Decarbonizing Transportation

Here’s the story. I’m starting a newsletter, and I want you to sign up for it

Some of you may know that a lot has changed for me over the last year. I left my role as Director of Transportation Policy at Uber and took up a fellowship at Harvard, using the time to ask one question: how do we rapidly decarbonize transportation

My hope is that we’re at a point of historical inflection on this challenge. The last two years have seen a dramatic shift in the politics of climate change. Most countries are now aiming to cut emissions to zero by 2050 or earlier, and transportation is an enormous piece of the puzzle.  In the U.S., it’s the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Even in countries successfully addressing climate change in other sectors, transportation emissions continue to rise.

From where I sit, the conversation among transportation professionals seems disconnected from the scale and pace of change necessary to achieve net zero emissions. We need to get more ambitious. As others have argued, “if you work backward from net zero by 2050, you arrive at policy radicalism.” 

But what does policy radicalism look like for transport decarbonization? After a year fully focused on this problem and more than a decade in transportation across public, private, and international roles, I’ve got a few ideas.  

We need a more frank and open dialogue among a more diverse community of people in order to drive change at the speed and scale that’s necessary. We need to be data-grounded and historically informed.  We need to focus less on specific approaches or technologies, and more on a comprehensive vision of getting to zero. We need to combine efforts more deliberately with those focused on the energy transition.

So, a newsletter. A forum to share thoughts and foster a conversation that I think is urgently needed. 

What should you expect from this newsletter? A free issue in your inbox every other week (or so). Some of the topics I’m hoping to cover: how do the twin crises of our moment - the COVID pandemic and the uprisings in response to the killing of George Floyd - intersect with the goal of decarbonizing transportation? How much would emissions decline if urban development was twice as dense as it is today? Is an electric hummer the worst thing to ever happen to sustainable transport? ...or the best thing? What role do electric utilities play in this transition? What’s happening in China?

Please do sign up. I’d love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and comments. 

The first issue will focus on a couple of North American cities that have not only set a goal of getting to zero emissions in transportation, but outlined detailed pathways to get there. Sign up to get it directly to your inbox.

Last but not least, some news to catch up on in case you missed it:

  • Lyft sets a target of 100% electric vehicles by 2030. That is very ambitious. Even California hasn’t discussed the possibility of 100% of new car sales being EVs by 2030, let alone all vehicles, so Lyft would definitely be well ahead of the overall passenger vehicle market if they get it done. Some are skeptical, but may be behind on their research

  • California commits to clean trucks. This is big. Freight is a huge driver of transport emissions. It’s also a huge source of air pollution in underserved communities, so the benefits here could be enormous.

  • The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) releases a guide for agencies on how to deploy Zero Emission Busses (ZEBs). Expect lots of talk about ZEBs as stimulus, transportation, and climate legislation all move forward in the coming months.