Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

New Study: Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states need to step up their game on electric vehicles

The eleven Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states have done a lot to promote the proliferation of electric vehicles but – according to a new study – it’s not nearly enough to get where we need to be to combat climate change.  The new report, produced jointly by the Conservation Law Foundation, the Sierra Club, and the Acadia Foundation (available here), urges these states to do much more and to “act boldly” to rapidly accelerate EV adoption.  EVs present a “clear pathway to meet climate goals,” but the numbers of plug-in vehicles on the road just aren’t growing fast enough.
The authors recommend 9 steps that government can take to speed up the process, which can be briefly summarized as:
1.     Use high-level task forces or commissions to focus leadership,
2.     Provide consumer incentives,
3.     Make EVs more accessible to low-income people,
4.     Promote consumer-friendly charging stations,
5.     Encourage utilities to incorporate EVs into a modernized grid,
6.     Lead by example through fleet EV adoption,
7.     Encourage manufacturers to do a better job of design and marketing,
8.     Encourage auto dealers to do a better job of marketing, and
9.     Promote public education.
All of these steps are pretty straightforward and are being implemented to some extent in most of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.  What is often lacking, in my opinion, is a sense of urgency.
Curiously, the report does not make a specific recommendation for pursuing regional partnerships to promote EV adoption.  This is, in fact, one area where the region is a leader.  The Transportation and Climate Initiative, a collaborative effort of the transportation, environment, and energy agencies of the eleven states (plus DC), has been hard at work for five years, sharing best practices and producing educational and outreach materials.  (Full disclosure: I helped facilitate the startup of TCI.)
I would also like to have seen more discussion on some of the difficult issues surrounding public charging stations, including what role they should play in an overall “electric” roadway network.  Nothing is said concerning the role of “fast” chargers on interstate highways, which in my opinion is a key component of the network.  They do suggest addressing the prevailing incompatibility of charging technologies by “encouraging” interoperability, although I would recommend a much tougher line from government.
All in all, this is a very useful and timely report.   With the Paris conference looming, hopefully US policy makers will soon receive a new impetus for grappling with climate change.  I believe that what we need to do in the transportation sphere is to electrify the system, and promoting rapid adoption of EVs is the first big step to getting there.  The CLF/Sierra Club/Acadia report provides a good policy guide to taking that step.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Thanks Jamie Fox!

Jamie Fox has just ended his second tour of duty as New Jersey Commissioner of Transportation, and it didn’t work out the way he – and many of us – had hoped.  The short version is that Fox – a very partisan Democrat – came back to NJDOT under a Republican governor to try to put together a bipartisan transportation funding bill.  Aaaaaand it didn’t happen.  The odds were always against him.  Most New Jersey Republicans have caught the anti-tax fever (or maybe the anti-getting-primaried-from-the-right fever) and of course the governor still has presidential aspirations, which overshadows every policy decision.  But still, this would have been a good time to raise the gas tax and reauthorize the state’s Transportation Trust Fund: gas prices are well below $2.00 a gallon, the Trust Fund is out of money, the needs are staggering, a lot of popular projects could be put out the door at good prices, and Jamie Fox has as much talent at legislative magic as anyone.  But it didn’t happen.

Jamie Fox is a brave man who took on a daunting challenge simply because he thought it was the right thing to do.  He wasn’t able to slay the dragon, but he deserves our thanks for giving it a try.