Monthly Archives: July 2009

Moving More Expensively

Environmental groups just published Moving Cooler, a report that argues we need to reduce driving in order to reduce global warming. Transportation expert Alan Pisarski has written a critique of this report, saying it is more of a sales document than a credible analysis.

“The benefits and the costs involved” in the report “are so corrupted to be meaningless,” says Pisarski. For example, the time penalty from forcing someone to switch from a 15-minute auto trip to a 60-minute transit trip is assumed to be zero, transit subsidies are not counted, and all mobility losses from coercing people out of their cars are counted solely as benefits.

Everything I have seen suggests that we can make technological improvements to cars and highways that will reduce greenhouse gases at costs ranging anywhere from minus $50 to $50 a ton. Meanwhile, rail transit and more compact development will reduce greenhouse gases at costs ranging from $5,000 to $100,000 a ton — if they reduce them at all. Until all technological options have been used, we shouldn’t even be talking about the behavioral ones.

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The Country Is Ready for Free Money

Forty states have asked the federal government for a total of $102 billion for high-speed rail. This suggests that the Antiplanner’s estimate of $90 billion for the cost of the Obama high-speed rail plan was low.

Secretary of Behavior Modification Ray LaHood says that this “shows that the country is ready for high-speed rail.” Of course, all it really shows is that state bureaucrats are ready for free federal money.

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BNSF: Obama’s Moderate-Speed Rail Plan Not Workable

Obama’s high-speed rail plan calls for running passenger trains at 110 mph on the same tracks as freight trains that typically run at 40 to 60 mph. But the CEO of the nation’s largest railroads, BNSF, says this won’t work. BNSF CEO Matt Rose testified to Congress that 90 mph passenger trains would be compatible with freight trains, but if Obama wants to run passenger trains any faster than that, it will have to build new tracks.

Although BNSF owns more track than any other railroad, Obama’s plans do not rely heavily on the western lines. The Portland-to-Vancouver, BC is the only one that would have to use BNSF. But if the leaders of CSX and Norfolk Southern, which would host most of the proposed trains, agree with Rose, then Obama’s plans are effectively blocked. Of course, that won’t stop the government from spending billions of dollars for virtually nothing.

“Make no mistake about it,” said Rose, if the U.S. wants high-speed rail, “this is a trillion-dollar funding proposition.” Trains with top speeds of 90 mph would have average speeds of 60 mph or less, which is hardly enough to attract anyone out of their automobiles or off of commercial airlines. So it seems Obama has to choose: spend a trillion on true high-speed rail, or spend tens of billions on moderate-speed rail and only get 60 mph trains.

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Killer of the Year

You have to wonder if the American Public Transit Association (APTA), America’s own transit lobby, is embarrassed that it named the general manager of Washington Metro, John Catoe, the Outstanding Public Transportation Manager of 2009 less than a month before his railroad killed nine of his customers.

He was lauded in the award for overhauling a transit system that had recently killed six people and suffered a train derailment that injured 20. I guess his overhaul didn’t work as well as APTA thought.

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How to Spend $100 Million Doing Nothing

The bureaucrats planning a new bridge across the Columbia River between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington have so far spent $65 million — and by this time next year, they will be up to $100 million — all without accomplishing a thing.

That could have been enough money to replace the Sellwood Bridge, which is in much worse shape, both functionally and structurally — than the Columbia River bridge, but which planners say they don’t have any money for. Maybe that’s because they are spending all their money on planning.

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Apocalypse ASAP

People like James Howard Kunstler, who is committed to the death of the suburbs, and this guy, who thinks gasoline will “inevitably” reach $20 a gallon, see only good coming from these futures. For example, the latter character thinks that expensive gasoline will cure American obesity. He doesn’t explain why the Netherlands, where gas is expensive and lots of people walk and cycle, has obesity rates that are only about 10 years behind those in the U.S.

The Antiplanner hates to disappoint anyone, but we aren’t going to be giving up our cars anytime soon. If the price of gas goes up, we’ll either find more oil or we will find substitutes for that oil. For example, MIT is developing an electric car with a new kind of batteries that can be recharged in 11 minutes. Then there’s the Tesla Model S, whose batteries can be switched out in five minutes.

Regarding a different mode of transportation, someone has proposed a new airport on Manhattan Island, which would be a lot more convenient for many people than the airports now serving New York City. Where would it go? Why, in the largest piece of undeveloped land in Manhattan, namely Central Park. Of course, it’s a prank; if they had wanted to be taken seriously, they should have proposed to turn the park into high-density, transit-oriented developments.

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DC MetroRail: An Accident Waiting to Happen

The “failsafe” train control system that was supposed to prevent the June 22 accident that killed nine subway riders in Washington DC appears to be breaking down throughout the MetroRail system. Although Metro’s general manager claimed that the agency tested all of the circuits and had not found any problems, the Washington Post has uncovered documents revealing problems with at least four of the region’s five rail lines.

The good news is that reporters are finally becoming skeptical about the supposed utopian virtues of the transit industry. A FoxNews reporter found a DC bus driver reading a book while driving in traffic. DC bus drivers are some of the highest paid public employees in the nation, many earning well over $100,000 a year. But I guess that isn’t enough for them to keep their attention on their jobs.

Meanwhile, the reporters in Portland who revealed TriMet’s expensive health insurance plans attempted to interview transit union officials for their responses, but the officials didn’t have time. They did, however, have time to make a youtube video responding to the “lies” in the news reports. They blame the lies on “right winger” John Charles, former head of the Oregon Environmental Council, current head of the libertarian Cascade Policy Institute. Isn’t it wonderful how we can just dismiss someone because they are a “right winger”? It makes things so easy; you don’t have to think about the issues themselves.

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Federal Mistrust Funds

Yesterday, I received a “Social Security Statement,” which is supposed to look like some sort of pension statement — only it is not. A pension statement shows how much money workers put into their pensions, how much that money is earning in interest, and how much they can take out.

The Social Security Statement also showed how much I put into the social security and medicare funds — to be honest, not very much, because for most of my career I worked for nearly nothing. But it doesn’t tell how much interest “my” money is earning, because of course the money is all gone — Congress spent it on something else.

“In 2017 we will begin paying more in benefits than we collect in taxes,” says the statement. “Without changes, by 2041 the Social Security Trust Fund will be exhausted.” (Actually, the latest numbers say it will run out four years sooner.) But what is the Social Security Trust Fund? It is a big fat, $2.4 trilllion IOU from Congress, which expects to repay that IOU by borrowing from someone else, or raising taxes, after 2017.

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TriMet Is Failing, So Build More Rail

Portland’s transit agency, TriMet, spent something like $166 million on its commuter-rail line which at one time was supposed to cost $104 million. The line is now carrying fewer than 600 round trips per day. It isn’t really surprising since the line goes from nowhere to nowhere.

The agency offers free health insurance, costing as much as $1,900 per person per month, to all its employees, retirees, and their dependents. This turns out to be the best transit agency benefits package in the nation. Aside from being reminiscent of the benefits programs that sank General Motors, it is so outrageous that the president of TriMet’s board actually resigned because he felt it was so unfair to taxpayers.

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Gimme Gimme Gimme

The Department of Transportation has received 278 applications for high-speed rail stimulus funds. Not surprisingly, the various proposals add up to far more than the $8 billion that is available for such projects.

Six New England states want the entire $8 billion for themselves. North Carolina wants $6 billion. Oregon & Washington are hoping for $2.1 billion. Texas wants a modest $1.7 billion, mainly for planning 200-mph trains between San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston.

That’s almost $18 billion so far, and this barely scratches the surface of the proposals.

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