Reducing transportation-related greenhouse-gas emissions is a challenge throughout Maine, but the nature of this challenge differs by congressional district. The 2nd District has more vehicles per capita, while the 1st has issues with city transportation, Portland being the prime example.

Portland has extensive bus transportation, but the wait outside in hot and cold weather decreases the use of buses. The abundance of signal lights also slows traffic, increasing the time for arrival. Electric buses would help, but replacing the existing fleet would be expensive. Portland also faces extensive traffic congestion and the challenge of providing parking for all the vehicles arriving each day. Little incentive exists for biking or walking, because the congestion causes unhealthy air and threatens safety.

In the 1st District, vehicles are needed for long-distance travel and work. Many residents have jobs as skilled laborers, and are knowledgeable about fixing their vehicles. Therefore, I propose a substantial federal-state rebate for hybrid and electric vehicles. Since rebates will lower the price, more families would be able to purchase these vehicles. Free courses on repair and maintenance of these vehicles would provide an additional incentive. A modest tax on gas-engine vehicles – based on the amount of CO2 they emit and prorated for the individual’s income level – would motivate the purchase of hybrid-electric vehicles. Combined, these changes would substantially inhibit further effects of climate change in the 2nd District.

The 1st District, especially Portland, is the primary contributor to climate change, because of the greater vehicle congestion and lack of parking spaces. The congestion and traffic also generate dangerous conditions for walkers and bikers. Therefore, solutions are more complex. First, all vehicles, except delivery and emergency vehicles and taxis, should be banned from downtown Portland. Instead, parking garages can be built off the peninsula, using community input to determine their location. Citizens can then either drive, walk or bike to the garage in their district. Those without transportation will use city-funded vans for transport to the parking garages.

Transportation to downtown would be via electric bus. Few traffic signals would result in rapid transport. Parking and transport would be free for Portland residents.  Those from outside Portland or out of state would pay for both parking and transportation. (City Manager Jon Jennings has proposed a similar plan, involving self-driving public transit.) Transportation within the city would include walking, biking and electric trolley-type vehicles. The latter would stop at garage transport drop-offs. These electric vehicles would mimic San Francisco cable cars, traveling down the center of the street so passengers could hop on or off at strategic stops. There would be no fee for passengers; the cost, after purchase of the vehicles, and preparation of street lanes by the city would be funded by the downtown businesses.

Other major cities in Maine may want to follow a similar plan to reduce CO2. For vehicles operating outside cities their contribution to global warming might be diminished by the “carrot and stick” approach. The state should provide reasonable rebates for those who purchase hybrid or electric vehicles. Drivers who want to keep their gas-engine vehicles would pay a tax based on the amount of CO2 their vehicles emit, plus the vehicle’s weight and mileage; it would be prorated based on income.

This strategy could also encourage use of mass transit such as buses (electric) and trains (not using diesel fuel). I would urge and/or require the bus lines to provide heated shelters for their transit stops.

While Portlanders are very active pedestrians and cyclists, my proposals may inspire more Mainers to adopt this lifestyle. While seemingly a very small contribution toward decreasing global warming, these activities improve participants’ health and socialization.

The use of incentives and disincentives for converting to electric vehicles, combined with some new ideas for reducing downtown congestion caused by traffic and heavy parking requirements, should contribute to a reduction of CO2 and particulates in the atmosphere and also promote a healthier lifestyle.

 


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