Director George S. Hawkins - Testimony Before the Council of the District of Columbia
Taxicab Hybrid Technology Vehicle Expansion Act of 2007 (September 29, 2008)
Mr. Chairman, on behalf of the Fenty Administration, I’d like to thank you for inviting my testimony today. The Executive has taken no formal position on Bill 17-433, the Taxicab Hybrid Technology Vehicle Expansion Act of 2007. That said, I am the director of the District Government agency that’s responsible for monitoring and protecting the quality of the air we breathe here in the District. I am also very familiar with the effects of urban transportation on the environment. I’d like to take a few minutes today to speak to both issues, in the hopes of illustrating why – in general – reducing the amount of gasoline used by vehicles in our city would be a very good thing. I should also mention that the District Government already encourages the purchase of hybrids for all drivers – including taxi drivers – by eliminating the excise tax on these cars.
Gasoline-powered cars, trucks and buses emit what those of us in the air quality business call “mobile air toxics.” These are air pollutants that result from driving and can cause cancer and other serious health conditions. They include compounds such as benzene and tiny particles that everyone in this country breathes because vehicles are such a major part of our daily lives. The United States Environmental Protection Agency estimates that mobile sources of air toxics account for as much as half of all cancers attributed to outdoor sources of air toxics. Here in the District, almost 12 percent of children have asthma, compared to less than 9 percent nationally, according to the American Lung Association. Air pollution can make asthma worse and trigger attacks.
Another serious effect of using internal-combustion engines is global warming. Of all the sectors in our local economy, transportation is second only to building energy use as a source of greenhouse gas emissions that are raising the Earth’s temperature and changing our climate. Motor vehicles emit three major greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. Most cars, trucks and buses on the road produce several times their own weight in these gases every year. When the gases enter the atmosphere, they trap heat, which leads to global warming. We reduce the output of gases by reducing the number of cars and trucks on the road, or using less gasoline for the cars and trucks we have.
The District of Columbia is already second in the nation – New York is the first – in per capita use of vehicles other than cars to get to work. Mr. Chairman, you know as a member and past chair of the Metro board how important public transportation is not only to our own city, but the entire region. The Fenty Administration has made the District a leader among cities in supporting non-car trips through programs such as Bike to Work Day, the SmartBike DC bike-sharing program, and Car-Free DC Day. We have reduced and will continue to reduce the number of vehicles in the District Government’s fleet, gradually replacing many of the cars we keep with an eye toward alternative fuels and fuel economy. This includes natural-gas and hybrid Metro and Circulator buses, the natural-gas sedans in the Parking Enforcement Division of the Department of Public Works, the City Administrator’s hybrid Ford Escape, and the Mayor’s Smart Car. In my case, my official DDOE and personal vehicles are a SmarTrip card and a comfortable pair of walking shoes.
As the District Government leads by example, we must always be mindful of the private sector’s impact on our air and our climate. Like buses, taxis are an integral part of the transportation system in this city. They also spend more time on the road and in use than most other cars. The Mayor and I both believe we should enthusiastically explore ways to reduce their impact on our environment.
This concludes my prepared remarks, and I’m happy to answer any questions.