and vehicular travel; and accessibility, type, and quality of jobs.

Lyft’s recent commitment to provide 1 billion miles of travel in autonomous electric vehicles powered by 100 percent renewable energy by 2025 is an encouraging step towards a positive future of app-based travel.

Some of the report’s findings are what you’d expect

Not surprisingly, the number of rides within San Francisco peaks in the heart of downtown on Friday and Saturday nights. During the week, ride-requests are at their highest during the morning and evening commutes. More rides are requested after work than before work. Interestingly, more rides are also requested as the work week progresses, #fatigue?

SFCTA developed a website to visualize when and where rides are starting and ending in San Francisco. It’s pretty cool, especially if you’re familiar with the city.

Switching from pick-up to drop-off location (see gifs), gives a rough sense of where people are traveling to and from, i.e. commuting to downtown in the morning and out of downtown in the evening. SFCTA’s data doesn’t correlate the pick-up and drop-off locations of individual rides, but the aggregate data still suggests these trends.

Other findings are less expected

The most surprising numbers from SFCTA’s report are the sheer volume of rides being given by Uber and Lyft: more than 150,000 intra-San Francisco trips per day, which is roughly 15 percent of all vehicle trips taken within the city and more than ten times the number of taxi trips.

The SFCTA study only considered trips originating and ending within San Francisco. So, there are actually many more Uber and Lyft trips being taken to or from the city.

Another interesting finding: approximately 20 percent of the miles traveled by Uber and Lyft drivers in San Francisco are without a passenger. These out-of-service miles (also known as “deadheading”) are actually lower for Uber and Lyft than taxis, which drive 40 percent of their miles without a customer. More Ubers and Lyfts on the road compared to taxis mean less distance is traveled between drop-offs and pickups.

What’s the big deal?

If you asked, “Don’t Uber and Lyft already have this data?” You’d be right. They do. So does the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), which oversees transportation network companies (TNCs) – the policy term given to Uber and Lyft.

But the TNCs and PUC denied requests for data, so SFCTA partnered with Northeastern University to indirectly measure it themselves. Uber and Lyft oppose sharing data that could reveal aspects of their market share, such as where they dispatch drivers and pickup riders. Because there are only two main ride-hailing companies, either company could just subtract out their own numbers from aggregate data sets to get a sense of what the other company is doing.

The companies have a competitive history, but the need for this type of data will only increase as they provide larger fractions of vehicle trips, especially if projections materialize for ride-hailing with self-driving cars. Without data, it will be difficult to justify the potential safety, mobility, and emissions benefits (or consequences) of self-driving vehicles.

It’s fair to ask whether Uber and Lyft should share data not necessarily required by other fleets. A notable exception is the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, which approved standards earlier this year requiring TNCs to report trip information taxis were already required to share.

Even simple metrics such as the types of vehicles in a fleet (electric, hybrid, conventional), as reported by taxis in San Francisco, are important pieces of information for local governments to address the climate and air quality aspects of transportation. As the saying goes, you can’t improve something that you don’t measure.

What’s next?

SFCTA’s findings raise many questions about what types of trips TNCs are replacing. Are they getting people out of personal cars or turning pedestrians into ride-hailers? Are they eroding public transportation or making it easier for people to get to the bus, MUNI, or BART? Are people taking solo rides or sharing trips via uberPOOL or Lyft Line?

Previous studies and those underway are attempting to answer these questions. But ultimately, data like those from SFCTA are critical for transportation planners and researchers to understand the impact of ride-hailing services today and how they can be used to improve, and not hinder, how we get around in the future. Decisions like expanding roads vs. setting aside land for public spaces or how to better serve a community with public transportation all depend on knowing when, where, and how many trips we’re taking, whether by foot, bike, car, bus, or train.