Should Ohio transition to a VMT tax?

Public dollars for transportation infrastructure seem to be getting ever scarce. This is the result of a wide array of issues, but one of them is the outdated form of collecting revenues to fund our nation’s transportation infrastructure. In some state’s they are beginning to look at transitioning from their traditional gasoline tax to a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax. More from NextCity:

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, gas taxes finance about a third of highway construction and maintenance. But because of inflation and improved fuel efficiency, the purchasing power of gas taxes — how much actual concrete, steel and labor they buy — has been decreasing, sometimes forcing state and federal officials to forgo infrastructure improvements.

By taxing every car at the same rate, VMT programs ensure that drivers pay an amount proportional to how much they drive. VMT systems, though, don’t have all the same mechanisms as gas taxes: They don’t incentivize people to drive fuel-efficient cars, for instance, nor do they discourage the use of heavy vehicles that cause increased wear on highways.

Roxanne Qualls Directs Administration to Develop Solar Financing Mechanisms

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls (C) put forth a motion last week that calls on the mayor’s administration to establish new financing mechanisms for expanding the city’s solar energy capabilities.

Qualls says that she hopes the City of Cincinnati can work with local organizations like Green Umbrella, Port of Greater Cincinnati Development Authority, and the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance (GCEA) to develop Property Assisted Clean Energy (PACE) financing.

When City Council approved the Green Cincinnati Plan in 2008 it included a target of installing solar energy on one out of every five rooftops, both residential and commercial, by 2028. Qualls believes that working with GCEA and Green Umbrella will be critical in establishing a viable solar rooftop program and facilitating power purchase or lease agreements for solar energy installations that will be critical towards reaching 2028 benchmark.

“These are steps we can take now to help to not only save money on our energy bills today, but to build a globally-competitive local green economy and a lasting green legacy for our children,” stated Qualls.

Cincinnati Zoo Solar Panels
The Cincinnati Zoo’s solar canopy is the largest publicly accessible urban solar array in the U.S. Image provided.

According to the vice mayor’s office, such a program would work by using third-party financing tools to overcome existing financial barriers for those interested in installing solar energy systems on their building. Similar programs are already in places around the nation, and Qualls believes a Cincinnati program could save consumers money on their utility bills, promote local jobs, and offer numerous environmental benefits.

“If Cincinnati adopted a goal to get 10% of its energy from solar by 2030, and just my small business met that demand, I’d have to hire 450 electricians tomorrow and keep them hired for the next 17years,” explained Matt Kolbinsky, Program Manager for SECO Electric.

The City of Cincinnati is already experiencing positive gains from its efforts to transition towards the use of green energy following the formation of an electricity buying group formed in 2012 that is now saving residential and small commercial users 23% on their monthly bills.

The electric supply contract put in place last April by the City also calls for 100% of the energy supply to be backed by Renewable Energy Credits. The move made the city one of the largest in the United States to do so, and earned it a spot as a finalist for the 2013 U.S. Earth Hour City Capital award.

The new motion, however, comes on the heels of a town hall meeting hosted by Xavier University’s Sustainability Committee, on the topic of solar energy, where more than 100 people attended. To capitalize on the momentum, Qualls has requested that the administration bring legislation on the matter back to council within 60 days.

“Cincinnati has all the right ingredients to go solar,” said Christian Adams, Clean Energy Associate for Environment Ohio who organized the town hall meeting last Tuesday. “From Findlay Market to the Cincinnati Zoo, the Queen City is leading the charge statewide for homegrown solar power and we can see that Cincinnatians are taking note of their city’s leadership on this issue.”

Green Umbrella has already established a Renewable Energy Action Team that has outlined how a residential solar rooftop program might work in Cincinnati, but the organization says that ongoing public feedback will be critical to future success.

“Building a solar powered Cincinnati is possible, but it will take all of us standing up to support these programs and calling for more,” Adams concluded. “Vice Mayor Qualls’ solar vision is striking a chord with Cincinnatians and people across the Queen City are waking up to the potential for a homegrown solar powered future right here in southwest Ohio.”

OKI Survey Results Show Preference for Compact, Walkable Communities

The OKI Regional Council of Governments has released the findings from its 2012 How Do We Grow From Here survey, and is reporting a record response.

According to OKI officials, the survey received 2,474 responses and more than 1,200 comments. In the past, the organization had received around 100 responses for similar surveys, but was hoping for higher numbers this time around due to a larger outreach effort.

The survey is intended to take the pulse of the Cincinnati region with regards to regional vitality, sustainability, and competitiveness with a special focus on land use and transportation policy. The results of the survey are then intended to be used when updating the metropolitan planning organization’s Strategic Regional Policy Plan (SRPP), which was last updated in 2005.

OKI 2012 Survey Results

“While much has been accomplished since the plan’s adoption in 2005, much remains to be done to reach its goals,” state OKI officials. “The SRPP needs to be updated to reflect the impacts of subsequent events such as the Great Recession and significant changes in our demographics, particularly as the baby-boom generation ages.”

Of the survey’s 21 total questions, seven offered particularly revealing insights into the psyche of those from around the region concerning transportation options, economic development strategies, and land use policy.

The survey results indicate a clear preference for sustainable and urban communities. Approximately 60% of respondents said that they felt urban revitalization and neighborhood redevelopment efforts are paying off, and a whopping 88.5% said that it is important to have safe pedestrian and bicycling options in their community.

While the 2,474 respondents stated that they wanted to see existing infrastructure maintained and their communities built in a way to support walking and bicycling, it does not appear that they feel the region is heading in that direction.

“Bicycle infrastructure can play a big role in enhancing public health, providing additional options for transportation, and reducing pollution,” commented one responder. “I also would support a comprehensive transportation plan that includes the extended streetcar line and light rail. This could reduce traffic congestion and pollution and enhance economic growth for our neighborhoods.”

More than a third of those responding said that they feel the region is growing in an unsustainable manner, and more than two-thirds expressed concern about how the region’s housing, transportation, healthcare, and recreation options will support aging individuals and younger generations that desire walkable urban communities.

A 2011 report from Transportation For America found that more than 64% of Cincinnati’s population between the ages of 65 and 79 will have poor transit access by 2015 – ranking the region as the 17th worst out of 48 regions with 1-3 million people.

When asked about energy and the climate, approximately 74% said that rising energy costs have impacted their lifestyle choices surrounding transportation and utilities. With nearly 85% of those same respondents feeling confident about knowing where to go to get more information or help to achieve greater energy efficiency, it appears that organizations like the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance are making a positive impact.

“OKI needs to develop renewable energy sources for our area and eliminate all fossil fuel usage in the next 10 years,” responded one individual on the survey. “OKI needs to actively promote the Greater Cincinnati Energy Alliance that has enough funding to upgrade close to 70,000 homes and business in the Hamilton County and northern Kentucky.”

OKI officials state that while they currently have no authority, and seek no authority, over local land use decisions, they hope that the results of their updated SRPP will bring about more consistency between local land use planning and regional transportation planning.

On episode two of The UrbanCincy Podcast we discussed the issue of transportation poverty facing Cincinnati’s aging population, and how unsustainable development patterns are hurting the region’s environment and economy. You can stream our bi-weekly podcasts online for free, or download the podcasts on iTunes.

Cincinnati named finalist to become WWF’s 2013 Earth Hour City Capital

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has put together a list of the cities participating in the Earth Hour City Challenge. Within that list, WWF lists Chicago, Cincinnati and San Francisco as the three finalists in World Wildlife Fund’s Earth Hour City Challenge for 2013. More from World Wildlife Fund:

The cities were chosen by WWF and global management consultancy Accenture in recognition of the steps their community has taken to prepare for increasingly extreme weather and transition towards a 100% renewable energy future. The finalists were selected among 29 of the most forward-thinking cities in the country which have all committed to minimize their carbon footprint and ready their communities for the dangerous local consequences of climate change.

Cincinnati is developing a power aggregation agreement that would make it the largest city in the U.S. to supply its energy entirely from renewable sources and committing to reducing carbon emissions two percent annually for 42 years. The city is also working with residents, businesses and community leaders throughout the city to adopt climate-smart policies; expanding current tree planting efforts, promoting metro ridership, educating students about sustainability and conducting energy audits for local non-profits.

Mac’s Pizza Pub to provide free electric vehicle recharging station

Mac’s Pizza Pub in Clifton Heights will become the region’s first restaurant to offer customers a free charging station for their electric vehicles. The move comes as owner Mac Ryan attempts to make the popular uptown restaurant as environmentally friendly as possible. More from the Cincinnati Enquirer:

There’s a parking space next to the patio where you can pull in your electric car and plug in to his dedicated circuit while you go in an have a Macover or a pizza…Owner Mac Ryan uses a Chevrolet Volt for all the restaurant’s delivery and catering business. That’s one of several electric cars that have come to the market recently: the Nissan Leaf is another, and local company AMP has retrofitted jeeps into electric vehicles.