Add 3 cent fee to gas prices to fund climate protection
Over the last year, the scientific consensus on global warming has gone from highly probable to unequivocal. In less than a century we may double the amount of carbon in our atmosphere. No scientist or climate model can predict the exact consequences but we do know one thing: Our current path is a high-risk, uncontrolled experiment on the only home we have.
California has become a national leader on reducing electrical consumption, saving families money while reducing our carbon footprint. Now it's time to do the same for our largest source of emissions. In the Bay Area, 50 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation, mostly private cars and trucks.
While cleaner fuels and more efficient cars are an important part of the solution, studies show these will not improve fast enough to meet the state's global warming targets. To do that we must also tackle a more elusive goal: reducing the amount we drive. That is the goal of AB 2744 - a bill being heard Monday in the Assembly Transportation Committee.
Specifically, the bill will authorize the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to work with citizens, elected officials and groups from throughout the region to develop a climate protection program and bring it to Bay Area voters for approval. To fund this plan, voters would be asked to authorize a climate mitigation fee of up to 10 cents (phased in at no more than 3 cents per year) on each gallon of gas sold in the Bay Area.
Will enough people actually choose to drive less? The answer is yes, if we provide alternatives that are convenient and affordable. Providing fast and attractive mass transit is part of the solution, but there is a growing list of effective strategies.
For example, six years ago Stanford University implemented a multi-faceted program of incentives, rewards and services to reduce car trips by its employees. The "drive alone" rate for Stanford employees dropped from 72 percent to 52 percent.
In Marin County, parents dropping their kids at school, mostly in private cars, constituted more than 20 percent of morning trips in 2000. The county initiated a "Safe Routes to School" program that nearly doubled the number of kids walking and biking to school in just two years, while also improving safety. This program reduced traffic congestion near schools, freed up parents' time and is getting kids much-needed physical activity.
We can do it. But we need the resources it will take to innovate, evaluate and then replicate the most successful programs from around the region and the country. Interestingly enough, MTC already has the authority to bring a gas tax to a vote, up to 10 cents. AB 2744 simply revises that authority and limits what the funds can be spent on. By reconstituting its current taxing authority as a fee, MTC must focus expenditures on a narrower scope of projects that reduce emissions and congestion, and the public gets greater assurances and accountability on how the money is spent.
Some people feel we have been pushed enough with the high price of gas and cannot afford to pay even a few cents more.
But let's be real about the costs of our current system. The average commuter is now wasting 72 hours per year stuck in congestion, which also happens to burn an extra 45 gallons of fuel per person. Reducing driving a mere 2 percent would mean we can spend less on transportation overall, and we know we can do even better. And this bill requires that we study the overall effects on low-income commuters, to ensure they derive as much benefit as any costs they incur.
The costs of inaction are simply too high. Bay Area residents should be able to decide for themselves whether it is time to join together and do our part to stop this global experiment. Passing AB 2744 would do just that; it would let the people decide.
STUART COHEN is executive director of the Transportation and Land Use Coalition, a collaboration of 90 organizations promoting sustainable transportation in the Bay Area. ASSEMBLYMAN JARED HUFFMAN, D-San Rafael, represents the 6th District in the Legislature.