A New Demand for the US Climate Movement: One Million (Frequent) Electric Buses with Wifi plus Protected Bikeways, “Everywhere”

By Michael Hoexter

The US climate movement, in which I am active, has not to date been effective enough in getting serious climate action on the agenda of government leaders, especially on the federal level. This weakness is in part shared with the international climate movement more generally, though the level of climate denial both among political elites and among the general population in the US is unmatched in the world. With that denial comes resistance to climate action, though for a variety of reasons, no actions commensurate to the climate challenge have really been attempted by governments in the world, whatever the local level of resistance offered.

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On the one hand, the climate movement has focused on resisting the expansion of the fossil fuel industries; implied or stated in current campaigns versus the Keystone XL pipeline, fracking, or crude oil by rail is the idea that by blocking or trying to block these projects that, in yet unspecified ways, clean energy solutions will be implemented subsequently. Too often, at least locally, it appears that activists are looking for change to happen either within the fossil fuel companies due to lawsuit, protest or nonviolent resistance or at the interface between those companies and government, i.e. some form of regulation or outright ban that will constrain or, maybe, transform the fossil fuel giants.  In my area, demonstrations often occur at or near oil refineries and, in my view, too often, activists have called, in speeches and rhetorical flourishes for fossil fuel companies to join or fund the clean energy revolution, either via their own good will or under duress. Protestors seem to be unaware that the fossil fuel companies have little of the intellectual capital to help build the clean energy future and I’m not sure we would want them to acquire it either. While trying to block new infrastructure projects is a very good idea, activists shouldn’t devote too much of their total efforts in trying to “convert” the oil companies, as this is not where the action of energy transformation will occur. Fossil fuel industry companies might eventually transform themselves to become suppliers of clean energy technology or they might not; for the needed energy transition to happen, the participation of the soon-to-be-former fossil fuel industry is not important.

Many activists in the anti-fossil fuel movement, that sometimes calls itself the “climate justice” movement, appear also often to be motivated by “small is beautiful” social and technological visions that are at some remove from the present-day reality of energy, politics, civilization, and the economy. The ideal of a “return to nature” has been strong in the environmental movement since its inception in the Romantic reaction to industrialization in England, Northern Europe and the US in the late 18th and 19th Centuries.  In the 20th and now 21st Centuries, the cultures of tribal, rural and less urbanized peoples have been held up by some from the countercultural and environmental movements as representing a more nature-friendly way of life and are therefore to be emulated. Sometimes activism then takes the form of attempting to build “pre-figuring” cooperatives that try to show what movement members would like society to look like.

The rooftop photovoltaic solar panel and decentralized distributed energy have become for some the technological analogue to this idealization of small and more tribalized communities. There are some who focus on “smart-grids” and “micro-grids” as if these themselves represent climate solutions, while they seem, in my estimation, to be more of an accommodation to a small-is-beautiful aesthetic preference and shrunken political ambitions rather than efforts to stabilize the global climate. Advocates of small-scale solutions don’t seem to be grappling with the scale of energy inputs and energy use that our economy rests upon or even a less wasteful.

On the other hand, there is the dominance among the supposedly more pragmatic parts of the climate movement of the policy orientation that might be called climate Pigovianism (after the economist Arthur Pigou), the idea that the best and “purest” climate policy is the pricing of carbon emissions. The pricing of carbon will have its place but only in the context of a broader program of climate initiatives from the side of government, what might be called climate Keynesianism, about which I am currently writing a longer piece. Pricing carbon is a thin tin whistle of what governments can and should do in the face of oncoming climate catastrophe.

Not surprisingly, what has gone missing in the neoliberal era, that has redirected the power of government to serve primarily the most privileged and wealthy, is the use of government power, innovation, and investment to solve or significantly ameliorate the climate crisis. All in all, the climate movement, despite claims to radicalism, is in the grip of neoliberalism and prey to its eviscerated notions of what popular, collective and government action can do.   The movement is currently caught between an odd combination of far-from-reality ideals and, via climate Pigovianism, unimaginative acceptance of the “magic of markets” tripe that has been repeated ad nauseam by mainstream economists and neoliberal ideologues over the past 35 years.

Instead, the climate movement needs to recognize that perhaps painful breaks with its own neoliberal assumptions as well as, in some sectors, a heavy reliance on small-is-beautiful, localized approaches, need to take place. With this recognition, the climate movement should and (eventually) will place a series of demands on government to invest in clean energy solutions, as well as regulate the fossil fuel companies and energy markets more generally from the standpoint of the public good.   These will be steps in the direction of the future net-zero emitting society that is required for us to avert the worst climate catastrophes. The climate movement will, in my view, remain stuck in limbo until it advances this series of demands on government, or an equivalent series, to create new pieces of infrastructure and/or services via governments’ ability to spend, create new institutions, and reshape existing institutions.

A “Silver BB”: Frequent Electric Public Transit Plus Safe Biking Infrastructure

Under the influence of a culture of instant gratification or some primitive process of our minds, many of us look for “silver bullet” solutions to various problems. To anyone who surveys the scope of changing the energy basis of society, a rational view emerges that there is no single silver bullet to solve the crisis. Many actions need to happen sequentially or at once, for a satisfactory outcome: to achieve the net-zero carbon emitting society within the span of a few decades. One way to describe this is that we need a number of “silver BB’s” (small pieces of shot) rather than focus on finding the single silver bullet and therefore becoming disappointed in the outcome of one initiative that doesn’t, itself alone, free us from our carbon “sins”.

While I am opposed for numerous reasons to carbon gradualism, the targeting of a new middle-term energy infrastructure that still “deals in” the fossil fuel industries, as a intellectual framework and policy orientation, components of a net-zero carbon emitting energy and transportation infrastructure still need to be built piece by piece, whether concurrently or sequentially. So then a composite “silver bullet” is composed of a number of “silver BB’s” that constitute a net-zero carbon emitting infrastructure.

One of the major component changes that is part of building a net-zero emissions society is to transfer as much of the energy for transportation as possible to the direct use of electricity and/or, where possible, to choose lightweight solutions like walking or cycling fueled by food energy, most of which we would consume anyway. Once powered transportation energy is transferred to electricity, that electricity can easily be generated by zero-emitting electricity generation technologies currently on the market. The food production system has a ways to go towards a zero-net carbon emissions system but we would need to produce that food anyway and/or waste it by maintaining more weight on people’s bodies due to inactivity. Urban planners and public health advocates also see many benefits in an expanded biking plus transit option where possible. Municipal governments on both sides of the Atlantic have now undertaken fairly ambitious urban redesign efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of cities and enable people to choose public transit plus biking over automobile dependence.

While there are an increasing number of light-duty cars that use electricity either largely or completely (plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and full battery electric vehicles), the rate of adoption of these vehicles has been slow relative to the demands of the climate challenge, even by the reckoning of EV industry heavyweights like Elon Musk. Personal electric vehicle usage favors, at least currently, the detached single family home or rowhouse with a garage that allows charging at night. Policy would need to be developed to encourage landlords, municipalities and electric utilities to install metered EV charging in apartment building garages, in public areas, and parking lots.

While personal or business electric vehicle purchases should be encouraged by policy, the timeframe involved in slowing global warming is very tight; to meet climate goals, more decisive changes are required in mobility and, eventually, settlement patterns in the United States and other relatively automobile dependent societies. The climate movement here in the US and elsewhere is well aware of the dire circumstances of the planet as well as the decline of conventional “easy” fossil fuels. From this understanding, the climate movement ought to be taking it upon itself to help lead such a revolution in urban and suburban mobility that brings with it a host of lifestyle benefits.

One way that governments and our society as a whole can ensure that we are making progress towards the net-zero emissions society is via adequate funding of electrified public transportation to make it almost inevitable that many people transfer most routine trips in cities, suburbs and along rural routes to some combination of walking, pedal power, electric bikes, or electric public transit. There would need to be a combination of ethical, cultural and economic factors which could facilitate this movement that would start in urban and concentrated suburban areas. To transfer the interest of the public to the use of public transit plus biking would require it to be a combination of “(morally) good”, “cool”, convenient, and affordable. The movement towards transit plus biking does not exclude and will actually also encourage the technological development of light-duty electric passenger vehicles that are more affordable, via the stimulation of higher production volume and innovation in battery technology.

One Million Electric (Solar) Buses with Wifi on Frequent Routes

There now exist a number of models of all-electric buses that would be suitable for a wide range of uses in the U.S. context. While the most sought-after form of public transit is electric rail in terms of its attractiveness to users, the long construction period, cost and use of eminent domain associated with building it make it harder in a nation not yet committed fully to maximizing the use of public transportation. Individual rail projects become status symbols but transit agencies must still rely heavily on buses and on-demand minibus services. Much of the rail infrastructure in the US is largely owned by (regulated) corporate oligopolies/monopolies that are not easily swept up into the public purpose as they have a primary duty to their stockholders rather than the public.

The rationale behind choosing buses as a first line of defense in the United States is that buses would utilize the already built publicly-owned road and limit access highway system, requiring decreased new infrastructure spending relative to an ambitious, though also desirable, new rail program and also the embedded new carbon emissions associated with steel and concrete required for new rail infrastructure. Choosing a path that reduces initial demand for new infrastructure does not encourage overlooking the already existing infrastructure deficit including the poor state of many bridges and roads, only that it would be wise at this moment in history to build on existing investments. Nor does it excuse us from building a high-speed rail network, which competes with emissions-intensive air travel

The battery-electric bus of various forms, in combination with software-driven on-demand mobility services via electric minibuses, might be the form of electric public transportation most suited to the American culture and settlement patterns. There are electric buses now made by a number of manufacturers that have battery capacities that can serve most local bus routes all day either by charging quickly throughout the day or charging once for several hours in the middle of the day. There are models that can recharge at stops using specialized equipment or recharge as they drive on special electrified pavements which might serve in some high-traffic corridors, enabling the use of smaller batteries onboard the buses.   The large Chinese OEM electronics and now vehicle manufacturer BYD, in which Warren Buffett has invested, also claims that it will soon be building a bus with a range of 275 miles/charge and rapid recharge capability for long-distance bus routes. Proterra, a South Carolina company, makes a bus with smaller onboard battery capacity that rapid charges every few stops or for 10 minutes at the end of a run using specialized fast-charging equipment. ABB, the large Europe-based electrical infrastructure company has developed a bus fast-charging system now in testing in Geneva. The cost of electric city or commuter buses appears to be about 2x the capital cost of an equivalent diesel bus but can make up the additional cost of the bus within five to seven years. From BYD, a 40 foot bus appears to cost around $700,000, while a 60 foot articulated bus would cost just over $1 million dollars.

Switching from diesel to electric buses immediately eliminates some of the most noxious aspects of riding, operating, and being around buses, in particular the diesel fumes, as well as particulate pollution from the bus to the surrounding environment.  Electric buses will be less prone to mechanical breakdown because of their relatively few moving parts. While not currently available, the technology now exists in the area of thin-film solar cells and photovoltaic glass to enable electric buses to also generate perhaps 7-10% of the energy that it would use from the sun, for assuredly an additional upfront cost. Such a capacity would not be installed just for green credibility but also to enable the bus to slowly recharge or run its air conditioning in emergency situations.

To attract and maintain ridership, there would need to be value-added features of the buses and bus service that offer additional conveniences. WiFi Internet would be standard on all buses, as well as depending on the type of bus, a degree of seating comfort that is somewhat superior or better-designed than the typical city bus designs. Having boarding platforms with floors at the level of the bus floor would also be a positive feature for ease of boarding. Another type of bus/coach with cushioned seats similar to those used by long-distance bus companies, with probable capital costs above $1 million per coach, could be used as express buses, as do a number of private bus companies and transit agencies. The NYCTA connects the outer boroughs, underserved by subways, to Manhattan with express bus service, as does New Jersey Transit, which has a commuter rail network that covers a small portion of New Jersey’s suburban expanse. Such express buses would provide semi-privacy to passengers and have proven to be fairly popular with suburban bus-riders, more so than open-plan city buses. With a high volume of express buses using limited-access highways, there would develop, perhaps only during peak hours, dedicated bus lanes, as happens through the Lincoln Tunnel from New York to New Jersey to enable buses to avoid traffic and remain on schedule. This would also attract motorists to use buses especially for rush hour commuting.

A number of different route designs and service models are possible depending on the layout, density, and typical trip type of passenger trips in the area. One route design system would employ express buses that use limited access highways to deliver passengers to either small local bus depots by the off-ramp or to the center of towns. These express coaches would run in at least 15-20 minute frequencies throughout the day and at least several, depending on demand, smaller minibus sized buses through the night. From there a number of last-mile and near last-mile options are available: bicycle storage facilities, bicycle-share facilities (require a bicycle share near the destination as well), circulator buses that serve local routes, neighborhood shuttles that function door to door, park & ride, or various on-demand taxi solutions. Another design is a frequent bus network along arterial roads, with guaranteed 5 or 10 minute bus headways during peak travel times as well as 15 minute headways throughout the day and evening with 24 hour options either on-demand or at set intervals.

With the support of federal government funding due to the emergency situation we find ourselves in, local public transit planners should be encouraged to design integrated mobility solutions to enable people to choose to leave their cars at home or not have to purchase cars at all if they choose. The “product” that transit agencies should focus on is not a “bus-ride” or “train-ride” but convenient, sustainable mobility supported by clean electric drive vehicles powered increasingly or entirely by renewable energy. The City of Helsinki is now rolling out an integrated mobility solution with mobile phone application that ranges from bike rental, taxis, mini-buses and conventional transit utilizing both public and private mobility providers. Helsinki has also developed an on-demand mini-bus service which may as well be appropriate to low traffic small towns and exurban areas.  For rural counties, a rural route “post bus” system is also possible with frequencies depending on demand but enabling repetitive trips along rural routes to major towns and shopping centers.

If we undertake this campaign, the net cost of the buses themselves would be around $1 trillion dollars which in the world of electrified public transportation is cheap considering the 35-40 million seated and 70 million total passengers that these buses could transport at any one time. Of course operating the buses at high frequency would cost transit agencies plus the governments that fund them combined approximately $220 billion/year (an over 7.4 fold increase of existing transit agency bus and on-demand bus operating budgets for the existing 130,000 buses and minibuses), most of which goes immediately into local economies with favorable multiplier effects. It is probably worth it for the federal government to invest in 2 months of fare-free operation of the buses and 6 months of half-fare operation to gauge interest and support to “Spare the Climate” (a play on Bay Area air quality regulators’ “Spare the Air” program of smog alerts).

Another related “silver BB” which electrified public transit will help realize, is to scale up renewable power generation with a government program of building or funding of electrical transmission infrastructure to enable high volumes of renewable energy to serve load centers (towns & cities where most electricity is used) which are currently fossil fuel dependent in their electricity generation. Once the transmission infrastructure is in place, the US Department of Transportation might form an energy-buying cooperative for transit agencies to make favorable, long-term power contracts which, in turn, will allow wind and solar project developers to build the scale of projects required to start to address climate change.   The transmission infrastructure should be built to accommodate much more than the million electric buses would draw because we would also want to replace fossil-fuel dependent electricity generation for all uses, not just the buses. Large scale renewable energy development does not foreclose the more politically-favored, somewhat idealized distributed generation, which in Mark Jacobson’s 100% renewable energy plan for the US accounts for 8-9% of total energy.

If we were to assume that these buses traveled an average of 200 miles per day/365 days/year using 2 kWh electricity per mile with 7% of the electricity self-generated by the bus with a solar capability, they could be powered by 7000-8000 5MW wind turbines located in a favorably windy area such as in the Great Plains or offshore (producing 135 TWh/year at capacity factors ranging between 38% and 46%). The wind turbines should be dispersed in a number of locations but if they were grouped together they would be sited on an area 60 miles by 40 miles on land. The bases of 8000 5MW wind turbines themselves together would occupy a little more than 1/10th of a square mile or around 70 acres of that 2400 square miles, the rest of which could continue to be used for grazing or agricultural uses.

Depending on the location and type of wind turbine, a long-term contract for energy might fix the cost of generation at $.06/kWh on land or $.12/kWh offshore over a 20 year period and if the expense of transmission & distribution is added in, the transit agencies would be paying somewhere between $0.09/kWh to $0.16/kWh. This means that transport energy for buses would cost conservatively $0.24/mile on a city bus route versus the current approximately $1.20/mile for a diesel bus. Diesel costs will only go up over time as oil depletes. The rate for electricity due to the long-term contract and the free renewable “fuel” will remain stable for 20 years by comparison. Similar agreements at equivalent or somewhat higher price points could be closed for large scale solar installations, depending on their location.

If the buses averaged 20 passengers at any given time throughout the day with passengers averaging two trips of 5 miles apiece, these wind turbines plus buses would transport 27% of the total 5 trillion annual US passenger miles traveled (PMT) in all modes of transportation with the theoretical potential at capacity of up to 48% of total PMT seated in 40 foot buses average for the fleet. For land transportation there is no reason to stop at one million buses if these technologies and their judicious deployment are what fits the needs and demands of society. Also light-duty electric vehicles will continue to grow as a proportion of overall PMT, as gas prices continue their rise.

The electric buses plus wind turbines, if we assume that they will eliminate at least 75% of the use of liquid fossil fuels by US transit agencies would directly eliminate around 7.1 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere by transit buses and vans. Indirect emissions reductions will be the greater portion, as replacing individually driven vehicles would be the intended purpose of public transportation at this scale, scheduled to accommodate passengers’ needs. By switching 27% of total passenger miles traveled from petroleum to wind and solar power, this would eliminate approximately 24% of the 560 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide released by petroleum usage and refining which will go up over time, per gallon because of the increasing dominance of more emissions intensive unconventional fossil fuels. Reduction of carbon dioxide emissions then would be conservatively 142 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide or 10% of total US carbon dioxide emissions. A more ambitious program using the same technologies or higher level of usage of this system could eliminate up to twice as many greenhouse gas emissions.

The federal government can of course afford to spend the money on these buses and the electrical transmission infrastructure with or without changes in the level of federal taxation, while state and local governments would need to raise tax revenues, perhaps from registration fees on gas guzzlers or on carbon itself. The motivation for spending the money needs to be communicated clearly and insistently by the climate action movement, as has happened and will happen, for instance, in wartime. In wartime against perceived existential threats (i.e. World War II), governments generally spend money on the war effort with regard only for whether the real resources are at hand to achieve desired outcomes or there are willing trading partners who would sell weapons/materiel for their national currency. Success would depend on the urgency that the climate movement and others communicated to government leaders and the public regarding the climate risks of continuing dependence on fossil fuels to power the US economy and society. In all probability, local governments will also participate to some degree in the purchase of the equipment, as well as in payments for the upgrade of bus depot electrical infrastructure required to charge the buses. Once people have affordable low carbon transportation options, instituting a carbon tax on the federal level would drive people to choose those options that are already in place.

Protected Bikeways and Complete Streets “Everywhere”

An integral component of this program is to change traffic design and streetscapes in the United States to allow for safe biking and shared streets as is now happening in many European cities and in parts of New York City. The goal would be transferring 30% or more of trips to biking alone or biking plus transit. Movement in this direction is already happening in regional pockets in Europe and the US and will continue to grow with broad movement and policy support and government investment.

Familiar to visitors to Manhattan, Paris, the Netherlands, or Copenhagen, the separation of bike traffic from car and truck traffic boosts biking by a number of orders of magnitude, sometimes doubling biking within the first year of operation. Protected bikeways are often built between parked cars and the curb but there are a number of designs possible, involving landscaping, barriers, etc. Switching commutes or “last mile” of public transit journeys to biking has many obvious health benefits as well as reduction in automobile clutter in public spaces. With such protected bikepaths, the inauguration of a wide-spread bikeshare program such as Paris’s Velib or New York’s Citibike becomes a means whereby people can use rented bikes for short or medium length journeys between various nodes of interest within a town or city. The bikeshare programs are usually bike station to bike station rentals located around the city/town and not intended for all-day use. In addition, laws requiring bike helmets as well as prohibition of bikers undertaking the “Idaho stop” have stood in the way of mass adoption of cycling with little positive effect on biking safety (and claims that they increase injury rates). Helmet wearing should remain optional.

An alternative to the protected bikeway (also called “cycletrack”), is to convert side or non-arterial streets to “complete streets” where traffic is slowed to 12mph and bicyclists, pedestrians and motor vehicles mingle on the street. European municipalities including Paris and London are now in the process of converting sections of their street network to complete (12mph limit) or traffic-calmed streets (19-20mph limit), which involves sometimes simply the posting of appropriate signage and painting of street surfaces, or can involve re-paving streets with modern cobblestones that signal mixed usage of the street. The concept is sometimes called a “woonerf’ reflecting the Dutch origin of this type of street design.

For those who do not want or are not able to pedal all the time, the now common electric bike is a viable option that is also highly energy efficient. An electric bike uses approximately one twentieth of the electric energy per mile that an electric car uses.   Electric tricycles are also available for those who want the extra cargo space or stability of the third wheel. Electric bikes will need to be regulated in terms of their power, as some high-powered models can function as motor scooters and have been known to lead to a high rate of accidents if driven recklessly at speeds over 25 mph. High powered e-bikes and their drivers should be regulated as are motor scooters or motorcycles.

While the term cycletracks “everywhere” is an exaggeration, protected bikeways should be built in ways that serve all likely routes that people would use, for instance linking town centers, schools, transit hubs and commercial areas. For the purposes of re-writing traffic design regulations on a state level, “everywhere” would need to be defined with the purpose of encouraging mode switching away from car traffic. Where limited access highways are the only access, dedicated cycletracks with their own overpasses may need to be built to reach destinations of local importance.

Economic Considerations

The 1,000,000 Electric Buses Plus Protected Bikeways “Everywhere” campaign should in the current, sluggish US economy be designed to have a net stimulatory effect on the economy, even as it intentionally shifts demand between economic sectors.   The pricing of bus fares/mobility services should be such that they undercut the current cost of maintaining a gasoline vehicle for a host of reasons including encouraging mode switching as well as reduction of emissions, leaving more disposable income for purchases of other goods and services.

To buffer the negative effects on aggregate demand from the inevitable shrinkage of fossil fuel dependent sectors, the campaign should be funded as a net injection of money into the economy via federal deficit spending, i.e. spending without raising taxes. Once the low or zero-carbon transportation system is in place, a carbon tax could help increase bus usage as well as drive further build-out of electric public transportation to, in turn further, decrease dependence on fossil fuels via driving internal combustion vehicles.

Transit agencies, electric bus manufacturers and their supply chains, bike manufacturers, electrical utilities, electrical supply businesses, and construction companies would experience increased demand and increase hiring substantially. Sourcing the electrical energy from renewable energy sources will also increase demand and hiring in wind, solar, and electrical transmission building, as well as provide royalties to landowners on which renewable energy production facilities are sited. Some of this demand is newly created and some shifted from fossil fuel dependent sectors. There would be reduced demand and job losses associated with decreased gasoline sales, decreased car sales and gasoline automobile production until such time as in the United States, auto dealers switched to electric vehicle and electric bike sales. Policy on the state and federal levels should incentivize the re-tooling of the automobile business towards electric drive vehicles for those interested in purchasing new personal or business vehicles.

Political Considerations

There are many hurdles to persuading Americans to get out of their cars and use public transit and biking, among them cultural-political animosities in “red” areas of the country to the concept of public transportation.  Additionally, there is a culture more generally of convenience and instant gratification which makes switching out of car dependence a challenge. Critically important is linking bikeways and public transit together as, the former gives people individual control over mobility which they can choose to link to public transit if they so wish. Furthermore innovation in integrated and on-demand mobility services by public transit agencies or regulated private transit companies will enable on-demand services that nearly mimic or exceed the convenience of driving one’s own vehicle.

The campaign can start in the concentrated, urban-suburban “blue” areas and extended to the “red” areas when “viral” news of the benefits of this change in types of mobility undermines political opposition to the concept. The campaign should be accompanied by a public education campaign about the benefits of the changes in the streetscape as well as the use of electric public transit, with a period for fine tuning services based on public feedback. While there may be a number of endpoints to this campaign that would be considered successes, the goals are to

  1. rapidly transfer transportation energy demand to electricity while
  2. simultaneously building renewable energy generation as well as
  3. create more diverse uses for public space other than car driving and car parking, enabling denser development and enlivened streetscapes in areas where housing is isolated from services.

In campaigns in support of this initiative, potential passengers will need to be addressed not only as convenience-seeking, cost-minimizing consumers but as responsible citizens, who could be motivated by a combination of factors in taking electric buses plus bikes or other transit. The call to “spare the climate” should be partnered with a readiness of governments to innovate and structure fiscal policy to achieve the goals above.

Some parts of the U.S. public transit advocacy community may resist this campaign because of its advocacy of the relatively lower “status” bus versus the higher status rail options favored by some public transit advocates. The 1,000,000 Electric Buses Campaign would not exclude the building of rail transit and the federal government can, of course, afford to build rail systems. High speed rail, the gold standard of rail transit, serves different functions and travel markets and should be encouraged in a separate campaign.   However, as explained above, bus systems fit more easily into the American context and would represent substantially lower costs for infrastructure and greater flexibility. If local and regional governments would want to take their transit to the “next level”, they could fund, design and build complementary rail systems to increase mode share for public transit and re-deploy or, even after perhaps 6 years their busses as needed. Some transit advocates may also resist or ignore this campaign because they have accommodated themselves to the decades in which public transit has been underfunded, especially from the side of the federal government.

Slogans

This set of demands goes against the grain of the fossil-fueled neoliberal order, tending to distribute income and services via targeted government spending to people in the middle and working classes, though these services are open to and would benefit all. These programs also direct government attention and support away from the fossil fuel companies towards renewable energy and electrified transportation, also against the grain. Because they work against the grain, they require people to get out on the streets and into state and federal government buildings to demand change. Slogans help in this regard, so here are a few obvious ones to start:

“1,000,000 Electric Buses, Now!!”
“Bikeways Everywhere, Now!!”
“100,000 Wind Turbines, 1,000,000 Electric Buses”
“Clean, Frequent, Affordable, Public Transit, Now!!”
“Safe Streets for Biking, for Walking, for Business and for Play”

And the list could go on…

8 responses to “A New Demand for the US Climate Movement: One Million (Frequent) Electric Buses with Wifi plus Protected Bikeways, “Everywhere”

  1. Getting Americans out of their cars is not going to happen unless you first develop a working PT system, which is not going to happen because the car companies would complain over lost sales, and the govt cares more about that, than about efficiency. Now, considering that the biggest line item on the list of GHG producers is the livestock industry, it seems to me that the most ‘viable’ option that we have available, which everyone can adopt without any dependence upon government action, is to adopt a vegan diet. As a recent HuffPo article put it:

    As the economic, political and personal costs of doing nothing to mitigate climate change skyrocket, there’s one lifestyle change that slashes dietary [note that if you eat meat & dairy, the GHG emissions associated with this line item are probably roughly comparable to those associated with heating/cooling home + your electricity use.] greenhouse gas emissions in half: Veganism.

    Now, to preempt any “health” objections, it seems to me useful to point out this statement, from the biggest North-American professional body of nutritionists and dietitians, the AND:

    It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.

    (A consequence of this is that all the abuse that we inflict upon livestock animals is just as unnecessary — and unjustifiable — as harm inflicted on other animals whose abuse we do recognize as morally problematic, and that we have no justification for eating animals and animal products, only excuses such as the pleasant taste of their flesh or milk/eggs, habit, or convenience. If you want to read more about this, I would recommend Eat like you Care; if you want info about a vegan lifestyle, see Vegan Kit.)

    • Michael Hoexter

      Foppe,
      Nothing is going to happen on any front, if many people exhibit the type of apolitical views that you express in your first few sentences. This is going to be a political struggle…not largely a serial set of transformations, as you seem to indicate. If you don’t like political fights, this whole area of climate action might not be for you… Individuals need to take initiative but without political and social initiative and supports we won’t make it as a civilization

      Seeing as the transformation of public space I am proposing is happening in many parts of Europe (over a period of years) and has a few bridgeheads in the United States (New York City), while people have very deep emotional attachments to their diets, I don’t see that your suggestion (I don’t know what mechanisms you are proposing to convince people to become vegan) is any easier to implement than mine and possibly a good deal harder. I do see a place for a price on ruminant (methane emitting) livestock or an overall price on methane from agriculture…which can reduce demand for high emitting foods. There are many silver BB’s required to act on climate and dietary change is one of many…but I find your effort to play your favored solution off this proposal counterproductive and your fatalism about politics is frankly part of the problem we are facing.

  2. I’d like to share this important documentary: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rdO2Xh51Q-U.

    What Ruppert says about the federal debt is obviously nonsense, but the rest of the documentary struck me as crucial information.

  3. I’ll second Foppe’s call for promoting a vegan diet. Even getting feedlots (CAFOs) to pay their fair share of their sewage treatment and the cost of antibiotic ineffectiveness (because the animals are so sick they have to feed them antibiotics, making super-germs)… all that would be to the good.

    Meanwhile, as far as public transit goes, it works at sprawl densities if paired with bicycles. Otherwise, we’ll have to start building pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhoods to support sprawl (Google “Smart Growth” and “Complete Streets”) or the transit will be another public policy failure because it can’t get ridership.

    FYI, traditional neighborhoods supported pedestrian access to work, school, shopping and residences (i.e. mixed use), and had streets where one could walk with dignity. Sprawl — which is 90% of what the U.S. builds — requires every significant trip be in an auto, and is single-use, with pedestrian-unfriendly streets. As often as not, the sidewalk terminates at some random location.

    How are riders supposed to walk to the transit stops if the sidewalks are narrow, right next to fast-flowing traffic and/or terminate at arbitrary intervals.

    This is also related to the income inequality issue. The most regressive “tax” is the requirement that every driving-age adult own an automobile…. so the poor are even further impoverished by sprawl.

    A couple of other bits of public policy:
    1. If FNMA / FHLMC changed their underwriting standards so they would not finance any new sprawl, we would stop building it tomorrow.

    2. The subsidy for “edge city” sprawl is truly breathtaking. If a land speculator purchases outlying agricultural land, and persuades local government to re-zone it for development, without any other improvements, the land is often worth 50 – 100 times more than the speculator paid for it. If that weren’t enough, the 5,000% – 10,000% gross profit isn’t taxed at all if they 1031 exchange out of the property. Wow! where do I sign?

    While this is an enormous incentive to increase commutes by developing even more outlying land, often in the least suitable locations (e.g. floodplain) in Germany, the developers have to sell the land to their local government at the ag land price, and buy it back at the development land price before they can build.

    …And the Germans have excellent infrastructure and schools to die for. One example: The arts budget for the City of Berlin exceeds the National Endowment for the Arts for the United States of America.

    Land use planning… the real key to transit, ending wars in the Middle East (sprawl requires driving roughly twice as many miles for its residents, and gas to fuel those cars), public health (building a walk into everyday life is the result of traditional neighborhoods), etc.

    • Adam, your point about sprawl is key. Urban centers are key to any environmental fix, past policies, and social issues killed many cities like Detroit and Baltimore and led to sprawl – though Baltimore is on a very nice rebound, but could do more.

      In Baltimore, the three big reasons people leave (Mainly upper classes – top 50%) is crime, terrible schools, and property taxes double that of surrounding counties. Baltimore has implemented polices that deal with this somewhat, but not enough to really see a full revival.

      I got rid of my car for two years, and it was not bad after a 3 month adjustment – and I did have Zip Car. As a single person this was not too bad, but it would be enough of a hassle that a family of four would stay with their car. I am back in a car now for various reasons I can no longer do without as public transit is just not very good.

      The school thing is really the worst aspect, and one I doubt Baltimore will fix anytime soon without making very controversial policy decisions, and they are still struggling with crime. The latter won’t go away until we get sensible Federal drug decriminalization policies in place.

      In the end, I am glad progress has been made.

  4. “Much of the rail infrastructure in the US is largely owned by (regulated) corporate oligopolies/monopolies that are not easily swept up into the public purpose as they have a primary duty to their stockholders rather than the public.” Eminent domain. Sure, it’s upsetting to a lot of people, but this is global warming we are talking about here.

    “Rail. Rail everywhere else!” Consider the tea-conservatives specious objections, and follow the money.

    Finally, Elon Musk may make an electric “volkswagen” that people can actually afford. Don’t hold your breath. The financially gifted upper middle class consumer may prefer these vehicles to the ubiquitous Prius. and park it outside their new SFHs that sprawl outward from the denser areas. It goes without saying that replacing “oil with electricity” isn’t going to solve a lot outstanding social issues like inequality, lack of affordable housing, wifi access, and the real cost of a Tesla.

  5. If you accept the problem of getting started is a political one, an interesting alternate focus might be on anti-trust and monopoly/oligopoly break-up. The logistical IT of companies like Amazon, Uber and Wallmart, currently wielded as anti-competitive cudgels to crush competition, if nationalized and regulated as utilities would open the way to use existing cars, trucks and busses exponentially more efficiently.

    Amazon’s current kerfluffle with authors shows how difficult it is to keep lipstick on anti-competitive pigs.

  6. jsn makes some very valuable points, especially since all those so-called “environmentalists” like McGibben (finally arrested for the first time in 2012, and doesn’t he shout that item out constantly) and James Howard Kunstler, really hardcore corporate environmentalists have never accomplished anything as they pursue their agenda at those wonderful corporate brunches and lunches, talking at drones of Google and Microsoft, who really couldn’t give a fig about what they are prattling on about.

    And then there are those various financial scams they claim to be related to halting climate change: cap-and-trade, which came out of the Reagan Administration in 1983, and was promptly laughed out of congress by authentic dems back then, but is now embraced by our so-called dems today, which is simply nothing but an extension of the exsting shadow banking brought to us from Wall Street.

    And then there’s that ever present conservation lobby, extremely profiting the super-rich landowners (the biggest bandits are League of Conservation Voters, Nature Conservancy and the Sierra Club); who didn’t like all their land lying about fallow and not “generating any cash” so they brought us the “conservation movement” which would ensure they receive money back from the taxpayer base for owning said lands!

    Add to that witches’ cauldron the Koch brothers ALEC and ACCE, and various other financed astroturf firms, Fox and NPR (shilling lately for the CIA, BTW) confusing the masses out there (CNN, MNBC, CBS and ABC are beneath mentioning), and of course people are wary of all the crapola out there.

    Greenpeace, about the only viable environmentalist gang out there, has been compromised countless times because, after all, it is a volunteer organization, easily subject to provacateur assaults.