Monthly Archives: July 2010

Server Problems

Readers may have noticed that the Antiplanner was down Wednesday morning and almost all day Thursday. Apparently, our web host was completely down as I couldn’t even access their web site.

Does anyone have any recommendations for a new web host? I am backing up the entire web site so I don’t have time to put up a new post. Feel free to debate Thursday’s post.

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Growing Interest in Driverless Cars

As the nation’s transit industry slowly implodes from the weight of political control, the replacement for transit is getting some attention in the press. Researchers from the University of Parma are sending two driverless cars from Italy to Shanghai.

Researchers at Ohio State University have received a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant to develop the software necessary to allow driverless cars to work in mixed traffic. Volkswagen, which plans to run a driverless Audi up Pikes Peak Road this September, is expanding its research program at Stanford University

The New York Times Freakonomics blog covered the idea of driverless cars in detail (with reference to the Antiplanner). Curiously, the Ft. Worth Star-Tribune also had a recent article featuring driverless cars and other automotive innovations that did not reference the Antiplanner and clearly was based on entirely different sources. It is good to know that more people are thinking about the benefits of automating driving.

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Transit Has $77.7 Billion Maintenance Backlog

A new report from the Federal Transit Administration says that America’s transit agencies need $77.7 billion to bring their systems up to a state of good repair. This report is an update to a previous report that just looked at seven of the nation’s leading transit systems (Boston, Chicago, New Jersey Transit, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco BART, and Washington Metro).

That earlier report found those seven systems had a maintenance backlog of about $50 billion, about 94 percent of which was due to rail transit. The new report looks at all transit systems and says that the national total for rail transit is $59.2 billion while other transit is $18.4 billion.

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Washington Metro Takes Action!

In an article worthy of The Onion, the Washington Post proclaims that “Dupont Circle escalator incident prompts Metro to take action.” The incident in question was the breakdown of the giant, 130-foot escalators at the Dupont Circle Metro station, which forced patrons to walk or, in some cases, crawl over handrails to adjacent escalators. The escalator problems were compounded by inadequacies in Metro’s radio network that prevented employees from communicating with one another about the breakdown.

Video by Twitter user @giveit2lloyd; view the original here.

The Post noted that Metro’s interim general manager, Richard Sarles, admits that “Metro had failed to maintain the conveyances adequately. ‘These escalators are old; they have not been kept in a state of good repair, so we’re behind the curve on that,’” said Sarles. Sarles took over from the previous general manager, John Catoe, who resigned in disgrace on April 1, saying he was “taking the fall” for the deaths of 9 people in a maintenance-related accident last year.

So what great action is Metro taking to deal with the escalators it has failed to keep in a state of good repair? It is providing bullhorns to station employees so they can do better crowd control and communicate with one another the next time the escalators break down. That’s proactive!

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Airfares Taking Flight?

Delta and Northwest have merged, and now United and Continental are merging. So naturally someone raises the specter that airfares are going to go up. “Concentration in any industry leads to higher prices,” says someone who claims to have analyzed the airline industry for 40 years.

I don’t know what industry they have been analyzing, but it isn’t the one I’ve observed over the past 40 years. The problem for the airlines is that the cost of starting a new airline is low. Sure, the planes are expensive, but you can lease those. Once you have those, you don’t have to pay for air space, you don’t have to build airports, and you don’t have to build your own air traffic control system. As a result, for every airline that disappears through bankruptcy or merger, another one springs up.

Though not relevant to the rest of this post, this plane is not only painted like a salmon, it is a piece of pork. As a favor to the Alaska fishing industry, Alaska Congressman Don Young wrote a half-million-dollar earmark into the 2005 transportation bill to paint this plane to advertise Alaska salmon. Photo courtesy Alaska Airlines.

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And Your Point Is?

Matthew Yglesias is somehow offended by the Antiplanner’s recent post on Cato’s blog about the huge decline in the productivity of our socialized transit industry since 1970. He never addresses or even acknowledges any of the arguments made in my article. Instead, his problem is that the article “fails to acknowledge any government role in promoting the usage of private automobiles.” Since my article was about transit, not automobiles, I don’t see why I need to acknowledge government’s role in driving any more than I should acknowledge government’s role in our failed education system or any other government failing.

It could be that Yglesias is arguing that I am somehow inconsistent because object to socialized transit without objecting to socialized highways. If so, he would be wrong: In books, papers, and policy statements I have argued that highways should be funded out of user fees, not taxes; that states should encourage private highway construction; and that the federal government should get out of the highway business. That isn’t in any way inconsistent with my article on transit.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is in Nashville today speaking to the Tennessee Road Builders Association. Contrary to the claims of some, this is a rare event for me; I think I’ve only spoken to one road builder association in the past, and that was close to ten years ago.

I won’t actually speak until this afternoon, so I plan to spend the morning visiting the Tennessee Central Railway Museum. If I get a chance, I’ll post something for Thursday, but I may have to skip a day.

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Comments on FTA Cost-Effectiveness Rule

The Antiplanner has prepared several pages of comments in response to the Federal Transit Administration’s request for comments on its cost-effectiveness rule. I haven’t actually submitted this document to the FTA yet, so if you have any suggestions I am open to them.

Comments are due on August 2. You can submit your comments via the web either as an attached document or directly typed into the web window (but, if the latter, no more than 2,000 characters).

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Is Portland’s Plan Working?

A new census of downtown Portland employers reveals that, for the first time since the annual census began in 2001, the number of downtown workers taking transit to work exceeded the number driving in 2009. This isn’t because the number taking transit to work increased — it declined by 6 percent — but because the number biking and walking to work grew by 170 percent.

You can look at all the census data for 2001 through 2006 in the 2006 report. The 2007, 2008, and 2008 reports contain commuting data only for those years. These data were collected by the Portland Business Alliance.

The increase in biking and walking to work accounts for almost 90 percent of the reduction in driving to work, and some might say this is a victory for Portland planners. But a comparison of the downtown census data with U.S. census data for the city of Portland and Portland urban area in 2000 and 2008 reveal some problems. (Note: The U.S. Census did not report commuting data in its 2001 survey, and the 2009 survey data are not out yet, so I am using 2000 and 2008 to compare with the downtown census’ 2001 and 2009 data.)

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