UC Davis Transportation Researchers Collaborate with State Policymakers on CA Sustainable Freight Plan

When the state earlier this month released for public comment its draft California Sustainable Freight Action Plan (CSFAP), we were excited to see the fruits of our labors here at ITS-Davis contributing to this comprehensive and forward-thinking draft plan.

CSFAP is an ambitious document that lays a foundation for modernizing California’s multi-billion dollar freight transportation system. Seven state agencies worked together to develop the draft in response to Governor Brown´s Executive Order B-32-15 last July, which directed the state agencies to pursue a shared vision to “improve freight efficiency, transition to zero-emission technologies and increase the competitiveness of California’s freight system.” The public comment period on the draft CSFAP is open until July 6.

Our role in the development of this plan has been to advise and convene, and to provide technical analysis and input. Just after the release of the governor’s executive order, ITS-Davis and the National Center for Sustainable Transportation convened stakeholders from academia, industry and government to discuss and identify strategies to inform the CSFAP. This working group of experts, the Freight Efficiency Strategies Development Group, met over the last eight months and produced a set of six white papers that are included in the CSFAP materials. Rather than make specific recommendations, the white papers discuss a range of strategies that could be used, granted further analyses, to accomplish some of the state’s goals for efficiency, safety, economic competitiveness, environmental and social justice, and introduction of new technologies.

Our UC Davis team led the development of two of the white papers, “Strategies to Maximize Asset Utilization in the California Freight System Part 1 and Part 2.” We highlight the importance of looking at the freight system as a whole and complex system of systems, where strategies aimed at specific stakeholders could have cascading, positive or negative, effects over others. Therefore, designing policies or strategies that consider behavioral shifts and efficiency improvements requires identifying the appropriate decision makers, which could range from large private organizations, planning agencies, or even industry sectors to households and individuals requesting residential deliveries. More importantly, the papers recognize that continuous improvements and investments are being made in the system, though in a silo manner, which do not guarantee reaching system-level efficiency improvements. That is, some efficiency gains by specific stakeholders could be done at the expense of the inefficiency of others.

To reinforce the state’s efforts, last October we launched our own Sustainable Freight Initiative here at ITS-Davis. It has two main interdependent thrusts: sustainable freight systems, and technology and fuel analysis. Our critical research dovetails nicely with the findings of CSFAP. For example, we are studying:

  • The relationship between freight activity and economic and social indicators;
  • The impacts of the on-demand economy and associated “last mile” distribution on urban traffic and environmental conditions;
  • Freight demand management strategies to improve urban goods movement;
  • The development of equity-based frameworks to assess the benefits of transportation infrastructure projects;
  • Pathways to very low carbon trucking, considering logistics and new technologies and fuels, such as biogas and other biofuels, electricity and hydrogen, and their potential for application to various truck applications and market segments
  • Strategic, tactical, and operational problems for urban goods distribution, with an emphasis on commercial and residential deliveries;
  • Opportunities and options for reducing CO2 emissions from the California rail freight sector.

Moreover, for the first time, we’ve offered an academic course on sustainable freight transportation; we hope it’s the first of many on this important topic.

In the coming years, we expect to contribute more research and knowledge, and support workforce development and stakeholder engagement to achieve the state’s targets of system efficiency, a transition to zero emission technology, and economic growth. Since we are a key contributor to the Freight Efficiency Strategies Development Working Group and are already part of the draft plan, we will continue working with the agencies to identify and refine the scope of additional strategies, and help with deployment activities.

The CSFAP has been called “innovative” and potentially “transformative.” But it’s clear that a combination of strong improvements in freight systems as well as technology and fuel solutions will be required to meet the state’s emissions and sustainable freight goals. ITS-Davis looks forward to being part of the effort to identify and develop the most promising solutions.

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