Cost-effectiveness of Reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions from High-speed Rail and Urban Transportation Projects in California

Publication in Review.

Proceedings of the 2015 Transportation Research Board 94th Annual Meeting (Paper 15-5007)

As California establishes its greenhouse gas emissions cap-and-trade program and considers options for using the new revenues produced under the program, the public and decision-makers have access to tenuous information on the relative cost-effectiveness of passenger transportation investment options. Towards closing this knowledge gap, the cost-effectiveness of greenhouse gas reductions forecast from High-Speed Rail are compared with those estimated from recent urban transportation projects (specifically light rail, bus rapid transit, and a bicycling/pedestrian pathway) in California. Life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions are joined with full cost accounting to better understand the benefits of cap-and-trade investments. Results are largely dependent on the economic cost allocation method used. Considering only public subsidy for capital, none of the projects appear to be a cost-effective means to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (i.e., relative to the current price of greenhouse gas emissions in California’s cap-and-trade program at $11.50 per tonne). However, after adjusting for the change in private costs users incur when switching from the counterfactual mode (automobile or aircraft) to the mode enabled by the project, all investments appear to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a net savings to the public. Policy and decision-makers who consider only the capital cost of new transportation projects can be expected to incorrectly assess alternatives and indirect benefits (i.e., how travelers adapt to the new mass transit alternative) should be included in decision-making processes.

This manuscript builds on our UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies report Cost-Effectiveness of Reductions in Greenhouse Gas Emissions from California High-Speed Rail and Urban Transportation Projects.

Getting the Most Out of Electric Vehicle Subsidies

Issues in Science and Technology

The electrification of passenger vehicles has the potential to address three of the most critical challenges of our time: Plug-in vehicles may produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions when powered by electricity instead of gasoline, depending on the electricity source; reduce and displace tailpipe emissions, which affect people and the environment; and reduce gasoline consumption, helping to diminish dependence on imported oil and diversify transportation energy sources. When all costs are added up, we find thousands of dollars of damages per vehicle (gasoline or electric) that are paid by the overall population rather than only by those releasing the emissions and consuming the oil. These costs are substantial. But, importantly, the potential of plug-in vehicles to reduce these costs is modest: much lower than the $7,500 tax credit and small compared to ownership costs. This is because the damages caused over the life cycle of a vehicle are caused not only by gasoline consumption, which is reduced with plug-in vehicles, but also by emissions from battery and electricity production, which are increased with plug-in vehicles.

Costs of Automobile Air Emissions in U.S. Metropolitan Areas

Transportation Research Record (TRR), 2011, 2233, pp.120-127, doi: 10.3141/2233-14

Automobile air emissions are a well recognized problem and have been subject to considerable regulation. An increasing concern for greenhouse gas emissions draws additional considerations to the externalities of personal vehicle travel. In this paper, we estimate automobile air emission costs for eighty-six U.S. metropolitan areas based on county-specific external air emission morbidity, mortality, and environmental costs. Total air emission costs in the urban areas are estimated to be $145 million/day, with Los Angeles and New York (each $23 million/day) having the highest totals. These external costs average $0.64/day/person and $0.03/vehicle mile traveled. Total air emission cost solely due to traffic congestion for the same eight-six U.S. metropolitan areas was also estimated to be $24 million/day. We compare our estimates with others found in the literature and find them to be generally consistent. These external automobile air emission costs are important for social benefit and cost assessment of transportation measures to reduce vehicle use. However, this study does not include any abatement costs associated with automobile emission controls or government investments to reduce emissions such as traffic signal setting.

Are Plug-in Vehicles Worth the Cost?

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 2011, 108(40), doi: 10.1073/pnas.1104473108

We assess the economic value of life cycle air emissions and oil consumption from conventional, hybrid-electric (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV), and battery electric vehicles in the U.S. We find that plug-in vehicles may reduce or increase externality costs relative to grid-independent HEVs, depending largely on greenhouse gas and SO2 emissions produced during vehicle charging and battery manufacturing. However, even if future marginal damages from emissions of battery and electricity production drop dramatically, the damage reduction potential of plug-in vehicles remains small compared to ownership cost. As such, to offer a socially efficient approach to emissions and oil consumption reduction, lifetime cost of plug-in vehicles must be competitive with HEVs. Current subsidies intended to encourage sales of plug-in vehicles with large capacity battery packs exceed our externality estimates considerably, and taxes that optimally correct for externality damages would not close the gap in ownership cost. In contrast, HEVs and PHEVs with small battery packs reduce externality damages at low (or no) additional cost over their lifetime. While large battery packs allow vehicles to travel longer distances using electricity instead of gasoline, large packs are more expensive, heavier, and more emissions-intensive to produce, with lower utilization factors, greater charging infrastructure requirements, and life cycle implications that are more sensitive to uncertain, time-sensitive, and location-specific factors. To reduce air emission and oil dependency impacts from passenger vehicles, strategies to promote adoption of HEVs and PHEVs with small battery packs offer more social benefits per dollar spent.

Media Coverage:
 Carnegie Mellon University Press Release   (Reprinted by the Sacramento Bee)
 Arizona State University Press Release
 Bloomberg: U.S. Battery, Plug-in Car Push Costs Exceed Rewards, New Study Says
 Vancouver Sun: Fully electric vehicles fall short compared to hybrids, research suggests
 Automotive News: U.S. green car subsidies aren't cost effective, study says

External Costs of Air Emissions from Transportation

J. of Infrastructure Systems, ASCE, 2001, 7(1), pp. 13-17, doi: 10.1061/(ASCE)1076-0342(2001)7:1(13).

The production of equipment and materials used for transportation facilities and services can have significant environmental effects. Considerable effort is expended to reduce such effects as efficiently and effectively as possible. In this paper, we estimate external environmental costs resulting from the production of common transportation equipment, materials, and services. These external cost estimates only include the effects from air emissions of conventional pollutants, including carbon monoxide, greenhouse gases (or global warming potential), volatile organics, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides. The estimates include all the direct and indirect supply chain emissions, such as electricity generation and mining. The cost estimates are uncertain and are likely to be underestimates of total external costs. However, the estimates should be useful for an initial assessment of the total social costs of transportation projects, and to indicate products and processes worthy of additional pollution prevention efforts. In particular, we find that additional external environmental costs may range from as low as 1% to as high as 45% for transportation services. External environmental costs of transportation equipment manufacturing range between 0.3 and 11%, while the external environmental costs of transportation construction and operation materials are estimated to vary between 1 and 100%.