A GREEN NEW DEAL
FOR TRANSPORTATION

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The transportation system is the connective tissue that transforms pockets of communities into a networked society. It links home, school, work, and play. It drives economic growth, social mobility, and employment opportunities. 

 

The transportation sector currently emits more carbon pollution than any other sector in the US economy. The automobiles we drive, the trucks, trains, and ships that deliver our goods, the airline flights we take, and other transportation activities account for about 28 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions. The passage of President Biden’s Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is replete with new funding for state and local highway expansion, and seems likely to further exacerbate the sector’s emissions. More than 120 years after electric vehicles briefly achieved popularity in the 1900s, petroleum products still power over 91 percent of today’s transportation system. Americans collectively drive more than three trillion vehicle miles per year, most of those as a single driver in an automobile. Life in the United States is organized around personal automobiles powered by petroleum. For a Green New Deal in transportation to be possible, that has to change. A climate-safe future requires a swift and just decarbonization of the transportation sector, a major expansion of public and active transportation, and the parallel decarbonization of the electricity sector.

Transportation often exacerbates social inequity and racial injustice within and between communities. Its infrastructure speeds the movement of those who are better off, to the detriment of those who are most in need. In far too many communities, governments, planners, and engineers prioritize vehicles over people and efficiency in travel time at the cost of quality of life. Choices made by elected officials and transportation agencies about how funds are allocated at the federal, state, and local levels have played a major role in reinforcing these outcomes over the past century.

In 2021, Congress passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act – the centerpiece of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework. It provides substantial new funds for intra-city public transit, intercity passenger rail, and new electric vehicle charging infrastructure. It also includes $7.5 billion in new discretionary funding for innovative transit projects in the RAISE program (formerly BUILD and TIGER), along with new incentives for roadway repair and maintenance. However, the bill also allocates $350 billion towards new road and highway projects that will be administered by state and local departments of transportation. Much of this funding is likely to be spent on highway expansion projects. In short, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is poised to invest in a small number of innovative, low-carbon public transit projects alongside a massive new investment in roads and highways – locking in higher emissions for the sector than those that predated the bill. In other words, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act could invest dramatically more on highway expansion than on innovative, low-carbon public transit projects. That dynamic has to change.

In this report, we propose a series of critical opportunities for new transportation-related policies to improve equal access, mobility, and opportunity in our transportation system, reduce emissions, support global climate cooperation, and develop long-lasting infrastructure and workforce development strategies on a changing planet. We argue for a move away from past policies that encouraged the release of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants while furthering social inequity. Crucially, this report aims to shift the conversation surrounding the transportation sector and decarbonization from focusing exclusively on electric vehicles and high-speed rail to addressing the many disparate parts of America’s transportation system. This includes a focus on intra- and intercity rail in addition to high-speed rail; an approach to electric vehicles that pairs supply-side policies (e.g. manufacturing tax credits) with a more progressive demand-side approach that benefits low and middle-income households with few public transit options instead of wealthy, coastal city residents who tend to purchase high-end luxury electric vehicles (e.g. Tesla).

 

Instead, the transportation system should be viewed as a strategic lever for investing in good-paying low-carbon jobs, justice, and a decarbonized economy. We build on the important progress Congress members have made through their introduction of bills such as the Moving Forward Act to identify a series of policies that would further that ambition. A new approach to transportation at the federal level is an essential element of the Green New Deal and a mechanism to achieve a lasting recovery from the COVID-19 crisis. To remake the US transportation system into a strategic lever in the fight for climate, economic, and racial justice, the surface transportation reauthorization bill must adhere to the following three goals, which we describe in more detail in subsequent sections of the report: 

 

1. Eliminate the use of fossil fuels by vehicles for surface passenger and freight transport, with publicsector electrification complete by 2030, relying on a zero-emissions energy grid.

 

Recommendations: 

 

  • Allocate $300 billion for the full electrification of publicly owned buses, school buses, cars, trucks, vans, postal vehicles, railroads, sanitation vehicles, and other fleets by 2030. Allocate funds by formula to states, local governments, and special authorities based on population size and existing service provided. The electrification of our transportation system offers an ideal opportunity to create new, clean jobs throughout the country

 

  • Rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels in privately owned vehicles. Provide universally available funds for bike purchases, with added incentives for e-bikes and companies replacing local freight delivery with cargo e-bikes. Create a $300 billion Clean Mobility for Clunkers program that enables consumers, along a sliding income scale, to trade in older gasoline vehicles for a credit toward a new or used electric vehicle, an electric bicycle, annual passes for transit or micro-mobility, or a combination of these options. Deploy 10,000 miles of protected bike lanes coupled with green infrastructure.

  • Rapidly reduce the use of fossil fuels in freight vehicles. Assist freight providers with a transition to electricity. Require 50 percent of new light-duty vehicles sold in the United States to be plug-in electric by 2025, and 100 percent by 2030. Provide substantial new tax credits, low-interest loans, and other assistance to automobile manufacturers to drive production in this sector. Impose similar requirements on taxi and ride-hailing providers. Require 50 percent of deliveries of materiel purchased by the US government to be made by a zero emissions vehicle by 2025, and 100 percent by 2030.

  • Decarbonize the transportation sector with a 100 percent clean electric grid by 2030. Require 100 percent clean electricity for federal facility purchases by 2025. Provide grants to assist state and local governments and transit agencies in deploying electric vehicle charging infrastructure and training a new local, low-carbon workforce

2. Reduce the resource intensity of the transportation sector by 2030, with the goal of increasing public transit use five-fold, reducing drive-alone commuting share by a third, and reducing per capita vehicle-miles traveled by 25 percent, all while minimizing the environmentally destructive elements of electrification technology. Encourage the creation of walkable, accessible, transit-oriented communities accessible to all and cease the spread of development onto greenfield areas. 

 

Recommendations: 

 

  • Reduce the total volume of extraction for battery materials in sensitive ecosystems and disadvantaged communities. Subject imported materials and components to the highest standards for labor rights, human rights, and Indigenous rights, as well as for environmental sustainability and emissions. Policies should maximize recycling capacity for lithium-ion batteries and require manufacturers to use recovered materials, as well as incentivize second-life re-use for stationary applications.

  • End the use of federal infrastructure funding for new highway infrastructure, except for focused opportunities that improve equity. Provide immediate funds for a quick-start infrastructure program for walking and cycling. Vastly expand support for transit and metropolitan network planning.

 

  • Appropriate $250 billion over 10 years, or $25 billion annually, in federal funding bill to support transit operations funding throughout the United States.

 

  • Increase federal support for transit and intercity rail capital projects to $400 billion over 10 years, or $40 billion annually, providing funds for new lines, maintenance of existing infrastructure, and upgrades designed for equitable accessibility. 

 

  • Require metropolitan planning organization voting systems to be proportional to resident population. Mandate adjustments to local zoning policy to enable more dense, affordable housing near transit in exchange for federal aid. Implement regional commuter benefits throughout the nation.

3. Use transportation policy and programs as mechanisms to develop a more equitable society that ensures system-wide accessibility by 2025 and safe, affordable, and convenient means to travel for all.

Yonah Freemark, Billy Fleming, Caitlin McCoy, Rennie Meyers, Thea Riofrancos, Xan Lillehei, Daniel Aldana Cohen
Published by Climate and Community Project
A Green New Deal for Transportation to Establish New Federal Investment Priorities and Build Just and Sustainable Communities
 

FURTHER READING

What If Joe Biden Paid You to Get Out of Your Car?
by Alissa Walker, Curbed
A vision for a commute that might suck less.

“Every dollar that governments spend trying to slightly lower the cost of driving in response to those prices will be yet another subsidy to a wealthy, world-destroying industry that would be better spent on public transit, electric vehicles, and charging infrastructure,” says Billy Fleming, a founder and co-director of the Climate + Community Project. “There is no better time to chart a different path for America’s transportation future than now.”