Trends in Mobility as Part of Low-Carbon Future Explored at Horizon19

As we all know, transportation is a growing focus of the clean energy economy. Comprising upwards of 20% of US emissions, there is no clean economy without clean transport. This year’s Horizon19 conference took that fact to heart with two separate panels on transportation, focusing on electric vehicle (EV) infrastructure and the future of public transportation.

The first panel, moderated by Rachel Muncrief of the ICCT, featured James Cater from Eversource, Angela Hultberg of Inkagroup, Karl Popham from Austin Energy, and Evan Speer from the California Department of General Services. The panel provided diverse perspectives on the ways forward to amplify EV market penetration, with a significant focus on building out EV infrastructure.

A major takeaway from the panel was the perspective from utilities that EVs are becoming an inevitability. “We are moving from ‘if’ to ‘when and how fast,’” said Popham. This could be a boon to utilities, as EVs could potentially increase reliability and resiliency for the utility grid, as well as providing a revenue base. “We are now entering a different touchpoint into our communities and are trying to figure out what that looks like,” said Cater.

On day two, I had the opportunity to moderate the second transportation panel, diving into how changes in mobility will shape the future of public transit. I was joined by Jed Dorsheimer of Canaccord Genuity, Glen Berkowitz from A Better City, Marc Deschamp from Jacobs, and Scott Mullen from Lime.

In both panels, a major point of discussion was financing the charging stations, bus depots, transit upgrades, and bike lanes necessary to see substantial carbon emissions reductions by midcentury. “Cost has been a major barrier,” said Cater on day one, “but now [utility] rate cases across the country are trying to make that easier for utilities.”

The second panel had many positive examples of how that financing might work. Representing private sector providers, Scott Mullen cautioned against imposing fees that would prohibit bike-sharing companies like Lime from operating in cities. Instead, he pointed to a mutually beneficial example of a pilot program Lime was conducting with the MBTA. The program, which is now wrapping up, provided the MBTA with analysis of dockless bike travel and MBTA ridership to identify usage trends that will help infrastructure placement going forward.

Incentivizing users was another key takeaway across the panels. “Sixty-seven percent of the market in Austin was trucks and SUVs, so we have to think of ways to give consumers what they want” said Popham on day one. Echoing that sentiment in the public transportation panel, Deschamp said, “We have to remember to build the transportation infrastructure that we want to use, not the infrastructure that we want other people to use.”

A final point of agreement for both panels was the need to look to additional solutions. “Not everything is solved by buying more electric vehicles,” said Angela Hultberg. The next day, Jed Dorsheimer expressed a viewpoint shared by all the panelists: “Cars are ego bubbles and death traps – why do we drive them? Public transit should be a better, safer option.”

Despite a strong positive outlook for greening the transportation sector, both panels were quick to mention that the sector still faces challenges. “I don’t see why I, as a furniture company, have to be proposing these solutions,” said Hultberg. “[Policymaker’s] focus should be on getting stakeholders together and making sure everyone is bringing enough to the table to get it done.”

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Jennie Hatch

Jennie is a transportation consultant and visiting scholar at the Boston University Department of City Planning and Urban Affairs.