State of state air: The worse for wear, but nothing that can’t be fixed

The other day (Feb. 7, 2014), I posted: “Annual per-capita California driving 1.5 times the national average.”

So, to recap:

In California:

  • Annual average per-capita miles driven – 13,636
  • Number of licensed drivers – 22 million
  • Number of registered vehicles – 27.5 million
  • Annual average fuel consumption – 681.81 gallons
  • Average vehicle fuel economy rating – 20 miles per gallon

In researching information used to prepare the abovementioned article, I also learned California motorists are driving an average 4,273 miles per year farther than what is typical of U.S. drivers in general and that the 22 million drivers account for around 58 percent of the Golden State’s approximately 38 million residents. The rest, or 42 percent, don’t drive.

The rest of the story

Interestingly and important to note, as of Jan. 1, 2013 as indicated in “Air pollution as seen through Californians’ eyes,” registered in state were about 585,000 hybrid automobiles. This is up from approximately 218,000 in 2008. That’s 367,000 more hybrids on the road or an increase of 168.35 percent in five years’ time. That’s right around a 33.67 percent increase per year.

585,000 hybrids out of 27.5 million registered vehicles in state isn’t a lot. As a matter of fact, it’s all of 2.13 percent. I’d like it better if hybrid numbers were higher, but to borrow a familiar line, Rome wasn’t built in a day; though, there is every reason to believe the trend will continue.

I assume people buy hybrids, in large part, due to operating characteristics: they have greater fuel efficiencies, are less costly to operate and maintain and are better for the environment. Off into the future, if the ultimate aim is to significantly reduce emissions and if a significant amount of that reduction is to come from the transportation sector, then very fuel-efficient vehicle (VFEV) sales must be considerable if the effect is to be dramatic.

Based on a maximum 27.5 million vehicles, say, for example, an achievable goal of 25 percent VFEV is established. That means 6.875 million VFEVs out of a total 27.5 million vehicles of all types. How many years then will it take to reach that target? Assuming a VFEV per-annum increase locked in at 33.67 percent or, in other words, a per-year rise of 196,969.5 VFEVs, to reach the target would take 34.9 years (provided all calculations are correct).

While that may seem like both a realistic expectation and achievable metric, and while emissions reduced this way would be praiseworthy, the time frame for this to be carried out seems to me to be much too long, albeit long-term, this is nevertheless an effective solution.

As it relates, one has to assume, incidentally, the 16 million non-driving Californians are having their mobility needs met in any number of ways and that includes as passengers in cars, buses, trains, planes and other means – automated and non-automated alike.

A second, long-term approach to transportation-sector-based emissions reduction is through the development of a statewide high-speed rail system.

It just so happens, a draft business plan of the California High-Speed Rail Authority was recently released. The plan must be updated every two years.

Projections or forecasts are that 37.4 million people will ride the spine between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles basin anticipating this segment is operational in 2027 and this is at the 95 percent confidence level.1

Of the total forecasted ridership, if those living in California comprise 70 percent of all high-speed-train travelers, then this means 26.18 million residents a year would journey by state high-speed rail. That amounts to a daily in-state resident ridership base of 71,726. Overall, roughly 102,466 daily HSR trips would be taken.

Is this a reasonable expectation? For a state the size of California, this does indeed seem reasonable.

Here is what I know.

Currently there are six million annual flyers between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Also, between New York and Washington, D.C., Amtrak’s quasi high-speed rail Acela Express passenger trains maintain between 70 and 75 percent of the air-rail market share.

Keep in mind also Golden State population is projected at 43.7 million by 2027 and that assumes a yearly growth rate of 1.05 percent.

If there is to be a marked difference in state air quality made, coupled to high-speed rail and heightened VFEV sales must be a serious rethinking with respect to mode-moving method and/or mode type, travel patterns, land use and building design, energy production, energy consumption – the very things I’ve talked about on this blog – and one I did not yet discuss – manufacturing – in order to help get the air to a state of healthy repair which itself will lead to improved quality of life for all.

A work in progress, obviously.


  1. California High-Speed Rail Authority 2014 Business Plan Ridership and Revenue Technical Memorandum, Draft 2014 Business Plan, Section 4: Ridership and Revenue Forecasts, Table E.1 “Range of Annual Ridership by HSR scenario (millions),” p. ES-2, prepared for Parsons Brinckerhoff for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, prepared by Cambridge Systematics, Inc.

Leave a Comment