How can you help by driving just a little bit less?

How can you help by driving just a little bit less?

This article asks the question, and answers it:

It turns out that even driving just 10 percent less — if everyone did it — would have a big impact on greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s because Americans drive trillions of miles every year, helping to make transportation the biggest contributor to United States greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2017, light-duty vehicles in the United States (including cars, S.U.V.s, pickups and most of the vehicles used for everyday life) produced 1,098 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. That’s about one-fifth of the country’s total emissions footprint.

A 10 percent cut, therefore, would be roughly 110 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, or the same as taking about 28 coal-fired power plants offline for a year.

To achieve such a reduction, every American driver would, on average, have to cut about 1,350 miles per year.

While not easy, that target is realistic for most people, said Tony Dutzik, a senior policy analyst at the Frontier Group, a nonprofit research organization.

A low-hanging fruit is shorter rides, Mr. Dutzik said. Over one-third of all car trips are less than two miles, so walking, biking or taking public transport for some of those trips could add up. Planning ahead to combine errands and avoid unnecessary trips could help, too, he said.

Let’s do some math. Say you drive 20,000 km per year, which isn’t far from the average. Reducing your driving by 10% means driving 2,000 km less than you’d normally do. Divided over 50 weeks, that’s 40 fewer km each week.

Say you drive your car to work, and your place of work is 10 km from your home. That’s 20 km each day. That would mean two days a week of not driving your own car. Maybe you could bike, take the bus, or car-pool. That’s certainly feasible for most people who live close enough to half-decent transit or bike paths, but it’s certainly not an easy thing to do if getting to work by transit takes 40% longer than driving your own car. Or if biking really isn’t your thing or impractical for you, or if there are no bike paths. (Plus winter; not everyone wants to do cold-weather biking.)

Maybe you can’t take longer to get to work or back home at the end of the day because you have kids who need help getting ready for school and eating dinner in time to be at a piano lesson by 6:45 and the bus timing wouldn’t work. So then what.

Target shorter trips? Sure. Take grocery shopping. Say the store you normally go to is 6 km from your house, and you go there twice a week. You could bike that when the weather is nice enough, sure. But how to bring back the groceries for a family of four? Your bike would need a sturdy trailer, or you’d need to switch to a cargo bike. These look good to you, but ouch, price tag. Out of your budget.

Then what. Kids’ activities? If you’re like me, those are all over the place, and they often happen in the evening and you’re conscious of the need for your children to get a full night sleep so taking longer by transit or bike to get home at 8 pm than it would be to drive isn’t something you’re prepared to do.

Could you think ahead a little more and plan your errands in such a way that you’d combine them and be more efficient? Probably. But I’m going to guess you’re already doing a decent job of that so let’s assume you might be able to shave 12 km a week by planning a little more tightly. That’s good. But a little far off the mark.

You see where I’m going.

While we all know someone who enjoys driving for the fun of it and doesn’t mind taking their car to go get a loaf of bread half an hour before jumping in their car again to go to Starbucks, most people try to be careful and not drive more than they have to. Gas prices being what they are, we’re all trying to save. But we have schedules and family needs that, in a city like Ottawa that was built for cars, are difficult to meet otherwise. Sure, you could cancel pottery class and save yourself an easy 20 km of driving a week. But you’d be depriving your son of something he thoroughly enjoys. And besides, what if nobody else makes an effort to reduce their driving and you’re the only family making sacrifices? What would be the good of that? Better not to think about it too much.

Here’s something else: If you’re already driving your car to work chances are you’re also paying for parking there. Say you’re paying $150 a month for that privilege. If you decided to make the effort of taking transit two days a week, not only would it cost you precious time but you’d have to pay for those transit trips and you’d “waste” 2/5 of the value of what you’re paying for parking.

Ugh. This is getting depressing.

I’m a big fan of micro-gestures like taking your cloth bags to the store or buying reusable bamboo cutlery for eating out or buying unpackaged lettuce or eating less meat. But that’s not where most of our emissions come from. They come from transportation. And while most people I think would welcome the opportunity to reduce their transportation emissions, it has to be realistic and reasonably affordable to do so otherwise very few people will make the sacrifice.

That’s where public authorities need to spend their energies targeting people who might switch to transit if only transit were efficient enough and offered a financial advantage. If buses and LRT were free to use, for instance, that might be enough to entice more than a few people to take transit provided service was good and reliable enough to get them to work and back in good time. But that presupposes more capacity, more financial investments (OC Transpo fares bring in nearly $200 million a year out of a half-billion budget, that money would have to come from somewhere) and a real commitment to making public transportation options more attractive than private cars. And I don’t just mean safe bike infrastructure. I mean higher prices for driving downtown and a reduction in parking spaces in the core. I don’t need to tell you that wouldn’t be an easy sell politically.

In theory, for each of us to reduce the number of km we drive by 10% doesn’t sound like such a big step. But in practice, without clear incentives to do so, including financial incentives, it ain’t going to happen.

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