For all the promise of electric vehicles, we can’t lose sight of one simple fact: The environmental burden of transportation in the United States isn’t a vehicle problem, it’s a problem with our transportation system as a whole. Simply swapping out internal combustion engines for electric motors won’t be enough to meet that challenge.
One approach – employed by cities from the Bay Area to New York City to D.C. – is to require large employers to offer tax-free transit benefits to their employees. These “commuter benefits ordinances” are relatively new – the first was adopted in 2009 – but have the potential to dramatically expand access to transit, especially to workers in lower-paying jobs who are currently less likely to receive tax-free transit benefits. Early evidence from the Bay Area suggests that requiring employers to offer the benefits can lead thousands of people to switch to lower-impact modes of commuting.