ACCESS 19, Spring 2001

Comment: Transportation and the Environment

Elizabeth Deakin

Talk about transportation and the environment, and most engineers and planners will tick off a long list of concerns: air pollution, water pollution, noise, petroleum consumption, community disruption, habitat loss. Since the 1970s, a variety of federal and state laws has aimed to minimize harm done to the environment by transportation programs. The benefits have been significant. Probably the greatest success has been the reduction of air pollutants. Today’s cars produce only a small fraction of the pollutants their predecessors emitted. Almost all the reduction is due to legally mandated emissions control technologies on new cars. Even with massive growth in auto ownership and vehicle-miles traveled, most cities exceed pollution limits only a few days a year.

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2017-05-30T23:15:00+00:00Categories: ACCESS 19, Fall 2001|Tags: |


Charles Lave

Over the past six months, a National Academy of Sciences panel has been working intensively on a congressionally mandated evaluation of federal regulations on fuel economy in cars. The panel concluded that significant, cost-effective, safety-enhancing improvements were possible. Its report received extensive peer review and was published under the aegis of the National Research Council in a report titled “Effectiveness and Impact of Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE ) Standards.” I was a member of that panel and in the following two essays, I want to review of some of the issues raised in its deliberations. The analytic material comes from the panel’s report; the opinions are my own.

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Reconsider the Gas Tax: Paying for What You Get

Jeffrey R. Brown

Suppose we could design the ideal transportation system from scratch and could pay for it with the most efficient, equitable, flexible, and predictable finance instrument. What kind of finance instrument should we choose? Economists say we should rely principally on user fees. User fees encourage efficient use of the transportation system by making clear the relationship between transportation costs and transportation benefits, which allows users to make informed decisions. Other instruments, by contrast, remove price signals from a traveler’s decision-making, which can lead to inefficient mismatches between supply and demand for transportation. Furthermore, finance instruments not based on user fees may be unfair because individuals who don’t use the transportation system are required to subsidize those who do.

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Clean Diesel: Overcoming Noxious Fumes

Christie-Joy Brodrick, Daniel Sperling, and Harry A. Dwyer

What is the truth about diesel engines? Are they inherently dirty? Do they belch clouds of black soot? Are they unsuited to cars, as evidenced by 1980s class-action suits against GM’s diesel “lemons?” Do they make an unnecessary racket when idling and accelerating? Are their emissions toxic and a threat to human health? Many ask, in this age of ultra-clean transport, why do we still have diesel engines? The governor of Tokyo and air quality regulators in southern California have both launched campaigns to ban them. But there’s another side to the story of diesel engines. European regulators assert they are an answer to climate-change threats. Many automotive companies claim that new diesel engines are dramatically improved and as clean and quiet as gasoline engines. And freight companies rely almost exclusively on diesel engines for their trucks because they are durable and efficient. Indeed, diesel engines continue to increase their market share worldwide, now accounting for about forty percent of all roadway fuel consumed.

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High-Speed Rail Comes to London

Sir Peter Hall

Right now, monster traffic jams surround London’s St. Pancras station as they dig up the space in front of the great neo-Gothic Victorian pile to build an extension to the Underground station. As drivers sit motionless, they see mysterious red signs directing traffic to mysterious destinations: "CTRL WORKS TRAFFIC 1J," "CTRL WORKS TRAFFIC 2J-4J." The explanation can be found not far away, at the back of the station: behind security fences, Victorian coal gas tanks are being demolished or (because some are landmark structures) moved, while giant tunnel-boring machines are eating into the London clay. All this frenetic activity has one purpose: construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, Stage Two—the UK’s new link to the continent of Europe, and one of the largest civil engineering projects since Victorian times—at last happening.

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THE ACCESS ALMANAC: Unlimited Access, Prepaid Transit at Universities

Jeffrey R. Brown, Daniel Baldwin Hess, and Donald Shoup

Imagine a transportation program that increases transit ridership, reduces traffic congestion, saves energy, cleans the air, and costs very little. Many American colleges offer such a program, and they have given it a variety of names—such as BruinGO, UPass, ClassPass, and SuperTicket. We refer collectively to these programs as Unlimited Access. Unlimited Access turns student identification cards into public transit passes. The university pays the transit agency an annual lump sum based on expected student ridership, and the transit agency accepts student identification cards as transit passes. For every student on any day, a bus ride to campus (or anywhere else) is free. Unlimited Access is not free transit, but is instead a new way to pay for transit.

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