By Daniel Gatti
Gatti is Policy Analyst for the Clean Vehicles Program with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
As the only southern state participating in the 12-state Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), Virginia made a bold policy commitment in December to implement a carbon pricing plan by the end of 2019 that will help fund investments in regional clean transportation strategies. While this may seem like an ambitious timeline to some, finding solutions to curb the growing air pollution and climate impact of vehicle emissions have become more critical issues for state lawmakers. Emissions from transportation in the Commonwealth now constitute nearly 45 percent of total statewide, and traffic congestion and public transportation are equal concerns.
One of the biggest, but less talked about, benefits from a regional plan funneling investments to modernizing transportation is the untapped cost-savings for millions of Virginia residents in less densely populated outer suburbs, small towns and rural counties, who will have greater access to clean vehicle technology under the new policy framework. TCI may benefit these drivers the most with significant gasoline cost savings, and there is research to show it.
People in Virginia’s rural communities drive more miles; they repair their vehicles more frequently; they produce more carbon emissions per capita; and they spend more money on gasoline. In fact, residents of Roanoke County and those living farther out in the Blue Ridge Mountains would probably be surprised to learn that their annual savings from driving an electric vehicle is more than drivers in the Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., in Fairfax and Arlington Counties.
That’s why state lawmakers will need to consider new strategies to encourage rural Virginia residents to switch to electric vehicles when they begin implementing TCI with neighboring states. A regional clean transportation strategy targeting rural areas must modernize transportation and reduce vehicle emissions, but it should also expand public transportation, pedestrian and biking infrastructure, and innovative new transportation solutions such as vanpools.
New research from Union of Concerned Scientists using data from the 2017 National Highway Traffic Survey shows how much rural residents can save on gas by switching to electric vehicles. The savings are substantial in across the rural counties of Virginia, from the Allegheny Mountains to the Chesapeake Bay. In Roanoke County, UCS research shows that a rural drivers can save $621 per year, compared with $525 annually in Arlington County, one of the worst areas for traffic congestion in the entire U.S. according to AAA.
Bringing clean vehicle technologies to rural residents in Virginia will benefit drivers, while boosting the local economy. Nearly all the money that we spend on gasoline and diesel fuel ultimately leaves our towns and our region, for other parts of the world. As electric vehicles replace the internal combustion engine on our roads, there will be more money in the pockets of Blacksburg, Roanoke and Lynchburg residents — which means more jobs, and more local development, for the burgeoning cities and municipalities in Virginia.
To realize the cost-savings, public health, climate change and environmental benefits of EVs, Virginia needs a vehicle electrification strategy that helps reduce barriers so that farmers and small business owners in rural areas can start driving electric vehicles and have the infrastructure they need to get around their communities and country side.
Virginia drivers from all walks of life can help promote clean transportation policies by learning more about TCI, and voicing support for policies that will help provide clean, modern transportation for everyone.