Last week I wrote a post about Washington’s new law to reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled (VMTs). Because I jumped right into the geekery, I neglected to provide the proper context. So, to clarify:
** The spirit of the law is excellent. Legislating VMT reductions is an important step on the way to managing our way out of the current carbon and transportation messes.
** The “Climate Action and Green Jobs” law (which contains the VMT provision) is, overall, a good piece of legislation.
** Congratulations are in order to the many advocates and legislators and staffers and others who worked hard on the bill—and especially Transportation Choices Coaltion, the organization that germinated the VMT provision.
Okay. So why did I write the post? Simply, because I’ve been getting asked questions about it from lots of folks. (I’m talking about well-informed people; people who understand transportation policy in Washington.) And there is quite a bit of confusion about what the law means. I found the law to be confusing too. So confusing, in fact, that I butchered the content the first time I tried to crunch the numbers and write the post.
As importantly, I wanted to answer the most common question I heard: do the per capita VMT targets result in absolute VMT reductions or not? The answer is, as you might expect, is somewhat complicated. But it appears that the provision will not yield absolute VMT reductions, at least not for several decades.
Even so, figuring out how to reduce VMTs is a laudable goal. In fact, it’s downright essential to meeting our climate objectives. And Washington should take pride in being the first place to give it a shot.
I spent my morning studying section 8 of 2815, “An act relating to creating a framework for reducing greenhouse gases emissions in the Washington economy”. Section 8 seems less about legislating vmt reductions than it is about integrating vmt thinking into a variety of other goals. The section just happens to begin with the benchmarks. I think that the per capita VMT reductions are subservient to E.O. 07-02 in the eyes of the legislation. For example, 2(f) calls for an evaluation process to “measure achieved and projected emissions reductions, and [to] recommend whether the benchmarks should be adjusted to meet the state’s overall goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions”. More than this, I think the main thrust of the legislation is to produce a report that will almost certainly inform the design of and advocacy for future transportation legislation. If length reflects intention, subsections 2 & 3 are the most important. Section 4 is entirely dedicated to considerations on impacts to vulnerable groups.