Category: News

2024 Environmental Justice Leaders Program Applications Are Open

Environmental Justice Leaders

Seasoned environmental justice professionals working in mobility justice are invited to apply for the 2024 UC Davis Environmental Justice (EJ) Leaders Program. Applications are open to all California-based leaders interested in collaborating with research communities at UC Davis to enhance their community-based efforts. This year’s programmatic theme is Mobility Justice: the rights of all to access freedom of movement in different spheres of life. This program is a partnership between the Feminist Research Institute and the Institute for Transportation Studies.

EJ Leaders are qualified to apply if they…

  • Actively work as an experienced professional in the field of environmental/mobility justice within frontline communities and/or EJ organizations
  • Live and work in California; preference will be given to those who are living in and/or are from frontline communities
  • Do not hold a research position at a university
  • Are not currently and do not plan to be enrolled as a student through January 2025
  • Are not currently in public office nor plan to run through January 2025
  • Are employed by a 501(c)3, small business, or related service-oriented endeavor. Those working for state or federal government are not eligible unless we arrange a contract with your home agency. Email Sarah at to learn more about this.

EJ Leaders selected for the program will…

  • Engage in an expertise exchange with UC Davis research centers and labs
  • Network with researchers, policymakers, students, other EJ practitioners, and government agency staff
  • Grow their understanding of how to cultivate equitable partnerships with university researchers
  • Visit the UC Davis campus for three in-person events lasting 3-4 days each.
  • Devote 8-10 hours a month to remote participation
  • Participate in bi-weekly virtual calls with the cohort and program facilitators
  • Receive an affiliate account to access UC Davis resources (ie, library and online seminar)
  • Receive a stipend of $10,000 to cover time, expertise sharing, and travel expenses for participation in this program

Direction to apply

  1. Access the application here. Questions include:
    • Please briefly share your lived or work experience with frontline communities (communities burdened by environmental injustices).
    • New and emerging transportation and energy technologies/policies have significant equity implications. What new technologies/policies do you want to learn more about and discuss? More information on emerging transportation and energy technologies/ policies can be found here.
    • How will collaborating with researchers at UC Davis contribute to mobility justice for the communities with whom you work? To learn more about mobility justice, click here.
  2. Complete the google form and be sure to include a PDF of your resume towards the end.
  3. If you have any issues or questions regarding the application process, please don’t hesitate to contact

The deadline to apply is Thursday, February 29th.

Funding for this project is provided by the National Center for Sustainable Transportation, Heising-Simons Foundation, the Honda Foundation, and BMW.

Supporting California’s Move to Zero-Emission Vehicles: Creating a Viable, Large-Scale Fuel-Cell Vehicle and Hydrogen System

Hydrogen station

Photo: Adapted from Scharfsinn86 / Adobe Stock.

California is marching ahead with firm rules now in place for both light-duty and medium/heavy-duty vehicles to transition to zero emission stock by 2045. The State is requiring that all new vehicles sold from 2035 onward be “zero-emission vehicles” (ZEVs)—battery electric, plug-in hybrid, or hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicles. While battery electric vehicles currently dominate ZEV sales and discussions of the zero-emissions future, fuel-cell vehicles are expected to play a key role, especially in truck and bus fleets and some households. They offer a different set of strengths, such as extended driving ranges, fast refueling, and potentially greater payloads for trucks.

But creating an economically viable hydrogen system and scaling it up to meet 2035 targets will require massive investments over the next decade. While many initial investments have been made, there is no clear overarching strategy for what a full hydrogen system and supply chain infrastructure might look like in 5, 10, or 20 years. Some kind of system will be needed, given the projected needs of various sectors (transportation, industry, and buildings) and the need for low-cost renewable hydrogen to contribute to the goal of carbon neutrality by 2045 in California. Acknowledging the urgency of the moment, the state recently formed the ARCHES partnership to develop this system further.

For the past two years, a team at UC Davis has been working on the California Hydrogen Analysis Project to investigate potential future hydrogen systems and to assist in planning them through modeling. The current results of the project are described in detail in our full report. We modeled potential demands for hydrogen across sectors (with a focus on transportation), potential types and locations of hydrogen supply, and how hydrogen could be moved and stored between supply and demand locationss. We also analyzed the transportation sector, the electricity sector, and supply chains from production to end-use.

Our study has many findings across the various hydrogen sectors. Here are a few of the key findings and related policy recommendations.

Key findings

  • Transportation can lead hydrogen developments. California’s hydrogen system will need to be driven by growth in hydrogen demand from various end uses, and this growth can be led by transportation (especially by medium/heavy-duty road vehicles). By 2030 we estimate that road transportation, if properly incentivized, could create a hydrogen demand on the order of 500 metric tons per day. This should be sufficient to support development of a hydrogen production and distribution system that would be large enough to benefit from economies of scale.
  • Transportation is scalable. Rapid and incremental sales and adoption of light-duty and medium/heavy-duty fuel-cell vehicles, fostered by supply and demand-based incentives, can be supported by parallel growth of infrastructure to produce and distribute hydrogen. The decentralized nature of a transportation-focused approach can help to develop a regional hydrogen production/distribution network that can then be scaled with more stations and eventually other “offtakers”—i.e., end-users who contract to purchase hydrogen fuel when produced.
  • Strong early investment is needed. In the early years of developing hydrogen systems for transportation, many refueling stations will be needed to ensure adequate coverage so drivers can reliably find fuel as they travel. This can mean generally low utilization of stations and challenging station economics that may require policies to ensure profitability. The Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) credit systems, the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) renewable hydrogen production cost credit, and other incentives can help. But the most important solution is to support investments in areas such as refueling stations and fleet vehicle purchases, which will quickly increase transportation demand.
  • On-going rapid scale-up should occur after 2030. Then, with lower hydrogen costs and prices available, the market should be able to further scale in a profitable manner to reach much higher fuel-cell vehicle shares and hydrogen demand. If fuel-cell vehicles succeed in growing to about 10% of light-duty vehicle shares and 25% of truck shares by 2045, hydrogen demand could be 10 times higher than in 2030, and refueling station numbers could eventually reach many hundreds or even thousands in California, depending on average station sizes.
  • Liquid hydrogen may play an important role. Currently all hydrogen is produced, stored, and moved as a compressed gas; but cryogenic liquid hydrogen may play an important role, especially for refueling large, long-haul trucks. Liquid hydrogen production/storage/station systems have significant advantages given their fuel density and potential for faster dispensing (even into gaseous storage on vehicles), particularly for vehicles, such as heavy-duty trucks, with a lot of hydrogen storage.

Policy Recommendations

The analysis has led to a wide range of findings and conclusions. Some of the most important are policy recommendations for the California Energy Commission and other agencies and stakeholders to consider. These include:

  • Set a new vision for 2030/2035. Work with other agencies and ARCHES to create a clearer vision for the fuel-cell vehicle and hydrogen market in California for the 2030-2035 timeframe, with specific targets for vehicles, fuel, and infrastructure. Align investments in all areas to grow all elements of the system in parallel.
  • Create new fuel-cell vehicle support systems. For example, the state should link incentives and rebates for fuel-cell vehicle purchases to their incremental costs over diesel vehicles, at least for the next 5 years, until market scale can be achieved. This could also be adopted for battery electric vehicles, to keep the system technology-neutral.
  • Build more and larger stations oriented to heavy-duty vehicles. The state should fund a minimum hydrogen station infrastructure to 2030 with increased emphasis on heavy-duty trucks and some stations (such as highway rest stops) that can provide for both light-duty vehicles and all types of trucks. For heavy-duty trucks, at least 50 high-volume stations (each with a capacity of around 10 tons/day) will be needed by 2030 to support a system of several thousand trucks. Larger and potentially more profitable stations are also needed. Defining these levels is key. The ARCHES partnership is developing targets and specific roll-out plans that state agencies should coordinate with and build upon.
  • Find Champion Fleets. Within the Advanced Clean Fleets policy system, find champion fleets to help support major uptake of specific numbers and types of trucks to ensure demand that aligns with a roll-out of hydrogen stations and supply growth to serve these vehicles.
  • Create a data/tracking system for fuel-cell vehicles and hydrogen systems as they develop and grow, to ensure that investments are aligned and the system is functioning as planned for all stakeholders. This system must be kept up to date with annual statistics on numbers and types of vehicles, their usage and performance, refueling infrastructure characteristics and performance, and a range of other information considered important to fleets and policy makers. This database should be publicly available and well supported by the state.

In summary, a hydrogen production and distribution system that serves the growth of fuel-cell vehicles and other end-uses in California will be key to slowing climate change. It should be both feasible and eventually cost-effective, but navigating growth over the next few years will be key. We will continue our research to support planning and informed policymaking.


For more the full report that this blog is based on and information on the ongoing hydrogen research at ITS-Davis, click here and here.

Lew Fulton is the Director of Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways Plus.

Cutting US road sector GHG emissions by 90% or more by 2050 takes both ZEVs and low-carbon fuels

Big reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the transportation sector are needed to limit the magnitude of climate change impacts. Understanding what kinds of policy and market dynamics are at play can help us meet national goals. Our recent study shows that there is an interplay between policy, vehicle types, and fuel sources, and that early investment in zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) could yield big savings and big reductions in GHG emissions, by 2050. Low-carbon fuels for non-electric vehicles will also need to play an important role.

While the United States has not formally adopted long term targets for the sales of ZEVs, including battery electric, plug-in hybrid, and fuel cell vehicles, the Biden administration is a 50% sales share of light-duty ZEVs by 2030 and the US EPA has issued a proposed rule intended to slightly exceed this target.

California is leading the transition with nearly 20% ZEV market share in 2023, and with the most ambitious rules requiring a full transition of LDV sales to ZEV by 2035 and trucks to ZEV by 2040. Many states are following. So far, 16 states have committed to adopting the California LDV ZEV program, and at least 16 have signed the Multi-State Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero Emission Vehicle MOU. If the Biden administration adopts the CO2 rules as currently drafted all 50 state vehicle markets will be required to move in the same direction. It then seems likely that most states will achieve 100% ZEV sales by 2045, 10 years after California’s target.

We recently published a major report on transitioning the US to ZEVs, along with other steps to achieve a very low carbon road-transport sector in the US by 2050. Our report considers a range of scenarios based on vehicle market and policy trends, extending trajectories to 2050. In each case, overall GHG emissions reductions are achieved sooner with the adoption of low-carbon fuels such as advanced biofuels. Our results show that it is possible to reach a 90% or greater reduction in road GHG emissions by 2050 compared to 2015, even in our slowest ZEV transition scenario.

Major findings include:

  • Fast ZEV uptake works but is challenging. Our Low Carbon California (LC CA) scenario is the most ambitious, reaching 100% ZEV sales nationwide by 2035, and 90% ZEV stock by 2050. It involves achieving 68% and 51% of ZEV sales by 2030 for LDVs and trucks, respectively, which will be challenging over the coming seven years.
  • Very high uptake of low-carbon fuels is another, complementary option. Our Low Carbon 10-to-15-year (LC 10-15) scenario is the least ambitious for ZEV uptake and therefore requires the most liquid fuels to reach a 90% GHG reduction. It does not reach 100% ZEV sales nationwide until 2050, resulting in about 54% ZEV stock in that year. These, along with a high uptake of low-carbon fuels in remaining ICE vehicles, achieves an overall GHG reduction of 90% in 2050.
  • Low GHG electricity and hydrogen are critical for both types of scenarios. All ZEVs must eventually be powered from these energy sources, with the electricity and hydrogen providing net zero carbon energy hopefully well before 2050.
  • The slower the ZEV uptake, the more challenging the biofuels component. The result of slower ZEV uptake is a build-up to very high—possibly infeasible or unsustainable—levels of advanced, very low-carbon biofuel use to ensure ongoing GHG reductions in the transportation energy sector. A transition will be needed from today’s dominant grain and oil-based biofuels to predominantly cellulosic biomass-based fuels to maximize their GHG benefits.
  • All scenarios save money, but ZEVs are likely to be cheaper than low-carbon fuels. Cumulative costs of the alternative scenarios from 2020 to 2050, aggregated across LDVs and trucks, are much lower than the business-as-usual (BAU) scenario. The faster the ZEV transition, the greater the net savings between now and 2050. This is mainly due to the lower need for maintenance and higher fuel efficiency of ZEVs. As ZEV prices fall over time, savings on vehicle costs of the alternative scenarios also contribute to overall savings. However, for some specific vehicle types, such as long-haul (LH) trucks that are dominated by fuel cell vehicles (FCV) with only a modest increase in fuel economy over diesel trucks, there are no fuel cost savings, so overall costs are higher than the BAU scenario.

Our analysis also evaluates battery electric energy vs. hydrogen fuel cells for 10 different vehicle types, including LDVs, trucks and buses of different sizes and types. The general results are shown here, with sales shares varying by vehicle type and year for our BAU and two fastest transition scenarios. Our background technology analysis shows that electric vehicles dominate LDV and most truck sales by 2035. However, for long haul trucks, we find hydrogen fuel cell trucks eventually could dominate. In any case, the ZEV sales share is 100% by 2050 in all our scenarios except the BAU.

Bar chart showing vehicle sales shares across vehicle types, scenarios, technologies, and years.

Comparing the fastest transition (LC CA) to BAU for costs, including purchase, fuels, and maintenance costs of all vehicles, we find that this scenario is more expensive than BAU until around 2030, then has lower net costs, becoming much lower very quickly. These higher “investment” costs pay off with around 54 times the savings after 2028 in a non-cost discounted scenario. Slower ZEV transition scenarios save less money, since it’s the ZEVs—particularly battery electric vehicles—that save money, while biofuels costs are generally higher than fossil fuels.

Plot graph showing total vehicle and operation and maintenance cost differences from 2015 to 2050 for light-duty vehicles and trucks combined for the LC CA scenario and BAU.

As our report describes, there are many details that are uncertain. Continuing research will be needed to better predict outcomes. For example, costs may change over time in unpredictable ways, and will depend to a large degree on scaling and learning. The level of policy support that may be needed to help manage the costs of transition are uncertain. The net societal costs of various types of policies and/or regulatory strategies are important, though often difficult to estimate. Our research over the coming one to two years will focus on better understanding fleet behavior, non-cost decision factors, electricity costs, and the potential role, sourcing, and costs of advanced biofuels as well as e-fuels.


UC Davis Secures $20 Million Federal Grant Renewal to Lead the National Center for Sustainable Transportation

National Center for Sustainable Transportation

This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that the National Center for Sustainable Transportation (NCST), housed at the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS-Davis), would receive $20 million to lead a group of seven universities studying transportation effects on the environment. The award reinforces UC Davis’ standing as the nation’s leading university center on sustainable transportation.

The funding was granted as part of the Department of Transportation’s University Transportation Center (UTC) program. This year’s grant competition included a total of 230 applications, representing the largest number of applications ever submitted in the 35-year history of the UTC Program. The NCST is one of only five national transportation centers awarded under the UTC program, and the only one focused on the DOT research priority of Preserving the Environment.

The NCST’s $20 million grant ($4 million per year over 5 years) will allow researchers at UC Davis and other consortium member universities to focus on accelerating equitable decarbonization that benefits both the transportation system and the well-being of people in overburdened and historically disadvantaged communities. Research activities will concentrate in three critical domains: vehicle technology, infrastructure provision, and reshaping travel demand to accelerate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

“Finding a way to decarbonize transportation that does not exacerbate existing inequities is one of the most significant societal challenges we face,” said UC Davis Professor Susan Handy, Director of the NCST. “I am thrilled that we will have the opportunity to work with the U.S. Department of Transportation on this challenge and continue the important work we’ve been doing for the last nine years. With the new grant, we will expand our focus on equity and justice and launch new initiatives on rural mobility, vehicle electrification, and sustainable freight.”

The new grant also enables the NCST to expand its consortium. Professor Handy continued, “We are delighted to welcome Texas Southern University to our partnership.” TSU joins the original members of the NCST consortium: California State University Long Beach, Georgia Institute of Technology, University of California Riverside, University of Southern California, and University of Vermont.

“TSU is honored to join the highly prestigious team of NCST and is truly excited for the opportunity to make contributions to research and education that promote a sustainable and equitable transportation development,” said Lei Yu, Professor of Transportation Studies and Director of TSU’s Innovative Transportation Research Institute (ITRI).

This round of funding marks the second time UC Davis has been able to renew its status as the host of the National Center for Sustainable Transportation. Since its establishment in 2013, the NCST has helped to organize and fund research addressing urgent and critical transportation challenges, and its researchers have partnered with thought leaders and stakeholder groups to provide national leadership for advancing an environmentally sustainable transportation system.

“ITS-Davis is proud and honored to receive this award, recognizing our decades-long commitment to sustainable transportation,” said UC Davis Professor Dan Sperling, Founding Director of ITS-Davis. “Kudos to Susan Handy, our fearless leader of the Center since the first award from the DOT in 2013. We are on a mission to transition our transportation system to a more equitable, environmental, and economically sustainable future—in the U.S. and globally.”

The NCST provides national leadership in advancing environmentally sustainable transportation through cutting-edge research, direct policy engagement, and education of our future leaders. For more information on the center, visit:

For more information on the announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation, visit:



UC Davis Environmental Justice & Equity Leadership Fellowship Program Description

2022 UC Davis Environmental Justice Fellowship

Fellowship Flyer

Application Opens: September 20, 2021
Online Open House Session: TBD
Application Deadline: November 1, 2021
Program Start: January 2022

To immerse community expertise into academic research and public policy, the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies (ITS-Davis),  the Energy and Efficiency Institute (EEI), the Center for Regional Change, in collaboration with members of the Transportation Equity and the Environmental Justice Advisory Group (TEEJAG), are launching the Environmental Justice Fellowship program (EJF). This fellowship program will benefit participating fellows, the communities they serve, and the university researchers they engage with.

The EJF Program will begin in January 2022.


This fellowship program aims to address two challenges: 1) communities have untapped knowledge that is not disseminated widely or is ignored by government and other entities, due to physical distance, language barriers, cost, and lack of access to information; and 2) the research community has untapped knowledge and expertise but has historically shared an asymmetrical power balance with environmental justice (EJ) advocacy groups and community organizations. The result, all too often, has led to limited sharing of information between academia and EJ communities, poor public engagement, and missed opportunities to improve public policy.  This fellowship program will connect university-based research programs and personnel with community expertise and knowledge.

Topics of Interest

This program is being developed with a particular focus on these key research areas:

  • Equity in electric vehicles: incentives and infrastructure
  • Indoor air quality upgrades
  • Outdoor air quality mitigation
  • Greening without gentrification
  • Science-based energy efficiency
  • Improve buildings electrification
  • Transit service: availability, access, and cost
  • Safe streets and active transportation
  • Shared mobility and increased mobility options
  • Transit-oriented developments and affordable housing
  • Decarbonization efforts including Low Carbon Fuel Standard

Program Design

The program will be co-created by the fellows and the UC Davis Environmental Justice Team formed by EJ experts. This program will last six months with support for up to three in-person sessions in Davis, California. Fellows will be given flexibility to customize the program according to their interests. Fellows will be expected to participate in some or all of the following activities:

  • Professional Development
    • Participation in weekly seminar series and classes, and curated briefings with local, state, and federal legislators, and other regulatory agencies in the EJ space
  • Leadership by the fellows
    • Integrate lived experience and community knowledge into the research process
    • Provide guest lectures and/or co-teach courses
    • Co-organize workshops and/or webinars
  • Capstone Project
    • Complete a white paper, presentation, and/or grant proposal that will advance equity
  • Professional Network
    • Continued engagement with fellows and networking events


An Environmental Justice Fellow is an experienced environmental justice activist or community leader, aiming to advance and scale their goals, who are also willing to co-design this program. Individuals committed to advancing EJ are encouraged to apply, including those who may or may not be part of non-government organizations (NGOs), research-advocacy groups, community-based organizations (CBOs), and/or advocacy groups. Those from historically underrepresented backgrounds, including Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), and those with intersecting identities (queer, trans, immigrant, and disabled), are strongly encouraged to apply.


The Fellows should be able to commit a minimum of 8 hours a week to this program. Candidates are encouraged to be involved beyond that time depending on their availability. The goal is to provide enough flexibility to allow Fellows to continue to work for and support their respective organizations, while remaining fully engaged in the activities mentioned in the Program Design (above) for a productive and impactful fellowship experience.

Prospective Fellows

If you are interested in being considered for this Fellowship, please complete the following application by Monday, November 1, 2021 (PST 11:55).

Our team is asking individuals interested in being considered for this fellowship to submit an application, including all those that had previously applied in summer 2021. To submit an application, please complete the following 2-step process:

  1. Complete an updated application HERE. (Deadline: Monday, November 1, 2021)
  2. Send your resume via email to: (you can copy and paste into the outgoing email address)
    1. Please upload your resume as DOC or PDF (Max size 20-25 MB)
    2. Name your file as: LastName_FirstName_resume (ex. Doe_John_resume)
    3. You will receive a confirmation email once your resume is received

The EJF selection committee will review applications and inform selected Fellows by Monday, November 15th, 2021.

The coordinating team will be hosting a virtual Open House on Wednesday, October 27 at 12pm. The purpose of this virtual event is to provide candidates an opportunity to ask questions and/or comment directly to the coordinating team. If you are interested in participating please register to receive the information for this event. Thank you for your time and we look forward to hearing from you.

For questions, please contact our program coordinators JC Garcia Sanchez ( and Terra Arnal Luna (

Please feel free to download this PDF version for sharing by email to colleagues.

How E-Commerce Is Reshaping Warehousing and Impacting Disadvantaged Communities–And What We Can Do About It

How E-Commerce Is Reshaping Warehousing and Impacting Disadvantaged Communities--And What We Can Do About It

How we buy things has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Online shopping is up 30% in the US since 1999, accounting for almost 12% of all retail goods. Online companies have enticed shoppers with free shipping, free returns, and promises of faster and faster deliveries. Current stay-at-home conditions have reinforced this trend, increasing online orders another 30% since the COVID-19 epidemic began. Online purchases of some goods were up 10 fold in April and May.

We found, in a March 2020 study, that the upsurge in faster delivery times and more deliveries would lead to many more warehouses and truck trips closer to city and town centers–where people live.

Real estate data from our more recent study support this prediction. In five of California’s most populated regions, goods delivery companies are moving to smaller and more numerous warehouses and distribution centers, located closer to densely populated downtown areas. This shift increases truck traffic, even if the overall amount of cargo remains constant. More truck traffic means more greenhouse gas emissions and more pollution and noise in local communities.

Unfortunately, this increased pollution and noise tends to disproportionately impact disadvantaged communities. Since minorities and low-income communities make up a significant proportion of residents in disadvantaged communities, they are often burdened with the negative by-products of congestion and exposure to on-road emissions. We found a correlation between the number of warehouses and unhealthy air. While it’s unclear to what extent these warehouse facilities are the cause of this pollution, it is clear that the increased truck traffic is increasing congestion and degrading air quality—and generally in communities that are already overburdened. This inequity is demonstrated by the fact that about one-third of the regions we studied are classified as disadvantaged, but more than one-half of warehouse transactions in the past two decades have occurred in these areas—and are increasing.

It seems inevitable that online shopping will continue to grow. Making a few simple mouse clicks to accomplish a day’s worth of shopping is very appealing. The convenience to one segment of the population, however, is creating a burden to others. So what could or should be done about this shift?

First, local and regional agencies should adopt warehouse siting and air quality rules to mitigate those impacts—with a focus on protecting vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. Public and private sector interventions could reduce commercial traffic on neighborhood streets and mitigate overall pollution associated with warehouses and trucks.

Second, the electrification of trucks and industrial vehicles (such as forklifts) should be accelerated. The California Air Resources Board has just adopted requirements for zero-emission trucks starting in 2024. Perhaps local governments, working closely with the private sector, could identify specific uses where the requirements may be expedited. Transitioning to cleaner delivery vehicles won’t mitigate traffic concerns, but would lessen their impact on local air quality.

Third, new policies or strategies could incentivize logistics companies and consumers to aggregate or batch deliveries and orders to minimize the total number of trips needed.

As online retail shopping continues to grow and as consumers demand faster deliveries, more effort is needed to address the downside of these changes, especially since those adverse impacts exacerbate the environmental, health, and traffic problems already burdening disadvantaged communities.


Miguel Jaller is Co-Director of the Sustainable Freight Research Center at ITS-Davis. He studies freight transportation, sustainable transportation systems, and humanitarian logistics.

New Series: Bringing Transportation Science to Policy

Today the UC Davis Institute of Transportation Studies and the Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy are launching a UC Davis blog on transportation, highlighting new research findings and insights important to transportation policy and decision-making. We see a moral and ethical obligation to better disseminate our mountains of research to inform policy, investments, and decisions in government and industry. We are especially focused on responding to disruptions caused by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the sharing, electric, and automation revolutions. We retain our commitment to sustainable transportation (including my beloved zero emission bike).

These blogs will be short and timely. It’s an experiment. We’ll try for every two weeks, starting next week! Sign up here.

Coming into 2020, the transportation world was already in turmoil. Transit ridership was declining in almost every city in the US, calls for decarbonizing transportation were intensifying, and the unfolding three revolutions of electric, shared, and automated vehicles were already disrupting cities.

Now, on top of those snowballing disruptions, comes the unprecedented turmoil of COVID-19. Transit decline is now freefall disaster. Airlines are decimated. Dockless scooters and bikes have nearly disappeared. Ride-hailing companies are barely surviving (saved in the case of Uber by a boom in food delivery). There is collateral damage all around, highlighted by the Hertz bankruptcy in May. Meanwhile, telecommunications is replacing many commute, medical, and shopping trips. To what extent will these changes in travel behavior persist? And how will transportation (and other) businesses respond?

We in the research world have a special responsibility to help add clarity. This blog series will tap into the vast pool of research being generated here at UC Davis. Next week we start with a stream of blogs that aim to inform current policy and decision-making in government and industry. Upcoming blogs will explore the transformation of local goods delivery, the rise of electric trucks, the comeback of sharing in a COVID world, and much more. Sign up here.

The spark for this series was Kate Gordon, the “climate czar” for Governor Newsom of California, and a longtime leader and expert on economic development, jobs, climate housing, and transportation. In her keynote talk at the (virtual) biannual UC Davis Sustainable Transportation Energy Pathways symposium (May 21), she called for researchers in this time of need to step up and accelerate the dissemination of research and insights. We were struck by her call to action and the plethora of policy-relevant research being presented by researchers.

To assist us, we invite policymakers and decisionmakers to send us their wish list of what they need to know about transportation to make better decisions. We’ll make every effort to respond with thoughtful science-based blogs taken from our research at UC Davis and elsewhere. Stay tuned. Sign up here.

What the Present Pandemic Means for the Future of Transportation

The COVID-19 pandemic is having huge impacts on transportation. Telecommuting trends may persist. Traffic is down, bus and train schedules have been slashed, and air travel is at levels last seen in the 1950s. COVID-19 is affecting transportation today, and the pandemic will likely have huge impacts on how we get around in the future. This blog series explores intersections between the COVID-19 pandemic and the “3 Revolutions” in transportation: shared mobility, vehicle electrification, and vehicle automation. The goal of this blog series is to identify key strategies that can help transportation leaders in pursuing climate and equity objectives – after the worst of the pandemic subsides. If we can respond to the enormous challenge that this virus poses, it will also enable us to increase the resilience of our transportation systems, and respond to similar crises that may emerge in years to come.

Part 1: COVID-19 Will Not Cancel Shared Travel

When the virus wanes, what can encourage people to return to shared travel—and ensure it is safe to do so? Shared travel makes transportation more affordable, equitable, sustainable, and logistically feasible. But fears of sharing may linger. Shared modes will need to come back safer, better, and more reliable than they were prior to the pandemic, or people will not share.


During the pandemic, public transit has been one of the hardest-hit modes of transportation. Data from mobile apps indicates that transit ridership has plunged by 50% or more in major cities around the world and transit demand in the United States has dropped by nearly 80% nationwide. Google reported that in early April, foot traffic at transit stations was down by more than 50%. These numbers are especially stark when compared to other transportation modes. Apple, for instance, has recorded a 76% drop in routing queries for transit during the pandemic but only a 45% drop in queries for driving. Similar patterns are being reported overseas. Researchers at ETH Zurich showed a much larger decline in the use of public transit than other travel modes.

While this transit ridership freefall is unprecedented, transit was already in big trouble before COVID-19. Most U.S. transit operators saw declining ridership and fare revenues prior to the pandemic. This is due to many factors– including increased competition from ridehailing and reductions in barriers to auto ownership. But the pandemic may take the difficult situation for transit operators from bad to worse. Fare revenues only cover a small portion of many agency’s budgets. Local funds tied to tax revenues make up the large part of many of our nation’s transit budgets. The looming pandemic era recession could serve another hit to those transit agencies reliant on sales taxes. Federal funding will play a key role in filling growing budget gaps. The CARES Act includes $26 billion to support transit, but it may not be enough for many struggling agencies.

Transit operators will need to leverage additional resources to tackle both COVID-19 issues and broader ridership decline issues head on. Operators are already working with health authorities to keep transit workers and riders safe during the pandemic. Operators are taking a number of different types of actions including by erecting Plexiglas barriers to protect drivers and ticket sellers, frequently cleaning stations and vehicles, eliminating fare payment, and implementing other policies and procedures designed to minimize potential contamination. Personal protective equipment (PPE) is a priority for drivers and riders in paratransit shuttle services, where close interactions are often necessary in order to secure passengers’ wheelchairs into vehicles.

These practices will need to start now and continue as the economy reopens. New informational campaigns will also be critical in raising public awareness of safety practices, ensuring that people feel safe and comfortable enough to return to transit. And as though implementing these safety protective practices is not enough work, agencies will also need to redouble their efforts to compete for riders. The coming era for transit will require innovation. Flexible service options and new financing tools will enable operators to strategically fill gaps and bring back riders.


The two main ridehailing service providers, Uber and Lyft, have taken a variety of steps to respond to COVID-19. Remarkably, both companies are discouraging use of their services, displaying messages that remind consumers to travel only when necessary. Both companies are also providing some drivers with cleaning and sanitization materials (though perhaps without fully meeting demand).

Both companies have paused shared ride features (i.e., UberPool and Lyft Share) in their respective apps. The pandemic could certainly have sustained impacts on the popularity of shared ridehailing, despite the previous period of growth for shared ridehailing. Pricing structures and marketing will affect the rate at which consumers return to each, and there may be a role for policy. Collaborations between ridehailing companies and public health officials to restrict access to shared vehicles for those with contagious diseases could also bolster consumer confidence in ridehailing safety. Ridehailing data and other travel data can also help experts track how diseases spread (or predict how they could spread).

Ridehailing services also filled various gaps in the transportation network during the crisis. Ridehailing can be an alternative option for those dependent on transit, when transit schedules have been cut. Both Uber and Lyft are partnering with healthcare organizations and hospitals to offer nonemergency medical transportation for those without ready access to a car or other convenient travel options. The nation’s largest microtranst operator, Via, developed a semi-private version of its app dedicated to helping essential employees get to work. This type of gap service could be a good addition to a city or region’s emergency preparedness planning efforts.

Bikeshare and e-scooter share

Bike gears and scooter wheels kept turning during the early stages of the pandemic. Use of bike and e-scooter sharing services (i.e., micromobility) in places like New York and San Francisco spiked in March as people sought to avoid traveling in confined spaces. As concern over COVID-19 grew, cities and companies disagreed on the appropriate role for micromobility. The City of Sacramento asked Jump (Uber’s scooter division) to remove its shared bikes and scooters from city streets. Lime and Bird, two of the largest micromobility companies in the world, paused operations in markets across the world. Yet Wuhan, China simultaneously relied on scooter-based delivery to supply residents on lockdown with groceries and other goods. The e-scooter company Spin argued that its service enabled essential workers to travel safely.

The story of micromobility during the COVID-19 pandemic yields two lessons. First, micromobility—like ridehailing—is an important complement to public transit. Shared bikes and scooters may not be able to get people as far as commuter trains and buses, but they can help keep people and goods moving around dense urban areas when other travel modes fail. Second, cities need to work with health authorities and researchers to understand the true health risks that shared bikes and e-scooters pose—and then coordinate with each other on an appropriate response. If the risk is low, cities could promote bike and e-scooter sharing as good alternatives to public transit or driving during health emergencies. Many cities also already subsidize use of shared bikes and e-scooters for historically underserved populations. For these communities especially, but also for all communities, additional subsidies that support frequently cleaning micromobility units will ensure that riders are safe.

The bottom line

A safe return to shared travel is necessary— and it will be a difficult task. The challenges in our immediate path are significant, but the first step is envisioning good outcomes for a sustainable transportation future. Without a commitment to shared mobility—especially mass transit and pooled rides—we will see a resurgence of single-occupant vehicles and an undermining of progress towards climate and equity objectives.

Moving Freight Sustainably from Here to There: Scenarios for Zero-Emission Trucking Technologies

Almost all trucks today are powered by diesel engines and fossil fuel. Changing how trucks are powered is essential to solving the problems of air pollution and climate change. After all, trucks account for a substantial share of both pollutant emissions and CO2 emissions on California’s roadways. But what are the feasible strategies and costs for reaching a future with zero- or very-low-emissions trucks?

This question becomes even more challenging when focusing on “long-haul” trucks. Such trucks, typically tractor/trailer Class 8 vehicles weighing up to 33,000 pounds unloaded, can travel 500 miles or more per day, and have some challenging energy requirements—they must be able to carry enough energy, or have rapid access to it, to be able to travel these distances with up to a 40,000-pound payload.

From a regulatory perspective, the California Air Resources Board is in the process of proposing a new truck sales mandate that would require truck manufacturers to sell ZEV trucks, starting in 2024.

How can we power such vehicles with zero emissions? At the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, we strove to answer this question from a research perspective by looking at four technologies designed to provide power to long-haul trucks while producing zero tailpipe emissions. These technologies are: a catenary system; hydrogen fuel cells; dynamic inductive chargers embedded in the roadway (capable of charging moving trucks); and battery electric vehicles (BEVs). The first three of these are covered in a full report (here) and BEVs will be covered in an upcoming report.

We compared the technologies to each other and to a baseline diesel truck—in terms of technical requirements, current status, challenges, costs, and the potential for future improvements and scale-up. We considered both the vehicles and the energy infrastructure they would need to operate. We modeled a future (maybe 10 years out) where both trucks and infrastructure benefit from economies of scale. For our comparisons, we simulated a situation with 5000 trucks travelling 500 miles of roadway per day (which is a lot). We amortized the vehicle and infrastructure costs over this level of service and over many years (i.e., 20 years to pay off the infrastructure, 5 years for trucks with some resale value).

Though there are many factors affecting the comparison, and we consider a range of sensitivity cases, the figure shows our “base case” results: costs per mile for diesel and the first three technologies. The three cleaner technologies are all within 30% of the cost of diesel but none quite match it. The preliminary results for BEVs (not shown), based on slightly different assumptions, indicate that their total costs in a long-haul situation could be on the low side, ranging from $0.45–0.82 per mile versus $0.58 per mile for diesel.

In all cases the range of costs reflects uncertainties in vehicle costs, infrastructure costs, and energy costs. But it’s the energy costs (brown part of bars in the figure) that appear to be the most important and most uncertain. Electricity could run from $0.10 to $0.25 per kWh, depending on the nature of the contracts, whether pricing is closer to retail or wholesale, etc. Future hydrogen costs could vary from about $5 to $8 per kg (when derived from electrolysis), assuming large scale development and access to relatively inexpensive renewable power. The base technology, diesel, has a cost that is highly dependent on oil prices, which could range from $50 to $100/bbl or even higher. High- or low-end assumptions on each of these energy prices leads to a relatively good or poor position relative to the others.


Relative cost per mile of different technologies based on 500 miles of roadway.

Figure: Relative cost per mile of different technologies based on 500 miles of roadway.


But what exactly are these technologies? What are their advantages and disadvantages?

In the catenary system, overhead wires deliver power through a pantograph with electrical contacts rising off the top of the vehicle. Catenary systems have been widely used for light rail and trolleys, so the technology is well developed. Trials of catenary trucks are underway in Sweden and the Port of Los Angeles. The major challenges would be to install the infrastructure and provide another power source to trucks for when they leave wired roadways.

Dynamic inductive (or “wireless”) charging similarly provides electric power to moving vehicles, from a series of transmitting coils embedded in the roadway. The charge is delivered, with about 90% efficiency, over a short distance to a receiving coil on the bottom of a vehicle. The challenges and costs are like those of the catenary system, but this system would require installation of transmission coils in road beds. Like a catenary system, this system would require the installation of at least hundreds of miles of infrastructure before it would likely be sufficient to attract users—truckers willing to invest in the equipment needed to be compatible. Indeed, this chicken-egg dilemma is a factor for all four technologies: which comes first, investment in infrastructure or vehicles?

Hydrogen fuel cell (HFC) vehicles use hydrogen, as a liquid or compressed gas, to generate electricity from an on-board fuel cell. The hydrogen takes up less volume and weight than do batteries, and refueling is much faster than battery charging. A hydrogen system could also be scaled-up more cheaply and evenly than catenaries or inductive charging. However, infrastructure challenges are considerable in terms of the transportation (or on-site generation) and storage of hydrogen, as refueling stations would have to be 10–30 times larger than diesel stations. Two HFC trucks have been produced, the Vision Tyrano (200-mile range) and Nikola One (800- to 1200-mile range).

Battery electric long-haul trucks typically rely on plugging-in to be recharged (though we do assume some battery electric range for trucks accessing catenaries or dynamic induction systems). Most battery trucks currently have a range of less than 250 miles. The major challenges in applying this technology to long-haul trucks are the large quantity and weight of the required batteries. We estimate that about 1200 kWh would be needed, with a weight of well over 10,000 pounds. This means long recharging times and a potentially large reduction in payload (since battery weight takes away from what could be allocated for goods). In our analysis we assume some reductions in battery weight in the future and access to fast charging, but these two concerns remain.

As long as available electricity is from low carbon sources (namely renewables), the CO2 emissions for catenary, dynamic inductive charging, and BEVs would be low. (The electric grid in California is targeted to be fully renewable by 2040.) The same is true for HFC trucks using electrolytically generated hydrogen, though in the nearer term, the lower efficiency of these trucks (and production of hydrogen) would mean higher CO2 than the pure electric options. CO2 would also be considerably higher if the hydrogen were derived from steam methane reforming of natural gas, which is common today.

In sum, each technology has several advantages and challenges, and there is no obvious winner. From the point of view of infrastructure needs and scale-up, hydrogen may have an advantage. Battery electric trucks provide an attractive option with lower infrastructure costs and potentially lower overall costs but would compromise payloads unless the weight of batteries comes down significantly or compromises are made on range. Finally, catenary and inductive charging systems could work best in areas of dense truck traffic but will need to be extensive enough to work for trucks covering many miles and will require the biggest up-front investments.

Two major questions that need further research are: How do we best manage scaling-up each technology? And how large will public investments and incentives need to be to create a self-sustaining system with adequate infrastructure? The UC Davis STEPS+ Program and Sustainable Freight Research Center will continue to work in this area.

This blog is drawn from a Caltrans “Planning Horizons” educational forum presented by Dr. Fulton this spring. To view a video of his presentation click here and select March 2019. To access the PowerPoint from the presentation click here. To access the full report that this blog and the talk are based on click here.


Product Liability is the Wrong Standard for Self-Driving Cars

Note: This blog was originally published on 3/29/2019 by the legal news service Law360.

The automated vehicle revolution has begun, and will accelerate in the near future. AVs are vehicles that automate the act of driving. Many current-model cars already incorporate features such as adaptive cruise control, self-parking and lane-keeping assistance.

But a larger paradigm shift will occur in the near future when high-level AVs capable of full self-driving will reach some markets. Experts predict these vehicles will be safer than human-driven vehicles, but they will still sometimes crash and cause injuries.

The current auto liability framework works well for human-driven vehicles. However, it assumes a neat distinction between “the driver,” a human who is always responsible for controlling the vehicle, and “the manufacturer,” a company with no post-sale control over the vehicle.

Approximately 94 percent of car crashes are caused by human driver error; here, the human driver can be liable but the vehicle manufacturer cannot. Conversely, approximately 2 percent of car crashes are caused by a defect in the vehicle; here, the vehicle manufacturer can be liable but the human driver cannot. Both scenarios assume one party (but not the other) is presumptively “at fault” for a crash. Liability flows from this fault determination; fault flows from control.

In a self-driving car, however the vehicle’s true “driver” — the party actually controlling the vehicle — is not the human but the vehicle itself. Several recent AV prototypes do not even have a steering wheel or pedals for the human occupant to use. In this type of vehicle, the human vehicle occupant cannot exert control over the vehicle and thus cannot make a driver error. This is significant: in a self-driving car, the traditional pathway to human liability is foreclosed.

If the human driver cannot be liable, it is likely that liability will shift to the manufacturer. The bigger question, however, is whether the liability standard will also shift accordingly. Human drivers are typically evaluated under a negligence standard; manufacturers are typically evaluated under a strict products liability standard. As we shall explain, the combination of manufacturer-borne liability with a default products liability standard could threaten the societal gains we could achieve through AV usage.

The prospect of assigning all AV liability to manufacturers has theoretical appeal: After all, the manufacturer of the self-driving software is presumably the only party capable of controlling or improving the safety of the vehicle. And from an economic perspective, assigning liability costs to the manufacturer, the “cheapest cost avoider” in this scenario, should incentivize the manufacturer to maximize safety precautions. This would benefit AV consumers and to all other parties sharing the roads with these vehicles as well.

However, if we assign all AV liability to manufacturers, these manufacturers could incur significant liability costs. This strikes us as fundamentally fair: If manufacturers want the financial benefits of selling a proprietary and potentially dangerous product, they should assume the financial risks associated with the product as well. The problem is not the assignment of liability; it is the assignment of litigation costs. Products liability litigation is notoriously time-consuming and difficult — thus, invariably, expensive.

Applying products liability to self-driving cars will not benefit most victim-plaintiffs. Given that AV technology is proprietary, and assuming that manufacturers will fight to protect their source code from discovery, it is not clear where a plaintiff will be able to find a qualified expert who can identify the particular software error that yielded a particular crash. And even if such an expert were available, the legal costs of launching a products liability lawsuit may easily exceed most routine damage claims. Attorneys, not victims, will reap the benefits of this system.

Products liability will also be costly for manufacturers. Even if we are comfortable with manufacturers assuming the costs of victim compensation, the frequency and costliness of defending against products liability lawsuits is problematic for two reasons. First, those litigation costs will ultimately be passed on to consumers, driving up the cost of AV use and ownership. Second, these litigation costs may force smaller manufacturers out of the market, creating oligopoly.

Both of these situations would likely reduce the number of AVs on the road. And if, as we predict, the use of AVs is a net positive for society — if AV usage can improve road safety, increase access to mobility, reduce vehicle emissions, aid in the movement towards sustainable city design, etc. — then the last thing we should want to do is create a liability system that reduces the quality and quantity of available AVs.

The solution to this problem is to create a manufacturer liability standard that is less costly to both victims and manufacturers. We suggest a manufacturer negligence standard. Here, when an AV crashes, the court could assess the vehicle’s actions under the “reasonable human driver” standard. Thus, if the AV’s actions would be deemed negligent if performed by a human driver (for example, speeding or disobeying a traffic signal), the manufacturer would be liable.

The value of this system is that the court’s analysis could be focused on the crash itself — what the vehicle actually did — rather than analyzing the self-driving software’s source code to determine whether the vehicle was defectively designed. This would be a much easier and less time-consuming (thus cheaper) analytical mode for all parties.

An alternative solution might be to create a victim compensation fund, allowing injured victims to bypass the courts and products liability altogether. This fund could be created from mandatory contributions from manufacturers in proportion to each manufacturer’s market share, or each manufacturer’s share of total AV crashes. A compensation fund could also help victims recover for their injuries more quickly and with less uncertainty than through the litigation process.

If AVs are better for society than human-driven vehicles, we should design our liability to promote their usage. Products liability is simply too costly — both in terms of financial costs and also in terms of the value lost by reducing AV usage — to be the proper legal standard for analyzing AV crashes.


This blog is based on a series of four 2019 issue papers on possible approaches to liability and insurance for automated vehicles.

Gordon Anderson is a legal fellow at the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy and a third-year student at King Hall, UC Davis School of Law.

Austin Brown is executive director of the Policy Institute. In this role he builds strong connections between the research and policy communities at the local, state, and national levels with a focus on clean energy and sustainable transportation.