A massive transformation of the freight movement system involving everything from big-data connectivity to biofuels and electric trucks, is envisioned in a new California Sustainable Freight Action Plan released Tuesday.

The draft plan, subject to a two-month comment period, calls for the deployment of more than 100,000 zero- and near-zero emissions trucks, locomotives, harbor craft, airport ground service vehicles and other freight-moving equipment throughout the state by 2030. Significant cuts in emissions from the freight segment by 2050 are another goal.

The plan seeks to cut emissions by slashing use of petroleum-based fuels, improving safety and reducing the freight industry’s carbon footprint in California. It would rely on state powers to help improve industry efficiency and finance the large equipment and infrastructure costs adherence to the plan would impose on the industry.

Heavy duty trucks, which contribute significantly to air quality issues in the state, would be a prime target for electrification and the use of natural gas engines and clean renewable fuels.

To help finance this transformation to clean technology, the plan proposes a combination of federal and state funding, including up to $117 million a year through 2020 from the National Highway Freight Program and state spending of up to $2 billion for freight infrastructure improvements. It also refers to an unspecified amount for funding of cleaner vehicles and fuels.

The $750-billion-a-year freight industry is responsible for a third of the state’s jobs and economy.

While freight is a private enterprise, “the state has an interest and a role,” said Ben De Alba, the state transportation agency’s assistant secretary for rail and ports.

California government “can set goals, but we cannot get there unless the state also is a financial partner and provides non-monetary assistance” through policy and regulation as well, De Alba said. “We are trying to figure out how to get to where we want to go in 2050.”

The plan doesn't sit well with some in the trucking industry, though.

Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs for the Western States Trucking Assn., called the plan “pure fantasy” from “bureaucrats pushing technologies they'd like to see, but except for natural gas, none of these electric and fuel cell trucks exist now and they just aren't economically viable or viable for what the end user needs.”

Acknowledging that Western States has a contentious relationship with regulators – it unsuccessfully sued the state Air Resources Board over its diesel emissions regulations -Rajkovacz said that his association's members in California “spent untold millions of dollars replacing or retrofitting their trucks in 2007 (to meet state air quality standards), and these are investments that last for 20 to 25 years. They are resentful of being made the poster child for everything that's wrong with California air quality” and many see the freight action plan's call for 100,000 or more zero and near-zero emission trucks as an unfair financial burden, he said.

While the freight plan isn’t a mandate and doesn’t contain any new regulations, its implementation will likely will lead to new regulatory action.

In addition to the rollout of tens of thousands of zero- and near-zero emissions vehicles, the freight plan calls for:

  • Aiming state funding at technologies and systems that would improve the efficiency of freight operation, specifically targeting operations, equipment and infrastructure in high-volume freight corridors.
  • State and private funding for increased use of renewable energy generation including solar energy systems.
  • New infrastructure for renewable fuels, electric freight vehicle charging and clean energy production facilities, again financed through “collaborative funding efforts” involving government and private players.

A trio of pilot projects to be developed by 2020 also is identified:

  • Use of biogas from dairy waste for fueling freight vehicles in the agricultural San Joaquin Valley.
  • Implementation of myriad new technologies affecting Southern California’s major truck corridors, including intelligent transportation systems, semi-autonomous vehicles, collaborative logistics and incentives for deployment of zero and near-zero emission trucks.
  • Improved information and traffic management technologies at border ports of entry to ease the flow of freight traffic on the California-Mexico border. Technologies could include embedding Bluetooth sensors in the roadways to help keep track of freight truck traffic and provide truck drivers and dispatchers information that could help them avoid congestion and reduce or eliminate long wait times at border crossings.

The draft action plan is the fruit of a year of work involving multiple state agencies, private industry and groups representing environmental and labor interests.

“We’ve never put this much into coordinating with other agencies,” said Heather Arias, head of the California Air Resources Board (ARB) freight transportation branch.  The plan “is not just what ARB or the California Energy Commission or the state transportation agency wants. It is a vision of what the state as a whole wants from the freight transportation system” and of how the state intends to assist, she said.

“The freight system in California is a system of systems, operating independently and not talking to each other,” said ARB spokesman Stanley Young. “This plan is an arena for improving communication.”

The first public airing of the plan will be on Thursday at the Advanced Clean Transportation (ACT) Expo in Long Beach, followed by sessions of the California Freight Advisory Committee in Sacramento on May 10;  the California Transportation Commission in Stockton on May 18 and the Air Resources Board in Sacramento on May 19.

About The Author

John O'Dell

John O'Dell is a Trucks.com contributing writer, green technology expert and editor of TheGreenCarGuy.com. He previously wrote for Edmunds.com and the Los Angeles Times, and served on the National Research Council committee that authored the seminal report “Transitions to Alternative Vehicles and Fuels.”