Samitha Samaranayake

August 2, 2022 – As senators gear up to vote on a long-anticipated climate, tax and energy bill as soon as this week, electric vehicles are poised for a boost. One of the landmark provisions in the package is an extension and expansion of a consumer tax credit for electric vehicle purchases, setting the stage for an accelerated EV expansion.

Samitha Samaranayake, an assistant professor in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Cornell University, uses models and algorithms to design sustainable, hybrid transit systems — ones that utilize ride-hailing and sharing, together with public transit. Samaranayake says making EVs more affordable is good, but the climate package as currently proposed puts cars ahead of mass transit, failing to promote a necessary shift in how we travel. Samaranayake says:

Encouraging the adoption of electric vehicles by making them more affordable is good—assuming of course that the vehicles are charged using renewable energy. However, this influential climate package doesn’t do enough to advance necessary shifts in the ways we travel, particularly in urban environments.

Increasing EV utilization won’t curb single occupancy trips in private vehicles or via ride hailing services, nor will it encourage higher occupancy modes of transportation, like mass transit, or non-motorized options like biking. We are still promoting a car-centric transportation system. Even if more people are driving electric vehicles, congestion will not decrease. 

While trading fossil fuel powered miles for a cleaner alternative is a move in the right direction, we are missing an opportunity to make a more fundamental transition towards a sustainable and equitable transportation future — at a time when we need to curb energy consumption as much as possible.
In my opinion, we should invest more in improving mass transit and innovations in new transit-centric mobility solutions. We need to provide better transit access where possible, incentivize people to use it when available, and make driving less attractive when good alternatives exist.