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Breakfast links: Follow the money


Photo by KCIvey on Flickr.
See Orange's money orders: Vincent Orange has agreed to release the 30 or so "suspicious" money orders to his 2011 campaign. Though actually, OCF actually already had them, and Loose Lips was able to get them. (Post, City Paper)

More in campagn finance: Several still unnamed councilmembers received subpoenas in the Jeff Thompson investigation. (NBC4) ... Yvette Alexander benefited from bundling by Walmart developers, but she doesn't have much money in the bank. (City Paper, Post)

Election needs money: The May 15 Ward 5 special election needs $318,000 to happen. The money has to come quickly, too, as mailed notices of the election have to go out by March 24. (Examiner)

Nats Park area gets pop-up retail: A local arts group is planning on bringing pop-up retail to land near Nationals Park using shipping containers. The concept is similar to successful projects in London and Brooklyn. (DCmud)

Wheaton gets more residential: Developers want to turn a Wheaton 5-story office building into a 14-story residential building. They will build on top instead of tearing it down, and have not decided whether to include ground floor retail. (DCMud)

Help seniors with smart growth: Montgomery County's growing senior population need housing that meets their needs. Zoning for more housing around transportation and allowing more accessory dwellings are important, too. (Patch)

Love bicycling and water infrastructure?: WABA and DC Water are teaming up for a bike tour of several DC Water facilities, to show how things work today and how DC Water will mitigate sewer overflows in the future. (WABA)

We've drunk our milkshake: The cheap oil that fueled low gas prices and car-oriented suburban sprawl is almost gone. While lots of oil remains, it is difficult, expensive, and environmentally hazardous to drill and refine. (Salon)

And...: Find out how much top Metro officials made in 2011 (or see it padded out to a two page story). (Post) ... Dan Snyder has managed to anger almost everybody. His fellow owners made him pay for it. (Post) ... Apple's new campus is about as anti-walkable as you can get. (Switchboard)

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Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

Comments

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Regarding the salon article: it is just like the 457 trillion other we've-used-up-our-oil-type articles published since the '73 oil shock. It is sooooooooooo boring.

The article advocates finding alternatives to fossil fuel -- yawn. What it does NOT do is compare the costs of alternatives, even assuming rosy promises of efficiency gains. A comparison of the energy supply costs compare between oil and alternatives, is what is needed.

by goldfish on Mar 14, 2012 9:49 am • linkreport

If Obama cared about this country's future, he'd mortgage it for cheap energy now.

by Crickey7 on Mar 14, 2012 9:50 am • linkreport

The Salon article is pure garbage. Cars will be running on gas for the next hundred years, until we have nuclear-powered flying cars or something. Electric cannot deliver the range, reliability, and performance that Americans demand; gasoline does.

Another attempt to force us into the big-government green agenda central planner nightmare of being forced to drive teeny-tiny electric powered golf carts and "dense living" where we all live in highrise apartments in Democrat-run cities and bike to work like good little European-style socialists.

No thanks, I like my truck, the fact that I can refill my tank anywhere and in a few minutes for a reasonable amount of money, that I control my transportation and am not dependent on mass transit or biking, that I can live in a big suburban house with lots of nice stuff (brought to us courtesy of capitalism and free markets). Americans aren't fooled by the chicken little environmentalist crap about peak oil, dead oceans, and overpopulation. Open your eyes and you can see their lies are just that.

by Stan on Mar 14, 2012 9:57 am • linkreport

Why is the Snyder article here?

by selxic on Mar 14, 2012 10:02 am • linkreport

Yep, that Salon article was junk.

Look, we have cheap oil. Thanks to low taxes, $4 gasoline is cheap for all it does. At $10 for a gallon, people in the UK and the Netherlands still drive. Not as much as we do, but they still drive.

Gasoline is still wonderful until you get into the $20 or $30 range. Ceases to make sense for personal vehicles, but works for commerical and in kerosense for jets.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2012 10:05 am • linkreport

Yeah, goldfish. This stuff is getting really old. Stan has their number. It's just an attempt to kill freedom and prosperity so we'll all have to be dependent on the nanny state of big centralized Gov't.

If these alternative fuels were profitable they'd win out in the free market...why not just allow people freedom, and when and if we run out of oil, the market will provide another alternative? We don't need some mandated alternative that can't pay for itself the way the oil extraction does. Check out Congressman Paul's website for more information about how economic freedom made America great!

by jim d. on Mar 14, 2012 10:06 am • linkreport

Why is the Snyder article here?

Um, er, maybe because parts of DC are riled up in opposition to anything him and his team..and because the city will soon have a discussion w/area residents about any proposed deal, GGW thought it was appropriate to insert a link about him angering yet more people?

In light of the current talks, why wouldn't we want to read about it? Seems more than reasonable to me...

by HogWash on Mar 14, 2012 10:10 am • linkreport

Charlie, makes you wonder how much less public transportation and "bike infrastructure" they'd have to have over in the socialist Euro states if they just allowed the market to prevail and driving was cheaper, the way it is here in the US. Clear case of market distortion. People want to be in control of their own lives and travel, and given the choice, will do the driving. Public transportation only seems to thrive in situations where people are forced to take it.

by cendra5 on Mar 14, 2012 10:10 am • linkreport

"Regarding the salon article: it is just like the 457 trillion other we've-used-up-our-oil-type articles published since the '73 oil shock. It is sooooooooooo boring.
The article advocates finding alternatives to fossil fuel -- yawn. What it does NOT do is compare the costs of alternatives, even assuming rosy promises of efficiency gains. A comparison of the energy supply costs compare between oil and alternatives, is what is needed."

and since 1973 we have basically stopped using oil to generate electricity or for industrial uses, and essentially use it today only for mobile uses (transportation, construction and agriculture) and for petrochemicals (though we are now using alternate feed stocks for those too) And still we are more dependent on imports than in 1973.

We didnt run out because we A. Shifted from oil to coal B. became more energy efficient in our cars, homes and appliances C. brough Alaska, the North Sea, and Mexican oil online.

leaving aside the GHG impacts of coal, we can only shift more to coal by electrifying transportation. We could become more efficient. We can try to replace the diminishing production in mexico, etc - but all the new oil sources have issues. The relative costs and benefits of course are complex.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 10:10 am • linkreport

"If these alternative fuels were profitable they'd win out in the free market...why not just allow people freedom, and when and if we run out of oil, the market will provide another alternative? "

its already happening. ethanol and biodisel are doing well and at $4 a gallon, probably doesnt even need govt subsidies (too bad it drives up food prices). Hybrids are becoming more and more common, and electric vehicles are doing better than expected. Solar and wind power generation are growing rapidly, but in the US from a tiny base, and nuclear is looking to grow again. And yes, more people are using transit, biking/walking, or arranging their lives to shorten their commutes (or using teleworking and ecommerce to avoid gasoline usage).

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 10:18 am • linkreport

I love the "nobody would choose to use public transportation unless they're forced into it" argument.

I work in an office in downtown that offers a free parking garage to employees, and yet the majority of employees choose to walk, bike, or take transit, and many who do drive carpool. Years ago, the lottery spots for garage spaces were like gold, but now, you can just sign up for a parking space. Sounds like a lot of people are making different choices.

As for me, my wife and I share a car, and neither one of us uses it to get to work, as we both choose otherwise(she walks a few blocks, and I used to take the bus but now bike 4 miles). We like the option of using our car for various errands, trips, etc, but for the most part, it's not the option we'll take.

by Jacques on Mar 14, 2012 10:19 am • linkreport

"Electric cannot deliver the range, reliability, and performance that Americans demand;"

if that is indeed the case, I think that makes a stronger case for building to enable car free and car lite lifestyles. I think EV's are the best friends of people who want to continue to have two or three car families

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 10:20 am • linkreport

I look forward to the day the so-called smart growth people notice that their pedestrian, transit, bicycle "lifestyle" is 100% dependent on a never ending flotilla of food and retail delivery trucks, among other critical infrastructure. Gas would have to be $18-$20 a gallon for "alternatives" to be competitive, and at the current rates it would take half a century for gas to get there to get there. We will be using traditional gas-powered cars and commercial vehicles for the vast majority of miles traveled for most of our lifetimes.

The 'burbs aren't going anywhere either. Americans aren't going to abandon their suburban homes to live in a traditional city just because they have to pay a few bucks more at the pump. This is just not realistic.

by AlecF on Mar 14, 2012 10:20 am • linkreport

@ cendra5; nope, compeltly disagree.

There was a good EU study on this. In some countries, overinvest in the last 10 years on transit (UK), others historially underinvest (France) and spend more on roads.

The distorting effect is gasoline/diesel tax difference and that it not a hypothecated (term of art) tax.

I wish we could go to the German model (excellent highways, excellent transit).

by charlie on Mar 14, 2012 10:23 am • linkreport

I work in an office in downtown that offers a free parking garage to employees, and yet the majority of employees choose to walk, bike, or take transit, and many who do drive carpool.

You are being subsidized by drivers, who pay a gas tax which pays for the roads and their upkeep. Driving pays for itself and somehow manages to pay for programs like lite rail, bike shares, buses for the indigent, etc. that are net drains on the transportation budget. No public transportation agency in the US has ever posted a profit.

by jim d. on Mar 14, 2012 10:24 am • linkreport

Yes because grocery stores in the country and suburbs don't use trucks. Food Lion and wal-mart grows all their food on site. Also people don't drive into town to go shopping.

Please find me someone who wants to promote walkable neighborhoods and has argued explicitly for the banning of delivery vehicles wholesale across the city.

by Canaan on Mar 14, 2012 10:26 am • linkreport

"I look forward to the day the so-called smart growth people notice that their pedestrian, transit, bicycle "lifestyle" is 100% dependent on a never ending flotilla of food and retail delivery trucks, among other critical infrastructure."

so is the suburban autocentric lifestyle. Just as much fuel to bring a truckload of groceries to a suburban giant as to an urban Harris Teeter, so thats a wash (delivery fleets of course could be good candidates for conversion to Compressed Natural Gas)

"The 'burbs aren't going anywhere either. Americans aren't going to abandon their suburban homes to live in a traditional city just because they have to pay a few bucks more at the pump. This is just not realistic."

may wont, some will. Thats why solutions need to be multifaceted. The suburbs will change, however, in many different ways. among other things more intersuburban commuters will telework, and suburbanites will be more reluctant to take jobs located far from their current homes - driving oakton to Tysons may work, but driving Oakton to Rockville, not so much.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 10:27 am • linkreport

"Another attempt to force us into the big-government green agenda central planner nightmare"

Those damn central planners took all the easy-to-get-to oil! $4 gas may be cheap by European standards...but those very comparisons will make us European-style socialists! Agenda 21!

by watcher on Mar 14, 2012 10:27 am • linkreport

"but driving Oakton to Rockville, not so much."

And that nails it.

But there are two factors driving that:

1. Two income couples
2. Home ownership

Now, if we want to go Agenda 21 I'd say:

1. Find a way to boost wages so we can get more women out of the workforce
2. Remove homeownership as a domainant style of American life
3. Penalize long distance commuters even more. Tax their sorry asses.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2012 10:34 am • linkreport

Also I enjoy the assumption that people who think we can plan our urban and suburban areas better don't realize the costs of infrastructure when probably a good third of the posts deal with how to plan and pay for infrastructure.

by Canaan on Mar 14, 2012 10:38 am • linkreport

And that nails it.

But there are two factors driving that:

1. Two income couples
2. Home ownership

When gas is cheap two income couples can locate so they both drive, and only balance the time to different locations. With gas costly, they may need to A. telework MUCH more B. Get jobs/locate where one person has a short commute, and the other can use transit C. get jobs that are located close together. And yes, B and C both favor employment in large centers, esp center cities.

As for home ownership, yeah, that makes it harder to move to jobs. But people do that anyway - the transition costs are high, but not infinite.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 10:40 am • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity; good point on the central city.

Two factoids: german has one of the lowest home ownership rates in the OECD, and also one of the lowest rates of female workers.

And I'd suggest both of those are revelant to German transport policy.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport

Re: Salon article, even the boy who cried wolf was eventually correct. In any event, regardless of what happens to supply, there is the issue of rising global demand - a few billion Asians are striving for petroleum-fueled prosperity, and that's likely to raise prices as well.

But to an issue more related to this site: if one accepts that prices are going higher on gas, doesn't it suggest that more focus should be put on providing an inexpensive alternative to cars, and less on expensive vanity projects "to get people out of their cars"?

by Barry on Mar 14, 2012 10:56 am • linkreport

The American lifestyle, working habits (two-parent households), built environment (low-density suburbia), etc. pretty much preclude anything but a system based on moving the maximum number of cars around, and that means priority given to highways and other auto transportation projects. Women are not going to start leaving the workforce in droves and become stay-at-home moms again. Even if they did, the corner store is gone, the mall and their kids schools are miles and miles away. The system we have now isn't perfect to be sure, but it suits our needs in a way that one based on buses, trains, or bikes simply does not. Rather than try to 'coerce' people out of their cars as Ray Lahood wants to do, why not tinker around the edges where needed, but acknowledge that the auto/highway/detached home paradigm is here to stay, and it's what the vast majority of Americans want anyway.

Higher gas prices might cause some of us to live in more dense, old-fashioned environments, but it's not a solution for the other 95% of us who will want to continue living in the suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas. Who knows, if gas prices do continue to rise maybe in 40 or 50 years we can revisit ideas like HSR, light rail, subways, BRT, etc. Advances in tech may make building and operating these much cheaper, but I'd posit those same advances would just make driving all the more cheaper as well, thus they'd continue to be non-competitive. And of course driverless cars may change the whole equation! For now, we're comfortable in cars, so let's not upset people by rocking the boat.

by JimT on Mar 14, 2012 11:05 am • linkreport

Exactly, Barry. Many transit advocates are hung up on rail, for example, which is expensive to build and maintain and doesn't work well for the American low-density environment. Heavy rail like Metro or MARC is probably the ultimate vanity project as far as these go.

An inexpensive alternative for cars would be ...driverless cars, perhaps powered by natural gas or electricity, or perhaps some type of hybrid engine natural gas/electric engine or motor. I believe that these will eventually solve our transportation and energy issues without forcing us to give up the lifestyle we're accustomed to.

by geraldRX on Mar 14, 2012 11:10 am • linkreport

"But to an issue more related to this site: if one accepts that prices are going higher on gas, doesn't it suggest that more focus should be put on providing an inexpensive alternative to cars, and less on expensive vanity projects "to get people out of their cars"?"

the vast majority of surface transportation capital investment is on roads and highways - the limited number of transit new starts are not vanity projects.

however yes, people certainly support cheap small things - everything from supporting telecommuting, striping bike lanes, etc. I dont see those as mutually exclusive.

And yes support for EV technologies, and research.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 11:12 am • linkreport

I would be interested to know which crazy crank website linked to this post and brought this flood of transit haters here.

Points:
1. Roads pay for themselves! Transit does not!
Roads actually don't pay for themselves, nor do the user fees (gas taxes and tolls) pay for all of the road infrastructure we have. According to the FHWA gas taxes pay for around 65% of road costs, and that does not include a lot of local road costs that are not financed by gas taxes at all.

2. Drivers subsidize transit and transit is a drain!
Drivers do subsidize transit through a portion of gas taxes. Everyone, drivers and non-drivers, subsidizes transit through other taxes. This is because transit provides many benefits to people who do NOT use transit; why should transit users have to pay for the benefits others receive from it? Transit reduces traffic congestion for people who choose to drive, and it provides overall benefits to the economy like allowing for density that creates cost savings for businesses, connecting more people to more jobs, etc. Look up "agglomeration effects" sometime. These benefits accrue to everyone, so everyone (not just transit users) should pay for them. Driving and road infrastructure has many dis-benefits, like tying more land in non-profitable, non tax-paying uses and especially extra pollution from cars, that drivers do not pay for.

But look, if you think global warming, pollution, and thinking about land use are fake liberal Agenda-21 planning hoaxes, then I don't know why you're here. And if you think the highway system is some kind of paragon of the free market I think you need to do some more research about who built it.

by MLD on Mar 14, 2012 11:14 am • linkreport

"Exactly, Barry. Many transit advocates are hung up on rail, for example, which is expensive to build and maintain and doesn't work well for the American low-density environment. Heavy rail like Metro or MARC is probably the ultimate vanity project as far as these go. "

you will note most people here want metro rail only in high density areas, and very selected corridors. Commuter rail though does work in lower density environments, and isnt nearly as expensive.

"An inexpensive alternative for cars would be ...driverless cars, perhaps powered by natural gas or electricity, or perhaps some type of hybrid engine natural gas/electric engine or motor. I believe that these will eventually solve our transportation and energy issues without forcing us to give up the lifestyle we're accustomed to."

Someone above said EVs were part of the urbanist conspiracy. Why dont you go argue with them? Or are you them? Why so many previously unseen handles arguing for the same thing, on this obscure little blog?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 11:15 am • linkreport

JimT,
If you're going to provide a percentage of people who live in suburban/rural areas at least try to show that its accurate. Also, beginning to plan in forty years means that a lot of new infrastructure starts won't happen for 80 years. Please tell me how that is anything but shortsighted.

Also tell me how the lifestyle choices of two generations now makes up for the entirety of american cultural development.

by Canaan on Mar 14, 2012 11:15 am • linkreport

@MLD, I was wondering the same thing. Did they get their browsers confused this morning? Is there some crazy right-wing blog going uncommented on, what with all this traffic over here?

by Tim Krepp on Mar 14, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

@timKrepp; Dan synder's revenge. Don't f*ck with him. Ever.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

"The system we have now isn't perfect to be sure, but it suits our needs in a way that one based on buses, trains, or bikes simply does not. "

how about one based on buses, trains, bikes, AND cars, with grid style development to give cars alternate routes so you arent stuck in traffic on an arterial, with high density nodes you will like driving to, where there are lots of things close together so you can get your errands done on foot before going back to your car, and with locations close to your house so your drive isnt that long (and so you electric car can get there and back on one charge, easily)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

Jim T Comment # 1: It's just an attempt to kill freedom and prosperity so we'll all have to be dependent on the nanny state of big centralized Gov't. If these alternative fuels were profitable they'd win out in the free market...why not just allow people freedom, and when and if we run out of oil, the market will provide another alternative? [. . . ] Check out Congressman Paul's website for more information about how economic freedom made America great!

Jim T Comment # 3: The system we have now isn't perfect to be sure, but it suits our needs in a way that one based on buses, trains, or bikes simply does not. [ . . . ] Higher gas prices might cause some of us to live in more dense, old-fashioned environments, but it's not a solution for the other 95% of us who will want to continue living in the suburbs

Well, Jim, which is it?

by WRD on Mar 14, 2012 11:44 am • linkreport

I've been wondering for a while now if there're people paid by right-wing transportation interests (oil, car companies,developers, whatever) to comment on blogs and whatnot. I know (based on the industry I work in) that this happens with other issues, so maybe they're deciding to target GGW now. After all, it seems like the only real vocal opposition to sprawl-oriented growth in the region.

by Matthew B on Mar 14, 2012 11:45 am • linkreport

Re: Apple

The campus is designed to maximize the distance you have to walk to get from one point to another. While this sounds inefficient, it's a central tenet to Steve Jobs philosophy of office space design. He believes that the most important interactions office workers have occur while they are bumping into people as they walk from one place to another. For example, when he designed the Pixar campus, he put all the bathrooms and mailrooms for that huge facility in the central atrium. You literally had to walk 5-10 minutes to go to the bathroom.

This might sound like an insane way to design a work facility but I'm going to side with crazy genius on this one. If bad urbanism is what's required to preserve Apple's culture and ability to create the most innovative products on the planet...so be it.

by Falls Church on Mar 14, 2012 11:48 am • linkreport

@Matthew B: looks like one of these was jim d. and one was JimT.

Back in the day on Infrastructurist.com there was a big problem with paid trolls and some who just seemed to like to cause trouble for fun, as well as some "true believers".

@TimKrepp: Probably this post got linked from some pro-sprawl blog. It's the only explanation I can think of!

by ldawg on Mar 14, 2012 11:50 am • linkreport

Re: Salon article, even the boy who cried wolf was eventually correct. In any event, regardless of what happens to supply, there is the issue of rising global demand

The original "cry wolf" has not yet come to pass. When human ingenuity is ignored or dismissed, all sorts of Malthusian disasters are inevitable.

by goldfish on Mar 14, 2012 11:54 am • linkreport

@FallsChurch, you mean, like the Pentagon?

@MatthewB; yeah, so busted. So I am secretly a lobbyist for Exxon-Mobil. Actually, an ex-girlfriend designs gas stations for them -- not kidding. But nice to know you work in a classy enviornment.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2012 11:55 am • linkreport

FYI, I'm not a troll, and I'm not the same as that jim d. person.

Goldfish, you're right. We'll engineer our way out of these problems. I believe that some other posters already mentioned natural gas, hybrid vehicles, and self-driving cars as possible solutions that we could integrate into our current built environment and culture with minimal difficulty. In regard to Malthusianism, remember how we were going to have massive food shortages by the early 80's? Cooler heads usually prevail.

by JimT on Mar 14, 2012 11:59 am • linkreport

It's just an attempt to kill freedom and prosperity so we'll all have to be dependent on the nanny state of big centralized Gov't.

Exactly. Let's get rid of the gas tax and all government spending on roads (and privatize the roads we have even if that means paying a toll to pull out of your driveway). Let's get rid of any spending on traffic enforcement, the Federal Highway Administration, and National Highway Safety Administration. Let's withdraw from the Middle East and not do anything if Iran cuts off our supply to oil via the Straight of Hormuz. Let's get rid of government mandated parking minimums and below market metered/free street parking. I can get wherever I need on my own two feet or bike. Freedom baby!

Ron Paul 2012!

by Falls Church on Mar 14, 2012 12:05 pm • linkreport

So planning for EV's, self driving cars and hybrids = good foresight while planning transportations that operate differently (i.e. rail systems) = vanity projects that don't do any good.

by Canaan on Mar 14, 2012 12:06 pm • linkreport

@goldfish -
there have been lots of famines since Malthus wrote. That we are in a non malthusian world in the global north has less to do with the green revolution than with the demographic transition, which Malthus failed to predict - but then no one else predicted it either.

@JimT

I am still not clear why walking, biking (which has been part of american life for over 100 years) transit, and better urban design are harder to integrate into our way of life than compressed nat gas powered cars, say. Anyway, we can do both. As for selfdriving cars, they have zero to do with the oil issues we are discussing.

Yes we have a legacy built environment. But at the rate of population growth, and housing decay and obsolesences, we need to rebuild our built environment anyway.

Im curious - do people think that turning your lights off when you are not using them is contradicted by using more energy efficient bulbs? Why are engineering solutions and lifestyle solutions considered mutually exclusive only for transportation?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 12:07 pm • linkreport

@FallsChurch, you mean, like the Pentagon?

Yes, the Pentagon has a similar design in some ways although my understanding is that the interior layout is designed to minimize distances where possible rather than maximize them. It's possible to walk between any two points in the Pentagon in under 7 minutes. That said, the Pentagon's design definitely works from the standpoint of bringing together lots of people who cross-pollinate each other's thinking across disciplines. Much like the legendary Building 20 at MIT.

by Falls Church on Mar 14, 2012 12:12 pm • linkreport

Wow, where did all these oil/sprawl apologists come from? Is someone from API (oh, sorry, "The People Of America's Oil Industry") circulating this among their battalion of of overpaid flacks on K Street so they can morosely throw a tantrum while watching their little baby HR 7 gasp its final sickly breaths?

Here's the main problem I have with anti-government status-quo boosters: they're somehow completely blind to how government created the existing situation, but then loudly whine about how government shouldn't change anything! Not even removing its distortionary supports for the status quo!

That perspective completely ignores that the oil/sprawl status quo has suffered a sea change regardless of government's action. Consider:
- Miles driven plateaued in 2007 and is now declining, shrinking relative to all the factors that supposedly caused its growth (GDP, population, employment)
- Not only that, car ownership is actually declining in the USA
- Completions of the three iconic suburban building types (detached houses, malls, office parks) have fallen to post-1950 lows, or in some cases basically stopped
- Along with that, migration to the suburbs has also passed an inflection point
- Rail freight transport is about two-thirds cheaper than trucking, per ton-mile
- If you're going to cheerlead a fossil fuel, oil's the wrong one: CNG is now 36% cheaper than gasoline per gallon equivalent

Sheesh. Wake up and get a clue.

by Payton on Mar 14, 2012 12:21 pm • linkreport

"The cheap oil that fueled low gas prices and car-oriented suburban sprawl is almost gone. While lots of oil remains, it is difficult, expensive, and environmentally hazardous to drill and refine."
------

We've been hearing that since 1973.

I know, the "future" is living like Europeans and anyone who doesn't like it is "stuck in a 1950's way of thinking".

But we've been hearing that since 1973.

by ceefer66 on Mar 14, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

"We've been hearing that since 1973."

I remember 1973 and what I recall most people saying was that the US would be dependent on imported oil (there was plenty in the ME, so no Peak Oil theory then) and that would cause problems.

Which has proven to be correct.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 12:51 pm • linkreport

@Matthew B, @ldawg,

So anyone with an opposing view that contradicts the "everybody wants to live in the city and walk/bike/ride trains everwhere because that's the only good and viable alternative" prevalent here is a "pro-sprawl paid troll"?

Ever stop to think that maybe, just perhaps, everyone else doesn't necessarily agree with everything on GGW and that's all there is to it?

We're not all "trolls" and we're not "brainwashed". Some of us are actually here to learn and if we think a point of view is misguided or just plain wrong, we'll say so. I can't speak for everyone else, but no one is paying me to say what I think.

by ceefer66 on Mar 14, 2012 1:00 pm • linkreport

Since 1973, we have been able to solve all our problem through better engineering. That is why you never hear about oil spills anymore and we now have the wonder, environmentally safe method of fracking.

by watcher on Mar 14, 2012 1:04 pm • linkreport

"everybody wants to live in the city and walk/bike/ride trains everwhere because that's the only good and viable alternative" prevalent here ...

its just odd that so many people are all of a sudden repeating the exact same rhetorical tricks, including the strawman you are using yet AGAIN in the paragraph above. Doesnt matter how many times one says "transforming the suburbs" its about "living in the city". doesnt matter how much we talk about the benefits to drivers of neo urbanism, or of the car lite lifestyle, or about zip cars, its "taking the bus train bike everywhere".

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 1:05 pm • linkreport

"We've been hearing that since 1973."

Actually, we're also starting to hear it from the oil companies too.

Also, why are we assuming that the 1973 predictions were wrong?

Is there any doubt that importing oil from the middle-east is going to continue to be a political minefield for the foreseeable future, or that the easily-accessible reserves in North America are mostly tapped out? We've known about our shale oil reserves for quite some time, and still haven't come up with a way to extract that oil cheaply.

The oil in the Canadian Tar Sands is still difficult to extract, and we're already working on doing that.

My feeling is that next-generation plug-in hybrids (ie the Chevy Volt) will solve many of our problems if we can't make any further improvements to battery technology. It's not the most elegant compromise in the world, but you end up with an electric car that can burn gas to improve its range. What's not to love about that? It's a good solution to the personal transportation problem that already exists.

The idea that NGVs could solve our problem is a red herring from the gas industry. They've got most of the environmental disadvantages of petrol-powered cars, and many of the disadvantages of current-generation electric vehicles, to say nothing of supply issues, and wild speculation on where natural gas prices would land if NGVs ever managed widespread adoption. It's just not a good idea.

by andrew on Mar 14, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

Why must differing opinions be treated as trolls or paid lobbyists? Shockingly, some people may have differing opinions and facts may not align the same way as they do for others.

by selxic on Mar 14, 2012 1:11 pm • linkreport

@ Charlie - did you really mean to say "Now, if we want to go Agenda 21 I'd say: 1. Find a way to boost wages so we can get more women out of the workforce"

As a woman, I take offense to the idea that "getting me out
of the workforce" is needed to have a sustainable environment.

Did you perhaps means something a little less 1950s like "boost wages so that families can make flexible decisions about who works and how often"?

by Long Time Lurker...but Maybe no more on Mar 14, 2012 1:15 pm • linkreport

"Why must differing opinions be treated as trolls or paid lobbyists? Shockingly, some people may have differing opinions and facts may not align the same way as they do for others. "

When a bunch of people all appear all of a sudden, who don't sound like they read the blog regularly, and they repeat the same highly rhetorical arguments, theres a reasonable probability that some blog linked to this one.

How long have you read blogs selxic? Are you unaware that the linkage often leads to things like that?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 1:18 pm • linkreport

okay, let me rephrase that without personalizing it.

teenagers arguing with their parents have an annoying tendency to A. exclude the middle and B. To ignore whats just been said to them

"why dont you finish your homework BEFORE you go see your boyfriend?"

"you dont want to me date! You want me to just stay home till Im 21! I HATE you!"

It seems to me that there are certain parallels in the following

"we are running out of oil, and while electric vehicles (et al) are part of the solution, building a less auto centric society is ALSO part of the solution"

"You are elitists who want everyone to bike and take the trains everywhere and live in hirise apartments in inner cities)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 1:23 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

When a bunch of people all appear all of a sudden, who don't sound like they read the blog regularly, and they repeat the same highly rhetorical arguments, theres a reasonable probability that some blog linked to this one.

That doesn't really address why the immediate conclusion is that people are trolls. So what if they did come to this site via a blog's link? Them coming here still doesn't equate to them being a troll or a paid lobbyist. Maybe they just think differently, yes?

by HogWash on Mar 14, 2012 1:26 pm • linkreport

Why does how long I've lived in this regionread this blog matter, AWalkerInTheCity?

by selxic on Mar 14, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

The Salon article is pure garbage. Cars will be running on gas for the next hundred years, until we have nuclear-powered flying cars or something. Electric cannot deliver the range, reliability, and performance that Americans demand; gasoline does.

This is a pretty common (and pretty telling) sentiment. It's clear a plurality of Americans believe "cars will be running on gas for the next hundred years" because only gas provides the "performance that Americans demand."

The problem is, much like my three year old is learning, you can't always get what you want.

@charlie doesn't know what the future holds for cheap gas any more than I do, but one thing we know is that in the likely event it hits $7 or $10 a gallon, the personal automobile will go back to being a largely upper middle-class form of transportation, and rural America will be wrung-out until it's bone dry.

Bottom line is, we can frack every inch of the US, and it's unlikely to make a dent in the price of world oil. We'll just be poisoning "conservative" America, as the conservative states are the only ones who've drunk the Kool Aid enough to unquestioningly permit this stuff.

Meanwhile, working class Americans are going to be in a bidding war for gas against an exploding number of elites in China and India.

http://www.whitehouse.gov/energy/gasprices?utm_source=031212&utm_medium=photo&utm_campaign=daily

It's not going to be pretty.

by oboe on Mar 14, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

"That doesn't really address why the immediate conclusion is that people are trolls. So what if they did come to this site via a blog's link? Them coming here still doesn't equate to them being a troll or a paid lobbyist. Maybe they just think differently, yes?"

I didnt suggest they were paid lobbyists - someone who had direct experience with that phenomenon thought it possible.

As for trolls, well theres a grey area. If someone comes via a link to a site they dont follow, to give some rehashed meme from the site they were on, without stopping to think if everyone has heard it before, and without adding to the discussion in a positive way, they may well not be trolls (since that is understood to mean an intention to disrupt) but they are unintentionally acting very similar to ones.

Note I distinguish between someone adding something new (say about electric vehicles) and some repeating false strawmen (y'all want us all to live in condos and bike to work as part of Agender 21)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 1:34 pm • linkreport

"Why does how long I've lived in this regionread this blog matter, AWalkerInTheCity? "

not this blog - blogs in general. The "our obscure little blog got linked by one of the big linkers and now dozens of folks are coming here to tell us things we've already been through a hundred times" is common in the blogosphere across all kinds of issues.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 1:36 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

The Breakfast Links are often little more than an aggregator with a couple sentences to frame the article. Why is it wrong for others to be directed here when that is much of the point of this post?

by selxic on Mar 14, 2012 1:38 pm • linkreport

@selxc

part of mine was deleted too.

Its not wrong unless it becomes disrputive (whether it has or not is a judgement call). But why is it wrong to speculate on whats going on?

I wonder if GGWers flood into say, the examiner comment areas to take issue with whats printed there? If they do so in a disruptive way, they too may be trolls.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 1:42 pm • linkreport

We welcome all points of view in the comments on Greater Greater Washington, whether people came in via a link or a news search or any other method. I'd ask people please to focus future discussion on the merits of the issue, not who people are and what motives they may have. Thanks!

by David Alpert on Mar 14, 2012 1:48 pm • linkreport

"but one thing we know is that in the likely event it hits $7 or $10 a gallon, the personal automobile will go back to being a largely upper middle-class form of transportation"

I dunno. At the current price, (well at the prices prevailing the last couple of years, say $3) ancient barely functioning small cars have been used by folks with apparently very low incomes. It seems unlikely to me that with say, a tripling of the price, offset by a significant increase in MPG as the fleet turns over, that it the lower middle class will stop using cars.

Maybe they stop driving huge guzzlers, or they go from 2 vehicles per household to one, or they just are more careful about long trips.

The amount of waste today in gas usage in the middle class is so high theres plenty of room for them to use less without going car free.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 1:48 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity:

The fun part is that for every red-blooded American who *demands* cheap gas, there's five Chinese and three folks from India who are balling their fists and holding their breath for the same thing.

Bottom line is, I think most Americans are far to self-indulgent, and have had far too much smoke blown up their asses for far to long to change course before we're overcome by events. The great thing about living in DC (and about GGW, by extension) is that its political makeup and political "isolation" make it much more responsive to pro-urbanist, sustainable arguments than 90% of the municipalities in the country.

It's pretty clear that making changes at the national level is a non-starter because "that's not what people want", so we're left with preparing our local areas as best we can.

by oboe on Mar 14, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

Okay, I'll admit that it was a cheap shot. As usual, though, they started it; some of the first few comments read like messages from an alternate reality. A steadfast refusal to acknowledge that reality has changed is very different from "they just think differently."

Speaking of reality: "Total, Shell Chief Executives Say 'Easy Oil' Is Gone" was a 2007 headline from Bloomberg, not a hippie dippie newsletter from 1973.

by Payton on Mar 14, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity:

It seems unlikely to me that with say, a tripling of the price, offset by a significant increase in MPG as the fleet turns over, that it the lower middle class will stop using cars.

Not saying the middle-class will stop using cars. But the number of miles driven will certainly go down. Probably significantly. And there are plenty of people for whom a couple of fill-ups a week is not negotiable. When that goes up from 70-80 a week to 140-160, things are going to start changing. In the urbanized suburbs, that means taking the bus. In the rural areas--where people drive long distances everywhere--that means falling apart at the seams.

by oboe on Mar 14, 2012 1:55 pm • linkreport

@oboe

there are a lot of interesting urbanist initiatives in other parts of the USA, which are quite heartening (some on the west coast and the northeast are more radical than anything in metro DC) Of course to some degree the dynamics only apply in full to large metros - there are smaller places where a commute across the entire metro area is short, and theres hardly any congestion,

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 1:58 pm • linkreport

"In the rural areas--where people drive long distances everywhere--that means falling apart at the seams'"

im not sure why that has to be.

You live in south succotash, and get a job in north succotash, 50 miles away. so naturally you dont move, cause you cover that in drive well under an hour each way, and 25MPG and 2 dollar gas, thats 4 bucks each way, and of course mntnce, but hell youd pay for a chance to fix your truck right?

So gas is $10 a gallon. So now you have to move to north succotash, or (if your spouse works in the opposite direction) rent a (very cheap) room and drive home on weekends. You don't have to implode. Shopping becomes a pain, but youve got the internet (subsidized broadband) and rural free delivery.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity; you're very right about the amount of fat in middle class lifestyles with regards to cars.

In terms of low middle class -- or the people who are right now stuggling to find $50 or $60 to fill up their tanl -- well, I don't know. You can see some of the pattern in europe (poor people don't own cars). Denmark in particular.

However, I doubt we'll see market prices at $10/G in the US. Individual consumers could afford that; it would collapse most of our economy. Amazon and airtravel would go out of business. Also these Chinese and Indians you speak of, while they are not eve-teasing each other to death, would not be able to afford that price level. So you'd see a price collapse pretty quickly.

Short term vs. long term.

@MatthewB; rule #1 of the internet: Don't feed the trolls. Hmm...tasty snack.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2012 2:08 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity:

I think you're vastly overestimating worker mobility in rural areas, especially in what would more than likely be a serious economic downturn (i.e. in the face of a sustained spike in energy prices)

by oboe on Mar 14, 2012 2:20 pm • linkreport

Also, with gas at $10/gal, like charlie said, there's no way that Amazon or anyone else is offering free delivery.

In fact, there's not really much of a chance that people are still ordering cheap plastic stuff made in China (both due to the increased price of the oil needed to make the plastic, or to the tripled cost of trans-ocean shipping).

For an interesting look at the role of cheap oil in our economy, and how things might shift when the prices rise, check out $20 Per Gallon, by Forbes journalist Christopher Steiner. Without attempting to predict when prices will rise, only that they eventually will, it's an interesting read.

http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/features/pergallon/index.html

by Jacques on Mar 14, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

If we use good macro policy (they say Im a dreamer) theres no reason we have to have an oil price spike lead to a macro downturn). Its also possible the price will increase slowly and steadily on its own.

Im not real sure about rural mobility to get jobs. I hear a lot about folks sleeping anywhere they can in North Dakota to get work in the oil fields. My impression is that folks commute long distances in rural areas not because they are fundamentally immobile in their residence so much as because the cost of commuting (which in metro areas is still much more time than is money) is so low.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 2:27 pm • linkreport

re: rural mobility - hitchhiking would return.

by Tina on Mar 14, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

Speaking of reality: "Total, Shell Chief Executives Say 'Easy Oil' Is Gone" was a 2007 headline from Bloomberg, not a hippie dippie newsletter from 1973.

Not "hippy-dippy" newsletters; mainstream publications.

Grove, Noel. "Oil, the Dwindling Treasure," National Geographic, June, 1974. Relevant quote: "'The end of the oil age is in sight,' says US oil geologist M. King Hubbert. He bases his bell-shaped curve on estimated ultimate production of 2,000 billion barrels from the world's oil wells, including 300 billion barrels already used up by 1974 and 628 billion now-proven reserves...If present trends continue, Dr Hubbert estimates, production will peak in 1995 -- the deadline for alternative forms of energy that must replace petroleum in the sharp drop-off that follows."

That is why the Salon article is so very tedious -- it is derivative. And it does not play as well as the original vinyl.

by goldfish on Mar 14, 2012 2:34 pm • linkreport

we've gone from 7 to 10 bucks a gallon, to 10 bucks a gallon, to 20 bucks a gallon.

Sure theres some price where using existing vehicles with more or less exhisting MPGs in current lifestyles becomes untenable.

But I think by that point there are lots of non-lifestyle responses that kick in - the guy in south succotash parks the pick up and buys a hybrid subcompact (and some country music singer explains how you can do that and still be a man) and survives. EVs come to west virginia - whatever. Not to mention all those expensive sources of oil in the salon article are profitable at those prices.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 2:35 pm • linkreport

@AWalkerInTheCity; I doubt "rural" workers do much commuting, because they aren't many "rural" workers in percentage terms.

Poeple commuting from Winchester to DC, or from DC to Baltimore -- that is probably a larger function. And as you said that is more time than gasoline prices.

I don't know about a macro downterm, but oil prices would do a lot on inflation.

by charlie on Mar 14, 2012 2:36 pm • linkreport

@goldfish

Ah, thats peak oil in its pure, non-economic form.

Which of course is wrong, cause it assumed zero price elasticity.

The Salon article was several logical steps past that.

Its a response to the response to hubbert, and a well reasoned one. Rather than ignoring price as Hubbert tends to, it explicitly takes it into account, using reasonable sounding estimates of the costs and consequences of the incremental sources. Its NOT saying prices will spike to $20 a gallon (I think commentors here misread it if they think thats what it says) but rather that theres no real prospect of prices falling back BELOW $4 a gallon.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 14, 2012 2:42 pm • linkreport

@AWITC: that theres no real prospect of prices falling back BELOW $4 a gallon.

This was asserted without specific data to back it up. The article went on about how expensive exploration was, which is the same as what was published in the 70s (and probably earlier, if one looked.)

If you asked back in 1980, nobody would have predicted that the price of oil would be at its inflation-adjusted minimum in 1998, with or without economics.

by goldfish on Mar 14, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

Lost in all this debate seems to be that the cost of driving has gone DOWN over time. Not UP.

AAA cost per mile driven in 1950 (adjusted for inflation) = $0.81

AAA cost per mile driven in 2011 = $0.58.

Fuel only represents about 20% of the cost of driving.

by Falls Church on Mar 14, 2012 4:02 pm • linkreport

A lot of new names popping up in this comment thread espousing 1950's era-level thinking. Sigh.

by NikolasM on Mar 14, 2012 4:10 pm • linkreport

I don't know about a macro downterm, but oil prices would do a lot on inflation.

Nope! Oil price changes effect relative prices but do not contribute to an overall rise in the price level.

"Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon."

by WRD on Mar 14, 2012 4:53 pm • linkreport

@Tina,

re: rural mobility - hitchhiking would return.

To hear a lot of folks upthread talk about it, this could never happen because the American people do not want to hitchhike.

Anyway, I agree with most of the previous commenters that we're unlikely to see $20 / gallon gas. We're much more likely to see the return of gas lines.

by oboe on Mar 14, 2012 5:43 pm • linkreport

"A lot of new names popping up in this comment thread espousing 1950's era-level thinking. Sigh. "
------

As are many of the same old names espousing the same old 1890's transportation and development models.

Sigh.

by ceefer66 on Mar 14, 2012 8:35 pm • linkreport

Fuel only represents about 20% of the cost of driving.

Exactly. So even if fuel prices doubled, and nothing else changed, the total cost of driving would increase by only about 20%. And of course other things would change. People would adapt to the higher fuel prices by shifting to more fuel-efficient vehicles. This is why driving is so inelastic to the price of gas. Even a big increase in gas prices sustained over a long period of time has only a small effect on the amount of driving. $10 gas would mean a faster shift to 50 mpg vehicles.

by Bertie on Mar 14, 2012 8:42 pm • linkreport

And Bertie, don't forget about self-driving cars, which will be more fuel efficient and should be arriving in the next year or so. This is why it's a waste of time and money to invest in traditional public transportation, at least in America.

by geraldRX on Mar 15, 2012 8:08 am • linkreport

Bottom line is, we can frack every inch of the US, and it's unlikely to make a dent in the price of world oil. We'll just be poisoning "conservative" America, as the conservative states are the only ones who've drunk the Kool Aid enough to unquestioningly permit this stuff.

While I appreciate, and agree with, this argument, it's having making me more inclined the opposite of the intended effect. I'm increasingly inclined let the red states have what they want, and let them deal with the consequences.

by dcd on Mar 15, 2012 8:14 am • linkreport

As are many of the same old names espousing the same old 1890's transportation and development models.

Yup. They don't seem to realize that America has moved on from living in dense cities and that we prefer cars now. It's the magic of the market.

by Dave Riley on Mar 15, 2012 9:19 am • linkreport

AFAIK, fracking for oil isn't on the same level on gas fracking.

Small point: natural gas fraacking is having such a huge impact on natural gas prices because the US market is disconected from the world. We have a lot of LNG terminals that want to take advantage of that.

Oil isn't like that -- for more portable. I have no doubt we start fracking oil as well --and it will have a huge effect. Whther it can return the texas railroad commission to the position it used to hold in pricing -- very doubtful. But it will moderate pricing in the US for a generation (if successful)

I wish Obama had tied support for Keystone XL with a 50 cent increase to the gas tax.

by charlie on Mar 15, 2012 9:22 am • linkreport

And Bertie, don't forget about self-driving cars, which will be more fuel efficient and should be arriving in the next year or so. This is why it's a waste of time and money to invest in traditional public transportation, at least in America.

The argument for investing in public transportation has little to do with fuel costs and everything to do with meeting market demand. We should invest in public transportation because market signals such a transit accessible real estate prices and ridership are telling us that we need to tweak the balance of transit/road investment a little more in the favor of transit.

The downfall of central planning (which is what we have regardless of whether you're a road or transit supporter) is a failure to abide by market signals when there is a shift in demand. We've got to listen to what the market is telling us on this one. The ultimate arbiter of where we invest in transportation should be Return on Investment and right now, the ROIs are highest on transit investments like the Silver Line and H ST streetcars.

Government shouldn't be in the business of trying to predict the success or failure of new technology like self-driving cars. We need to listen to what the market is telling us today because the market automatically factors into prices/returns/etc. things like the likelihood of successful self-driving cars.

by Falls Church on Mar 15, 2012 9:54 am • linkreport

"Yup. They don't seem to realize that America has moved on from living in dense cities and that we prefer cars now. It's the magic of the market."

yeah, you can't give away condos in downtown DC or North Arlington. the handful of people who want them have their pick, cheap.

Why can't people who worship the market actually FOLLOW the market?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 15, 2012 11:35 am • linkreport

Why can't people who worship the market actually FOLLOW the market?

Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.

by Alex B. on Mar 15, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

@Alex B.-You forgot to add "b/c it's in a highrise and the only way to get there is on a blacked-out UN helicopter."

by thump on Mar 15, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

The argument for investing in public transportation has little to do with fuel costs and everything to do with meeting market demand. We should invest in public transportation because market signals such a transit accessible real estate prices and ridership are telling us that we need to tweak the balance of transit/road investment a little more in the favor of transit.

If public transportation was about meeting market demand it wouldn't need to be subsidized at a rate of 70 cents on the dollar just to maintain a tiny share of the urban transportation market.

If you own real estate that increases in value when new transit is added nearby, it isn't the market that made you richer. It's the massive government subsidy that pays for the transit.

by Bertie on Mar 15, 2012 9:54 pm • linkreport

Bertie's right. Public transportation isn't a good fit for America. We need PRT in the form of self driving cars. And it has the benefit of being a free market thing too, instead of socialism.

by Dave Riley on Mar 16, 2012 8:09 am • linkreport

@Dave Riley: I, for one, love all of the American roads that have been built by the magic of the free market. Not by the government, of course, since that would be socialism.

by Gray on Mar 16, 2012 8:17 am • linkreport

Government builds transit: SOCIALISM
Government builds roads: FREE MARKET

Seriously do you people even think about what you write? Or is it like Mad Libs?

by MLD on Mar 16, 2012 8:41 am • linkreport

A lot has already been said, let me add a few comments..

"we have cheap oil" - only because it is underpriced in that it doesn't include the cost of environmental damage or the military needed to support access to it, etc...

"why not just allow people freedom, and when and if we run out of oil, the market will provide another alternative?" - isn't that what we're doing? What are you not free to do that you'd like to?

[European gas prices are a] "Clear case of market distortion." - in which direction? Isn't artificially keeping the price of oil cheap market distortion? Why is keeping oil cheap the government's job. The price of gold is way up too, but no one is screaming for the government to open more land to gold mining.

"Gas would have to be $18-$20 a gallon for "alternatives" to be competitive" - The extra cost of the Chevy Volt as compared to a similar sedan can pay for itself in as little as 7 years if you don't drive more than 40 miles a day (longer if you drive farther). That's at current gas prices. So EV's can definitely compete with ICEs.

"For now, we're comfortable in cars, so let's not upset people by rocking the boat." - said the ostrich

"An inexpensive alternative for cars would be ...driverless cars" - except that, unlike trains and bikes, they don't exist. Might as well have said "teleportation".

"We've been hearing that since 1973." - And oil has gotten more expensive, if you add in the cost of all the wars, unfunded road spending, etc... The only reason the cost has been flat is that the gas tax has been dropping with inflation. Of course lately it is way up.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 11:33 am • linkreport

So even if fuel prices doubled, and nothing else changed, the total cost of driving would increase by only about 20%. And of course other things would change. People would adapt to the higher fuel prices by shifting to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

That would certainly be one adaptation. But another adaptation would be less driving (which we've been seeing for the last few years).

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

If public transportation was about meeting market demand it wouldn't need to be subsidized at a rate of 70 cents on the dollar just to maintain a tiny share of the urban transportation market.

Ok, you're mixing terms here. You're using the subsidy for all transit everywhere - including suburban and rural - but then you're talking about "urban" transportation. The top 16 transit systems in the US are all above the ratio you quoted.

Also, you're assuming the systems couldn't do better. If the goal is mobility, it's not fair to judge them on farebox recovery.

And, that includes the cost of things like MetroAccess - the transportation system for the disabled and elderly - which has a very very low farebox recovery (5.6%). Lumping that in with transit (when it actually involves vans driving people from place to place) isn't exactly fair either. If we shut down Metro, we'd still need MetroAccess.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

"We've been hearing that since 1973." - And oil has gotten more expensive, if you add in the cost of all the wars, unfunded road spending, etc... The only reason the cost has been flat is that the gas tax has been dropping with inflation. Of course lately it is way up.

Unfunded road spending has nothing to do with the price of oil.

You can make the superficial claim that all wars since WW1 were over oil, which obviously rings false because wars have much more profound justifications. To assign these costs to a commodity like oil is neither straightforward nor honest.

by goldfish on Mar 16, 2012 11:51 am • linkreport

Unfunded road spending has nothing to do with the price of oil.

No but it does have something to do with the price of gasoline, which is what we're really talking about. That's the word I should have used.

You can make the superficial claim that all wars since WW1 were over oil, which obviously rings false because wars have much more profound justifications.

I never did. But certainly the Persian Gulf war and the Iraq War were related, in part, to oil. To fail to assign these costs to a commodity like oil is neither straightforward nor honest.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 11:58 am • linkreport

But certainly the Persian Gulf war and the Iraq War were related, in part, to oil.

Every war in history has been in part a fight over resources.

by goldfish on Mar 16, 2012 12:01 pm • linkreport

Every war in history has been in part a fight over resources.

Then we're in agreement. Good.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 12:06 pm • linkreport

@David C: we're in agreement

So then, what is your point? That the US war funding mechanism, i.e., the spending of federal revenue from general taxes as debated and justified in Congress, should instead be folded into the cost of oil? However, because the moral and philosophical arguments for the gulf wars were more compelling to (most) taxpayers than was the "spoils" argument of cheaper oil, then it follows that war funding was properly allocated.

by goldfish on Mar 16, 2012 12:25 pm • linkreport

That would certainly be one adaptation. But another adaptation would be less driving (which we've been seeing for the last few years).

As I just said, demand for car travel is very inelastic to gas prices. A huge increase in prices produces just a small drop in driving. The real price of gas doubled between the late 90s and the late 00s, but there was virtually no effect on driving. The primary cause of the (tiny) drop in driving in the late 00s was the recession and the rise in unemployment.

Ok, you're mixing terms here. You're using the subsidy for all transit everywhere - including suburban and rural - but then you're talking about "urban" transportation.

Almost all mass transit is urban. Suburbs are urban. Rural transit (rural bus routes) is almost certainly subsidized at an even higher rate than urban transit.

The top 16 transit systems in the US are all above the ratio you quoted.

Not true. Even the largest transit systems receive enormous subsidies. The largest system of all, the NYC MTA, is subsidized at a rate of 72%. Users pay only about 28 cents for each dollar of spending. The rest comes from taxpayers.

Also, you're assuming the systems couldn't do better.

I'm not assuming any such thing. Perhaps they could do better. But they're NOT doing better. And in fact, the cost-efficiency of mass transit has long been in decline.

by Bertie on Mar 16, 2012 1:31 pm • linkreport

No but [road subsidies] does have something to do with the price of gasoline, which is what we're really talking about.

Road subsidies amount to about 1 cent per passenger-mile, or about 2-3% of the total cost of driving. Far too small to have a significant impact on demand.

by Bertie on Mar 16, 2012 1:52 pm • linkreport

@MLD:

Government builds transit: SOCIALISM
Government builds roads: FREE MARKET

epistemic closure: you're soaking in it!

by oboe on Mar 16, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

So then, what is your point?

My point is that cost of gasoline is kept artificially because it doesn't include the cost of protecting our access to foreign oil. And you have agree that the two wars cited were about protecting our access to foreign oil. So, unless you know of someway that drivers paid for those wars, you agree with my point.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 2:35 pm • linkreport

As I just said, demand for car travel is very inelastic to gas prices. A huge increase in prices produces just a small drop in driving. The real price of gas doubled between the late 90s and the late 00s, but there was virtually no effect on driving. The primary cause of the (tiny) drop in driving in the late 00s was the recession and the rise in unemployment.

I'm not sure that any of that is correct. There was just a report that transit ridership was up, in part, because of the rise in the price of gas.

Also, driving appears to be inelastic to the price of gasoline up to the point when gas hits $2.50 a gallon. Then it appears that a rise in gas prices is met with a drop in driving. The rise in real gas prices from $2.50 to $3.00 was met with ~0.5% drop in VMT pp. Not much. But going from $3.00 to $3.50 resulted in a drop of another 1.5%. And as gas prices have stayed high, VMT has continued to drop. They're now down almost 5%. That doesn't even count the recent spike in cost.

The fact is that more people are switching to transit, walking, biking, telecommuting and shorter trips. And they aren't going back, even when prices go down. $2.50 a gallon appears to be the tipping point. Maybe the EV will change all of that, but for now it appears that as long as gas stays above $2.50 VMT pp will continue to drop.

As for the recession being the cause, VMT pp started dropping in 2005, well before the recession.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 2:51 pm • linkreport

Suburbs are urban.

OK, then there are a lot of people - a majority even - who choose the urban lifestyle, wouldn't you say.

The largest system of all, the NYC MTA, is subsidized at a rate of 72%. Users pay only about 28 cents for each dollar of spending. The rest comes from taxpayers.

See the table here.

It shows MTA at 55.5%

the cost-efficiency of mass transit has long been in decline.

No different than driving in that regard.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 2:57 pm • linkreport

Road subsidies amount to about 1 cent per passenger-mile, or about 2-3% of the total cost of driving. Far too small to have a significant impact on demand.

Great. Then you agree we should double the tax on gasoline.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 2:59 pm • linkreport

@David C: Consider the calculation: $757.8 billion direct DoD outlay for wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, since FY03; 31.5 net US total foreign oil consumption since 2003; therefore, price of the wars = $24.09/bbl imported. So Congress could place a tariff on imported oil to pay for the war, and to be revenue neutral, lower income taxes by an equal amount. Interesting, if radical idea.

This immediately brings up, who benefits by this change? Those that drive a lot clearly will loose. But the entire economy depends on mobility, and these costs would immediately be passed along. Moreover, the "spoils of war" justification is alarming and I think diminishes the real reasons for the war. So I do not agree with your point.

by goldfish on Mar 16, 2012 3:03 pm • linkreport

we almost certainly cannot impose a tariff without violating WTO rules - withdrawing from WTO almost certainly not worth it.

Better to use a shadow price of oil in making benefit cost decisions.

As for spoils of war - its not that simple. focusing on the first gulf war (to avoid getting TOO off track) we didnt actually take iraqs or kuwaits oil. our claimed strategic concern was to prevent Iraq from dominating the entire region. Which would have impacted oil, and thats why the region was important, but wasnt quite "seizing the oil"

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 16, 2012 3:11 pm • linkreport

So Congress could place a tariff on imported oil to pay for the war, and to be revenue neutral, lower income taxes by an equal amount. Interesting, if radical idea.

I wouldn't say it's radical. I remember several people saying that a tax on gasoline should be used to fund the Iraq War. I think Congress even voted on it. And historically, wars are usually associated with a tax to pay for it.

I'm not sure why it would be revenue neutral. The war wasn't spending neutral was it?

This immediately brings up, who benefits by this change?

Winners: Our kids, who won't be handed the debt for a war they didn't pick. Since it should result in less driving and more efficient cars, everyone who breaths and drinks water. EV car manufacturers. The bike industry. Transit providers and users. Domestic oil and gas producers. Amtrak. Netflix.

So I do not agree with your point.

Too late, you already did. "Every war in history has been in part a fight over resources."

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 3:15 pm • linkreport

There was just a report that transit ridership was up, in part, because of the rise in the price of gas.

Transit ridership probably did increase because of the rise in gas prices. But the increase in transit ridership was utterly trivial. A minuscule fraction of total urban travel. The point is not that there is no relationship at all, but that the relationship is extremely weak. Even a doubling of gas prices would probably have only a tiny effect on modal shares, especially because of recent advances in vehicle fuel economy.

Also, driving appears to be inelastic to the price of gasoline up to the point when gas hits $2.50 a gallon. Then it appears that a rise in gas prices is met with a drop in driving

No, the real price of gasoline has been at or above $2.50/gallon for long periods of time in the past without any drop in driving. The idea that $2.50 is some kind of threshold that causes driving to fall simply isn't supported by the data. As I said, the primary cause of the (tiny) drop in driving in the late 00s was the recession (the worst recession of the past 50 years) and the associated loss of jobs and income.

by Bertie on Mar 16, 2012 3:16 pm • linkreport

Correct AWITC, I'm not claiming that we went all Trump and "took their oil". We just didn't want Iraq to control the bulk of Middle East oil, which would have resulted in higher gas prices. Who would have lost then?

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 3:16 pm • linkreport

he real price of gasoline has been at or above $2.50/gallon for long periods of time in the past without any drop in driving.

I beg to differ. When the price goes above $2.50 - VMT pp drops.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 3:22 pm • linkreport

OK, then there are a lot of people - a majority even - who choose the urban lifestyle, wouldn't you say.

Yes. The low-density, car-oriented urban lifestyle.

See the table here.

What about it? That table refers only to transit operating costs, not total costs. You can't pretend that the costs of buying buses and trains, building stations, laying railtrack, etc don't exist. Those are real costs, just like the costs of fuel and drivers.

No different than driving in that regard.

Also not true. As Falls Church pointed out in an earlier comment, the real cost of driving has fallen significantly over time.

Great. Then you agree we should double the tax on gasoline.

No, I do not agree. And I have no idea how you can seriously read the statement of mine you quoted as agreement with that proposition.

by Bertie on Mar 16, 2012 3:25 pm • linkreport

whehter one calls suburbs urban or not, is not really relevant. The point is that a lot of the subsidy to transit pays for bus lines with terrible utilization, very low frequency of service, etc that exist to provide transportation to a variety of transit captive populations. That includes rural transit, much suburban transit, and some center city transit. I dont know that anyone has managed to seperate that out from all transit and tell us what the subsidy level is for the transit services that directly compete with auto usage.

But then again one could make the same point about highway spending - a large amount is for the base street network that needs to exist even in the ideal urbanist world.

Ergo, one cannot make relevant decisions at the margins based on net subsidy to transit, OR to auto, whichever side of the "his subsidy is bigger" arguement. its simply a pointless arguement - the only real one is at the margin, looking at the impacts of specific projects or bundles of projects.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 16, 2012 3:39 pm • linkreport

I beg to differ. When the price goes above $2.50 - VMT pp drops.

That chart also contradicts your claim. For example, it shows that driving increased between 1977 and 1983, even though the real price of gasoline also increased during that period from below $2.50/gallon to above $2.50/gallon. And the commentary attributes the recent fall in VMT primarily to the recession, not gas prices:

But the latest recession has caused some big changes. High unemployment meant that fewer people were driving to work, and a slump in consumer spending meant that less freight needed to be moved around the country.
And it quotes UC transportation economist Kenneth Small as predicting that driving will start growing again when unemployment returns to pre-recession levels.

by Bertie on Mar 16, 2012 3:42 pm • linkreport

it shows that driving increased between 1977 and 1983, even though the real price of gasoline also increased during that period from below $2.50/gallon to above $2.50/gallon.

No. Gas was above $2.50 for five years from 78-83. In two of those years VMT pp dropped. In the next three it did go up a tiny amount, but far slower than the previous rates. What enabled Americans to buck the trend is a massive increase in fuel efficiency, which hadn't been much of a concern to car makers before. But that is all cooked into the mix now. We won't find that kind of fuel efficiency increase again without switching to EV.

This period of rapid fuel efficiency increases is also the primary cause of Falls Church's statement about the price of driving. Over the last 10 years, it's a different story.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 3:50 pm • linkreport

Ergo, one cannot make relevant decisions at the margins based on net subsidy to transit,

Given the enormous rate of subsidy to transit overall, one can conclude that transit demand is not remotely market driven. Without subsidies, or even with just a 50% cut in subsidies, transit ridership would most likely plummet.

by Bertie on Mar 16, 2012 3:51 pm • linkreport

Small also says that "People were surprised by the very rapid rise in gas prices and they changed their driving behavior". I'm not sure his hunch is evidence. I guess we'll see.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 3:55 pm • linkreport

if you stopped subsidizing the captive services, a lot of poor people would stop working, a lot of old people would have to take cabs to the doctor, etc, etc, etc. Whether thats a good or bad thing from the benefit cost perspective I dont know. Its entirely seperate from the question of the competitive transit services. How much they would lose from a transit subsidy cut, I do not know, and again, one needs to look at it based on individual lines and systems. In relatively dense areas it would certainly not be cost efficient at all to create the required highway capacity. What would be needed would be the wholesale abandonment of urban areas, including ones that have been in demand for over a hundred years. And the loss of areas for which there is great market demand. I doubt that would be cost benefit positive, especially including all the costs of suburban living. I think few people would want that, including many people who value suburban living. Its a red herring.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 16, 2012 4:00 pm • linkreport

part of the issue with elasticity is that these spikes have been just that - spikes. Its not terribly rational to sell your house or change your job or move your business, or even to sell your car, in response to a price change you dont expect to last (in jargon we say "the long run elasticity always exceeds the short run elasticity") Until prices go up and STAY up, we wont know what the long run elasticity looks like.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 16, 2012 4:03 pm • linkreport

Gas was above $2.50 for five years from 78-83. In two of those years VMT pp dropped. In the next three it did go up a tiny amount, but far slower than the previous rates.

It is irrelevant to the point that the rate of increase in driving slowed. The point is that it was higher in 1983 than in 1977. That disproves the claim that $2.50 is some kind of threshold that causes driving to fall. What the data shows is that driving may fall in the short-term following a large and rapid increase in gas prices, but over the longer term people adjust to the new price and driving grows again. Part of this is the shift to more fuel-efficient vehicles, part of it is the fall in the cost of other aspects of driving, and part of it is the rise in real incomes.

What enabled Americans to buck the trend is a massive increase in fuel efficiency, which hadn't been much of a concern to car makers before. But that is all cooked into the mix now. We won't find that kind of fuel efficiency increase again without switching to EV.

No it isn't. We're just at the start of the revolution in automobile fuel efficiency. There is enormous potential to increase fuel efficiency (and to shift to cheaper fuels, like natural gas), with or without electric vehicles.

by Bertie on Mar 16, 2012 4:06 pm • linkreport

Unfunded road spending has nothing to do with the price of oil.
Yes it does. Asphalt is a petrol product.

by Tina on Mar 16, 2012 4:26 pm • linkreport

@David C: Winners: Our kids, who won't be handed the debt for a war they didn't pick.

Our kids always bear the costs of our decisions, both good and bad, and you have not fully worked through the consequences to demonstrate that this is a good thing. Tariffs are generally considered to be an economic burden. A large tariff on oil will help the services industries like lawyers and retail, and hamper energy-intensive industries -- companies that actually make things, such as those bicycles you like, encouraging such goods to be made elsewhere and imported. It will change employment patterns, and this will definitely affect our kids in both foreseen and unforeseen ways.

Since it should result in less driving and more efficient cars, everyone who breaths and drinks water.

Water treatment is very energy intensive. It will undoubtedly increase costs and therefore, decrease quality. In fact, all clean-ups and pollution controls cost energy, and increasing the energy costs for such things will limit progress on these problems.

...Domestic oil and gas producers.

A backdoor subsidy for the US fossil fuel industry! Nice. It will not fool foreign competitors, who will respond in kind and set up similar tariffs, further ratcheting costs for everybody. But the domestic energy industry will appreciate the protectionist gesture.

by goldfish on Mar 16, 2012 5:53 pm • linkreport

goldfish, well, I actually never said tariff. I was thinking more of a gasoline tax. Tariff was your word. Then you asked me to list winners and I gave it a go. But I would not propose a tariff. A gasoline tax makes more sense which negates most of your criticisms.

It is interesting to see you take the radical position that if gasoline were cheaper that would be good for the environment. No one I've read has taken that position. Perhaps you could point me to an analysis of that?

So, how would you pay for the wars? Let me show you all the damage that would do. No matter what it is, it's going to have mostly bad results. Because spending a lot of money to dump American made goods into the dessert or the ocean and to educate and raise young men and women only to kill and maim them is generally a drag on the economy. So let me hear your plan to pay for the wars? I'm getting my red sharpie out now.

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 7:58 pm • linkreport

If public transportation was about meeting market demand it wouldn't need to be subsidized at a rate of 70 cents on the dollar just to maintain a tiny share of the urban transportation market.

Sure it would, when it's major competitor is subsidized at the rate of 50 cents on the dollar. It would at least need a comporable subsidy. And when, as AWITC points out, transit has to serve groups like the poor and disabled that would be left behind by the pure market-driven. If road users want to start carrying the cost of MetroAccess - and other such programs - on their balance sheet let's see how that balances out.

We're just at the start of the revolution in automobile fuel efficiency. There is enormous potential to increase fuel efficiency (and to shift to cheaper fuels, like natural gas), with or without electric vehicles.

I guess we'll see. Care to place a bet on where VMT will be in 2015 relative to today?

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 8:29 pm • linkreport

Sure it would, when it's major competitor is subsidized at the rate of 50 cents on the dollar.

Transit's major competitor isn't subsidized at 50 cents on the dollar or anything remotely close to that rate.

And when, as AWITC points out, transit has to serve groups like the poor and disabled that would be left behind by the pure market-driven.

If your goal is to subsidize transportation for the poor and disabled, you should give the subsidies to them directly and let them choose which mode of transportation works best in their particular situation. There probably would still be a market for mass transit, but it would be much smaller than the current mass transit system. And we wouldn't be providing massively-subsidized train rides to work for wealthy New York bankers.

I guess we'll see.

There's no doubt about it. We already have the technology for an enormous increase in automobile fuel efficiency and diversification of automobile fuel sources. There just hasn't been much incentive to adopt it yet because gas prices are still relatively low. Most of the advances have been used to provide more power for the same consumption of gas, instead of to reduce consumption.

by Bertie on Mar 16, 2012 9:24 pm • linkreport

Transit's major competitor isn't subsidized at 50 cents on the dollar or anything remotely close to that rate.

Check out figure 3. "According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ SubsidyScope project, user fees paid for only 51 percent."

If your goal is to subsidize transportation for the poor and disabled, you should give the subsidies to them directly and let them choose which mode of transportation works best in their particular situation.

Has anyone every tried that and has it ever worked? I'm all for innovation. But nonetheless, as long as the funding for that was taken off the accounting for transit that would probably bring transit into line with roads at 50% subsidy.

There's no doubt about it.

Then I propose a $1 to $1,000,000 bet. I'll bet the dollar. Since you have no doubt, this should be like taking candy from a baby right?

by David C on Mar 16, 2012 10:53 pm • linkreport

Check out figure 3. "According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ SubsidyScope project, user fees paid for only 51 percent."

Another apples to oranges comparison. Transit subsidies cover around 70% of the total costs of transit. Road subsidies, in contrast, cover only about 3% the total costs of driving. It's not even close. Transit users are making out like bandits compared to automobile users.

Has anyone every tried that

I don't know. The point is that current subsidies to transit cannot possibly be justified by appeals to the needs of the poor and disabled. If your goal is to meet the transportation needs of those groups, then you should subsidize those groups, not middle class and wealthy transit users who can certainly afford to pay far more than they currently do.

by Bertie on Mar 17, 2012 1:37 am • linkreport

@Bertie - have you ever known anyone who relied on MetroAccess? I have. Those groups ARE subsidized. Thats what MetroAccess does. It makes transportation affordable and accessible for a vulnerable group. The fact that you don't think that group is directly subsidized - that creating an accessible and affordable mode of transportation that also allows some independence is a direct subsidy- makes it seem like you don't understand how MetroAccess works, or its value in terms unmeasurable in dollars. I'm happy to live in a society that provides this subsidy and service. Its very civilized and decent, as in something that decent human beings do for one another.

by Tina on Mar 17, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

The point is that current subsidies to transit cannot possibly be justified by appeals to the needs of the poor and disabled.

That is not the only justification, but it is certainly one. In DC, the cost of riding Metro to work all year is about $1500. The transit subsidy for rail is about $1.20 a day or about $300 a year. If we gave someone who worked several miles from work $300 a year and stopped running Metro rail and Metro bus, they would be screwed. There's no way they could afford to drive a car to work for $1500 a year. That wouldn't even pay for parking. But this is not the only justification for transit.

It is a reason why transit's recovery ratio is so much worse than driving's. There is no comparable expense for drivers.

If your goal is to meet the transportation needs of those groups, then you should subsidize those groups, not middle class and wealthy transit users who can certainly afford to pay far more than they currently do.

So then you believe that transit use is inelastic to the cost of transit?

Transit subsidies cover around 70% of the total costs of transit. Road subsidies, in contrast, cover only about 3% the total costs of driving.

I'm going to need to see where you're getting your number from so that I can know how you're determining "total cost." It certainly doesn't include time spent travelling. It certainly doesn't include indirect subsidies like environmental damage, resource consumption, crash damage etc... It certainly doesn't include subsidies to gasoline or oil production. It certainly doesn't include subsidies to the car industry (bailouts, Cash for Clunkers, new car tax credits etc...).

So I guess it all depends on how you define cost. But even you have noted that time spent travelling is a cost, and that transit is much slower than driving.

In addition, if everyone buys Lamborghini's then their cost goes way up, and the cost of roads becomes a smaller percentage, but that doesn't mean they're any less subsidized, and since cars fill a "conspicuous consumption/status symbole role" I'd bet that most people buy more car than they need, artificially inflating prices. So how do you account for that.

Or what about underpants?* If I want to ride Metro, I have to at least wear underpants (stupid rule), so are you including the cost of meeting minimum dress codes. What about wear and tear on my shoes or clothes in general? Isn't that a real cost of transit? How is that counted.

* I believe this is the first time in GGW that anyone has asked "What about underpants?" That's history being made.

by David C on Mar 17, 2012 1:18 pm • linkreport

"If your goal is to meet the transportation needs of those groups, then you should subsidize those groups, not middle class and wealthy transit users who can certainly afford to pay far more than they currently do."

let me make this clearer for you. Where I live there is a local bus, almost completely used by the transit captive. It runs almost 24/7, and has low utilization, and low local fares. Its causes a high subsidy figure. But its an efficient way to give mobility to the poor and those who cannot drive. There is also an express bus - it runs rush hour only, has a much higher fare, and is heavily utilized by riders with choice. If you raised the fares, you would get fewer riders - and no savings. You could abolish the route altogether, and get some MODEST savings - but you'd get MORE drivers, which would lead to substantial congestion costs for the DRIVERS in the corridor. Or you could address congestion by moving all the employment to the suburbs, but that's disruptive of economic forms that are certainly cost benefit positive.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 17, 2012 1:26 pm • linkreport

let me make this clearer for you. Where I live there is a local bus, almost completely used by the transit captive.

I'm not talking about a local bus where you live. You can't generalize from a single local bus route to transit in general. And we have no way of verifying that your impressionistic eyeballing of the situation for that one local bus route is correct, anyway.

by Bertie on Mar 17, 2012 3:05 pm • linkreport

That is not the only justification, but it is certainly one.

No, it's not. Again, if your goal is to meet the transportation needs of the poor and disabled then you should provide subsidies to the poor and disabled, not to everyone who uses mass transit without regard to income or disability. Why should rich New York bankers get huge subsidies for their commutes into Manhattan?

In DC, the cost of riding Metro to work all year is about $1500. The transit subsidy for rail is about $1.20 a day or about $300 a year. If we gave someone who worked several miles from work $300 a year and stopped running Metro rail and Metro bus, they would be screwed.

Huh? Why would they be screwed? They could use that $300 a year to pay the additional cost of their unsubsidized transit tickets. But where are you getting these numbers from, anyway? Show us your sources and calculations.

So then you believe that transit use is inelastic to the cost of transit?

No, I don't believe that. And the point of the question is....?

I'm going to need to see where you're getting your number from so that I can know how you're determining "total cost."

We've been over all this before, with sources. Automobiles provide about 2.5 trillion miles of transportation per year (sources: BTS, FHWA). The cost is about 50 cents per mile (source: AAA). So the total cost of driving is about $1.25 trillion/year. From your own source above (USPIRG), road subsidies amount to (generously) about $30 billion/year. 30/1250 = 0.024. Road subsidies amount to about 2.4% of the total cost of driving. This is utterly trivial compared to the 70% subsidy that transit users receive.

It certainly doesn't include time spent travelling. It certainly doesn't include indirect subsidies like environmental damage, resource consumption, crash damage etc... It certainly doesn't include subsidies to gasoline or oil production. It certainly doesn't include subsidies to the car industry (bailouts, Cash for Clunkers, new car tax credits etc...).

The 70% subsidy to transit doesn't include any those things either. It's just direct cash subsidies to mass transit from the government. If you want to count time spent travelling, environmental damage, fuel production subsidies, tax credits, "resource consumption" (whatever that's supposed to mean) and anything else as subsidies, those would be additional subsidies to mass transit, over and above the 70% of costs that transit users receive in direct subsidies.

by Bertie on Mar 17, 2012 3:35 pm • linkreport

No, it's not.

Yes it is. Part of the justification for subsidizing transit is the assistance it gives to the transit captive. But there are other justifications as well. I'm sure you're familiar with what those are.

Why would they be screwed?

Because if you stop subsidizing transit, there will be no more transit. Which means they can not use that $300 a year to pay the additional cost of their unsubsidized transit tickets. That's why they would be screwed.

But where are you getting these numbers from, anyway?

$3 per trip. 2 trips per day. 250 working days a year. Metro rail recovers 80% of it's cost (linked way above when talking about MetroAccess). Now if you could be so kind as to go back and source every number you've given, that would be great.

And the point of the question is....?

Raising the price of transit will not only result in the wealthy paying more for transit, it will also result in fewer people using transit, which undermines some of the other reasons we subsidize transit.

The cost is about 50 cents per mile (source: AAA).

OK, what you're talking about is not "total cost." It is the out-of-pocket cost. These are not the same thing, as you yourself has conceeded, by declaring that travel time is a cost.

I'm not sure why out-of-pocket (OOP) cost is relevant. Even total cost doesn't seem relevant, because both can be influenced by people making luxury purchases. For example, almost everyone has a radio or stereo in their car. But you can buy a car without one. Still, that's added into the total cost and the OOP cost that AAA is giving. So if you're going to include an MP3 player with XM radio in the cost of driving, then you really need to include the cost of an ipod iton the cost of transit. And what about cars with AC or heated seats. Those are options. So if you're going to count those, you need to count outerwear and long johns. And then there are DVD players or leather-lined interiors or any one of the 10,000 people can get in a car that have nothing to do with getting from point A to point B? Or the fact that most people are driving around in a car with at least 3 empty seats? Or the fact that very few people are driving a Nissan Versa 1.6S? All of that drives up cost. In fact, the more inefficient drivers are, the better driving will appear in a subsidy/total cost ratio comparison. That hardly seems like a virtue. So it's a bad a metric.

Better is to do what I was doing, to compare the direct subsidy/public expense ratio. In that ratio transit is about .7 and driving is about .5, even while driving isn't dinged for programs like MetroAccess and by a need to provide transportation to everyone, even if they won't carry their weight.

Even better would be to compare the direct+indirect subsidy/public expense ratio. But we don't need to argue about what that is right now.

by David C on Mar 17, 2012 7:42 pm • linkreport

Yes it is. Part of the justification for subsidizing transit is the assistance it gives to the transit captive. But there are other justifications as well. I'm sure you're familiar with what those are.

No it isn't. It doesn't make any sense as a justification. For the third time, if your goal is to meet the transportation needs of the poor and disabled then you should provide subsidies to the poor and disabled, not to everyone who uses mass transit without regard to income or disability. Why should rich New York bankers get huge subsidies for their commutes into Manhattan?

Because if you stop subsidizing transit, there will be no more transit.

How do you know? If transit subsidies were reduced, there would be more money to provide subsidized transportation for poor and disabled people. That transportation may include a mix of buses, trains, vans, bicycles, motorcycles and/or cars.

Raising the price of transit will not only result in the wealthy paying more for transit, it will also result in fewer people using transit, which undermines some of the other reasons we subsidize transit.

What reasons? So what if it results in fewer people using transit? Why would that be a bad thing?

OK, what you're talking about is not "total cost." It is the out-of-pocket cost. These are not the same thing, as you yourself has conceeded, by declaring that travel time is a cost. I'm not sure why out-of-pocket (OOP) cost is relevant. Even total cost doesn't seem relevant, because both can be influenced by people making luxury purchases. For example, almost everyone has a radio or stereo in their car. But you can buy a car without one. Still, that's added into the total cost and the OOP cost that AAA is giving. So if you're going to include an MP3 player with XM radio in the cost of driving, then you really need to include the cost of an ipod iton the cost of transit. And what about cars with AC or heated seats. Those are options. So if you're going to count those, you need to count outerwear and long johns. And then there are DVD players or leather-lined interiors or any one of the 10,000 people can get in a car that have nothing to do with getting from point A to point B? Or the fact that most people are driving around in a car with at least 3 empty seats? Or the fact that very few people are driving a Nissan Versa 1.6S? All of that drives up cost. In fact, the more inefficient drivers are, the better driving will appear in a subsidy/total cost ratio comparison. That hardly seems like a virtue. So it's a bad a metric.

I have no idea what you think any of the above has to do with the issue. The cost of radios, MP3 players, A/C and other components of automobiles are included in the cost numbers I quoted. So what if these things "drive up the cost" of automobiles? The total cost of owning and operating an automobile is around 50 cents per mile. As I showed you, road subsidies comprise only a tiny fraction of those costs, on the order of 3%. In monetary terms, this is on the order of 1 cent per passenger-mile. Transit subsidies, in contrast, comprise around 70% of the total cost of transit, and around 70 cents per passenger-mile. 70% is enormously larger than 3%. 70 cents per p-m is enormously larger than 1 cent per p-m. If you think these enormously larger subsidies for transit are justified, then present your argument to that effect. Otherwise, you should acknowledge that you cannot justify them.

Better is to do what I was doing, to compare the direct subsidy/public expense ratio. In that ratio transit is about .7 and driving is about .5,

I have no idea what you mean by "public expense" in this sentence, or where you get your .7 and .5 numbers from. You previously asserted that private automobiles (assuming that is what you meant by your reference to transit's "major competitor") are "subsidized at the rate of 50 cents on the dollar." But you have offered absolutely no facts or calculations to justify that claim.

by Bertie on Mar 17, 2012 9:05 pm • linkreport

@David C: It is interesting to see you take the radical position that if gasoline were cheaper that would be good for the environment. No one I've read has taken that position. Perhaps you could point me to an analysis of that?

(1) As this was my premise I am sticking with oil, which affects all energy costs. (2) Given that cost of energy is inversely related to employment and economic prosperity, and that the more undeveloped a country is, the more severe its pollution problems are, it is obvious what effect higher energy prices will have on the environment. No politician will advocate increase costs to industry and consumer goods to remediate environmental damages when people are unemployed and losing their houses, as what has transpired in the last 2 years.

So, how would you pay for the wars?

The way it is done now, through general federal taxes. You know, "provide for the common defense" is in the preamble, the most important word here is "common".

Let me show you all the damage that would do...

This is off-topic, and just like I first pointed out, is very tedious and repeats what has been said and written and said many times.

by goldfish on Mar 18, 2012 4:14 pm • linkreport

For the third time, if your goal is to meet the transportation needs of the poor and disabled then you should provide subsidies to the poor and disabled, not to everyone who uses mass transit without regard to income or disability.

Well, restating it over and over again doesn't make it any more true. Helping the transit captive IS a goal of transit, and a reason for subsidizing it . If it's your position that this is an inelegant, inefficient or less-than-ideal way to achieve the goal, you haven't proven that point. If there is a better way, surely some city somewhere in the world has found it. I'm not aware of any. As near as I can tell, every major city in the world provides subsidized transit to its citizens, in part, for this reason. That should tell you something.

What it tells me is that trying to target the subsidy is sometimes effective, in a system like MetroAccess, and sometimes is not. Trying to determine who qualifies for the subsidy, how much they should get, etc... may very well cost more in beurocracy and efficient (false positives and false negatives for example) than it saves.

But we don't have a working model for your proposal. In fact, you don't even have a proposal really. "Just give the poor money" is not really a proposal. The model we have works - albeit not perfectly, even if it benefits some people who don't need the benefit. It is an imperfect world, sometimes screws fall out. But so far, this is the best system we've come up with.

If transit subsidies were reduced, there would be more money to provide subsidized transportation for poor and disabled people.

Perhaps. But, in addition to the problems of targetting noted above, there would be fewer transit users and more drivers as well. This would add to congestion, obesity, pollution, fatalities etc...It would likely lead to a reduction in service as well, which would mean that some of the transit captive can't choose transit anymore or must spend more time waiting for it. Which means that some people lose their jobs and more people drive...leading to a pretty vicious cycle. Again, there are reasons why every city in the world provides subsidized transit.

What reasons? So what if it results in fewer people using transit? Why would that be a bad thing?

In a nutshell, the public benefits of transit exceed the costs. Mobility, better land use, social justice, its unique capability to move a large number of people into a dense area in a short period of time, reducing the costs of transportation to keep money in the local economy, reducing pollution - especially in the city, reducing reliance on foreign energy, reducing congestion....etc.

I have no idea what you think any of the above has to do with the issue. The cost of radios, MP3 players, A/C and other components of automobiles are included in the cost numbers I quoted.

Right. That's the problem. None of those things are related to transportation. But they're included in the costs you use. So if you say that drivers pay a larger percentage of their travel cost and include those things in the cost you're inflating both the total cost and the amount drivers pay; making it appear that they're paying a larger percentage. In order to use transit, a lot of people choose to live near it. So why not add the added cost of living near transit to the cost of using transit? Wouldn't that make as much, if not more, sense as including the cost of MP3 players in cars to the cost of driving?

The total cost of owning and operating an automobile is around 50 cents per mile.

Right, but much of that is the result of choices by drivers to buy luxury components for those cars. If drivers buy more expensive cars, and you use that in your cost, it makes the percentage of the cost they're paying go up - even though the subsidy is identical. A person driving a brand new Mercedes would be subsidized less, as a percentage of cost, than a person driving an old Sentra, even if they leave from the same cul-de-sac to the same workplace parking lot. Isn't that a sign of a flaw in the methodology?

In monetary terms, this is on the order of 1 cent per passenger-mile. Transit subsidies, in contrast, comprise around 70% of the total cost of transit, and around 70 cents per passenger-mile.

As we've discussed, the subsidy per mile is irrelevant, because drivers travel so many more miles than transit users.

70 cents per p-m is enormously larger than 1 cent per p-m. If you think these enormously larger subsidies for transit are justified, then present your argument to that effect. Otherwise, you should acknowledge that you cannot justify them.

Well, in order to justify them, we first have to stop talking about it on a per mile basis, because one of the nice things about transit is it enables people to live in walkable neighborhoods which means they consume less transportation. Passenger miles are deceptive. If using transit means travelling 4 miles a day on a train, instead of driving 100 miles a day in a car, that massively decreases the "advantage" of driving. And we have to include all of the indirect subsidies, but you like to ignore them or waive them away, so there is really no point in going down that path again.

I have no idea what you mean by "public expense" in this sentence

I mean the amount paid by the government.

or where you get your .7 and .5 numbers from.

0.7 comes from you. You claim that 70% of the cost of building and operating transit is paid by the government. 0.5 comes from the Pew study that shows that 50% of the cost of building and operating roads is paid by the government.

But you have offered absolutely no facts or calculations to justify that claim.

I have, it's in the Pew study.

. As I showed you, road subsidies comprise only a tiny fraction of those costs, on the order of 3%.

But even this number (which is deeply flawed as noted above) is incomplete because it only includes subsidies to roads. You're not including subsidies to the car industry or the gasoline industry, or the http://squaringtheglobe.blogspot.com/2007/10/subsidies-are-habit-forming.html">car insurance industry or parking or electricity generation (since some cars are now electric) or any of these things. You can't include "total cost" (which isn't the total cost actually) without including total subsidy. If you're going to include cars in the cost you have to include the subsidies that go into building them and driving them too. But don't bother, because even if you figure out what that is, it will be a bad metric.

by David C on Mar 18, 2012 10:51 pm • linkreport

Given that cost of energy is inversely related to employment and economic prosperity, and that the more undeveloped a country is, the more severe its pollution problems are

Are these things "Given". Gasoline is much more expensive in the UK than it is in the Congo. Is employment and economic prosperity better in the Congo than in the UK?

The way it is done now, through general federal taxes.

But won't taxing citizens to pay for the war hurt the economy too? Why are "general federal taxes" superior to "gasoline taxes" as a way to pay for things. And even if we paid for it with general federal taxes, spending done to protect the oil supply and keep oil cheap is a subsidy to oil purchasers - whether it is a good idea (as you claim) or not. And that is the whole point.

Also, nice job of totally dodging the question.

by David C on Mar 18, 2012 11:06 pm • linkreport

@David C: what question? But whatever it is, please make it relevant to this thread and/or this blog. War politics does not interest me.

by goldfish on Mar 18, 2012 11:22 pm • linkreport

what question?

How would you pay for the wars?

Just to recap to show how this is relevant. I wrote "My point is that cost of gasoline is kept artificially because it doesn't include the cost of protecting our access to foreign oil. And you have agree that the two wars cited were about protecting our access to foreign oil. So, unless you know of someway that drivers paid for those wars, you agree with my point."

Then you started talking about a tariff on foreign oil to pay for the wars and how harmful that would be. Even though I never suggested a tariff, so then I asked you if taxing gasoline would be so harmful to the economy, how would YOU pay for it. And then you gave a non-answer and said you didn't want to talk about war politics. Even though the whole point of our thread was that oil was subsidized by the wars and that cost was not passed on to users.

by David C on Mar 18, 2012 11:29 pm • linkreport

@David C: See this post for my answer your question.

by goldfish on Mar 18, 2012 11:50 pm • linkreport

Helping the transit captive IS a goal of transit, and a reason for subsidizing it . If it's your position that this is an inelegant, inefficient or less-than-ideal way to achieve the goal, you haven't proven that point.

I'm not obliged to prove that. Why is subsidizing transit a better way of meeting the transportation needs of the poor and disabled than giving them transportation subsidies directly, and allowing them to use that subsidy in whatever way works best for their particular situation? Your argument just doesn't make sense. It's trying to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on a diverse group of people with a diverse range of transportation needs and preferences. According to the Census Bureau, almost three-quarters of poor households (household income below the federal poverty line) have at least one automobile. Why don't they deserve transportation subsidies too?

Trying to determine who qualifies for the subsidy, how much they should get, etc...

Huh? We could do it using the same mechanisms we already use to provide benefits to those groups, such as the tax code and disability registration. How do you think disabled people get those stickers that allow them to use disabled parking spaces? How do you think poor people can get income support like the EITC?

But, in addition to the problems of targetting noted above, there would be fewer transit users and more drivers as well. This would add to congestion, obesity, pollution, fatalities etc...

Again, so what? Mass transit also adds to congestion, obesity, pollution, fatalities, etc. All motorized transportation imposes certain costs. And yet you're claiming that less use of transit would be bad. Simply listing certain costs of driving does not explain why reducing transit use would be a bad thing.

In a nutshell, the public benefits of transit exceed the costs.

Present your analysis supporting this claim. Where is your evidence that transit produces 70 cents worth of public benefits per passenger-mile?

None of those things are related to transportation. But they're included in the costs you use. So if you say that drivers pay a larger percentage of their travel cost and include those things in the cost you're inflating both the total cost and the amount drivers pay; making it appear that they're paying a larger percentage.

Your premise here is just factually incorrect. Of course the things you listed are "related to transportation." They are features of automobiles. Just like seats and air conditioning are also features of mass transit. Drivers don't merely "appear" to be paying a much larger percentage of the costs of driving than transit users pay of the costs of transit. Drivers really do pay a much larger percentage.

the subsidy per mile is irrelevant, because drivers travel so many more miles than transit users.

Huh? Why does the fact that drivers travel more miles than transit users mean that subsidy per mile is irrelevant? What supposedly superior alternative measure of subsidy do you propose, and why would be it be superior to subsidy per passenger-mile?

If using transit means travelling 4 miles a day on a train, instead of driving 100 miles a day in a car, that massively decreases the "advantage" of driving.

Huh? How does using transit somehow magically make 100 miles into 4 miles? If I leave my car at home and take a bus or train to work instead, I'm not reducing the distance to work. I have to travel just as far.

by Bertie on Mar 19, 2012 12:47 am • linkreport

0.7 comes from you. You claim that 70% of the cost of building and operating transit is paid by the government. 0.5 comes from the Pew study that shows that 50% of the cost of building and operating roads is paid by the government.

I already explained to you why your comparison here is meaningless. The government pays 70% of the total cost of mass transit. The relevant comparison for automobiles is therefore the government's share of the total cost of driving. That figure is around 3%, as I showed you above. Not 50%.

But even this number (which is deeply flawed as noted above) is incomplete because it only includes subsidies to roads. You're not including subsidies to the car industry or the gasoline industry, or the http://squaringtheglobe.blogspot.com/2007/10/subsidies-are-habit-forming.html">car insurance industry or parking or electricity generation (since some cars are now electric) or any of these things.

For the second time, if you want to count manufacturing industry subsidies and energy industry subsidies as transportation subsidies, then those would be additional subsidies to mass transit, over and above the 70% subsidy transit receives for capital and operating costs. This would mean that transit subsidies are even higher than 70%. If you seriously think you can show that automobiles are subsidized at a rate even remotely close to the subsidy rate of mass transit, then please do so.

by Bertie on Mar 19, 2012 1:00 am • linkreport

But won't taxing citizens to pay for the war hurt the economy too? Why are "general federal taxes" superior to "gasoline taxes" as a way to pay for things.

They're not. They're a superior way to pay for wars, because it is impossible to meaningfully estimate the benefits of wars by product or industry or economic sector and impose taxes on each product/industry/sector in proportion to those benefits. That's why wars are funded from general taxes (or, rarely, from other broad-based government financial instruments like war bonds).

And even if we paid for it with general federal taxes,

There's no "if" about it. As goldfish already pointed out, we do pay for wars with general taxes.

by Bertie on Mar 19, 2012 1:15 am • linkreport

@goldfish, that isn't an answer. There's additional spending associated with the policy, how do you pay for that? When you say "general federal taxes" do you mean you would raise all forms of taxing to cover that? Do you mean you'd cut spending across the board? Both? What?

by David C on Mar 19, 2012 8:28 am • linkreport

In other words, you can't use "general federal taxes" because all of that money is already obligated to other spending.

by David C on Mar 19, 2012 8:28 am • linkreport

I'm not obliged to prove that.

No you're not. But it makes your position significanly less convincing that you're unwilling to even try.

Why is subsidizing transit a better way of meeting the transportation needs of the poor and disabled than giving them transportation subsidies directly, and allowing them to use that subsidy in whatever way works best for their particular situation?

Answered already.

It's trying to impose a one-size-fits-all solution on a diverse group of people with a diverse range of transportation needs and preferences. According to the Census Bureau, almost three-quarters of poor households (household income below the federal poverty line) have at least one automobile. Why don't they deserve transportation subsidies too?

They are. Drivers are subsidized. All transportation is subsidized. So it isn't one size fits all. It's all sizes fit all.

We could do it using the same mechanisms we already use to provide benefits to those groups, such as the tax code and disability registration.

We could do it. But not without costs and those costs may exceed the benefits.

Mass transit also adds to congestion, obesity, pollution, fatalities, etc. All motorized transportation imposes certain costs.

Yes, but the costs per trip is lower (and I'm unaware of a connection between transit use and obesity). If we switched current transit users to driving, all of these problems would become worse. I think you're being willfully obtuse now.

Present your analysis supporting this claim. Where is your evidence that transit produces 70 cents worth of public benefits per passenger-mile?

You've seen http://www.vtpi.org/tca/">this before so don't feign ignorance.

Of course the things you listed are "related to transportation."

Again, a person driving a brand new Mercedes would be subsidized less, as a percentage of cost, than a person driving an old Sentra, even if they leave from the same cul-de-sac to the same workplace parking lot. Isn't that a sign of a flaw in the methodology?

Why does the fact that drivers travel more miles than transit users mean that subsidy per mile is irrelevant?

It was at the link. A superior method is to analyze the total annual transportation budget of different classes (transit users, drivers, etc...) of users.

If I leave my car at home and take a bus or train to work instead, I'm not reducing the distance to work. I have to travel just as far.

The point, as we've been over before, is that transit enables people to live in denser neighborhoods nearer everything they need to travel to and thus reduce their total transportation budget, and thus the total subsidy they consume per year.

I already explained to you why your comparison here is meaningless. The government pays 70% of the total cost of mass transit. The relevant comparison for automobiles is therefore the government's share of the total cost of driving.

And I explained why your comparison is flawed. Unless you have somethint new to add, I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree.

That figure is around 3%, as I showed you above.

No it isn't. You aren't including all subsidies. Just road subsidies. See above.

If you want to count manufacturing industry subsidies and energy industry subsidies as transportation subsidies, then those would be additional subsidies to mass transit, over and above the 70% subsidy transit receives for capital and operating costs.

I do Want to include those. I don't think we should ignore subsidies. What would the new transit and road subsidy calculation be? Why shouldn't gasoline and car subsidies be included if you're counting the cost of those items in "total cost". Why would you leave out other transit subsidies.

If you seriously think you can show that automobiles are subsidized at a rate even remotely close to the subsidy rate of mass transit, then please do so.

Nice punt, but they are subsidized and you ignored that. So, you're numbers are meaningless. If you'd like to provide accurate numbers I'll await that, but until you do you're 3% uses incomplete data and is unreliable.

They're a superior way to pay for wars, because it is impossible to meaningfully estimate the benefits of wars by product or industry or economic sector and impose taxes on each product/industry/sector in proportion to those benefits.

Fine, but it remains true that it is a hidden cost of a gasoline-based transportation system and that it is not bourne solely by users, making it a subsidy.

As goldfish already pointed out, we do pay for wars with general taxes.

No, so far we haven't paid for it all. The Chinese have.

by David C on Mar 19, 2012 8:50 am • linkreport

But it makes your position significanly less convincing that you're unwilling to even try.

No it doesn't. You're the one who claims that transit subsidies are a better way of helping the poor and disabled than providing transportation subsidies to those groups directly. It's up to you to support that claim, not up to me to disprove it. Your claim is extremely implausible on its face, for the reasons I have explained: Transit subsidies are provided without regard to income or ability, and they provide no benefit to poor and disabled people who use other modes of transportation.

They are.

No, they're not. Poor and disabled transit users are subsidized at a rate of about 70 cents per passenger-mile. Poor and disabled car users are subsidized at a rate of only about 1 cent per passenger-mile. That is an enormous disparity. Why should poor and disabled transit users get so much more in subsidies than poor and disabled car users? Why should wealthy and able-bodied transit users get so much more in subsidies than poor and disabled car users?

But not without costs and those costs may exceed the benefits.

What costs? We already have mechanisms for providing direct subsidies and other kinds of direct credit to the poor and disabled. This would simply be an extension of those mechanisms. And we'd save all the money we're currently giving in subsidies to non-poor, non-disabled transit users.

Yes, but the costs per trip is lower. If we switched current transit users to driving, all of these problems would become worse.

No, the cost is not lower. Transit costs about twice as much per passenger-mile as cars. Substituting cars for transit would save money. But a transit user wouldn't necessarily switch to cars if transit subsidies were reduced, anyway. He might switch to walking or biking instead. Or absorb the additional cost himself. Or travel less. Your argument contradicts itself. You say you oppose auto subsidies because they encourage behavior that causes congestion, pollution, obesity, etc. But transit subsidies encourage all of those things too. And yet you support transit subsidies. Contradiction.

(and I'm unaware of a connection between transit use and obesity).

Sitting on a bus or train consumes less calories than walking or biking.

You've seen http://www.vtpi.org/tca/">this before so don't feign ignorance.

I'm not "feigning ignorance." There is absolutely no evidence in that link that transit provides anything close to 70 cents per passenger-mile in public benefits, let alone much more than 70 cents.

by Bertie on Mar 19, 2012 1:20 pm • linkreport

Again, a person driving a brand new Mercedes would be subsidized less, as a percentage of cost, than a person driving an old Sentra, even if they leave from the same cul-de-sac to the same workplace parking lot. Isn't that a sign of a flaw in the methodology?

No, of course not. Why is it a "flaw in the methodology?"

It was at the link. A superior method is to analyze the total annual transportation budget of different classes (transit users, drivers, etc...) of users.

I have no idea what this is supposed to mean. "Analyze" in what way? To compare transportation subsidies across modes, you have to use some kind of common unit. The standard common unit for transportation cost-benefit analysis is the passenger-mile. What supposedly superior unit to passenger-miles do you propose, and why do you think it's superior?

The point, as we've been over before, is that transit enables people to live in denser neighborhoods nearer everything they need to travel to and thus reduce their total transportation budget, and thus the total subsidy they consume per year.

So what? Subsidizing bicycles or walking would "enable" people to live in even denser neighborhoods and reduce their transportation budget even more. Bicycles also produce less pollution, congestion, etc. than any form of motorized transportation. So why aren't you advocating bicycle subsidies instead of transit subsidies? Again, your argument doesn't make any sense. You're not applying it consistently.

No it isn't. You aren't including all subsidies. Just road subsidies.

Then, as I keep telling you, we must include all those other subsidies for transit too. So transit subsidies are even higher than 70%. I'm still waiting for you to present any kind of serious argument as to why transit users should receive this enormous subsidy.

by Bertie on Mar 19, 2012 1:36 pm • linkreport

You're the one who claims that transit subsidies are a better way of helping the poor and disabled than providing transportation subsidies to those groups directly.

You're confused. It is you who is arguing the opposite point. My claim is that subsidizing transit, among other things, helps the transit captive. It's your claim that there is a better way, though you can't point to an example. I remain open to the idea, but without any evidence at all, I'm unconvinced.

No, [poor households with cars are] not [subsidized]. ...Poor and disabled car users are subsidized at a rate of only about 1 cent per passenger-mile.

You're contradicting yourself now.

What costs?

Trying to determine who qualifies for the subsidy, how much they should get, etc... may very well cost more in bureaucracy and efficiency (false positives and false negatives for example) than it saves.

Transit costs about twice as much per passenger-mile as cars. Substituting cars for transit would save money.

Money is not the only cost. There is also the environmental, land use, safety etc... costs.

But a transit user wouldn't necessarily switch to cars if transit subsidies were reduced, anyway.

True, but many would.

But transit subsidies encourage [congestion, pollution, obesity, etc.] too.

I'm unaware of any evidence that transit subsidies cause congestion, pollution or obesity. Please explain.

Sitting on a bus or train consumes less calories than walking or biking.

But walking to a bus stop or train station consumes more calories than driving a car. And many transit users stand, which consumes more calories than driving. If you have proof that transit is connected to obesity, please show it.

There is absolutely no evidence in that link that transit provides anything close to 70 cents per passenger-mile in public benefits, let alone much more than 70 cents.

There is, but this one is probably easier to read. "it is clear that under a wide range of assumptions, the transit system delivers large benefits to travelers—transit users and drivers alike. These benefits dwarf the region’s operating subsidies and are still significantly large when capital outlays are taken into account. "

Why is it a "flaw in the methodology?"

Why should buying a more expensive car mean that you are subsidized less.

"Analyze" in what way?

Add up and compare.

To compare transportation subsidies across modes, you have to use some kind of common unit...What supposedly superior unit to passenger-miles do you propose, and why do you think it's superior?

Subsidy per person per year. It's better because it captures the fact that being car-dependent requires travelling more miles, and doing almost all of it by car, as opposed to walking or biking. Transit allows for density which allows for shorter trips and less consumption per trip.

The standard common unit for transportation cost-benefit analysis is the passenger-mile.

Is that "the standard"? According to whom? Regardless, it's flawed.

So what? Subsidizing bicycles or walking would "enable" people to live in even denser neighborhoods and reduce their transportation budget even more. Bicycles also produce less pollution, congestion, etc. than any form of motorized transportation. So why aren't you advocating bicycle subsidies instead of transit subsidies?

I do advocate subsidies for cycling and walking. I support both subsidies for transit and subsidies for active transportation. I'm all for SRTS, Transportation Enhancements, Recreational Trails funding etc..It is not either/or. In fact, the two compliment each other well.

Then, as I keep telling you, we must include all those other subsidies for transit too.

Agree. What are those numbers?

by David C on Mar 19, 2012 4:04 pm • linkreport

My claim is that subsidizing transit, among other things, helps the transit captive.

And my response is that providing subsidies directly to poor and disabled people is a better way of helping them than subsidizing transit, because transit subsidies apply to all transit users whether they're poor and disabled or not. You still haven't offered any rebuttal to this point.

Trying to determine who qualifies for the subsidy, how much they should get, etc... may very well cost more in bureaucracy and efficiency (false positives and false negatives for example) than it saves.

What evidence do you have to support this claim? Why would transportation subsidies for poor and disabled people be any more subject to error than other kinds of subsidy for poor and disabled people? Or are you against other kinds of subsidy for poor and disabled people too?

There is, but this one is probably easier to read. "it is clear that under a wide range of assumptions, the transit system delivers large benefits to travelers—transit users and drivers alike. These benefits dwarf the region’s operating subsidies and are still significantly large when capital outlays are taken into account.

You're trying to move the goalposts, yet again. My claim was about the public costs and benefits of transit overall. You cannot rebut that claim with a study that addresses only a single transit system (WMATA).

But the study you cite doesn't rebut my claim even for WMATA. The conclusion you quote applies to total costs and benefits, not public costs and benefits. Even if WMATA's total benefits exceed its total costs (which other studies dispute), that doesn't mean its PUBLIC benefits exceed its PUBLIC costs. The costs are spread across a very large number of people (the general public), but the benefits are overwhelmingly concentrated among a small group of people (WMATA riders). Not only does it cost taxpayers more than it gives them in benefits, but it's a massive concentration of wealth from the many to the few.

Subsidy per person per year. It's better because it captures the fact that being car-dependent requires travelling more miles, and doing almost all of it by car, as opposed to walking or biking. Transit allows for density which allows for shorter trips and less consumption per trip.

But "subsidy per person per year" doesn't capture anything about the amount of travel, so it would be meaningless as a way of comparing transportation costs and benefits across modes. The point of the analysis is to determine which mode is the most cost-effective, which provides the greatest benefit per unit of cost.

by Bertie on Mar 23, 2012 10:27 pm • linkreport

And my response is that providing subsidies directly to poor and disabled people is a better way of helping them than subsidizing transit

What evidence do you have to support this claim? And I suppose this means that you concede that subsidizing transit does, in fact, help the transit captive. Which was my claim. Not that it was the very very best way in the whole world to do it.

What evidence do you have to support this claim?

It's not a claim. It's a theory as to what might explaine why everyone chooses to subsidize transit in this way as a means towards helping the transit captive. Which is why I used the words "may very well" instead of "is definitely". Managing a system does have a cost. That's a fact.

My claim was about the public costs and benefits of transit overall. You cannot rebut that claim with a study that addresses only a single transit system (WMATA).

That's odd, because I just did. You argued I have no evidence. When actually, I have some evidence. Do you have any evidence to the contrary. Because if not, I have some and you have none and some is more than none.

Also, look at the name of this blog. WMATA is terribly relevant here. I'm not really interested in trying to defend the bus system of every little town in America. But since I like to pile on, you should read You ride, I'll pay: social benefits and transit subsidies which concludes that

"If the repeated and rancorous battles over transit subsidies succeed in seriously dimimshing transit service, the loss may extend beyond those who rely on commuter rail. In Philadelphia, at least, and perhaps in New York and Boston and other cities as well, the general public gets more than its subsidy’s worth from the fact that others ride the commuter trains.”"

So that's two cities according to two studies. Which is, some evidence.

WMATA's total benefits exceed its total costs..., that doesn't mean its PUBLIC benefits exceed its PUBLIC costs.

You want public benefits. OK, try this "Our first result is that the time savings to motorists alone easily exceed operating subsidies for both the entire system and the rail system." Now most people are, at some time or another, a motorist. And those who aren't, are probably transit users and transit users benefit from transit subsidies too. So....we're good then?

But "subsidy per person per year" doesn't capture anything about the amount of travel

Yes it would. The more you travel, the more you're subsidized. Every mile you drive/ride, you're subsidized by 1 penny. Every trip you take on transit, you're subsidized - according to you - 70%. So it would not be meaningless.

The point of the analysis is to determine which mode is the most cost-effective, which provides the greatest benefit per unit of cost.

Agreed. But we should include ALL the costs in that, as well as ALL the benefits. I await your analysis of this on a per person per year basis.

by David C on Mar 23, 2012 11:26 pm • linkreport

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