After his inauguration, one of the first things that President Joe Biden did was to have the United States rejoin the Paris Agreement on climate change mitigation, adaptation, and finance. The Paris Agreement was adopted by 196 parties in 2015, pledging to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions; it came into force in 2016 and was ratified by 190 countries as of January 2021. The arrival of the new administration in the White House brought climate change mitigation back on to the political and corporate agenda in the US.

Overview

The new government has promised to put the US on the path to achieving net-zero emissions economy-wide by no later than 2050. Under the new government’s “Build Back Better” plan, a national effort will be launched to create the jobs needed to build a modern, sustainable infrastructure and to deliver an equitable clean-energy future. The focus of the government is on building a new American infrastructure and ushering in a clean-energy economy. Investments as part of these initiatives are specifically targeted to ensure that the communities that have suffered the most from pollution are the first to benefit, including low-income rural and urban communities, communities of colour, and Native communities. President Biden has promised to make a USD2 trillion accelerated investment towards achieving progress in climate change mitigation. These measures form the larger backdrop against which the new government’s specific transport and related infrastructural development policies are set.

Transport initiatives of the new government

Figure 1 summarises the new government’s initiatives in the area of transport.

Figure 1: The new government and transport

Building better infrastructure

Under this component, the focus will be on:

  • Upgrading the existing transportation infrastructure, including roads, bridges, rail, aviation, ports, and inland waterways
  • Transforming the energy sources that power the transportation sector
  • Deploying mobility solutions powered by electricity and clean fuels, including commuter trains, school and transit buses, ferries, and passenger vehicles
  • Investing in infrastructure for pedestrians, cyclists, and riders of e-scooters and other micro-mobility vehicles, and
  • Exploring and integrating technologies like machine-learning optimised traffic lights.

Major public investments in automobile infrastructure will include 500,000 electric vehicle (EV) charging stations. Investment in electrification infrastructure will also involve training the workforce through high-quality training programmes like the Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Training Program (EVITP).

Improving and electrifying rail

The new administration intends to focus on revolutionising both passenger and freight rail. Towards this end, existing federal grant and loan programmes at the US Department of Transportation will be explored and the loan process will be improved and streamlined. The new government will also work with Amtrak and private freight rail companies to further electrify the rail system and to reduce diesel fuel emissions.

Expanding the reach of transit

The new transportation policy is aimed at providing quality public transportation by 2030 to all Americans living in municipalities of more than 100,000 people. This will be achieved through flexible federal investments along with strong labour protections to help cities and towns install light rail networks and improve existing transit and bus lines. Further, a new programme will be instituted to give rapidly expanding communities the resources required to build in public transit options from the beginning.

Procurement policies

The government will make a major federal commitment to purchase clean vehicles for federal, state, tribal, postal, and local fleets. In the next four years, the commitment is to ensure that all new American-built buses are to be zero emission by 2030. This procurement commitment will help accelerate American industrial capacity to produce clean vehicles and components and to simultaneously accelerate the upgrade of the 3 million vehicles in these fleets.

A specific focus of the new government’s R&D and procurement commitments will be on battery technology for use in EVs and on the electric grid as a complement to technologies like solar and wind. Overall, the R&D investment and focus on strategic research areas like clean energy, clean transportation, clean industrial processes, and clean materials will be accelerated. The new government aims to invest as much as USD1.7 trillion over 10 years to boost renewable power and to speed up the introduction of EVs.

Autonomous vehicles

The new government’s policies are expected to create an environment favourable to the deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs). Some of these initiatives are listed here:

  • Initiatives such as the modernisation of infrastructure, including the development of smart roads, will have positive effects on the deployment of AVs.
  • The emphasis on EVs as well as on the deployment of fuel-efficient cars and trucks is further expected to help the advanced driver-assistance systems space, as most AVs will be electrically powered.
  • The Department of Transportation is likely to establish self-driving standards, with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration soliciting public comments on standardising safety protocols for driverless vehicles in 2020.

Recent developments

The following developments took place in February 2021:

  • The US House of Representatives voted to pass President Biden’s USD1.9 trillion “American Rescue Plan” providing emergency COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus measures. The amended bill provides USD30.5 billion (up by USD500 million from the bill’s previous version) for the transit industry through urbanised and rural formula funding, planning grants, Operating Assistance Grants, and grants for qualifying projects under the Capital Improvement Grants Program. Of this amount, USD1.5 billion has been earmarked for Amtrak.
  • President Biden issued an executive order directing a review of US supply chains with a special focus on key sectors affecting the US auto industry, including high-capacity batteries used in EVs. The order also directs agencies to complete sector-specific reviews in defence, public health, communication technology, transportation, energy, and food production within one year to take actions to close identified gaps.

A final word

The US government is cognizant of the need to rebuild the country’s transportation sector for the post-pandemic future and to meet the rapidly changing demands of the future. Every form of travel is evolving, and the 2020s will witness some of the swiftest and most far-reaching transformations in transportation seen in modern times. Funding for new infrastructure projects has been a key point of contention after the US Congress in recent years abandoned the decades-old policy of using fuel tax revenue to help fund infrastructure repairs. How the ambitious investment plans of the new administration will be funded is yet to be specified. But given an automotive development scheme that places heavy emphasis on high-tech in terms of EVs and AVs, “smart” highways, and recharging infrastructure, and supported and complemented by clean-energy policies and the move away from a reliance on fossil fuels, the US may be looking at an increasingly climate-friendly, new-mobility-oriented transport landscape in the new term.

The article has been sourced from Global Mass Transit and can be accessed by clicking here