Equitable VMT reduction is possible, WSDOT report finds

An effective statewide VMT reduction program would not necessarily harm the poor and other vulnerable groups, a new report from the Washington State Department of Transportation finds.  The report counters objections that such programs would be inequitable.

The report estimates the potential impacts of various VMT reduction strategies, using a per-mile charge of up to 25 cents as a proxy for strategies that increase the cost of driving. It also considers transit provision and other non-pricing strategies.

It examines the impacts on five groups or geographic areas:

  • Low-income residents,
  • Agricultural employers and employees, particularly migrant farm workers,
  • “Distressed” counties (counties with a 3-year average unemployment rate at least 20 percent higher than the statewide rate),
  • Counties with over 50 percent of the land base in public or tribal land, and
  • Small businesses reliant on hiring and retaining workers who cross county lines to reach their workplace.

The authors find that instituting a per-mile VMT charge on all drivers would likely be effective in reducing VMT, but it would have a disproportionately negative impact on low income and rural populations. Those who must travel long distances to work and do not have access to public transit or ridesharing programs would be particularly affected. However, even for these populations, other VMT reduction strategies, such as a farmworkers’ vanpool program similar to one currently operating in California, could prove effective and equitable.

The report is part of WSDOT’s effort to meet a statutory target of reducing VMT per capita by 18 percent by 2020, 30 percent by 2035, and 50 percent by 2050 (RCW 47.01.440).

The report concludes that there is no single strategy that can equitably and effectively reduce VMT for all groups, and that the implementation of multiple VMT reduction strategies would be the most effective option.

Because the majority of Washington’s population lives in metropolitan areas, where infrastructure, population density, and land use patterns are more conducive to VMT reduction, the report recommends that near-term strategies focus on increasing ridesharing and transit use in urban areas.

Recommended mid- and long-term strategies include land use and infrastructure changes; policies to increase the amount of affordable housing near employment centers; and pricing policies for single-occupant vehicle use, with exemptions or subsidies for vulnerable populations. In addition, the authors suggest improving VMT data collection and tracking due to the inaccuracy of current statistics.

The report, Impacts of VMT Reduction Strategies on Selected Areas and Groups, is available as a PDF.

WSDOT also recently released its 2010 Sustainable Transportation Report, which provides an update on all of WSDOT’s sustainable transportation efforts, including next steps in the state’s VMT reduction plan and additional discussion of WSDOT’s VMT measurement and forecasting methods.

WSDOT will now begin working with the state’s four major regional transportation planning organizations to adopt plans that will address the state’s VMT reduction target, while protecting vulnerable populations.

The 2010 Sustainable Transportation Report is also available on line.