Driving 10% Less by 2050 has hefty price tag and open questions

The September 29 presentation David Hill of the Energy Futures Group’s gave to the Climate Council Cross-Sector Mitigation Subcommittee was quite informative. It outlined the 17 goals the group had recommended for meeting the GWSA’s requirements including one reducing car miles driven.

The memo reads, “a reduction in vehicle miles traveled (VMT), is a reduction in overall demand in the transportation sector, by reducing the need for individual vehicle trips, often through investments in public transit and land use policies. In the mitigation scenario, VMT across all vehicle classes and technologies is reduced 10% by 2050. A reduction of VMT by 10% is assumed to be achievable for $250 million/ year.” Policy modelers will prioritize a reduction in vehicle miles driven past 2035 because they know carbon vehicles purchased before 2035 will still be driven for a decade or more, suggesting a need to reduce this mileage.

I’d be curious to know what fraction of this 10% reduction in VMT would come from better “land use policies” and what fraction from funding public transit. I’d hazard to guess that most of it would have to be spent on public transit to have a remote chance of reaching that benchmark. Since government policies can only encourage private development in certain spaces, not mandate exactly how it must be done, Vermont bureaucrats may find that using “land use policies” to change the distances between homes and schools/work/entertainment could prove much difficult than they had anticipated. Therefore, public transport could have to take on a larger role in meeting the VMT goal.  But that conflicts with the possibility that Vermonters will achieve a higher living standard in the decades to come.

At one time, higher living standards the one consensus view across the American political system. Either through a general strategy of lower taxation (GOP) or higher spending to improve living standards (Democrats). Now that climate has become prioritized however, that supreme goal of higher living standards can be seen as conflicting with the primary goal of reducing emissions for climate advocates. These standards could fall as private transportation becomes artificially difficult to acquire.

The simple fact is, human beings prefer private transport to public. As living standards rise, there is more demand for private vehicles. Currently, the leading carbon vehicle replacement candidate is the electric vehicle, but only time will tell if EV’s can be built cost-effectively to meet demand, and if an economy can become dependent on all its needs on an electric grid that is subject to perverse incentives. Our policy makers are betting that an EV technology that is rife with fire hazards and reduced effectiveness in cold weather will carry the day. If this does not happen quickly enough, a large portion of the public may only be able to use public transport since private transport is financially out of reach. Which, may make rural Vermont impossible to live in, without access to any kind of transportation. Let’s hope that distinct possibility fails to materialize.

To watch the Vermont Climate Council Cross-Sector Mitigation Subcommittee Meeting, click here.

To read the memo describing the 10% reduction in vehicle miles, click here.


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