In March 1997 a workshop was held in Washington D.C. that convened a wide variety of experts from Canada, Mexico, and the United States to examine the relationship between the North American transportation sector and atmospheric change. This activity was meant to provide a broad overview of the issues involved, to help establish the groundwork for a truly comprehensive assessment, and to develop a stronger working relationship among the three countries for addressing these issues.
Workshop participants discussed the central role that transportation systems play in the current structure and future growth of the economies of all three countries. Recent trends in passenger and freight transport were considered, as were the range of technological, economic, and demographic forces that will influence the evolution of the transportation sector in the coming decades.
Speakers reviewed the many changes in atmospheric composition that result from transportation activities. Emissions from vehicles contribute to the local and regional scale air pollution (e.g. smog, particulates, and acid rain), and to the buildup of greenhouse gases on a global scale. These atmospheric changes can have detrimental impacts on ecosystems, climate, and on human health and well being.
Much of the workshop was devoted to the consideration of strategies that can be used to help the transportation sector evolve in a more environmentally sustainable manner, including improvements in vehicle design and changes in individuals' transportation use decisions. Technological improvements are being fostered through ongoing research and development efforts, for example, in the Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles program. Participants debated the merits and feasibility of different options for influencing individuals' transportation choices including: providing economic incentives to drive less and to buy more efficient vehicles, improving and promoting mass transit, using land use planning to reduce travel demand, and educating the public about the merits of ‘sustainable' transportation options.
Participants identified many issues related to transportation and air quality that require additional research, as well as many scientific, technological, and policy issues which could benefit from more collaboration and information sharing among Canada, Mexico, and the United States. It was also recognized that addressing these problems in a comprehensive manner requires better integration between the transportation and atmospheric science communities, including sustained collaboration in research and modeling studies, policy development, and education.