"Greenest City" Vehicle GHG Emissions: An Assessment

ABSTRACT

   In 2009, the City of Vancouver initiated its “Greenest City” action plan with the laudable aim of reducing total municipal greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 33% by 2020 from a 2007 baseline.  One of the targets set was to reduce average vehicle kilometres travelled (VKT) per capita by 20% over that same period. 

   In July, 2016, the city released an “Action Plan Update” outlining how well the city was meeting its objectives.  Based on AirCare odometer data which excludes all vehicles younger than seven years, the Update found that average VKT per capita by 2015 had fallen by 27% since 2007 (more than surpassing its objective) with an almost 18% decline since 2011.  In terms of actual fuel consumption (effectively, GHG emissions), there was a 24% decline since 2007, and over a 15% decline since 2011.

   Contrast that 15% decline in fuel consumption with Ministry of Finance fuel sales data for the South Coast region (slightly larger than Metro Vancouver) which shows an increase of close to 5% between 2011 and 2015.  Either motorists in Vancouver had a remarkable driving epiphany compared to those in Metro Vancouver between 2011 and 2015, or the AirCare data and the methodology used do not capture correctly what has been happening since 2011.  In this study, we identify a number of problems with the data and the methodology used in the Update and, using equivalent AirCare data for Metro Vancouver, we find that the Update results for the 2011 to 2015 are highly suspect.

   Using our VKT/GHG Forecasting Model which was developed for the Ministry of Environment (CEEI) and TransLink and which integrates a detailed statistical analysis of VKT by vehicle type, we found that average VKT in Vancouver, far from falling, actually rose by almost 5% between 2011 and 2015.  We detail the advantages of using this approach, and how it not only provides more reliable estimates of historical VKT, but also affords insights into what factors have caused these changes to average VKT, and how changes to factors in the future (e.g., changes to the carbon tax, greater penetration of electric vehicles, changes in land use and zoning regulations, increase in transit availability) will likely affect driving behaviour and GHG emissions.