President Biden aims to accelerate the shift to electric vehicles as part of an ambitious climate plan, but that alone won't meet emissions-reduction goals, according to a new Bloomberg report. In addition to putting more EVs on the road, people also need to drive less, experts say.
In order to meet climate goals, the U.S. transportation sector needs to reduce carbon emissions 43% by 2030, according to the Rocky Mountain Insitutute (RMI), an authority on providing a big-picture view of energy use across transportation modes.
That would require not only putting 70 million EVs on the road, but also reducing per-capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by 20% in the next nine years, according to RMI.
Emphasizing public transit, biking, or walking in densely-settled areas, as well as building more housing closer to workplaces, schools, and other necessities, could help achieve that goal, without relying on the whims of car buyers, the Bloomberg reported noted, but said the political will to effect these changes is lacking.
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So while it's now understood that expanding highways adds to congestion, alternative infrastructure projects may face hurdles. California is moving to ban sales of new internal-combustion cars by 2035, but its state legislature is also blocking housing reform that might place more housing closer to where people need to go, requiring longer driving distances, according to Bloomberg.
California also wants to electrify ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft, but as with retail car sales, it's up to drivers to choose to make the switch. Companies like Uber and Lyft consider drivers to be independent contractors, so those drivers must supply their own cars.
Reducing VMT has always been a tricky proposition. Even high gas prices don't always discourage people from driving, a 2018 Department of Energy study found.
In the U.S., VMT was on the rise before the coronavirus pandemic. While the pandemic has reduced driving somewhat, that's expected to change once it's over. And the fear is that after the pandemic, people will be less likely to embrace public transportation, carpools, and other ways that were encouraging less driving.