Episode 161 - Is the Rise of EVs the End of the Gas Tax?

With more and more consumers plugging in their cars instead of filling up their tanks, the gas tax is slowly eroding—just like many of our roads and bridges across the country. Less fuel tax means less money for repairing our decaying infrastructure, but Road Usage Charges (RUC) can change that.

RUC — also referred to as a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee, a distance-based user fee (DBF), or a mileage-based user fee (MBUF) — charges motorists based on the number of miles they drive instead of the number of gallons of fuel they put into their vehicles. This evolution to a more usage-based model provides sustainability and fairness in paying for our roads and bridges as more and more consumers move to EVs.

As a leading global engineering and professional services firm, WSP USA has led some of the largest and most successful RUC pilots in the country. These efforts have led to wider state consideration and enhanced regional interest in RUC as a viable future transportation funding source.

For expert insight, we sat down with David S. Kim, SVP and Principal, National Transportation Policy and Multimodal Strategy for WSP USA, to discuss RUC and how more states are considering RUC funding as an option given the rise in EV ownership and impacts of inflation. He also share insight on transit agencies’ complicated and expensive efforts to transition bus fleets to zero emission.

Meet Our Guest

DAVID S. KIM
Senior Vice President and Principal, National Transportation Policy and Multimodal Strategy, WSP USA

David S. Kim is a transportation executive with WSP USA, a global engineering and professional services firm. In his role as Senior Vice President and Principal, National Transportation Policy and Multimodal Strategy, David works with WSP’s Advisory national business line, collaborating with senior transportation executives in the public and private sector across the United States. He guides policymaking that supports federal funding for transportation projects anticipated under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law enacted in November 2021. He also guides the delivery of transportation capital projects, including strategic planning and policy, environmental process, funding and finance and capital delivery.

Prior to joining WSP, David served as Secretary of the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA). He was appointed by Governor Gavin Newsom in April 2019 and served as Cabinet Secretary until January 2022. David was responsible for oversight of 40,000 employees across eight departments, boards and commissions whose mission is to advance a safe, environmentally sustainable transportation system that maximizes mobility for all Californians.

A longtime transportation leader with experience in the private sector as well as all three levels of government, David was Vice President, Government Affairs for Hyundai Motor Company from 2017-2019. Prior to this assignment, David spent nearly eight years in senior level roles at the U.S. Department of Transportation. A native of Davis, California, David earned a B.A. in Political Science from Occidental College and a Master of Public Administration from the University of Southern California.

Transcript:

Grayson Brulte:

Hello, I am your host, Grayson Brulte. Welcome to another episode of SAE Tomorrow Today, a show about emerging technology and trends in mobility, with leaders and innovators who make it all happen. On today's episode, we're absolutely honored to be joined by David S. Kim, Senior Vice President and Principal, WSP USA.

On today's episode, he'll discuss Road Usage Charging Programs, and zero emission buses for transit agencies. We hope you enjoy this episode. David, welcome to the podcast.

David Kim:

Grayson, it's great to be here. Thanks so much for having me.

Grayson Brulte:

It's great to have you here. And today we're gonna get into an interesting, debatable topic around roads and how we pay for roads as consumers shift to electric vehicles.

Last year in 2022 was the first time that 10% globally were electric vehicles, the gas tax. Is eroding. And we have the issue around the United States, around decaying roads, bridges that are coming up on their, it's called their end of life need to replaced. How are we gonna re replace the fees to make sure that when you drive on the road, ah, this is comfortable, and when you drive over the bridge, it worked. How are we gonna do that?

David Kim:

Yeah. First of all, I just wanna shout some myths that might be out there. A road usage charge or what we call RUC, would eventually replace the current motor fuels tax. And as you correctly pointed out, the gas tax as we know it is dying and it's dying a slow death maybe not so slow death.

And when people find out that the main revenue source for building and maintaining our system of highways and bridges is about to become obsolete as a result of electric vehicles, people understand the need for a completely. New way to fund our transportation system. Since EV owners don't pay a penny in gas taxes, they're getting a free ride.

And people instinctively understand that a system that relies on consumers buying gasoline simply cannot continue. And so I think we're on the verge of major transition in the years ahead. And while there may be some grumpiness out there in terms of paying fees and taxes, I think people get it.

Grayson Brulte:

Here's an interesting thing. I'm an EV owner. You mentioned, so when you, I had a nice vehicle before you grow the gas and you put gas in and there's a tax in there. Not very transparent, but you're paying a tax there. Can you put a transparent tax on the charging around EVs when you plug in and then you can generate revenue that way to pay for the roads?

David Kim:

Are you referring to the collection method or paying at the EV charging station or some other method?

Grayson Brulte:

Paying at the EV charging station, or even if you're plugging it into your home. And to me it just seemed like it's a software problem to solve. You put a piece of software on there, you put in, I don't know, let's just say you charged up a hundred miles in your vehicle and it's X penny pennies per mile, and it's all done in, in calculated right there. I'll use the term at the pump, but at the charge.

David Kim:

That is being looked at. And some states have passed legislation that would require. Some sort of fee to be imposed or enacted at the EV charging station. But I think a RUC system has evolved and it's a little more mature in terms of testing its viability and doing it on a pilot basis in different states.

And one of the big advantages of RUC is that it doesn't require installing any roadside infrastructure. You compare that to a toing system where you need things like, Transponder readers and license plate cameras, overhead, gantry, vehicle sensors, grid power, and so much more. RUC doesn't need any of that stuff.

It works simply by communicating directly from the vehicle to the cloud. And so vehicles would transmit their mileage to a third party account manager. And then the ruck charge is calculated based on the information received from the vehicle, and that's either through a plug-in device or. Vehicle telematics or simply by taking a picture of the odometer reading and uploading it.

So it's pretty simple. And so that's the beauty of a RUC system.

Grayson Brulte:

From a traditional telematics, there's a 4G car, some cars have LTE e some cars have 5G and consumers pay anywhere from $9.99 a month to $19.99 a month for that. And then there's other consumers that don't have the vehicles are older or can't afford to pay for it.

How can they engage in the system? Do they put in a device in, into their vehicle or what solutions are there for those individuals?

David Kim:

There are a wide variety of options available to consumers. You can get a plug-in device, you plug it into the OBD2 port, which is what I do in Virginia.

Or if your vehicle has telematics built in, that's another option. And then there's the low-tech option. For those who have concerns about data, they can simply take a picture of their odometer. And upload it. And of course there are apps too. So there are a lot of different ways to collect mileage data that do not necessarily require owning a brand new 2023 model car.

Grayson Brulte:

Is that data subpoenable? If somebody's trying if you're going through a divorce or you're trying to figure something out, Hey, you're driving an odd amount of miles. There's something going on here, I'm gonna subpoena that data. Is that data subpoenable?

David Kim:

There is no question that privacy has come up as a major area of concern and we are working with states to build the right systems from the start and to make sure there are sufficient security and privacy safeguards in place when it comes to handling mileage data as well as personally identifiable information. And so to get your question, states need to know how much to charge someone, but they do not need to know where they traveled. And of course, data's gotta be protected at the highest possible level. And so there are very important steps that can and should be taken to address privacy concerns. For example, the state agency should never receive the actual location of a vehicle. Only the third-party account manager will have that information.

Then the account manager will be required to purge all information location information in a timely matter manner, usually within 30 days of reconciling accounts. And then finally, it's really important for states to provide consumers with a wide variety of choices to report their mileage. As I mentioned earlier, everything from high-tech solutions that use in vehicle data telematics or mobile apps to no tech solutions that rely on odometer reading. Leave it up to individuals to decide which method they're most comfortable using. And so I think all of these measures will go a long way in terms of addressing privacy considerations.

Grayson Brulte:

Who will be the third-party account manager? Will that be the Googles, the Amazons of the world, or will that be a let's call a public-private partnership, or who will be that manager?

David Kim:

That's really up, that's really up to the state to decide among the many vendors that are out there, companies that are out there that can provide end-to-end services, back office services and operations, many operations, many vendors out there. And so that's really up to the state.

Grayson Brulte:

And then we're seeing this debate around TikTok and data. We're seeing a lot of energy in commerce where you are in DC on the Hill. Are there, will the states put clauses in it that this data must be housed within the United States? Do you think?

David Kim:

I think I would think so, and I think that's really up to the legislature to decide what kinds of policies and requirements will be a part of any state RUC system. And so theoretically, any state legislature could require data to be kept in the United States and not sent overseas or processed overseas. Certainly that's a policy question that needs to be considered by policy makers and legislators.

Grayson Brulte:

Because if you're offering options on how to gather the data, and this is hypothetical, as you said, it's an active legislator, keep the data in the United States.

Or if you're, if you're in Virginia, there's a lot of Amazon data centers, for example. You keep it. In that state, does this come down to messaging where it's, hi, I bought an EV, no, now you're gonna make me pay all these fees on top of the additional fee I had to pay for the EV. Does this come down to messaging it to the public?

David Kim:

Absolutely. In fact, public outreach, communications and marketing are key. What's really interesting is that based on public opinion surveys done, public acceptance of a road usage charge is pretty lukewarm. But when more and more people experience it as volunteers in state pilot programs, Public acceptance goes way up.

People realize, Hey, this is pretty easy. This is seamless. It's not so onerous and it's simple and you pay based on the miles you drive, very similar to the amount of electricity or gas you might use at your house. You know exactly how much you're paying based on your usage. It's all based on how much you use.

And so people understand and experience the positive side of ruck once they volunteer in a pilot. And so what's exciting is that under the infrastructure law, USDOT will be doing a national pilot, and so the more people who experience RUC, the more public acceptance will go up. And so that's something to be excited about.

Grayson Brulte:

You're participating in a pilot in Virginia. You're there using it in, use the Google term, you're eating your own dog food. What have your experiences been?

David Kim:

On it. I just signed up for it, so it's early to say, but the way it works in Virginia is for those who drive an electric vehicle or a fuel-efficient vehicle, you have the option of paying the annual registration fee, or you can voluntarily participate in their road usage charge program.

I chose the ladder, I just signed up for it, so it's early, but I'm excited. There's an app on my iPhone. And so I'm excited to see what it's all about. I'm happy to be a Guinea pig. I will say when I lived in Sacramento not too long ago, I had usage-based insurance. And it works much the same way You pay for auto insurance based on the miles you drive.

And so on your app you can see how many miles you drive and the app also shows you where you drove. I didn't have a problem with that cuz I, I was confident in. And the company's ability to safeguard that information and not allow that to, to get out to the wrong people. So I'm excited about the Virginia Pilot and again, I'm happy to be a Guinea pig and see what it's like from a consumer standpoint.

Grayson Brulte:

From the company standpoint, if the company, if the insurance company is publicly traded, consumers can basically bankrupt 'em by doing a run on the stock. If they leave the data so they're held accountable to shareholders. The government side are really not, they're accountable to taxpayers but not really.

So you're running this in Virginia, you opted to pay the per mileage fee instead of the annual fee. What happens when you say you go over that fee or you hit that fee? Does your road mileage, does it, does the fee stop or does it continue?

David Kim:

In the case of the Virginia Pilot, it's capped at the annual vehicle registration fee, which I think is $200. And so under this pilot road usage charge pilot, you're not gonna pay more than $200 more than what you would normally pay. Through the vehicle registration fee. So it's capped at that level. So from a cash basis, cash in cash out, you're not gonna lose anything. You're gonna pay $200 regardless of the method you choose, whether it's the registration fee or the ruck pilot program.

Grayson Brulte:

It'll be interesting to see if the cap stays at where it is or over time the cap goes higher or it goes away, but you mentioned you lived in Sacramento, California, WSP you're working on a project with the California Department of Transportation on a per mile charging program in rural areas of the state.

It's very interesting cuz California has a lot of unincorporated areas that aren't part of a city that are unincorporated areas. If 500 individuals are currently partaking in that program, what have you learned so far? Is there any really interesting trends in the data that came up or feedback from the participants that, aha, this is a big breakthrough for us we learned something?

David Kim:

It just got started and it's a really exciting pilot program that's looking at ruck from the standpoint of rural and tribal communities. And both of these communities have unique needs that could interact in different ways with RUC. And so we think it's really important to dive into these issues and gain a strong understanding of how RUC will impact motorists in rural and tribal areas and get their feedback. And so from our standpoint at WSP, we think this pilot will lead to important lessons learned that will help inform any future RUC approach and especially in a way that will incorporate the needs of rural and tribal communities.

So we're very excited to be a part of it. Work with CALTRANS, and I think we'll be in a position in about a year or so to gain some lessons learned and hopefully apply that to future pilots.

Grayson Brulte:

That's positive and hopefully that knowledge and know how can be passed on to other states as they look into RUCs as well.

Are there are the other 49 states, they, there's a lot of rural area in Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska. Are they doing similar programs in states with lots of rural areas?

David Kim:

Yes. In fact, Utah is one of the leading states when it comes to RUC pilot programs. And certainly we all know Utah has a lot of rural areas and then parts of Oregon and Washington as well.

Lots of rural areas, especially on the eastern side of those states. And I'm leaving out a few other states, but Colorado, same thing. They're deep into this Minnesota, lots of rural areas and tribal communities as well In terms of terrain there is such a wide variety across all the states involved in these pilots.

And I think over time we're gonna learn. We've learned a lot, we're gonna learn more in the years ahead.

Grayson Brulte:

Fascinating. You high highlight Utah. I was reading the other day, Utah's lobbying major league baseball to get an expansion team there. Cause it's one of the fastest growing states in the United States in the Utah Jazz, from attendance, economic, standpoint has done very well for the city of Salt Lake. So you have a very fast growing state. You're very progressive on transportation. You're gonna learn a lot there. You're gonna learn a lot from California and the other areas where RUC, and you mentioned there, Virginia is the goal eventually to put all this together.

To have a standardized pricing where you go from California to Arizona, California to Nevada, or if you wanna drive all the way to Utah as well, where the consumer knows, okay, so I'm in California. Okay, if I go into Arizona, it's gonna be a lot more to drive, so I wanna avoid that. Do we eventually get to the point where there's standardized pricing across the board?

David Kim:

One of the great things with RUC is that it's a platform that can be designed in a wide variety of ways. And what do I mean by that? The base case is that it can be set as a per mile fee. To replace the gas tax. But the beauty of RUC is that it can do so much more than that.

For example, it can know when you're traveling on a private road, so you're not charged for that travel. That's something the gas tax cannot do. So that's a huge plus for our farmers and ranchers. And then on top of that, you can design ruck to accomplish any number of policy objectives. You could vary the per mile rate based on the kind of vehicle you drive, the weight of your vehicle.

You could also reduce rates for lower income consumers. And I think we all know that the gas tax is highly regressive. It's the same rate for everyone. Doesn't matter who you are, what kind of car you drive, but a RUC system can be set up in a way that's equitable and sustainable. In fact, just the opposite of the gas tax, which is anything but transparent.

Grayson Brulte:

So you have a transparent approach. But then on the other side, AC running, use the term AC across the aisle. You have bad guys, you have hackers that are always trying to out, out-maneuver and do all sorts of illicit activities. How do you avoid a consumer trying to avoid the gas tax? I'll give you an example.

In California, no license plate, you can drive with that. It says whatever the dealer is or the spray paint trick, you spray it on there. How do you a avoid that or limit your losses from the hackers that are gonna spend all day, and all night and do nothing to figure out until how they can bypass this.

David Kim:

Yeah, I think you're asking about two things, hackers and compliance, how to avoid fair evasion. Fair evasion. Let me take the second one first. If a driver doesn't pay their mileage fee, the state can exercise registration or title liens on a vehicle. It the same way when it comes to unpaid toll, that's what states do now, and so that's no different.

When it comes to hackers, we know they're out there, and so we're working closely with states to make sure there are robust processes and functions put in place that will. Constantly search for and eliminate any potential electronic threat. Also, wanna point out that RUC systems have to go through multiple layers of certification and testing.

In fact, they're required to comply with standards defined in NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology). Same with RUC payments that are made online. There are encryption formats and standards that need to be complied with. So I think it's a multi-layered approach to make sure, or to minimize the prospect of hackers intruding into systems, and of course there are methods in place to, to address fair evasion or fee evasion as the case may be.

Grayson Brulte:

David, so you clearly define the issue of how to stay ahead of hackers. And I'm really curious, will the Road Usage Tax or you use the term RUC, will that be on all roads? Obviously for, if you're on a private road, you're not going to be charged the RUC fee, but how about highways versus surface roads? Will it go to all roads or will only be on certain types of roads? This is outside of private property on, let's call 'em public roads.

David Kim:

Yeah. So RUC is on, RUC would apply to all public roads. And so RUC is different than a toll in that a toll applies only to designated roadways. That's a toll. But RUC would apply to all public roadways, whether you were driving on a highway or city Street or other thoroughfare.

Grayson Brulte:

Do we get a point where a state needs, if it's a, let's use California with the 405, for example, it's a very, you're coming in from the valley into downtown into Los Angeles to go to the west side. It's high traffic where they try and put a higher RUC on there just because of the amount of traffic and perhaps there's a budget shortfall?

David Kim:

As a former Angelino, I'm really glad you brought up the four or five freeway in Sepulveda Boulevard. Very familiar with them. It's really up to the state to determine again what kind of rate you set.

Is it based on the vehicle you drive? Is it based on time of day time of night? Is it based on. On traffic and congestion levels, and it can be all of those things. At the same time, and not to get too far down into this rabbit hole, there is congestion pricing, which is really designed to manage congestion and to encourage drivers to seek other modes of transportation. To get to where they need to go. Whereas RUC is primarily seen as a way to replace the gas tax, but also can be used to accomplish other policy objectives, especially when it comes to equity and sustainability. So I know that's a little bit confusing, but the rate, bottom line is the rate really depends on how the state wants to approach that.

Grayson Brulte:

Having lived in Los Angeles area and you're being an Angelo for many years, We just have to hope that it doesn't put the RUC on the 405 and not on Sepulveda. Cuz then everybody's gonna go onto the surface streets and back it up.

David Kim:

Correct? I think in a classic RUC system, there would be no diversion on Sepulveda Boulevard or any other surface Street as a cut through because the RUC would apply no matter where you're driving, as long as it's not a private road.

So if people were to take Sepulveda Boulevard to avoid a fee, they would soon find out that it didn't save them any money. Because again, RUC applies to all public roads, not just freeways.

Grayson Brulte:

And you and I both know at rush hour going down Sepulveda Vista 405 is not gonna make much of a difference in terms of time to get to your destination.

Road Usage Tax. It's clearly becoming a trend. It's bubbling up. The other big trend that's only accelerating is the transition to electrification. And inside of that there's the consumer adoption of the electric vehicles on the commercial side of the class six class A trucks starting to electrify, and now you're starting to see buses, school buses, transit buses.

They're looking to, and then they're giving out very bold statements to transition to electrification, especially the transit agencies. But there's a lot that goes into that. You can't just put out a press release, say, we're gonna buy a bunch of electric buses and buy 'em. It doesn't work that way.

There's a lot of infrastructure planning that goes a, along with that, from an infrastructure planning perspective, how can a transit fleet start the process of transitioning from an ice vehicle today? Or if you wanna use a natural gas bus to an all-electric fleet tomorrow?

David Kim:

Yeah. This transition is well underway and a lot of transit agencies are often a good start, but you hit the nail on the head. It is incredibly complicated and it's not simply a matter of buying a bunch of electric buses, finding a place to plug them in and off you go. Not as simple as that. And I know we don't have enough time to get into too much detail, but here are a few reasons why it's so damn complicated.

Number one is geography and climate. Huge impact on bus operations as well as energy demand. There's also bus facilities and depots. Transit agencies need to plan and build brand new facilities to accommodate electric buses, to not just to house them, but to maintain them and charge them. Their current facilities are not designed for zero emission vehicles, and so this is a very expensive proposition.

Then there's workforce training and development. Employees need to be thoroughly trained on how to operate an electric bus, how to maneuver them in just the right place when they need to be charged. How to maintain them and so forth. You're basically training an entirely new category of employee. And then there's cost.

All of this is incredibly expensive and there are other daunting challenges. And while they can be overcome the transition will not happen overnight, and it's a very heavy lift for any transit agency regardless of size. I'm happy to say that at WSP we are working hand in hand with a lot of transit agencies around the country to help them.

To assist them as they make this transition. And so that's the exciting thing. This transition is underway. It will take time, but this is underway and we're gonna see a whole new fleet of buses in, in the coming years. Zero emission buses.

Grayson Brulte:

I'm gonna, I'm gonna put on my Disney hat here for a moment. It's magical there. There's no noise, there's no pollution. It's magical. And that's a win for the environment. It's a win for the individuals riding a bike by the bus or the individuals riding on that bus. While at WSP, you're helping transition your clients to all electric buses. I have to go back to the infrastructure, the energy, there's another component to this.

Utilities and you read a lot of the public statements, it's very hard to get a utility to move, sometimes one and two, it's hard to get the amount of energy you need. How can these, let's call 'em large scale bus depots, get the energy they need when they charge, especially if it's during a peak energy uses period, where they have to move an individual from point A to point B cuz that's the route time.

David Kim:

That's the billion-dollar question. Another very complicated element in this transition and larger transit agencies will probably need to engage with more than one utility in order to provide service upgrades at bus depots. And of course, layover facilities and transit agencies need assurances that there will be enough energy supply to meet demand, and it's pretty surprising how much power is needed at your typical bus depot, especially during peak usage.

As you mentioned, and I don't have the numbers, but the bottom line is that it takes a lot of close collaboration. Between utilities and transit agencies to make sure energy needs can be met. And historically utilities and transit agencies have had limited interaction with one another. So they're learning to speak each other's language and learning to engage with one another.

And so this is a brand new area of collaboration and we're gonna see progress made in the years ahead, but it's brand new and there will be growing pains, but that's what's gonna be needed in order to make this transition to make sure. Transit agencies have adequate supply to meet what would be huge demand.

Grayson Brulte:

Do we get to the point in the future here we have a forward-looking transit agency says, guess what? We're not going down. We have to move individuals. No matter what time of the day it is, they start putting in microgrids. Battery backup. Let's use the one Wilshire example going back to LA where they're pulling in fiber from Nevada.

They're getting it from Arizona to ensure that the internet never goes down to, we can, a forward-looking trans agency that potentially explores something similar to that to ensure that their operations never go down.

David Kim:

It's gotta be in all of the above strategy. Clearly working with local utilities and then some microgrids, other sources of power and energy.

I think that's the big concern. One of the big concerns among transiting agencies, will there be enough supply to meet demand, and where's it gonna come from? Can we rely on our local utility, whether it be publicly owned or privately owned to meet our energy demands? And if not, where? Where does it come from?

That's beyond the control of transportation agencies, but that's the kind of collaboration that will be required to make sure there are no shortages of electricity to meet demand.

Grayson Brulte:

And then we have to have load balancing. If you're in a residential area or you're in an office park area, you have to make sure there's enough energy for the office park or the residents to charge the buses, and that's a whole nother element that goes into this.

Does it all come down to properly planning? If you're gonna, if you're gonna put an all electric bus depot, hire WSP to ensure that it's properly planned so you don't have one of these moments, oh, something went wrong here?

David Kim:

Absolutely. It's gotta be carefully and meticulously planned. There are so many elements that go into the transition as we discussed a few moments ago, and it's not a simple proposition, nor is it a cheap and inexpensive proposition.

So many attention, so many details to tend to and so that's why it's as complicated as it is, but thankfully that transition is underway and we're here to help agencies make that transition.

Grayson Brulte:

And where's the capital come to fund this transition? Is there from, is it from government grants? Is there a fund inside of DOT? Where does that capital come from?

David Kim:

Thankfully there are funding programs at the federal level, thanks to the infrastructure law and those funding programs are available for transit agencies to acquire zero emission vehicles. The Federal Transit Administration oversees those programs, and some states also have funding programs, including California. So funding is available for transit operators that want to move in this direction and need funding for buses as well as, Maintenance facilities and bus depots.

Grayson Brulte:

In the inflation reduction Act, there's the Made in America clause. There's the transparency around the battery supply chain. As we all know it's common knowledge the battery supply chain is murky. It, there's a lot of bad actors involved in there and the inflation production actors trying to stamp that out and add some transparency to it. But unfortunately, a lot of the electric buses today have materials in there that don't qualify for those tax breaks. Is that having a slowing effect or are you starting to see a transition where this conversation, oh we gotta clean up our supply chain.

It takes a long time, but are you starting to see some of those transitions come into place so they can achieve those tax breaks?

David Kim:

I think this is a work in progress and the situation is evolving. And so for starters, there are more and more zero emission bus manufacturers here in the US and at the same time, as you pointed out, there are supply chain challenges that impact vehicle delivery and battery requirements in the Inflation Reduction Act will probably have an impact on product availability, but it is literally changing in real time and as long as the requirements are met, all of the funding programs created by the infrastructure law.

We'll continue to help transit agencies make that transition to zero emission. But more to come on that and stay tuned.

Grayson Brulte:

From an operational standpoint, I went to the workforce development. I'm operating the depot, and the bus comes into charge. How long does it take to get to hit? 80% or until that bus can get back into service?

David Kim:

I don't have those factoids off the top of my head, but it does take some time. And that has to be factored into scheduling, maintenance schedules as well as route scheduling. And as you mentioned, workforce, that's a huge issue when I was Secretary of Transportation in California. I took a ride on a battery electric bus operated by Foothill Transit in the San Gabriel Valley of LA County, and the bus operator showed me all the meticulous moves he had to make to position that bus just right underneath the overhead chargers.

He had to maneuver it in great detail, took a lot of skill, and it took a lot of training for him to be able to do that. And so I saw upfront what it takes to position the bus the right way. Get it underneath that overhead charger and begin the charging process. So it's quite a process and it's, I would encourage you to check it out if you can in others as well. It's something else. It's, it is very intricate, elaborate dance, if you will.

Grayson Brulte:

While it's a process, if you look at the transition to zero emission buses, in this case, it's gonna create jobs cuz you're gonna have to have an individual to manage the microgrid, an individual to to build the depot. Is this another way to look at this?

Is it looking as an economic development tool where, hey look, we're gonna create, you're gonna have the temporary jobs to build the construction, but then you're gonna have the operation jobs that you're gonna need, and then you're gonna have to have an individual to write the code to program the bus schedule and to maintain it?

David Kim:

Yes, absolutely. There's no question that this will create a whole new industry, new job, classifications that barely exist today. And so new training in workforce development, new education, new curriculum, all of that is required or will be required in the years ahead as tr as transit buses make this transition to zero emission.

So that's exciting. That's a really positive byproduct of the transition. Obviously, the environmental benefits, but also economic benefits, job creation benefits. There are so many benefits out there with this transition.

Grayson Brulte:

As we transition, you mentioned Foothills Transit. They're very forward looking in, in their adoption of tran, of electric transit buses. How do you see electric transit buses rolling out? Do you see it mostly in, in California and then perhaps. In New York, you see it starting in pockets, then eventually expanding to other parts of the country. How do you see it rolling out?

David Kim:

There's no doubt that California agencies are moving quickly because they are under a mandate to do by 2040. All transit buses need to be, are required to be zero emissions, so that's not a lot of time. Other states are adopting California standards and requirements, and so you're seeing this all over the place, but as we discussed earlier, it's gonna be a gradual transition for all the reasons we discussed.

It's so complicated, so much goes into it, but the work is underway and a lot of agencies are well into it. I will, I also want to mention another transit agency in California, Orange County Transportation Authority. They are deploying both battery electric, as well as hydrogen fuel cell buses, and I saw their hydrogen fueling facilities at one of their bus depots.

It was fascinating, and I think they're doing this in order to determine and evaluate which technology will work better. It might turn out that both work well. There are advantages with hydrogen fuel cell over battery electric and vice versa. Both have strengths and weaknesses. So we're seeing that and not just OCTA, but other agencies experiment with both types of technology and so that's really exciting.

Grayson Brulte:

You have to give Orange County a lot of credit because they're sitting there and they're learning. They're not picking a, you were in government, so you're not picking a winner or a loser. They're saying, okay, we're gonna try both technologies and which one will work best to serve our constituents.

That's something notable that other agencies can do. Other agencies per perhaps in Sacramento, Los Angeles, adopting that same as well since their neighbor with Orange County?

David Kim:

Yes. And in fact, in other parts of the state, I believe AC Transit in Oakland Alameda County. Also taking the same approach as Orange County Transportation Authority.

In terms of deploying both hydrogen fuel cell and battery electric, and I know I'm missing a few others, but agencies, but more and more agencies are starting to do this, and I think it's a great way to, to glean lessons learned and to determine from an operational standpoint which technology might work better.

And again, it might be there might be a room for both. But that's an experiment and that's underway. And I think there is a lot to be excited about as this continues.

Grayson Brulte:

There's a lot to be excited about, but there's also a lot to learn. There's certain parts of California that are hilly or mountainous than other parts that tend to be flattered.

It'd be really interesting. Okay. Hydrogen performs better in the mountains than battery, and perhaps we're gonna put the hydrogen fuel cell here just because of the range and the. That's gonna be a really interesting to learn that. Earlier we talked about road usage, its fees. I'm gonna get back to that for a moment.

Will these batter buses be subject to that will be a pass on cost to the rider, or will these buses be fully exempt from the road usage fees?

David Kim:

That's a decision for policy makers and legislators at the state and federal level, and there are many policy issues yet to be decided and addressed. And this is certainly one of them.

Grayson Brulte: 

There's a lot of things that are going to be decided, but the bottom line is it's gonna be a lot of fun. We're transitioning to zero emissions. David, I love to know you got the background of Secretary of Transportation in California doing really great work at WSP. In your opinion, what is the future of transportation?

David Kim:

Okay, now I'm gonna get on my soapbox. I firmly believe and hope that all of us will become far less reliant on solo driving. We live in a car-centric nation. That's reality. And that's the way our nation was built. That's the way cities were built. But it's having a detrimental impact on climate safety and equity.

And what we need to do is encourage far greater mode shift, which is a technical term, that means we need to travel more by transit and rail, walking and biking, micro mobility options like scooters and bikes. And of course technology has its important place, but it's one tool in the toolbox and transforming our built environment no matter where you live.

Will take time, but I very much hope we're heading in that direction because we need to move in that direction for the future of our climate, for safety, for sustainability, and for equity. We need to be on the cutting edge of that kind of transformation that we so desperately need. So now I'll get off my soapbox.

Grayson Brulte:

The soapbox is a good place to be. It's a good place to pontificate. What we do know is that the future transportation is changing. What we have today for transportation will not be what we have in the future. And David, as we like to wrap up this insightful conversation, what would you like our listeners to take away with them today?

David Kim:

We are on the verge of so much transformational change in the transportation world. Whether it's how you pay for our roads and bridges, how you travel, how our built environment can change. How we advance equity through transportation, decision making and planning and project selection. This is a really exciting time to be in transportation and change, maybe even radical change lies at the heart of everything that is about to unfold in the years ahead.

Grayson Brulte:

As David said, it is indeed exciting times. Today is tomorrow. Tomorrow's today, the future is zero emissions. David, thank you so much for coming on SAE Tomorrow today.

David Kim:

Thank you, Grayson, great talking to you.

Grayson Brulte:

Thank you for listening to SAE Tomorrow Today.

If you've enjoyed this episode and would like to hear more, please kindly rate. Review, and let us know what topics you'd like for us to explore next.

Be sure to join us next week as we speak with Redwood Materials, as they'll discuss battery recycling and the circular supply chain for electric vehicles.

SAE International makes no representations as to the accuracy of the information presented in this podcast. The information and opinions are for general information only. SAE International does not endorse, approve, recommend, or certify any information, product, process, service, or organization presented or mentioned in this podcast.

 

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