Cities can clean up the transportation sector

Policies for more EVs, less driving improve health and air quality

TRANSPORTATION IS THE largest source of carbon pollution in the Commonwealth, producing 40 percent of climate-disrupting greenhouse gas emissions. Cities and towns can play an important role in leading the way to a clean transportation future. How? By helping residents drive less, and switch to electric vehicles when they must continue to drive.

While the number of people using transit, biking, and walking has steadily increased over the years, personal vehicle use still accounts for about 70 percent of all trips in Massachusetts. For this reason, it is crucial that we take steps to reduce vehicle emissions.

Vehicles that run on fossil fuels release high levels of particulate matter and toxins that increase the risk of respiratory and cardiovascular disease, including in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.  Springfield was recently named the 2018 asthma capital of the nation, with Boston and Worcester ranking 11th and 12th in asthma prevalence and asthma-related emergency room visits.

If we are to improve air quality, health, and the well-being of residents across the state, we must transition our municipal vehicle fleets as well as our personal vehicles from fossil fuels to electricity.

Cars powered by electricity have zero tailpipe emissions and provide significant reductions in air pollutants. They also get cleaner over time, because our electric grid is powered by more renewable energy every year.

In 2013, Massachusetts signed an eight-state Memorandum of Understanding that commits us to getting 300,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2025. Right now, Massachusetts is only at 12,000.

To accelerate the transition to electric vehicles, Braintree is leading by example. Braintree already has nine electric vehicles in its municipal fleet and six charging stations accessible to residents — and the city is looking to add more of each. Through a local initiative, Braintree Drives Electric (BDE), the city is raising awareness about the benefits and economic incentives of driving electric vehicles. Residents are encouraged to sign up for free at-home test drives, and to attend ride and drive events. Local businesses can access information and support to install workplace chargers. Since the launch of the BDE program in 2016, Braintree has seen an 840 percent increase in electric vehicle adoption, from 10 vehicles to 84 amongst its residents and municipal fleet.

The City of Newton has committed to replacing all its municipal sedans with electric vehicles. Newton’s Department of Public Works alone anticipates adding more than 30 electric vehicles over the next 10 years. The City has also installed EV chargers at City Hall and two other locations and has selected additional charging installations for use by the public, Newton employees, and the city EV fleet.  The city also plans to create preferential designated parking spaces in public lots for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles and for electric vehicle car-share programs.

Residents in Massachusetts interested in making their next car electric can learn more about electric vehicles at ride and drive events across Massachusetts during National Drive Electric Week from September 8-16.  Car buyers can take advantage of a state rebate of up to $2,500 and a federal tax credit of up to $7,500 to purchase or lease an electric vehicle. Cities and towns in Eversource service areas can now also make use of the $45 million available through the utility’s “Make Ready” program to install publicly available charging infrastructure in their communities, encouraging more drivers to go electric. Newton has applied to “Make Ready” and is meeting Eversource engineers shortly to begin the design for four installations under the program. National Grid is expected to gain approval for a similar program.

The cleanest transportation options are the ones that involve no fuel at all, such as walking or biking. But for those who must drive, we must make it easier to switch to an EV. We must also electrify our bus fleets, as well as our subways and commuter trains. This will require investment and it’s well worth it.

Meet the Author
Meet the Author
It is time for Massachusetts to lead on reducing emissions from the transportation sector by creating policies and incentive structures to boost our state to the forefront of the EV revolution.

Ruthanne Fuller is mayor of Newton. Joseph Sullivan is the mayor of Braintree and a member of the state Department of Transportation’s Board of Directors.