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US Capitol building, home of US Congress. Photo by Wendy Maxwell from Pexels.

Clean Transport

A Realistic US Transport Electrification Plan, Part 3: Getting There & Staying There

In Parts 1 and 2, I covered the things keeping the United States from following the lead of other countries in emissions reductions, and how we can still eliminate over 80% of transportation emissions in spite of that through a mix of micromobility, PHEVs, and EVs, combined with natural market forces.

But, How Do We Actually Get There?

Quick summary of this section:

  • Fleet vehicles will mostly switch to BEV on their own due to market forces. Yay!
  • We need to do more privately to help micromobility along in red states, encourage blue states and cities to take them seriously.
  •  PHEV can be part of the solution, but we need to address some of the PHEV scams companies and owners pull, and this can be done at the state level.

In Part 2, I showed that we could achieve an 80% reduction in transportation emissions (including air, rail, and water transport) by getting fleet vehicles to switch to battery EVs and most of the rest to switch to either battery-electric or plugin hybrids. However, we still have the major problem of a dysfunctional federal government. So, how do we achieve this by 2030?

The good news for fleet vehicles is that they’ll almost all switch on their own. Once battery prices drop and fleets can buy them  for cheaper than a gas vehicle (experts estimate 2025-2026 for this), there will be no emotional considerations for most of these fleets (including semi-trucks). If a fleet doesn’t switch to electric, their competitors will, and those who refuse will be forced from the market by their smarter competitors.

Fleet vehicles alone account for at least 32% of overall US transport emissions alone, so that’s a huge chunk of the pie right there.

What about all of the personally-owned vehicles? If fleet vehicles and people who can afford high-end EVs take up all of the batteries, how do we get the rest of the driving population to switch to electric? The answer there is to do anything we can to encourage PHEVs and micromobility.

PHEVs and micromobility both have one important thing in common: They eliminate the tailpipe emissions from short trips. In Part 2, I covered what state and local governments can do to encourage micromobility to take off (better infrastructure for them, along with incentives). In states or cities that refuse to embrace micromobility, it’s going to be up to the rest of us to pick up the slack to maximize the uptake of these.

The biggest thing fans of this site can do is talk up things like e-bikes and electric scooters just as aggressively as we seem to be able to talk up Teslas. Sure, we don’t have a referral code (well, actually I do have a referral code for one e-bike company, so feel free to get in on the game yourself) to give them for free supercharging, nor do we seem to own a bunch of stock in micromobility companies, but we’ve really got to do things because they’re the right thing to do and not just because they’re profitable.

Selling micromobility devices is also a great business opportunity locally. Nearly anybody can afford an electric scooter or bike, and they’re a lot of fun. Just by offering them for sale locally, you can open the door to getting more of that in your community and tipping the scales in favor of local leaders doing more for it.

When it comes to PHEVs, a big thing we can do is stop taking a dump on PHEVs whenever they come up. Are they ideal? Hell no. But, they’re a lot better than a regular hybrid or a straight gas car. I’ll take a 95% emissions reduction over none at all any day, plus they don’t take up Supercharger or Electrify America stalls. But then again, that 95% reduction can only happen if the company selling the PHEV and the driver aren’t playing stupid games, and that’s something we need to seriously address.

First off, there’s the problem of fake PHEVs. I’m talking about the plugin hybrids that don’t give any real electric range. Sure, they emit less than a regular hybrid because they’re mixing in some BEV power here and there, but for short trips, they aren’t zero emission vehicles. Really, these fake PHEVs exist for an owner to con their way into the carpool lane or get a tax credit without really buying an EV.

Bottom line here: we should make sure everyone knows when a “plugin hybrid” comes out that plays this stupid game, and we should lobby for tax credits and other incentives to exclude vehicles that play this game. The only reason a gas engine should kick on for a PHEV is at wide open throttle (WOT) for emergency acceleration power, or when the electric range is fully depleted. Anything else is a scam.

Another thing we need to address is people who either don’t charge them, or who regularly exceed their electric range. Once again, this is a scam we’re letting them pull off. Nobody should be getting a tax credit or carpool lane access unless the big battery taxpayers subsidized is doing good for everyone.

One thing we can do is have the IRS and other subsidizing agencies at the state level get an odometer reading from the owner once a year. If their odometer reading exceeds 365 times the car’s EV range times two, then they have to pay back the tax credit. That alone will keep ride-share drivers, fleet owners, and other high mileage drivers from playing that game, and they’ll buy an EV instead. DMVs can do this for carpool lane access.

Another thing we can do is get state/local governments and utilities to give credits and discounts for EV and PHEV charging. Most PHEVs have a log screen of some kind the owner can access showing electric miles vs any gas-powered miles. A utility can take this reading from an owner annually and give them a bill credit for those miles. A state DMV can discount registration for electric miles driven up to a certain amount, or charge a pollution/carbon fee for a PHEV that obviously wasn’t being charged most nights.

These measures won’t eliminate the misuse of PHEV technology, but they can create real incentives and penalties that can encourage people to actually plug the cars in and get the emissions reductions they were designed to get.

Avoiding “EV Revolts” & Federal Crackdowns

One final thing we need to consider is thinking ahead to avoid problems that could blow up in our face later. If we take action at the state and local government level, and through private action everywhere else, we need to make sure that work doesn’t get undone by opposition the next time Republicans run the federal government.

The good news is that we wouldn’t lose much of the environmental benefits if we allow intelligent exceptions to state and local mandates, but that small cost would help guarantee the policies stay in place. The groups getting an exception to the rule may seem like a small part of the overall electorate, but they’re already organized and ready to push back if you give them a reason to do so.

Here are a few exceptions that need to be included in any state or local EV mandate:

  • Allow vehicles not driven on public roads to be exempt from emissions and EV rules. This will allow racing vehicles (which are quite small in number) to continue racing, which would have an immeasurably small environmental impact compared to the road vehicles.
  • Allow for small production runs of ICE cars for enthusiasts (and for those vehicles to be registered in an EV-only state for limited driving). For example, the Mazda Miata, a small car that won’t make a good EV, has sales usually measured in the hundreds monthly, with fewer than 9000 vehicles sold in the whole US annually.
  • Grandfather in all ICE cars that were built before a state EV mandate takes place, and let the natural degradation, wear/tear, and wrecks take them out over time. People who absolutely refuse to switch to EVs will largely do the same (and not fight you if you let them keep their old Buick while they age away along with it). If they aren’t going away fast enough, offer a “cash for gas” incentive to switch as long as the ICE car is retired and recycled upon trade-in.

A Final Thought

Just to reiterate real quick: it would be better if the federal government was on the right side of things for the transition to EVs, but because we can’t count on that, we need to make sure things happen with or without their help. It’s too important of a problem for the United States to entirely get wrong. Fortunately, our governmental structure, especially federalism, and our individual rights leave a lot of room for us to make meaningful change.

It’s imperative that we do this.

Featured image: US Capitol building, home of US Congress. Photo by Wendy Maxwell from Pexels.

 
 
 
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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.

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