Charting a Course to Transform California's Freight System – Part 2

May 21, 2013 | 1:00 pm
Don Anair
Interim Director, Clean Transportation

What are the truck and rail technologies that will transform California’s freight system in the 21st century to meet our climate, energy, and air quality goals? And what strategies can be employed to improve the efficiency of our freight system?

These were the questions posed to experts in our final two freight policy forum events that UCS co-hosted with the UC Davis Policy Institute in Sacramento over the past few weeks. The discussion was encouraging. There were numerous technologies and strategies discussed that can be employed to reduce the impacts of freight transportation. But there were also significant barriers identified, ranging from technology readiness, financing and investment needs, and access to data for research.

Below are some highlights from the events and links to the individual presentations.

 Freight Forum 2: Advanced Rail and Truck Technology Development and Deployment

  • Ben Sharpe from the International Council on Clean Transportation presented results of his investigation of technology pathways for achieving deep reductions in climate emissions. His findings show in the near term (over the next 15-20 years), the greatest emissions reductions and fuel savings available are from improving heavy-duty truck efficiency. But in the longer term, alternative fuels and electrification technologies, like plug-in hybrid, battery electric, and fuel cell trucks, are needed to make deep reductions. Ben found that the savings from reducing fuel use and the societal benefits from pollution reductions provided net economic savings compared to the business as usual scenario.
  • Fred Silver form CALSTART presented the findings from the CalHEAT Research and Market Transformation Roadmap. The roadmap identifies technology pathways within different truck vocations (long-haul tractor trailers, urban delivery trucks, etc.) and the necessary steps to achieve market success. For example, hybrids trucks are currently being used in delivery fleets but this early generation of hybrid technology takes longer to pay for itself in fuel savings than truck buyers will typically accept. What are the next milestones hybrid truck technology needs to meet and what incentives are needed in order for the technology to become a market success? Check out the CalHEAT research and Market Transformation Roadmap for the details.
  • Henry Hogo from the South Coast Air Quality Management District tackled rail technologies in his presentation, emphasizing the importance of meeting emissions standards  for new locomotives which are on the books for 2015. The Los Angeles region’s unique air quality challenges, as well as the pollution impacts to communities near rail yards, means that zero emission locomotive technologies will also be necessary. Henry described various technologies under development, include locomotives powered by battery tender cars, hybrid locomotives, as well as one powered by liquified natural gas (LNG).

One important theme throughout the presentations and discussion was the urgent need to be developing and demonstrating these advanced technologies as soon as possible. It takes decades for new technologies to become a significant part of the on-road fleet of trucks and trains that move our freight. So while 2050 may be decades away, moving these technologies to full commercialization over the next 10 years is necessary to be on track to meet air quality standards and make deep greenhouse gas reductions by 2050.

Freight Forum 3: Planning for Change: How Regions are Planning to Modernize the Freight System

  • Annie Nam, from the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), spoke about their Regional Goods Movement Plan and Implementation Strategy. Southern California faces significant challenges in meeting air quality health standards as well as a growing freight industry. One key strategy being pursued is the development of electrified freight corridors where separated lanes would allow trucks to be powered by overhead powered lines – similar to electric trolleys.
  • Caroline Rodier from UC Davis presented research on how urban planning and pricing policies could affect commercial truck VMT (vehicle miles traveled). The research evaluated the impact of increased transit-oriented development and the application of fees based on vehicle miles traveled. The results show that these policies can reduce congestion, travel delays, and reduce commercial truck travel. In other words, making those Amazon deliveries more efficient.
  • Tom O’Brien from University of Southern California presented recent research evaluating the effectiveness of urban freight strategies. The work, soon to be published as part of National Cooperative Freight Research Program, reviewed various alternative freight strategies in cities around the globe and their possible applicability to the U.S. Ever drive through a city and get stuck behind a delivery truck unloading in the traffic lane? Turns out this is a global problem. Barcelona, Spain is starting to tackle the problem by requiring new bars and restaurants to have more storage space in order to reduce the frequency of deliveries. And New York City is requiring large commercial buildings to meet loan and unloading requirements. Besides better planning, other strategies range from labeling programs and low emission zones and to standards and pricing strategies.

In the post-forum discussion, one critical issue raised was the lack of availability of good freight data. For example, if you are examining polices that affect package delivery trucks, knowing what vehicles are being used, how old are they,  what their typical daily mileage is and how frequently they make stops is important information. A coordinated data collection effort by regional and state agencies could provide researchers with better information to evaluate promising freight policies.

There’s No Silver Bullet

That doesn’t come as any surprise, but these policy forums have certainly given me a lot of food for thought on the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in transforming California’s, and the nation’s, freight transportation systems. There are certainly no easy answers. It will take both the advancement of numerous technologies and implementation of smart policies to tackle oil use and pollution from the freight sector.

So what do you think are the biggest hurdles to transforming California’s freight transportation system? And what solutions do you think are most promising?

I’d love to hear your thoughts.