The challenge of implementing greener transportation systems—ones that don’t rely on fossil fuels—includes the adoption of new technology, modifying infrastructure and changing human behavior. That may sound difficult, but it is happening now.
For example, bike sharing programs are being instituted in many cities. The goal is to reduce short car trips within the city that lead to congestion, while giving residents a healthy alternative way to travel. In order to be successful, these programs require more than just the bikes themselves. Bike lanes need to be installed to maximize rider safety and public interest in the program has to be developed. One such program was just rolled out by the City of Boston called “Prescribe-a-Bike.” It allows physicians to give vouchers to low-income patients so they can enroll in the city’s $85.00 a year bike share program for $5.00. “Obesity is a significant and growing health concern for our city, particularly among low-income Boston residents,” says Boston Medical College President and CEO Kat Walsh.
Of course, not everyone can travel by bike. Demand for automobiles is rapidly growing in industrializing countries such as China and India, and although Americans are drive less than they used to, there are still 797 cars per 1000 people in the United States. Worldwide, transportation is the largest consumer of liquid petroleum fuel. Unfortunately, petroleum is a finite resource and burning it releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, threatening the environment and energy security. Green transportation solutions include alternatives to fossil fuels such as biofuel, electricity and hydrogen fuel cells. All of these fuels can be created using renewable sources, but none of them are as cheap or convenient to implement as petroleum.
Whether we realize it or not, we live in a world shaped by internal combustion engines. In the United States alone, there are over 120,000 gas stations, compared to just over 6,000 electric charging stations. The price of electric vehicles has fallen in the last couple of years, but manufacturers are struggling to turn a profit because of the high cost of the cars rechargeable batteries. In addition, range anxiety—the fear the electric car’s battery will die and leave the driver stranded—has been cited as a deterring factor by consumers who choose not to buy. Two car manufacturers, Tesla Motors and Volkswagen, have both announced they are working on super-efficient batteries for their next generation cars, but nothing has been introduced to the market yet. In order for electric vehicles to take hold in the future, their batteries must be improved, and charging stations have to become more common.
Although it may seem impossible to imagine a future where fossil fuels are not a part of our daily commute, just remember that 100 years ago, many people still relied on horses for their horsepower.
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