Shared, self-driving, all-electric cars can help San Francisco meet its climate goals and improve the health of our community. Wholescale adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) in San Francisco could reduce the city’s total transportation emissions by 60% or more. We at Cruise are here to partner with our neighbors in San Francisco to build a low carbon future.
This blog is the first in our series exploring the influence of all-electric cars and how we at Cruise plan to utilize our fleet of EVs to positively impact our physical environment.
Imagine that you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic on California & Battery, perhaps on the way to the office or to dinner with friends. Look around: for every mile driven by the gasoline-powered cars around you, nearly a pound of carbon dioxide (CO2) and other greenhouse gases (GHGs) are released into the atmosphere.
That may not seem like much. But in transportation, little choices add up in big ways.
If you’re an average San Francisco driver, your gasoline car emits almost 2,700 lbs. of CO2 per year¹. Tally up all personal vehicle emissions across the city’s population, and that figure jumps to a staggering 3.68 billion lbs. of CO2 equivalent per year — all of which contributes to a warming planet, extreme climate events, and environmental damage.
Transportation is the leading cause of carbon pollution in San Francisco, accounting for 46% of the city’s GHG emissions. If the city is to achieve its goal of net zero emissions by 2050, reducing transportation’s share of this pie is critical. For its part, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has made remarkable progress. Public transit serves a quarter of all trips in the city, and is nearly emissions-free. All Muni trolley buses, light rail, street cars, and cable cars are powered by GHG-free electricity via the clean Hetch Hetchy Power System.
However, there’s still an elephant in the room: all those gas-powered vehicles left on the road. Cars and trucks are responsible for 71% of San Francisco’s transportation emissions. As a result, despite incredible progress greening public transit, San Francisco has only cut transportation-related emissions 10% from 1990 levels, due in large part to the scale of gasoline-powered vehicles are on the road.
How San Francisco policymakers are addressing tailpipe emissions
A solution is in sight: electric vehicles. San Francisco Mayor London Breed, Supervisor Aaron Peskin, San Francisco Department of the Environment, and others have committed to addressing the high share of personal vehicle emissions with a bold new goal of 100% Emission-Free Transportation by 2040, announced in the Proposed Electric Vehicle Roadmap for San Francisco that was released in July 2019.
This Vision aims to make all forms of private mobility — including cars, vans, trucks, taxis, e-scooters, and more — electric by 2040.
Electric vehicles vs. gasoline-powered vehicles
In contrast to gasoline-powered vehicles, which emit CO2 and other GHGs by burning gasoline to propel the car, EVs are instead powered by electricity generated “upstream.” The ultimate emissions of an EV are (pardon the pun) driven by the source of that electricity. This can be from GHG-free sources like wind, solar, and, as in Muni’s case, hydro. Electricity powering EVs could also come from more carbon-intensive fuels like natural gas or other fossil fuels, depending on a given city or state’s “energy mix.” Reducing transportation’s carbon-intensity is a top goal of the California Air Resources Board’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard.
Almost without exception, however, any emissions associated with charging EVs are significantly lower than combusting gasoline. This is even more true when you consider the carbon emissions generated by extracting, processing, and transporting fossil fuels — making an EV’s carbon footprint a fraction of a comparable gas-powered car. San Francisco’s energy basket, whether you buy energy from CleanPowerSF or PG&E, is already cleaner than the California average, with options to purchase a higher renewable mix. For comparison’s sake, the electricity generated to charge an EV in San Francisco today emits roughly 0.2 pounds of CO2 per EV mile — 75% less than a comparable gasoline car — and has zero tailpipe emissions.
Mayor Breed’s 2040 vision to an emissions-free future
In the context of the personal vehicle problem we have to solve, Mayor Breed’s 2040 Vision makes enormous sense. Whole scale adoption of EVs could dramatically reduce our GHG emissions.
If we hit that goal, that means any EVs charged in the city would be completely emissions-free.
The Roadmap sets ambitious but achievable targets to hit that 2040 Vision, like EVs representing at least 50% of new passenger vehicle registrations by 2025 (a significant increase from 6% in 2016), and EVs making up two-thirds of incoming commuter vehicles by 2030.
While the Roadmap lays out a number of policy proposals to encourage EV adoption, such as new EV purchase and lease incentives or preferential parking and lane access for EVs, the 2040 Vision’s ultimate goal of making all transportation emissions-free requires collective action. We have some work to do: 84% of San Francisco-registered vehicles are gasoline powered, hybrids make up 8.5% of the city’s registered vehicles, and battery EVs represent just 1.5%.
Achieving this emissions-free future will require each of us to take action and increase the proportion of green miles we travel, every day.
The Answer to Reducing Tailpipe Emissions
The good news is we can make a difference together. As Supervisor Peskin puts it: “San Franciscans want to reduce our collective carbon footprint, and we want to make it easier for everyone to be a part of the solution.”
San Francisco’s Transit-First Policy, first adopted by the Board of Supervisors in 1973, calls for prioritizing the movement of people and goods via transit, walking, and biking instead of private automobiles. This can be seen in the city’s 0–80–100-Roots Climate Action strategy, which sets out a goal for 80% of San Francisco’s trips to be made by transit, walking, or biking by 2030. Currently, 52% of trips are made via these modes. That’s an important target for us to strive for.
However, even when we achieve a world with 80% of trips made by transit, walking, and biking, we need additional complementary solutions to reduce emissions from passenger vehicles.
We at Cruise think that complement is shared, self-driving electric vehicles — and democratizing access to the clean miles they offer.
Reducing the equivalent of 50 pounds of CO2 per person per work week in San Francisco
Remember that 3.68 billion lbs. figure describing how much CO2 San Francisco’s personally-owned gasoline-powered vehicles emit per year? Let’s revisit that for a brief thought experiment. Setting aside personal ownership, imagine a world where we used cleaner, more efficient EVs rather than gasoline-powered cars. How might we collectively reduce our city’s CO2 emissions?
Cars and trucks drive 2.8 billion miles on San Francisco roads annually, while 565,000 personal vehicles travel within or commute to the city daily. Based on the city’s population of 883,305, this suggests the average driver in San Francisco travels 3,200 miles per year (Vehicle Miles Traveled, or “VMT”).
The Union of Concerned Scientists has a handy emissions tool offering a reliable, apples-to-apples comparison of the carbon footprint of EVs, hybrid vehicles, and internal combustion engine (“ICE”) gasoline-powered vehicles. Assuming 3,200 VMT, every EV replacing an ICE-powered vehicle in San Francisco eliminates 0.9 metric tons of CO2 per year. If those miles traveled in or entering the city were driven by EVs, we could eliminate 3.3 billion pounds of CO2 otherwise emitted from gasoline (assuming today’s energy mix). That’s the same as reducing roughly 50 pounds of CO2 per person per work week in San Francisco.
That’s the weight of 6 gallons of water. Or $200 in quarters. Let’s look at how that collective action might help get us closer to our goal of 100% emissions-free transportation.
According to the city’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Scorecard, San Francisco’s transportation sector was responsible for roughly 5.15 billion pounds of CO2 in 2017, of which roughly 3.68 billion pounds were from passenger vehicles like cars and trucks. If those passenger miles were driven by EVs and we eliminated those 3.3 billion pounds of CO2, we could collectively reduce the city’s transportation emissions by 64%. Now imagine how, instead of personal vehicles, a fleet of shared EVs might rapidly accelerate that reduction. Each shared EV could achieve multiples of CO2 reduction compared to a personally-owned gasoline-powered car.
Each one of us can make a difference. Be it by biking, walking, taking public transit, or riding in an electric vehicle, the choices we make every day change the world around us.
We recognize that this zero emissions future is ambitious — not everyone has the means to afford, or wants to purchase, a new electric vehicle. At Cruise, we believe that the cost of or desire for a new personal EV shouldn’t prevent you from participating in the electric revolution. That’s why we are designing our vehicles and our service to deliver clean, zero emission vehicle rides. We want more people to have greater access to clean transportation, regardless of whether you can afford to purchase an EV, or simply aren’t in the market for a new car.
Every ride you choose to take in an electric-powered vehicle can help our city make progress towards its ambitious climate goals. Cruise is proud to be developing an all-electric self-driving car service to help San Francisco meet these goals and deliver on Mayor Breed’s promise of a zero emissions future. We can each do our part if we work together.
To be continued…
Now that we’ve shared our vision for how all-electric vehicles can positively impact the environment, the next blogs in our series will continue to explore how we’ll take EVs many steps further. Stay tuned for future blogs sharing more about our approach to our ultra-efficient EV fleet.
¹ This is based on annual VMT assumptions from Mayor Breed’s July 2019 Proposed Electric Vehicle Roadmap for San Francisco, while emissions per mile for new mid-sized ICE vehicles is provided by the Union of Concerned Scientists.