Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions Is Only the Beginning: A Literature Review of the Co-Benefits of Reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled
Traditional evaluation of the transportation system focuses on automobile traffic flow and congestion reduction. However, this paradigm is shifting. In an effort to combat global warming and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, a number of cities, regions, and states across the United States have begun to deemphasize vehicle delay metrics such as automobile Level of Service (LOS). In their place, policymakers are considering alternative transportation impact metrics that more closely approximate the true environmental impacts of driving. One metric increasingly coming into use is the total amount of driving or Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT).
While state goals for reducing GHG emissions have been one motivation for the shift to VMT measures, reductions in VMT produce many other potential benefits, referred to as “co-benefits,” such as reductions in other air pollutant emissions, water pollution, wildlife mortality, and traffic congestion, as well as improvements in safety and health, and savings in public and private costs. Such benefits may provide additional justification for reducing VMT. This paper explores the presence and magnitude of potential co-benefits of reducing VMT, providing California-specific examples where available.