Public Comment

Transit-Oriented Development Can't Reduce Berkeley's Carbon Footprint - But Door-to-Door Transit Can

Russ Tilleman
Friday November 02, 2018 - 04:10:00 PM

Building housing near transit has one glaring flaw. It can't reduce Berkeley's carbon footprint because it doesn't do anything about the people who already live here.

It can limit how much bigger Berkeley's carbon footprint gets, but it can't fix climate change by itself.


The recent "IPCC Special Report on Global Warming" from the United Nations gives the world 12 years to reduce carbon emissions, not limit how fast they increase. The report predicts dire consequences if we fail to accomplish this goal.

Fortunately, there is an approach that can greatly reduce Berkeley's carbon footprint by getting people out of their fossil-fueled cars and into a combination of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles for short trips and BART trains for longer trips.

I call this approach door-to-door transit, because it finally solves the centuries-old "last mile" problem of moving people between their homes or jobs and the nearest transit stations. 


Traditional public transit puts people together onto a train or bus which travels in the direction that all those individuals want to go. But there is a fundamental problem with this approach - Different people want to go different places. 

If a shared vehicle travelled to everyone's Point A and Point B, it would have to zigzag all over the place. And that would be very inefficient. But a vehicle that runs down the middle of a transit corridor, say north-to-south across Berkeley, doesn't get very close to many people's Point A and Point B. 

Generally some kind of compromise is made between these two extremes. But the result leaves many people with a long way to travel to get to the nearest station. 

Many people do not want to walk half an hour from their home to the train station, ride the train for close to an hour, and then walk another half hour from the train to their workplace. 


There is an environmental cost to all that walking, because the time could be used to earn money to be spent on carbon offset credits. And that could reduce overall carbon emissions. 

Time is one of the reasons so few people ride BART and AC Transit. Out of 8 million people living in the Bay Area, around 200,000 ride BART and less than 100,000 ride AC Transit. 

This is unfortunate, but it is also a big opportunity to cut carbon by getting more people onto transit. 


With door-to-door transit, large numbers of Neighborhood Electric Vehicles are placed at BART stations for use by commuters. A Berkeley resident can drive one of these NEVs home in the evening, keep it overnight, and drive it to the BART station in the morning. Someone who commutes into Berkeley can use the same NEV during the work day. 

This approach revolutionizes transit. The process can be as fast and convenient as driving a private automobile all the way from Point A to their Point B, and as energy-efficient as riding a train. It has several advantages. 

1) The NEVs are only used at the ends of the trip. They travel primarily on neighborhood streets that don't have much traffic and stay off the central choke points like freeways and bridges. 

2) The entire system is electric, so as long as the electricity is generated cleanly, this can be much greener than driving a fossil-fueled car all the way from Point A to Point B. 

3) Using BART's realtime arrival online system, commuters can plan the proper time to leave their Point A to reach BART just in time to catch their train. So there is no significant wait time to get on the train. 

4) When exiting the train, commuters can immediately pick up an NEV and drive it to their Point B. So there is no significant wait time there either. 

5) There is guaranteed parking at the end of the drop-off line at every BART station for every NEV. Several times as many NEVs fit in a parking lot than private cars because they are small vehicles and can be packed in bumper-to-bumper. 

6) An $8000 NEV, rented for $6, twice per work day, can pay for itself in about 3 years with no subsidies. So this program doesn't have to cost the taxpayers anything. 

This adds up to an inexpensive and environmentally-friendly trip that takes about as long as driving. So commuters can easily do their part to stop climate change. Also, many people won't need to own a private car anymore, which can eliminate the carbon emitted in manufacturing that car. 


I first proposed this form of transit 7 years ago, and BART agreed to work with me to implement it. But the City of Berkeley didn't want to participate, so it never got done. Hundreds or even thousands of people drove their fossil-fueled cars through rush hour traffic to work and back every day, who could have used this approach instead. 

One of the problems blocking progress on climate change is money in politics. Politicians who take money from real estate developers and provide favors to them in return don't care about the environment. And they won't vote for the solutions we need. 

If we want to save the planet, we have to get money out of politics now at the city, county, transit district, state and federal level. You get what you pay for and the environment doesn't have the money to buy City Councils, Boards of Supervisors, Boards of Directors, State Assemblies and Congress. 

I am doing my part by not accepting campaign donations. I'm running a basic issues-oriented campaign and paying for it myself. So far I have spent less than $1000 and I plan to still be under that limit on election day. 

I'm being outspent 40-to-1 but I trust Berkeley voters not to be swayed by a mailbox full of advertising. Companies like Gordon Commercial Properties, who illegally contributed to Lori Droste's campaign, have no control over me. 


Looking forward, Berkeley can choose to act on this now, while it can help avoid the climate catastrophe predicted by the United Nations. Or Berkeley can choose to not act on this for another 7 years. Or 100 years, or forever. The choice is ours. 

If I am elected, I will recommend an immediate trial program to see how well this approach can work. If it works well, Berkeley and other cities around the country can ramp it up to a scale where it really cuts carbon.