Two weeks ago, the City and County of Honolulu unveiled its latest renewable transportation initiative: a 100 percent electric bus.
The distinct blue-green zero-emission vehicle, on loan from Proterra Inc., is at the center of a pilot project testing the battery-powered bus on 23 separate routes around Oahu. This announcement came just one month after Hawaii’s four county mayors sent a decisive message about the future of self-sufficiency and sustainability through their joint proclamation to achieve 100 percent renewable energy in ground transportation by 2045.
We at Ulupono Initiative welcome these significant steps by local governments. The implementation of the electric bus pilot project, along with the counties’ 2045 renewable energy goal, converges with our mission to decrease Hawaii’s dependence on imported fossil fuels.
Currently, ground transportation contributes to roughly one-third of Hawaii’s oil consumption and approximately one-quarter of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. By moving these modes of transportation toward renewable energy usage, we have the opportunity to catch up to recent strides in the electricity sector. Today, 20 percent of the state’s electricity generation is renewable. While Hawaii is second in the nation in per-capita electric vehicles (EVs), less than 1 percent of transportation-related energy is renewable.
Our counties now join at least 12 other cities from across the globe that have made a similar pledge as part of the C40 Cities commitment to create greener, healthier and more prosperous places to live. These include Los Angeles, Barcelona, Mexico City, Paris, Vancouver and Seattle.
Though ambitious, their pledges are arguably less aggressive than recent plans by some countries to ban the sale of new gasoline and diesel vehicles. Led by the Netherlands and Norway with a 2025 goal, India, France, Britain and Scotland have now made commitments of the same grade. Even China (the world’s largest car market) is working on a timetable to end both the sale and production of such vehicles.
It is critical to note that these goals will also require a diverse array of safe alternatives such as increasing the rate of walking, cycling, public- transit and shared transport, plus people-friendly planning policies such as the Complete Streets program and the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities. Another great example is Biki, Honolulu’s bikeshare system. This fun and healthy commuting option in the urban core helps eliminate car trips, which improves congestion and reduces the demand for parking, and displaces the amount of gasoline used by Oahu commuters.
The counties have taken steps to lead, but the state also plays a significant role in facilitating this transformation. It is time for continued progress as the 2018 legislative session advances. Legislative proposals to establish a clean ground transportation benchmark for maximizing consumer fuel savings have received strong support in the past, and we remain hopeful that measures such as House Bill 2728 will succeed this session in making its way to the governor’s desk for signature.
Great progress is being made and we believe the electric bus pilot project is a significant milestone. However, as a small market sitting in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, Hawaii needs to set these benchmarks and make a clear statement that we want to be part of this movement, lead a clean energy future, and be more sustainable. In doing so, lawmakers are informing key stakeholders and constituents about what they think is possible. Rather than asking IF we can make this happen, policymakers are now saying let’s start figuring out how to make this happen.
We believe Hawaii is up to the challenge, and we look forward to supporting the counties, state and other likeminded organizations on these and other worthy initiatives.