Last week, the Global Climate Action Summit convened in our headquarters’ hometown of San Francisco, CA. This historic event brought leaders together from all corners of the world to discuss decarbonization of the global economy – one of the most pressing and important topics of our time.
During the GCAS, I had the distinct pleasure of moderating a panel on Decarbonizing Transportation, with some of the summit’s leading minds on the topic: Sam Arons, Director of Sustainability at Lyft; Holly Gordon, Sustainability Group Manager at BART; and esteemed Mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler. During the conversation, I asked the panelists for their perspectives on how disparate industries are – and should be – coming together to improve sustainability within our communities and make a real impact towards decarbonizing transportation, the sector responsible for the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.1
While we covered a lot of ground in our discussion, there were a few key themes that emerged.
SMART PLANNING AND POLICY
Perhaps not surprisingly, the panel spent a fair amount of time discussing the nexus of smart planning and policy in guiding these efforts. One central theme is the importance of making intentional choices to co-site public transportation and affordable housing to enhance the quality of life and reduce the reliance on cars, thereby reducing emissions. BART and cities like Los Angeles have already started implementing such initiatives and Mayor Wheeler confirmed that Portland has been at the forefront of city planning initiatives that evaluate cohesive transportation, housing and climate solutions.
We also explored the role of new options like ride-sharing, scooters and bikes to increase access to public transportation to address the first mile / last mile conundrum. All of our panelists shared great examples of how BART, Lyft, and the City of Portland are working to build partnerships to reduce single occupancy rides and encourage greater use of public transportation. Case in point: Lyft is building out new in-app features to integrate with public transit, which are currently being tested in select markets.
RECAPTURING PUBLIC SPACES
Just imagine a world where fewer cars meant we could reclaim public spaces for other purposes, such as parks or dedicated bike/scooter lanes. I love that when I lead these discussions I always learn something new and this panel was no exception: did you know that in the U.S., parking lots take up more space that the entire state of Connecticut (there are roughly 2.5 parking spots for every car)? And that BART is the owner of the most parking garage spaces west of the Mississippi? There is huge potential to transform these spaces. From Lyft’s Green Cities Initiative and vision of turning parking lots into parks, to BART’s public/private partnership for its carpool program with Scoop and Portland’s plan for the Green Loop, a six-mile interconnected park and active transportation path, we already see promising signs ahead for more sustainable communities that lower emissions and enhance quality of life.
ELECTRIFICATION AND RENEWABLE ENERGY
The final theme that I observed during our panel discussion was the electrification of fleets and the role it does – and will – play in decarbonizing our communities. While electrification is often discussed as a critical tool in the decarbonization toolbox, this solution obviously only works if we ensure we are powering those fleets with renewable power.
Clearly, as renewables continue to march down the cost curve and electric vehicle adoption increases, there is tremendous opportunity to make a huge dent in transportation emissions. In December 2017, BART signed wind and solar PPAs for a total of over 106 MW and will now meet their renewable energy goals ahead of schedule. Lyft, too, is embracing this opportunity and recently announced that, in addition to becoming a fully carbon neutral company, they are purchasing enough renewable energy to cover the electricity consumption of every Lyft office space, driver hub, and electric vehicle mile on their platform. In addition, Portland has just begun exploring options for going beyond RECs and procuring bundled renewable energy for electricity use in City operations. It feels like we are just beginning to scratch the surface of what’s possible for the convergence of electrification and renewable energy adoption – and that is exciting.
Although the global climate challenge looms large, I found myself wholly inspired by the group’s discussion and focus on galvanizing action. As Mayor Wheeler noted, “We all have to be successful for the planet to succeed.” Indeed, partnering with like-minded organizations – businesses, NGOs, public agencies, government, including the 3,540 signatories of #wearestillin who are pledging to uphold the goals of the Paris Agreement – are a reason for us all to have hope. Join us in making that a reality.