From Solo to Sharing

For decades scientists have warned about the devastating consequences of global climate change. But last month’s report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was breathtaking. Within the next 12 years, Earth’s temperature is expected to warm by 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. This news is an undeniable call to action.

While world leaders and experts continue to debate the problem, Go! Vermont and its network of partners are taking action to promote the cheapest, greenest and most sustainable travel modes—buses, trains, carpools, vanpools, biking and walking. Its mission is to improve access to transportation options, reduce solo driving and its associated impacts, and encourage a culture of shared mobility.

This work, however, is challenged by some deep-seated assumptions. One is that mass transit won’t work in a rural state. Another is that accelerating the use of electric vehicles as the easiest way to lower the state’s travel-related carbon emissions. These perceptions are reinforced by Vermont’s transportation spending.

For decades, cheap energy has enabled sprawl, drained downtowns, and led us to invest in a system that prioritizes cars. Despite the high costs and negative environmental consequences, we continue that tradition. About 80 percent of Vermont’s FY19 public transportation dollars went to resurfacing and maintaining roads and bridges.

 WE'RE ADVANCING, BUT NOT FAST ENOUGH. Roughly 12% of VTrans’ budget was allocated to low carbon travel modes for FY19, with three quarters going to road and highway-related categories. Aside from low gas prices, this spending imbalance might be reflected in the low percentage of trips taken yearly by foot, bike, transit and rail, which also hovers around 12%.

WE'RE ADVANCING, BUT NOT FAST ENOUGH. Roughly 12% of VTrans’ budget was allocated to low carbon travel modes for FY19, with three quarters going to road and highway-related categories. Aside from low gas prices, this spending imbalance might be reflected in the low percentage of trips taken yearly by foot, bike, transit and rail, which also hovers around 12%.

Vermonters should question the assumption that a transportation system that prioritizes private automobiles is our only option.

 Solo driving in electric cars won’t solve the problem of too many cars on the road.    Photo: Julie Campoli

Solo driving in electric cars won’t solve the problem of too many cars on the road. Photo: Julie Campoli

Switching 40% of gas powered cars to electric vehicles would provide short term benefits. But it also represents an estimated $2.7 billion investment and it won’t address the problem of too many cars on the State’s roads. Rather than invest almost all of Vermont’s funds on roads, we could spend more on transit, trains, pedestrian and bike infrastructure.   

Most Vermonters are unaware that $.78 of every transportation fuel dollar, or more than one billion, is exported from our local economy, annually. The most promising opportunity for Vermont is to electrify buses, vans and trains, and use locally produced wind, solar and hydro-electricity to power them.                                                         

What if we could agree on a vision of shared mobility fueled by locally produced renewable energy?  What if we redirected, say, one-third of the current transportation budget to shared modes that enabled people to make a lifestyle change? Our quality of life would greatly improve with better access to more convenient, affordable and efficient transportation options, making downtowns more attractive and vibrant places.

Here’s the opportunity—become more informed about your travel options, tools and incentives at Go! Vermont. and share this information with your friends and co-workers. If you have an opinion on how Vermont could improve its public transportation system, let VTrans know your views and experiences as it revises its ten-year transit plan.

Explore one of the State’s new tools and online apps including the Open trip planner.  It’s an open source online tool, displaying the available transportation options using “origin” and “destination” points. You can use it to plan your next trip or the trip of a loved one.  

The trip planner makes it easier to get from Point A to Point B, showing bus options, travel time and fare info.

What about the thousands of solo driver vehicles crossing Vermont on a daily basis? Go! Vermont recently partnered  with “Agile Mile,” to create a downloadable phone app that connects anyone needing a ride or interested in sharing a ride. This nifty app allows you to track your daily trips and even rewards riders with discounts at favorite businesses.

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Reward yourself

Use Go!Vermont’s app to find or share a ride, log transit miles and earn rewards

 Tyler Barrows, driver, and his vanpool pals from Ethan Allen Furniture, Orleans, VT.

Tyler Barrows, driver, and his vanpool pals from Ethan Allen Furniture, Orleans, VT.

For more rural areas of Vermont with no bus service, Go! Vermont incentivizes groups of four or more with a $700/month subsidy toward the cost of a mini-van or SUV through “Commute with Enterprise” Join and start using it today, to help save commute costs and cut your emissions in half.  Those that “commute green” are eligible for an emergency ride home (reimbursement up to $70 cab ride home).

Go! Vermont partners with many entities to help Vermonters, businesses and communities make green travel choices. These are just a few:Commute with Enterprise, Agile Mile, Vermont Energy Investment Corporation, Local Motion, vBike, Vital Communities, CATMA, Vermont Energy Education Program, Net Zero Vermont, Creative Workforce Solutions, the State’s many transit providers and others to:

  • Decrease solo driving and encourage shared mobility options;;

  • Promote and practice ridesharing, pooling, micro-transit, school and pop-up pilot projects;

  • Encourage development of downtown housing options, complete streets and transit-oriented design; and

  • Support pricing carbon and a pollution tax.

Stay tuned for future posts on how we’re meeting these goals. Contact Go! Vermont at 1-800-685-RIDE (7433) or email commuters@vermont.gov to assess your travel options and find out more about how you can make a difference in your neighborhood and community.

And of course, advocate for more balanced transportation funding. The call to action is now. We’re here to help. Let’s replace the gas-guzzling car with convenient and dependable shared options. Explore the above suggestions at Go! Vermont to help move toward a healthier and happier planet

Debra Sachs is Executive Director of Net Zero Vermont. She is a change agent, innovator and passionate about sustainable development and transitioning to a low carbon economy. Deb oversees a consulting firm, EcoStrategies, LLC providing government, business, and NGO clients with technical assistance in sustainability, planning, public engagement, transportation efficiency, and renewable energy generation. She assists Go! Vermont with business outreach.