Wednesday, December 19, 2012

New 3-Cylinder Ford Engine Delivers 47 mpg!

Alan Mulally is the venerable engineer and project manager of the Boeing 777 and for several years now CEO of Ford Motor Company. Why is he kissing this new engine?

Because this super-efficient, well-balanced and light weight engine can deliver 47 mpg in a Ford Focus compact car without the complexity and price penalty of hybrid technology. Many manufacturers are now turning to 3-cylinder engines for their smaller cars but also prepare editions that match the output of common V6 engines for larger vehicles.

These smaller engines would have huge benefits for the world market, and China in particular, where Volkswagen announced plans to build its 7th plant, just a few days after Ford had said it would build its 5th.

This is good news for mobility and the planet. Smart policies* and smart engineers get the job done: Mini engines with normal performance and mini consumption and air pollution. And fewer resources used to make those engines enhances long term sustainability.

Note (*): America's new emission standards require car manufacturers to achieve a fleet average of 34.1 mpg by 2016 and 54.6 mpg by 2025.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Hawaii's Sudden Economic Tsunami

With the sudden death of US Senator Inouye and the retirement of US Senator Akaka, both in December of 2012, Hawaii instantly finds itself at the center of an unprecedented fiscal tsunami due to the total loss of Congressional seniority. The table below indicates that Hawaii's Congressional Seniority changed overnight from stellar to abysmal.
Although well over half of federal funds are appropriated by formula, a large share of local programs are funded by special appropriations and earmarks which would be very hard to obtain in the coming years.

Recent preliminary research by a group of students at UH placed the annual impact of Senator Inouye to Hawaii between $200 Million and $450 Million per year. The students surmised that the sudden loss of Senator Inouye would be similar to the sudden and complete loss of Hawaiian Airlines.

An expanded discussion by Malia Zimmerman "Hawaii, Like Alaska, Could See Huge Fiscal Impact From Loss of Congressional Seniority" combines multiple sources to provide additional information about the financial impact to Hawaii.

-------- January 11, 2013 Update -------- 

 Within about two years, I guestimate that Sen. Inouye's death combined with Sen. Akaka's retirement and the absence of no reps from Hawaii in an Appropriations Committee to cost:
  •     ~ 200 high paying military contract jobs (civilian)
  •     ~ 800 normal paying military contract jobs (civilian)
  •     ~ 300 high paying UH research jobs
  •     And a few dozen other millions in gravy
  •     For a total of at least $200 Million per year of taxable income and related economic activity.
After a couple of years, the East-West Center, UH's Kakaako Medical Research Center, Mauna Kea astronomy investments, many small subsidized programs and the Armed Forces may be in jeopardy for major cuts.

Green Energy and Rail Get an F

Election politics are behind us so it is a good time to post the economic report card for President Obama's first term issued by The Economist on September 1, 2012.

I am pleased to see that for the two areas of "green energy" and "rail passenger transportation" The Economist gives the President an F. These are indeed the two areas that I completely disagree with both the President, Hawaii's Governor, most of Hawaii's current political establishment, and with the environmentalists of Sierra Club.

Indeed, biased taxpayer black holes deserve this.

It is my hope that this F along with today's sad news of the death of US Senator Inouye along with the retirement of US Senator Akaka (this is a 1-2 knockout punch for Hawaii to the very bottom of US Senate seniority combined with Hawaii's rock bottom seniority in the US House) will infuse sanity and restraint into the brains of local decision makers.

Cuts are painful, but cutting wasteful projects* is productive and necessary to avoid a nosedive.

(*) The rail, transit oriented development, wind farms, limitless solar subsidies, inter-island cable, government solar farms, cookie-cutter housing on prime agricultural land, North Shore mega-developments along a single, jammed 2-lane country road, ...

Friday, December 14, 2012

The World in 2030: World Preeminence for China, Energy Independence for USA

The Verge: The US National Intelligence Council, representing the 17 intelligence agencies of the US government, says that "we are at a critical juncture in human history" in its fifth Global Trends report. The report details the challenges facing the species in the coming decades; the council says that many positive developments in health, education, and governance will propel human civilization, but that the threat of conflict could emerge as supplies of food and water become more scarce.

The Diplomatic News: The American Century is drawing to a close, and the US Defense Department will have to be more flexible in dealing with a faster-paced multipolar world, according to the Global Trends 2030 report

NY Times: A new intelligence assessment of global trends projects that China will outstrip the United States as the leading economic power before 2030, but that America will remain an indispensable world leader, bolstered in part by an era of energy independence.

London Financial Times:
  • Pax Americana ‘winding down’
  • China will be the world’s largest economy by 2030 but the US will still remain “first among equals” in the international system
  • Europe, Japan and Russia will continue to experience relative decline
  • Asia will come to dwarf the rest of the world in terms of its economic and military power
  • The wave of Islamist terrorism is likely to have ended by 2030
  • The US will be energy independent and could be a significant exporter of energy
  • Advances in manufacturing technologies could reduce the need for outsourcing
Here is what the report says about renewable energy. It makes Hawaii look like a fool by wasting millions of taxpayer dollars to produce Kilo-Watts instead of Mega-Watts (1 MW = 1,000 KW):

"With shale gas, the US will have sufficient natural gas to meet domestic needs and generate potential global exports for decades to come. Increased oil production from difficult-to-access oil deposits would result in a substantial reduction in the US net trade balance and faster economic expansion. Global spare capacity may exceed over 8 million barrels, at which point OPEC would lose price control and crude oil prices would collapse, causing a major negative impact on oil-export economies."

"The IEA’s baseline scenario shows the share of renewables rising just 4 percent during the 2007-2050 period. Hydropower accounts for the overwhelming majority of renewables in this scenario, with wind and solar energy providing 5 and 2 percent contributions in 2050 respectively. Their contributions in 2030 would be even less."The 170 page report can be downloaded here: National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2030

Friday, December 7, 2012

London, Paris, New York, Tokyo ... Honolulu?

Little Honolulu of 953,000 people, one third of which live on the other side of the island, wants to be like the 8 to 15 million people cities with rail systems.

If Honolulu truly wanted rail transit that resembles anything like the busy systems in London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, etc. then it would design a system of short lines as those shown in red, green and blue colors in the picture below. It would also have planned extensions (dashed lines) like the one passing through Salt Lake and terminating at Aloha Stadium.

Instead Honolulu plans the yellow rail line whose only purpose (which it is too obvious to see by looking at this picture) is to pave over the prime agriculture of the Ewa Plains with housing, a mega mall, a casino, and anything that will make our rulers richer.
In Honolulu, special interest monies (to the tune of over $10 million in the 2008, 2010 and 2012 elections) and octogenarian politicians convinced the populous to look to the 19th century for solutions to clogged freeways.

Friday, November 30, 2012

How to Solve Traffic Congestion, Make Revenue and Be Happy Paying a Toll

With road pricing, Stockholm, Sweden has reduced traffic congestion dramatically, and generates revenue for public works. Most remarkable outcomes also include that motorists do not feel that they had to change their driving and habits, and that 70% of residents approve of the road pricing.

Watch this 8-minute TED talk by Jonas Eliasson, Director of the Center for Transport Studies at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology. It is a 10-year before-after real-life, real-city experiment documenting success.

Honolulu is a prime candidate for road pricing because of its limited lane capacity and ineffective traffic congestion plans such as TheRail.

I would not be surprised if road pricing is adopted in Honolulu after 2025 or so to sore up TheRail financially, nudge more people to it, and reduce peak traffic demand, as in Stockholm.

Monday, November 26, 2012

EPA and Caldwell Are Costing Honolulu $4.5 Billion for Sewers

October 2012 was the 40th anniversary of the landmark Clean Water Act (CWA). On this anniversary, the U.S. Conference of Mayors voiced concerns with what is seen as an increasingly unequal partnership with the federal government. The nation’s towns and cities face a “fiscal crossroads with affordability” as a result of the costs associated with the CWA.
Jim Suttle, the mayor of Omaha, Nebraska and former director of its public works department states that the EPA’s reliance on consent decrees is a factor that has impeded the search for innovative solutions to sewer overflows and other problems pertaining to clean water. He argues that the federal government must stop pursuing consent decrees and instead rely on the permitting process to manage water quality problems.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors brings up as an example Lima, Ohio, a town of 39,000 residents. To comply with the Clean Water Act, Lima devised a $60-million long-term control plan, but in 2005 the EPA rejected the plan, and has sought to impose a consent decree that would entail $104 million in capital costs. As a result, Lima’s population will face sewer rates amounting to 4% to 7% of their household income. The CWA compliance costs come to about $2,700 per Lima resident.

Honolulu is in a similar predicament with the overreaching consent decree that Mayor Hannemann signed with the EPA for secondary sewage treatment which is expected to cost no less than $2 billion (The $1.2 billion figure in this article is old and partial.) The same consent decree mandates a number of other replacements and upgrades that will cost about $2.5 billion for an approximate total cost of about $4.5 billion. The CWA compliance costs come to about $4,600 per Oahu resident, almost twice those for Lima residents.

These figures indicate that EPA has gone wild with its requirements for small and large cities. Michael Bissonnette, the mayor of Chicopee, Massachusetts has requested revisiting the consent decrees that are already in place. The U.S. Conference of Mayors is calling on Congress to amend the CWA to make it less burdensome to local governments. The group wants a cap placed on costs to ratepayer associated with unfunded water mandates.

In Honolulu, KITV has already reported that local residents are calling the Board of Water Supply because they can’t afford to pay the rapidly escalating water and sewer rates. (View KITV story.) Therefore, high on the agenda of the new mayor of Honolulu should be the revisiting of the exorbitantly expensive EPA consent decree. This however, would be highly unlikely with mayor-elect Caldwell because he considers this outrageously expensive agreement as an accomplishment.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Dr. Panos Prevedouros Honored by Honolulu City Council

Dr. Panos Prevedouros is being honored here today because of his expertise, his service to the community and its elected officials, and his willingness to act on the simple fact, that when traffic moves, the economy does so with it.

Certificate text by Councilman Tom Berg:

 In 1990, Dr. Panos Prevedouros received his doctorate in Civil Engineering from Northwestern University and in that same year, became an Assistant Professor at the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. Dr. Prevedouros became a Professor in 2005 and continues to this day to teach both undergraduate and graduate courses in the discipline of Traffic and Transportation Engineering.

Dr. Prevedouros may be best known locally for his advocacy for cost effective traffic solutions such as synchronizing traffic signals, utilizing grade separation at congested intersections, the implementation of managed lanes and other bottleneck relief solutions. In the community of Ewa Beach alone, Dr. Prevedouros has held over four town hall meetings at the calling of area officials.

In addition to countless invited speeches in Hawaii, Dr. Prevedouros has lectured at several US Universities as well as Universities in Austria, Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, Nepal, Singapore and S. Korea. He was instrumental in establishing a cooperative agreement between the Engineering Colleges of University of Hawaii and University of Saitama, Japan. In June 2009, Dr. Prevedouros organized and chaired a Transportation Research Board and Federal Highway Administration sponsored scientific conference in Honolulu. The 2nd International Symposium on Freeway and Tollway Operations was attended by over 300 experts.

Dr. Prevedouros is a court-qualified Traffic and Transportation Engineering expert in the State of Hawaii, has chaired the transportation committee of the local Chapter for the American Society of Civil Engineers, and was a founding member of the Hawaii Chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers. He developed and advised the UH chapter of the Institute of Transportation engineers and he developed and managed UH’s Traffic and Transportation Laboratory. He’s subcommittee chair on traffic simulation at the National Research Council since 2006.

Dr. Prevedouros has received a number of international awards including Transportation Research Board awards in 1995 and 2009 (TRB is a unit of the National Academy of Engineering), Outstanding UH Faculty award in 1996, Van Wagoner Award for Urban Underpasses by the Institute of Transportation Engineers in 2005, and Best Paper on Transportation Sustainability Award from World Road Association (2011.) He co-authored the 2nd and 3rd editions of internationally adopted textbook Transportation Engineering and Planning (Prentice Hall, 1993 and 2001.)

Today the central part of the H-1 Freeway runs at least 10% better than it did 12 years ago. Every improvement to the H-1 freeway done between 2000 and 2012 has been analyzed and justified by Dr. Prevedouros, including the upcoming PM Zipper lane and the lane addition at the Middle Street merge. He has testified at several hearings, helped modify bills and served at Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization’s TAC.

Dr. Prevedouros was appointed to the City Council Transit Advisory Task Force in 2006 and was the only member out of seven that did not approve elevated rail as the LPA. He was appointed by Council Chair Barbara Marshall to the Transit Technology Expert Panel in 2008 and was the only member out of five that did not approve the steel wheels on steel rail technology for Honolulu. He ran for Honolulu mayor in 2008 and 2010, and assisted mayoral candidate and past Governor Benjamin Cayetano in 2012 based on his expert opinion that elevated rail for Honolulu is a boondoggle.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama Re-elected. Market Drops 2%. So What?

I am sure that my Obama loving friends celebrated well last night. I'm glad they did because it's pretty much downhill from here.  This market reaction is only a tiny harbinger of what's to come.

Nothing personal with the President, but as Margaret Thatcher put it, Socialism lasts only as long as other people's money last. The math is both simple and brutal.

I hope you don’t think that only the top 1% of income earners lost a bit of wealth overnight.  Government and private company retirement funds, individual 401Ks, university endowments and most other savings and investments of the remaining 99% are in the stock market. (And in US bonds and T-bills that pay less than inflation so people's savings diminish with time while pension under-funding is growing.)

Of course Californians voted for added taxation to themselves. The outcome of this will be none other than ... Ross Perot's "giant sucking sound..."

These days the world is running at the speed of the Internet. Trends develop and bubbles burst quickly. So all of us under 75 stand a good chance in finding what Greece is all about where, among other things, unemployment for people under 25 yo is at about 50%.

Celebration will quickly turn into sequestration. The Treasury has quietly informed the President that the debt limit will be reached before the year is out.


On November 7, the day after the election the DOW dropped from 13,300 to 13,000. Some said that this was a temporary knee-jerk reaction. By November 15 the DOW had slid further to 12,500.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Rail Is Not a Path to Prosperity for Honolulu

ENERGY.  Rail may be electric but 85% of electricity production on Oahu comes from oil and coal. This won't change much with the current intermittent renewable energy schemes. So rail does not reduce our economic dependency to imported fuels but it increases our dependency to imported sole source equipment and parts for which knowledge base is absent throughout Hawaii.

DEVELOPMENT.  Rail is not needed for TODs and other development. To be done successfully, these need a solid business foundation and strong demand. Neither is present for major development. US Census statistics clearly show that Oahu and Hawaii are in prolonged and perhaps permanent "sideways" trends.  See here [link].  How can a place prosper when prime agricultural land is turned into cookie cutter sprawled homes and fake gentleman farms?

JOBS.  It is bad policy to develop transportation solutions in order to provide jobs, particularly by selecting a type of transportation that will take the transit subsidy share of the city budget from 11% to 19%. This is the path to bankruptcy, not the path to prosperity.

TRANSIT SHARE.  It is counterproductive to develop a form of transportation that will take the current mass transit share from 6% to 7.4% at a cost of over $4 billion for the local economy. Unsurprisingly if one looks at the Final EIS, all freeway and main arterial screen-lines are shown to have similar or worse congestion with rail. Congestion chokes our economy. Fake relief will provide fake results.

CONGESTION.  Honolulu has a modest tax base and it clearly cannot support mega-projects such as the proposed rail. Honolulu has relatively severe congestion because it is among the most lane deficient cities in the union.

ECONOMY.  Despite having the best bus system in the nation and very expensive fuel pricing, the demand for independent travel is very strong, partly due to tourism, military and people having multiple jobs. A single rail line does very little for tourists, too little for people with multiple jobs and nothing for the military.

MOBILITY.  A lot of our traffic is school and college based and rail does really nothing for these trips. Over half of the traffic on the roads is pickup trucks and SUVs of plumbers, electricians, distributors, repairmen and soccer moms. Rail does nothing for them too.

PRODUCTIVITY.  Adding a lot of nothing gets us nothing. In fact the FEIS clearly shows that 70,000 daily riders will switch from bus to rail.  Add a few carpoolers and the 1% who may abandon their car and that's how the rail ridership comes about. Where is the productivity in this?  Even of rail had no construction cost, one would be hard pressed to come up with positive productivity for it.

GUT TheBus.  Last but not least, the rail will dismantle the No.1 system in the nation. All TheBus routes listed below (copied from the rail FEIS) will be terminated at the nearest train station or eliminated altogether: B, C, E, 3, 9, 11, 20, 43, 53, 73, 81, 90, 91, 92, 93, 94, 96, 97, 98A, 101, 102, 103, 201, 202.

An abbreviated TV editorial of this article appeared on Hawaii News Now on October 29 and 30.  Mahalo to Rick Blangiardi, General Manager of KGMB and KHNL for this opportunity.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Nimitz Flyover Cost Estimate Suggests that Rail Will Cost $7 Billion

In comparison, the structural and construction cost of the rail viaduct per mile will be similar or higher than $270 million per mile. So 20 miles of rail at $270 million per mile will cost $5.4 Billion. The rail's budget is $5.16 Billion. This means that the rail project will have no money left for trains, stations, a rail yard, etc. after 20 miles of viaduct has been built. Or that the rail will cost well more than $7 billion to complete.

Read full article in Honolulu Civil Beat.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Bus vs. Rail – 2007 Comparison and 2012 Opinion from Los Angeles


The Gold Line BRT opened in 2003, the Orange Line Rail in 2005. Each is about 14 miles long, and each has 13 stations, about a mile apart. How do they compare?
  • The BRT line was expected to start out at 5,000 to 7,500 average weekday boardings, growing to 22,000 by 2020. It actually achieved the 2020 goal by its seventh month.
  • The LRT, by contrast, was supposed to start off with 30,000 weekday boardings and double that by 2023. But its actual ridership has been lower than that of the BRT line—well below projections.
  • The capital cost of the BRT line was $349 million. The Light Rail cost was $859 million.
  • The operating costs also favor BRT, with the Orange Line costing $0.54 per passenger mile compared with $1.08 for the Rail. On a cost per boarding basis, it’s $3.79 for BRT versus $7.54 for Rail.
  • Lesson: A high-end BRT is far more cost-effective (bang for the buck) than a typical LRT, meaning you get a lot more transit per dollar spent.
  • If a city is short on transit dollars, then a simple express bus service on a major arterial can provide tremendous value per dollar spent.


"When you look at the size of Honolulu (and) you look at the transportation problem they're seeking to solve, BRT is almost certainly a better investment,"
UCLA Prof. Brian Taylor said.

Taylor's research shows one of the greatest factors in determining a transit system's appeal is the ease with which riders can get to a transit line, whether it's BRT or rail. If a rider needs to go through various steps like walking, driving or transferring to get to a final destination, the less likely he or she is to use public transportation. "So, making the vehicle a little bit faster is not nearly as important as having a cutting down of the wait time," he said.

While the overall number of projected riders appears impressive, Taylor says it's not nearly enough to offset the tremendous capital cost needed to build the system, as well as the additional expenditures required to operate and maintain it. Heavy rail is much better suited for large, metropolitan cities like Tokyo, New York and London, which generate extremely large numbers of riders.

Source: UCLA expert weighs in on transit debate, Andrew Pereira, KITV