At the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy and the Institute of Transportation Studies, we hope to shine a light on which transportation bills might yield benefits to our communities and the environment. Of the 2,600 bills introduced to the California State Legislature in 2023, here are some of the most important for transportation and energy.
Senate bill (SB) 434 is sitting on the governor’s desk. It was introduced by a savvy transportation lawmaker, Senator Min (a former law professor at UC Irvine). This bill would allocate funds to district public transit operators for rider safety surveys and outreach efforts. The survey would collect data regarding street harassment experienced by riders from underrepresented populations. The bill expands on San Jose State University research that found that “sexual harassment experienced by riders on buses and trains leads to reduced use of public transportation.” This bill would require transit agencies to collect and publish information on harassment reported by populations of interest including females, particularly those of color, those with low-income, and those in LGBTQ+ communities.
Another notable transit bill on the governor’s desk is Assembly Bill (AB) 971, introduced by Assemblymember Lee, which would amend the Vehicle Code to reflect the term “transit-only” instead of “for the exclusive use of public transit buses” when granting exclusive use of designated traffic lanes. ITS research supports the fact that transit-only lanes can encourage more ridership by improving bus speed and reliability. However, this bill is more procedural than substantive. It falls short of giving transit agencies what they really need, (but which local government’s hold the key) which is more control over where transit-only lanes crosscut busy roadways.
Despite many previous attempts to advance fare-free transit, this is not the year for Assemblymember Holden, a long-time transit advocate, to win on this issue. Holden’s AB 610 would have established the Youth Transit Pass Pilot Program and provided free transit service to youths attending certain qualifying educational institutions. It failed in its very last committee. Youth fare-free transit passes can increase accessibility and transit use among students, according to UC Irvine researcher Jean-Daniel Saphores. So far, the state has not found long-term sustainable funding sources for such programs.
Also on the governor’s desk is SB 381, introduced by Senator Min. If signed, it will fund research on electric bicycle safety and regulation. Electric bicycles are defined as bicycles with fully operable pedals and a motor of less than 750 watts. UC Davis researcher Dillon Fitch has shown that the availability of shared e-bikes can reduce vehicle miles traveled. More research is necessary to understand safety and regulatory challenges that might inhibit scaling of e-bikes.
The Legislature is attempting to prevent safety issues with medium and heavy-duty automated vehicles (AVs) weighing more than 10,000 lbs. These vehicles are currently not allowed to operate in the state due to a previous ban from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). AB 316 would add more limitations to the existing ban, requiring a safety driver in all automated trucks. It would also require more collision and deactivation data reporting and require the DMV to submit a performance evaluation regarding AV technology to the Legislature in five years. Researchers at UC Davis are currently studying this topic to assess whether AV safety driver requirements are the best way to increase road safety in the state. AB 316 passed the Legislature and is on its way to the governor’s desk for a signature or veto.
SB 800, authored by Senator Caballero, would require Caltrans to establish the Advanced Air Mobility and Aviation Electrification Advisory Panel. The panel would be tasked with assessing current infrastructure, developing a three year plan to advance infrastructure, and promoting pathways towards equitable access to advanced air mobility services. Members would include government and industry representatives. UC Berkeley, in partnership with NASA, is pursuing research that looks at how urban air mobility could fundamentally revolutionize regional travel.
AB 1305, a carbon markets bill, is on the governor’s desk. This bill would add clarity to public reporting of carbon offset purchasing, which is an area that could use additional public accountability mechanisms. A sister bill, SB 390, is also on the governor’s desk. It is similarly intended to provide clearer standards for voluntary carbon offsets by defining unlawful conduct and requiring sellers and buyers to provide explicit information. Improving the transparency of carbon offset is critical to the effective functioning of the State’s carbon market. These proposed bills aim to enhance the credibility and confidence of private investors within the green energy sector.
Finally, it’s worth noting a few losses and one big win for California legislative actions on EVs. The winner first, AB 126 will extend certain vehicle fees till 2035 that fund state programmatic investment in a clean transportation future. There’s a few new EV priorities added to the updated program, including a requirement that half of funding goes to disadvantaged and low-income communities, and new requirements for data reporting for EV charging reliability. The bill requires new research led by the California Energy Commission to consider alternative funding strategies for ZEV infrastructure, and consider the equity impacts of the alternatives.
Other EV bills are worth noting, even though they didn’t make it out of the Legislature. These three bills failed to make it to the governor’s desk:
AB 591, introduced by Assemblymember Gabriel, would have forced Tesla to open charging stations to the public and require universal connectors and public accessibility at almost all new and retrofitted EV charging stations, except those located at single- or multi-family residences. This bill would also have required CHAdeMO EV service equipment be maintained in good working conditions by owners for at least five years. UC Davis researcher Gil Tal suggests that charger reliability, including the prevention of highly disruptive charging failures, is a high priority for EV drivers. The challenge is that charger owners would prefer not to bear the costs of supporting charging standards for which there are very few vehicles on the road, such as CHAdeMO. This bill didn’t make it out of its second round of committees in time, but if legislators and stakeholders can find the right solution, it could still pass in next year’s legislative session.
Another EV bill worth noting is SB 529, which would have facilitated EV sharing services at affordable housing facilities. This type of program would have been transformational and expanded access to EVs in lower-income communities. UC Davis researchers Caroline Rodier and Brian Harold have done extensive work demonstrating that low-income EV carsharing in the San Joaquin Valley has successfully expanded access to EVs with short-term vehicle rentals to people living in low-income communities. These rental programs are a game-changer for rural community members, and will be an essential part of building an equitable and clean transportation system in California. This bill didn’t get the support it needed this year, but it was authored by Senator Gonzalez, Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee and champion for equitable transportation, so we will likely see this issue raised in future legislative sessions.
Another hot topic that didn’t advance through the Legislature was SB 425, introduced by Senator Newman. This bill would have expanded rebates for new electric pickup trucks. Rebates for electric pickup trucks would be $2,500 greater than rebates provided for other electric vehicles. This bill may not have advanced because additional research is needed to understand the role of EV pickup trucks in the overall clean vehicle fleet.
Governor Newsom has until October 14 to act on these bills. We’ll be watching out for which bills advance this year, and which topics may need more research and deliberation.
Mollie Cohen D’Agostino is Executive Director of the Mobility Science, Automation and Inclusion Center at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis
Colin Murphy is Deputy Director of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment and the Economy
Emily Chiu is a law student at the UC Davis School of Law
Laedon Kang is a Graduate Student at the UC Davis Transportation, Technology, and Policy Program
Dan Sperling is Founding Director of the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, and distinguished Blue Planet Prize Professor of Engineering and Environmental Policy