On the list of areas in need of innovation and investment when it comes to community climate solutions, transportation ranks high. Accounting for roughly a quarter of man-made fossil fuel emissions, it can often seem like low-hanging fruit for mayors and sustainability directors looking for areas to make a difference. Unfortunately, installing or upgrading light rail, subways, and bus systems usually comes with a hefty price tag.
This need for improvement coupled with high investment barriers has led cities across the country to come up with numerous innovations. These are some of the promising new approaches:
- Subsidize: One way cities can pull cars off the roads is by incentivizing car share programs through paid subsidies. Such a program is already underway in Altamonte Springs, Florida—where the Mayor and City Council have set aside $500,000 in a pilot program that will subsidize the costs of using Uber within the city limits. The goal is simple: encourage more residents and visitors to car-share to their destinations. This approach sidesteps the need to invest in new mass transit systems like buses or light rail, yet achieves a similar goal in decreasing the number of cars on the road while still getting people from point A to point B. Slashing the number of drivers will not only reduce traffic congestion, but also have the added climate benefits of less pollution and a decreased fossil fuel consumption.
- Automize: Innovations in automated transportation may provide further climate opportunities in our cities. Apple, Google, Ford and a host of other companies are racing to get driverless cars on the road. These driverless vehicles are often smaller than the average family car, and are almost universally electric. EVs require less energy consumption per mile traveled, and therefore decrease fossil fuel emissions. Pittsburg is one of the first to recognize that leveraging this technology to improve connectivity between residents, workers, and their destinations can also help to alleviate financial and developmental burdens that traditionally accompany transportation investments. Replacing traditional cars with self-driving fleets, especially in downtown areas, will give commuters more transportation options.
Car-share programs also offer opportunities for cities to improve their mass transportation capacity, without the heavy investments required for infrastructure developments. Cities are taking bold steps to take advantage—Los Angeles, for example, plans to hire a ride-share and autonomous car advisor as the city considers the best path moving forward.
"It's about time the car capital of the world planned for the future of transportation in the digital age—moving beyond the car to bikes, ride-shares, and autonomous vehicles." Mayor Eric Garcetti, Los Angeles
Whether it’s a private-public partnership that encourage residents to utilize car-sharing rather than owning their own vehicle, or the promise of driverless vehicles, these programs are good for both residents and the climate. Fewer cars on the road translates to less air and noise pollution, less congested city streets, and even increased local tax revenue streams. But to build the public support needed for success, mayors and local community leaders must communicate the benefits of these programs to workers and residents in their city.
Stuart Wood is a writer at Path to Positive Communities and an adjunct professor of political science and environmental politics. He has a Ph.D. in Political Science from Claremont Graduate University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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