Policy instruments for a more transport efficient society: A pre-study comparing the cases of California and Sweden

Chunli Zhao, Jean Ryan and Anders Wretstrand, K2 Working paper 2021:2

The purpose of this report is to provide summary information of the policy instruments that have either been implemented or are under discussion in order to reduce vehicle kilometers travelled (VKT) by cars and trucks in the state of California and in Sweden. The summary is based on a review of policy documents, reports and scientific papers that are relevant for both cases, as well as interviews with a senior policy advisor from California, and a professor with more than 30 years of experience in a wide range of issues within the fields of transport analysis, transport modelling and transport policy within the Swedish context, from Lund University, Sweden.

In both cases, reducing VKT is mainly linked to reaching policy goals of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In both cases, this is considered an effective strategy for reducing GHG emissions. However, both cases appear to be engaged in an exploratory process with respect to the development of both policy and policy instruments for reducing VKT, even if the cases appear to be in slightly different stages of this exploratory process.

In California, reducing VKT is a clear policy purpose. The Senate Bill 375 (SB375), signed into law in 2008, legislated for the reduction of VKT. Following the passage of SB375, focused policy and planning instruments have been both developed and proposed at state, regional and local levels. Legislating for the reduction of VKT as a policy is considered a clear step towards integrating land use and transport planning. The legislation SB375 is intended to ensure that the housing and transportation organizations align their goals and strategies with the aim of reducing VKT. The implementation process has facilitated tight collaboration between public and private sectors, non-profit organizations, researchers and professionals, which has contributed to the development and implementation of the instruments for reducing VKT, in line with SB375.

In Sweden, reducing VKT is not framed as a policy purpose in itself, but is instead discussed as a sub-goal for reaching the other policy purposes. Such policy purposes include reducing GHG emissions and alleviating congestion, as well as increasing the modal share of active transport and public transport in order to achieve environmental objective and promote sustainable urban development, including to improve public health and create livable cities. These policies can potentially reduce car dependence, and hence reduce VKT. Several of the policy instruments in the Swedish context exist at different administrative levels: local (e.g. land use, parking fees), regional (e.g. most of the public transport provision) and national (e.g. taxes and tax rebates, funding mechanisms and incentives).

Established funding programs are one of the economic instruments implemented in order to reduce VKT in both cases. Furthermore, while the state and the regional authorities have the capacity to provide and coordinate the incentive programs, it is important to install the corresponding capacity at a local level in order to effectively use the incentives.