Cars can do a lot of good, namely getting people from point A to point B. But they also do a lot of damage, to both infrastructure and the environment. In the United States, transportation accounts for 27 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions and every year billions of dollars in damage befalls our roads and highways.
While the problems can feel intractable, other nations have been forging ahead, actively combating their car troubles with everyone from taxes to entirely new forms of transportation. Though they might not all work in the United States — one of the largest and most diverse countries on Earth — these four foreign ideas, hailing from Singapore to Norway, could potentially work wonders here at home.
4. Ban Gasoline and Diesel Cars
One strategy to limit car emissions is to totally ban cars that run on fossil fuels. That’s what France is doing, according to an announcement made July 6. The plan is to eliminate the sale of gasoline and diesel engine cars by 2040. This isn’t the first nation to make such drastic decisions. In fact, several countries have been more aggressive. India, which has some of the worst air pollution in the world, is working toward the same ban by 2030. And the sustainability Norway will meet its goal to stop selling fuel-powered cars by 2025, while subsidizing purchases of electric vehicles to bridge the gap.
3. Institute Carbon Tax or Cap and Trade Policies
Basically, carbon taxes charge people for the amount of carbon they emit, so coal, which holds more carbon, costs more than natural gas, but both cost more than carbon-neutral solar energy. Cap and trade policies, meanwhile, set up a marketplace for trading emissions allowances. The EU did this years ago, so now it can set limits on the emissions it will tolerate and industries can sell their allowances to each other.
“They’re really the yin and yang of environmental policy,” Metcalf says. While cap and trade seems to have had its moment back in the 1990s and is unlikely to resurface, he thinks in the next decade, the United States will adopt its own carbon tax policy.
2. Make (a Small) Space for the Micro Car
With more people — and worse air — than just about every other country on Earth, China is working on a million different ways to manage congestion and pollution, but getting rid of cars isn’t one of them, Chris Cherry, a University of Tennessee environmental engineering professor, tells Inverse.
Right now, the Chinese government continues to see private car ownership as a sign of its thriving middle class. Even though cars sales are expected to rise in China, the micro car might cut the difference. One- or two-person fully-insulated vehicles like this run off electricity, thereby reducing their carbon footprint. They move slower, but efficiently, and while the data isn’t in yet, they may reduce wear and tear on roads. Despite their growing presence in China, obstacles exist for microcars stateside — at least as long as we rely so heavily on highways. Right now, the potential for bigger American cars traveling at high speeds to crush slower toy-sized vehicles is just too high.
1. Keep Cars Out of the City’s Core
To curb congestion and road wear, the United States could take a page from any number of world cities that have made moves to reduce the number of cars in its urban core. In Singapore, for example, this is done with an electronic road pricing system. Kind of like Uber’s surge pricing, Singapore sets a price on cars entering the city at peak hours, while in off-hours car travel is free. London, meanwhile, proposed in June charging its drivers by the mile, instead of a standard toll for using the roads no matter the distance travelled.
Metcalf thinks London or Singapore’s strategies may just work in large American cities like New York or Los Angeles. Not only could they reduce congestion, they could also be a new source of revenue for communities that rely on gas taxes to pay for road maintenance. Gas taxes are dwindling as electric vehicles on the rise, providing smaller sums for infrastructure repair, so road pricing could be an economic boon, too.