The many alternatives to gas-powered cars
Mass production of the automobile, which began a century ago, enabled mobility for the average person unlike any other invention preceding it. But here is the rub: The automobile may be the most amazing invention of all time, until you start the engine.
The very rural nature of Vermont dictates that we drive long distances and often. The consequence is that currently, 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Vermont is due to all forms of transportation, according to the Energy Action Network’s 2022 Report. Reducing this amount is certainly daunting, but there are opportunities to transition to more sustainable mobility options.
Sustainable mobility means prioritizing low- and zero-emission, energy efficient, affordable modes of transport. Planning for and implementing measures that support and expand sustainable mobility options has multiple benefits, such as reducing transportation costs, reducing carbon emissions, enhancing energy security and independence, reducing air pollution and improving health.
Electric vehicles and hybrid electric vehicles are increasingly common sights on our roads and are one of the primary modes of sustainable mobility. Considering all the environmental impact from manufacturing, use and fuel, electric vehicles are much less polluting over their life span than comparable vehicles using gasoline powered internal combustion engines.
As electric vehicles may not be an option for everyone, sustainable mobility prioritizes using other options besides driving in a vehicle, such as walking or biking. These options can present challenges, especially due to the distances we travel in Vermont. The ability to effectively walk or bike to work and services is dependent on the development of affordable housing near places of employment, food stores and other amenities. Most importantly, those developments need to have safe infrastructure for walking and biking so that people will have an alternative to driving.
For those who lack experience commuting by bike, Local Motion is an organization whose mission is “making it safe, accessible and fun for everyone to bike, walk and roll in Vermont.” Their work encompasses advocacy, workshops and classes for all ages, and bike-friendly resources for businesses and communities.
Electric bikes are a great mode of transport as they extend the riding distance of a traditional bicycle. This summer (mid-June through end of July), Williston will host Local Motion’s “Traveling Chittenden County E-Bike Library.” This program will give you a chance to use an e-bike for several days to experience the ride before making any decision to purchase one. Look for upcoming information about the program on the town website.
Here’s what one borrower last year had to say about her experience: “Fun! I couldn’t stop smiling when I was on it. Made it less stressful to do simple trips around town — no hassle of paying for parking, traffic, etc. I didn’t use my car for like three days in a row. That never happens for me.”
Reliable and affordable public transit and sharing of vehicles are critical components of sustainable mobility, most benefiting youth, seniors, those with disabilities and people with low incomes. Did you know that a substantial number of adult Vermonters do not have a driver’s license and many households do not have access to a vehicle? For Vermonters in these situations, a lack of affordable, reliable transportation of any type means losing access to employment and education, the ability to go to medical appointments and even to go grocery shopping.
Furthering equity and sustainability in transportation will require improving public transit options. With only two Green Mountain Transit fixed bus route services in Williston – the No. 1 running from Burlington to Williston and the No. 10 from Williston to Essex Junction/Essex — access to services is severely limited for many people. Currently, Special Services Transportation Association (SSTA) offers transportation by reservation to the elderly and people with disabilities. On demand microtransit service, similar to Uber but operated by a public agency, is one option the town has been exploring to expand mobility to more people. Currently several towns throughout Vermont are piloting microtransit services like MyRide in Montpelier.
Williston hopes to follow their lead in the future, to offer more comprehensive, equitable and integrated mobility options throughout town.
It is our hope that this article will invite you to think about alternatives to traditional modes of travel and how the Town of Williston can move to a more sustainable transportation future.
To participate in Williston’s energy future, reach out to your Williston Energy Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org or attend a public meeting held on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month. The agenda for upcoming meetings is posted on the Town of Williston website (www.town.williston.vt.us). For more information, visit www.willistonvtenergycommittee.org.
Melinda Scott is the energy and community development planner for the Town of Williston. Reed Parker is the chair of the Williston Energy Committee.