First of all, I must apologize. It has been over a month since I’ve written. I have started a new semester, finished five graduate school applications, and have gone through an unusually busy time at work, but mostly, I wanted to be able to give this story due diligence. I’ll probably have some stories backed up to work on and hopefully will get back to my normal writing schedule soon.
This story from Todd Litman of Planetizen is a doozie of a story on transportation policy. It took me forever to read it because I wanted to read all the links from his page, some of which I will copy but many you will have to go to his page to see. In light of the climate conference at Copenhagen in December, Litman comments on how transportation policy can be changed to help reduce carbon emissions, congestion, sprawl, and a number of other social ills, while contributing to economic growth. He calls these “Win-Win transportation emission reduction strategies.” He lists a number of strategies, as well as how much they could potentially reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT):
- Pay-As-You-Drive insurance and registration fees (8-10%): This would mean changing the insurance industry so that people would pay insurance based on the distance they drive (since people who drive more are more likely to be in a car accident) rather than a flat monthly fee regardless of how much you drive. This would encourage people to drive less, switch to more efficient modes, and would make it easier for low-income individuals to afford car insurance.
- Efficient parking pricing and cash out (6-10%): This involves making most parking pay parking instead of free. It would make places where parking is in greater demand higher priced while making less-desirable parking cheaper. This would reduce traffic generated by people circling a block trying to find a parking spot, and would spread out parking in a more efficient way so that existing parking could be maximized. It would also encourage people to switch to different transportation modes in an effort to not pay for parking.
- Efficient road pricing (3-6%): This relates to a number of strategies, but two of the major ones are toll roads and congestion pricing. Toll roads would require users to pay a fee to drive on the road, so that the road could be maintained by user fees and not paid for by the taxes of people who may or may not actually use the road. Congestion pricing requires people to pay a fee to drive in congested areas. This was pioneered in London‘s downtown, and has had great effects as far as reducing automobile congestion. Toll roads may encourage sprawl to a degree in that they make exurban growth possible like any freeway, but both of these strategies limit the number of cars on the road, encourage ride sharing and transit, and can encourage other modes of travel.
- Mobility management programs (4-8%): This is essentially a plan and a set of goals that coordinates the other strategies listed here. It includes creating a document and staff that are concerned with implementing these strategies and tracking their performance.
- Transit and ridesharing priority (3-9%): This strategy involves creating High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) and HOT (HOV lanes that allow single-occupancy vehicles for a toll) lanes. These can create an incentive to carpool or to take transit, especially if they have their own separated right-of-way or on- and off-ramps for added convenience. They can, however, encourage sprawl, much like toll roads.
- Walking and cycling improvements (2-6%): This involves either creating new pathways for bikes and pedestrians or making existing facilities more attractive and safe. This, obviously, could encourage some people to walk or bike instead of driving, but it could also encourage people to drive less and walk part of their trips instead of driving all the way. It also reduces congestion and is generally favorable from an economic perspective.
- Smart growth planning reforms (4-12%): This is in many ways related to previous strategies, but the main thing that it implies is mixing uses and creating transportation networks with greater connectivity for all modes. This would encourage people to use alternative modes to reach work or retail services, since they would be closer together, or at least allow them to take shorter trips. Smart growth communities are selling at a premium and are a great economic investment.
- Freight transport management (0.5-2%): Although this strategy only focuses on a small population, trucks have a considerable impact on their environment, not just in emissions, but in congestion due to their large size. The strategies listed here include better coordination between water, rail and truck transport, and introducing other types of freight delivery such as bicycle freight for intra-city deliveries.
- Carsharing (1-2%): This is a fairly new technique where a government, neighborhood or company can buy a fleet of cars, position them strategically in an area, and charge an hourly and by-mile fee to use them. This eliminates the need for an individual to own a car, but makes it so that one will be available when other modes won’t get the job done. Zipcar is at the forefront of this movement in the US. This does a great job of getting cars off the road, but so far it has mostly been employed in urban areas and used by people who didn’t drive much to start with.
- Tax shifting (5-15%): This strategy could be the one that makes the biggest impact. It would involve charging fuel producers a fee based on the carbon content of their fuel. Strategies like this have been used in Germany and Japan and have had an enormous impact on the fuel efficiency of cars and on the higher use of other transport modes in those countries. It seems to work better than trying to create incentives to have better mileage. It could encourage producers to make cleaner products, car companies to make better cars, and individuals to switch to transit, biking or walking, thus reducing congestion, emissions, accidents, and a number of other ills.
Litman comments on how contemporary planning processes are not coordinated. A number of different organizations work on a number of different goals which often compete. These organizations need to synchronize their work so that these greater goals can be accomplished without stepping on anyone’s toes.
The prices to consumers for the current way we develop are high. Right now, anyone who pays taxes is funding road and parking projects that they may never use, often at the expense of other travel modes. Many of Litman’s proposed strategies would shift costs to users rather than to society. Also, with added revenues, improvements could be made to other types of infrastructure that could encourage environmental goals.
Litman also shows how these policies would aid economic development. American communities generally have a greater GDP per capita when they also have better transit options. On the contrary, GDP per capita goes down as car mileage goes up. Increased efficiency would lead to increased productivity, decreased emissions, and a number of other benefits.