Future Drive: Electric Vehicles and Sustainable Transportation

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In Future Drive, Daniel Sperling addresses the adverse energy and environmental consequences of increased travel, and analyzes current initiatives to suggest strategies for creating a more environmentally benign system of transportation. Groundbreaking proposals are constructed around the idea of electric propulsion as the key to a sustainable transportation and energy system. Other essential elements include the ideas that: •improving technology holds more promise than large-scale behavior modification •technology initiatives must be matched with regulatory and policy initiatives •government intervention should be flexible and incentive-based, but should also embrace selective technology-forcing measures •more diversity and experimentation is needed with regard to vehicles and energy technologies Sperling evaluates past and current attempts to influence drivers and vehicle use, and articulates a clear and compelling vision of the future. He formulates a coherent and specific set of principles, strategies, and policies for redirecting the United States and other countries onto a new sustainable pathway.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781559633284
  • Publisher: Island Press
  • Publication date: 12/28/1994
  • Edition description: 1
  • Pages: 175
  • Product dimensions: 6.04 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

At the time of publication, Daniel Sperling was director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and professor of civil engineering and environmental studies at the University of California, Davis.

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Read an Excerpt

Future Drive

Electric Vehicles and Sustainable Transportation

By Daniel Sperling, Mark A. Delucchi, Patricia M. Davis


Copyright © 1995 Island Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-55963-328-4


Transportation as if People Mattered

I am going to democratize the automobile. When I'm through everybody will be able to afford one, and about everyone will have one.

Henry Ford

We [human beings] are a big mistake. We're a case of gigantism. Our brains are too big and they're killing us. We've created all these poisons, which are unknown anywhere else in the universe. Of course, we want our brains to become even bigger so we can increase our supply of ideas. That's like elephants in trouble saying, "I think we'll be okay if we put on another hundred pounds."

Kurt Vonnegut

The world's car population is booming. Cars are polluting the world's cities, dumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other climate-altering greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, and consuming vast quantities of petroleum. "The American dream of a car—or two or three of them—in every garage is beginning to look like a nightmare for our planet," warns the former president of the World Resources Institute. Is this true? Will our thirst for automobile mobility inevitably lead to environmental and economic cataclysm? Many believe so, and with some justification.

The alarming reality is that the automobile population is growing at a much faster rate than the human population, with saturation nowhere in sight. In 1950, there were approximately 50 million vehicles on Earth, roughly 2 for every 100 persons. By 1994 the vehicle population had soared to almost 600 million, roughly 10 per 100 people. If present trends continue, over 3 billion vehicles could be in operation by the year 2050, exceeding 20 per 100. Even then, world car ownership rates would fall far short of current U.S. rates of 70 per 100 people.

A sobering assessment of the future? Yes. Is disaster inevitable? Not necessarily. The future need not be a simple extrapolation of the past; public policy can be changed and private investment altered. We can shift to a more environmentally friendly transportation system without unduly restricting freedom of movement. I envision a future only a few decades distant in which petroleum consumption, air pollution, and greenhouse gas emissions by new motor vehicles are reduced to near zero—at little or no additional cost.

Taming the Auto

What tools are available to craft this more benign future? I start with certain premises—that it is important to respect people's preferred mode of travel; that we need greater diversity in vehicle and energy technologies; that government should take an active role in encouraging new technologies and industries (through more incentives and more flexible regulations); and that electric propulsion is central to this more benign future. Electric vehicles of various sizes and designs—including those powered by fuel cells—significantly reduce air pollution, greenhouse gases, and petroleum use. When powered by batteries they are especially suited to very small vehicles in a way that could expand mobility for many people and be a catalyst for reclaiming neighborhood streets for the use and enjoyment of people. Electric propulsion provides by far the best opportunity to create an environmentally benign transportation system.

Happily, we are not unrealistically far from realizing this vision. The stage was set in 1990 when the California Air Resources Board (CARB) galvanized a range of automotive and technology companies with what has become known as the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate. This radical new program requires that a specified percentage of manufacturers' sales consist of ZEVs. The ZEV mandate may be the single most important event in the history of transportation since Henry Ford began mass-producing cars eighty years ago. It set into motion a series of events that may revolutionize motor vehicles and perhaps transform the transportation system and motor vehicle manufacturing industry.

The California ZEV mandate has also been embraced by New York and Massachusetts and is being seriously considered by a number of other states. It is set to take effect in 1998 in California and shortly thereafter elsewhere.

The ZEV mandate promises to overshadow a trio of sweeping national laws passed in the early 1990s. These three laws—the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991, and the Energy Policy Act of 1992—were conceived as the cornerstone of efforts to put a lid on pollution and, by redirecting the transportation system, to make possible a more environmentally benign future. They represent a complex of policies and programs designed to reduce solo driving, enhance local flexibility in dealing with transportation problems, introduce alternative fuels, and incorporate "intelligent" technology into the transportation system.

The progress of these laws has been spotty. Although they provide some direction, they have two serious flaws: ineffectiveness in reducing automobile use, and a failure to embrace electric propulsion.

A call for less dependence on cars is appropriate and desirable. Greater use of public transit, walking, bicycling, and telecommuting should be encouraged. But travel reduction will be difficult to accomplish and, beyond a point, is not even desirable. In any case, cars by themselves are not deterrents to a sustainable transportation and energy system. Worse, those advocating fewer cars are likely to be indifferent to the urgent need to build clean and efficient vehicles. This is certainly the sentiment expressed in a widely distributed report sponsored by the Aspen Institute and the American Academy of Arts and Science. Written by a former high-ranking executive of General Motors in collaboration with a blue ribbon committee, it argues that the American love of the automobile has "atomized urban life and stunted people's capacities to nurture and value shared forms of life: family, community and civic life." This calls for "changes in policies and social habits that represent nothing less than a new transportation ethic for the twenty-first century."

Advocates of this mind see automotive technology as demeaning to the human spirit and destructive of urban landscapes, turning them into sterile, lonely places studded with parking lots. They resist solutions that would improve vehicles as implicit endorsements of a more central role for cars. To prevent expanded use of vehicles, extremists seem to imply that it would be preferable not to reduce vehicular pollution at all. Taming the car would embed it even more deeply in our lives. Such fear is out of touch with reality. There can be no turning back to a preauto-motive age, nor is there any need to. With creativity and political will, the car can be made more benign, it can increase mobility, and it can even be a tool to help restore the human face of our communities.

How Much Does It Really Cost to Drive a Car?

The public debate is skewed toward the ways in which cars threaten the fabric of modern life. Yes, cars pollute, deplete petroleum, affect climate, and consume space. But cars also provide large benefits.

First, consider the mistaken belief that drivers pay only a small fraction of the true cost of driving. According to one report,

Commuters going to work in major central business districts in the U.S. in their own motor vehicles directly pay for only about 25 percent of the total cost of their transport. The other 75 percent is typically borne by their employers (e.g., in providing "free" parking), by other users (in increased congestion, reduced safety, etc.), by fellow workers or residents (in air or noise "pollution," etc.) and by governments (passed on to the taxpayers of one generation or another in ways that usually bear no relationship to auto use).

This claim may be true in a few especially polluted and congested downtowns, but it is not an accurate generalization.

The Congressional Office of Technology Assessment examined this question with the most detailed and rigorous analysis ever conducted of the social costs of motor vehicles. The conclusion? Motor vehicle users in the United States pay 68 to 80 percent of the total cost of motor vehicle use. What they pay for are direct costs, including the car itself, fuel and fuel taxes, registration fees, insurance, and parking. What they don't pay for in full, among other things, is traffic congestion, accidents, the cost of buying oil from a cartel (measured as the effect on world oil prices), national security costs associated with oil importation, environmental degradation, and traffic courts. Only in certain situations, such as driving at peak hours in polluted and congested downtown New York, is car use heavily subsidized—that is, only at those times and places are drivers paying only a small share of the total cost.

In general, it would be desirable to price cars and their use to absorb unpaid costs. The result would be somewhat reduced driving, along with less congestion, pollution, and energy use. The effect might be significant in some regions—if it were politically possible to charge motorists higher fuel taxes, registration fees, parking charges, and so on. But given the benefits of the car, these unpaid costs are not high enough to justify a radical restructuring of transportation systems and lifestyles.

It is also not true that U.S. fuel prices are wildly distorted. Many believe that the price of gasoline should be much higher to account for oil spills, leaking storage tanks, pollution, global warming, energy dependency, and other unpaid extraction, transport, and combustion costs. Studies that have put the unpaid social cost of gasoline at over two dollars a gallon suffer from major methodological and analytical shortcomings. For the Office of Technology Assessment's far more detailed and sophisticated social cost study, Mark Delucchi produced a more modest figure: between 30 cents and $1.60 per gallon, and probably closer to the lower number.

This is not to say that gasoline is an acceptable fuel. The problem is the tyranny of averages. Averages are misleading in this case because dramatic differences in pollution from one locale to another lead to large variations in environmental costs. One more ton of pollution in Los Angeles, for instance, will cause far more damage to health, buildings, trees, and crops than one more ton in South Dakota.

In California cities where pollution levels are high, emissions from each gallon of burned gasoline cause an average of about $1.50 worth of damage. In less polluted cities such as Boston, equivalent emissions cause about 75 cents of damage. In rural areas, polloution damage is near zero. But even these cost estimates understate the problem. That is because each additional ton causes more damage than the average ton; this marginal effect is especially great in more polluted areas. The damage caused by an additional gallon of gasoline is considerably more than $1.50 in most California cities. Accordingly, it was economically rational that California factories, refineries, and other stationary pollution sources were spending about $2.50 per gallon in government-mandated programs in the early 1990s to eliminate the amount of pollution caused by each gallon of gasoline.

In any case, it is clear that vehicles with low emissions should be highly valued in some regions. The challenge is to create public policies and rules that would introduce such vehicles and fuels in an efficient and effective manner.

So far, we have addressed measurable costs. What about other difficult-to-measure social costs often blamed on the auto—urban decay, loss of community, and marginalization of the poor, the elderly, and the disabled?

It is certainly true that the rapid proliferation of automobiles has been a major influence on urban and suburban landscapes since the turn of the century. There is plenty of evidence that human settlements, not only in the United States but around the world, have become auto-centric, with urban design, infrastructure, and policymaking focused on accommodating the car. Today in many suburban communities, for example, sidewalks have been eliminated in the interests of providing more room for cars; this absence of sidewalks in turn encourages still greater dependence on cars by making walking more dangerous. Parents choose to drive their children to the park even if it is only two blocks away.

But blaming the automobile for this problem is like blaming the messenger for the bad news. The true blame lies with urban planning and governance—with people, not cars. It is not necessary to gouge out the urban landscape, to produce urban designs so hostile to pedestrians and cyclists, in order to accommodate cars.

A more fundamental criticism of the proliferation of cars is the marginalization of those who cannot afford one and cannot drive because of age or physical condition. As cars sweep other forms of travel aside, those without find it ever more difficult to gain access to jobs and services. Inequity of access is more troubling than aesthetic degradation. It undermines the very basis of a democratic society.

The solution to these various social concerns is not, however, to displace the auto. That would be a step backward. A more positive approach is to increase access for everyone, by improving public transit, by making cars that are easier to drive, and by broadening the use of telecommunications.

More Than a Love Affair

In deciding what to do with the auto, it is critical to compare the overall costs and benefits. So far we have focused only on costs, which are substantial. But they are overwhelmed by the social benefits of driving. The fact is that people value cars. They buy cars as soon as they can afford them, and they prefer them to other means of transport. This attachment is not the "love affair" suggested by advertisements; it is not based in sensuality. The attachment derives from the unprecedented freedom, privacy, convenience, and security that cars provide.

Two reputable studies agree that the advantages of cars far exceed the costs, even when all unpaid social costs are included. Delucchi, in the Office of Technology Assessment study, estimated the benefits to be twice as large as the total cost to society. A leading environmental group, the Environmental Defense Fund, concurs: it estimated the benefits in southern California to be 60 percent greater than the total paid and unpaid costs. Both studies measured benefits by examining the willingness of travelers to pay for auto travel.

Rising car sales provide hard evidence of the perceived benefits of motor vehicles. Even in the United States, with more than one vehicle per licensed driver, ownership is still expanding. Other economically advanced countries are not far behind; car markets are nowhere near saturation.

Increases are even more dramatic in less affluent countries, where the vast majority of the world's population lives. From 1965 to 1987, auto ownership per capita increased twentyfold in China to 0.09 per hundred, and tenfold in the former Soviet Union, to 4.5 per hundred. In three European countries—Portugal, Greece, and the former Yugoslavia—car ownership increased almost tenfold to 13.1 per hundred. Based on evidence that oil used for transportation in developing countries increased 5.8 percent per year from 1970 to 1987, a period when vehicles were becoming more energy efficient, one concludes that vehicle ownership in those countries was increasing at much more than 6 percent a year.

In most affluent countries, automobiles already meet 75 to 85 percent of domestic travel requirements. Among countries represented in Figure 1-1, only in Japan do cars account for less than two-thirds of travel. Even there, where distances are short, congestion pervasive, and rail transit superb, cars are used for almost 60 percent of travel, and that figure is rising rapidly.

Taming Drivers

One way to reduce the social costs of cars is to suppress their use—by inducing people to ride transit or bicycles, to telecommute, share rides, change workplaces or residences, and shorten or eliminate motorized trips. Strategems for encouraging such behavioral change fall into two categories: mandates and incentives. Neither has been very successful.

The legal premise for curbing solo car travel in the United States has been air pollution reduction. When metropolitan areas fail to meet air quality standards—as is the case almost everywhere—local governments are under a deadline to devise and implement plans to attain those standards. Driving is a central variable in such plans. To date, the so-called transportation control measures (TCMs) aimed at reining in car use have been remarkably unsuccesful. A 1993 U.S. General Accounting Office review concludes, "Virtually none of the literature we reviewed or the persons we interviewed stated that TCMs would significantly reduce emissions."

It is not for lack of effort. The largest and most aggressive such strategy attempted in the United States, known as Regulation XV, was adopted in December of 1987 in the Los Angeles area. Regulation XV is designed to reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled and trips taken between home and workplace. It requires employers of 100 or more individuals—more than 8,900 businesses—to prepare and implement plans for reaching this goal. The plans must include credible initiatives to encourage workers to share rides or use public transit. The overall target is 1.5 occupants per vehicle.

Based on a detailed study of 1,110 participating businesses, implementation of Regulation XV reduced work trips by about 3 percent during the first year (see Table 1-1). As a result, average vehicle occupancy went from about 1.22 persons per trip to 1.25. A similarly small increase was measured in the second year. Interestingly, the rise came from increased use not of public transit but of carpools.

Because Regulation XV covers only work trips to large facilities, its impact was even smaller than these figures suggest. That is because facilities with 100 or more employees account for only 40 percent of all work trips, and work trips account for only 25 percent of total daily trips. Assuming Regulation XV could reduce trips to these larger facilities by 5 to 10 percent, the net reduction in total daily trips is only about 0.5 to 1 percent.


Excerpted from Future Drive by Daniel Sperling, Mark A. Delucchi, Patricia M. Davis. Copyright © 1995 Island Press. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents


About Island Press,
Title Page,
Copyright Page,
CHAPTER 1 - Transportation as if People Mattered,
CHAPTER 2 - Sifting the Wheat from the Chaff,
CHAPTER 3 - Toward Electric Propulsion Towa ectric Propulsion,
CHAPTER 4 - Neighborhood Electric Vehicles,
CHAPTER 5 - Fuel Cells,
CHAPTER 6 - Hybrid Vehicles: Always Second Best?,
CHAPTER 7 - Accelerating Regulatory Reform,
CHAPTER 8 - Technology Policy for Sustainable Transportation,
Island Press Board of Directors,

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