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What U.S. Cities Are Doing to Decarbonize Transport: Focus on Fuels & VMT Reduction

In September 2017, I prepared a report for members reviewing what U.S. cities are doing post the Trump Administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. As members may recall, 379 mayor stepped forward post the announcement with the “We’re Still In” and Climate Mayor campaigns. Many of the cities I initially reviewed already had climate plans in place, but many in the almost two years since the first report have updated their climate plans to align with Paris Agreement goals. In fact, the cities of New York and Los Angeles are developing their own “New Green Deal” plans modeled upon the one introduced by presidential candidate and senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (New York).

I will complete a series of posts over the next couple of months detailing what 14 U.S. cities are doing in the area of climate-energy-transport to get a sense of what they are doing and what that might tell us about the future of fuels and fuel demand in the U.S., particularly when it comes to EVs. The 14 selected for this post were: Atlanta, Georgia; Boston, Massachusetts; Columbus, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Los Angeles, California; Miami, Florida; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Nashville, Tennessee; New York; Orlando, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; Salt Lake City, Utah; San Antonio, Texas; Seattle, Washington.

I reviewed each city’s climate plans, transportation plans, metropolitan transit authority plans and other city materials. In summary, each of these cities are doing a lot in a range of different areas and are preparing for futures where their populations will grow (precipitously in some cases) and they will have to figure out how to move people around in much the same space they have now. EVs are a big part of the equation and most of these cities are taking a range of actions to promote and even require them in the future. This will be discussed in an upcoming post. I will also cover separately the status of autonomous vehicle (AV) testing and development.

Many of these cities will continue to add and widen roads (e.g. Atlanta, Nashville) but all of them are now focused on reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT), GHGs and air pollution. Every city has an ambitious agenda in this regard, though it is not clear what kind of progress in many cases these cities are making. Moreover, some cities have ambitious goals that are vague in terms of concrete actions that flow from them.

With respect to climate change, the mayors from each of these cities are part of the Climate Mayor and “We’re Still In” organizations. Several cities are members of C40, the Bloomberg-backed organization, focuses on sustainability for cities around the world. These cities include: Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.

Table 1 provides a summary of actions these cities are taking on a range of transport issues covered in this post.

Table 1: City Actions that May Impact Fuels & Vehicles

Source: Future Fuel Strategies, July 2019

As the table above shows, every city is focused on transit-oriented development (TOD); public transport improvements, promotion and expansion; promoting carpooling and ridesharing; and expanding sidewalks and paths to promote walking and cycling. With respect to TOD and car-free mobility, several cities have specific goals or are taking specific actions that could impact fuel demand substantially over the coming decades:

  • Boston: The city is discussing an update to its climate plan that would institute a new goal to put every home in the city within 10 minutes of public transport, rail station or key bus route, bike share, and car share by 2050.
  • Columbus: Under its Smart Mobility program, the city is creating “smart mobility hubs,” centralized locations with access to different transportation options to help residents get where they need to go without the need for a car.
  • Minneapolis: One of the city’s goals is to reduce VMT 40% by 2040 through TOD, cycling, walking and public transit.
  • Orlando: The city’s 2040 goal is that a majority of trips taken in the city are done on foot, bike, carpooling, or transit.
  • Phoenix: The city’s goal by 2050 is to make walking, cycling, and transit commonly used and enjoyed in every Phoenix neighborhood. This goal will result in 90% of the population living within one-half mile of transit and 40% of the population choosing to commute by walking, biking, or transit.
  • San Antonio: The city’s 2040 goal is to reduce each person’s VMT. In 2015, VMT was 24 miles per person per day. In 2040, the goal is to reduce that to 19 miles per person per day.

Bloomberg Philanthropies, under its American Cities Challenge, is funding various initiatives in a number of  the cities help cities meet their VMT, GHG and air pollution reduction goals.

  • Atlanta: Build out EV infrastructure.
  • Boston: Support further deployment of the Go Boston 2030 bike network and neighborhood slow streets traffic-calming program to create safe and stress-free walking and biking in the areas that need them most; introduce additional programs to reduce single-occupancy car use and support electric vehicle adoption to make low-carbon transportation the mode of choice for residents and commuters alike.
  • Columbus: Roll out a multimodal trip planning app to drive behavioral insights and engagement strategies to encourage mode share; and launch a communications campaign to increase ridership on newly expanded high-frequency transit lines.
  • Los Angeles: Specifically, the city will work with Bloomberg Philanthropies and partners to support the Twenty-Eight by ’28 initiative, the Metro NextGen Bus Restructuring effort, and MTA’s Ridership Initiatives; continue efforts to improve safety for people walking and biking; begin planning a fossil fuel free zone.
  • Minneapolis: It plans to use funds under the program to develop Mobility-as-a-Service pilot, offering subscription service for unlimited transit use, an allotment of use for shared cars, bikes, scooters, and ride-hailing; increase the use of low-carbon mobility modes by non-traditional users by 10% through incentives and a full education and encouragement campaign.
  • Orlando: It plans to use funds under the program to “add 150 EV charging stations throughout the city by 2020 and add more than 50 EVs to rental car fleets through innovative and strategic partnerships with Drive Electric Orlando and the Orlando Utilities Commission. The city will also transition more city fleet, including passenger vehicles and Downtown buses, to electric.”
  • San Antonio: It plans to use funds under the program to increase the number of EVs in the city fleet and expand the number of EV charging stations citywide, as well as improve transit experience by developing a plan for a modern, multi-modal transportation system that can be implemented across the city.
  • Seattle: Will provide new programs to incentivize public transportation, bikes, and walking over single occupancy vehicles and evaluate and advance implementation of strategies based on Seattle Department of Transportation congestion pricing study.

Some of these cities will also use funding to expand renewable energy use and institute energy efficiency initiatives.

Aside from the above-mentioned goals and plans, what else are cities planning to reduce VMT? Here are several examples:

  • Atlanta: Parking pricing, parking cash-out (e.g. would require employers who provide subsidized parking to also offer their employees the opt of receiving taxable income instead of parking), telecommuting and compressed work week incentives to employers.
  • Boston: Build support for a statewide gas tax increase or mileage-based fee and limit parking and create hubs for mobility sharing (bikes, scooters, etc.).
  • Los Angeles: Increase the percentage of all trips made by walking, biking, micro-mobility / matched rides or transit to at least 35% by 2025; 50% by 2035; and maintain at least 50% by 2050; reduce VMT per capita by at least 13% by 2025; 39% by 2035; and 45% by 2050; by 2035, the city has set a goal to have 50% of all journeys on bikes, walking or public transport (increase to 10% by 2035).
  • Minneapolis: Investigate demand-based parking pricing strategies for metered areas.
  • Nashville: By 2032, develop an interconnected network of transit options that are not necessarily car-orientated.
  • Phoenix: To meet its 2050 goals, the city plans to develop 15 compact centers within the city that would provide the majority of services citizens need without the need for transport (or at least lowering that need substantially).

In addition, Minneapolis and Seattle are considering congestion pricing programs.

Conventional Fuels and Vehicles Issues

While the cities are focusing more efforts around improving public transport, TOD, sharing, walking, cycling, EVs and AVs, many also include a focus on cleaner fuels and vehicles and even low carbon fuels. Following are highlights from a few of the cities working in this area:

  • Atlanta and Boston: Both cities’ climate plans reference alternative fuel vehicles (AFVs) and supporting federal fuel economy standards.
  • Columbus: The city’s metropolitan transit plan references the increased use of alternative fuels, but it is vague with no targets listed for any of the years noted (2020, 2030, 2040). CNG is mentioned, however.
  • Minneapolis: The city’s climate plan references supporting  the development of alternative jet fuels and ensuring Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) is prepared for their increased use. It also references that the city should support efforts to develop a low carbon fuel standard. City developed a green fleet policy in 2010. To date, the city has purchased and operates:
    • 2 plug-in hybrid vehicles
    • 71 hybrid vehicles
    • 3 EVs
    • 404 flex-fuel vehicles (vehicles that can use e85 ethanol fuel or unleaded fuel)
    • 290 biodiesel vehicles (vehicles that use a blend of diesel fuel, fats, and oils)
    • 1 dust-free street sweeper (sweeps the street and is 99.9% dust free during operation)
  • Orlando: Since 2013, the city has worked to increase the percentage of fleet vehicles with some form of alternative fuel, including an all-electric city motor pool at City Hall and electric motorcycles for the Orlando Police Department. The city has converted more than 30 trucks to CNG and hydraulic hybrid vehicles. As part of the Energy Secure Cities Coalition (ESCC), the City of Orlando has made a commitment to transition 100% of city fleet vehicles to alternative fuels by 2030.
  • San Antonio: Vehicles displaying an authorized vehicle placard (applicable to EVs and hybrids) are allowed to park for free at City of San Antonio-managed downtown street parking meters or street pay stations for a period of time not to exceed the limit of the meter or pay station. Also, by 2020, the city plans to its reduce annual diesel and unleaded fuel consumption by 14% from 2013 levels. Also by 2020, the target for electric, hybrid and efficient vehicles in the City’s administrative sedan fleet is 85%, up from 42% in 2011.

In addition, Minneapolis, Orlando, Phoenix, San Antonio and Seattle either promote to consumers and/or require hybrids in their respective fleets.

COMING NEXT: EVs and AVs in the Cities

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