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Colleen Callahan: Accelerating the transition to zero-emission transportation by facilitating targeted policy research

Posted by Lauren Hertel on Tuesday, May 21 2019

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Fellow Colleen Callahan is deputy director of the UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation, which conducts research and advises civic partners on the design and implementation of policies, plans and programs with a focus on advancing environmental sustainability. Part of Callahan’s job is to make sure the center’s findings get into the hands of the right decision makers.

As part of its mission, the Luskin Center for Innovation works to accelerate the transition to zero-emission transportation. They have conducted research that helped California design state incentives for clean cars, informed strategic siting of charging stations, and improved clean mobility for low-income households. The center’s newest initiative addresses policy and planning needs for sustainable fleets of vehicles like buses and ridesharing services, as well as heavy-duty freight vehicles.

Since over half of the electric vehicles sold in the United States are sold in California, the state has been at the forefront of EV policies nationwide. As a result, UCLA research has informed policies in California as well as other states.

Callahan stresses that the equity component of the center’s work is particularly important. Historically with any technology adoption curve, she says, more affluent consumers have been able to purchase new technology first, the so-called “early adopters” followed only later by less affluent consumers once the price comes down.

“Now we really need to focus even more on how we get clean vehicles to people who need them most, who are most affected by air pollution and climate change and need health and transportation resiliency through their housing, jobs, and more,” says Callahan.

For example, she cites the center’s evaluation of the California Air Resources Board’s pilot program that integrated vehicle retirement and replacement incentive programs to support access for low-moderate income households to electric or hybrid vehicles. (see Design and Implementation of the Enhanced Fleet Modernization Plus-Up Pilot Program)

With UCLA’s transportation research well known at this point, Callahan says the challenge is having too many projects to choose from, not too few. She says they have to be careful about choosing their teams and projects so they can have the biggest impact, starting local and then branching out. For example, in 2017 the center released their updated Southern California PEV (Plug-in Vehicle) Readiness Atlas, and has also done PEV planning for many subregions as well.

While the center has many years of research behind them on electrification of light vehicles, they are now getting into the complicated space of heavy vehicles like buses and trucks. One project has them thinking about how the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach can expedite and transition their entire fleet of thousands of heavy duty trucks to electric in less than twenty years. Since both ports already went through a large fleet transition to meet cleaner truck standards about a decade ago, questions arise about this new transition, including who will pay, when will the zero-emission truck technology be ready, and when the infrastructure will be ready.

“A lot of uncertainty makes modeling challenging,” says Callahan.

“But when you talk about major transformations you’re talking about jobs,” she adds, noting that there are a lot of opportunities for people starting out in policy. “Policies will be catching up to rapid changes in technology, and smart policies are needed to ensure that coming transitions simultaneously meet environmental goals and are equitable.”

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