by David Roberts
Transportation is now the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Taking advantage of more efficient transportation options can save your household money, reduce fossil fuel consumption and support a healthy lifestyle. Reducing transportation emissions on an individual basis is a challenge for many of us due to issues of cost and convenience in driving a car.
A common rule of thumb in energy transformation programs is to do efficiency first and then consider fuel-switching to less carbon intensive sources. For transportation, the move to efficiency can come in many different forms. Choosing to live in a downtown or other location where you don’t need to get into a car for all of your trips can drastically reduce your annual vehicle travel. There are on-line tools designed to help you consider your combined housing and transportation costs when buying or renting a home (e.g. www.locationaffordability.info). These tools show housing costs are often higher in downtown locations, but in many cases, the money you save on transportation makes living there a smart investment and benefits your quality of life through reduced time and stress of car travel.
Living in an area which has more services and conveniences can also provide opportunities to reduce or eliminate car ownership, which costs an average of over $500 per month per vehicle in the United States according to AAA, with the methods of calculation they use for ownership. Many regions have short term “car sharing” options available that can provide convenient access to a host of different vehicles when needed. (e.g. www.carsharevt.com , www.zipcar.com, www.turo.com )
Zipcar Car Sharing Website
If you aren’t planning a move anytime soon, there are still many opportunities for transportation efficiency. Planning out your trips to link together shopping and errands can bring significant reductions in vehicle travel. Commuter carpooling has entered the modern age with many websites and apps offering new ways to match your travel needs with others in your area to share a ride. Transportation network companies like Uber, Lyft and Bridj are offering services which pool trips (although, in some cases, not every area with these services has access to the shared ride options). In Vermont, the Go Vermont program has a dedicated carpool matching resource which can help you get connected with others making trips in your area (www.connectingcommuters.org/carpool/). Neighborhood communication platforms like Front Porch Forum and Nextdoor can also be a good place to check with your neighbors on sharing rides to work or other trips.
Many employers have commuter-benefit programs for employees to reduce the need for parking and expand the talent pool for their workforce. Some areas have formed Transportation Management Associations (TMAs) that offer special programs to increase carpool and transit use, such as reduced or free transit fares, rewards for not driving alone to work and, in some cases, even providing a “cash out” to employees who do not need a parking space.
Taking a bus or rail option is easier than ever with Google and Apple incorporating transit trip planning into their mapping apps and websites and many operators offering real time information on the location of their vehicles, so you know when the next bus will go by your stop. Many of these same apps will also make it easier to plan a bicycle or walking route that avoids high traffic roads that may not be comfortable for many of us.
Google Maps Bike Route Example
If you are stuck owning a vehicle, you can still drastically increase your efficiency by switching to a plug-in electric vehicle (EV). EVs are getting more affordable and offering more range per dollar than ever. EVs are more efficient and less polluting than nearly every gasoline or diesel powered model in the northeast, even taking into consideration the source of the electricity. Charging an EV at home is as easy as plugging into a standard 120V outlet or upgrading to a 240V circuit for faster charging. If you are concerned about range, you can consider a plug-in hybrid option like the Chevrolet Volt which goes about 50 miles on the battery before switching to gasoline when needed. More information on EV options and charging is available at www.DriveElectricVT.com, or by doing an internet search for electric vehicles in your state to find information on available incentives.
Many of us are concerned about the implications of government policy changes on clean energy programs. Reducing your transportation emissions is a great way to show your support for green energy options and save money while doing it!
David Roberts is the Drive Electric Vermont coordinator. He has driven an all-electric Nissan LEAF for nearly 5 years and says if you have to drive, drive electric.