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NDEW 2021: EVs or Public Transit: a False Dichotomy?

NDEW 2021: EVs or Public Transit: a False Dichotomy?

This live event occurred on September 29, 2021 as part of Generation180’s event series celebrating National Drive Electric Week.

The path toward equitable transportation modernization can be compared to a two way street. It will take a variety of approaches, including both electric vehicles and public transit. Dig into the conversation we had with our panel of policy experts as we discussed the various approaches to move toward a carbon free transportation system:


Blair St. Ledger-Olson: Hello, everyone, welcome to Generation180’s National Drive Electric Week event, Electric Vehicles or Public Transit? A false dichotomy. And today I’m joined by my co-host from the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, Kim Jemaine. If you’re here to learn about multiple pathways towards transportation decarbonization. You are in the right place. We’re joined by 3 fascinating panelists today Katherine Garcia, who is Director of Clean Transportation for All campaign with the Sierra Club. Ryan Gallentine, Policy Director for Electrifying Transportation at Advanced Energy Economy. And Linda Linda Khamoushian, Director of shared mobility at GRID Alternatives.

Before we get started, I just want to tell you really quickly about Generation180. Next slide. So we’re a national nonprofit based in Charlottesville, Virginia, working to inspire and equip individuals to take action on clean energy. My name is Blaire st. Leger Olsen, and like I said today, my co-host is Kim Jemaine, Virginia director at the Chesapeake climate Action Network. And such a special thank you to our team members working behind the scenes to help support this event. Next slide. So here’s just a quick look at Generation180’s major focus areas of work, we’re working to flip the energy script, helping us move from a narrative focused on climate doom and gloom to a story focused on where we need to go. A world powered by 100% clean energy. It’s a story that says we can do this and we all have a role to play. We focus on individuals and their homes and communities because your energy matters, certain behaviors and technologies not only help to fight climate change, but they also help to build the social momentum and the political will that we need to get big system level changes. We lead two nationwide campaigns, Solar For All Schools, and the one you’ll hear from today, Electrify Your Ride, which works to make EVs more accessible.

Solar and EVs are clean energy solutions proven to address two of the largest sources of carbon dioxide emissions from electricity generation and transportation. Next slide. OK, so just a few quick housekeeping items. We had over 100 people register for this event, there’s lots of joining us. So everyone’s going to stay on mute. Please use the Q&A to submit your questions, not the chat, and we’ll get to them as many as we can over the next hour. So without further ado, let’s stop hearing from me and start hearing from our co-host and our guests. Kim, do you want to kick us off?

The ‘Going Electric’ pledge:

“I want to help accelerate the transition to 100% clean energy. I pledge to make the next vehicle I purchase an electric car.”

Kim Jemaine: Yeah, of course. Thanks, Blair. Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us. My name is Kim Jermaine. And as Blair said, I am the Virginia director for the Chesapeake climate Action Network and the associated Action Fund. The Chesapeake climate Action Network is the first grassroots nonprofit dedicated exclusively to fighting climate change in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC. Our mission is to build and mobilize a powerful grassroots movement in this region that surrounds our nation’s capital to call for state, national and international policies that will put us on a path to climate stability. We’ve been around for 20 years, and we have recently stepped into the transportation sector because, as Blair mentioned, it is the driving force around carbon emissions here in Virginia. So it had to be a fight that we took on. So happy to be here with you all, and I’ll let our panelists. Take it away.

BLSO: Awesome, Katherine, let’s hear from you.

Katherine Garcia: Great Hello and good afternoon, everybody, I’m currently I’m Katherine Garcia, and I’m currently living in Washington, D.C. I lead Sierra Club’s national clean transportation for all campaign and I’ve worked for the club since 2017. Sierra Club is the nation’s largest and oldest environmental organization, and clean transportation for all is just one of the many campaigns that Sierra Club runs. And we have chapters across the country. We’re a community of nearly 4 million people dedicated to building a better tomorrow for our friends, family and our planet. So for the first few years, I was leading our transportation work specifically at the California chapter, and our team and allies were really focused on pushing for the electrification of cars, trucks and buses in the state. And at the time, I lived in Davis, California, which is considered a platinum ranked, bicycle-friendly community. I would regularly bike to work in Sacramento, and if I wasn’t biking in, I was taking the bus or the train. And I know I was really fortunate and very grateful to have safe bike infrastructure and to be able to take public transit because I’ve lived in plenty of cities that haven’t had reliable transit routes or bike infrastructure. And that’s part of the reason why I’m so excited for this national drive electric week panel because it has such a brilliant premise, one that isn’t really talked about in a practical way very often. I really believe that we won’t achieve our climate goals unless we are adopting electric vehicles at the pace required and also cutting vehicle emissions. Travel via vehicle miles traveled as quickly as possible, and I’m excited to dive into why that’s a false dichotomy. I’m also a mom to a sweet 1 and 1/2 year old who loves learning new words. He loves dancing and speeds huddling around outside. For years, I was involved in the environmental activism world because I wanted to stand up to polluters and protect the planet. But since my son was born in 2020, it’s really put this work into perspective for me, and I get up every morning to ensure that he and little kiddos around the country grow up with clean air and healthy and safe communities.

BSLO: That’s awesome. And if anybody’s kids want to make a guest appearance, we welcome, we welcome children and puppies and all of the friendly Zoom interruptions we’ve become more familiar with during this pandemic.

BSLO: Linda, let’s hear from you next.

Linda Khamoushian: Hi thank you. Linda Khamoushian, I’m with GRID Alternatives and I’m the director of shared mobility, and it’s really exciting to actually be part of this conversation because I dedicate a good part of my life to understanding the problems that we’re talking about today and working in the area of solutions. And so I’m from Los Angeles. I grew up here. I grew up taking the bus. I grew up walking. I got to know my city and my environment from an early age with a visceral experience of what it’s like to be out and with people and not just in a car, you know, siloed with my parents or my family. And that really had an impact on how I see the world, how I see transportation and what its purpose is in our lives. Transportation is about mobility, it’s about mobility justice. It’s about people being able to get to where they need to go efficiently, affordably with dignity. And so that’s really placed a strong emphasis in my work. And so I’ve spent the last 10 years or so studying and also working in transportation policy. My my conversation today, my inputs will come from a California context. That’s the policy landscape I know best. I worked alongside Katherine in Sacramento for three years working on active transportation, advancing active transportation policies at the state level. And now with grid. We’ve we are a, you know, primarily solar industry focused, and we bring the benefits of solar and clean energy to communities, all communities. And we focus on environmental, justice, communities, economic justice, communities. But we’ve seen the opportunity in and also extending the benefits of clean mobility to our clients and to the communities that we serve because it’s important to it’s an important factor in the reduction of carbon emissions, as we will talk about here today. So, you know, I come from my personal experience. My professional experiences will play a role in the conversation today, but I’m happy to be here and excited to speak with you all.

BSLO: Awesome, we are really, really thrilled to have you. Ryan, do you want to bring us home?

Ryan Gallentine: Yeah, sure. Thanks, Blaire, and Thanks to the other panelists as well, it’s really great to be here. Ryan Gallentine, I’m the policy director for electrifying transportation here at advanced energy economy. I’m based in the Bay Area as well, although I’m originally from the Chicago area. So yeah, I work in the clean energy tech public policy space. I spent time doing residential solar at solar city and then I moved on to Tesla. And then most recently I was at lime, the scooter company doing government relations roll. So I’ve thought about transportation policy for vehicles of all shapes and sizes, from scooters up to semi-trucks. So, you know, I’ve done advocacy and coalition building around a lot of the topics we’re going to cover today. So even it is in urban planning or two of my favorite topics to nerd out on. So this is great. A little bit of background on where a national trade association of businesses working to advance 100% clean energy. We represent over 100 companies in that space, variety of technologies to help us get there to 100% We have a 501(c)(3 partner organization Institute and a C for advanced energy work. So I work specifically to engage policymakers advancing priorities around 100% zero emission vehicles by 2035. That’s our sort of organizational goal. We work at the federal and especially the state level. So right now, we’re actively working in about a dozen states on transportation issues and our approach is really to try to integrate thinking around EV policy within the broader energy system, thinking about how cities work because we know that none of these technologies exist in a vacuum. Smart planning for our energy needs are going to impact all those areas. So happy to be joining the conversation today.

BSLO: Awesome thanks, Ryan. I didn’t know that I’d accidentally recruited three people who happen to have lived or currently live or might live again in California. But yeah, right. It’s telling me something that maybe I need to look into, too. But Ryan, we’re actually going to start this first question with you and hopefully just get a quick level set an overview of the transportation sector as a whole in the US right now. So like we’ve said today, we know that the transportation sector is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US I think it’s 28% Now of our greenhouse gas emissions pie, but we want to take a look at what makes up that. 28% Ryan, do you think you can explain that breakdown?

RG: Sure Yeah. So this happened a few years ago that the transportation sector surpassed the electricity generation sector as the largest gas source, as you said, about 28% So within that transportation sector, light duty vehicles make up about 60% of those emissions and then sort of medium and heavy trucks make up about 24% And then the rest come in at a little less than 10% between aircraft, rail and various water transportation and other sources. So the light duty sector obviously huge and incremental progress that happens there on electrification, huge cumulative effect there. That’s what I think most people think about when they think about these issues. I would also say that the medium and heavy duty sector is a key one to look at, though, because there’s less than 4% of the total road vehicles are in that sector. And I’m talking about everything from delivery trucks driving around, doing mail deliveries and package deliveries all the way up to semi trucks. They account for 4% of vehicles, but they account for 25% of emissions because heavy usage for all those vehicles and their heavier vehicles so just takes a lot more energy. So emissions are those engines are often diesel. It meant a large amount of pollutants, deadly particulate matter beyond just carbon dioxide. So cleaning up that segment is also a huge benefit. So that’s kind of a broad overview.

BSLO: Awesome, thank you.

KJ: And I will go next, the next question is for Linda taking a 30,000 foot approach? I want us to consider how the transportation sector in the US was created and the impact that has on people today. Why is our transportation system. So dominated by gas powered cars?

LK: Thanks, Kim. Yeah, that’s speaking to basically Ryan laid out the output of our transportation sector is a direct result of what we’ve designed it to be, and we can have a whole history lesson on the whole sector. But I would say what it is that the transportation sector and the energy and energy policy are interrelated. You know, people think electric cars is a newer phenomenon. It’s actually been around since the mid 1800s. Which I find always find fascinating. And so it’s had this history alongside the the, you know, the combustion engine where different points of time have allowed for the Advancement of what we now see as the gas powered cars. So, you know, at the turn of the 19th, at the turn of the 20th century, really electric cars were actually very popular. And then the Model T came out and Ford really, he changed the landscape of manufacturing and actually made it very cheap for cheaper to purchase a gas powered car. Then there was other advancements. Of course, electric cars just took a back burner. And in the investment in the technology, to the back burner when essentially until the 70s when we had a shortage in gasoline, oil. And so these things are very interrelated with why we are where we are today. On top of that, we want to look at the infrastructure and how our cities have been developed, how suburbanization happened in the mid century, last century. And really, you know, it’s a combination of designing the entire system for the purpose of the gas powered car, creating a way where people are dependent on that mode because there’s disinvestment in other modes and it’s a political process. You know, some of the top lobbying money goes towards or is coming from the oil and gas industries to make sure the system stays as it is. There’s profit in this process. And so, you know, it’s a combination of designing our environment for that, engineering our roads to be dominant for, you know, occupancy engineering our communities so that we are driving for distances where, you know, pre-pandemic, of course, people were commuting commuting patterns for different but and also just investing in communities and other modalities. You know, not everyone can drive or wants to drive, but sometimes it’s relegated to do so. And what that has impacted is also disenfranchisement. You know, the US highway system really disenfranchise Black and brown communities across this country on purpose, you know, it was not. And so these things are interrelated. It’s intersectional, and we have to look at it from a racial and social and economic justice perspective, environmental justice perspective and these emissions that Ryan is speaking to, you know, who do they impact most? That’s that’s a key issue that we at grid are trying to tackle and elevate in the solutions that we’re presenting, but also in the influence of how policies laid out. So, you know, I’m not going into great detail about each and every advancement, but what I wanted to highlight is that they’re all interrelated and it’s a social, political and economic structure, and it’s also an intentional structure. So things when you look around the world, it’s designed that way on purpose and people are left out of the process.

KJ: Awesome, thank you so much for that answer, Linda, I know we tasked you with giving us a brief history lesson, but Thanks for giving us that information. I’m glad you mentioned the Model T because we did see a big announcement from Ford yesterday that they’re going to be investing heavily in electrification and electrifying their fleet. So good news for us. Maybe we’ll see a sea change there.

BSLO: Maybe we’ll see an electric Model T come out just for fun. But yeah, thank you, Linda. You knock that out of the park and really appreciate you tackling that really complex question. So it seems pretty clear that addressing the number of gasoline-powered vehicles on our roads is crucial to tackling emissions from the transportation sector. Katherine, this question is for you. What solutions do we have, both from a policy perspective and also a behavior change perspective to reduce these emissions?

KG: Thank you, Blair, and Thanks to Linda and Ryan for really outlining where we are right now and where we need to go. You know, so the way I really look at this is, of course, I’m going to talk in a minute about policies to electrify personal vehicles. But really tackling the transportation sector and emissions from the transportation sector require a lot of complementary tactics. And that really, I want to start off with reducing vehicle miles traveled first and then electrifying the vehicles that remain. This means that expanding clean transportation options that don’t rely on single occupancy vehicles like buses, trains and investing in high speed rail. Right now, states across the country are advocating for their transit agencies to electrify their bus fleet. That’s one of the campaigns I was involved with in California, and my colleagues this year were involved in a major campaign with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit authority, which operates buses and d.c., Virginia and Maryland, and they committed to fully electrifying its public transit fleet by 2040 five. And that’s a direct result of local advocacy. So the policies around public transit are very important for reducing vehicle miles traveled and also reducing the amount of transportation emissions. We also want to make sure that people have the infrastructure to be able to walk and bike safely in their communities. I’m also reminded if I’m walking down the street that some people drive without really taking into account that pedestrians have the right of way. And that’s really unacceptable. We need to make sure that we have the sidewalks and the curb cuts and intersections to make sure people feel safe. We can’t really tell people to bike, to school or to work if their communities don’t have wide and protected bike lanes. It’s on us as advocates to really ensure that folks who want to get around via active transportation can do so safely. And of course, you know, this is really the conversations around EPA and right now. We need strong regulations that will push automakers to manufacture a range of electric vehicles that are affordable, along with policies that really maximize the incentives for income qualified people who live in high pollution areas. So we need to make sure that the manufacturers are delivering on electric vehicles, that they’re cars that people want to buy and that they can afford, and that there’s also a robust network of charging infrastructure. I don’t want to sugarcoat it. New technology is hard. Many of us in the room are already committed to electric vehicles and that’s part of the conversation is electric, whether it’s electric bikes or electric cars or electric buses. But it hasn’t. We still see that there needs to be a ramp up and that’s where policy comes into place. But Blair, you mentioned what are the behavioral elements of this two? One thing that I’ve, you know, I often talked to folks about is if they don’t think an electric car is for them, often it’s because they really rely on a gas car. They’re not really seeing charging infrastructure on their commute or on the road trips that they take one or 2 times a year. And I really I. Part of my conversation with them is usually really checking out to see what infrastructure is around and if and if the infrastructure, you know, is going to ramp up over the next few years. But they’re considering buying an electric car, whether it’s a new car or used car, sometimes thinking about just renting a car for that long road trip that they need to take once a year and then driving an electric vehicle when they’re commuting in town or, you know, just driving a few miles a day, which which is kind of a typical commute. So I think that’s a part of the behavioral element that we can talk about, and I’ll wrap it up there.

BSLO: Absolutely we talk with so many people who are thinking about electrifying their ride and the questions we get a lot are. But what about the one trip I take every five years? Is it going to actually get me my commute and helping people understand that when their commute is much shorter than they realize. And they actually don’t need 500-mile range? But now the EVs that are coming out have that. They are meeting, they are meeting that to help with those range anxiety considerations. Thank you, Katherine.

KJ: All right. We’re heading back to Ryan. Ryan, I know AEE is a big supporter of transportation electrification initiatives like expanding EV adoption, charging infrastructure and clean energy workforce development. How does the reduction in vehicle miles traveled support the goals that AEE has?

RG: Sure so, yeah, we represent and I work with every day companies that are operating at every vehicle class from electric school buses, transit vehicles, government owned vehicles all the way down to like duty passenger vehicles and then all the charging stations and technology that comes with it. It’s important, I think, to keep these two related ideas separate, which is energy used versus emissions burned. So if you have a transit bus, for example, that’s running on diesel that’s filled and taking people into a downtown core, you have much less energy used and fewer miles traveled, but more emissions, right versus likewise, if you had 50 people taking an electric vehicle from an outer area into a downtown core driving 50 miles, but they’re charging those vehicles on a 100% clean grid in this example. So in that scenario, you have zero emissions, but you have way more energy use and more vehicle miles traveled. So both of those considerations are going to need to be involved in order to sort of solve this. This transportation puzzle, especially when my scenario there was 100% clean grid that’s basically not true anywhere in the country. So part of the problem here as well is that we have a transportation system that is funded by a sales tax on gasoline. And in many states, in many areas, that’s a tax that is not indexed to inflation. It hasn’t been increased in decades. It’s an unpopular thing to do to raise taxes on gas, and that goes for Democrats and Republicans. And at the same time, vehicles are getting more fuel efficient. They’re lasting longer on the road. So all of these factors sort of disincentivize fuel conservation. It’s a disincentivizing on mode shift to more efficient transportation types. And that’s especially true, I think, in urban settings. So we hear all the time from policymakers that the transportation funding is drying up. A lot of people are scapegoating EVs in that conversation because they don’t pay that tax on gasoline. But what we need to be focused on is a transition from a consumption model to an efficiency model in our transportation system. And as more and more EVs come online, that’s going to be even more important.

KJ: Absolutely. Thanks, Ryan, and Thanks for making that connection to us when it comes to vehicle miles traveled.

BSLO: We hear all the time, how many times have we heard? But what about the gas tax? Oh god, so much. And you know, Ryan, I imagine that as we expand vehicle, miles traveled as well. And we need fewer and fewer, hopefully single occupancy vehicles on the road that also decreases just the sheer number, the burden of electrifying every other vehicle that’s out there. So hopefully those two solutions can really be mutually beneficial and reinforcing. So Linda this next question is for you, and it’s part of the reason I was so excited to have you on this event because I think the work you’re doing at GRID Alternatives with shared mobility is such an excellent example of the intersection of both reducing vehicle miles traveled and transportation electrification. So I’d just love to hear more and have you elaborate on the role you think shared mobility plays in tackling transportation emissions. And I’m curious as to also as a side note how the pandemic has impacted these services as well.

LK: Thanks, Blair, and I invite Brian and others to jump in right to work at Lime. So there’s a lot to say there with how that had that worked out last year. But it is an opportunity. Shared mobility is not new. People have been sharing mobility. Communities of color have been sharing mobility because that’s just how you got around. You had to catch a ride from somebody. You know, you didn’t have a way to get there. The bus wasn’t coming in time, so it’s not a new concept. Sharing resources is not a new concept, but the advancements in this space are around technology, of course. Things like e-bikes, electric cars are obviously a part of that process, and the advancements are also in the models. The business models, the car sharing space has definitely been experimenting with what that looks like and how to price those things. And so the opportunity is really to say, OK, you know, how do we diversify how people get around So that they’re not reliant on owning a car and having it somewhere to park? And you know, by the way, cars are parked 95% of the time. So what are we really paying for? At the end of the day, and so you know, what we’re experimenting with in California is actually investing in public shared mobility. So there’s a program that is coming from climate investment funds called the clean mobility options, and that’s actually focused on helping communities, disadvantaged communities as defined by things like screen, which looks at pollution burden and low income community definitions, where investing in community driven needs based driven projects that identify what type of mobility people want or need, whether it’s e-bikes or bike share or car share, micro transit and actually piloting those models and testing them out in the community and seeing how that works. So there’s state investment. There’s more local based investment, local taxes, sales taxes, for example, or going towards some of these projects locally transportation. The local transportation agencies are investing in bike share and in car sharing micro transit. So it’s looking at, again, the model where especially with an app based society where that’s actually been the key driver of making some of these projects successful is that you’re bringing that on demand model and making and sharing it with a project or program that’s easily available. Some of the success factors, of course, is how available it is. Like if I have to walk two miles to get to a bike, that’s, you know, that’s not really useful, but if it’s definitely more widely available, you know. So there is an efficiency aspect to it to making it available. Bike share was very successful in Sacramento, for example, based on the number of available bikes and also the landscape. But then e-bikes, for example, are actually helping in places where the topography otherwise wasn’t really that great for just a regular bike share system, right? So a good. We are the area that we work in. Clean mobility is actually, you know, in addition to bringing projects on the ground, what we really do is advance the process to include equity because it’s great to have these investments in the policies. But if you’re leaving people out of the equation, then shared mobility, electrification, these things are not really going to go anywhere, because you’re leaving out people that depend or rely on a cheaper way of getting around. So we have a program through the Air Resources Board where we have an outreach arm for advancing EV incentives to folks that are low-income and from disadvantaged communities. So that’s access clean California. You can look up incentives that you would be eligible for and in our shared mobility arm is also working with directly with community to identify those projects, things like e-bike libraries and micro transit that can actually support people, getting around, getting around efficiently and getting around and ways that they would want to get around right and not just force upon them.

BSLO: Yeah, to take a bike from my house to my office, I definitely want that e-bike. There are some pretty hefty hills, so that can really help with the topography for sure.

KJ: Katherine, this next question is for you, as director of the clean transportation for all campaign, I imagine you work. Your work involves both expanding access to public transit as well as electric vehicles. More and more we we’re seeing these two solutions being pitted against each other as an either/or situation. How does this narrative impact your work in the climate movement overall?

KG: Kim, thank you for that question. And I think as we’ve heard, you know, in previous answers, you know, these solutions must work together, reducing VMT on its own. Well, won’t address all of the emissions. And if we just focusing, if we’re just focusing on replacing every car that runs on gas. With an electric vehicle, we won’t achieve the emissions reductions that we need in the short window of time to really avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis. And that’s really our mission at the Sierra Club’s clean transportation for all campaign. We want to ensure that we all live in healthy communities with affordable and accessible clean transportation options. Whether that’s by walking, taking an e-bike, riding a cargo bike like I have riding the bus or the train, or driving an ATV for people who choose to drive. So shifting land use patterns is also a huge part of this, and Sierra Club volunteers and staff around the country are looking at this angle, too. On a personal note, my son was born in 2020 right before the pandemic, and I often think about how his childhood will coincide with our critical climate goals. So especially since my work, we’re constantly talking about what’s happening in 2025 or 2030 or 2035. So in his first 10 years, that really represents the decade of ambitious climate action and where we need to make up for lost time due to climate denial and a commitment to the