Silicon Valley trying to reduce car use – with mixed success | Smart Highways Magazine: Industry News

Silicon Valley trying to reduce car use – with mixed success

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A task force in America’s Silicon Valley is trying to lead the way in changing the way people get to work, according to a blog post by Smart Highways contributor Burney Simpson.

He writes on the Driverless Transportation site that the Smart Mobility office of Joint Venture Silicon Valley (JVSV) is seeking to implement several new transportation systems that will get people out of their cars, use public transit and bikes, and spew fewer greenhouse emissions, which relies in part on new technology developed by the growing autonomous driving industry.

But, he writes, “the problem is that the Smart Mobility group doesn’t have the authority to force commuters to change.  Further, the new technology is still being tested or has yet to find a large group of users to make it commercially viable.

“Instead, Smart Mobility must rely on employers and staff to make the effort to get off their butts and make a difference.  Employers have to see savings, or even revenue generation, while employees must be rewarded in some way.

He quotes Steve Raney, executive director of the mobility group, who believes that the best way to cut congestion and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions is to reduce Single Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) travel from 75% of travel in the Bay to 50% of travel.  That would mean cutting one million car trips a day from the current three million.

Raney points to work done with Stanford University as one path to cutting SOV commutes.  Stanford began by charging its SOV commuters $3 a day to park at the school, a benefit it had previously offered for free.  It then ‘feebated’ that revenue to its commuters that walked, biked, took a shuttle bus, used the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority (VTA), or CalTrans, or the on-demand rideshare.  (A feebate is a system of charges and rebates designed to reward or penalize energy-efficient practices.)

“Free parking for employees is a tradition,” says Raney. “(Employers) can phase in a charge of $3 for driving alone, or make it free to bike or walk. Just shift the dollar around for vehicles.”

The feebate concept was the most viable way to implement change when compared to such proposals as increasing the gas tax or imposing road user charges or implementing workplace parking charges, according to Raney’s research.

Feebates is just one aspect of the ‘Reducing Bay Area Commuting by 25%’ white paper from the JVSV mobility group.

But, he adds, the feebate concept gets pushback despite its proven benefits.  One Joint Venture collaborator notes that many employers don’t do feebates even when it may be in their best interest.

Simpson adds that Raney is moving forward, saying that in September he will get an answer on four grant proposals that would allow him to expand his research and membership.

Meanwhile, he has drafted a proposal for the California legislature that would put a cap on free parking benefits an employer could provide to staff that commute in Single Occupancy Vehicles.  The employer starts paying a fee when the percent of its SOV commuters tops a defined threshold.

“America’s SOV mode of commuting once sold cars and built the wide-open freeways that took us to suburbia,” concludes Simpson.  “Today it means congested highways filled with greenhouse gas delivery devices. It could take decades for the nation to break its SOV habit.”


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