Update on My Light Rail Bet: The Energy Issue

I generally have a bet I make for new light (and heavy) commuter rail systems.  I bet that for the amount the system cost to build, every single daily rider could have instead been given a Prius to drive for the same money; and, with the operating losses and/or subsidy the system requires each year, every one of those Prius drivers could be given enough gas to make their daily commute.  And still have money left over.  I have tested this bet for the systems in Los Angeles and Albuquerque.

Well, it turns out I left something out.  Many people are interested in commuter rail because it is perceived to be greener, which nowadays generally means narrowly that it uses less energy and thus produces less CO2.  But in fact, it may not.  Blogger John Moore sent me a link to this article by Brad Templeton analyzing energy usage in various transportation modes.  While a full train can be fairly efficient (just as a full SUV could be if 7 passengers were in it), cars and trains and busses are seldom full.  When you look at their average load factors, trains are seldom better than cars:

In fact, a car at its average load factor (1.57 pax) has about the same energy use as busses or light rail per passenger mile.  The analysis is difficult to do well, but even with errors, its clear that rail projects do not dominate over car travel in terms of energy use  (One must be careful to differentiate rail project construction decisions from individual choice of mode decisions -- an individual at the margin shifting from car to train saves a lot of energy;  a city choosing to invest in a large new rail system to entice drivers off the road does not).

In fact, relevent to my bet, Mr. Templeton says this:

My first conclusion is that we would get more efficient by pushing
small, fuel efficient vehicles instead of pushing transit, and at
a lower cost.

He explains his results, which are counter-intuitive to many

A full bus or trainload of people is more efficient than private cars,
sometimes quite a bit more so.   But transit systems never consist
of nothing but full vehicles.   They run most of their day with light
loads.  The above calculations came from figures citing the
average city bus holding 9 passengers, and the average train (light
or heavy) holds 22.   If that seems low, remember that every packed
train at rush hour tends to mean a near empty train returning down
the track.

Transit vehicles also tend to stop and start a lot, which eats
a lot of energy, even with regenerative braking.   And most
transit vehicles are just plain heavy, and not very aerodynamic.
Indeed, you'll see tables in the DoE reports that show that over the past 30 years,
private cars have gotten 30% more efficient, while buses have
gotten 60% less efficient and trains about 25% worse.   The
market and government regulations have driven efforts to make cars
more efficient, while transit vehicles have actually worsened.

In order to get people to ride transit, you must offer frequent
service, all day long.  They want to know they have the freedom to leave at
different times.  But that means emptier vehicles outside of
rush hour.   You've all seen those huge empty vehicles go by, you just
haven't thought of how anti-green they were.    It would be better
if off-hours transit was done by much smaller vehicles, but that
implies too much capital cost -- no transit agency will buy enough
equipment for peak times and then buy a second set of equipment for
light demand periods.

A lot of his data can be checked at the US Department of Energy data book here.  In particular, you can see the key numbers in table 2.12.  After perusing this data for a bit, I had a few other reactions:

  • Commercial air travel gets a bad rap.  On a passenger mile basis, it is really not worse than driving and only about 20% worse than Amtrack  (and probably the same as Amtrak or better if you leave out the Northeast Corridor). (table 2.14)
  • Busses have really gotten way more inefficient over the years, at the same time cars have become substantially more efficient.  While the government criticizes its citizens for not practicing enough energy conservation, in fact its citizens have been buying more and more fuel efficient vehicles while the government has been buying less efficient vehicles.  (table 2.13)
  • While passenger cars have increased substantially in efficiency, over the road trucks have seen no progress, and have actually gotten less efficient over the last 10 years (table 2-18)

Make sure to read the whole article.  I think the author is pretty fair at achnowleging where the uncertainties are in the analysis.  He also has comparisons of mass transit energy numbers between cities.  A few individual cities seem to beat even the most efficient cars -- most, including places like New York, do not.

Postscript:  I don't think numbers for New York include taxis.  If they did, New York would likely look terrible.  From an energy standpoint, taxis are a horrible transportation option, perhaps the worst possible.  It would be interesting to know how many New Yorkers who look down on SUV's routinely get around town using taxis.


  1. dearieme:

    In the mid 60s a lot of under-used railway lines were closed in Britain; it was said at the time that it would have been cheaper to give every regular passenger a Mini than continue running the trains - and that was a case where the capital cost of the railway had been paid long before.

  2. Another guy named Dan:

    The statistic used for over the road trucks is BTU/vehicle mile. I wonder how much of the apparent increase can be explained by longer trailers (65' and double bottoms v. 50') and less deadheading due to improved logistical planning. I realize it's harder to calculate, but to get a fair comparison with other modes, we should be looking at BTU/ton mile

  3. Bob Smith:

    Disability Act mandates like low floors and wheelchair lifts substantially increase both cost and weight. It is rare that a bus is actually carrying a wheelchair-bound passenger, but the cost must be borne during the 99.9% of the time there isn't such a passenger. Bus agencies resisted these changes for the obvious reasons, many responding to the needs of wheelchair-bound patrons with individualized door-to-door van service. When activists successfully sued to stop such services on the basis that offering clearly superior (to riding a regular bus) service was discriminatory since it didn't offer the same service that able-bodied passengers received, the agencies had no choice to but start buying these heavy, expensive buses.

  4. Jim Collins:

    Bob. You used the 100 billion dollar word there. "Activist". That's it in a nut shell. 99.999% of mass transit systems are run by Governments. This gives the "activists" control over them through the media and local officials.

  5. Corky Boyd:

    These figures are astounding, especially considering private auto travel will see a major increase in fuel economy in the next few years that other forms of transit will not.

    On top of that, the private auto is self sustaining. It does not require massive subsidies to keep it going. The individual owners foot the capital, interst, fuel and maintenance costs, and the road infrastructure is captured from motor fuel taxes. Indeed up to 20% of the "highway trust fund" is diverted to public transportation.

    The New York MTA is facing a billion dollar deficit this coming fiscal year, even with back to back fare increase (timid at that). Mayor Bloomberg's answer is of course an $8 per day "congestion fee" for any vehicle entering below 86th Street. The rationale: that this will drive commuters to already crammed full MTA. It won't, he just wants their money.

    I have yet to find a municipal transit system anywhere that breaks even. They receive tax breaks private autos don't. They don't pay either federal or state motor fuel tax. They are exempted from tolls generally. Yet they still can't compete.

    The real reason there is such congestion in NYC is the massively excessive office and residential density that has been allowed. No city can be functional with density like that.

    If I were a New Yorker, I would tell Mayor Bloomberg I will take the MTA to work when he does. Fat chance!

  6. EconStudent:

    I drive for my university's 'mass transit system,' and it is amazing how horrible it is. We have a shift that we run a bus for 3 hours for, maximum, 10 passengers, often only 2 or 3. This is a point I think about frequently because my school is all about being green and helping the environment, but they won't put forth the capital or the effort to create an efficient, useful transportation system!

  7. Dan:

    Corky writes:

    The private automobile "doesn't need massive subsidies to keep it going."

    Ever taken a look at a federal highway bill, Corky?

    Seriously, though, I think the light rail arguments made here are illuminating. What really jumps out at me is the use of the word "substantial" to describe the improvement in automobile fuel efficiency over the last decades. Average fuel economy over the last 30 years is up 30%. Big whoop. If the average computer was only 30% better now than it was in 1978, I wouldn't be typing a message on this blog.

    Why is it that fuel economy has moved up so sluggishly? (And most of the fuel economy gained was in the 1978-1985 period, roughly -very little since then). Because drivers demanded more powerful and larger cars. The average horsepower gain over the last 30 years was substantial. For the option of better 0-60 times and 5,000 pound SUVs that housewives drive to the nail salon, we get the predicament we're in now - $4 gas and at the mercy of foreign governments for our energy. Nice job, America.

  8. Matthew Brown:

    Dan: exactly - it's not that automotive technology has failed to improve since then - it's that until a couple of years ago buyers didn't demand better fuel economy as the fruits of that technology (and government regulations didn't change, because there were no votes in mandating higher fuel economy standards and the auto makers could afford better lobbyists/kickbacks/campaign contributions).

    Not that I'd have advocated adopting the fuel economy standards anyway; quite apart from any philosophical objection, they've distorted the American auto market in all kinds of stupid ways.

  9. Luis Dias:

    The post series are good and thought-provoking at our prejudices for mass transit and against the personal car.

    Still, the author misses some points.

    Commuter trains can be electrified, which means a good thing, for electricity can come from more various sources than gas, and it pollutes a lot less deal in the commuting zones themselves, which in turn increases overall health, diminishing health care costs, etc.

    Corky Boid mentions congestion, and density being the culprit. I think however if more people used mass transit, more efficient would it be, and less congestion we would get.

    We also should notice the social importance of mass transit. Without mass transit, people won't "survive" in the cities without a car, and there are plenty of those that, for one reason or another, cannot afford a car in a certain period of time (perhaps he wrecked the car and the insurance doesn't cover it all, and is in debt), so mass transit is the only affordable way of transportation (taxis are not for everyone).

  10. Will H.:

    For two years I lived in New Jersey and worked in NYC, mid town. The distance by road was 23 miles door to door, but I didn't drive. I did the train mostly and I tried the bus, the commute time door to door was 1 hour and 30 minutes, at best. The worst time to get home was during the RNC National Convention and that took 3 hrs. I now live in the Columbus Ohio area and live 22 miles from work. By car it is 35 minutes to work, worst time was 45 minutes during a snow storm.

    With driving, I leave when I'm ready. With the train I had hard schedule that I had to keep. Get up in the morning and rush to get ready. In the evening every one knew when their train schedule was and had to leave work on time or miss a train. Missing a train by 5 minute could cost you 30 to 45 minutes on the trip home.

    Personal cars equal freedom. I don't care about the efficiency of mass transit over individual car, I want the freedom of the personal vehicle. I don't fly anymore if I can help it. If I drive, I leave when I want, stop when I want, take what I want, I don't have to go through security, I don't get stuffed into a too small of a seat, I don't get stuck on a tarmac, I don't worry about overbooking. Car == freedom.

  11. Bob Smith:

    >This gives the "activists" control over them through the media and local officials.

    The activists might be tolerable if they weren't certifiably insane. They routinely argue that giving better service to disabled people violates the ADA because it's not the same service. It's not just the bus agencies that get sued, they sued AMC Theaters regarding their wheelchair spaces (which as anybody can see are usually the best seats in the house) for the same reason. Judges that buy these bankrupt arguments should be loudly and publicly ridiculed.

    >Ever taken a look at a federal highway bill, Corky?

    Ever taken a look at federal gas taxes? A big chunk is siphoned off to subsidize mass transit. If they didn't do that general fund revenues wouldn't be necessary. Besides which, most of these "highway bills" contain spending for junk unrelated to highways.

    >Without mass transit, people won't "survive" in the cities without a car

    So what. What makes them deserving of welfare?

  12. Mike:

    Two important points about the data:

    1) The energy consumption data only refer to energy consumed during operations. They do not include the eneryg consumed in constructing new rail systems, which is in fact what we are doing at the margins.

    2) Isolating individual modes gives a far-too-rosy picture for light rail. Whenever new light rail lines are built, bus routes are eliminated and/or rerouted to serve as feeder services for the new rail line. So not only do light rail lines rob buses of their productivity, they also force them into serving functions where they cannot perform well. This explains at least part of the increase in bus transit fuel consumption over time. There are of course other culprits as well, such as extending service into thin suburban markets.

  13. Dan:

    OK Bob - if my highway bill argument doesn't win you over (and I suspect nothing will), how about the almost $1 trillion we've spent since 2003 on Iraq? You can't argue that it wasn't about oil and maintaining the "freedom" to drive that another poster here waxed about so eloquently. Not to mention 4,000 American lives and counting. I'd call that a pretty big subsidy to support our car-crazy way of life.

  14. TJIT:


    Regarding the Iraq war you said,

    You can't argue that it wasn't about oil and maintaining the "freedom" to drive that another poster here waxed about so eloquently.

    Sorry that dog won't hunt and he is never going to hunt no matter how often you flog the issue.

    If the war was about oil all Bush would have had to do was agree with the Russians, the Chinese, and the Europeans, and lobby the UN to lift the sanctions on Hussein and allow Iraq to sell their oil on the open market.

  15. Mike:

    "Why is it that fuel economy has moved up so sluggishly?"

    From the mid-1980s to the early part of this decade, fuel prices were falling in real terms (with the brief exception of the Persian Gulf War period). There were no incentives to conserve an abundant resource.

    "Commuter trains can be electrified, which means a good thing..."

    Electrification is only a good thing if the fuels used to generate the electricity are cleaner than those they replace. This might be true of Oregon and Washington, which extensively use hydroelectric power, but it is certainly not of states like Wyoming (or New York), which rely heavily on coal as a fuel source. Besides, electrification does not solve the empty backhaul problem or address the low average load factors that characterize public transit systems.

    "Without mass transit, people won't 'survive' in the cities without a car..."

    The point of Warren's "bet" about light rail systems and Priuses is to point out that producer-side subsidies to public transit operators are extremely wasteful in both fiscal and energy terms. There may be some users of public transit whose incomes, disabilities or other circumstances make them justifiable cases for transfer payments. However, for each of these people, there are two or three that receive the same subsidies with no real defensible justification. The local public transit operator in my region is fond of boasting about how more than 1/3 of its light rail riders have household incomes above $70,000. That is absurd. Converting to a system of user-side subsidies would provide an opportunity to both improve the lot of the truly disadvantaged and lighten the tax burden on the rest of us.

    "...how about the almost $1 trillion we have spent in Iraq?...I'd call that a pretty big subsidy to support our car-crazy way of life."

    I don't think anyone really knows why we are in Iraq. My claim is that Bush Jr. wanted revenge on Hussein because he blamed him for the assassination attempt on his father in 1994. That said, we could pull out of Iraq tomorrow, but there would still be the matter of a little place called Israel in that region (not to mention Iran).

    Secondly, why is this a "subsidy" to our "car-crazy" way of life. If you're suggesting that because the war is not financed with fuel taxes that this constitutes an indirect subsidy to auto users, I would point out that auto ownership is near-universal in this country (90+%). Those who do not have cars probably do not use much gas, but they also do not pay much in income taxes, which are being used to finance this war (and the debt service on the government borrowing it occasions). Finally, Iraqi oil accounts for a very small share (4.5% as of May '08) of oil imports; not enough to justify a massive military campaign. In fact, the Persian Gulf region accounts for less than 1/5 of all oil imports. On the contrary, our largest import volumes still come from Canada, Saudi Arabia and Mexico.

  16. Allen:

    Now we just need some calculations that bring time into the picture. I use my bike and transit and car to commute to work (been contracting so the location varies). I love the biking but unless it's a couple miles it's tough to pull off because of time & logistics (3 months of the summer for long rides I show up sweaty; places w/ showers are nice but that means driving 3-4 times a month to shuttle clothes and supplies in and out). I live right in the city, a mile out of downtown, so transit is pretty easy to take. But even then a 1/2 trip in my car takes a hour using transit (walk to bus stop, wait, take bus to LRT station, wait, take train, wait to work or wait again for circulator bus).

    We see a lot of talk about how much congestion "costs" us. But how much does that extra time taking the bus and/or train cost us?

    Mike --> You're spot on. In the US, new LRT lines riders typically 2/3 to 3/4th of them were already taking transit. We're literally spending billions to shift people off of buses on trains. That doesn't seem a prudent way to spend money. And those projects tend not to serve most people's needs. For example, the recent T-Rex project in Denver was about 55/45% spending to build double track LRt versus adding lanes to I-25 on the Southeast Corridor (aka the Tech Center). The freeway portion carries about 425,000 "riders" per day while the LRT portion carries @ 38,000.

  17. Leonard Huff III:

    To all Comments!

    Hang in there!

    The recess that The Queen!(Pelosis) ramED down Congress! will come back to hurt them in November's! election.

    Paybacks are HELL!

    Just remember the last Congress Election!


    GUESS THEY MISS that one!



    HAVE NICE DAY!!!!!!!!!!






  18. Will H.:


    Since you believe the current Iraq war is about oil then blame the war on those that stopped the development of domestic oil and energy. Can't drill in ANWR, can't drill off the coast (any one, Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic or Gulf) , can't drill on federal lands, no new nuke plants, no new refineries, no development of tar sands, no no no, just ask the Saudis to pump more, more, more.

    4,000 Americans drown each year making 20,000 since 2003
    8,600 Americans are poisoned each year making 43,000 since 2003
    14,900 Americans die in falls each year making 74,500 since 2003
    43,200 Americans die in auto accidents each year making 216,000 since 2003

    Around 16,000 Americans are murdered each year.

    It may be safer being a soldier in Iraq than a civilian in the US.

    BTW our life style isn't crazy, I like our life style, it's normal and the way it should be. If you think that mass transit is the answer try living anywhere but in a big city. Car equals freedom. I like my F150 and even at $4 per gallon I will drive my truck where I want to and when I want to, except when I'm driving my wife's Fusion where we want to go and when we want to go.

  19. Will H.:

    Less every thinks I only like cars/trucks from my last two posts, my preferred means of commuting to work is by bicycle if there is support for it. In 2000 - 2001 I worked 6.2 miles from home, there was a route to work that was safe, work had a shower and a safe place to lock my bike that had surveillance cameras. I did this for all but 7 days in a year even in 10 Degree weather. But the job went away and so did my easy commute to work, jobs after that made it impossible to bike to work. When I lived in New Jersey and worked in NYC bike was not a solution and living in Manhattan was not a solution either since my wife worked in New Jersey. Although NYC is bicycle friendly the Hudson river gets in the way. NJ Transit will only let you take a bike on the train during non rush hour. The George Washington bridge is a good way but it was too far north and out of the way.

  20. Leonard Huff III:

    Re: Dan

    I do not know what you do for a living?

    My current income producing lifestyle requires a horse. A big horse that travels lots of miles a year! 30,000 to 50,000 miles a year. This horse does not run on hay! but oil , and lots of its!

    Everyone lifestyle is different.

    And no, I did not live in a big city with buses, taxis, subways, ect. When my horse get sicks ( blowed engine (three in the last 5 years, tires, ect. ) I used my spare horse for transportation.

    Have a nice day!

  21. David Moelling:

    It's always a hoot to see transit activists count the basic city roadway system as a cost to cars. Here in Connecticut almost all the major roads were present (although not improved) in Colonial times. No house or factory is feasible without a good allweather road. These costs will always be there.

  22. Methinks:

    If I were a New Yorker, I would tell Mayor Bloomberg I will take the MTA to work when he does. Fat chance!

    Corky, I like you comment and I agree with you. However, Bloomberg is sort of famous for taking the subway to work and for continuing that practice as mayor.

  23. luis Dias:

    People misunderstood my comment. Many things have been said about "freedom" of using a car, and of course, I agree with them! We are not discussing however the availability of cars, for I don't think that even with the current oil crisis we will leave this "freedom" habit of ours. We are discussing mass transit.


    "So what. What makes them deserving of welfare?"

    I don't really gather you. Are you saying you'd rather have cities without any mass transit at all? We should understand that even people who are earning low wages deserve to at least get some kind of transport to their working place. Now imagine that such person does have a car, but it gets broken, and he doesn't have any other lying around, because he's not wealthy enough. You can also imagine all the kinds of situations where people not poor at all do need of mass transit at a given moment of life. You can imagine for example teenagers or youngsters at their 20s and starting their living in a different city.

    There are more things in mass transit than energy density and dollars worth.


    "They do not include the eneryg consumed in constructing new rail systems, which is in fact what we are doing at the margins."

    Nor they do include the energy consumed in building and maintaining road systems... or do you want to compare apples to oranges?

    I agree your question 2) is of some importance.

    "Electrification is only a good thing if the fuels used to generate the electricity are cleaner than those they replace."

    I wasn't merely talking about such fuels being cleaner. That has dubious answers for known reasons. I was talking about usage of electricity being cleaner where used (in cities), where we happen to live more densely and where air quality should be more well treated.

    There is also the problem of energy security. Oil is becoming increasingly scarce, and as in the seventies countries shifted away from oil in electricity generation, perhaps the idea of having alternatives in transport to oil could be a good idea. Just my two cents.


    "If the war was about oil all Bush would have had to do was agree with the Russians, the Chinese, and the Europeans, and lobby the UN to lift the sanctions on Hussein and allow Iraq to sell their oil on the open market."

    Why not just call everybody and make a peaceful agenda with no wars and no arms race and live happily ever after? It's not as if Hussein had nothing to gain in your scenario. No, imagine that, a egomaniac in control of that much oil in such a critical place in the world... how can that possibly go wrong?

    Of course, these things only go out of control because we need the oil. There ought to be no argument on that, but yes I know many people simply don't like this kind of thinking.

  24. John David Galt:

    Thank you, Nancy Pelosi, for throwing the November election. With luck even your own seat won't be safe.

    When anyone suggests that Americans give up our "addiction to oil," I suggest that he give up his addiction to oxygen first.

  25. Yoshidad:

    Metaphorically speaking, the frequently-encountered principle of the many anti-transit posts so far is this: Why build a municipal swimming pool when everyone can have their own pool for the same cost, if not less? Then the municipal pools examined by the anti-sharing crowd are universally corruptly run, badly under-maintained, and in the middle of nowhere. See how much cheaper it is for you to own your own pool?

    So Warren and others are completely correct in observing transit, as currently built in the U.S., is baloney (that is the technical term to describe it). Oddly, not mentioned at all is one of the biggest obstacles to working transit: sprawl.

    The Congress on New Urbanism points out that the U.S. builds auto-centric sprawl 1500 times more than it builds pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhoods (mixed use is residences, shopping and offices in the same vicinity). If streets don't have pedestrian amenities, and provide only obstacles to people trying to walk to stops, then how are riders ever going to take the bus, except rarely?

    Incidentally for those who still believe that sprawl is what buyers want, market acceptance of the alternatives is so high that such neighborhoods typically sell for premiums over neighboring sprawl. The current record-holder is Seaside FL, where interior lots sell for six times the neighboring sprawl lots. The average premium paid for non-sprawl is at least 40%.

    So of course transit is a gigantic, failing boondoggle in the U.S. That is how it, and the connections to it, are *designed*! What's amazing is that it is even slightly close to the efficiency of autos.

    Here is what a successful transit system looks like:

    The federal government in Brazil gave Curitiba, a large southern city, a grant to build a subway. The mayor, Jaime Lerner, and his staff, discovered that heavy rail (a subway) would cost ten times more than light rail, which, in turn, would cost ten times more than bus rapid transit (buses with dedicated busways).

    What usually stops U.S. domestic transit planners from going further to install buses is their capacity. If you can only carry 40 - 80 passengers per driver, the additional drivers' salaries eventually begin to outweigh any savings to install the system. After all, a light rail train only needs one driver no matter how many cars are in the train.

    Lerner did not stop there, though, and worked with Volvo to design multi-sectioned "accordian" buses with a capacity of 270 ("The Brazilians are a can-do people," says Lerner, "They can fit 300 in the bus."). This system, called "Speedybus," has been up and running for many years now. It offers at least 100 times the subway's coverage. It puts its handicapped accommodations in the stops rather than the bus, so the buses don't have to carry things like lifts. The stations and fares are owned / managed by the City of Curitiba. The buses are funded by private capital. So is this private or public? Are such questions even relevant?

    Of course this transit system is supported by the land use. Denser development appears along the big Speedybus corridors (mixed-use stores and apartments up to six stories tall), while even two blocks away, smaller, less compact neighborhoods thrive, and often have smaller feeder buses to reach the big bus. Curitiba's buses don't have schedules. They just come about every 15 minutes.

    Incidentally, this is *not* subsidized at all. It makes money.

    See? That's how to make transit. The carping about activists and government is also baloney. Our sympathies. (For more about Curitiba, see Paul Hawken's "Natural Capitalism").

  26. Yoshidad:

    Speaking of transit and Curitiba, it may also be of interest to those buying the general anti-government slant of this blog to describe the way Curitiba handled floodplain.

    By way of contrast, first consider how the U.S. handles floodplain in the path of development:

    Just north of downtown Sacramento lies North Natomas, a 20'-underwater-floodplain surrounded by weak levees, so unsuited for development that a grant to regional sewer said, in effect: "We know increasing your sewer capacity will lead to additional development, but if you develop in North Natomas, it'll cost you a $6 million penalty."

    The local land speculators didn't bat an eye. After they had bought or optioned many thousands of acres of farmland in North Natomas, they went all the way to then-vice-president George H.W. Bush and got that $6 million sewer grant penalty changed from one that was up-front to a pay-as-you-develop fee. And they got $43 million in federal levee improvement money -- enough to get the floodplain certified as buildable.

    Now that's a pretty good deal to begin with: Pay $6 on the installment plan to get $43! Where do I sign up?!

    Then the speculators got the City of Sacramento to annex North Natomas and approve development there. It was only after building had been going on for some time that Katrina occurred and the Corps of Engineers decided they'd need some levees that were better still. The bill coming due for the City and residents of North Natomas: $300 million and counting.

    Naturally, the speculators are long gone. They sold their land for literally 100 times what they paid for it. Since they undoubtedly 1031 exchanged out of the property, they did not pay even income tax on that 10,000% profit. Gosh, is this a subsidy? Ya think?

    That's how we handle floodplain in the U.S.-- we subsidize development on it outrageously as long as it profits some oligarch. I wish I was making it up.

    As much as possible, this method funnels the value of public development permission, into private profit rather than public service. Such scams are the stuff of David Cay Johnston's "Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (and Stick You with the Bill)." Three-quarters of George W. Bush's net worth comes from such a scam (with a stadium rather than floodplain).

    Curitiba handles floodplain and development differently:

    Mayor Lerner and his colleagues in City government discovered that development was moving toward their floodplain, so they bought the floodplain and made it into parkland. Consequently, Curitiba is among the world's leaders in per-capita parkland, and does not have expensive levees to maintain.

    But Curitiba is a third-world city, so it couldn't afford to mow all that new parkland. Enter the municipal sheep. Their wool supports children's programs. (No roving gangs of thugs plague Curitiba).

    Lerner's city continues to attract lots of jobs and business interest. He was re-elected by 90% pluralities, and went on to become governor of the Brazilian state, Parana. G.H.W. Bush went on to become president, but never achieved more than 50% of the vote and was defeated by Bill Clinton when he ran for a second term.

    The primary thing to note here is that collective action (government, public policy) can be intelligent, serve the public, and even more profitable for everyone than privatized profits for the speculators.

    Along those lines, it still amazes me that people want private pools (I have one! ouch!) -- shared, public pools are much cheaper and more fun for the kids too.

    So Warren and others can post these long arguments about how wonderful it would be to give everyone a Prius, but I can't help feeling this must be how it was for Galileo when he heard about the epicycles in the geocentric solar system. Even with all the complex justification, statistics and other misdirection, it turns out the argument that denies the very existence of the public realm and its possibility to empower everyone rather than the select few is baloney, when it's examined in light of what's possible with sharing.

    Now I don't doubt the auto/petroleum oligarchy will promote as much misinformation about this as possible (have you even heard of Curitiba?), but simple truth still manages to beat such misinformation without breaking a sweat. Transit, when coupled with intelligent land use, can be much cheaper nearly as convenient.

    Incidentally, Sacramento published a study saying it would take $50 million just to connect all the disconnected sidewalks in the region's sprawl neighborhoods. Gosh, why aren't people walking to transit? Could it be the vehicle-ton-mile-equivalent to helicopters? See how the baloney works?

  27. Yoshidad:

    Will H. weighs in with this: "Since you believe the current Iraq war is about oil then blame the war on those that stopped the development of domestic oil and energy."

    You go on, but don't mention what is by far the most abundant domestic energy source: conservation. To give you an idea of what's available, Europe and Japan produce first-world economies while consuming roughly half the energy per dollar of GDP of the U.S.

    So I'll take you at your word: I'll blame the people who stopped development of this abundant, clean source of energy: The Reaganites and their followers. They are directly responsible for rolling back the CAFE standards, for removing solar panels from the White House, and for continuing the U.S.'s dependence on foreign oil.

    Even now, we would get more energy sooner than ANWR by simply increasing fuel efficiency standards by 2MPG. The only difference: the oil in ANWR would eventually run out. The conservation never would.

    You would expect such an outcome from one of the most corrupt administrations ever, since they engaged in everything from illegal wars in Latin America, to illegally giving shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. The Reagan administration was second only to Nixon's in indictments for malfeasance in office (29).

    Oddly enough the crooked, slick-Willie Clinton administration had zero such indictments. Hmmm. Could Clinton's criminality have been exaggerated? Gee, I wonder!

  28. Will H.:

    Conservation is NOT an energy source. That's like saying not eating is a food source. Conservation doesn't produce one unit of work.

    If Clinton would not have vetoed the bill allowing drilling in ANWR the oil would be flowing now. Oil could flow within a year from the coast of California is the no drilling ban was lifted, the infrastructure is already in place. BTW I'm in favor of replacing OIL as transportation fuel with H2. Using electrolysis to produce the H2 at the fueling station you don't need refineries nor transportation to the fueling station, just water and electricity. H2 is also much safer than gasoline, H2 spill raises into the air and heads for the upper atmosphere where gasoline stays of the ground. H2 burns and at that burns up, gasoline explodes.

    To increase electricity to accommodate the electrolysis increase nuke and start developing Thorium reactor, must better than Uranium reactors. Thorium fission waste product is much safer and decay faster. I like the work being done on "plastic power" non silicon solar cells shows promise. But these technologies are not ready for prime time year although getting closer and even if they were really change the infrastructure can take decades. Also I like more geothermal usage from geothermal heat pumps to geothermal research plants being done in North Carolina. Oil will be needed for a while.

    Increasing the fuel efficiency 2mpg won't help me one bit today, I'm not in a market for a new car and buying a new car for just 2mpg is not cost effective for me. Next car I'll buy will be about 2012.

    You see I don't care what Japan and Europe has done, plus they aren't the number one economy in the world and they don't pay for their defense, we do. Europe was able to rebuild after WWII because of US military providing security while the Marshall plan provided the foundation of rebuilding. Both Europe and Japan depends upon the US military keeping the oil flowing from the Middle East and the US markets as a place to sell their goods. Japan economy would not be where it's at today if not for the US buying their cars and driving them.

    France old people die in the heat of summer because they don't have wide spread use of Air Conditioners.

    Conservation is NOT a formula for growth of the economy. Making thing more efficient is a good thing, give me a device that use less electricity I'm happier because it saves me money, but don't limit my growth. I use CFL at home to save money but I'll keep the air conditioner at a temp where I'm comfortable, I'm not going to line dry my clothes like my mother use to have to do in the wonderful 50's.

    BTW cars have become more efficient, 1969 I drove to California from PA in a 68 Impala, the mpg was 14.5 for the trip. In 2006 my wife and I drove to California from Ohio a total of 5000 miles with a 27.8 mpg and we didn't drive slow. (Faster than the Impala could do) The 06 fusion gets better mileage than any other car we even owned, better than the 74 Vega, 77 Nova, 70 Rabbit, 80 Chevette, 84 Golf all small cars, and the only car I had that was faster was a 95 5.0 Mustang GT.

    Clinton administration no indictments how about:

    - The only president ever impeached on grounds of personal malfeasance
    - Most number of convictions and guilty pleas by friends and associates*
    - Most number of cabinet officials to come under criminal investigation
    - Most number of witnesses to flee country or refuse to testify
    - Most number of witnesses to die suddenly
    - First president sued for sexual harassment.
    - Second president accused of rape**
    - First first lady to come under criminal investigation
    - Largest criminal plea agreement in an illegal campaign contribution case
    - First president to establish a legal defense fund.
    - First president to be held in contempt of court
    - Greatest amount of illegal campaign contributions
    - Greatest amount of illegal campaign contributions from abroad
    - First president disbarred from the US Supreme Court and a state court

    check out http://www.prorev.com/legacy.htm for details.

  29. Mike:

    Corky & Methinks,

    Bloomberg does take the subway (occasionally). But when he does, he doesn't walk to the station near his house. He and his security entourage hop in the stretch SUV and they deposit him at a station 22 blocks from his house so that he can take an express train downtown.

    I'm not going to go so far as to call him a hypocrite, but it does send something of a mixed message to the New Yorkers he admonishes to be "green".

    Now L.A. mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, that's another story...

  30. Methinks:


    LOL. I didn't know that part. Typical.

    Thank you!

  31. Mike:


    Not everyone can afford a pool in their backyard, but this hardly
    presents a de facto case for public production. There are many
    examples of privately owned, yet communal, pools. Consider water
    parks. They have high fixed costs, but the owners account for this by
    "sharing" the costs among their large numbers of customers. Public
    production of transit presents an even weaker case.

    To assume that the fate of transit systems can be reversed by
    anti-sprawl land use policies ignores a host of historical and
    economic factors. To be successful, fixed-route transit needs
    concentrations of activity at both the origin and destination
    locations. The elites at CNU conveniently forget this. In fact,
    research into to the travel behavior of residents of New Urbanist
    showpieces like Seaside suggest that they are just as likely (if
    not more) to eschew public transit, even when it is made abundantly
    available. This should surprise no one. Most of the residents of
    these places have very high incomes.

    Which brings up another point: if dense, walkable neighborhoods command
    such rent premia, why are the greedy developers not building them en masse.
    The reality is that rising incomes have permitted people in the U.S. to consume
    both more land and more private vehicle travel. These are both
    'normal' goods. Of course, this is not just a case of American
    exceptionalism. From Europe to newly-developing countries like India,
    the same types of trends are playing out. Development does that.

    "What usually stops U.S. domestic transit planners from going
    further to install buses is their capacity. If you can only carry 40
    - 80 passengers per driver, the additional drivers' salaries
    eventually begin to outweigh any savings to install the system. After
    all, a light rail train only needs one driver no matter how many cars
    are in the train.

    No. If that were true, there would be no need for public transit
    systems to go in search of federal grants or to try to tease new
    sales, payroll, fuel or property taxes out of local voters. In nearly
    every case, substituting more capital inputs (e.g. light rail) for
    labor (bus drivers) results in higher costs. Economies associated
    with vehicle size are basically exhausted at low output levels (less
    than a busload). Vehicles that can carry 200 people are not
    necessary. Buses are also more scalable, that is, when demand drops
    during non-peak times, vehicles can be returned to garages. By
    contrast, rail systems often end up with large amounts of excess
    capacity during off-peak periods, which helps to explain the low
    observed load factors that Brad Templeton referred to in his article.

    "Incidentally, this is *not* subsidized at all. It makes

    Perhaps you did not read this passage: "The stations and fares are
    owned / managed by the City of Curitiba."
    Unless the city is
    receiving payments for providing fare collection services and
    maintaining stations (and providing the infrastructure, which is not
    mentioned here), the bus providers are skimming profits off the backs
    of the taxpayers, something you were outraged about in a subsequent

    Curitiba is not generally the paradise many planning advocates portray
    it as. In fact, some of the paint chips are starting to fall off.
    UCLA's Randy Crane, referring to a recent New York Times Sunday
    magazine piece on Curitiba, mentioned this:

    "It emphasized two points made in recent years: That Lerner’s
    initial great successes were due in no small part to the existence of
    a military dictatorship at the national level at the time, and that
    many positive planning indicators have begun to slip lately,
    especially in the face of a growing low-income population at the urban
    periphery. Even the transit mode share is dropping."

    That last part bears repeating. Even with dictatorially imposed
    changes to the city, stringent land use controls, price ceilings on
    transit fares and a burgeoning low-income population (which should be
    a natural market for public transit), transit mode share is
    declining. Development will do that.

    But the fun doesn't end there. While describing his trip to Bogota,
    Colombia, Crane dropped this nugget:

    "Like many Colombian academics, he (Professor Eduardo Behrentz)
    actively advises the government and writes op-eds, such as on the
    issue of the exhaust of the diesel TransMilenio buses. It is quite
    unhealthy as diesel particulates are bad enough, but Colombian diesel
    is particularly high sulfur. Efforts to change this at the refinery
    stage have sputtered. He advised importing cleaner diesel until better
    domestic supplies are refined.)"

    Not smart, not sustainable. And you thought your air quality was bad.

    I could also mention the nationalization of transit in Santiago, Chile
    and the formation of the ill-fated TranSantiago system (which led to
    urban rioting), but this is already a long post.

    In short, governments the world over have managed to make a hash of
    transportation policy. The failures in the U.S. have been
    particularly striking. To assume that this can be changed by giving
    the same people more control over urban land allocation strikes
    me as more than a little naive. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me
    twice...here's the keys to the car.

  32. improbable:

    These are interesting numbers, thanks for posting them.

    What they miss, I think, is that the city which is built by and for people using public transport is very different from that built for cars. The obvious numerical difference is that they are much more dense: if you spead NYC out enough that you could park in front of any store, and your office, and your home, then you'd have to drive an awful lot more miles between these places.

    Perhaps a better figure would be energy used per person, to cover the radius of a circle containing a million other people. For installing light rail in an existing, widely sprawled city, this would give the same answers as you get here.

  33. stas peterson:

    These statistics confirm a suspicion I have long held. Mostly empty, heavy mass transit vehicles, piloted on a fixed route, can't possibly energy efficient. No one climbs into a car and just drives in a congested city, aimlessly. "Mass Transit" does exactly that. It is a terrible investment, and not really energy efficient at all.

    The easy assumption of the urban planners that a compact city like New York is preferable to a post-auto low density city like LA or Phoenix, is not at all energy efficient.

    Put an equal number of people in a small area as in a less dense city, and you have the same tonnage of goods that must be brought in and, wastes carted out. If the transport net is congested, its more inefficient too. So whether Muhammad goes to the Mountain or the mountain is graded into a set of molehills, some of which are closer to Muhammad, the same amount of goods is brought in and brought out. So whether you have the population on a single island in Manhattan, or in 1600 Square Miles in Metro Phoenix, that same number of people need the same number of tons of food and fiber.

    The average Phoenician has a much more access to green plants, parkland, cleaner air, less congestion, a greener, healthier lifestyle, as proved by the inmigration statistics of people freely voting with their feet, too.

    It's all academic though. Real Mass transit, 21st century style will be patterned on the model that billionaires use. It is a limousine & chauffeur style Mass transit service. It takes you where you want to go, to the front door, not some parking space a mile from your destination. It leaves or waits, according to the situation, and returns to take you where you want to go, when you want to go. There weren't enough economical chauffeurs in the past to do this. Intelligent cars will do so in the future.

    Autonomous vehicles, in conjunction with as much cheap energy as any human will want, is coming despite Cassandra predictions of teh End of teh Gorean World. The present Energy price conundrum is a transitory, and almost concluded phenomenon. Lots of cheap energy is coming from fusion, nuclear, and conversion tot electricity, for most needs. It won't be oil-based, and human based, as before, but silicon intelligence, and electricity makes it all possible and predictable, for later in this century, if you don't have blinders on.

  34. gadfly:

    Talk has covered energy costs of public transportation, the not-so-full public transports and the government, always the government, operating these public systems.

    I am here to tell you that none of the costs, none of the costs savings, and none of the environmental benefits of train, subway and bus transports make any difference. Everyone knows that taxpayer subsidy keeps those stinking buses and trains entangled in our daily commutes.

    The extent to which governments dip into our pockets is clear in these operating summary statistics from Fort Wayne Indiana's Citi-Link buses:

    2003 Revenues were $6.7 million and expenses conveniently matched this number. Only $867K of the revenue stream came from fares, so the Taxpayers were left holding the bag for $5.8M.

    This give-away system that charged one dollar per ride had not increased fares in a dozen years. Passenger miles for the year were 5.5M so taxpayers were kicking in about one dollar per passenger mile.

    We obviously would be better off buying the riders a car, since few of the 181K people living in the bus service area were bus riders ...even at $.1 per trip

  35. Yoshidad:

    In his reply to my earlier post, Mike pays me the compliment of actually doing some research. Sure, it's not very much, and he misstates the conclusions from it, but thanks Mike! When are you publishing your training guide to the "Big Lie"?

    Mike first quibbles with my private pool v. public pool example. My point in mentioning these two types of swimming pools was that shared goods can potentially be preferred and cheaper -- just as fully-used mass transit may be preferrable because it burns roughly 1/8 the energy of single-occupant autos (this figure is from Roxanne Warren's book "The Urban Oasis", and is not, as opposed to many things Mike and his sources cite, something made up). My wife prefers it because she can doze or converse with her neighbors on the way to work.

    Nothing Mike says concerning private water parks or whether people can afford pools is germane, but something tells me that Mike gets a kind of pleasure in contradiction for its own sake.

    So if you want to be isolated and disempowered, Mike, we'll just have to play marco polo without you. Isolation and disempowerment, particularly of the pre- and the growing post-driving-age populations, is the undesirable side effect of sprawl, incidentally. If we're lucky enough to live long enough to be unable to drive, what are we going to do in sprawl, besides be warehoused, or simply disempowered when it comes to doing something outside the house?

    Incidentally, density is also not necessarily the antithesis of sprawl. See http://www.dpz.com, and click on "transect" for the illustration.

    MIKE! THE POINT IS HERE =>> It's cheaper, and often more fun to have a public pool, or just a shared private pool. The idea that all things exclusive, and private are preferred by humans is baloney. (I just wanted to make sure you get the point. No fair playing dumb.) Neighborhoods where people share the street with autos are healthier too (people walk), and safer, and cheaper, in the long run.

    And my point, still unaddressed, was that the original post is delusional in expect successful transit when the U.S. builds pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhoods that support transit 1/1500th as often as sprawl. Mike doubts land-use alone would produce successful transit, and discounts the success of Curitiba's transit too (my example of success). I never said the former, and can show Mike how he's bought a bunch of baloney for the latter.

    MIKE! THE BIGGER POINT IS HERE =>> When you build a society so averse to funding, or even thinking what would make intelligent, shared goods then you must ultimately expect to must defend yourself in your private compound against the invading Visigoths. If you don't get this, stop reading. Nothing else I say will make the slightest difference.

    So if you're still reading, Mike, virtually nothing you say about Curitiba's transit, or CNU is true. Here's from the Transportation Research Board at http://onlinepubs.trb.org/Onlinepubs/tcrp/tcrp90v1_cs/Curitiba.pdf, contradicting your conclusion that transit is failing in Curitiba: "Reports of the passenger volumes on the complete citywide system vary from about 1.9 million passengers trip per day (including transfers as two trips) to 2.1 million per day....There is no doubt that RIT ridership in Curitiba has increased since the initial stages of the scheme 30 or so years ago and continues to increase. .... RIT has maintained, if not increased, commuter mode share to transit at 70% to 75%, and there are no indications that this proportion is decreasing."

    So has government like Curitiba's "made a hash" of transit, as Mike asserts? Only if your hash is delicious and successful.

  36. Yoshidad:

    Mike then asks: "if dense, walkable neighborhoods command such rent premia, why are the greedy developers not building them en masse[?]"

    Mike, if you ever try to do development, you'll discover that a) government, b) lenders, c) tenants, d) buyers e) private planners and f) builders all play a role in deciding how it's built. Finding people who know what they are doing to build something other than sprawl is not that easy, and getting them to all agree is doubly difficult.

    Furthermore, adopting, or rediscovering an idea unfamiliar to sprawl builders is not something often encouraged by these parties to the decision. Remember -- the risks are large, and nobody ever got fired for funding mediocrity if it's customary -- even if it fails. Lenders have been particularly intransigent, but government cluelessness, and commercial tenant demands are certainly factors. There are indications this is turning around, but the inertia alone is monumental.

    Meanwhile, the builders who have surmounted these obstacles, and have been building NU developments continue to charge - and get - premiums. Celebration Florida, Kentlands, MD, and Orenco Station in Oregon are a few examples besides Seaside, FL..

    The idea that people prefer isolation is one of the underlying design principles of sprawl, but it does not sell as well as urbanism -- otherwise, Fifth Ave. apartments in NY City would be cheap. Yes, the Indians and Russians have started building sprawl, just as some teenagers have begun getting tatoos in their imitation of teen idols -- but should we call imitation sensible public policy? Isn't it really just another demonstration that because people have money to spend does not make them spend it intelligently. I believe "nouveau riche" was invented to describe just such people.

    On the other hand, I will admit that even though though you promote isolation and disempowerment, Mike, you have elected to use the Google provided by others. A first step in learning to share, I say.

    Mike found Professor Crane from UCLA who supposedly credits Curitiba Mayor Jaime Lerner's accomplishments as something that required a (U.S.-supported) Brazilian military dictatorship, even though his statement is contradicted by this: "According to Crane... "Lerner was effective mainly because he was a coalition builder, even when the system was not particularly democratic." (http://hundredyearshence.blogspot.com/2007/06/curitiba-v-bogota.html). But a dictator was nearby! Hey!

    When it wants to do public improvements, the supposedly dictatorial Curitiba's municipal government holds meetings with its constituents and offers them alternatives of equivalent cost: You can have this park, or we can pave that road, or... Then takes a vote of the neighborhood to decide what to do. Sorry, no reference here; I heard it from Lerner's mouth, and have no reason to doubt him.

    In my limited experience, few U.S. municipalities are this democratic. My local government either decides by fiat or in a process so obscure that discerning the costs and consequences of public policies is all but impossible. I've asked the locals for 20 years to tell me how much of their infrastructure costs for an average house are covered by building fees. Silence is all I've encountered.

  37. Yoshidad:

    Mike continues: "To assume that the fate of transit systems can be reversed by anti-sprawl land use policies ignores a host of historical and
    economic factors."

    This would be germane if sprawl too didn't ignore a "host of historical and economic factors" that are orders of magnitude larger, like the $300 billion annual petroleum subsidy, the covert subsidy of streets designed to discourage pedestrians, loan underwriting that has short-changed compact development (in a very racist way, BTW) since the New Deal, etc.

    Meanwhile, the idea that such neighborhoods automatically produce good transit -- you know, the way the "invisible hand" of the market automatically produces good outcomes in the distribution of goods and services -- trivializes the argument altogether. Good mass transit - whether public or private - is impossible without pedestrian-friendly streets. How else are riders going to get to stops? Lack of sprawl is necessary. It's not sufficient.

    Mke asserts: "To be successful, fixed-route transit needs concentrations of activity at both the origin and destination locations. The elites at CNU conveniently forget this." But Mike, can't riders in a relatively inactive primarily residential area catch the bus to a more active area that is primarily shopping or offices, like my wife does? This just doesn't make sense, and ignores planner Robert Cervero's work about the success of transit and even neighborhood commerce in relatively un-dense (13du/acre) neighborhoods. Suburban densities of 1/6 acre lots word to make 13 du/acre, incidentally (5 large homes and an eight-plex on an acre).

    Your remark that the "elites at CNU" ignore the need for "concentrations of activity" at both origin and destination is simply untrue. And laughable. Elites! Ha! (No, I want my community designed by folks who don't eat arugula, they only eat deep-fried regular american lettuce, wrapped in bacon, and dipped in cheese aged in the anus of a bald eagle!)

    So Mike, you can find bad examples of government policies action everywhere. You can find similar ones for private institutions too (remember Enron?) It's not difficult. But finding government malfeasance is like shooting fish in a barrel -- heck, their meetings are public! We have to rely on Dilbert to keep us abreast of advances in stupidity in the private sector.

    That government is perfect was not my point. That it can potentially provide enlightened policy, as it unquestionably did in Curitiba was the point. To conclude that because "mode share is dropping" (from what? 80% to 75%? you don't say, and TRB says it's rising) it's a hash is throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    But what alternative do you propose? No public institutions or infrastructure? For example, do you really want the drug companies to vet their own medications? ("Here, have some Vioxx, it's perfectly safe!") Or do you prefer an agency supervise such things whose dealings are public, if not always honest? Requiring absolute honesty is typical right-wing baloney (like the contention that Clinton was crookeder than Reagan -- hilarious!). If it's a human enterprise, it has some dishonesty. Whether it is public, or private, it doesn't matter.

    BTW, the statement that Curitiba's transit makes money (i.e., is not subsidized) is Hawken's from "Natural Capitalism." Again, I was simply holding out the possibility that shared goods could be cheaper and preferred, even if not perfect. For you to quibble about whether they pay for the stops with the fares when 75% of trips occur on transit is beyond baloney.

    "To assume that this can be changed by giving the same people more control over urban land allocation strikes me as more than a little naive. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...here's the keys to the car."

    Your point is that somehow it's possible to live in isolation. By extension, you want to control your own transportation, food, clothing, medicine, contracts, security, etc., etc., etc. This is *really* throwing the baby out with the bath water.

    I'll agree that U.S. mass transit is crap -- it could be nothing else given the utterly hostile land-use patterns -- but what is this private policy that is so successful? Private auto ownership? That's crap too. The U.S. consumes roughly twice the energy of the Europeans and Japanese per dollar of GDP primarily because autos are such inefficient means of transportation. I should also add that sprawl requires every driving age adult own an auto, so it is one of the cruelest, most regressive of taxes.

    As for the hash that is U.S. land-use planning, again, this assumes some non-public way to allocate land exists that is successful. Even Houston, Texas, which purports to have zero planning, has public works standards for its roads, and honors land-use covenants (and builds mind-boggling amounts of sprawl). What's your alternative for *that* -- and what do you do when your neighbor wants to open a nuclear waste dump? Just askin'...

    Incidentally, professor Crane, Mike's authority, also asserts that "I do not really know much about [Bogota or Curitiba] and hope the accidental reader can offer useful comparative information" posted here http://postcarboncities.net/node/411.

    Sorry for the lengthy reply, but it's obvious to me that Mike knows nothing about Curitiba and is hoping that the big lie ("only 75% of transportation is on transit that is self-sufficient, not subisidized -- therefore Curitiba transit is a hash") will pass muster. It's just a big lie, Mike. Many tyrants have used it before you, but it ain't convincin' me.

  38. Anon E. Mouse:

    who the hell knew Brad Templeton was still alive?

  39. Mike:


    Still waiting you to explain what the "Big Lie" is.

    You misinterpreted my comment about the swimming pool. My point is that is that public provision is not required for many types of shared goods. The concept of community implies some set of shared values. Cities are typically too large and heterogeneous to function as real 'communities'. They should focus on pure public goods (e.g. safety, local street and parks) and forget about providing niceties like swimming pools. If you want to take your kids to a public pool, bully for you. But to suggest that we ought to the same, or that we should pay for it, well that's just unfair.

    I have not read "The Urban Oasis", but I'm guessing its content tends more toward the popular than the academic, since it repeats the oft-cited claim about full buses being more energy efficient than auto travel. This claim is irrelevant, since full transit vehicles are rarely observed. Public transit agencies try to be all things to all people (reduce congestion, reduce pollution, mobilize the poor, end climate change, command the tides, etc.), and end up being nothing to everyone. This is borne out by actual observed load factors and the DoE energy consumption comparisons.

    The doom-and-gloom predictions about the elderly being immobile are similarly unlikely. Wiliam Black has shown, using national data from the U.S., that the elderly are not only not using public transit in disproportionate numbers, but that they are also driving longer than they used to. Increasing life expectancy is a beautiful thing. The more likely outcome, which I have observed, is that transportation service will become packaged with senior housing. The housing providers also provide local shuttle bus service for residents to make trips for shopping, medical or other purposes. Not only does this better meet the needs of the elderly, it cuts down on the wasted effort involve with providing fixed-route services.

    "Transects" are merely the latest design fad among landscape architects and land use planners. Functionally, they are no different from the "dense, walkable" city framework that Smart Growthers and CNU types have been pushing for years now. When Andres Duany, Peter Calthorpe and the rest of the flat-earth society start providing serious empirical research on the travel behavior effects of these types of development, I will start taking them seriously.

    The point is here...

    The point is that dense neighborhoods are safer, cheaper, healtier, etc.? Go ahead and provide some evidence when you feel like it.

    My point is that people can very often find better prospects in goods provided in the private sector (when they are allowed to), making heavy reliance on government unnecessary.

    The CNU is wrong. Curitiba is starting to fall apart. Which brings us to our next point:

    The bigger point is here...

    Visigoths, what?

    The TCRP report you cite is now 5 years old. The NYT article identified by Randy Crane was from 2006. What happened in the intervening years? Brazil has been developing economically, and in socities where such activities are not forbidden, this means greater auto ownership and land consumption. It is entirely plausible that transit use is declining in Curitiba.

    In 1984, Peter Gordon and Richard Willson published a paper on the determinants of light rail transit demand. It used a cross-sectional data set from around the world to estimated LRT demand, though it could just as easily be applied to other rail or bus rapid transit systems. The relevant factors were the usual culprits: per capita income and auto ownership, urban densities, station spacing, and a dummy variable to identify cities in socialist countries, indicating that cities have land markets that are either non-existent or have limited function.

    This model should predict demand in Curitiba quite well. Incomes are low, which is related to low auto ownership levels. Densities are also rather high, but this is largely a function of highly restrictive land use policies, which justify adding the effect of the dummy variable for socialist cities.

    However, the model is cross-sectional. Urban change is a process through time. We will have to study this example for several years to see of the predictions are borne out. But the evidence seems to be starting to appear already. As reported, transit ridership is starting to fall, which could easily be explained by rising incomes. I will also look for data on auto ownership levels, though this is typically only available at the national level.

    My point is that Curitiba is not really all that exceptional. Like many low-income cities, public transit is still heavily used. Yet the historical evidence on development and urban change suggests that if Brazil is economically successful, not only will transit use decline, but citizens will seek to throw off the shackles of land regulation and demand the opportunity to engage in private land tenure.

  40. cdquarles:

    Here's a thought or two to mull over lunch :).

    What kind of a system survives damage better, a decentralized one or a centralized one?

    If you had to evacuate a city, what kind of a system would be better able to handle the job, a centralized one running on a fixed track, a centralized one running on a decentralized track/road network, or a decentralized one running on a decentralized track/road network?

    Whenever these kinds of projects get debated, no one seems to consider disaster planning. If you needed to evacuate New York City from a Cat-3 hurricane in less than 72 hours (and New York City, particularly Long Island has been hit several times by strong hurricanes in the last 150 to 200 years) today, what do you think the result would be? Would it look like New Orleans and Katrina?

  41. Yoshidad:

    Mike, I accuse you of lying in your post, and you ask what your lie is. It's in concluding the opposite of truth from the evidence -- even from
    the evidence you cite like that NY Times article about Curitiba. (Here is the piece:http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C04EED91231F933A15756C0A9619C8B63)

    You tell a half truth in saying this article claims Curitiba's transit rideshare has declined since the TRB study I cited previously. You remember, that older TRB study said Curitiba's unsubsidized transit, provided 1.9 to 2.1 million trips daily, had been getting increasing rideshare for 30 years, and captured 70 - 75% of all trips. Your NY Times article citation adds later stats: "When the bus system was inaugurated, it transported 54,000 passengers daily. That number has ballooned to 2.3 million, in large part because of innovations that permit passengers to board and exit rapidly."

    So in absolute numbers, the trips are increasing. (But you said the government has made a hash!) That's not success?! (God help your poor child if he brings home anything less than 100% on his algebra test!)

    The NY Times article you cite does say transit is not gaining rideshare, but that's because "The bus system that has won admirers throughout the world appears to be nearing capacity."

    Not because a hash was made by government; because it's too successful.

    In jumping from "Curitiba has fewer trips in transit since 2005" despite an increase in the absolute number of trips, to "government makes a hash of everything" to "let's just discard government altogether, allowing it to make parks, but not pools" the bizarre distortions just grow.

    All of these figures are, BTW, astonishing in comparison to the third-rate crap that is U.S. transit, even if I cannot tell you whether this is ordinary for the third world. (Google is no help here.) My understanding is that it's extraordinary even for Brazil (Brasilia was built for autos, for one example).

    Many others posting here appear to be willing to dismiss transit as unworkable because U.S. transit is bad, too -- but the Curitiba experience is *different* despite your misdirection.

    Oh yes, and let's not forget that Curitiba got all this for 1/100th of the cost of the subway originally proposed by the U.S.-supported dictatorship, and the administration responsible got re-elected by large pluralities even after the dictators were gone.

    More lies: One of your initial post's concluding remarks says: "To assume that [the "hash" of transit and land use] can be changed by giving the same people more control over urban land allocation strikes me as more than a little naive."

    I never said give the same people more control. I explicitly said that current U.S. transit / land-use policy is crap, and I want to give *different* people charge of such policy -- preferably people who would seek informed consent from the public for any transit decisions -- including allowing the public to know about the possibility of successful transit like Curitiba's.

    This would include letting the public know about peak oil, and offering to have a diversified portfolio of transit options rather than the economically vulnerable auto monoculture covertly subsidized by building only sprawl. You know, real conservatism.

    Interestingly, cdquarles, one of the government-can't-do-anything-right crowd follows your last answer with a post about how centralized transit systems might break down if a disaster -- say Katrina -- occurred. I can think of no better way to describe W's response to that disaster in New Orleans, incidentally -- a breakdown. Herbert Hoover had a similar New Orleans disaster in 1927, and he managed to do better than W, with just one caveat. He was using horses and buggies.

    So different people, please! For the last 30 years, with little respite, the U.S. has had Reagan and his acolytes, the government-can't-do-anything-right crowd, in power. These are people who believe government is the problem, and set out to demonstrate just how big a problem it can be.

    An implied untruth in your posts is that there's some viable alternative preferred by the market. The market discounts real estate in transit-obstacle sprawl, and pays premiums for transit-friendly New Urbanist neighborhoods, even if no transit is currently available. This isn't just my opinion; I've cited the comparable sales.

    Sprawl cities' developments are so unpopular that they regularly produce anti-growth movements. Even the "un-planned" city of Houston still builds god-awful sprawl because it has sprawl street design standards. In other words, the "un-planned" stuff still has to have some rudimentary public policy about which most of the public is unaware. Even the lack of public policy is a kind of public policy, and produces Houston, which is to say crap (no offense to crap).

    The truth is that pedestrian- and transit-friendly New Urbanist codes empower the public, are far simpler and more understandable than the sprawl zoning. Sprawl planning (from the *same* people)truly requires an elite to interpret and profits the usual oligarchs at the expense of the public realm -- significantly the auto dealers who now have entire populations that cannot get around without autos.

    New Urbanist codes produce something the market likes just fine. Calling the New Urbanists names ("elites") is just a lie *and* a distraction.

  42. Yoshidad:

    The "Big Lie" all through this blog is that government can never set a foot right, and private decisions are always best because the tooth fairy...er, I mean the "invisible hand," will make everything jake. I'm not saying the market doesn't allocate resources efficiently, I'm saying it's as likely to require referees as any game in town -- and public referees exceed the disclosure required by private ones. There will be referees regardless of what is chosen, public or private, and to pretend otherwise is to begin to leave the world of lies and enter the world of delusion.

    The delusional anti-government Reaganite line has produced a few things too:

    - Pre-Reagan, the U.S. was the world's largest creditor nation; after, the world's largest debtor.

    - Pre-Reagan, the U.S. had a trade surplus; after, a trade deficit.

    - Despite his anti-government line, Reagan grew the government (as did W), and left a debt larger than all previous administrations combined.

    - Pre-Reagan (especially pre-1973 oil shock), real median wages were rising; in the 30 years after, real median wages remained relatively flat while the top 0.01% of income earners got a 497% raise.

    - Pre-Reagan (actually pre-1973) the U.S. economy's growth was roughly 4%, after, roughly 3%, despite all of the miraculous results tax cuts were supposed to produce.

    - Pre-Reagan, Savings & Loans were failing; after, the Reagan / Bush method for handling this business failure produced the largest public political and financial scandal in U.S. history.

    Finally, to give you an idea of how important public policies can be, here's a table of job creation from Reagan to Bush II:

    President Total Job creation (millions) Private sector job creation (millions)
    Reagan (1981 - 1988) 14.8 13.7
    Bush I (1989 - 1992) 3.4 2.0
    Clinton (1993 - 2000) 23.1 21.2
    Bush II (2001 - 2005) 1.7 0.7

    Source: bureau of Labor Statistics, 2007, http://www.bls.gov; Dick Alexander, http://www.globalshop.com cited in Ravi Batra's "The New Golden Age" (p.109)

    Notice that the Clinton raised the top income taax brackets, and contrary to the Reaganites and supply-side witch doctors... er, I mean voodoo economists' assertions that this would lead to economic meltdown, produced many more jobs.

    Sprawl is the growth pattern for the let's-pretend-there's-no-such-thing-as-intelligent-public-policy crowd, and like sprawl, the promotion of isolation and disempowerment is also a constant theme in this blog. Sneering at the public realm, and the government that manages it is condoned and encouraged.

    The idea that a policeman or soldier might put his or her life on the line to defend your little private compound from the invading Visigoths... well, that's kind of ignored. The fellow-feeling that keeps your suppliers from poisoning your food or medicine not vetted by the FDA or the agriculture dept..... not much encouraged.

    Any reminder that collective action can profit anyone, ever, is vigorously denied, even at the expense of the truth. The U.S. government has seldom been perfect, but it has been very helpful to its citizens, providing everything from farm-to-market roads, to interstate highways, to silicon chips (yes, Fairchild conductor built them, but for the *government* first), to the internet.

    This government-can't-do-anything-right sentiment is the soft bigotry of low expectations applied to the public realm. It is well-funded and promoted by those oligarchs who have profited mightily from it (497% raise!).

    The originating post says transit in the U.S. is crap -- something I didn't dispute -- but Curitiba, and other locations (San Francisco, London, Paris) prove it can be done well, even making roads less congested so private auto drivers have an easier time.

    Curitiba proves it can be done well on even a third-world budget. Nothing you've said or cited contradicts the idea that public policy can be done well (and complaining about the left cheek of transit while the right cheek of land use is not mentioned -- well, that's just half-assed).

    Mike says: "Cities ... should focus on pure public goods (e.g. safety, local street and parks) and forget about providing niceties like swimming pools. If you want to take your kids to a public pool, bully for you. But to suggest that we ought to the same, or that we should pay for it, well that's just unfair."

    Mike this is exactly what sparked the Civil War -- no not slavery, but whether the majority gets to decide public policy. That's "settled science" for reals. Personally, I think you are pretty arbitrary when you say cities can manage parks, but not public pools. What makes you draw the line there?

    And I won't dispute your contention that "Cities are large and heterogeneous...not communities" remark. All the more reasons to build neighborhoods that encourage community and personal encounter rather than sprawl. Sprawl is *anti-*neighborhood and anti-community because it isolates people, maximizing privacy, but providing nothing like the public realm required for a social encounter, much less something that could be considered community-promoting.

    "Transects" are so far from a fad that they actually describe city building from its inception. But I'm guessing that's not convincing to a fellow who despairs that Curitiba has blown it with its outrageously successful transit system.

  43. Yoshidad:

    Mike, You dispute my contention that compact neighborhoods can be safer, cheaper, healthier, saying "Go ahead and provide some evidence when you feel like it." OK, here's your evidence:

    Safer: Per-capita crime is lower in high-density New York City than in, say, sprawl-oriented Phoenix, or Sacramento. I leave it to you to google the stats.

    Cheaper: There's no difference in the cost to build sprawl v. pedestrian-friendly mixed use, says Randall Shaber, the project manager for Laguna West (Peter Calthorpe's new urbanist subdivision south of Sacramento that has since been rezoned by clueless policy makers to be sprawl). And both commute costs and environmental impacts are lower when people have an alternative to driving.

    Healthier: When you build all the walking out of the environment, as sprawl does, (and subsidize high fructose corn syrup), you get the U.S.' current health situation: high levels of illnesses that stem from inactivity -- like depression, obesity, type II diabetes, etc. Even a few minutes of daily walking makes for significantly lower rates of health problems (One U.Georgia study is cited here: http://www.ptproductsonline.com/news/2008-07-16_01.asp., but there are many more. Just Google "walking health benefits")

    Anyway, this is a long reply, but Mike I felt that even though you appear more interested in deception and winning the argument at all costs than in the truth of the matter, anyone who does research on this blog deserves a little attention. Now, if you can just give up the delusional thinking, we can discuss what public policy ought to be for reals.