Friday, February 03, 2012
The House Ways and Means Committee voted to to remove funding for transit from the highway trust fund by a 20 to 17 vote. The vote was mostly along party lines, with two Republicans voting against it.
In his opening statement, House Ways and Means Committee Chair David Camp (R-MI) said:
"The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has recently estimated that the Highway Trust Fund will run out of money for highway projects in Fiscal Year 2013 and for mass transit projects in Fiscal Year 2014. The bill before us today will provide stable funding for these projects for at least the next 5 years—without raising a dollar in new or higher taxes or adding a penny to the deficit."
But transit advocates see it as a gutting of what's been a reliable -- if diminishing -- source of funds for mass transit. Instead of using a small fraction of the gas tax to fund transit, the bill pushes that funding over to the general fund -- which means it would be subject to yearly appropriations, leaving its future uncertain.
In a letter signed by some 200 transit advocates, including the American Public Transportation Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Transportation for America, the signatories wrote:
"In place of gasoline tax revenues, the legislation would provide a one-‐time $40 billion transfer of General Fund revenues to the Alternative Transportation Account. Not only is this level of funding insufficient to fully fund the proposed authorized levels for the Alternative Transportation Account, but it would subject transit and CMAQ funding to the annual appropriations process. This change will make it impossible for public transit systems across the country to plan for the future. It will also make it impossible for the FTA to honor grant agreements."
After the vote, David Goldberg, Communications Director for T4America, wasn't shy about expressing his disgust:
"It is a cruel blow to the millions of Americans who use public transportation and to those who would like the option in the future," Goldberg said. "Everybody can expect their air quality to get worse and will see no relief from congestions."
The bill now goes to the full House. If it passes, it would need to be reconciled with a vastly different Senate bill. An agreement must be reached -- or an extension approved -- by March 31.
Wednesday, February 01, 2012
The reviews are in on the House transportation bill:
"It's like funding a quit-smoking program by lowering the smoking age to generate more revenue from cigarette taxes." (USPIRG statement)
"It would reverse all the progress we have made in the past 20 years...horrible." (League of American Bicyclists)
"This bill is less about creating jobs and more about giving the green light to the oil industry and road-builders." (Southern Environmental Law Center)
“Additional research is required to demonstrate exactly how bigger and heavier trucks would impact traffic safety. Absent this research, we cannot take the chance – there is simply too much at stake.” (AAA statement)
To be sure, the bill has its supporters.
"Chairman Mica has done tremendous work," the Associated General Contractors of America said. "The legislation will significantly accelerate transportation improvements." (Associated General Contractors of America)
But the tone of criticism by advocates for smart growth, biking, walking, and transit was considerably sharper than its been in the past-- an indication of how far apart the two sides are on a bill that used to be negotiated far more amicably.
Even AASHTO -- the group that represents state transportation officials, also known as a big proponent of highway spending -- wasn't exactly effusive.
"We are pleased that the House and Senate are moving ahead on a long-term surface transportation authorization. A long-term bill that sustains the surface transportation program at current funding levels is critical to the nation's economy and creating American jobs." (AASHTO statement).
Democratic politicians didn't pull any punches. Here's New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler: "I am generally troubled by the treatment of programs critical to our nation's economy, and to the New York region, namely: transit, environmentally friendly alternative transportation programs, rail, (and) freight...As language in the bill currently stands, these dedicated funding soruces are either fundamentally reformed, or eliminated completely."
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has given the bill little chance of passage (a Senate bill is only for two years of funding, among the many differences), but that won't prevent a spring with a lot of heat over this one. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
(Michael Grabell, ProPublica) This story was adapted from "Money Well Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History ," which will be published Tuesday by PublicAffairs.
A common criticism of President Obama's $800 billion stimulus package has been that it failed to produce anything – that while the New Deal built bridges and dams, all the stimulus did was fill some potholes and create temporary jobs.
Don't tell that to Annette Herrera. She was 50 when the auto supplier she worked for in Westland, Mich., closed its factory and moved the work to Mexico. Then, after being unemployed for 2½ years, she got a job in October 2010 with A123 Systems, which had received $250 million in stimulus money to help open a new lithium-ion battery plant in nearby Romulus, Mich.
"The first thing I did was call my husband and tell him, 'You're never going to guess! I got a job!'" Herrera recalled. "And then it was like celebration time."
One success the Obama administration can duly claim is the rebirth of the electric-car industry in the United States. Automakers have unveiled a number of mass-market electric cars, which have seen small but rising sales. Battery and parts manufacturers are building 30 factories, creating thousands of new jobs. A123 has hired 700 workers at Herrera's plant and a second one in nearby Livonia, and plans to hire a couple thousand more people over the next few years.
If it wasn't for the stimulus, the companies say, they would have built these plants overseas.
It was all part of an effort to promote "green" manufacturing and put a million electric cars on the road by 2015.
The question is: Will it last?
Elkhart, Ind., once believed it would. It saw electric vehicles as its salvation after watching its unemployment rate hit 20 percent. Eager to seed a new industry, the county witnessed electric-vehicle ventures sprout out of nowhere as the stimulus took off in 2009.
But by late summer 2011, what had sprouted were weeds. The parking lot of the Think electric-car plant was full of them, some more than a foot high growing from the cracks. Out front were two pickups and a motorcycle.
Hundreds of laid-off factory workers were supposed to have found jobs churning out the Norwegian company's bug-like, plastic-bodied cars, which ran solely on electricity.
Today the Elkhart factory employs two. Its parent company filed for bankruptcy in June. Its largest shareholder and battery maker, Ener1, which received $118 million in stimulus money, did the same last week.
A second life
Electric cars began appearing on California roads in the mid-1990s after state regulators mandated that a certain percentage of automakers' fleets include zero-emissions vehicles.
But within a few years, they were deemed a failure by car companies, which stopped making them and took back those they had leased.
Much had changed in the eight years leading up the stimulus package. The lead-acid and nickel-metal hydride batteries that weighed as much as 1,200 pounds were replaced with lithium-ion batteries that weighed as little as 400 pounds.
In the early 2000s, gas hadn't even passed $2 a gallon. Less than a decade later, it was twice that. Toyota had proven the demand with its long waiting list for the Prius hybrid.
Government policy had changed, too, with a 2007 energy bill that increased fuel-efficiency standards and provided $25 billion in loans for automakers to upgrade their plants.
But until the economic stimulus package was passed in 2009, the manufacture of electric cars and their batteries in the United States was nearly nonexistent.
The United States had only two factories manufacturing less than 2 percent of the world's advanced batteries. Most were made in Korea and Japan. In America, only Tesla manufactured an electric car — which sold for a cool $100,000. Across the entire country, there were a mere 500 electric charging stations.
But as the stimulus kicked in, there was suddenly no better environment for the electric car to thrive.
With more than $2 billion in federal grants, matched by another $2 billion in private investment, the Obama administration was supporting electric cars from the mine to the garage.
Chemetall Foote Corp., which operates the only U.S. lithium mine, received $28 million to boost production at its plants in Nevada and North Carolina. Honeywell received $27 million to become the first domestic supplier of a conductive salt for lithium batteries. More than $1 billion was spent to open and expand battery factories, many of them in hard-luck towns across Michigan. Through a separate federal program, automakers received loans to retool their assembly lines.
Customers could receive a $7,500 tax credit for buying an electric car. The stimulus provided funding for 20,000 electric charging stations by 2013. In many cities, drivers could get a home charger for free.
Although electric cars would not make up for the generation-long loss of manufacturing jobs, at least not yet, it was novel to see companies creating jobs in the Rust Belt instead of outsourcing them.
In July, Johnson Controls opened the first U.S. factory to produce complete lithium-ion battery cells for electric vehicles. Compact Power is building a $300 million factory in Holland, Mich., to produce batteries for the Chevy Volt and the electric Ford Focus. A123 now supplies the luxury electric carmaker Fisker Automotive and the manufacturers of electric delivery trucks used by FedEx and Frito-Lay."Quite simply, if we didn't get that grant, we wouldn't have built [the factory] in the U.S.," A123 spokesman Dan Borgasano said.
The battery grants have created and saved more than 1,800 jobs for assembly workers, toolmakers and engineers, according to a ProPublica analysis of stimulus project reports filed by the companies. That number doesn't include the workers who constructed the plants or those hired by the matching private investment the companies had to make to get the grants.
The problem: Consumers have been slow to embrace the electric car.
The price of the battery is still too high, and the price of gas is still too low, the Government Accountability Office warned in June 2009 before the grants were awarded. The starting price for the all-electric Nissan Leaf is $33,000, while the hybrid Volt sells for about $40,000 before tax credits — far more than many middle-class families can afford.
About 40 percent of drivers didn't have access to an outlet where they park their vehicles, the GAO noted.
"Although a mile driven on electricity is cheaper than one driven on gasoline," the National Research Council reported, "it will likely take several decades before the upfront costs decline enough to be offset by lifetime fuel savings."
Perhaps the biggest obstacle, though, was what the automobile represents in the American psyche: the freedom of the open road. While most people drive less than 40 miles per day, consumers want cars that they can also take on summer vacations — and they don't want to have to constantly worry about looking for a charging station.
The Leaf's range is just 73 miles, according to the official government rating, well below the much-advertised 100 miles.
By the end of 2011, fewer than 18,000 Leafs and Volts had been sold in the United States.
A report by congressional researchers last year concluded that the cost of batteries, anxiety over mileage range and more efficient internal combustion engines could make it difficult to achieve Obama's goal of a million electric vehicles by 2015. Even many in the industry say the target is unreachable.
While the $2.4 billion in stimulus money has increased battery manufacturing, the congressional report noted that United States might not be able to keep up in the long run. South Korea and China have announced plans to invest more than five times that amount over the next decade. Even A123 had to lay off 125 workers in November — though Borgasano says the company plans to rehire them all by June — because Fisker reduced orders.
Dick Moore, the mayor of Elkhart, had hoped the area known for its recreational-vehicle factories would one day be not just the "RV Capital of the World" but the "EV Capital of the World" as well.
Navistar International had received $39 million in stimulus money to build 400 electric delivery trucks in the first year. But by early 2011, it had hired about 40 employees and assembled only 78 vehicles.
Think had rallied into 2011 with plans to start production in Elkhart earlier than expected. But in April, assembly work suddenly stopped as the plant awaited parts from Europe.
In June, Think's parent company filed for bankruptcy. The decision left the Elkhart plant slouching toward extinction until the American subsidiary was purchased by a Russian entrepreneur who promised to restart production in early 2012.
But on Thursday, its battery maker, Ener1, also filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, reporting that the demand for electric vehicles "did not develop as quickly as anticipated."
Elkhart's dream of becoming the EV capital?
Moore put it this way: "The fact that this hasn't moved very quickly, that doesn't bode well for that idea."
The fate of the electric car depends greatly on whether sales take off soon.
There are other factors, such as the price of gas and whether Congress approves proposed standards requiring automakers to raise the average fuel economy of their vehicles to 55 miles per gallon by 2025.
The electric car has always struggled with a chicken-and-egg dilemma: Automakers have been reluctant to build electric cars without consumer demand. But consumers won't buy them until automakers develop cheaper, longer-range batteries.
One of the goals of the ongoing stimulus spending is to solve this problem. By 2015, the 30 battery and component factories will be able to produce 40 percent of the world's batteries, according to the administration.
The investments would help manufacturers increase the batteries' life from four years to 14 and cut their cost from $33,000 to $10,000, the administration said in a report on innovation. That would make the electric car more competitive.
Herrera noted that many people at the A123 factory believe they will never be able to afford the cars powered by the batteries they make. But, she says, "you never know."
"When the flat-screen TVs first came out, they were way expensive, and now they're reasonably priced," she said. "I think that's going to be the same thing with electric automobiles. This is a new product. It's going to take time."
Thursday, January 19, 2012
By Janet Babin : Economic Development Reporter, WNYC News
The NY Metropolitan Transportation Authority says blasting for the creation of the Second Avenue subway line has not increased pollution. But something else apparently did elevate some pollutants during the time the air was being tested.
The MTA commissioned the study from private firm Parsons Brinckerhoff. It did find elevated levels of three pollutants in the air. But the MTA says the levels were not elevated while the agency was doing blasting.
According to the report, fine dust, sulfur dioxide and ammonia readings were above standard federal limits.
Most New Yorkers are thrilled at the prospect of a new subway line along Second Avenue, a north-south corridor along the city’s east side. But residents in the area have complained for months about dust from construction fouling the air and degrading air quality.
The study was based on a monitoring program that collected data on ten pollutants at ten stations along Second Avenuefrom69th street to 87th street. Monitoring began in September and lasted a month. Additional details from the report will be presented at a meeting later this month of the Second Avenue Subway Task Force Committee.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
From the White House:
Statement by the President on the Keystone XL Pipeline
Earlier today, I received the Secretary of State’s recommendation on the pending application for the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline. As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.
This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline, but the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people. I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil. Under my Administration, domestic oil and natural gas production is up, while imports of foreign oil are down. In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security –including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico – even as we set higher efficiency standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels and natural gas. And we will do so in a way that benefits American workers and businesses without risking the health and safety of the American people and the environment.
And here's the release by the state department:
Denial of the Keystone XL Pipeline Application
Today, the Department of State recommended to President Obama that the presidential permit for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline be denied and, that at this time, the TransCanada Keystone XL Pipeline be determined not to serve the national interest. The President concurred with the Department’s recommendation, which was predicated on the fact that the Department does not have sufficient time to obtain the information necessary to assess whether the project, in its current state, is in the national interest.
Since 2008, the Department has been conducting a transparent, thorough, and rigorous review of TransCanada’s permit application for the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline project. As a result of this process, particularly given the concentration of concerns regarding the proposed route through the Sand Hills area of Nebraska, on November 10, 2011, the Department announced that it could not make a national interest determination regarding the permit application without additional information. Specifically, the Department called for an assessment of alternative pipeline routes that avoided the uniquely sensitive terrain of the Sand Hills in Nebraska. The Department estimated, based on prior projects of similar length and scope, that it could complete the necessary review to make a decision by the first quarter of 2013. In consultations with the State of Nebraska and TransCanada, they agreed with the estimated timeline.
On December 23, 2011, the Congress passed the Temporary Payroll Tax Cut Continuation Act of 2011 (“the Act”). The Act provides 60 days for the President to determine whether the Keystone XL pipeline is in the national interest – which is insufficient for such a determination.
The Department’s denial of the permit application does not preclude any subsequent permit application or applications for similar projects.
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
Several news outlets are reporting that the Obama administration will reject TransCanada's proposal to run an oil pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.
The Washington Post reports the administration will make it official later today and will allow TransCanada to reapply once it has a proposal to reroute the pipeline to avoid the environmentally sensitive Sand Hills of Nebraska.
As we've reported, the Keystone XL pipeline has become a rallying point for environmentalists. The president first sought to put off a decision on the pipeline until after the 2012 elections, but he agreed to make a decision by Feb. 21 as part of the payroll tax cut negotiations.
Full post here.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
By Julie Caine
Oakland has the fifth busiest port in the country. According to the Port of Oakland, they support between 50,000 and 73,000 jobs in Northern California, making it one of the Bay Area’s biggest economic engines. The Port of Oakland says that economic development is its primary driver, but the truck drivers who make a living running goods to and from the port say deteriorating working conditions are cutting into their bottom line.
KALW reporter Shani Aviram profiled what it's like to be a truck driver in Oakland. You can listen here.
Friday, January 13, 2012
Today, the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a pilot project aimed at expediting the environmental reviews for high-speed passenger rail service in the Northeast Corridor through an innovative and more efficient process.
Through this pilot project, CEQ and DOT will work with stakeholders to identify efficiencies to speed the environmental review process that will inform selection of service types and station locations for high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor. The pilot will engage Federal, state and local governments and the public in the environmental review process earlier to set benchmarks that maintain rigorous environmental protections and save time and costs by avoiding conflicts and delays in the later steps of rail-project development.
"The Northeast Corridor is the busiest rail corridor in the U.S.,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “Our planned improvements will lead to more jobs, a stronger rail system and a stronger economy. By bringing all involved parties to the table earlier in the process, we will do the job better and finish it sooner.”
“The National Environmental Policy Act provides essential protections for American communities and the natural resources our economy depends on,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality. “This pilot project will ensure a collaborative environmental review process for quicker, better-informed decisions for the Northeast Corridor high speed rail project.”
To promote transparency and public input, DOT will post and track project timelines and progress on the Federal Infrastructure Projects Dashboard at www.performance.gov, which launched in November 2011 to track high impact, job-creating infrastructure projects for expedited review.
The Transportation Rapid Response Team, a Federal interagency group also launched in November 2011 to speed Federal reviews of transportation projects, will help coordinate the high-speed rail planning process to ensure quick resolution of any interagency conflicts.
The Northeast Corridor high-speed rail planning project is the fourth project selected by CEQ under its National Environmental Policy Act Pilot program, which focuses on identifying and promoting more efficient ways to do effective environmental reviews that can be replicated. CEQ will use efficiencies identified for the high-speed rail project to develop best practices for environmental reviews across the Federal Government.
To learn more about CEQ’s NEPA Pilot Program, visit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/nepa.
Thursday, January 12, 2012
By Julie Caine
One of the expenses truckers face is paying to upgrade their rigs to meet new environmental emissions regulations for diesel engines. California has the strictest gasoline emissions regulations in the country. The "smog check" is a consuming ritual known to every Californian. Until very recently, diesel engines on freight trucks – big rigs that haul almost everything we buy in and out of ports and across the country – haven’t been under the same rules. Now, that’s starting to change.
In 2010, the California Air Resources Board created a new set of emissions regulations for diesel engines. On a rolling basis, freight trucks are required to retrofit older engines, or to buy completely new trucks to meet stricter emissions standards. While those requirements can be expensive for truckers, so are the environmental impacts.
KALW’s Julie Caine sat down to talk with Rob Harley, professor of environmental engineering at U.C. Berkeley about how the new regulations are changing the air we breathe.
JULIE CAINE: Can you just summarize the changes in regulations, the effects on port truckers?
ROB HARLEY: There’s been a lot of effort in the last couple of years to take steps to clean up the emissions from port trucks. Some of the oldest trucks, built before 1994, are no longer able to be at the port. Some of the more recent models have needed exhaust filters installed or even been replaced completely with brand new trucks or newer trucks.
CAINE: Why were those regulations put into place?
HARLEY: Diesel trucks are one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the state of California and the whole country. And the trucks last a long time. They can stay on the road for 20 years or more. And, especially at the ports, we had a pretty old mix of trucks operating right in an urban community with residential neighborhoods nearby. So that posed air pollution and health concerns for the neighbors.
CAINE: You've been studying some of the effects of those changes. You did some measurements at the Port of Oakland in 2009 and then again in 2010. Was that timed with the changes in the regulations?
HARLEY: Yes, exactly. We made some measurements just before the first phase of the program took effect and then we were back about six months later after the oldest trucks had been banned and a lot of filters had been installed and some newer trucks had come into the fleet. We timed those measurements deliberately to give a before and an after – and to see what the emission changes were from this attempt to clean up the port trucks.
CAINE: What did you find?
HARLEY: Well, it was pretty impressive reductions. Things went down by about 50 percent. When I say “things” I mean the black smoke emissions and also the nitrogen oxide emissions. These are two of the major air pollutants that diesel trucks emit a lot of and we were really struck by how quickly this reduction in emissions had occurred. Normally it might take 10 years of gradual replacement of old trucks to get that kind of reduction. Here it was in 6 months instead of 10 years that those emission reductions happened. That's a very rapid and successful reduction in emissions.
CAINE: These emission regulations are for the whole state of California, is that correct?
HARLEY: They will be. The ports and rail yards have been what the state calls an early action item. They got started there first, but the same kinds of requirements are coming statewide to all trucks, not just the ports and rail yards. There's going to be a lot of activity there in the next coming years, but California's approach is different from the national approach. The national approach is only about new trucks, saying they need to have modern emission equipment, but California reaches out to the older models and says that those trucks have to be either cleaned up or retired on an accelerated schedule. That's part of California's longstanding role or approach as a laboratory for air pollution control. The program here is pushing more rapidly to reduce these diesel emissions than elsewhere in the country.
CAINE: Tell me about the impact on individual truckers who often own their own vehicles. Do you know how much it costs to retrofit a truck, as opposed to buying a new truck?
HARLEY: Yeah, so ballpark numbers might be $15,000 to put an exhaust filter on a diesel truck – that's a big investment and on a very old truck – it's probably not worth it because that would be more than the value of the truck. Brand new trucks could be $100,000, or something in that range. These are expensive pieces of equipment. There are some grant programs that the state and various other agencies involved have been helping, not to cover the complete cost, but to at least subsidize the costs of retrofits. And then there are some truckers who just replace, who get a newer or brand new truck rather than go through the investment of control equipment on an old truck that's not worth it. So it’s left to the individual to decide whether it makes more sense to replace with newer equipment or to retrofit older equipment. The very oldest trucks just weren't suitable for retrofitting, so they aren't in the program at all for being retrofitted.
CAINE: I would guess, similarly to people who drive very old, used cars, that people who were driving those very old trucks – that was probably all they could afford. I'm just curious if there are alternatives for people who can't afford a $15,000 filter, or can’t really put in a huge investment to meet those new requirements. Are there are any alternatives?
HARLEY: I think it is going to make it more expensive to operate. You need newer and cleaner equipment and there's a cost to having that. There are a lot of interesting questions about air pollution control related to this program. One of them is sort of a financial question: is it better to retrofit older trucks or just to replace them outright? I think the approach the Port of Oakland has taken is more cost effective by trying to retrofit some of the middle-aged trucks, and not delay and buy time before the bigger costs of replacing the equipment need to be incurred. In Southern California, they implemented a fee on every container and the shippers ended up subsidizing the replacement of trucks down there. Oakland's sort of in competition with the Southern California ports and it couldn't implement that fee on the shippers because it would just drive the business to other ports. So the approach in the Bay Area was a less costly one. On the other hand, there wasn't money from the shippers to cover all the costs. There were grant programs from the port itself, the state, and various other agencies to help offset some of the costs, but not all of them. So that's an interesting question: what's the right approach? What's the right short-term approach and what's the right longer term approach in terms of retrofitting filters on older trucks versus just replacing them to newer trucks?
CAINE: So what's the payoff for the rest of us? Let's talk about the community around the Port of Oakland. Do you have a sense of how the changes in regulations are affecting the health of folks around the port?
HARELY: That's a hard question – to say how people's health status is changing as the truck emissions are cleaned up. But it's an interesting question. It's really the point of all this effort to clean up the emissions of diesel trucks. So I can go only some of the first steps, and others will have to take some of the next steps in understanding what the health outcomes are. But we are seeing changes in air quality in the community, in West Oakland, near the port. Similar things are happening in Southern California, in the ports of L.A., and Long Beach regulation.
CAINE: Are you going back to do any more testing of the air?
HARELY: We are. We've been back – actually, quite recently – in November of this year. We'll go back again in early 2013, after 3 more model years of trucks have been fixed with emission filters and more replacement of the older trucks have occurred. So it's an ongoing program to clean up the diesel truck fleet in California. It started at the Port of Oakland and the Southern California ports as well, and it's going to move statewide over the coming years. You could almost call this the decade of diesel control coming up, and a really strong focus now on controlling diesel emissions in California.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
By Jim O'Grady
(New York, NY - WNYC) If the NY MTA is on a ten-mile march toward cashless tolling on its nine bridges and crossings, it has, roughly speaking, just passed the two mile mark and is going strong. But authority spokesman Judie Glave insists it could still quit any time.
That's a far cry from my report of yesterday, which declared the NY MTA ready to go the distance and put cashless tolling on all its crossings. It turns out I read too much into the words, "The pilot has been a success," spoken at a committee meeting yesterday by Don Spero, the authority's chief financial officer of bridges and tunnels.
He was referring to an experiment on the Henry Hudson Bridge, which connects the Bronx with the northern end of Manhattan.
In January, the MTA removed the gates from the bridge's EZ Pass lanes, which sped up toll collection while reducing congestion and pollution. Six months later, cash-paying drivers were given the option of buying an EZ Pass from a toll-taker at the bridge. Spero reported 7,500 tags had been sold in four months, boosting the bridge's EZ Pass usage by more than 5 percent.
The MTA will now be moving into Phase 2 of its pilot program on the Henry Hudson Bridge, which is instituting cashless tolling in the spring. Drivers will have two payment options: cruise through with their EZ Pass tag and pay $2.20 or have their license plate photographed and a bill for $4 mailed to their home.
That's the change I mistakenly thought was coming to all the crossings. In fact, cashless tolling will be tested on the Henry Hudson Bridge for about nine months and then evaluated. If all goes well, it could spread to the NY MTA's other bridges and tunnels: the Bronx-Whitestone, Throgs Neck, Verrazano-Narrows, Robert F. Kennedy, Cross Bay and Marine Parkway Bridges, along with the Brooklyn Battery and Queens Midtown Tunnels.
What will now become standard at those crossings is on-site sale of EZ Pass tags. Glave said the more drivers who use EZ Pass, the less it costs the authority to collect their tolls. And thanks to a change of contractor earlier this year, the NY MTA now pays $8.90 for each tag, down from $20.95. Spero said that alone saved the authority $9.3 million dollars on a recent bulk purchase.
Though the NY MTA is unwilling to commit to anything beyond a pilot program on one bridge, it seems safe to say the incentives for putting cashless tolling at all its crossing at some time in the future is already strong--and that would mark a major change in the way drivers pay to get around.
We'll keep you posted.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
By Julie Caine
Building and preserving affordable housing near public transit hubs in the San Francisco Bay Area is one of the areas of focus of a $4.99 million federal grant awarded Monday to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).
The “Sustainable Communities” regional planning grant, awarded by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), fosters regional planning that integrates transportation, housing, job development, land-use and infrastructure development.
In addition to affordable housing, the grant will support job development for low- to middle-income residents in the communities in which they live. Because housing prices are so high, many low- to middle-income workers can’t afford to live in the communities where they work, and long daily commutes on congested freeways are a way of life. Of the more than 7 million people living in the Bay Area, only 9.7% currently get to work on public transportation.
"Our nation's ability to compete in a global economy and create jobs is dependent upon how quickly and efficiently we can connect our workers and families to education and employment opportunities." said HUD Secretary Donovan.
Increasing access to public transportation and reducing the need for long commutes is also part of a strategy to reduce emissions and air pollution in the Bay Area.
The “Sustainable Communities” grant will be matched with $2.383 million in funds from local agencies in the nine-county region.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
(New York, NY -- Jenna Flanagan, WNYC) An electric truck maker is opening up a factory in the Bronx — saying it wants to be near a market for zero-emission delivery vehicles.
Smith Electric Vehicles says it will begin producing a delivery truck called the Newton in a building near Hunts Point beginning next year.
Smith EVs president and CEO Bryan Hansel said the company chose the location because the Newton is already used in New York, and he expects that to spread. “The initial trucks that are in New York are with people like Frito Lay, delivering potato chips, Coke-a-Cola,” he said.
Hansel said the $6 million worth of tax credits and other city and state incentives also lured the Saint Louis, Missouri-based company to set up shop in the Bronx. Officials said the trucks cost one-third to one-half the amount of conventional diesel trucks to operate and won't pollute the city's air. And they're easy for drivers to power up.
“In the morning, when they come, you unplug it, it's fully charged. You go do your day's work. That night you come back, plug it back in and it charges overnight,” Hansel said. “So we're only tapping into the grid and trying to take electricity when it’s at the lowest demand, overnight.”
The factory is expected to employ more than 100 people.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
(Washington, DC - Jonathan Wilson, WAMU) A study of all the registered vehicles in the Metropolitan Washington area reveals that the region’s vehicle fleet is getting older. Vehicle owners are keeping vehicles longer before replacing them.
The study, commissioned every three years since 2005 by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG), found that the vehicle fleet grew 4 percent from 2008 to 2011 with more than 3.8 million vehicles registered in the Washington region.
It also found that the number of hybrid vehicles in the region has been steadily increasing since their introduction in 2000. There was a one-time drop in hybrid vehicle sales in 2009 in the region -- MWCOG staff suspect this is due to the relatively high sticker price of those vehicles at the onset of the recession, moderate gasoline prices at the time, and the Cash-for-Clunkers Program.
The study found “modest” increases in emission rates for Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), NOx and PM2.5 (pollutants mainly associated with diesel fuel).
For a closer look at what kinds of vehicles people in the region are driving, see the report here.
Friday, November 11, 2011
(Adapted from the radio version by Sarah Gardner at Marketplace) Final details on tough new fuel economy standards for cars and trucks are due out next week. The White House is proposing 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016 and 54.5 miles a gallon by 2025, a steep increase over the 2010 standard of 27.5 m.p.g., a fleet average established in the 1970s. So how will car companies get there? The staunchest EV advocates might predict that, eventually, electric cars will turn gas pumps into museum pieces and render this question irrelevant, but a few incremental achievements out of Detroit are proving the death of the internal combustion engine has been greatly exaggerated.
"We have a lot of new technology that is emerging," says Dave Cole chairman emeritus of the Center for Automotive Transportation. It isn't all hybrids and electric engines though. Automakers say they'll meet the 2016 fuel standard, mostly by selling lighter, more aerodynamic cars with smarter engines. Chevrolet for example offers the Cruze Eco with over 40 m.p.g.
"So every gram matters," says Sam Winegarden GM's engine guru. "The lighter it gets, the less energy it takes to move. It all works in your favor." GM shaved 100-plus pounds off the Chevy Cruze Eco to achieve more than 40 miles per gallon for the mid-sized car. The company switched to lighter wheels and other parts, but that's not all Winegarden is referring to. He's also talking about the car's engine. All the automakers are now "downsizing" under the hood.
"In a downsized engine, you have a smaller displacement. The amount of volume of air that the cylinders take," explains Steve McKinley an engineering executive at Honeywell Turbo Technologies. As carmakers move towards the "little engine that could" turbochargers will play a bigger role. The little devices give gas engines a power boost. McKinley says right now that describes only 10 percent of cars sold in North America. But by 2025, "You could see as much as 80 percent of the vehicles being turbocharged. So a pretty broad-ranging impact in order to meet future fuel economy goals."
Turbocharged small engines are common in Europe. And it's just one of the tricks up Detroit's fuel-savings sleeve. GM's Winegarden says carmakers are also tinkering with the internal combustion process. "How efficiently do we burn the fuel/air mixture?" he asks. They're also lowering the suspension on cars to reduce drag, installing easier-rolling tires, and adding devices that automatically shut off the engine when it's idling in traffic. Although they admit, some drivers balk at that one in test trials. "It's like, no, you're fine, everything's cool. It's going to start. It'll go, but you've got to get people used to that," Winegarden admits.
Carmakers are even dumping the spare tire in some models to save on gas. Together, these kinds of refinements mean squeezing about 25 percent more fuel efficiency out of the internal combustion engine.
To go beyond that some small startups are working on radical new engine designs. But achieving that 54 mile per gallon standard for the average across a company's fleet of cars means selling lots more clean diesels, hybrids and electric cars, which now account for just a tiny slice of yearly sales.
"So you're going to see a lot of emphasis on the internal combustion engine for a number of years," Winegarden predicts.
Regulators will re-visit the new fuel standards in 2019. If electric cars and hybrids haven't caught fire with consumers by then, Washington may apply the brakes on that 54 m.p.g. rule. And if a Republican wins the White House next year, some say, that could happen sooner.
Wednesday, November 02, 2011
By Julie Caine
The California High-Speed Rail Authority released a new business plan Tuesday outlining a multi-phase strategy for bringing bullet trains to the state. The total price tag? $98.5 billion. That’s almost three times the original estimate made in 2008 when voters approved a $9 billion bond measure in support of the project that ultimately would link San Francisco with Los Angeles.
In a state already infamous for snarled traffic, and where the population is projected to increase from 38 million to 60 million people by the middle of the century, improving transportation infrastructure and moving all those people around is a real concern.
“We don’t have many choices,” said Thomas Umberg, Chairman of the HS Rail Authority. “We can do nothing and bury our heads in the sand. We can build more freeways and airports. Or we can do something visionary that transforms California’s transportation infrastructure.”
Part of that vision comes in the plan’s “phased implementation,” in which high-speed rail is developed, constructed, and funded in segments. “If we have to pause, we’ll pause,” said Umberg.
There is currently approximately $6 billion in funding from the federal government and from bonds approved by California voters in Proposition 1A to pay for the first phase—130 miles of track to be laid between Fresno and Bakersfield, the heart of California’s Central Valley.
The federal money comes with deadlines and strings attached: if the federal funds aren’t used by 2017, the state loses the money, said HS Rail spokesperson Rachel Wall. In order to meet that deadline, construction on the rail lines in the Central Valley are slated to begin in October 2012. In addition, the federal funds mandate that construction begin in the Central Valley, far from major metropolitan population centers.
After that, where the additional $92.5 billion in projected costs will come from remains unclear. The second phase of the project, which would link the new Central Valley track to existing transportation systems in either Northern or Southern California, is projected to cost around $31 billion.
“We don’t have funding yet for the second segment,” said Mike Rossi, a High-Speed Rail Authority board member appointed by Governor Jerry Brown in 2011. “But we have three years before we have to worry about that.”
Although the plan relies on public funding, it is designed to operate without public subsidies. Private investment is also integral to the plan, said Rachel Wall. “When there’s a revenue stream in sight, when there are trains on the tracks and tickets being sold, then the private sector will come in.”
Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CAARD), a critic of the project, says that without funding sources identified and secured, the burden would most likely be on the state of California.
“You’d like to say a realistic price tag makes the project more realistic,” she said. “But what it means is that the legislators have a really tough decision to make. Now there’s no excuse for not knowing what they’re signing up for. Before you could maybe pretend that you didn’t have this big liability for the state. The headline shouldn’t be why is the price tag so high, but why was it so low in the first place?”
Some of the cost increases come from the extension of the time line for completion from 2020 to 2033, and by using an estimated 3% annual inflation rate to calculate costs over time.
Daniel Krause, executive director of Californians for High Speed Rail, a supporter of the project, says some of those cost projections are too high because both the time line and inflation rate are too conservative.
“We think it’s a little out of whack,” he said. His organization believes that 2025 is a more realistic completion date, a change which he calculates would bring the price for high speed rail down by approximately $25 billion.
Political reaction to the new plan was mixed. Governor Jerry Brown and Senator Nancy Pelosi issued statements of support. State Senate Republican leader, Bob Dutton, called the new plan a “boondoggle,” and Republican State Senator Doug LaMalfa announced he would introduce legislation to put high-speed rail back on the California ballot.
“This is a hard project that’s going to take political courage and vision,” said Thomas Umberg. “Government is not tooled to have a succession of leaders with courage and vision. This is going to be a challenge for the state of California, but I think we’re up to the challenge.”
The plan is open to a 60-day comment period before it is finalized and goes to the California legislature in January 2012.
Monday, October 17, 2011
More love for Michigan from the Obama Administration. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood traveled to Detroit to announce some $928.5 million in transit grants for 300 public transportation projects around the country.
According to the DOT the grants "are made available through the Federal Transit Administration’s fiscal year 2011 Alternatives Analysis, Bus Livability, and State of Good Repair Programs, will go toward replacing or refurbishing aging buses, building or improving bus terminals, garages, and other transit facilities, installing bus-related equipment, and conducting studies to help communities select the best transit options to meet future transportation needs. "
The DOT pulled out three examples to highlight in its press release (two of them in the key swing states of Michigan and Pennsylvania.) Other big grants include $11 million for Harris County, Texas (Houston's County), more than $100 million for the NY MTA for vehicle replacements and a new radio system for buses, and $25,000,000 to replace vehicles in Los Angeles.
The full list is here:
And here's what the DOT highlighted, in its press release.
• The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments will receive $2 million to study a possible second phase of the planned Woodward Avenue corridor transit project in Detroit and the best mode of transit to pursue. The first phase, a light rail line still in the early planning stages, would end just south of Eight Mile Road. The second phase may one day provide additional transit solutions another 7.5 miles to Maple Road (Fifteen Mile Road).
• Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit) will receive $5.4 million to replace buses in its Seattle-area fleet that are beyond their useful lives with hybrid-diesel buses.
• The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority will receive $5 million to restore Philadelphia’s historic 33rd Street and Dauphin Street bus facility, a 110-year-old facility that is in a state of disrepair.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
Many cities offer free shuttles to help people move around their downtown areas. Fort Worth, Texas has "Molly the Trolley" which takes visitors between hotels and various attractions. Denver has its free "MallRide" bus which transports riders near its 16th Street Mall. Smaller cities like Des Moines, Iowa and Savannah, Georgia also have free shuttles. But in Houston, a trip through downtown will cost you. There's a $6.00 flat fare for cabs, and a ride of any distance on the bus or rail costs $1.25. The only option for getting around cheap is to walk or bike.
But starting next year, locals and visitors will be able to get around for free on the new Greenlink Route. Seven buses powered by compressed natural gas will ferry riders along a 2.5 mile route, stopping at destinations like City Hall and the Theatre District. City officials hope the route will help revitalize downtown retail business, because office workers can get to stores that may be too far away for a lunch-hour walk. Like a lot of older downtown areas, many people don't see it as a shopping destination and parking is one of the big reasons.
Officials also say it will make the nation's fourth-largest city a more attractive destination for conventions and tourism. Thousands of people attend events each year at the city's huge George R. Brown Convention Center, and officials say the free shuttle will be a selling point as they try to lure more conventions and trade shows. Right now, many organizations run their own free shuttles during conventions.
Houston has been without a free shuttle downtown since the Metropolitan Transit Authority stopped operating its trolley buses several years ago. Ridership fell on the trolleys after Metro imposed a 50-cent fare in 2004. The shuttle ceased operating the next year.
The new Greenlink buses will be operated through a public-private partnership. Involved in the effort are the Houston Downtown Management District, the Houston First Corporation, which manages city-owned venues, and the energy company BG Group, which just opened a downtown office. Startup costs for the Greenlink line amount to $3.7 million, with the bulk of the money coming from two Federal Transit Administration grants. The buses will cost about a million dollars a year to operate.
Mayor Annise Parker says along with helping people get around downtown quicker, the natural gas buses are also part of the city's commitment to clean energy. "Being more sustainable, being more environmentally conscious, is also often, in fact most often, good for the bottom line."
The 28-seat buses will be manufactured in the US by Gillig LLC, and officials are touting amenities such as "high-quality air conditioning." That will no doubt be a relief to riders when the buses start running next May. Parker says the Greenlink line should create about 30 new jobs.
Trouble Finding A Parking Space In San Francisco? There's An App For That -- And It's Changing Parking Meter Prices
Thursday, September 01, 2011
By Casey Miner
(San Francisco – KALW) The city of San Francisco is making its first round of changes to parking meter costs based on data gathered from its street sensors around town. The idea is for meter and garage rates to be based on demand – so popular blocks will cost more, less crowded ones will be cheaper, and everyone will spend a little less time circling the block. How's it working?
According to Jay Primus, the manager of the program, "it’s a little bit like the Goldilocks principle. We don’t want it too hot, we don’t want it too cold – we want it just right. In this case, prices not too high or too low, but just right for the demand we see."
You can hear the whole story over at KALW.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
When consumers can see how much power they're using minute by minute with in-home "smart meters," they typically cut back on energy consumption -- at least a little. The Dutch are experimenting with in-car meters that tax miles driven on the theory that it will cut down on driving. Would that kind of information affect day-t0-day transportation decisions for transit riders too? Transit riders now have a new source of data on environmental impact: trip planning website HopStop now includes carbon emissions calculations in their travel directions.
HopStop CEO Joe Meyer said the company received thousands of user requests for a feature that quantified the environmental benefits of public transit. Now, right next to the estimated trip time, you'll see your CO2 savings compared to driving. "At the end of the day, we’re a source of information," Meyer said. "This is giving people additional context around the information they are already coming to us for."
HopStop is using a proprietary algorithm based on data from the EPA and the World Resources Institute to estimate the savings for each trip compared to driving solo. While there's no shortage of carbon calculators out there -- including several specifically about transportation and even public transit including one by New York's MTA -- HopStop is injecting this environmental information right in the moment when people are choosing how to travel.
But some are unsure that this will make a big impact. "I doubt if this one will have a substantial effect [on changing travel behavior]," says Richard Thaler, co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health Wealth and Happiness, which is about how people can be guided into better decisions without restricting choice. "There are lots of factors that go into the choice of a mode of transport -- time, expense, convenience, etc. -- and carbon emissions is just one, even for those who are sensitive to such things. So, [this new feature is] a good thing, but unlikely to shift much behavior, especially in the short run."
HopStop's Meyer says he isn't doing this to shift how people travel, he's providing what his customers want -- more information. “We’re just telling you it’s a more environmentally friendly way to travel… compared to driving, and here’s the saving."
According to New York's MTA, emissions from a single passenger car trip can be five times more than the alternative transit trip, and as much as 8.25 times more if you factor in dynamic effects. MTA research analyst Dana Coyle explains: "There are three components of the carbon savings of transit use as we see it. The first is mode shift... shifting from a vehicle to a different mode [like] transit or walking or biking. The second is congestion relief. By removing cars from the road, the vehicles that are left can drive more efficiently... so you are getting better gas mileage. The third part is a land use factor, this one is a little bit tricky." She explained that if transit allows for denser neighborhoods, then you can avoid carbon emissions by, say, walking to the grocery story on your way home instead of taking a separate car trip.
That's system wide. For each individual decision, the new HopStop feature is more like the Dutch in-car meter, or an in-home smart energy meter. When home electricity usage is presented in real time, it reduced energy consumption by 7 percent on average, according to a review of experimental studies of "smart meters." This kind of awareness matters on the margins: to shut off the A/C when a fan might do, or to remember to turn the lights out, or stop blow drying your hair. It was also tied to paying more for extra electricity used, which isn't the case with transit.
However, HopStop users clamoring for the carbon calculator may use the information in another way: to brag. This information may become the kind of data that lets people advocate for their already firm choices with more conviction. Look out, transit-accessible cocktail parties: straphangers can now boast about another way they're better. And, because the new feature will also compare the carbon emissions of biking/walking (which have zero carbon emissions in this calculator) with transit, it could make the eco-conscious bus rider hoof it a little more frequently.
Even if carbon isn't the top determinant between driving or riding, it can't be a factor at all unless it's measured.
HopStop is making this available on the website immediately, and on all mobile apps within the next two months.
Wednesday, August 03, 2011
By Kate Hinds
From the Department of Weird Coincidences desk: today -- August 3rd -- is the 30th anniversary of the air traffic controllers strike.
Now, you know from reading this Transportation Nation post that air traffic controllers are on the job right now, despite the FAA shutdown. So they are not directly affected by current events -- but no doubt this date is on their minds.
From a document (pdf) on the FAA's website:
August 3, 1981: Nearly 12,300 members of the 15,000-member Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization (PATCO) went on strike, beginning at 7 a.m., EST, grounding approximately 35 percent of the nation's 14,200 daily commercial flights. Shortly before 11 a.m. on August 3, President Ronald Reagan issued the strikers a firm ultimatum: return to work within 48 hours or face permanent dismissal. The government moved swiftly on three fronts -- civil, criminal, and administrative -- to bring the full force of the law to bear on the strikers.
According to a 2006 NPR story, the 1981 strike "redefine(d) labor relations in America."
Labor is one of the sticking points in the current battle over a long-term, full FAA authorization bill. TN's Todd Zwillich wrote last week that while a dispute over funding rural air service is the ostensible reason for the breakdown in authorization: "it has little to do with the actual shutdown. That’s a full-blown fight over union organizing rules in the aviation and rail industries."
Zwillich continues: "A long-term, full FAA authorization bill is stalled in House-Senate negotiations over a partisan disagreement about federal rules governing how workers can vote to unionize. Last year the National Mediation Board altered rules so that only a majority of workers voting would be needed to unionize a shop. Previously unions had to muster a majority of all workers." That makes it easier to unionize. Republicans want to overturn the ruling. Democrats don't.
There's a big difference between furloughed employees and strike actions. But the similarities? Someone's off the job, and someone's not getting paid at the FAA.