Mobility 2050/Battery-Free Electromobility

To tackle the growing climate emergency, American cities must shift away from car travel and car-centric development and instead towards electric mobility. We argue that Battery-free electromobility is particularly important due to its low cost and lack of reliance on rare materials or future technology. This domain includes proven technology like streetcars, light rail, and rapid transit systems like the DC Metro or New York MTA. We discuss potential social and technological changes that should be considered to achieve a vision of increased battery-free electromobility in 2050. Our analysis considers the challenges posed by both rural and urban communities, ultimately focusing on urban improvements that are more feasible and would affect the most people.

Rural and Urban edit

Rural edit

In the 1920’s, there existed the interurban railways that provided electric rail travel between different rural areas as well as into urban areas. These railways disappeared by the 1950’s due to the preference given to automobiles. As modern infrastructure has reshaped these areas, specifically through the reliance on roadways for increased vehicular travel, rural areas do not currently support the infrastructure necessary to allow for battery free electromobility through things like electric trains or trolleys around towns. With a sparse population over a vast area, train and trolley routes that could currently be designed would be inconvenient, and dissuade people from taking those forms of transportation over their car alternative.  For example, Campbell County, Virginia has a population of 55,000, spread over 507 square miles. Train and trolley routes could be created, but many would avoid trains and trolleys in exchange for their cars because of the vastness of the county not allowing for many convenient hubs to route to. With options of battery electric cars being available in 2050, we believe that the shift in urban areas toward battery free electromobility will lead to further improvements in the future in these rural areas shifting from gas to electric cars.

Urban edit

Urban areas today present the best template for pursuing a battery free electric mobility future. When it comes to urban areas, while they have been taken over by the car, they were initially designed to be walkable and bike-able. This creates a favorable environment for creation of railway systems like Metro in Washington DC. The close proximity of key locations in the city has led to the massive success of this system, and many similar systems in other cities. There are still issues today with this system, specifically concerns with efficiency, availability, ease of use, cost, safety, and cleanliness which we find to be major factors in someone choosing current electric railways versus alternatives such as cars. Complaints listed from Los Angeles including harassment in the station, non-direct links to destinations and weak scheduling that makes the trip by train much longer than that by car were voiced as reasons people chose cars versus their electric train or bus alternative[1]. In order to persuade people back to these modes of transportation, there needs to be both technological and social advancements made by 2050 in order to get people back onto trains, and make it a more pleasurable experience.

Technical and Infrastructural Improvements edit

A point of infrastructural improvement for metro systems is the location of their stations, specifically when it comes to how stations in the city versus suburbs interact. A large pain point for metro systems has been the infeasibility of using it for those that don’t live close to the city in which it’s located. Most people that have to get in their car to get to the closest metro station are going to end up driving the whole distance rather than swap transportation methods. The DC Metro is aware of this as they recently finished a silver line extension project[2] with the sole purpose of going out further and connecting more neighborhoods. This extension proved successful as they recently also approved plans to extend the blue line. Extensions like these to suburban areas will be important for the future. While improvements on the perceived safety and destinations of a metro system are obviously welcome, these changes only benefit those who are already using the system. The real longevity relies on actually connecting out further to where people actually live, with the goal being for individuals to use the metro not only for its destinations but for its convenient starting points.

Another area of improvement is the restoration of trolley streetcar systems, otherwise known as urban light rails. Many of these systems did exist in America but were shut down in the 1940’s and 1950’s in favor of a more car centered society and lifestyle after World War II. However, there have been recent efforts to restore these lines in states such as California,  Texas, and Virginia. These rail lines are being reopened in order to mainly serve commuters living in cities but also prove useful from a tourism angle with many of the routes being considered historically valuable[3], such as the trams in San Francisco. This trend of restoring previously closed light rail systems could be an incredibly efficient way of providing mobility in areas where building a new rail system may not be feasible both geographically and financially. Support exists for these light rail systems in the form of interest groups, such as the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development, and normal outspoken citizens alike.

The technological side of our 2050 vision stems from improving and analyzing existing concepts rather than introducing an unproven idea that won’t necessarily be successful. The existing battery free mobility systems in the US have been proven to work well and the technology behind them has more or less stayed the same over the years; therefore the goal for 2050 is improving the factors around the transportation systems rather than change the vehicles themselves.

Policy Considerations edit

Transit Oriented Development edit

In the large scale, battery-free electromobility can be encouraged by localities by designing development plans around planned or current transit options. The Washington DC metro area population has grown rapidly since the 1960’s, requiring the surrounding localities to plan for this expansion. The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington, VA demonstrates how a transit oriented development plan can be implemented to benefit a growing suburb. The development plan was focused on the quarter mile walkable “bullseye” around each of the five Metro stations.[4] This centering of public transit allows residents to easily walk to or take local transit to their near nearest Metro station for any trip into the city, entirely avoiding car travel. We expect this approach to become increasingly important for development through 2050, due to increased urbanization and focus on climate impact. Transit-oriented development is also a more efficient use of urban space than a car-oriented approach, opening the way for more productive land uses with less need for parking.

Integrated Multi-Modal Transit Systems edit

Localities can also encourage transit use by considering the entire circumstances of a person’s trip. This includes considering how people will get to and from transit stations and how they will pay for them. The Netherlands provides an example of accounting for both considerations the design of their transit system. Dutch bike infrastructure supports both personal bike ownership and bikeshare programs. These bikeshare programs are often dockless, aligning with how people travel “from door-to-door, not from station-to-station”. They are also well integrated with rail transit, with bike parking garages available for arriving and departing riders. Paying for a rail ticket also gives bike access at your destination. A single payment card for all forms of public transit in the system.[5] The reflects the guiding principle of removing friction from all aspects of using public transit. US cities should take note of this approach for the future.

Fares and Policing edit

Fares have long been standard to public transit systems, though this is starting to change. Some localities have started offering some transit systems (most often busses) with no fares. Moving to a zero-fare system dramatically increases ridership and improves efficiency by removing the payment step. Since users of public transit (especially busses) tend to be poorer, zero-fare systems also work to improve equity.[6] This shift reflects a change in philosophy, from transit as a commodity to transit as a community right.

Larger systems like the New York MTA seem less likely to eliminate fares, but they must change their approach to collecting them. The MTA has seen massive fare evasion, which has been responded to with a large increase in policing. This approach has not been effective, with the cost of personnel exceeding any benefit from increased fare compliance. Columbia economist Harold Stolper has also noted that “Economic need is one of the main drivers of fare evasion, so policing fare evasion is policing poverty”. Increasing police presence also does appear to improve MTA safety.[7]

Instead, localities should adopt a more passive approach to fare enforcement. This could include installing a new kind of turnstile that is harder to circumvent, improving video surveillance, and an increased focus on non-police transit staff. They should move away from enforcing fares through the criminal justice system, which tends to be expensive to the locality and overly punitive to the fare evader. Fare evasion should be responded to with warnings first, then if fines are issued, they should be able to be used as credit to the transit system. Future facing localities should move away from a criminalized approach to fare enforcement to improve equity and community investment.

Disincentivizing Driving edit

To make the transit changes required to tackle climate change, we must go beyond advocating for public transit. Driving is the status quo, entrenched in our infrastructure and culture, meaning it must be actively disincentivized where possible. This could be done by pedestrianizing roads and removing parking, which has been recently shown to be effective in Paris.[8] Another approach is to implement congestion pricing, charging a toll to enter a city center in a car. The first system of this kind in the US is slowly being implemented in Manhattan.[9] Congestion pricing is appealing because it puts an immediate price on driving, highlighting other transportation options. For localities, the system provides many “levers” to adjust including the price, the enclosed area, the active times of day or days of the week, and any toll exemptions. Congestion pricing also generates revenue, which could be directed to fund transit initiatives like zero-fare transit. Congestion pricing is a powerful tool that we expect to be adopted by other major cities looking to reorient towards public transit.

References edit

  1. "Why We Don't Take Public Transit: LAist Readers Respond". LAist. 2016-03-25. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  2. WMATA (December 8, 2023). "Welcome to the Silver Line Extension". WMata. Retrieved December 8, 2023.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. Schwieterman, Joseph (September 29, 2020). "BACK ON TRACK Initiatives to Restore Rail Service to U.S. Towns and Cities" (PDF). CHADDICK INSTITUTE WORKING PAPER: 8.
  4. "Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor". Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  5. van Oort, Niels (2021-06-29). "DCE - The Bicycle-Train Combination: A Ticket to Success". DCE. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  6. Meyersohn, Nathaniel (2023-07-08). "These cities are ending fares on transit. Here's why | CNN Business". CNN. Retrieved 2023-12-08.
  7. Ley, Ana (2023-06-05). "M.T.A. Looks Beyond Enforcement After $690 Million in Fare Evasion" (in en-US). The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. 
  8. Grabar, Henry (2021-09-15). "The Liberation of Paris From Cars Is Working" (in en-US). Slate. ISSN 1091-2339. 
  9. Levine, Mark (2023-03-10). "Congestion Pricing | Manhattan Borough President". Retrieved 2023-12-08.