EVs aren’t enough: How buses, trains, biking, and walking can fight climate change

Image of a improved train system in a transportation system | Climate Nexus Polls

Transportation is the largest source of climate pollution in the U.S., largely because American transportation infrastructure is oriented around private car ownership (also called car dependency). While the shift from gas to electric cars is helping cut climate and air pollution from the sector, researchers warn it is not happening fast enough or equitably enough to achieve global climate targets. A growing body of research shows that providing more transportation options — including trains, buses, biking, and walking — can help transportation decarbonize faster while improving air quality, mobility options and accessibility for all.

Swapping every gas-powered vehicle for an electric one is one of the least efficient ways to clean up transportation.

  • The 6th Assessment Report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — the United Nations’ expert body on climate change — and the Energy Department’s blueprint for transportation decarbonization both recognize the need to expand “multimodal” or varied transportation options — including mass transit service, bike lanes, and pedestrian infrastructure — to meet climate targets.
  • Other academic research finds that reducing vehicle ownership and vehicle miles traveled through increased transit use, active mobility, and denser urban development is needed to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
    • A 2018 report by the California Air Resources Board found the state could not meet its 2030 climate goals through vehicle electrification alone.
  • Compared to the most car-dependent scenarios, the most ambitious policies — including best-case recycling scenarios coupled with smaller EV batteries and policies that support alternative modes of transportation — could reduce U.S. demand for minerals like lithium 92 percent by 2050.

Preserving a car-dependent transportation system would perpetuate inequities and make it more difficult for those populations to access clean transportation.

Personal vehicle alternatives, like buses, public transit, bicycling, and walking can  improve equity, public health, and climate outcomes.