This blog includes July 30, 2013 comment material on a Vermont Digger column on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont.
Over half Vermont petroleum use occurs in transportation when motor fuel consumption peaked around the millennium at over 350 million gallons. Motor fuel use has been on the decline since–now about 11% lower at 312 million gallons (as of the end of 2011). It very likely goes below the 1990 number of 279 million gallons before the end of this decade. Decline car travel, driver choosing a family car with higher efficiency, and federal fuel efficiency standards already in place suggest the below 1990 gasoline use level by decade end. We can be assured of being at the “end of the beginning” of reducing petroleum dependence and looking at 25% or more reductions of the 1990 motor fuel consumption levels in transportation.
Transportation remains the greatest opportunity to reduce consumption. In-state rail passenger services and commuter rail can help and only needs political support for the $60 million initial capital and $7 million additional annual operating funds to start (Amtrak support for two trains daily alone now costs $7 million a year). The bigger problem lies in lack of walkable and bikeable streets in our downtown and village center areas–this means literally the need to invest upwards of a billion dollars over the next decade in cycle track (protected bike lanes) and roundabouts both for safety and service. As important, walkable and bikable streets key maximum accessibility to all transit types, and roundabouts reduce gasoline use at busy intersections by up to 20,000 or more gallons yearly. And roundabouts on average at busy intersections reduce waits by about ten seconds for all users versus a traffic signal.
These changes require an immediate, significant increase in broad base taxes to deal with needed highway and rail/walk/bike infrastructure–otherwise moving below the 1990 levels of transportation use of petroleum becomes increasingly problematic. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick proposed a broad base tax, the income tax, for transportation of $1.9 billion to address highway and public transport needs, plus increases in traditional car related levies. Proportionally for Vermont this equates to $100-150 million for transportation needs for all modes from broad base taxes while continuing to increase motor vehicle related taxation as in past practice.
Actually $150 million equals the amount Vermont employers expend for the 280,000 parking spaces employees currently use every workday. This is based on a $600 a year cost of a surface parking space—capital cost, maintenance, amortization of initial cost, and property tax. When you consider the 280,000 vehicles used daily by commuters must also be parked at night at workers’ residences and far greater number provided “free” by merchants and institutions you very quickly get to a half billion a year subsidy of car parking at a minimum. Shifting $150 million to various forms of non-car transportation which enables “harvesting” parking spaces for more valuable uses makes a $150 million more for transportation look like the same type of investment represented by the fluorescent bulb payback in energy conservation, insulating buildings, etc.