June 28, 1991
City of Berkeley
2180 Milvia Street
Berkeley, California 94704
Re: "Market Incentives for Ultra-Low and Zero Emission Vehicles Used in Carpools and Vanpools" (proposed legislation)
Dear Mayor Hancock:
As you well know, our environmental problems are all very large and extremely urgent. Thus, it is most important that we implement measures that (1) aim toward a real "ultimate" solution, not a half measure -- we have to plan as far ahead as possible, and (2) will have a large positive effect as quickly as possible.
The "ultimate" solution, given the fact that our oil will run out in a few decades, would not make much use of any private cars, but would emphasize (in order of priority) minimization of the need for travel (e.g. telecommuting & teleconferencing), walking (and hence mixed-use "village" land use design), bicycling, and public transit (rail wherever possible, buses elsewhere).
Measures that will lead in that direction as quickly as possible are reducing motor vehicle facilities (roads and parking), and taking the motor vehicle off welfare (charging appropriate fees for motor vehicle services (e.g. parking, road maintenance, and police and fire services) and damage to the environment.
How does this apply to the proposed legislation? The maximum parking fee of $2 is too low. There should be no maximum; users should pay whatever is the market rate (but no less than $1/day). Carpools and vanpools are a half measure. They are too ephemeral to be a permanent improvement. Fee funds should be used only to purchase transit passes, and definitely not to buy gasoline. The private automobile is already too heavily subsidized. Supporting transit helps many more people, at far less cost, and continues to do so far into the future.
Even zero emission vehicles (there's no such thing!) require valuable land for storage and travel. Rail transit requires the least amount of land per passenger served. Any private vehicle is rarely used to capacity, and is thus wasteful. Roads, by their very existence, destroy farmland and wildlife habitat, even when they carry no traffic.
If it is necessary to support some low emission vehicles (they should be available at rental agencies, so that they get maximum use), why wait? Solar Electric Engineering of Santa Rosa, CA, is already making them. I see no reason to continue subsidizing only our largest car manufacturers, who are deliberately waiting to the last minute to offer electric vehicles.
Freeways do us at least one good service: they show us where the demand is. The next step should not be the construction of HOV lanes (or, at least, they should be made from existing mixed-flow lanes). The next step is to provide rail service (passenger and freight) in those corridors, and wean those drivers from their cars and trucks.
Our misguided philosophy of "freedom to live and travel wherever we please" is destroying all of our precious wildlife habitat, human-accessible open space, and farmland. We must stop subsidizing people who choose to live in an auto-dependent location, by funding carpooling and vanpooling. Efficient, clean public transit should be our top priority, and people who want our support should live in a transit-accessible area (e.g., not on top of a hill). We shouldn't throw good money after bad, and continue subsidizing a dead-end motor vehicle transportation system. A viable plan is one that is still meaningful after all of our oil is gone. Then, there won't be enough energy available to fill our existing roads and parking lots with vehicles (much less the new roads and parking lots that developers want us to build).
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.