Sustainable mobility conference housed in Austin as city outlines green energy goals

Austin

Sonia Rief — Nissan North America’s vice president of vehicle connected services and program management — spoke Wednesday on the expansion of smart technology vehicles. (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Austin City Council plans to approve its climate equity plan Thursday, two of Austin’s events centers have housed an international conference on sustainability and mobility.

MOVE America 2021 is a conference centered around mobility, connectivity and urban transport. The two-day event, running on Tuesday and Wednesday, featured 400 speakers, 500 companies and more than 3,000 registered attendees.

Kicking off Wednesday’s keynote address, Craig Westbrook of VinFast US outlined the company’s expansion of electric vehicles from its launch off in Vietnam into the U.S. As more companies turn toward electrically-powered alternatives, accessibility in cost and maintenance remain central, he said.

“We’re driving the movement of the global, smart, electric vehicle revolution,” he said.

In Austin, similar initiatives are underway as part of the city’s $7.1 billion Project Connect. On Monday, Capital Metro’s board of directors approved the purchase of nearly 200 electric vehicles to expand on its zero-emissions bus fleet. Eventually, the city’s goal is to have its 400-vehicle bus fleet comprising electric vehicles only.

“Austin is going all in on transportation electrification to promote clean air and address climate change. This week Council is reviewing a comprehensive Community Climate and Equity Plan that among other metrics calls for 40% of all vehicle miles travelled to be electric by 2030,” said Bobby Godsey with Austin Energy. “To achieve this ambitious goal, we need a holistic strategy that includes Cap Metro’s electric buses, electrifying our own city fleet, and Austin Energy to continue to be a leader in innovative EV programs to make it convenient and affordable for residents and businesses to drive electric.”

  • MOVE America 2021 is a conference centered around mobility, connectivity and urban transport. The two-day event, running on Tuesday and Wednesday, featured 400 speakers, 500 companies and more than 3,000 registered attendees. (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)
  • Craig Westbrook, Chief Service Officer, VinFast US (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)
  • Susan Anderson, Global Head of Uber for Business, Uber (KXAN Photo/Kelsey Thompson)

Sonia Rief — Nissan North America’s vice president of vehicle connected services and program management — spoke Wednesday on the expansion of smart technology vehicles. She outlined the process of bringing phone-based software technology into cars as a means of enhancing the user experience, with Apple Carplay just one example of these convergences.

Twenty years ago, the emergence of mobile phones was seen as a revolutionary step in technological advancements. She said now those products that once offered phone, text and game services only serve as the epicenter of main people’s lives and connectivity.

“That’s the power of connection. That’s the power of an ecosystem. And that’s on a phone,” she said. “That phone is now the hub of our lives.”

With the continued evolution of smart technology in vehicles, she said it will extend from elements like Apple Carplay further into autonomous services and artificial intelligence realms. The challenges companies face will center around making an optimal experience for customers that is accessible, while also responsible with their privacy and security.

The future of automated cars have already made its interest in Central Texas known. In 2019, Ford began testing its autonomous vehicles in downtown Austin, working alongside Argo AI. In 2022, that partnership between Ford and Argo AI will extend to Lyft as the rideshare company branches into autonomous serviced in Austin.

As part of Austin’s climate equity plan, the city looks to accelerate its net zero-emissions goal from an initial target of 2050, down to 2040. The equity plan expands the focus from climate change alone, into ways of addressing the disproportionate impacts climate change has on lower-income and predominantly non-white communities.

“Because the climate crisis can only be addressed fully when we also address racial inequality, we set out to create a plan that would include everyone in the Austin community to make our city cleaner, healthier, more affordable, and accessible for all. The Austin City Council has declared a Climate Emergency, and the Climate Equity Plan’s Steering Committee has challenged us to accelerate our climate goals, endorsing the new goal of equitably reaching net-zero community-wide greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, utilizing a steep decline path, followed by negative emissions.”

Austin Climate Equity Plan

In addition, climate equity goals for 2030 denoted in the plan include:

  • Net-zero carbon emissions for all new buildings, 25% carbon emissions reduction in existing buildings
  • 50% of trips made in Austin are done so through public transit, biking, walking, carpooling or remote work
  • By 2027, maintaining and creating 135,000 housing units, including 60,000 affordable housing units; 75% of new housing located with 0.5 miles of activity centers, main corridors
  • 40% of total miles traveled in Austin are done via electric vehicles
  • Minimum 50% reduction in greenhouse gases emitted via “institutional, commercial, and government purchasing”
  • Ensure protections for 500,000 acres of farmland in five-county Austin metro region through “legal protections and regenerative agriculture programs”
  • Minimum 50% tree canopy coverage citywide by 2050

Austin City Council will vote on whether to adopt its climate equity plan during its regular meeting, beginning at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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