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Monthly Archives: June 2011

More on Ending Ehthanol Subsidies

From The Economist, Fiscal Sobriety:

Taking everything into account, ethanol releases almost as much carbon dioxide as petrol does. As Michael Greenstone, the director of the Hamilton Project, a liberal research group, puts it, “Ethanol is largely farm support policy, not environmental policy.”

This is a good first step in addressing Problem #2 and revealing the true costs of our transportation system.

Third Runway at HKG

Cathay Pacific is pushing for a third runway at Hong Kong International (HKG). Why don’t they just step forward and offer to build it themselves in exchange for exclusive use of the new third runway? Looking at their financials I think they could pull it off.

Think outside the box here. Heck, if they didn’t need the full capacity of the third runway they could even lease it out for HKG to use.

Stranded on The Apron

I’d love to know what causes this problem.

Does air traffic control just get too backed up? Or is it the airline? Are they being greedy and putting people on the plan and deplaning so as to reduce gate fees? Curious.

Amtrak Growth

Amtrak ridership is growing:

Overall, there has been a 36 percent increase in Amtrak ridership nationwide since 2000. Ridership records were set in seven of the past eight fiscal years, including more than 28.7 million passengers in 2010, Amtrak says.

Federal Ban on Handheld Cell Phone Use in Cars

The Infrastructurist has a post about Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood’s efforts to ban cell phone use while driving.

Beyond these basic guidelines, the bill directs the Department of Transportation to conduct a thorough study of distracted driving and, within two years, to recommend a standard of minimum penalties for the offense. States that refused to comply with this standard in a timely manner would have a portion of their highway funding withheld (McCarthy suggests 25 percent) — a penalty modeled on current federal blood-alcohol content standards.

Typical Federal government here.

Do we really need a thorough (ie. expensive) study of distracted driving? C’mon! We’ve all been stuck behind the guy on the cell phone who isn’t paying attention to traffic… and many of us have probably even been that guy. Also, rather than an outright ban, they are going to set a standard of minimum penalties and then extort the States into adhering.

Spend more money than necessary to study a problem, develop a set of penalties, and in the end pass along all cost of enforcement to the individual states.

Dallas’ Suburb Commuter Train

The Transport Politic has a write-up on the just-opened Denton County A-Train. He makes a couple salient points I’d like to highlight here.

The whole route, including the 8-minute connection? About 80 minutes. Compare that to the express bus service between Denton and Dallas that was offered until now, which could make the link in about one hour.

The now-longer ride will not provide much convenience for people who make the daily commute, and in terms of speed itself it is a downgrade from the old service (though of course the train offers more station stops).

There were better alternatives to this commuter line but…

The fact that Denton County is not a sales tax-paying member of DART (but rather operates its own agency, DCTA) poses a major obstacle; why would DART make an effort to incorporate services by another entity into its plans if the two did not cooperate? This project may come to be interpreted as yet another failure of American metropolitan areas to act regionally.

Politics trumped solutions. A private entity wouldn’t have made this mistake. We need to find a way to enable private companies provide these services.

A final excerpt:

…perhaps the greatest success of the project’s backers was getting it funded in the first place through the creation of a 1/2-cent sales tax in 2002, approved by the electorate by a wide margin, and the redirection of road tolls, which covered 80% of the cost (no federal dollars were involved to speed up the process).

Three thoughts here.

Firstly, wow! A locally-funded commuter rail line with no federal money! Excellent. Folks will vote to fund transportation solutions that they need. Why send the money to Washington when the local entities can handle it? Conservative or Liberal, if the project makes sense and betters the community, folks will do what it takes to fund it.

Secondly, funding this with road tolls was an innovative idea. I wonder if they’ll continue to fund operations out of road tolls.

Finally, note that one impetus for funding this project locally was that Federal dollars would have slowed down the project. Politics trumps solutions. The more government you involve the more politics get involved.

Photo – Bowler Wildcat

Bowler Wildcat

Photo by Alastair G (.photomotive on Flickr).

This heavily modified Land Rover D90 is simply an amazing piece of engineering. It was created with one thing in mind… winning the Paris-Dakar. It gets horrible gas mileage and only seats two, but that really isn’t the point. It’s one of the best off-road vehicles made and it’s street legal.

Top Gear has a wonderful 8-minute clip that showcases the Bowler Wildcat’s abilities.

UAE Becoming an Aviation Hub

Here’s one we covered before in the New York Times.

So far, Emirates’ success is partly an accident of geography. Roughly four billion people live within an eight-hour flight from here.

Also, the Telegraph has an excellent article comparing the struggles of Heathrow with the rising star of Dubai International.

As a passenger experience Dubai airport is slightly overwhelming, but at the same time quite thrilling. You really feel you are at the crossroads of the world.

Finally, an article detailing the competition between Airbus and Boeing for sales to Etihad, Emirates, and Qatar Airways.

The two aerospace companies are retooling their wide-body aircraft, the Airbus A350 and Boeing 777, with an eye to the Middle East market and big-spending Gulf carriers such as Emirates Airline, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways.

Both manufacturers are hoping to fine-tune their aircraft to be able to carry about 400 passengers, plus full loads of cargo on flights of more than 16 hours – an increasingly important requirement for Gulf carriers connecting Asia, Europe and the Americas via their hubs. These airlines have more than US$100 billion (Dh367.8bn) worth of aircraft on order to drive growth plans over the next decade and are expected to buy more jets in the coming years.

I think geography is a big factor in the success of these airlines. I think Emirates in particular has figured out they are at a geographical advantage and are building upon that aggressively. The latest news of their growth is their maintenance facility projects.

Going back to the quote from the Time’s article… that’s nearly two-thirds of the world’s population within an 8 hour flight. Just let that soak in. That’s an astounding geographical advantage, and one that I don’t think Emirates (or other GCC airlines) is going to let slip through their hands.

Google Developing Driverless Cars

An older article in the New York Times on Google’s efforts at developing driverless cars.

I almost seems like the New York Times frames this as an admirable and benevolent activity on the part of Google. It’s pretty simply what there interest is in this… more searches and more clicked advertisements. If your car is driving itself, what activity are you likely to be engaged in while not driving? The internet is one obvious choice, and I’m sure Google will make that a very easy choice.

Driverless Cars

Nevada has taken a big step toward allowing driverless cars; they’ve authorized their DOT to start forming rules and regulations for the use of driverless cars.

I picked this up via Ben Brooks who raises a very salient point:

No matter how advanced sometimes you just can’t beat the human eye. Because the first time a ‘driverless’ car kills a kid in an accident that a human could have avoided — well that’s the end of the dream.

A real concern that every right-thinking person should have. I think the problem is that most people view the issue of driverless cars as an either/or situation. Either we all driver our cars everywhere, or we all have driverless cars take us everywhere. I think the reality would be a hybrid.

Imagine jumping in line on an onramp, pushing a button, and allowing the car to take over as it whisks you along safely on a grade-separated right of way amidst hundreds of other cars running driverless. All these cars could have their own onboard computer that would transmit simple information to each other to promote smooth flowing, high speed, safe traffic.

Now imagine, as your car takes you to your highway exit, an alert sounds letting you know you need to take over again. Once on the slower, mixed-use boulevards shared with cyclists and pedestrians, you have to do the work. You are still responsible to keep your eye out for the kiddo chasing their ball into the street.

Many folks are pushing for elimination of cars or at least a significant reduction in cars. Many of these same folks see a future of mass-adoption of mass transit. I just don’t see that happening quite the way some imagine. I think cars will long be an important part of our transportation infrastructure. With as much money as we’ve built into that infrastructure we’d be awfully wasteful to try and abandon that or replace it. Rather we should aim for making the automobiles themselves more efficient. We should also aim for more efficient use of the existing infrastructure.