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What Do We Need For More Sustainable Personal Transportation?



The choices we make about how we commute and travel affect our world. Certainly, our options are influenced by the availability of sustainable mobility alternatives, our ability to pay for particular types of transportation, the efficiency of transportation selections, and the carbon emissions that different transportation types contribute to the environment. The issues of long-term sustainable personal transportation have become very important, not only for individuals but entire municipalities, as a carbon-neutral future becomes imperative.

Climate change is the defining challenge of our time, and clean energy and green transport are the keys to addressing it. If we are to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, the time to make green transport the norm is now.

Despite recent adoption of more stringent vehicle emission regulations in several major vehicle markets, the transportation sector remains a major contributor to air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Decarbonization of the transport sector can create a cleaner, healthier, and more affordable future while protecting the transportation efficiency and interconnectedness we’ve come to expect. If we don’t change the way we transport goods and humans, however, we will confront obstacles to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement and other global goals.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic slump, growing economies and expanding middle classes often meant shifts away from public transport toward more and larger vehicles. According to a report from International Energy Agency (IEA), carbon emissions from SUVs increased by 0.5% in 2020, even though the world’s energy-related emissions overall fell by 7%. SUVs are less fuel efficient than smaller, lighter, and more aerodynamic cars. They’re also highly profitable for automakers, who promote them to loyal consumers. Over the past decade, SUVs were the only area of energy-related emissions growth in advanced economies, adding 300 million tons of CO2 (Mt CO2).

Yet there is hope, says the IEA. A rapid increase in electric car sales, a shift to using smaller cars, and improvements in the efficiency of internal combustion engine vehicles are key pillars for reducing emissions from the auto sector.

For example, unlike sales of internal combustion engine vehicles, sales of electric cars over the first 11 months of 2020 grew by around 50%, or 850 000 vehicles, from a year earlier, according to data provided by EV Volumes. For the world to shift onto a path aligned with the climate goals of the Paris Agreement, as mapped out in the UN Sustainable Development Scenario, electric SUVs’ share of total SUV sales needs to grow rapidly to over 35% by 2030.

Environmental policies on climate change and directives for the potential use of renewable energy sources to power electric vehicles will impact the speed and efficiency of zero emissions transportation. In the battle against pollution and the effects of the climate crisis, electrification is gaining momentum with encouragements like incentives, rebates, city chargers, and special parking for electric vehicles.

Research Into Sustainable Personal Transportation

Insights into Future Mobility, a multidisciplinary report from the MIT Energy Initiative (MITEI), discusses how individual travel decisions are shaped by “complex interactions between technologies, markets, business models, government policies, and consumer preferences.” The report outlines how the consequences of these factors will evolve in years to come. What’s needed? The researchers say that continued techno­logical innovation, cross-sector policies, and changes to consumer behavior must take place if the US and other countries are to meet Paris Agreement targets for greenhouse gas emissions reductions.

The areas of focus were:

  • the impact of global climate policies on fleet composition and fuel consumption
  • the outlook for vehicle ownership and travel, with a focus on the US and China
  • characteristics and future market share of alternative fuel vehicles, including plug-in electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles
  • infrastructure considerations for charging and fueling, particularly as they affect future demand
  • the future of urban mobility, especially the potentially disruptive role of ride-hailing services and autonomous vehicles

What can be done?

  • Improve powertrain efficiency.
  • Deploy alternative fuel vehicles in the coming decades.
  • Decarbonize the production of fuels and electricity that power these vehicles.
  • Reduce the carbon intensity of the light-duty vehicle fleet.

How will consumers become positively influenced to adopt battery electric vehicles?

  • As production volumes increase, battery costs and the purchase price of electric vehicles will decrease, which will drive sales.
  • Improved batteries would extend the vehicle range, reinforcing the attractiveness of alternative fuel vehicles to consumers.
  • A larger publicly available charging infrastructure will grow, which is “critical for supporting charging convenience.”
  • Early government support for alternative fuel vehicles and charging and fueling infrastructure will appeal to consumers.

Data from the MIT study indicates that large-scale deployment of battery electric vehicles is expected to help them reach total cost-of-ownership parity with internal combustion engine vehicles in approximately 10 years in the US and “should also lead to new business opportunities, including solutions for developing cost-effective methods of recycling batteries on an industrial scale.”

Linking Gender Equality to the Transportation of Tomorrow

Speaking this year at Transforming Transportation 2021, sustainable mobility leaders from around the world and across the sector explored the deep impacts of Covid and its lasting effects on sustainable personal transportation. Lina Fedirko, a senior associate at the ClimateWorks Foundation, said that carbon emissions from transport can’t be reduced without centering equity and without focusing on “intersectional strategies around behavior change and sustainable lifestyles.”

In Detroit, just over a quarter of residents do not have access to a personal vehicle, noted Lisa Nuszkowski, founder and executive director of MoGo Detroit Bike Share. To help improve access for lower-income residents, the company started a pilot program with NUMO and the city of Detroit to provide 200 e-bikes to essential workers who lived within 6 miles of their job and didn’t have access to a vehicle or public transit. They also created an annual pass system for anyone who receives state benefits that costs just $5 a year.

In all countries, “this is a moment to think beyond the direct transport impacts,” Heather Allen, an independent gender and transport consultant, said. “Transport is a great facilitator for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and empowerment.”

“We know more women using safe, sustainable transport will accelerate action on climate change,” said Anitha Bhatia, assistant secretary-general for resource management, sustainability and partnerships, and deputy executive director of UN Women. “We need to make sure we’re building back equal.”

As the sector adjusts to the new reality of a changed landscape, leaders urged more collaboration and joint ownership of the problem-solving potential within sustainable personal transportation goals. “We need collective action between the private sector and public sector,” said Florent Menegaux, CEO of Michelin. “We need finance corporations to finance the transition, to accept the fact that they cannot finance based on the old model, to accept the risk based on the new model.”

“We need to use this spirit of chaos to build back differently,” said Stientje Van Veldhoven, minister for the environment and housing for the Netherlands. “We need to go faster and further. We have no time to waste.”

Photo by Carolyn Fortuna

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Do Electric Vehicles Pollute As Much As Gas-Powered Ones?



No. The answer to the question posed in the title, “Do Electric Vehicles Pollute as Much as Gas-Powered Ones?” is unequivocally no. As electric vehicles have gained consumer interest and market share over the past decade, some studies have emerged to supposedly refute claims that EVs are better for the environment. The counter-argument went that something like, “EVs pollute because the energy needed to manufacture the ever-important battery — in additional to the emissions from electricity generation — makes EVs pollute worse than a gas-powered car.”


A new study from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) proves that all the negative hype is nothing more than hooey.

“Results show that even for cars registered today, battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have by far the lowest life-cycle GHG emissions.”

The findings have significant implications for policymakers seeking to substantially decarbonize road transport by 2050, in line with Paris Agreement objectives.

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from global road transport in 2050 need to be dramatically lower than today’s levels. That’s clear. Light-duty vehicles, the vast majority of which are passenger cars, are responsible for the largest share of transport-related GHG emissions, currently about 5 Gt CO2 eq.

And what’s also evident is that only full battery EVs and hydrogen fuel-cell EVs have the potential to be very low-GHG pathways. It turns out that the emissions from manufacturing batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines are very small when compared to the GHG savings from the greater efficiency and cleaner energy supply of EVs compared to conventional vehicles.

Electric vehicles pollute far less than their legacy counterparts. Additionally, battery EVs can be expected to operate with progressively fewer upstream emissions over their lifetimes as electricity grids become green and the relative benefit of driving EVs compared to gasoline, diesel, and natural gas cars grows over time.

Studying How Much Electric Vehicles Pollute

The ICCT study, “A Global Comparison of the Life-Cycle Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Combustion Engine and Electric Passenger Cars,” took into account the most relevant powertrain types —

  • internal combustion engine vehicles (ICEVs), including hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs);
  • plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs);
  • battery electric vehicles (BEVs); and,
  • fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

It also reviewed a variety of fuel types and power sources, including gasoline, diesel, natural gas, biofuels, e-fuels, hydrogen, and electricity.

As the average useful lifetime of a passenger car is between 15 and 18 years (for trucks and buses, it is often even longer), decarbonization policies will be most impactful if they reflect passenger cars transitioning to all EVs for new sales by the early 2030s. It is necessary in order to achieve deep decarbonization of the transport sector by 2050.

Importantly, the study also finds that natural gas does not offer climate benefits compared to gasoline and diesel, and many biofuel pathways do not, either. There is not likely to be sufficient supply of very low-GHG biofuels, biogas, and e-fuels to decarbonize internal combustion engine vehicles, and drivers of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles rely too much on the gasoline engine for this pathway to be a long-term climate solution.

The carbon intensity of the electricity consumed by charging BEVs and PHEVs is based on the average lifecycle GHG emissions of the different electric energy sources, their projected mix during the lifetime of the vehicles, and transmission and distribution losses in the electric grid. Note, also, that for renewable energy sources such as wind and solar energy, the lifecycle GHG emissions are considered. In other words, the emissions corresponding to their construction and maintenance.

Distinct Measures of EVs’ Vast Superiority

The study analyzed 4 distinct dimensions to come up with its conclusions that electric vehicles pollute much less than gas-powered vehicles.

  • It considered the lifetime average carbon intensity of the fuel and electricity mixes, including biofuels and biogas. Based on stated policies, it accounts for changes in the carbon intensity during the useful lifetime of the vehicles.
  • It reviewed the fuel and electricity consumption in average real-world usage instead of solely relying on official test values. This is especially important for assessing the GHG emissions of PHEVs.
  • It used recent data on industrial-scale battery production and considers regional battery supply chains. This results in significantly lower battery production emissions than in earlier studies.
  • It incorporated the near-term global warming potential of methane leakage emissions of natural gas and natural gas-derived hydrogen pathways. Different from other GHGs, methane contributes several times more to global warming in the first 20 years after emission than is reflected by the 100-year global warming potential.

Here are the results.

Only battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicles have the potential to achieve the magnitude of lifecycle GHG emissions reductions needed to meet Paris Agreement goals. The assessment finds that the lifecycle emissions over the lifetime of BEVs registered today in Europe, the United States, China, and India are already lower than a comparable gasoline car by 66%–69% in Europe, 60%–68% in the United States, 37%–45% in China, and 19%–34%
in India.

For medium-size cars projected to be registered in 2030, as the electricity mix continues to decarbonize, the lifecycle emissions gap between BEVs and gasoline vehicles increases to 74%–77% in Europe, 62%–76% in the United States, 48%–64% in China, and 30%–56% in India.

There is no realistic pathway for deep decarbonization of combustion engine vehicles. Hybrid EVs improve the efficiency of internal combustion engine vehicles by recovering braking energy and storing it in a battery that can then be used to support propulsion with an electric motor. In this study, HEVs were found to reduce lifecycle GHG emissions by only about 20% compared to conventional gasoline cars.

This study also analyzed the development of the average blend of biofuels and biogas in fossil diesel, gasoline, and natural gas based on current policies and projected supply. Across the four regions and all fuel types, the impact of future changes in the biofuel blends driven by current policies range from a negligible influence to a reduction of the lifecycle GHG emissions of gasoline, diesel, or natural gas vehicles by a maximum of 9%, even over the lifetime of cars registered in 2030.

Due to a number of factors, including competing demand from other sectors and high cost of production, it is not feasible to supply enough low-carbon biofuels such as residues and waste-based biodiesel, ethanol, or biomethane to substantially displace fossil fuels in combustion engine cars.

Final Thoughts

To reduce the GHG emissions of light-duty vehicles, many governments now follow two complementary approaches:

  1. They aim to reduce the fuel consumption of new vehicles by setting fleet average CO2 emission or fuel efficiency standards, and by providing incentives for vehicles with electric powertrains; and,
  2. They support the decarbonization of the electricity grid and incentivize the production of renewable and low-carbon fuels.

Given the continuous efforts to decarbonize electricity grids, BEVs are assumed to consume a less carbon-intensive electricity mix with each passing year of their lifetime. It’s time to support communities that are making the switch to electric transportation modes in our personal, regional, and professional capacities.

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Line 3 Oil Spilled Into The Willow River — Indigenous Water Protectors Need Our Help



In June I wrote about how the American government was violating its treaty with Native American tribes by allowing Enbridge to install Pipeline3 (Line 3) on their lands — without their consent. This is a clear violation of the Indigenous treaty rights, but politicians and corporations don’t really care — and they are continuing to colonize their lands. Yes, colonize. By the way, there’s already been a spill from Line 3.

This article has two parts. One is the news of the Line 3 spill, which isn’t widely reported on. I found out about it while researching info for the other part of this article — which is on how Indigenous water protectors needed our help.

Line 3 Oil Spill

The MinnPost reported that Enbridge’s spill of drilling fluid into the Willow River during Line 3 construction prove that the company shouldn’t be allowed to police itself. The article noted that hours after the spill had been reported, cleanup finally began. They waited hours and let the oil flow into the waterway before starting the cleanup. Yet, I haven’t seen any other media outlet reporting about the Line 3 oil spill into the Willow River.

The truth is that these corporations don’t care about our planet, nor does our nation care about the treaties it set up with the Indigenous People. Nor do they care about our drinking water. We will all end up choking on their greed.

Indigenous Americans Need Our Help

Indigenous TikTokers such as Modern Warrior, Quiiroi (pronounced Corey), and several others have posted videos about it and I stand with them. Modern Warrior often speaks out against the hate, discrimination, and bullying of Indigenous People that, sadly, continues to this day. He’s a popular influencer who is helping spread awareness about the protest against Line 3.

Quiiroi, Helix, & Lee

Modern Warrior explained that Quiiroi and her friends, Helix and Lee, went to Minnesota to support the area’s Indigenous tribe in protesting Line 3. However, they will have to leave — all of them — because the area will not be safe for them or for the tribes living there. Note: they will not be able to use the area of their own lands where the pipeline is being laid down. And when it spills again, their food and water supplies will be ruined. How is this not colonization?

“They are there now and are running into some issues,” Modern Warrior said in the video. “They need your support.”

Quiiroi, Helix, and Lee are at the Red Lake River, and Quiiroi explained that this will be their last few hours at the camp. “We’re having to move because of safety reasons.” In their video, they were asking for donations and Helix explained that they would buy solar panels and U-Haul trucks. Quiiroi explained that they need items such as solar panels, U-hauls, and even socks and underwear. Although she didn’t mention it, I’m sure they need food and other essentials as well.

Lee explained that the area they were in was not going to be safe and that they would have to leave. Please note, she did actually say name of the area it, but she spoke so fast that I couldn’t catch the name, so am referring to it as the area.

“The police are getting far too comfortable and we have to move closer to the reservation for safety. We believe the pipe may be laid anywhere between 48 to 72 hours. It’s a very very small window and we have a donation goal of $2,000,” Quiiroi said.

Now, before you think that, “well they shouldn’t be out there anyway — they should be at home or work,”‘ let me remind you that this land belongs to the Indigenous Peoples and that it is the USA and Enbridge who are violating their treaties. Imagine if the police came to your house and told you that you have to leave because this is their property now. Supposedly, we have Constitutional rights that protect us against that, but we can’t even honor our treaties with the Indigenous People who we stole land from (many were killed by colonization).

If you would like to donate to help Quiiroi and her friends, you can do so here. Quiiroi and her friends aren’t the only ones protesting Line 3 on TikTok. Modern Warrior shared a video by @Giiwedinindizhinikaaz or North Wind, whose primary focus is to stop Line 3.

North Wind

In one video, he woke up to Enbridge workers and their noise. “What I am looking at is a complete disregard for treaty rights. A foreign multinational oil company prepping to drill under one of the sacred rivers of the Anishinaabeg. The tar sands oil that’ll be shooting through this pipeline is being sent over to China for the foreign economy. So the U.S. is just assuming all of the risks. Minnesota and its people are assuming all of the risks.”

Native Americans’ lands are still being colonized to this day. This land belongs to them, yet the U.S. is using it to please some corporations. All the pleas to President Biden have fallen on deaf ears. In June, Nexus Media reported that the Biden administration sided with Enbridge when it filed a brief asking a federal court to throw out a legal challenge from the tribes and environmental groups over the construction of Line 3.

Minnesota Public Radio reported that Enbridge received an amended permit from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, allowing them to pump nearly 10 times as much water from the ground to build the pipeline. So, not only did the administration ignore the pleas of the people whose treaty the U.S. is violating (again), but pretty much said, “do even more.”

Not only is this a slap in the face of Native Americans, but it’s a violation of their lands, treaties, and basic human rights. Most of the land that Line 3 is being built on includes 200 waterways that provide water for their rice crops and for drinking. One of those waterways is the headwaters of the Mississippi River, which is a source of drinking water for over 18 million people — myself included.

The Worst Is Yet To Come

I’m going to be honest: I think the worst is yet to come. Considering that Native Americans are being ignored and are watching their lands being taken by the U.S. and given to foreign corporations, the inevitable will happen. Line 3 will be built and it will devastate the land. I mean, there’s already been a spill!

I think that we have to change our strategy. Yes, we need to support Indigenous Peoples especially when they need our help, but we need to prepare for what is coming as well. Disasters will happen — Enbridge already proved this. The media will most likely ignore them unless they benefit from it somehow. There needs to be some type of plan to help Native Americans who might be escaping their lands due to an oil spill.

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California Commits $10M To e-Bike Purchase Assistance, Other e-Bike Adoption Programs



In a recent post, I explained how micromobility (e-bikes, scooters, etc) gives state and local governments a much cheaper lever they can pull to reduce emissions, with or without support from a dysfunctional federal government. As it turns out, I’m far from the only person to think that way, and the California Bicycle Coalition is already leading the way on this.

Goals Of The Program

One thing the group has been pushing for is to get California’s lawmakers to give e-bikes the same public support that larger electric vehicles have been getting. For example, one can get thousands off the purchase price of an EV (on top of federal tax credits) if their income is low enough, and that has helped spur the purchase of EVs. Similarly, it’s difficult for many Californians with lower incomes to purchase an e-bike, due to the extra expense.

The idea is that e-bikes can replace many car trips, and even cars themselves in many cases, and for a small fraction of the cost of an EV. Instead of only helping a few Californians buy an EV with big spending, the group proposed spending only $10 million, which sounds like a lot to you or me, but is practically pocket change to a government as big as California’s.

Specifics aren’t currently available as to how much each applicant could get to help purchase an e-bike, but the program’s goals are below.

Goals of the E-Bike Affordability Program

    • Help people replace car trips with e-bike trips.
    • Prioritize grants to individuals from low-income households.
    • Define eligibility for the program as individuals and households with incomes below the maximum limits established in the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project.
    • Support related programs and benefits, such as safety education.
      Provide support for a variety of electric bicycles, including, but not limited to, bicycles designed for people with disabilities; utility bikes for carrying equipment or passengers, including children; and folding e-bikes.
    • Support local small businesses and organizations, such as retail bicycle shops and nonprofit organizations, including community bicycle shops.
    • Collaborate with other state departments and agencies to enforce safeguards against fraudulent activity by sellers and purchasers of e-bikes in accordance with the law.
    • [to be added] Ensure that e-bikes purchased through this program meet a high standard of quality and durability.

Funding Secured

After putting in a lot of effort, they got the state legislature and the governor to approve $10 million in funding for the program as part of next year’s budget. This means that they’ll be able to start providing buying assistance for e-bikes.

“Making e-bikes more affordable is one of the most effective ways to get Californians out of their cars and reduce emissions,” said Assemblymember Boerner Horvath. “I’m thrilled that the full funding I requested for purchase incentives, education, and training is included in the budget we approved. This program represents a priority shift in the right direction and, once implemented, will help folks from all backgrounds choose a healthier, happier way to get around.”

We’ve reached out to the bicycle coalition to get more information for people interested in applying for purchasing assistance for an e-bike.

Why This Matters

For me, living at the edge of a small town much of the time, and traveling in rural areas most of the rest, bikes are more of a toy. I get recreation, exercise, and a challenge from my e-bikes, and only rarely have much opportunity to use them for transportation. The distances are just too long for an e-bike to replace many of my trips.

I can definitely see how an e-bike could replace many car trips in a larger city, though. With the average trip for Americans being under 6 miles by car, I can see that I’m generally very above average. Once someone starts replacing car trips with an e-bike, a whole lot of good things can happen.

“E-bikes can be the centerpiece of California’s strategy to replace gas-powered car trips to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions while also advancing equity, promoting public health, reducing traffic, and helping working families save money,” said Dave Snyder, executive director of CalBike. “Until now, California has focused its efforts on electric cars. This new program breaks that funding dam and begins investing in a technology that is a known carbon crusher, e-bikes. e-bikes are the cleanest EV.”

It’s easy for most of us to visualize replacing gas-powered cars with one that runs on electric, but it’s harder to visualize simply reducing the number of cars on the road. When we can do that, we not only reduce pollution and greenhouse gases, but we can make life better for the people still using cars by cutting out some of the traffic jams.

On top of that, people can be healthier and save a lot of money. Sure, e-bikes are easier to ride, and thus give you less exercise than the guy wearing all the spandex gets, but that’s comparing apples to oranges. Taking someone out of the car takes them from zero exercise to whatever amount they get on the e-bike, so anything is an improvement.

“E-bikes are a key alternative to the automobile for short trips and everyday errands,” said Assemblymember Richard Bloom. “Advanced technology and broad availability are making e-bikes more accessible every day. This funding will provide an incentive that will reduce both traffic congestion and pollution. I am elated that I could play a part in making clean e-bikes more accessible to every Californian.”

Comparing e-bikes to regular bikes also reveals another important point: they’re able to replace more car trips for more people. Electric assist means people can go further, which puts a whole lot more places in what feels like a reasonable reach. On top of that, people don’t like showing up sweaty and gross to work or to go shopping. By taking some of the effort out, people can bike and still look their best (or close to it) when they reach their destination.

With all of these advantages coming in at a lower cost compared to subsidizing cars, it’s something other states and even local governments should seriously consider doing themselves.

Featured image by Jennifer Sensiba.

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We Cannot Short-Change Transit—Not Now



Originally published on the NRDC Expert Blog.
By Deron Lovaas 

Given the urbanization of our nation, the overdue focus on racial inequity and the threat of climate change, our nation needs to invest much, much more in cleaner transportation options, especially public transit.

While some in Congress recognize this imperative, news reports indicate that a bipartisan infrastructure bill might slam this into reverse: locking in hundreds of billions of dollars for highways while setting transit up for long-term cuts in funding.

This would be disastrous for our cities, for essential workers, for clean air — and for those, like me, who rely on public transit to get to work every day.

People across the country depend on transit every day. In 2018 alone we took almost 10 billion trips by bus, train, or other means of travel. And this way of getting around benefits us all, whether we live in cities, suburbs, or rural areas. For example, while I bought a home which is just a few blocks from a metro stop served by WMATA in the Washington suburbs, more than half of the nation’s approximately 2,200 transit agencies are in rural areas. More than half of riders use transit because they need to (cars are expensive to own and maintain!) or because of they want to save money. That means transit is one of the best investments we make in equity. And not just economic equity — 60 percent of riders are Black, Indigenous or People of Color.

For these facts and more check out these resources: here and here.

So, what’s happening?

For the past 40 years, the federal highway and transit programs have been authorized together, stemming from a Reagan-era agreement that guaranteed transit at least 20% of funding from gas tax increases starting in 1982. There’s an important benefit to this funding: because gas tax revenues flow into the Highway Trust Fund, that funding — also referred to as “contract authority” — has been considered guaranteed and not subject to cuts in the annual appropriations process. (Both highways and transit also get some funding from sources that are subject to appropriations, but the bulk of those programs come from the Trust Fund.)

The federal highway and transit programs need to be reauthorized by the end of September when the current law, the FAST Act, expires. Two Senate committees have already passed sections of a reauthorization bill increasing funding for their respective programs. But the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction over transit, has been unable to act due to the insistence of its ranking member, Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Penn.), that transit funding should not be increased.

Adding to the complexity of the situation is the fact that the FAST Act reauthorization is being used as the base for the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations. President Biden and a bipartisan group of 22 Senators have agreed on a framework that would provide $579 billion in new spending for a range of infrastructure. To be clear: this new spending is on top of “baseline” spending, i.e. the spending that would occur if the FAST Act were simply extended as-is. (Calculating this “baseline,” however, is tricky and it’s difficult to say for certain what numbers negotiators are working with.)

Unlike the baseline, the bipartisan framework announced by the White House is clear: It allocated $110 billion in new spending to highways and $48.5 billion to transit. Laudably, that is a huge investment in buses and trains that serve us all. However, those numbers leave out an important detail: what portion of spending will come from the Trust Fund and, therefore, be guaranteed. Advocates have called for transit to be treated on par with highways, given how important it is to efforts to cut pollution. While a highway-level investment in transit is warranted, at the very least 20% of guaranteed funding from the Highway Trust Fund should go to transit. The INVEST Act passed by the House meets this test, but the Senate is balking and the bipartisan deal may be worse for transit than the agreement struck in 1982.

That’s absurd.

The amount of guaranteed funding for transit is important for two reasons:

  • First, guaranteed funding is more useful to transit agencies than non-guaranteed funding; the guarantee allows them to plan and finance projects more cost-effectively.
  • Second, whatever funding is guaranteed in this bill will become part of the baseline for the next bill. If transit loses ground in this round of negotiations, the starting line for transit next time around will be even farther from where it needs to be.

To its credit, the Biden administration has set ambitious climate goals and made racial equity a key goal. But we cannot achieve those goals without a greater commitment to transit. While it’s true that the amount of additional investment in transit is historically large, there’s less progress than meets the eye if the baseline is moved backward. (And, keep in mind, the framework also includes the largest highway investment in history, adding $110 billion on top of the existing highway program. Absent policies such as those in the INVEST Act, that spending will exacerbate pollution and worsen our climate crisis.)

Transit’s needs are well-documented (for example, the American Society of Civil Engineers reports a transit backlog of $176 billion, projected to grow to more than $270 billion by the end of this decade). Those who care about the climate crisis should be doing all they can to boost transit investment. Now is the time to take a leap  forward by sticking with the deal in place since 1982 and delivering a boost to transit investment on top of it, not taking a big step back.

Image courtesy of Juneau’s Capital Transit

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