‘It’s so egregious’: Transit groups lament Dems’ car-centric climate deal

“It’s so blatant that you get tax credits for buying an electric vehicle, but there’s zero dollars to buy an electric bike, zero dollars to use public transit,” said Yonah Freemark, a researcher at the Urban Institute who focuses on transportation and housing policy. “It subsidizes car ownership by far more than any other mode of transport.”

The focus on the car dismays even advocates who are otherwise elated as the Democratic leadership and the senator. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) managed to agree to a package that would amount to the largest climate law in the United States. Some are wary that Manchin, who said he and his staff “wrote the bill,” is cementing a future where the car remains king.

“It’s a bitter pill in terms of rail and mass transit, which is the only clearly established low-carbon transportation system we have,” said Sean Jeans-Gail, vice president of government affairs. and policies at the Rail Passengers Association. “It feels like it’s going to lock down freeway dominance.”

Other greens are ecstatic, however. Matt Casale, director of environmental campaigns for US PIRG, said the bill’s clean energy tax credits, including for the transportation sector, will help reduce carbon pollution.

“They will help make it affordable for Americans of all stripes to switch to electric vehicles, install solar panels on their roofs, and buy cleaner, healthier electrical appliances that don’t pollute our homes and communities,” a- he said in a statement.

The bill includes two elements that, in theory, could help the millions of Americans who don’t rely on cars to get around: $1 billion in subsidies for clean heavy-duty vehicles like buses and $3 billion in grants to invest in neighborhood equity, safety and affordable transportation projects. This broad mandate could include certain projects not dedicated to motorists, such as new bike paths or the improvement of sidewalks.

The bill is full of other funding for car-related priorities. The package includes $40 billion in tax credits to accelerate American manufacturing of electric vehicles and the batteries needed to power them. The money is intended to incentivize automakers to make more electric vehicles, the U.S. government to add more to their fleet, and consumers to buy more (offering credits of up to $7,500 for a new electric vehicle , or up to $4,000 for a used one).

The Zero Emission Transportation Association, a group that lobbies for 100% of new vehicle sales to be electric by 2030, hailed the bill as “an unprecedented investment in our clean energy infrastructure and fuel system.” transportation”.

Even a car-focused climate bill is far more palatable to climate advocates, over the narrowly focused health care bill that was pending before Wednesday or nothing at all.

In addition to incentives for electric vehicles for private use, the Postal Service would also receive $3 billion to purchase electric vehicles to electrify its fleet of 230,000 vehicles and an additional $1 billion in grants would fund heavy electric vehicles such as as school and transit buses and garbage trucks, with the only provision explicitly mentioning transit.

Arguably, Bill meets Americans where most Americans live, after more than a century of cars and trucks playing a central role in people’s daily lives.

Still, “it’s a missed opportunity not to consider alternative modes of public transportation and ways to incentivize getting away from driving for short trips,” said Noa Banayan, director of federal affairs at PeopleForBikes, a group advocating for more bicycle use and infrastructure. “I understand why electric vehicles have been prioritized, but think about the whole [climate] benefits and how much faster you can get them by replacing an internal combustion engine with a bicycle. »

Don’t Forget the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act

Transit and bicycle advocates secured a bigger victory from last year’s infrastructure lawwhich included $89.9 billion in transit funding over five years as well as the largest investment in Amtrak since rail service was established in 1971. This legislation also included $5 billion to make streets safer during for the next five years, which would help protect cyclists and pedestrians. .

And while Freemark wanted to see more investment in transportation that doesn’t include cars, he acknowledged that the new funding combined with the $7.5 billion infrastructure act to build a national network of chargers from EVs would go a long way to accelerating an increase in EV use among Americans who can’t or won’t give up their cars. Freemark said the number of electric vehicle models on sale in the United States is one-third of what is currently in the European market, and a market-driven increase in sales is not happening fast enough.

“We’re building an ecosystem, and that’s a positive thing,” Freemark said.

Security concerns

Banayan, Jeans-Gail and Freemark were also unhappy that the bill provides increased subsidies for electric trucks and SUVs, which are typically powered by larger batteries that require more resources to build than those that power cars. The maximum price of electric vehicles eligible for the tax credit would be $80,000 for SUVs, pickups and vans, compared to $55,000 for smaller vehicles.

In general, heavier vehicles are more dangerous because they can inflict more damage in the event of a collision. And because of the large batteries that will be needed to power EVs, they are generally heavier than their combustion engine counterparts.

“It worries me a lot that we’re actually incentivizing people to buy electric SUVs and trucks,” Freemark said. “We’re actually incentivizing people to get vehicles that kill more people.”

The Governors Highway Safety Association estimated that drivers hit and killed 7,485 people in 2021, the highest number of pedestrian fatalities in the United States ever recorded in a single year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that 42,915 people died in road crashes in 2021, the highest number of fatalities since 2005.

Some large electric vehicles, such as the Ford 1-50 Lightning and the Rivian R1T pickup truck, have increased risks to pedestrians and larger battery sizes that mitigate their environmental benefits. The prices of both are low enough that buyers can qualify for tax credits under the invoice.

Jeans-Gail also noted that the rise in electric vehicles would further accelerate the collapse of the federal highway trust fund funded by gas taxes.

Still, Jean-Gail said the bill is a good step forward, even if rail loses.

“As a citizen of the planet, I’m glad they’re doing something,” Jeans-Gail said.

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