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Driving Change

California city of Santa Monica maps first U.S. zero-emission delivery zone

The concept, gaining ground in European and China, aims to address both air pollution and gnarly traffic congestion in urban areas.

Santa Monica

The sunny city of Santa Monica, California, in greater Los Angeles, soon could become the first zero-emission delivery zone in America. That means every good delivered in the region, from food to packages, would be transported in a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV), whether that's an electric delivery van, a hydrogen fuel cell truck or an e-cargo bike.

The new pilot project — which includes a one-square-mile area of Santa Monica's downtown corridor — is under development by the city and the Los Angeles Cleantech Incubator (LACI). Los Angeles' green leaders hope to use learnings from the initiative to expand ZEV zones to other Los Angeles regions such as Culver City, Pasadena and downtown L.A.

"This pilot project will really help us work through pain points and help find solutions for the business model, the behavioral side and the technology side," said LACI CEO Matt Petersen in an interview with GreenBiz. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has set a goal to reduce L.A.'s emissions by 25 percent by the time the Olympics is supposed to land in the region in 2028.

What's the point of a ZEV delivery zone? Quite simply to eliminate diesel-powered delivery vehicles, which contribute major carbon emissions, air pollution and traffic. Los Angeles' unique valley geography, combined with its port operations, massive traffic problem and ample distribution centers, mean that air pollution in certain areas, particularly those in disadvantaged communities, can be unhealthy and is unsustainable. 

This pilot project will really help us work through pain points and help find solutions for the business model, the behavioral side and the technology side.

Cities around the world, especially in Europe and China, have been leading these efforts and acting as the conveners of this important environmental, health and technology trend. European cities including London, Paris and Madrid have made big strides in banning fossil fuel vehicles from city centers and have seen important improvements in cleaner air and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.

Cities in the United States have been less aggressive than Europe when it comes to green zones, but California has been a leader in zero-emission commercial vehicles. Outside of California, Columbus, Ohio, has been able to cut its annual vehicle diesel costs in half by adopting electric vehicles. And the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey plans to reduce greenhouse gases by 35 percent by 2025, featuring EVs as a major way to get there (check out our webinar on this topic). 

Some corporations are starting to step up, too. Consumer goods companies such as Ingka Group (parent company of IKEA) have pledged to deliver their online orders via zero-emission vehicles, and IKEA plans to use 100 percent electric delivery vehicles in the L.A. area. Delivery companies such as Amazon, UPS and FedEx also have developed aggressive zero-emission shipping and delivery plans. 

Santa Monica has emerged as an innovative hub for all types of mobility, including the first micromobility services in the U.S. 

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