Can California put cars in the rear-view mirror?

The story goes that Californians love their cars. But much of the time that relationship is dysfunctional, launching drivers into the teeth of traffic jams, fouling the air and spewing gases that undermine state policies to combat climate change. Most personal cars sit quietly at the curb or in a garage for 95% of the day, so why even have one?

With transportation — mostly passenger vehicles — responsible for about 40% of the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions, policymakers are ramping up efforts to uncouple Californians from their cars. As they nudge people into ride-sharing, public transit and housing built to enable both, officials are playing a long game. And they’re navigating a political and social minefield dotted with oil interests and drivers loath to give up cars without easy and affordable alternatives.

There’s also our clichéd romance with the automobile, long abetted by the state’s film, television and music industries with such tropes as the Beach Boys’ surfboard-toting station wagon and TV commercials showing drivers gliding up Pacific Coast Highway, convertible top down, gleaming hair whipping in the breeze, not another soul in sight.

One of the things those commercials don’t say: Cars cost nearly $10,000 a year to operate in California, more if you have an older one. And unless something drastic happens to get motorists into cleaner cars and to drive less overall, “we are never going to meet our greenhouse-gas goals,” said Assemblyman Phil Ting, a San Francisco Democrat who has sponsored a handful of bills to reduce transportation emissions.

Those emissions are actually rising, and numerous studies have warned that unless they are significantly reduced, the state won’t achieve its goal of lowering greenhouse-gas output to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Coupled with existing state measures to encourage adoption of electric cars and reduce the carbon content of fuels, officials are aiming to decrease the overall miles that vehicles travel in California — a simple concept that’s devilishly difficult to implement and will require multiple approaches. …

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