The Bill is Signed; What’s Next?

On Monday, November 15, Biden signed the $1.2 Trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), delivering a historic investment in rebuilding U.S. infrastructure.  And here is the kicker: the Senate aims to pass the $1.8 Trillion Build Back Better Act, a social and climate bill, before Christmas.

So how does the federal government divvy up and spend trillions of dollars?

Well, that work is now beginning, particularly for the folks at the U.S. Department of Transportation.  Whether you are a transportation official, a consultant, or a weekend transportation policy wonk (they exist), here are a few things to consider.

State-by-State Breakdowns

Everybody is asking the same question: how is this bill going to affect me, my community, and my state?

The White House has already been releasing fact sheets with state-by-state summaries of funding.  Here is an example that was last updated in April.  They will be updating these sheets in the coming days and weeks.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) also has a helpful breakdown here, but it too needs to be reworked.

If you are itching for these breakdowns, but don’t necessarily have the research staff on hand, just give it time.  The White House, and frankly every journalist and think tank in the field, are in the trenches creating these updated state-by-state fact sheets.

U.S. DOT Funding Mechanisms 101

Next, it’s important to revisit the four main ways the U.S. DOT funds investments in transportation and infrastructure.

There are discretionary grant programs, like the popular Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants. Each program office solicits applications and selects projects based on program eligibility, evaluation criteria, and departmental or program priorities.  The USDOT just awarded Alabama two RAISE grants, which total $18,453,139, for instance.  There is a lot more where that came from.

There are also formula grant programs that allocate funding to recipients based on formulas set by congress, like the Annual Federal-Aid Highway Funding Programs appropriated to states.  According to Jeff Davis, a senior fellow at the Eno Center for Transportation, now that POTUS has signed the infrastructure bill into law, states should be receiving their 30 percent highway formula funding increase via formal apportionment from Federal Highway Administration within 2-3 weeks — over $13.5 billion more than last year.

Table from Eno Center for Transportation

And finally, there are a host of loan financing programs and Public-Private Partnerships (P3s).  Loan financing programs are credit assistance programs that leverage federal funds to attract private and other non-federal investments in transportation. P3s involve collaboration between one or more government agencies and private sector companies to leverage public and private resources to develop and execute a project.  Both of these programs get a boost from IIJA.

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs at the U.S. DOT

The largest investment in roads, bridges and highways made by the federal government since the creation of the U.S. interstate highway system is going to require a larger federal workforce to make it happen.

According to Freight Waves, the DOT will grow more than 50% to help stand up new programs included in the bill.

“We will go from being … around a $90 billion-a-year agency to one that will be closer to $140 billion,” Deputy Secretary Polly Trottenberg said at a media briefing.

“Not all of that money will be needed to run the department, but obviously we’re an agency that’s going to grow. We will need new members of the team, and we’re in the process of moving forward in some of those new hiring needs.”

So if you are looking for work, re-polish that resume.

Updating State Priorities

With all this money in the pipe, states are scrambling to update their plans and priorities.

Take Colorado for example.  Colorado is due to receive well over $5 billion from the bill over the next five years for highways, bridges, public transportation, expansion of broadband internet service, water infrastructure improvements, airport projects, and more.

Surface transportation is where the state likely will see the greatest impact — with the federal money supercharging an 11-year, $5.4 billion state transportation bill passed by the legislature earlier this year.

So in the coming months, state transportation leaders will decide how to apply the highway money to CDOT’s 10-year priority plan, which is being updated.  Remember, they wrote this plan before they knew they would be getting all this cash.  So naturally, the plan is going to change.  Projects that were deemed too expensive or low priority can move up on the list, for instance.

Updating these documents isn’t just a good mental exercise.  It is also a requirement.  Here is a link that explains the process.

Process provided by USDOT

Buttigieg The Power Broker

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg will control $126 billion in new spending over the next five years, according to a Reuters tally — more than one-fifth of the new spending authorized by the law.

“We’ve never had a (transportation) secretary who’s had that much authority before,” said Jeff Davis, an analyst at the Eno Center for Transportation, a Washington-based think tank.

At a White House briefing on Monday, Buttigieg said the Transportation Department would favor projects that reduce greenhouse gases, increase safety, boost job creation or advance racial equity.

“What you’re going to see … is an emphasis on projects that, taken together, give us extra value in the priorities of this administration,” he said.

So, you can expect to see Buttigieg running victory laps on national television to bolster democrats and the Biden administration.  IIJA is no doubt good policy.  But at the end of the day, it’s also good politics.  And there are elections around the corner.

Robert Fischer is a WiACES board member, President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.  

Biden’s Job Plan: For This Fight You Want an EV with a TV

If you are an EV owner, or would like to be, you have a lot to look forward to in the $2 trillion Biden infrastructure plan, including purchasing subsidies and a host of new charging stations.

But you may want to pull over and find the TV nearest you.  Cause a rumble in the jungle – aka Congress – is fixin’ to happen, and you won’t want to miss it.  To pay for these goodies, Biden seeks to reverse two trends: the growing share of multinationals’ income channeled through tax havens and the declining collections of corporate tax as a share of GDP.  And the howls from D.C. and corporate America are already deafening.

In total the American Jobs Plan – which aims to decarbonize the economy by 2050 and to make electricity carbon-free by 2035 – would cost more than $2 trillion over eight years. Half the cash is devoted to matters like fixing roads and bridges, establishing broadband, and removing lead pipes that carry water. The $1 trillion or so of climate-specific spending is roughly half the size of the clean-energy plan Biden released during his campaign, but if passed would nonetheless be the most far-reaching climate bill ever enacted.

And here’s the kicker for the EV sector: the plan proposes $174 billion in spending on electric vehicles, to subsidize production and sales as well as to establish a network of 500,000 charging stations across the country by 2030, six times the current number in the US. To further decarbonize the transportation sector, the plan also invests $156 billion to modernize public transport and rail networks, ideally making alternatives to driving more attractive.

An altogether serious chunk of change, which is why skeptics of the plan point to the funding mechanism.

Unlike his $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief bill, which was almost entirely deficit-financed, Biden would like his $2 trillion infrastructure plan to be paid for with taxes.  To do so, the proposal aims to reverse two trends, according to reporting by the Economist earlier this month.

The first is the declining collections of corporate tax as a share of GDP, which is just 1% now compared with 2% before the Trump tax cuts, and well below the 3% average of other rich countries.

Trump slashed the corporate tax from 35% to 21%; now Biden would like to split the difference, raising the rate to 28%. But this would only yield about $900 billion of the $2 trillion total, according to calculations by the Penn Wharton Budget Model.

A bigger chunk would come from reversing a second trend, the growing U.S. profits held overseas and channeled through tax havens, now 60% of foreign earnings compared with 30% in 2000.

The tax rate on global intangible low-taxed income (GILTI) would be doubled from 10.5% to 21% and the tax would be assessed on a country-by-country basis rather than in aggregate. It would also eliminate the deduction for overseas income earned from American-based intangible assets like intellectual property. Combined, the Penn Wharton model estimates these changes would bring in $1 trillion in revenue over the coming decade, the period covered by the $2 trillion in spending.

But without comparable tax regimes in other countries, the cost of being an American-based multinational would go up considerably. This is why Janet Yellen, the Treasury Secretary, has begun pushing for a global minimum tax, currently proposed at a rate of 12.5%. The plan also promises to limit corporate “inversions,” which allow businesses to change nationality and avoid the taxman.

This is a bold opening move, and skeptics are right to warn that this bid will not pass through congress unscathed.

Senator Joe Manchin has already argued for a smaller corporate tax increase to 25%. And Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, didn’t mince his words when he warned that the plan would sabotage the recovery. “President Biden is leading America in a race to the bottom of growth and productivity,” he said.

So the boxing bell just went off and it’s time to grab your seat.  If you’re lucky, you’ll catch this fight in an EV with a TV. 


Robert Fischer is a WiACES board member, President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.  

You’re in Charge of the U.S. DOT; Where Do You Start?

The impossibly improbable has occurred and you’re the new transportation secretary.

Fifty-five thousand employees are waiting for their marching orders. Transportation “leaders” around the country – some rooting for your demise – watched your senate confirmation, all the flashy talk about reducing carbon, racial equality, and an economy that works for all. But talk is cheap, and they are ready to dissect and exploit your every move.

So what do you think about U.S. transportation?

You inherited your predecessor’s office furniture and an $87 billion budget when Congress extended the FAST Act another year. But large chunks of the department’s budget, including much of the nearly $47 billion allocated for roads and public transit are controlled by funding formulas set by Congress.

And that is precisely why your new boss hired you. He didn’t pick a fly on the wall. Significant overhaul of the nation’s infrastructure—which has become a perennial joke on Capitol Hill—will require significant negotiation with federal lawmakers.

But the shot clock is ticking. Democrats control the White House and both chambers of Congress, and pushing through your boss’s $2 trillion infrastructure reform plan will be difficult if it doesn’t happen this year when midterm elections in 2022 could change your odds.

So where do you start?

You scratch your head, but it’s obvious. You immediately dial-up Representative Peter A. DeFazio of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He takes your call because he likes your boss. You have him over for dinner.  The conversation and booze flow effortlessly.

Your next call and dinner party isn’t as enjoyable. Senator Bill Hagerty, a Republican of Tennessee, was one of 13 senators to vote against you. He told everyone that you will “use the department for social, racial and environmental justice causes,” instead of focusing on “streamlining environmental reviews for projects or other deregulation efforts.”

So your hands are about to get dirty. Do you win Mr. Haggerty and his 12 amigos over by funding a rural highway-on-ramp in nowhere Tennessee, even though that will increase car use? Could be worth it.

Meanwhile, those other “leaders” won’t stop pounding your door, reminding you that transportation is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions, and the Paris agreement your boss cares about is hopeless if you don’t clean up U.S. transportation.

And others bust your chops by waving studies that conclude commuting time has emerged as the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty and building a better life—a bigger factor than crime, test scores in schools, or living in a two-parent home.

Still, others call the climate crisis a hoax and accuse you and your leadership of being the real crisis.

But you have money you can use to make real changes immediately, including the department’s $1 billion BUILD grant program that funds road, rail, transit, and port projects across the country. Your office controls the criteria that determine what project proposals are competitive for funding, and transportation secretaries from both parties have historically used this program to follow through on their priorities.

Speaking of which, what are your priorities?

Are you going to encourage bike lanes and bus travel?

Are you going to support sidewalks in distressed neighborhoods or cheaper transportation costs for low-income workers?

And one final question: Do you still want the job?

Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

Brief: U.S. DOT Releases New Autonomous Vehicles Comprehensive Plan

With Biden’s inauguration around the corner and mounting expectations for his Secretary of Transportation nominee Pete Buttigieg, the U.S. Department of Transportation released its new Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan on January 11. The report highlights the agency’s strategy to ensure the safe rollout of automated driving systems.

“The AVCP lays out the department’s robust multimodal strategy to promote collaboration and transparency, modernize the regulatory environment, and prepare the transportation system for the safe integration of Automated Driving Systems (ADS),” according to a department press release. “The AVCP builds on the U.S. Government’s core principles related to automated vehicles, outlined in Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies: Automated Vehicles 4.0 (AV 4.0),” the release continued.

But unlike the “core principles” outlined in AV 4.0, the plan presents clear actions the department is pursuing to ensure the safe integration of automated driving systems into the transportation system. For example, the department is proposing several updates to the Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), including pavement markings on all roads with a posted speed above 40 mph be 6″ wide; chevron markings in all transition areas are now recommended; and dotted edge line extensions on highway exit and entrance ramps would be mandatory, not optional.

The report also highlights five use cases that demonstrate how the department is currently supporting ADS development and outlines key initiatives the U.S. DOT has leveraged to obtain input from a diverse range of stakeholders, including across industry and other governmental agencies.

The plan comes on the heels of another U.S. DOT report published in December, which summarizes findings from the 2019 CV/AV Survey administered to agencies from 78 large metropolitan areas and 30 medium-size cities.

Overall, one-quarter of agencies surveyed reported they have deployed connected vehicles, and another 30% saying they plan to deploy CVs in the future. Among the agency types, freeway agencies currently lead in CV activities, with 65% deploying or planning to deploy, compared to around half of arterial and transit agencies.

Over one-third (39%) report AV testing or deployment occurring in their region or state among all the surveyed agencies. However, only 14% report active involvement in the testing; 10% support the AV testing, and 4% lead the AV testing. The remaining 25% of agencies are not involved in the AV testing.

The release of both reports is timely, with stakeholders arguing it is time for Congress to provide a robust infrastructure reauthorization bill to support the safe deployment of these next-generation transportation technologies.

The AVCP will be published in the Federal Register for public review and comment.


Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

U.S. Transportation Department Key to Biden Meeting Paris Agreement Targets

The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. As President-elect Biden lays the groundwork for a new administration and prepares to re-enter the Paris Agreement, his cabinet pick for secretary of Transportation, along with his policies on emissions, electric vehicles, and autonomous vehicles will determine the fate of Biden’s ability to hit greenhouse gas (GHG) targets set by the 2016 Paris Agreement.

You can’t possibly take climate change seriously without deep reflection on how our transportation system works. Transportation accounts for almost 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, more than any other sector, including agriculture, industry, and even electricity generation.

Which is why Biden’s choice for Transportation Secretary, and the department’s policies on emissions, electric vehicles, and autonomous vehicles is so consequential in the fight to hit critical Paris Agreement goals.

Though counterintuitive, keeping Elaine Chao in the role, Trump’s secretary of Transportation, has its upsides. Chao is married to Senator Mitch McConnell, who is likely to remain Senate Majority Leader. Not only could Chao’s pillow talk act as a bridge across party lines, but the move could also help Biden get a deal on another cabinet post.

Politico has compiled their list of contenders for the top transportation job, with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti leading the pack. A long-time Biden loyalist and a co-chair of his presidential campaign, Garcetti has also made waves in the transportation world with his innovative policies to reduce congestion and improve public transportation access throughout Los Angeles. Oregon congressman Earl Blumenauer and former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanual are also on Politico’s list of contenders.

Appointing a reliable democrat like Garcetti has its advantages. Mitigating greenhouse gas emissions is a team sport that will require close coordination with administrators at the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as with former Secretary of State John Kerry, Biden’s newly appointed climate envoy who will run point on coordinating Paris Agreement goals with the global community.

Regardless of who lands the top transportation job, a recent Freight Wave survey reveals that mobility executives, investors, and analysts are preparing for more emissions regulations, more electrification, and increased regulations on autonomous vehicles—policies that are key to hitting Paris Agreement targets.

Reilly Brennan, a partner at TrucksVC, sees incentives coming down the pike for an “EV for clunkers” program to promote the exchange of gas guzzlers for zero-emissions vehicles.

And Sam Abuelsamid, a principal e-mobility analyst with Guidehouse Insights, suspects the federal tax credits for EVs will be expanded. Current federal policy dictates that incentives for purchasing EVs run out once an automaker’s sales hit 200,000, and many electric vehicle companies have run out of their allotted tax credit eligibility.

On emissions, the EPA under Trump rolled back an Obama-era standard that imposed more stringent fuel efficiency rules for cars and trucks. The administration also sought to revoke a California waiver allowing the state to set its own greenhouse gas emissions standards.

But Abuelsamid, who foresees the reinstatement of strict fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards rolled back under the Trump administration, told Freight Waves he expects “the EPA to work with California to get more EVs on the road and get a national standard that everyone can agree on for CO2 regulations and adoption of electrification.”

As for connected and automated vehicles, which a 2017 U.S. Energy Information Administration study concluded could lead to a 44 percent reduction of fuel consumption by 2050, industry representatives are optimistic that continued focus on clear automated vehicle regulations will accelerate the proliferation of this technology.

While Barack Obama initiated the first AV guidance, providing a framework for manufacturers and developers for designing, testing, and deploying self-driving cars and trucks, the effort continued under the Trump administration, which released AV 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0.

Shawn Kerrigan, COO and co-founder of Plus, a self-driving trucking technology company, told Freight Waves that he welcomes “strong and clear safety-focused regulations at the local, state and federal levels that are necessary to provide the industry and consumers the confidence needed to roll out this transformative technology.”

Solving our transportation woes is by no means a panacea to combatting climate change, but reducing transportation sourced emissions is certainly a good step in the right direction given the sector’s inflated impact on total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

So, whether you voted for Biden or not, let’s hope our president-elect gets transportation right.

Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Many Frustrated as FCC Rules to Reallocate 5.9 GHz Spectrum Away from Transportation Safety

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted unanimously on November 18 to redeploy the majority of the 5.9 GHz band of wireless radio spectrum once reserved for advanced vehicle safety technologies. The decision, hailed by cable companies, has prompted dire warnings from departments of transportation and various transportation safety groups who say road safety and the future of automotive innovation in the U.S. has been severely compromised.

The block of the 5.9 GHz band at issue was designated in 1999 for transportation safety-related use when the FCC set aside 75 megahertz of spectrum for vehicle and infrastructure communications, including Dedicated Short-Range Communications (DSRC). Wednesday’s verdict significantly narrows valuable spectrum in what is recognized as the transportation “Safety Band” by reallocating 45 of the 75 megahertz in the band for other commercial purposes, such as Wi-Fi.

John Bozzella, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, a trade group with members including BMW AG, Ford, GM and Toyota Motor Corp, told Bloomberg Technology in an email that the FCC’s move “undeniably impacts road safety and the future of automotive innovation in this country.”

“Not only was most of the 5.9 GHz Safety Spectrum reallocated away from transportation safety, but it also appears that critical issues around harmful interference to Vehicle-to-Everything (V2X) operations were not addressed,” Bozzella continued.

But FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said minutes before the vote that the long-promised safety network hasn’t materialized. “We can no longer tolerate this inefficient use” of the airwaves, Pai said.

Shailen Bhatt, President and CEO of The Intelligent Transportation Society of America, countered sharply in a press release following the decision. “Chairman Pai’s statement is incorrect – it is corporate interests that are cheering the reallocation of the safety spectrum away from the public interests.”

ITS America is one of dozens of transportation safety organizations that have been sounding the alarm about the implications of this action – including the U.S. Department of Transportation, all state departments of transportation, and many other organizations dedicated to keeping people safe on U.S. roads.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao has also been an outspoken critic of reallocating the spectrum. A year ago, she submitted a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai asking him to keep the 5.9 GHz safety spectrum reserved for possible lifesaving transportation benefits.

“Due to the significant potential vehicle-to-everything (V2X) technologies have to reduce these societal crises, it is imperative to the Department that the full 75 MHz of the 5.9 GHz Band is preserved for its existing purposes, including transportation safety and other intelligent transportation purposes.”

Transportation safety concerns aside, reassigning the airwaves represents a win for cable providers such as Comcast Corp. that want to use the frequencies to connect with customers’ mobile devices.

The FCC is taking “an important step” toward “improving and expanding broadband service,” NCTA, a Washington-based trade group for cable companies, told Bloomberg Technologies. “It will allow providers quickly to deliver gigabit Wi-Fi speeds to consumers and relieve Wi-Fi congestion.”

Other companies backing the FCC’s plan include Comcast, Broadcom Inc. and Facebook Inc., the FCC said. Facebook lobbied the agency to ensure that users could access the frequencies outdoors as well as indoors.

Steve Cyra is a Fellow and Associate Vice President in the HNTB Corporation’s Transportation Systems Management & Operations/Emerging Mobility practice.

Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

WisDOT Launches Automated Vehicle Advisory Committee

Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) technologies are expected to have a wide-ranging impact on transportation in Wisconsin. To prepare, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) launched the Wisconsin Automated Vehicle External (WAVE) Advisory Committee in September to gather stakeholder input and advice on CAV-related planning priorities, implementation policies, and impacts on the state’s transportation system.

In his opening remarks at the inaugural meeting on September 8 and 9, Secretary of Transportation, Craig Thompson, reflected on the importance of the transportation system, how every aspect of people’s lives are made easier and more enjoyable by a good transportation system, and that the potential impact of CAV technology may be as dramatic as the rise of digital technology.

The purpose of the committee is to “provide a forum consisting of representatives from CAV and transportation-focused organizations, state economic sectors, and the public sector to review CAV issues and to provide input and advice to WisDOT on CAV planning priorities, implementation policies, and impacts on a safe and efficient transportation system,” states the committee’s charter.

Committee member Ray Mandli, President of Mandli Communications Inc., a Madison-based company that supplies high-definition digital maps to automated vehicle companies, is encouraged by WisDOT’s approach to preparing Wisconsin for this technology.

“CAV technology has a tremendous upside, but the safe and equitable deployment of this technology will require good planning and foresight. The WAVE Advisory Committee is a good step in the right direction, convening key stakeholders from the public and private sector to support our DOT as it moves forward in this exciting area.”

Committee members come from the private sector, non-profit groups, various associations, academia, and other government agencies. Each member commits to a two-year term.  The full list of members can be found here.

Topics discussed on September 8 included the state of CAV research at Wisconsin’s universities, as well as private sector CAV research, development and testing domestically and abroad.  Speakers included Dr. David Noyce from the UW-Madison;  Dr. Troy Liu from UW-Milwaukee; Dr. Henry Medeiros from Marquette University; Mr. Josh Fisher from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation; Mr. Robert Fischer (yours truly) from the Society of Automotive Engineers International; and Mr. Brian Scharles from TAPCO.

Discussions on September 9 revolved around federal, regional, and local government perspectives on CAV planning, policy implementation, and regulation.  Speakers included Ms. Sara Bennett from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA); Mr. Brad Basten, and Mr. Don Gutkowski, both from WisDOT.

The WAVE committee will build off the progress made in 2017-2018, when WisDOT convened a special committee to recommend a coordinated effort to best advance testing and operation of autonomous and connected vehicles in Wisconsin. The committee was chaired by the WisDOT Secretary and included representatives from the State Legislature, public agencies, law enforcement, auto manufacturers, trucking, motorcycles and other sectors. The final report and other details can be found on the committee’s page.

Minutes for the September WAVE kickoff meeting can be found here.


Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.

Could Greenhouse Gas Emissions Be Added To COVID-19’s Casualty List?

As the world rebounds from the first waves of coronavirus, governments are preparing to spend trillions of dollars in economic stimulus. This raises the question: should the United States earmark stimulus funds to flatten the climate curve? By targeting investments that modernize the automobile, not only could we add greenhouse gas emissions to the long list of coronavirus’s casualties, but we could also create thousands of new jobs. With unemployment slated to reach 15% in 2020, this sounds like a two-for-one deal the American public could get behind.

The world now knows what can be achieved by closing vast swaths of the economy and stopping a great many people from traveling: a record drop in greenhouse gas emissions. In the first week of April, daily emissions worldwide were 17% below what they were last year. The International Energy Agency expects global industrial greenhouse gas emissions to be about 8% lower in 2020 than they were in 2019, the largest drop since the second world war.

But this noteworthy reduction reveals a crucial truth about the climate crisis. It is much too large to be solved by the abandonment of planes, trains, and automobiles. This sad experiment has shown that to get on track with the Paris Agreement’s most ambitious goal—of a climate only 1.5C warmer than it was before the industrial revolution—the world would still have to reduce GHG emissions by 90%.

Some see this moment as an opportunity. According to a recent Economist article, Dr. Fatih Birol, the executive director of the International Energy Agency, reminds us that government decisions guide about 70% of the spending on energy. “In a very short period,” Birol says, “governments will make enormously consequential decisions.” Total stimulus spending will be in the trillions. If a decent fraction of that is earmarked for climate action, it could be world-changing.

Pleas to channel stimulus funds toward climate action were also made a decade ago, when policymakers were trying to dig themselves out of the 2007-09 financial crisis, the Economist continued. Roughly an eighth of the stimulus money disbursed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)—some 90 Billion dollars—went into clean-energy loans and investments.

And while critics are quick to point to the infamous $535 million loan to Solyndra, a company devoted to cylindrical solar cells, which went bust soon after, the vast majority of loans were repaid. Of note was the ARRA loan that helped to finance Tesla’s first car factory. Fast forward to 2019, when Tesla released its first-ever environmental impact report, the electric car manufacturer had produced 550,000 zero-emissions vehicles since it started production of its first electric car. And by then, Tesla’s fleet of vehicles had driven over 10 billion miles, helping prevent over 4 million tons of CO2 from polluting the environment.

Investing in transportation to fight climate change makes a lot of sense. Transportation accounts for almost 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, more than any other sector, including agriculture, industry, and yes, even electricity generation. And while cars, trucks, commercial aircraft, and railroads all contribute to transportation sector emissions, light-duty passenger cars and trucks—basically your typical commuter car and pick-up truck—account for 60 percent of all transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

And just as renewables like wind and solar have been steadily decarbonizing the power sector, we’ve known for years that electric, connected, and automated vehicles show tremendous promise when it comes to mitigating transportation sourced greenhouse gas emissions.

For instance, the U.S. Energy Information Administration released a report back in 2017 concluding that by 2050 connected and autonomous vehicles could lead to a 44 percent reduction in fuel consumption. That same year, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy also released a report, along with a plan of action for vehicle electrification, automation, and ride-sharing in urban areas, where they estimate the potential ceiling for reducing carbon emissions from automobiles at an astonishing 80 percent.

If 60% of transportation sourced CO2 emissions come from automobiles, achieving an 80% drop would lead to a 48% reduction in total transportation emissions. That’s a hell of a kickback in the fight against C02.

And here’s the kicker: according to research from Boston Consulting Group and Detroit Mobility Lab, self-driving and electric cars will help create more than 100,000 US mobility industry jobs in the coming decade, including up to 30,000 jobs for engineers with degrees in computer-related subjects. But the demand could be as much as six times the expected number of such graduates, exacerbating the industry’s already significant talent shortage. With the current unemployment rate, dealing with talent shortages, rather than job shortages, sounds like a breath of fresh air.

Coronavirus and climate change are two crises that don’t just resemble one another; they interact. Except the harm from climate change will be slower, more massive, and longer lasting. And simply dampening climate change without solving it is like turning down the temperature on a pressure cooker without switching it off: the food inside will eventually burn and rot.

The fact of the matter is we won’t have many more chances in our lifetime to make sweeping changes to how we live and move around our communities—at least not with the size and scale of the stimulus on deck.

Which is a good reminder: never let a crisis go wasted.


Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Autonomous Vehicle Safety Reports Leave a Lot to Desire

Madison, Wisconsin – On the heels of the California Department of Motor Vehicle annual autonomous vehicle disengagement report, Beijing’s Innovation Center for Mobility Intelligent (BICMI) published its 2019 survey of self-driving vehicles being tested on local roads.

Both reports, which hinge on tracking disengagements – or the frequency at which human safety drivers were forced to take control of their autonomous vehicles – are a stark reminder of how little we have to measure the safety and performance of autonomous vehicles.

“Comparing disengagement rates between companies is worse than meaningless. It creates perverse incentives,” said Bryant Walker Smith, associate professor at the University of South Carolina’s School of Law and an expert in self-driving cars.

Smith explained to the Verge that if he were to register in California and never test, for instance, he’d look good. “If I wanted to look even better, I’d do a ton of easy freeway miles in California and do my real testing anywhere else,” he continued.

California law requires that every company testing autonomous vehicles on public roads submit data on the number of miles driven and the frequency of disengagements. Beijing is one of the few cities globally to mandate that autonomous car companies disclose their disengagement results too.

According to Verge coverage of the California report, the total number of autonomous miles driven in California last year rose 40%, to more than 2.87 million, thanks largely to a notable increase in public on-road testing by Baidu, Cruise,, Waymo, Zoox, and Lyft.

But the report has generated considerable discussion about whether disengagements communicate anything meaningful. Echoing similar sentiments as Smith, Waymo, which drove 1.45 million miles in California in 2019 and logged a disengagement rate of 0.076 per 1,000 self-driven miles, said that the metric “does not provide relevant insights” into its technology. Cruise, for their part, drove 831,040 miles last year and reported a disengagement rate of 0.082, said the “idea that disengagements give a meaningful signal about whether an [autonomous vehicle] is ready for commercial deployment is a myth.”

Meanwhile, Venture Beat reported that a total of 77 autonomous vehicles from 13 China-based companies covered over 646,000 miles on Beijing roads during 2019, according to the BICMI. That’s up from the 95,000 miles eight firms drove in 2018.

The BICMI report doesn’t break out disengagement numbers by company or vehicle, but it said 86% of disengagements in 2019 resulted from human takeovers. Examples might include drivers tinkering with data-recording equipment, changes in planned routes, or “personal reasons” (like bathroom breaks). The remaining 14% of disengagements were attributable to some form of mechanical or software system failure.

The inherent weakness of using disengagements to measure the success of autonomous vehicles are glaring.

For starters, the very nature of public road testing means that the environments are inconsistent. A mile in Palo Alto is very different than a mile in downtown San Francisco.

Also, in California, the vague DMV definition of disengagement means that car companies aren’t following the same protocols. The DMV defines disengagements as “deactivation of the autonomous mode when a failure of the autonomous technology is detected or when the safe operation of the vehicle requires that the autonomous vehicle test driver disengage the autonomous mode and take immediate manual control of the vehicle.” That leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

For example, a self-driving car owned by GM Cruise ran a red light in San Francisco after the safety driver took control to avoid blocking a crosswalk. But the company didn’t include the incident in its report because, according to Cruise’s interpretation, the human driver didn’t act out of safety concerns or a failure of the autonomous system.

And finally, nowhere in either report is it specified which advanced driver assist system (i.e. adaptive cruise control) failed and precisely what event triggered the disengagement.

The result is that it is impossible to make an apples-to-apples comparison about the performance and safety of these vehicles.

And if you thought you could turn to the federal government for better data, think again. Most major players in the US have also submitted voluntary safety reports to the federal government as part of the Department of Transportation’s voluntary guidance. But these reports read more like marketing documents.

The reality is that if the public wants to understand how safe self-driving vehicles are, one alternative is to consider leveraging methods and techniques currently being used by insurance providers. After all, insurance groups have a lot at stake when it comes to understanding the quality of these systems.

When the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) set out to evaluate the success rates of active lane-keeping systems in 2018, for instance, it tracked the number of times the vehicle had to overcorrect after crossing clearly marked lane lines. Why? Because evaluating the safety of these vehicles requires the collection of relevant and targeted data about specific advance driver assist systems.

An alternative approach, according to Smith, would be for companies to release testing summaries with details and context about each disengagement. While not ideal, the thought is that with more information about precisely which system failed and under what conditions, the public could conceivably start teasing out some meaningful conclusions. But no company to date has done that.

And short of any new regulations set forth by public authorities, the industry may have to forge its own path by developing their own standards. Dmitry Polishchuk, head of Russian tech giant Yandex’s autonomous car project, noted that Yandex hasn’t released any disengagement reports because they are “waiting for some sort of industry standard” to overcome the discrepancies in how companies are defining and recording disengagements. The right industry standard could help overcome this test-and-don’t-report alternative.

The good news is the SAE has created a task force to provide definitions, information and best practices to support verification and validation of self-driving systems. It’s still unclear, however, when we can expect to see the fruits of their labor.

At this point, there is little reason to expect much will change in 2020, which leaves us in a frightful situation: There are currently millions of miles being driven by automated vehicles on public roads, and no one can agree about what data we should use to measure their safety.

If that’s not reckless driving, then what is?


Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles. Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.

Eric Nutt is the Chief Technology Officer of Mandli Communications, Inc., and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Automated Vehicles. Follow Eric on LinkedIn.

Overcoming The High Carbon Debt of Electric Vehicle Production

Editor’s Note: While the WI AVPG is focused on advancing the safe deployment of AV tech, occasionally we cover other emerging technologies, like the electric, shared, and connected aspects of the future of transportation.


WASHINGTON, DC – While it’s nice to have a new year for a fresh start, resolutions can be tricky, especially if you are considering buying an electric vehicle to reduce your annual carbon footprint.

Though studies show that over their lifetime EVs produce fewer emissions than gas guzzlers, EVs generate considerably more CO2 than their gas counterparts on the assembly line. Without reforms to EV manufacturing, or access to green energy to fuel the vehicle once it hits the road, studies suggest it could take years – well beyond the scope of your 2020 resolution – for an EV to be greener than a gas car.

Today, transportation accounts for almost 30% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the United States, more than any other sector, including agriculture, industry, and yes, even electricity generation.

The good news is that the smooth, emissions-free ride of an electric vehicle shows a lot of promise in the fight to decarbonize transportation.

Recent years have seen a flurry of studies, like this 2018 International Council on Clean Transportation report, affirming that over their lifetime EVs produce fewer emissions than gas-powered cars.

But the same report notes that Chinese EV battery manufacturers, who currently produce over 60 percent of the world’s lithium-ion batteries, also generate 60% more CO2 during fabrication than an internal combustion engine vehicle.

That’s right, when an EV roles off the assembly line, relative to the manufacture of a gas car, an EV has added to greenhouse gas emissions, not reduced them.

How long does it take for an EV to break even with its gas-powered counterpart, you ask?

The short answer: anywhere from 6 months, if you believe the 2015 Union of Concerned Scientist report, to 9 years or more if you go with World Economic Forum numbers. That’s quite a spread, admittedly, but depending on the underlying assumptions in the study, like the size of the battery and the range of the vehicle model, the results can be dramatically different.

But the more nuanced answer to the question is that the time it takes for an EV to break even with a gas car depends on two key variables: how the vehicle is manufactured, and how you fuel it once the vehicle hits the road.

When it comes to manufacturing, the ICCT report notes that Chinese EV manufacturers could cut their emissions by 66% if they adopt American and European manufacturing techniques. It’s not clear if that leads to a 66% reduction in the time it would take for an EV to break even with a gas car – a 1:1 ratio – but a CO2 reduction of that size in the assembly phase would undoubtedly help.

Once the EV hits the road, a car battery is only as green as the fuel that feeds it – a coal fed battery is dirtier than a solar powered battery – so access to renewably sourced energy becomes a key factor for an EV to catch up to a petrol car.

To cite one of the more ominous studies, in Germany, according to the WEF, where about 40% of the energy mix is produced by coal and 30% by renewables, a mid-sized electric car must be driven around 78,000 miles, on average, to break even with a diesel car, and 37,000 miles to match a petrol car. That would take about 9 years for an electric car to be greener than a diesel car, based on annual German driving behavior.

For some added perspective, if you were to apply the same logic to the state of Wisconsin, for example, where only 9% of energy is renewably sourced, and folks drive on average 15,000 miles per year, it would take 375,000 miles, or 15 years, to break even with a diesel car, and 180,000 miles, or 7.5 years to match a petrol car.

That’s a long time, especially when you consider motorists who buy a brand-new car typically keep it for about six years. At these rates, a first time EV buyer may never have the opportunity to be more green than a gas car.

There is reason for optimism, notes Lori Bird, the Director of the US Energy Program at the World Resource Institute. Not only is renewable energy the fastest-growing energy source in the U.S, increasing 100 percent from 2000 to 2018, but we are seeing some positive trends when it comes to pairing EVs with green energy.

Austin Energy has developed a network charging program, called the Plug-in Everywhere Network, that allows customers to access a network of charging stations that source 100% of their charging electricity from wind. Approximately 35% of EV owners within Austin Energy’s service area participate in this program.

There are also managed charging programs, like a recent pilot called Charge Forward, run by Pacific Gas and Electric and BMW in April 2018, where customers agreed to delay charging for up to an hour each day to better align with available renewable energy, in exchange for lower charging rates.

The City of San Diego, for their part, kicked off a partnership with Sand Diego Gas & Electric and others in 2012 to implement a pilot project at the San Diego Zoo, where 10 photovoltaic canopies were installed, giving customers access to five charging stations. When not in use, the solar energy is stored in a battery system.

Meanwhile, other utilities offer discounts to customers willing to charge when renewable energy is being generated – also known as time-based rates. Southern California Edison, for example, introduced in January 2019 competitive rates that incentivize customers to charge on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., when solar is abundant, and off-peak hours on weekends from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m., when the wind is available.

While these examples may feel small in scale, BNP Paribas, one of the world’s largest banks, sent warnings to the oil industry in a 2019 report, stating that “the oil industry has never in its history faced the kind of threat that renewable electricity in tandem with EVs poses to its business model.”

Solar and wind energy, paired with electric cars, the report concludes, provides up to seven times more useful energy for mobility than gasoline on a dollar-for-dollar basis. And that economic reality could hit oil companies sooner than they think.

Bottom line, the stakes are high when it comes to climate change, so any edge in the fight to decarbonize transportation must be explored. Fortunately, strategies to beef up EV access to renewable energy and reform manufacturing practices seem to show some promise.

It has been said that inflated expectations are the number one reason new year resolutions fail.

If purchasing a shiny new electric vehicle is part of your plan to downsize your carbon in 2020, you may want to temper your ambitions.

While in the long run buying an EV makes perfect sense, you won’t likely hit your target by year-end.



Robert Fischer is President of GTiMA, a Technology and Policy Advisor to Mandli Communications, and an Associate Editor of the SAE International Journal of Connected and Autonomous Vehicles.  Follow Rob on Twitter (@Robfischeris) and Linkedin.