Monthly Archives: May 2009

More on LaHood

The National Press Club posted a video of Secretary of Behavior Modification Ray LaHood’s May 21 presentation in which he admitted that the administration’s goal is to “coerce people out of their cars.” The Antiplanner downloaded it (all 193 MB) and transcribed the relevant portion of the question-and-answer period to see if LaHood’s quotes were taken out of context.

The questions below are preceded by the minutes:seconds in the video where the question begins. LaHood’s answers are in bold and the Antiplanner’s comments are in italics.

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Sotomayer: To Hell with the Fifth Amendment

David Brooks sarcastically applauds the Obama administration’s willingness to cavalierly order banks, auto manufacturers, and health care providers around. And it appears that, in nominating Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, Obama was doing more than finding an Hispanic woman to balance out the court. He was finding someone sympathetic to the idea that government should be able to push around private businesses and property owners.

As Richard Epstein, the nation’s preeminent scholar on property rights and the Fifth Amendment, writes in Forbes, Sotomayer has even less sympathy for property rights than the justices who voted for the Kelo decision. In 2006, Sotomayer was on a panel that reviewed a case known as Didden vs. the Village of Port Chester, New York.

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LaHood: “Yes, I am Secretary of Behavior Modification”

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood lashed out in response to George Will’s claim that LaHood is trying to be “Secretary of Behavior Modification” — by casually admitting it.

“About everything we do around here is government intrusion into people’s lives,” says LaHood. Admitting that Obama’s policies are, in fact, “a way to coerce people out of their cars,” LaHood commented that, “The only person that I’ve heard of who objects to this is George Will.”

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Earmark Pigfest

Members of the House of Representatives submitted their requests for 6,868 earmarks for the next reauthorization of federal surface transportation spending. That’s only about 500 more than the number that was officially in the 2005 transportation act (an “official” earmark is numbered in the bill; the asterisk in the linked table indicates there were several hundred more unnumbered earmarks).

At $136 billion, the total cost of these earmarks would be almost six times as much as the $24 billion cost of earmarks in 2005. Of course, this is far from the final total. The House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee says it may pare these down. On the other hand, the Senate is likely to add to the list.

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George F. Will Nails It

Mild-mannered Republican Ray LaHood has been transformed into the Secretary of Behavioral Modification. As Will notes, the behavioralists don’t know their history and fail to recognize that behavioral tools are costly and produce little benefit. Moreover, once they get started, there is no end to the amount of meddling they are willing to do in people’s lives.

Portland Congressman Earl Blumenauer has offered to defend the behavioralists in a debate with Will. The Antiplanner would be willing to make a rare return to Portland to see that.

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Rail Is for the Elite

Riders of Washington, DC’s Metrobus system are much more likely to be low-income minorities than users of the Metrorail system, according to a 2007 survey. The median income for Metrorail riders is $102,100, while the median income for bus riders is only two-thirds as much at $69,600; more than half of bus riders are minorities while three-quarters of rail riders are non-Hispanic white.

Back in the 1970s, public subsidies to transit were justified on the grounds that cities needed transit to serve low-income people who could not afford to own their own cars. That reason has been forgotten in the rush to build rail lines that will attract middle-class people out of their cars.

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Op-Eds in USA Today

The Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute, has a different take on Obama’s fuel-economy plan in an op ed in USA Today.

That makes two op eds by Cato Institute scholars in the same issue of USA Today. (The newspaper accidentally left a word out of the penultimate paragraph, which should read: “Moreover, building high-speed rail consumes enormous amounts of energy and emits enormous volumes of greenhouse gases.”)

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Good News & Bad News about Fuel-Economy

If you like driving a big car or SUV, the good news about Obama’s new fuel-economy standards is that they won’t dictate what kind of car you will be able to buy in the future. If you want to buy a 15-mpg SUV, Detroit (or Aichi or Wolfsburg) will be free to make and sell you one.

The bad news is that the standards may make your car more expensive. Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are actually calculated as the mean of gallons per mile, not miles per gallon. So, as of 2016, for every 15-mpg model made by an auto maker, that company will have to make five models of cars that can go 50 mpg in order for its fleet to meet Obama’s new target. Since bringing each new model to market can cost billions of dollars, if there are not enough people who want to buy those fuel-efficient cars to cover their design costs, the company will have to add a share of those costs to your SUV.

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The High Cost of Rail Strikes Again

Add Austin’s Capital Metro to the list of transit agencies that have gotten themselves into serious financial trouble because they insisted on building an expensive rail transit line. After blowing $300 million on a commuter-rail line and other questionable improvements, Capital Metro is heavily in debt and lacks the resources to fund bus and other planned expansions.

High-cost transit: Scheduled to begin operating in March, the tracks are built, the vehicles are not yet paid for, the system isn’t running, and no one knows when service will begin.

Just a few years ago, the agency had $200 million in the bank. But its CEO considered that a liability, not an asset, because “everyone in town thought we were rich, and they were coming after it.” He argues that blowing a bunch of money on unnecessary projects was necessary to protect the agency’s assets.

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High-Speed Error Rate

Even for a famous transportation writer, it is amazing how many factual errors Tom Vanderbilt, the author of a book on traffic congestion, managed to pack into a single article in Slate. Is it because he ventured into a field beyond his expertise and is relying someone else’s erroneous data? Or is he being deliberately deceptive?

The Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha was one of the nation’s first “high-speed trains,” but it began service in 1935, not in the 1920s. Otto Perry photo.

His thesis is that “trains are slower now than in the 1920s” because railroad technology “is worse now than it was in the early 20th century.” Both these statements are flat-out wrong: trains are faster today, and rail technology has been thoroughly revolutionized since the 1920s.

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