Friday, September 23, 2011

Vehicle miles traveled

The reduction of vehicle miles traveled (VMT), especially in single occupancy automobiles is a critical component of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reducing dependence on fossil fuels. There are various incentives that can be utilized to achieve reductions in VMT including policies, penalties and incentives. Urban planners often view land use patterns as important factor in determining VMT. Some politicians have proposed a VMT tax that would then fund infrastructure; this would be viewed as a penalty by some. Finally some jurisdictions have offered free bus service thereby reducing the use of single-occupancy vehicles.
Land use planning is an important tool in reducing VMT (American Planning Association 2008). Good planning can create compact development that is pedestrian friendly. Compact development often combines residential uses with commercial and retail uses so that a resident will have many of his needs met with close proximity to where he lives. Ewing et al (2007) found: “When viewed in total, the evidence on land use and driving shows that compact development will reduce the need to drive between 20 and 40 percent, as compared with development on the outer suburban edge with isolated homes, workplaces, and other destinations. It is realistic to assume a 30 percent cut in VMT with compact development. Making reasonable assumptions about growth rates, the market share of compact development and the relationship between CO2 reduction and VMT reduction, smart growth could, by itself, reduce total transportation related CO2 emissions from current trends by 7 to 10 percent as of 2050.”
A VMT tax poses some interesting dilemmas. A tax on VMT as proposed by some politicians would enable funding of infrastructure projects. The American Planning Association (2009) finds that a tax on VMT, if effective would eventually reduce funding of infrastructure projects because it encourages fewer people to drive leading fewer people to be taxed. The APA recommends that a tax on VMT be part of a larger package of incentives and policies that address infrastructure.
Some communities have offered free or subsidized bus service in an attempt to reduce VMT. The Gunnison Regional Transportation Authority has offered free bus service between the towns of Gunnison and Crested Butte for approximately three years. The service is an attempt to gain riders and reduce VMT. This service is an incentive for drivers—they don’t have to pay anything and they save money by not driving their own cars. The drawbacks of the service are limited hours of operation (typically ) and limited stops. The service has worked well for people that commute to work and work traditional hours.

Hodgson, Kimberly. American Planning Association. 2009. Rebuilding America.
American Planning Association. 2008. Policy guide on planning & climate change.
Ewing, Reid, Keith Bartholomew, Steve Winkelman; “Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change, “ Urban Land Institute, Washington, D.C., 2007

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