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March 15, 2022Episode 29. Multiple Stakeholders, One Purpose: The vision of “clean transportation” involves much more than electric cars.
FEATURING: Alice Grossman
Government agencies, utilities, vehicle manufacturers, and related industries all have a stake in a clean transportation future. Though they share a common interest and purpose, these groups haven’t collaborated extensively in the past. They have the chance — and the urgency — to do so now.
About Our Guest
Associate Research Scientist
Alice Grossman works in TTI's Center for Advancing Research in Transportation Emissions, Energy, and Health (CARTEEH). Her research and project management experience span various areas of multimodal transportation with a focus on accessibility, technology in transportation, vulnerable road user safety, and performance measurement. Grossman leads the Clean Transportation Collaborative. Prior to joining TTI, she worked at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as a Science and Technology Policy Fellow through the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and was a Senior Policy Analyst at the Eno Center for Transportation.
Bernie Fette (host) (00:14):
Hello, and welcome. This is Thinking Transportation — conversations about how we get ourselves and the things we need from one place to another. I’m Bernie Fette with the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Transportation is the largest and fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in the United States, producing more than one fourth of those pollutants every year. Addressing that problem will require efforts from multiple industries, spanning both public and private sectors. Further, it requires those myriad stakeholders to work together, all pulling or pushing in the same direction. That common purpose is the topic of this episode of Thinking Transportation. Alice Grossman, an associate research scientist at TTI, is with us. Welcome, Alice. Thank you for joining us.
Alice Grossman (guest) (01:09):
Thanks for having me.
Bernie Fette (01:11):
I’d like to start our conversation with a statistic. Transportation is the largest and fastest-growing source of carbon emissions in the United States. More than one-fourth of all climate emissions. What’s your first thought when you consider that fact?
Alice Grossman (01:30):
That that’s the sector that we need to be thinking about really working on making cleaner, moving forward from here. For the last five years, transportation has been the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States. And so part of this push for cleaner transportation comes from moving our focus over there, seeing as, okay, now that we have kind of cleaned up the industry and electricity sectors a little bit more, where should we be focusing and how can we do that? And the answer is transportation in many ways.
Bernie Fette (02:06):
And so what is the Clean Transportation Collaborative doing to address the challenge that you’re talking about?
Alice Grossman (02:14):
The Clean Transportation Collaborative is a new group that we’re putting together through the Center for Advancing Research in Transportation, Emissions, Energy and Health at Texas A&M Transportation Institute. And the goal behind the collaborative is to bring together the multiple stakeholders in the clean transportation community and get people working together so that we can really try to accelerate that move towards clean transportation and do it in the most efficient and equitable and safest way possible. So that’s thinking about, you know, bringing together both the transportation sector and the energy sector. It’s thinking about different types of alternative fuels besides gasoline-powered vehicles. So we’re looking at, you know, battery electric vehicles, we’re looking at hydrogen powered buses, we’re looking at where those energy sources come from, how they flow through the utilities and then how they reach end users in their own vehicles. What are the vehicle manufacturers doing? What’s their timeline and goal? How are governments able to support both the private industry and the general public in making this move? So it’s really thinking about who are all of those actors and players and stakeholders and how do we bring them together, get them talking to each other so that we all know what the goals are, what the plans are and how we can work together to optimize that outcome for everybody.
Bernie Fette (03:50):
Is that at least in part because some of the stakeholders that you are thinking about might have common or similar goals in mind, but they may not be coordinated or aligned so that they can all be pushing in the same direction?
Alice Grossman (04:06):
Absolutely. And I would say it’s even more that they haven’t necessarily historically worked together.
Bernie Fette (04:11):
Alice Grossman (04:12):
So if you think about specifically electrification, which is just one element of clean transportation, the utilities haven’t historically necessarily been working with transportation planners in the public sector. That was kind of a, a separate department in the past. But now, if we’re putting in charging infrastructure and we’re pulling that power from utilities, we need to be thinking about how do we look at driving patterns and parking patterns and travel behavior on top of energy use. And yeah, we can really meet a lot of common goals, like you said, in terms of not putting too much stress on the grid, which can lead to power outages, and nobody wants that. So, yeah, it’s bringing people together to reach those common goals. But I think the interesting part is that it’s also bringing people together who maybe haven’t worked together extensively in the past.
Bernie Fette (05:12):
I see. We’re talking so far, mostly about grid electrification for cars. So the focus at least for the moment is on surface transportation.
Alice Grossman (05:23):
We’re starting with surface transportation. There’s obviously a lot of work that can be done, yeah, especially in aviation and maritime as well. Okay. So we’re not moving into aviation / maritime yet, but I would say just as important to be looking at, and yeah, definitely could be an area to expand to, or, or collaborate with others in at some point.
Bernie Fette (05:48):
And if you’re starting with surface transportation, then that’s the area where you have the potential to affect the greatest number of people, just because of the percentage of people who are roadway travelers, right?
Alice Grossman (05:59):
Exactly. From a personal traveler perspective, yeah. On an individual basis, that’s touching a lot of people, but even when you think about the freight sector as well, the first mile / last mile of goods is largely by truck, some by rail. And there’s some mode shift opportunity there, too, to think about if we can clean up surface transportation, that leaves us options in terms of thinking about shifting modes across different surface transportation modes, but also, you know, air and water as well.
Bernie Fette (06:30):
Is there a stakeholder also in the form of the federal government? I’m wondering specifically about the investment in infrastructure and jobs act and what sort of opportunities might be presented there for the, the goal of clean transportation.
Alice Grossman (06:45):
Absolutely. There’s a whole bunch of opportunities opening up, thanks to the federal investment, coming from the investment in infrastructure and jobs act. And I would say that it’s not just the money that the federal government is putting forward towards this, that makes them a stakeholder, but we’ve also heard a lot out of the administration about thinking about climate goals. And if we wanna reach some of those goals, you know, they’re putting their money where their mouth is. And I appreciate that. I think it’s great to hear those messages of, we wanna reach certain goals by 2035 or by 2050. And we’re gonna support states and localities by funding them to help us reach those goals as a nation. And so the, IIJA has a couple of different pots of money in it to look at funding clean transportation. And that is moving beyond just electrification, as well. You’ll see that it’s also supporting hydrogen fuel and, and other options. And so that’s gonna come down to the states, both in formula funds. And then there are also are a whole bunch of discretionary grant programs that will allow states and localities and transit agencies to look at different options for cleaner transportation.
Bernie Fette (08:02):
What you’re describing sounds like a very sensible and worthwhile goal. And so for some people, it might beg the question of why it hasn’t been done before now. Can you talk a little about the obstacles to realizing a goal like this?
Alice Grossman (08:19):
Working together is hard. And, and I think one of the reasons that we’re pulling together this Clean Transportation Collaborative is again looking historically at who maybe hasn’t been working together or how it’s been difficult to work together, and that we all have some sort of inertia. And so starting new initiatives, and especially when that comes to putting a lot of time or energy or money behind something, it’s gonna be difficult. And so I’m based here in Washington, D.C., and the running joke here is every week is infrastructure week because we’ve been talking about passing infrastructure bills for the last couple of administrations. And so this isn’t even a partisan issue, right? This is something that we see across different administrations across different parties, but getting people to really sit down and agree on something that is gonna have such a large impact and that we’re putting so much money behind, it’s always gonna be tough.
Bernie Fette (09:26):
Yeah. You talked a little about the obstacles to realizing a goal like this. Can you describe for us what the promise is? The payoff that society can hope to realize?
Alice Grossman (09:38):
There’s a whole lot of benefits, I think, both in the short term and in the long term. And so the group that I work with at TTI has a focus on public health. And so if you think about that lens, you know, just cleaning up transportation now has the immediate benefit of having fewer pollutants along our roadways and along our freight corridors. And just having that cleaner air that immediately people are breathing in means fewer cases of asthma and other respiratory and lung disease we’ve especially seen as emissions have gone up in the transportation sector, increases in childhood as my cases in areas where we see a lot of pollution from mobile emissions. And so I think that’s a very short-term kind of clear benefit is just seeing people be healthier. And then in the long term, we see changes in our climate. There was just a report released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where I, I was incidentally working before I came to TTI as well, that shows we’re expecting about a foot on average sea level rise across the nation between now and 2050. And that has implications for people’s quality of life and economics as well. When we start to see more homes and businesses being affected by sea level rise and flooding and storms coming in. And so it’s, it’s really thinking about health, economics, quality of life. And hopefully we’re able to also improve in the transportation sector, mobility and access as well.
Bernie Fette (11:25):
Okay. We’ve talked a little about obstacles. You’ve talked about the promise, you know, the benefits that we can hope to realize. I’m wondering what your thoughts are about what some people might call trade-offs. For instance, some people might argue that electric cars need power from power plants, many of which burn coal. So we’re just trading one source of emissions for another one. Perhaps an oversimplified summation of that argument. What are your thoughts on that?
Alice Grossman (11:53):
Well, they aren’t wrong. We are still burning dirty fuels, and those fuels are gonna then power the power plants that power, the electricity, that power the electric vehicles, but we’ve seen trajectories in the energy sector towards more cleaner fuels and we know how to do that and we’re working towards it. And so as we move to electrify, whatever it is, including transportation, we’re just gonna keep seeing that trend increase. Whereas if we’ve got gasoline-powered cars, we’ve still got gasoline-powered cars. So I think that’s really hopeful. And you can look across the country. Texas actually has a fairly clean energy grid with lots of different sources, including wind and natural gas coming in as well. So it does depend, you know, exactly where you are and exactly where that energy is coming from. But for the most part, we still see overall what we call, you know, like well to wheel benefits, when we look at the consumption and outputs.
Alice Grossman (12:56):
Beyond the tradeoffs in the energy sector — which I would say is more of a trajectory towards where we’re trying to go than a trade off — is thinking about from a transportation perspective, what we’re trying to do with modal switch and getting some of our other goals in the transportation sector forwarded. I come from a background where I worked a lot in public transit and active transportation, including walking and bicycling places. So actually one of the trade offs that I do see as the most pressing one that we need to keep in mind as we plan for cleaner vehicles and trucks and cars is also thinking about how we’re still planning our land use and our transportation networks around making sure that we have those multimodal options too. And if we’re looking for clean options, it’s not just clean vehicles, it’s also collective transportation, getting as many people as you can into as small space as you can. You get energy benefits from that. You also get spatial benefits from that. Getting people out and yeah, doing active transportation, you get additional public health benefits from that. Getting people out and about, and, and walking and bicycling, there’s absolutely zero emissions associated with the energy going into power, your own two feet, besides those of maybe the food that you ate in the morning to give you that energy.
Alice Grossman (14:29):
So really thinking about our transportation networks holistically and from a multimodal perspective, while also recognizing that land use takes a long time to change and travel behavior and human behavior takes a long time to change. So it’s also going back to those short-term and long-term goals and what we’re getting out of it and thinking about, well, yeah, we need to make sure that vehicular transportation is as clean as possible as quickly as possible, but not doing that necessarily at the risk of building long-term infrastructure that would dissuade other modes and other ways of thinking about cleaner and healthier travel.
Bernie Fette (15:15):
One of the things that I’ve seen outlined in the goals for the Clean Transportation Collaborative is a reference to something that’s called a low-emissions transportation system. Can you try to paint a picture for us?
Alice Grossman (15:30):
It’s a goal of having fewer greenhouse gases and pollutants moving from our transportation system, into our air and water and ground. It’s looking at reducing emissions as much as we can. So if you think about specifically tailpipe emissions, maybe you’d say however many years ago, when the catalytic converter came out, that that at that time was a way to move towards low emissions.
Bernie Fette (16:01):
I’m wondering what sign of meaningful, visible progress would you hope to see in what you’re doing. Let’s say two or three years from now.
Alice Grossman (16:11):
I think access is really, we’re focusing on to start having access to clean transportation options and having access to the clean air associated with everybody utilizing those clean transportation options. And that gets back to some of the U.S. Department of Transportation goals at the moment, really thinking about equity in transportation and the public health associated with it. So going back to electrification, as we think about making sure that people have access to charging their vehicles. A lot of the people that you talk to today, if you ask them, if they’re thinking about buying an electric vehicle, their first and, and biggest concern will be being able to charge it, just having access to those charging stations. Making sure they’re widely and equitably accessible is really the major concern. You know, we’re clearly moving ahead. We see the private sector and the public sector putting money and time and energy behind trying to make transportation cleaner. And so we wanna make sure we do it right.
Bernie Fette (17:25):
The collaborative is a very new thing. You have an official launch event coming up. Can you tell us a little about that?
Alice Grossman (17:31):
Sure. Yeah, we’re working on, as I mentioned earlier, yeah, pulling together these stakeholders across the transportation, energy, utility, public, and private sectors. And so we’re gonna start off with a virtual event at the end of March for our members to really bring people in and talk about what the collaborative is, and also hear from our members to see how it will be useful to them and what they want out of it. So that will include some speakers and some conversations between us as researchers and our various members, making sure our members get to meet each other. And we’re seeing that as not quite a soft launch, but maybe a chill launch. Um, and then, you know, throughout the summer, we’re gonna try and get working on all of that and keep those connections going. So that then in the fall, when hopefully we’ve got some more people comfortable with traveling and some of those relationships and priorities really well established, we’re gonna aim to bring everybody together at the TTI facilities and be able to show off some of the cool testing facilities we have. We’re building some new testing facilities, which will specifically be able to look at electric vehicles running.
Alice Grossman (18:51):
And then we’ll also be able to get that really important face-to-face interaction with each other and have those meetings in person. So, yeah, virtual kickoff in March, and then in-person kickoff in the fall of 2022.
Bernie Fette (19:05):
And it sounds like you actually have some of those stakeholders lined up. And I don’t know, perhaps it’s a little premature to talk about exactly who they are. Can you tell us what sorts of sectors or industries, et cetera, that they represent just to help us understand kind of who you’ve put together so far?
Alice Grossman (19:25):
Yeah. We’ve been talking to a lot of the interested stakeholders so far and there’s been a lot of interest, both in the public and private sector, which has been really good to see as well as you know, we talked earlier about passenger and freight. So looking at both of those aspects of transportation and then also some of the energy sector, some utilities, transit agencies, as well. So we’ve really been able to pull in, we feel like a diverse group of stakeholders, all of which have intersecting goals and interests and sometimes intersecting physical right of way. And so, yes, it’s been positive feedback so far, including individuals, organizations, some associations, some other groups of thought leaders and researchers as well. So it’s gonna be a strong group and we’re looking forward to learning from them and helping them learn as much as they can from us.
Bernie Fette (20:28):
Okay. Then lastly, what’s the one thing that really makes you want to come to work every day.
Alice Grossman (20:36):
Uh, can I give you two?
Bernie Fette (20:39):
Yes. You certainly can.
Alice Grossman (20:42):
All right. I’ll say it’s the impact of the work and the people that I work with. The impact of the work: I just, I love working in transportation because — you said it earlier — you know, this affects everybody. It doesn’t matter who you are. The movement of people and goods affects absolutely everybody. And so to be able to feel like I can make an impact and help improve people’s lives by working in this field is incredibly motivating. And then the team that we have here at the CARTEEH center and at TTI is also just incredibly intelligent and inspiring and friendly and just wonderful to work with. And so are all of the external stakeholders that I’ve been working with so far in Texas and in Washington D.C. So yeah, a combination of the impact of the work and the people that I get to work with.
Bernie Fette (21:40):
Associate Research Scientist Alice Grossman from TTI. This has been very enlightening and enjoyable, Alice. Thank you very much for joining us.
Alice Grossman (21:50):
Thanks so much for having me.
Bernie Fette (21:53):
Clean transportation, in part, envisions a future with minimal reliance on vehicles that run on gas or diesel. But that vision is about much more than just electric cars. Government agencies, utilities, vehicle manufacturers, and related industries all have a stake in this vision. These groups haven’t collaborated extensively in the past, but they have the chance and the urgency to do so now. Working together, as Alice Grossman reminds us, can be hard. Getting disparate players with differing agendas to pull together is always going to make for a tough journey, but efforts like the Clean Transportation Collaborative can at least make the rough path a bit smoother.
Bernie Fette (22:42):
Thanks for listening. We hope you’ll join us for our next episode, when we talk again with Bob Brydia. Bob will make a return visit to give us a fresh look at the promise of self-driving vehicles and what signs of progress we’ve seen over the past year. Thinking Transportation is a production of the Texas A&M Transportation Institute, a member of the Texas A&M University System. The show is edited and produced by Chris Pourteau. I’m your writer and host, Bernie Fette. Thanks again for listening. We’ll see you next time.