Friday, October 12, 2018

New climate report: What we need to do to stave off disaster


So the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has published a new report (here) focusing on what sounds like a very technical question, but one that turns out to be very important.  The issue is what the difference would be in letting the world warm by 2°C over pre-industrial times (the most widely shared goal) as opposed to 1.5°C (a more aggressive target) and what are the policy “pathways” that would get us to one target or another.  It turns out that that half a degree extra means a whole lot of bad things happening by the end of this century.  Unfortunately, holding global warming to 1.5°C will be much more difficult than holding it to 2°C.  In the words of the press release:  “The report finds that limiting global warming to 1.5°C would require ‘rapid and far-reaching’ transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport, and cities. Global net human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) would need to fall by about 45 percent from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching ‘net zero’ around 2050.”
With respect to transportation, the report discusses strategies for achieving this target for the various modes.  The conclusion: “Deep emissions reductions in the transport sector would be achieved by several means…Since there is no silver bullet for this deep decarbonisation, every possible measure would be required to meet this stringent emissions outcome.”  In other words, the “all of the above” strategy.
The report doesn’t really break any new ground on transportation issues.  What it does do is underscore the urgency of action.  My own takeaway is that we should concentrate on those areas that we know how to advance – notably phasing out internal combustion engines for light duty vehicles.
The report has so far had limited impact – certainly in the U.S.  (One commentator noted: “You may have not seen the IPCC climate change report because the mainstream-media focus quickly shifted to the fight between Donald Trump and Taylor Swift.”)  I think part of the problem is that the report itself is not only highly technical, but is poorly written.  (The “Summary for Policymakers” would fail the attention span test of any policymaker I have ever worked with!)  Hopefully, however, the report will percolate through climate change and transportation professionals and push us a few steps forward toward the urgent action we need to take.



Thursday, October 4, 2018

DVRPC long-range plan video tells the story


Anyone who’s ever been responsible for a long-range transportation plan (been there, done that, no t-shirt) will appreciate the difficulty of gaining stakeholder and public involvement and ensuring that the “message” of the plan is communicated back through those stakeholders and (to at least some extent) the broader public.  Communication is vital to effectiveness.
One of the agencies that does this best is the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the MPO for the greater Philadelphia area (full disclosure: I am a long-time partner of DVRPC, wearing various hats, and currently serve on the Futures Group). 
I recommend you watch their new 5-minute video (here), which does a great job of telling the story of the region’s long-range plan in a simple narrative with vivid images.  Note particularly how the video involves key local elected officials, agency heads, and stakeholders as storytellers, often speaking to the parts of the story that are most salient to their constituencies or expertise (e.g., PennDOT Secretary Leslie Richards speaks to funding challenges, including the future of the gas tax; Montgomery county commission chair Valerie Arkoosh, who is a doctor by profession, speaks to healthy communities; Camden mayor Frank Moran, whose city has a major poverty problem, speaks to the need for inclusive economic development). 
Well done, DVRPC.
Oh, the other challenge for long-range planners:  now that the 2045 long-range plan is in the can, it’s time to start working on 2050!


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Pondering the future of public transportation


For anyone pondering, mulling over, arguing about, or otherwise using mental capacity on the future of public transportation – and many people are – you should take a look at the recent special edition of the Journal of Public Transportation (available here), which is devoted to the topic.
As you might expect from a compendium like this, some contributions are more pertinent and incisive than others.  I’ll just mention a few highlights I find interesting:
Carol Schweiger explains the concept of “MaaS” – Mobility as a Service – and argues that we should redefine public transportation in terms of mobility rather than modes.
My old friend and colleague Jerry Lutin offers some very practical answers to how transit can adapt to and benefit from the development of autonomous operation technology, including:
·      Collision avoidance and emergency braking,
·      Steering and lane keeping,
·      Bus platooning,
·      Improved service to disable passengers,
·      Precision docking for buses, and
·      Autonomous BRT as an alternative to LRT.
Jill Hough and Ali Rahim Taleqani, in a paper on rural transit no less, go deep into the future, where no transit planner has gone before: flying cars (Jetsons!), teleportation (Star Trek!), and hologram telecommuting (maybe more near term, but I have to say: Isaac Asimov!)
Jarrett Walker is – as always – insightful and thought-provoking.   His essay, “To Predict with Confidence, Plan for Freedom,” bears careful reading.  My supercondensed version of his thesis is that transit planners should worry less about predicting future ridership trends – which is an unproductive task at best – and think more about urban form and the geometry of urban transportation.  I find his notion of mobility as freedom especially compelling.  If you find his arguments fascinating, as I do, you should check out his website, perhaps starting with a lecture/presentation video from Santa Cruz, CA (here).
All in all, plenty to ponder!


Monday, September 24, 2018

Hydrogen Fuel Cell trains now in revenue service in Germany

Decarbonizing rail transportation is a challenge.  Electrification is very expensive.  Batteries don’t have enough oomph to move heavy trains.  And the current fossil fuel – diesel – is relatively cheap and efficient.  One proposed solution is the use of hydrogen fuel cells.  And the good news is that real hydrogen fuel cell trains are now in actual revenue service in Germany!
The manufacturer Alstom has provided two prototype train sets to a transportation authority in the state of Lower Saxony in Germany.  These are multiple-unit trains sets used in regional, commuter operations.  They promise to be efficient, very quiet, zero emission, and hopefully economically viable.  (See the story in Engadget here, International Railway Journal here.)
Good luck, Alstom – this could be a big step forward!

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

UK Business Chief advocates vigorous EV program


Imagine that the US federal government has been pursuing a vigorous program of supporting electric vehicles and electric vehicle infrastructure.  And imagine that the head of the US Chamber of Commerce has come out and said that the government needs to do more: that the private sector can provide the vehicles, and if the government commits to the infrastructure end, the country can move toward a zero-emission transportation system.  Too much to imagine? 
Well, that’s a rough approximation of what’s happening in the UK, where the head of the Confederation of British Industry, Carolyn Fairbairn, has just given a speech urging a bigger government commitment to EVs (link here).
Here’s the nub of the speech: “The transition to zero-emissions is not just about ensuring we build the vehicles – that’s only half the story.  The other half is about ensuring demand.  Encouraging people to see that their next car must be a zero-emission car and giving them the confidence to move away from a technology that has defined our lives for a century.  If people are worried about the car’s driving range, the infrastructure, the cost of installing chargers at home, battery longevity or a host of other possible concerns, then they just won’t make the switch. They’ll stick with what they know.  And it’s here that government support goes a long way. Through making vehicles affordable, easing consumers’ range anxiety and joining forces with business to invest in charge-points across our road networks.  And governments can help design the zero-emission vehicle eco-system that makes the low emission choice the easy choice and, ultimately, the only choice.”
Pretty straightforward.  I hope they have better luck making this happen than we are having!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Carbon on the ballot in Washington State


The 2018 midterms may turn out to be one of the most consequential elections in American history.  A few layers below the big choices will be one that could also have a major long-term impact: carbon pricing is on the ballot in Washington state.
Some time back (here) I wrote about the failure of carbon tax or cap-and-invest legislation to pass in the last sessions of the Oregon and Washington legislatures.  The main point of my analysis was that big, controversial legislation is never easy to pass, so failure to get a bill through in a time-restricted session is not necessarily the end of the story.
And in fact in Washington state, the story has a new chapter.  The Washington State Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy, which unites more than 200 coalition members, including health professionals, businesses, labor unions, faith communities, environmental advocates, and communities of color (website here), didn’t wait for the next legislative session.  They put together an initiative campaign to get their own version of carbon pricing on the November ballot – and have succeeded!  (story here)  The “Protect Washington Act” would levy a fee on the carbon content of fuels – including motor fuels – and electricity and use the revenue to fund clean energy and clean transportation projects.  Reflecting the local economy, the bill sets aside funding for clean water and forest projects as well.  Finally, the bill would provide funding to help low-income communities and others that might be negatively affected by the transition to clean energy.
Will the initiative pass?  I have no idea.  Success is certainly not guaranteed, and the fossil fuels industries will no doubt pour money into negative TV ads.  I for one will be watching hopefully with at least a small percentage of my attention as I glue myself to my TV and laptop during a long night’s vigil.


Tuesday, July 31, 2018

NASTO Notes 2018: Gee Whiz!


I say “Gee Whiz” because a lot of the presentations and discussions at NASTO 2018 were all about rapidly evolving transportation technology and what state agencies can do to respond to it.  (NASTO is the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials, which held its annual meeting recently at National Harbor, Maryland.)
Some of the Gee Whiz stuff (of varying degrees of practicality/likelihood):
·      Baltimore – Washington maglev trains – Using Japanese technology.  15 minutes DC to Baltimore!  (website here)
·      JPods – Personal rapid transit system at $10 million per mile.  (website here)
·      Electric vehicles – Hydro Quebec (blessed with hydroelectric power) investing hugely in Fast Chargers, which they view as “the crux of the matter” and “the determining factor” in spurring the uptake of EVs.
·      Automated vehicles – Lots of angst following the Tempe pedestrian death in March, but still advancing rapidly.
·      Personal delivery vehicles – Expect sidewalk robots as well as drones!
This is not even to mention Hyperloop (!) (not on the program but the subject of a lot of talk), which Maryland seems to be actively pursuing in partnership with Elon Musk (story here).
State DOTs are struggling, with varying degrees of success, to cope with the onslaught of new tech.  My favorite quote of the conference (from Washington State legislation! – here):
“This effort [a study of AVs] is required because robot cars are coming, but robot policy makers are not.”
Special notice goes to OLLI, the automated shuttle, which NASTO goers got to experience on a test ride.  We also got to see some of the design lab work at the builder, Local Motors, a cutting edge company called Local Motors (see their website here) which specializes in 3D printing and robotics technology.  OLLI is a very promising candidate for “first mile, last mile” shuttle applications and the company plans to be in revenue service at some pilot locations within months.  The engineers feel confident that they can overcome fears about automated travel by loading up OLLI with a comprehensive, sophisticated (and expensive) suite of sensors that would not be affordable on personal vehicles.  Hope to see them on the road soon!