Smart Transport Emission Reductions

<p><span style="font-size: 12pt; font-family: 'Times New Roman'">Last week I attended the <a href="http://www.nrel.gov/analysis/news.html">NREL Energy Analysis Forum</a>, where leading North American energy analysts discussed current thinking concerning greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies, much of which involves emission cap and trade programs (as summarized in the report by Resources for the Future, &quot;<a href="http://www.rff.org/rff/News/Releases/2007Releases/July2007ClimateChangeBillsinCongress.cfm">Key Congressional Climate Change Legislation Compared</a>&quot;). Similarly, a recent report, &quot;<a href="http://www.mckinsey.com/clientservice/ccsi/greenhousegas.asp">Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Much At What Cost</a>&quot; evaluates emission reduction strategies according to their cost effectiveness.

December 7, 2007, 1:46 PM PST

By Todd Litman


Last week I attended the NREL Energy Analysis Forum, where leading North American energy analysts discussed current thinking concerning greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies, much of which involves emission cap and trade programs (as summarized in the report by Resources for the Future, "Key Congressional Climate Change Legislation Compared"). Similarly, a recent report, "Reducing U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions: How Much At What Cost" evaluates emission reduction strategies according to their cost effectiveness.

Virtually all this analysis is biased against mobility management (strategies that increase transport system efficiency by improving accessibility options and applying more efficient incentives), for the following reasons:

* Co-benefits are ignored. Current analysis gives little consideration to benefits such congestion reduction, road and parking facility cost savings, consumer savings, reduced traffic accidents, and improved mobility for non-drivers, although these benefits are often larger in total value than emission reduction benefits. When all impacts are considered, mobility management strategies are often among the most cost effective GHG emission reduction strategies, because they are justified on economic grounds and so provide "free" environmental benefits.

* Current analysis generally ignores the additional external costs that result when increased vehicle fuel efficiency and subsidized alternative fuels stimulates additional vehicle travel, called a "rebound effect."

* Mobility management emission reductions are considered difficult to predict. Although case studies and models are available for many of these strategies, this information is not widely applied to energy planning.

* Mobility management programs are considered difficult to implement. Such programs often involve multiple stakeholders, such as regional and local governments, employers and developers, and various special interest groups. As a result, they tend to seem difficult and risky compared with other emission reduction strategies that only require changes to utility operations, fuel production or vehicle designs.

* Analysis often assumes that vehicle travel reductions harm consumers and the economy. In fact, many mobility management strategies benefit consumers directly and increase economic productivity. Our research, summarized in the report "Socially Optimal Transport Prices and Marekts" indicates that with more optimal pricing and planning practices, travelers would choose to drive less, use alternative modes more, and be better off overall as a result.

Described differently, there are two general approaches to reducing transportation emissions: reduce emission rates per vehicle-kilometer or reduce total vehicle-travel. The first often seems easier, but if done correctly, the second provides far more benefits and so is often best overall.

Currently proposed emission reduction programs (particularly those that rely on cap-and-trade) will not implement mobility management as much as optimal, and will miss an opportunity to help address other planning objectives, such as congestion reductions, crash reductions, consumer savings and improved mobility for non-drivers. It is up to people who understand the wider value of mobility management to educate energy analysts about these issues, so mobility management can receive the support justified.


Todd Litman

Todd Litman is founder and executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, an independent research organization dedicated to developing innovative solutions to transport problems.

Chicago Commute

Planning for Congestion Relief

The third and final installment of Planetizen's examination of the role of the planning profession in both perpetuating and solving traffic congestion.

May 12, 2022 - James Brasuell

Twin Cities

Minneapolis Housing Plan a Success—Not for the Reason You Think

Housing advocates praise the city’s move to eliminate single-family zoning by legalizing triplexes on single-family lots, but that isn’t why housing construction is growing.

May 13, 2022 - Reason

San Francisco Houses

‘Mega-Landlords’ Threaten Housing Stability for Renters

As institutional investors buy up a larger share of single-family homes, the families renting them are increasingly vulnerable to rent increases and eviction.

May 15, 2022 - The Hill

Downtown Dallas

Short-Term Rentals Vex Dallas City Council

Residents complain that vacation rentals exacerbate the city’s housing shortage and bring traffic and noise to residential neighborhoods, calling on the city to impose—and enforce—stricter regulations.

May 17 - The Dallas Morning News

Traffic Safety Advocates

Traffic Fatalities Set Records as Pandemic-Era Road Carnage Shows No Signs of Stopping

An estimated 42,915 people died in automobile crashes in 2021, according to recent federal data. The increasing fatalities continue a trend that began with the outset of the pandemic.

May 17 - National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority

Driver Shortage Undercuts the Potential of L.A.’s Recent Bus System Redesign

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority implemented a complete overhaul of its bus system in three waves over the course of 2021. A shortage of drivers for the system has made it impossible to implement that vision.

May 17 - TransitCenter

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Hand Drawing Master Plans

This course aims to provide an introduction into Urban Design Sketching focused on how to hand draw master plans using a mix of colored markers.