Thursday, December 3, 2009

Revitalize Honolulu with BRT

The news from Cleveland is that in October 2008, construction finally ended along one of major avenues. "The crumbling Euclid Avenue corridor had become a sparkling link between downtown and University Circle. The sleek buses, the slick stations and the smooth road offered a potential path to urban renewal." (1)

What spurred this renewal? A bus rapid transit, or BRT system. The same can be applied for a connection between the UH-Manoa and Honolulu's downtown. We proposed this back in 2002 (2), but the city's planners preferred to take lanes away from Kapiolani Boulevard, at a loss of two lanes along the contraflow peak direction. That BRT proposal ended when the FTA revoked its initial approval of the Harris administration proposal.

Note that King Street and Beretania Streets have the most schools, doctors offices, markets, and other small businesses per mile of arterial street in Honolulu. A BRT system will be vastly more useful (and affordable) than any rail system with mile apart stations.

If Honolulu was not drowning in its multi-billion rail system then it would be applying for these ready-to-use Federal Transit Administration special funds for BRT:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today announced that FTA will publish a solicitation for grant applications for streetcar and bus circulators and bus facilities. The $280M in grants will be awarded in conjunction with the DOT-HUD-EPA Livability Initiative. For the urban circulator projects, a maximum amount of $25M per project will be made available. (3)

This is one of many indications that change in City Hall is the only hope for refocusing Honolulu projects on cost-effective congestion solutions and essential infrastructure fixes.




Monday, November 23, 2009

Global Warming: Fact or Fraud?

Climate Change has been the less alarmist moniker for Global Warming. Of course since the beginning days of Earth, climate have been, is and will be in constant change. Global Warming on the other hand has been a direct accusation that anthropogenic (man made) green house gas emissions have altered Earth's climate.

I have been a skeptic of Global Warming since U.S. Vice President Al Gore received the Nobel Prize and evidence of fraudulent statements in his movie and writings were revealed. Then I read "Blue Planet in Green Shackles" by Czech Republic's President Vaclav Klaus whom Al Gore has never agreed to debate. When I bring the subject of anthropogenic global warming subject up on the radio I get polite reminders from some of my university colleagues about my misunderstandings.

Today's announcement by the Global Warming Policy Foundation signals the beginning of the end of one of science's biggest errors. Error or not, Global Warming has been a tremendous source for political and business profit based almost entirely on hot air, real or manipulated.

The Global Warming Policy Foundation is an all-party and non-party think tank and a registered educational charity. Their data, interpretations and positions have effected British, European and international policy on climate change through the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. IPCC findings are broadly disputed by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC).

On November 23, 2009 Lord Lawson, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Global Warming Policy Foundation called for a rigorous and independent inquiry into leaked revelations of fraud. I quote from the Global Warming Policy Foundation website (see source below):

"Astonishingly, what appears, at least at first blush, to have emerged is that
(a) the scientists have been manipulating the raw temperature figures to show a relentlessly rising global warming trend;
(b) they have consistently refused outsiders access to the raw data;
(c) the scientists have been trying to avoid freedom of information requests; and
(d) they have been discussing ways to prevent papers by dissenting scientists being published in learned journals."

It is not a coincidence that issues (a) through (d) are exactly what NIPCC scientists have been pointing out all along. The authors of the NIPCC report "cite thousands of peer-reviewed research papers and books that were ignored by the IPCC." The NIPCC finding can be summed up as follows: The warming of the twentieth century was moderate and not unprecedented, that its impact on human health and wildlife was positive, and that carbon dioxide probably is not the driving factor behind climate change.

Lord Lawson's announcement also includes a passage that is highly critical of scientific honesty. It is highly unlikely that he would have included the sentence ... the reputation of British science has been seriously tarnished... in the absence of mounting evidence of fraud. "There may be a perfectly innocent explanation. But what is clear is that the integrity of the scientific evidence on which not merely the British Government, but other countries, too, through the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), claim to base far-reaching and hugely expensive policy decisions, has been called into question. And the reputation of British science has been seriously tarnished. A high-level independent inquiry must be set up without delay."

The media have made Global Warming a household issue, although in most surveys generally a minority is interested or concerned about the subject. However, many real and fake green (or blue if you are in Europe) initiatives have been started to help "avert global warming." None were successful enough since Hollywood in the recently released 2012 movie proclaimed that the end is near: Both the Kyoto Protocol and the U.S. Congress' proposed Cap and Trade legislation were too little too late.

Quite likely 2010 will be the year to leave Global Warming behind us and tackle real issues such as the supply of adequate food, water, energy, mobility and health-care for an ever increasing population and an ever improving standard of living on Earth.

SOURCE: Lord Lawson Calls For Public Inquiry Into CRU Data Affair

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Is There a Plan to Solve Traffic Congestion of Oahu?

Unlike most other urban areas, where congestion decreased slightly from two years ago, the latest Urban Mobility Report from the Texas Transportation Institute shows that congestion has gotten worse in Honolulu:

  • The number of hours per person spent stuck in traffic increased from 24 hours to 26.
  • The travel-time index increased from 1.22 to 1.24, so it takes 24% longer to make a trip at rush hour than at other times, on the average.
  • The annual cost of wasted time and fuel ballooned from $166 million to $199 million.
  • Honolulu is the 28th most congested urban area in the United States.

Of course it is not new to residents that Honolulu is a congested city. Honolulu is one of the nation’s most lane deficient cities. It has a traffic congestion problem; not a transit ridership problem. A traffic problem cannot be solved with transit solutions.

Some say that Honolulu has such severe congestion because its car ownership is very high. Some politicians even claim that Honolulu is number one in car ownership. This is totally wrong. Honolulu’s car ownership ranks 64th in the nation, much lower than its rank in population!

So are we going to see an improvement in congestion? The rail proposal clearly says that:
(1) TheBus carries 6% of the trips on Oahu now, and
(2) TheBus and TheRail together will carry 7% of the trips 20 years from now.
What’s the end result? Much worse traffic congestion.

I had a brief “exit interview” with 2nd ISFO speaker and presidential advisor on transportation Robert Poole. He noted that:

“Listening to the city and state transportation planners at the conference, I was struck by how passive they were in the face of Honolulu’s serious, ever-worsening traffic congestion.”

“Highly cost-effective techniques that have long been routine in mainland cities—such as ramp meters on freeway on-ramps and synchronized traffic signal timing—still sound like new and controversial ideas in Honolulu.

“Brand new billion-dollar-scale high occupancy vehicle and toll (HOT) lane projects are under way in a dozen cities. Yet HOT lanes are barely a subject for study in Honolulu.

“Has reducing congestion—i.e., targeting a congestion level lower than today’s – even been suggested as a transportation goal in Honolulu?”

I also had the opportunity to talk at length with the 2nd ISFO keynote speaker, renowned transportation historian and congressional transportation policy analyst Alan Pisarski, author of the series Commuting in America. Here are his summary comments:

“The fragility of Oahu’s transportation system is staggering. It is a system sharply constrained by geography – both water and mountains. Just one strategically placed fender-bender can disrupt a large area for hours.

“Every tool in the traffic operations toolbox should be examined for application to the island’s daily needs. Any opportunity to upgrade and modernize the system around the freeways and their corridors must be seriously considered.

“A special events planning team integrated with the operations function is a critical step.”

Oahu is lacking in both event planning and hands-on 24x7 traffic management. The result is regional chaos with parade closures, accidents and special events at UH-Manoa campus and Aloha Stadium.

Pisarski added that “it should go without saying that traffic on the island must accommodate the two major industries of national defense and tourism. Any assessment of needs and goals must recognize that there are at least three major layers of transportation needs on Oahu: Daily life of its residents, Tourism, and National Defense.

Pisarski said that a simple question provides the fundamental guide for directing transportation resources: “What share of our resources are we spending on what share of our problem?” Oahu now plans to spend over 40% of its transportation resources on a mass transit system that will serve 7% of its trips, at best.

One of the basic duties that local transportation government has not done is take a fundamental look of transportation needs and allocations. This deficiency is pointing the finger at the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization, but OMPO, thanks to its Policy Advisory Committee, operates as a political arm of the executive and legislative bodies, and not as an impartial regional transportation agency.

Persistent congestion, insane road closures from accidents or parades, communities like Waianae depending on a single road, roads full of potholes, the smelly and clunky Wiki-Wiki, the dirty and late buses are all outcomes of wrong priorities. The people in charge are not asking the right questions, and they are not working on real solutions.

Pisarksi conluded that: “Given all of its constraints and challenges Hawaii should be a national leader in understanding and addressing mobility needs for Defense, Tourism and Residents.

“It should be pretty obvious that a flexible, highway based system is at the core of the solution to provide needed mobility for defense, deliveries and tourism, with express toll lanes added in the plan for express buses and carpools to serve school trips and peak period commuters.”

Does Oahu do this? No! The priority of its disconnected government is “smart growth”, rail transit and Transit Oriented Development or TOD. Not surprisingly, the recent Urban Land Institute survey on Oahu shows that this is not what the residents want. Here’s an excerpt from their website:

In January, 2009, ULI Hawaii commissioned a survey of housing attitudes among the public. The phone survey was of 600 Oahu residents.

… there is relatively much less support for the “smart growth” idea of higher-density use of existing urban areas – perhaps in part because people here generally still would rather live in suburban/rural settings themselves. [Source:]

Friday, November 13, 2009

Lessons for Hawaii from International Conference Held In Honolulu

The 2nd International Symposium in Freeway and Tollway Operations was held in Honolulu, Hawaii from June 21-24, 2009. More than 200 experts specializing in freeway and tollway operations gathered from around the world to share their research knowledge and experiences. These series of articles summarize some of the major presentations with useful lessons for Hawaii. Our thanks to Hawaii Reporter for publishing these articles.

1. Challenges of Hawaii’s Private Transportation Companies, James K. Tokishi, 10/20/2009, LINK

2. Maintaining and Increasing the Benefits of Managed Lanes, Alireza Abrishamkar, 10/21/2009, LINK

3. Experiences with Managed Lanes in the United States, Lambros K. Mitropoulos, 10/22/2009, LINK

4. Public Private Partnerships for Highway Projects, Laxman KC, 10/29/2009, LINK

5. Intelligence for Smarter Roadways, Alyx (Xin) Yu, 10/31/2009, LINK

6. Intelligent Highway Systems for Rural Roads, Natasha Soriano, 11/10/2009,

7. Green Travel for Highways, Lambros K. Mitropoulos, 11/3/2009, LINK

8. Sensing the Future of Traffic Detection, Alyx (Xin) Yu, 11/4/2009, LINK

9. Lane Control with Active Traffic Management for Congestion Reduction, Laxman KC, 11/12/2009, LINK

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Irrelevance of Transit—A Brief Translation from Portland to Oahu

Randall O’Toole is one of the most knowledgeable people when it comes to government subsidized transportation and transit systems in particular. He is an analyst at CATO Institute in Oregon and he dubs himself the AntiPlanner who is “an active cyclist and avid rail fan who nonetheless recognizes that the automobile is the greatest invention of the last 200 years.”

His recent article is titled “The Importance of Cars; The Irrelevance of Transit” A which summarizes a new study published by the Cascade Policy Institute authored by Randall Pozdena, one Oregon’s most respected economists. The study is titled Driving the Economy: Automotive Travel, Economic Growth and the Risks of Global Warming Regulations.

The study’s primary findings may be actually summarized on one line only: People in wealthy economies drive more; people who drive more live in wealthier economies. In other words, in any way you wish to look at it, the auto is the key to prosperity.

In the same article I also found a paragraph about Portland’s transit agency, the TriMet, and I could not help myself from translating into the Oahuan Rail Language because it precisely paints the picture of Oahu with rail in 2030.

Here is the Portland version:

Even as it loses hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on this Toonerville trolley, TriMet is cutting bus service — again. “The purposeful degradation of downtown-centered bus service in favor of goofball streetcars and trains to nowhere marks a real decline in mass transit in Portland,” comments Portland blogger Bojack. “How the people responsible for this — people like [Representative] Earl the Pearl [Blumenauer] and [TriMet General Manager] Crocodile Fred Hansen — pass themselves off as champions of transit is beyond me. Champions of pork and condos is what they are.”

Here is the Oahu Rail version:

Even as it will be losing hundreds of thousands of dollars a month on the heavy rail, Oahu Rail is cutting TheBus — again. “The purposeful degradation of downtown-centered bus service in favor of goofball rail cars to nowhere marks a real decline in mass transit in Honolulu. How the people responsible for this — people like [Senator] Espero Earl of Ewa and [Rail Plan Manager] Barracuda Toru Hamayasu — pass themselves off as champions of transit is beyond me. Champions of pork and condos is what they are.”

In all seriousness, time and again rail transit outside megalopolis is irrelevant. When Hannemann, Caldwell and Apo talk about Transit Oriented Developments or TOD they literally talk about Taxes Offered to Developers. Who is really behind Mufi’s train? Developers, contractors, banks and construction unions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Is Modern Oahu Like Ancient Greece?

As appeared in the Honolulu Star Bulletin and the Hawaii Reporter

Full of tyrants and myths? At least when it comes to rail, yes!

Only a tyrant would tax people for a rail project years before the proposal has been found to be environmentally acceptable and federally funded.

Only a tyrant would award contracts unlawfully for a project that has neither state nor federal environmental and other approvals.

Only a tyrant would manipulate the process in order to ignore superior and lower cost alternatives such as bus rapid transit and true light rail.

It is a myth that heavy rail is useful, green, can be built with current taxes or will ease congestion.

Fact is that this train will be least useful to families with kids, schoolchildren, the elderly, and the handicapped. It will serve less than 3% of the trips conducted daily on Oahu.

If New York City's rail network is excluded, because it alone carries 60% of all rail passengers in the nation, then the remainder of the U.S. rail systems are worse green house gas generators than cars. Much worse than hybrid cars.

There are fewer than five miles of elevated freeways in urban Oahu. The rail will be a 36 mile continuously elevated superstructure. And it will destroy what’s left of prime agricultural land.

Zeus would be proud of Oahu's tyrants and their myths. Fact is that Zeus never existed. This train should not exist either.

Panos D. Prevedouros, PhD
Professor of Civil Engineering

Thursday, October 22, 2009

TOD Do not Benefit Congestion and Commuting

Transit Oriented Developments (TOD) are advocated as an integrated mass transit and housing solution that lessens the dependency on private vehicles, thus they may also reduce congestion, fuel consumption and pollution.

TODs are a major reason why Oahu's large developers and bankers are behind the heavy rail proposal. It presents a massive opportunity to build and finance real estate.

Unfortunately TOD's practical goals for car dependency reduction fail to materialize. Here is a prime example from Portland, the "poster child" of Light Rail advocacy and TODs.

I quote the abstract of research reported by Bruce Podobnik of the Department of Sociology at the Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon dated July 15, 2009. No further comment is necessary in regard to the traffic congestion potential of TODs:

"This study examines the extent to which specific social and environmental objectives have been achieved in the new urbanist community of Orenco Station (Portland, Oregon). House-level surveys were conducted in Orenco Station, as well as a traditional suburb and two long established urban neighborhoods. Survey data reveal high levels of social interaction in the new urbanist community, as compared to the comparison neighborhoods.

"The analysis also reveals a higher level of walking, and an increase in the occasional use of mass transit, in the new urbanist community. However, the majority of residents in all four neighborhoods (including the new urbanist neighborhood) rely on single occupancy vehicles for their regular commute.

"In sum, this study shows that Orenco Station is very effective in achieving its social objectives, modestly effective in encouraging walking and the occasional use of mass transit–but not very effective in increasing primary reliance on mass transit for commuting."

Friday, October 16, 2009

Oahu Needs Change (We Can Believe In), or Congestion is Here to Stay

There is no better proof that traffic congestion will worsen in the future than the regional transportation plan being prepared for OMPO. OMPO is the Oahu Metropolitan Planning Organization. It's a federally mandated agency that coordinates city and state transportation improvements on Oahu.

OMPO is governed by its decision making Policy Committee consisted by directors of transportation and elected officials. It is a true oddity that elected officials from other counties sit on Oahu's Metropolitan Planning Organization. (Why can't they sit in California MPOs and stop toll roads there instead?) That's a subject for a separate investigation.

OMPO is preparing the 2035 Plan for Oahu. Read their Vision, Goal and Objective excerpted below. For Oahu's people, the number one transportation issue is traffic congestion. It is completely absent from the stated vision, goals and objectives. The conclusion is inescapable: Congestion on Oahu exists and gets increasingly worse due to deliberate planning and decision making. Of course such an overt bias of metropolitan planning should come as no surprise to those informed about the "rail transit" and "smart growth" agendas for political gain and profiteering from developments of the rail project.

To be completed by early 2011 by PARSONS BRINCKERHOFF [A major city consultant for the rail]

In 2035, Oahu will be a place where we will have efficient, well-maintained, safe, secure, convenient, appropriate, and economical choices in getting from place to place. Our transportation system will move us and the goods we use in a manner that supports the island's high quality of life, natural beauty, economic vitality, and land use policies by supporting appropriate density development and avoiding urban sprawl. This system will promote energy conservation and economic sustainability as well as the protection of our ports of entry, preparation for emergency situations and changes in global climate patterns.

Provide an inclusive, multi-modal transport system whose connectedness provides efficient means for users desiring to move about this island by bicycle, freight carrier, pedestrian facility, road, transit service, and intermodal connectors.

1. Develop, operate, and maintain alternative transportation facilities, including bikeways, walkways, and other accessible pedestrian, bicycle, and environmentally-friendly elements

2. Enhance the integration and connectivity of the regional transportation system.

3. Provide efficient, convenient, and cost-effective transit service to Oahu’s citizens.

4. Promote the intermodal efficiency of harbor terminal facilities, airport terminal facilities, and land transportation systems.

5. Provide rehabilitation, renewal, and modernization of facilities in sufficient magnitude to ensure system preservation and continued, effective operation.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The warmest year recorded globally was ... 1998!

Although I am mindful of the climate change issue I have not purchased any stock in the Global Warming company which is a mother lode of "environmentalist" scare tactics and problematic scientific scenarios of future earth disasters.


"This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might the fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998.

But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures.

And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise.

So what on Earth is going on?"

Read on here:

I suggest that you draw no conclusions either way now, and make no hasty decisions now. Carbon taxation and sequestration can wait. If Congress wants to help, they should start with corn ethanol, the king of fake green fuels and one of many scores of counter-productive environmentalism.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

"Gary Okino" versus "Cliff Slater" -- Vancouver SkyTrain Edition


This is just garbage. Sure when, and it is very rare when SkyTrain has a problem, they need to go back to manual operations which compared to the automated operation is very slow. But the reality is that SkyTrain operates more efficiently than any other system. There has never been an accident with SkyTrain on automatic control. Never a loss of life accident like in Washington. The trains are so close you can see the one in front some times. Try 5 – 10 minutes apart in other systems. Even Canada Line will be 7 min. apart.

I have read this blog for a while and it is clear the author has a beef about SkyTrain, but it is unfounded. His facts are many times not correct, like one post states TransLink subsidizes SkyTrain to the tune of $200,000,000 well the total cost to run SkyTrain is more like under $100,000,000 and passenger fares cover 105% of the operation of SkyTrain. It is the bus company not SkyTrain getting a huge subsidy.

Who can trust anything from a source so lacking in reality.


It is you sir, that lacks reality.

FACT: The 1991 GVRD study, “The cost of Transporting People in the Lower Mainland”, put the annual SkyTrain subsidy at $157.6 million; by 2001, with the opening of the Millennium Line, the annual subsidy paid to SkyTrain was over $200 million.

FACT: TransLink does not apportion fares between buses and SkyTrain, thus can’t claim any statistic that shows that SkyTrain recovers passenger fares. 80% of SkyTrain’s passengers first take a bus to the metro.

FACT: According to Gerald Fox’s “A Comparison Between Light Rail and Automated Transit Systems”, found SkyTrain (and all automatic transit systems) less reliable than light rail.

FACT: SkyTrain has an annual death rate of 5 to 10 people annually. True SkyTrain has never had a collision in revenue service, but the Washington Metro also operates under Automatic Train Control and it appears that one train was in automatic operation and the second train was being driven manually. SkyTrain are also driven manually if need be.

FACT: SkyTrain is having ongoing signaling problems and delays are so bad that they are being reported on the radio on a weekly basis.

FACT: Light Rail can operate safely at 30 second headways and does in daily service in cities around the world.

FACT: The provincial government has never divulged the real cost to date of SkyTrain, yet in the USA, the public are told of the total cost, including debt servicing, of a transit project.

FACT: Just the Expo Line cost 60% more to operate than the entire Calgary C-Train (LRT) and Calgary’s LRT carries more passengers.


Conclusion: Facts always trump railigion.

Monday, October 5, 2009

3 Success Stories of HOT Lanes -- Oahu Is Missing out on Real Congestion Relief

1. FLORIDA: (Miami Herald) The Florida Department of Transportation has claimed victory against chronic traffic congestion on Interstate 95 northbound thanks to the new toll express lanes.

Motorists who use the two variable-toll express lanes now travel at an average speed of 56 mph during rush hour -- 36 mph faster than before the lanes opened. Even drivers who use the four free lanes are traveling faster at peak times, the report said -- 42 mph instead of 20 mph.

Congestion reducing results like this are typical for HOT lane deployments in the nation. However, client-focused Parsons Brinkerhoff managed to model HOT lanes in the Honolulu Alternatives Analysis in a way that HOT lanes performed far worse than existing conditions. A first in the nation. I strongly objected to their methods and findings but the Alternatives Analysis panel voted 6-1 in approving PB's analysis that killed HOT lanes for Honolulu in November 2006.

Back to Florida, the average weekday toll is 90 cents, with an average rush-hour toll of $1.85 and an average off-peak toll of 47 cents. (Remember that during the 2008 elections Hannemann said that tolls are 10 dollars?)

Southbound express lanes, now under construction, are expected to open later this year or in early 2010.


2. MINNESOTA: U.S. DOT Secretary LaHood inaugurated the second HOT lane project in the twin cities. The HOT Lanes on Interstate 35W project is one of the first nationwide to make use of all lanes, including the shoulder, during peak travel periods to provide drivers the option of taking a less-congested path, according to FHWA.

While the interstate previously had High Occupancy Vehicle lanes open to carpools and buses, this project converted them into High Occupancy Toll lanes with pricing based on demand. The Minnesota DOT also converted shoulders into Priced Dynamic Shoulder Lanes, which allow buses and carpools to use them at no charge while also permitting access during peak times to low-occupancy vehicles willing to pay a toll.

The U.S. DOT provided $133 million for this project with Federal Highway Administration funding lane conversions and tolling technology, the Federal Transit Administration paying for Bus Rapid Transit facilities and Park & Ride lots, and the Research and Innovative Technology Administration offering grants for the operational test period of the new tolling equipment.

This is Minnesota's second highway with HOT lanes. The I-394 express lanes opened in 2005. Prices range from 25 cents per trip when traffic is light to as much as $8 during heavy peak-period traffic. MnDOT's goal is to keep traffic in the express lanes moving at a minimum of 50 mph.

Note that few motorists pay the maximum toll. When maximum toll is displayed, it actually has the purpose of discouraging more vehicles from entering the HOT lanes so that free flow conditions can be maintained.


3. NATIONAL: Quantified Advantages of HOT Lanes

In the September 2009 issue of the Journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers senior planner Decorla-Souza and senior engineer Halkias of the U.S. DOT quantify the advantage of turning shoulders of 6 lane freeways (3 lanes per direction) into HOT lanes. Their example fits the H-1 freeway like a glove because their case is for a chronically congested 6-lane freeway.

In the base case (or existing conditions) the peak direction carries 6,930 vehicles per hour. With the managed shoulder open, the freeway would carry 7,200 vehicles per hour, or a 4% gain.

The huge difference is in the average speeds which improve from 29 mph in the base case (much lower for H-1 fwy.) to 33 mph for the general lanes and 55 mph for the HOT lane for a grand average of 38 mph or 31% improvement in speed.

In comparison, the proposed rail for Honolulu won't provide any such congestion relief.

Using a cost of gasoline at (only) $2.50 per gallon and a value of time at $14.60 the combined savings in time and fuel due to the addition of a single HOT lane comes to $16 million per year. In addition, the modified freeway with one HOT lane (for an assumed length of 10 miles) will decrease greenhouse gases by 7%.

In comparison, the proposed rail for Honolulu won't provide any such pollution reduction.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Olympic Airways RIP (1957-2009)

Developed into an international airline by shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis, bought by the Greek government and operated by pro-socialist unions; successfully run into the ground.

Olympic Airlines declared bankruptcy on 29 September and ceased all operations. Olympic Airlines last flight from Vienna. Flight 160, Boeing 737-400. Low pass over runway 03R and landing at runway 03R in Athens, Greece, September 28th, 2009:

"The company has faced serious financial trouble since the 1980s, mostly because of management problems." ( Although articles conveniently point the finger to past governments (some of their leaders are deceased), a big share of the problems of Olympic Airways was its leftist unions. Inflexible, greedy and providing a poor level of service. To get a feel of operational disruptions by its unions Google: Olympic Airways + labor strikes.

Olympic Airways was a sizable airline: Traffic for Olympic in 2007 reached a total of 5,977,104 passengers (3,115,521 in domestic and 2,681,583 in international flights) compared to approximately 5,500,000 passengers in 2006. It is estimated that Olympic Airways earned approximately 780 million euro in 2007 (about 1.1 billion US dollars.)

Olympic was Greece's airline. My heart would skip a beat when I would see an Olympic Airways airplane in the air or at a gate in any of the many airports were I have passed over the years. It's like seeing a piece of Greece right there, in the middle of Asia or Australia.

However the last two decades Greeks themselves renamed it from "Olympiaki Aeroporia" to "Olympiaki Taleporia" (it rhymes in Greek) or roughly translated, from Olympic Airways to Olympic Troubleways. Might as well RIP.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

4 x 10 Workweek Does Wonders for Utah

I quote from TIME magazine:
  • Utah state was the first in the U.S. to mandate a four-day workweek for most state employees, closing offices on Fridays in an effort to reduce energy costs.
  • Not a furlough. Salaries were not cut; nor was the total amount of time employees work... (5 x 8 = 4 x 10)
  • The compressed workweek resulted in a 13% reduction in energy use.
  • Employees saved as much as $6 million in gasoline costs.
  • Fears that working 10-hour days would lead to burnout turned out to be unfounded — workers took fewer sick days and reported exercising more on Fridays.
  • 82% of state workers say they want to keep the new schedule.
  • Unexpected benefits for people who aren't state employees: Utah's government offices have become accessible to people who in the past had to miss work to get there in time. With the new 4-10 policy, lines at the department of motor vehicles actually got shorter.

Given Hawaii's oversized government and the underutilized potential of telecommuting for some of Hawaii's private sector (i.e., telecommute for one day per week for a large portion of white collar labor), traffic congestion can be drastically reduced with compressed work week and telecommuting while realizing huge energy savings. Tight budgets and high energy prices (or fossil fuel dependency reductions) lead smart governments to effective solutions.

But that's Utah. In Hawaii real solutions are brushed off. Here most politicians are prepared to sink $5.3 billion on a useless rail system instead.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Road Work Symposium: Fixing Roads or Buying Votes?

Tuesday, Sep. 29, 2009, 10:30 a.m to 3:00 p.m.
Neal S. Blaisdel Center

"The Symposium will outline the City and County of Honolulu’s Road Work project schedules and opportunities totaling over $100M of work." Another colorful flier from the City touting a forthcoming infrastructure achievement. How about a reality check?

Oahu has 1628 miles of roads and only 88 centerline miles of it are its freeways. Then there are other major highways and a few arterials that are state's jurisdiction (e.g., Pali, Likelike, Kal and Kam Highways.) It leaves the city with about 1,400 miles of roadways.

Good paving jobs average about $250,000 per lane mile in Hawaii. Reconstruction could cost twice as much, and several road segments on Oahu do need reconstruction.

Let's make some basic assumptions to get a handle on Oahu's road repair liability. Let's assume that only half of the roads need fixing, and that the average road is 4 lanes wide. We have long avenues that are 5, 6 or more lanes wide and those are the ones that are in critical need for repair. The majority of the county roads are two lanes mostly comprised of neighborhood access and collector streets.

So here is a rough total for road repair costs (not for bridges, just for pavements):

1400 x 0.5 x 4 x $250,000 = $700 Million

Given that some city arteries need reconstruction, we come up with a rough total of one billion dollar budget for pavement repairs. This estimate means that about $100 million per year in today's worth is needed for the next 10 years to fix half of Oahu roads and by then the other half of the roads would fixing.

Indeed road maintenance is a perpetual job. This is the reason why cities and states which have their act together have firmly established Pavement Management Systems. We don't.

After five years in office mayor Mufi Hannemann comes up with a one time $100M announcement. Way too late and too little to improve Honolulu roads from being third worst in the nation, but a well timed expenditure of taxpayer money for political gain.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Federal Deficit Made Easy

There is no subject more important than the cumulative federal budget deficit. It is one thing to say that Washington has lost touch with America, and quite another when the deficit is brought down to understandable levels and the crisis hits home. The three visualizations below show what a $56 trillion in unfunded obligations really means.

One Trillion Dollars Made Easy
How much is one trillion dollars in $100 bills?

Obama Administration Deficit Made Easy
This is a comparison with past presidents since 1900. This smart animation represents U.S. deficits in miles per hour. The highest spending speed before President Obama was 64 miles per hour by his predecessor. Now Obama Administration rakes in deficits at a pace of 174 miles per hour.

Your Personal Payment for the Deficit Made Easy
This one is the most depressing of them all. Basically every American owes a mortgage for a $483,000 house that he or she has no title to.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

LaHood:Trains Are the Ticket [He is Stuck in Reverse]

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been quite vocal with the bankrupt idea that (pseudo) high speed and other trains will be beneficial to the nation. Far from it. They will bankrupt the nation and harm the environment, while highway congestion rages unabated and the economy suffers.

Today LaHood said this in Ohio: Trains might never shuttle Ohioans to ballgames, musical shows and other events throughout the state as quickly as cars, but rail will attract riders who value convenience over speed, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday.

Sadly this is another political appointee selling (expensive) hot air. Here is a number of counter-punches from experts.

Four days ago the Wall Street Journal interviewed Dr. Joseph Coughlin and Dr. Bryan Reimer. They are, respectively, the director and associate director of the New England University Transportation Center and also at AgeLab, a think tank at the MIT dedicated to improving older adults' quality of life. Here is what they said. [My comments in brackets.]
  • The boomers are working more and are far more engaged in daily activities than their parents were at a comparable age. Their expectations are far greater for products that facilitate their independence and mobility as they age. [Trains are the most inflexible mode for urban transportation, thus they are the least suitable "product" for the baby boomers and their families.]
  • Some 70% of Americans over the age of 50 live in suburban or rural areas where public transit either doesn't exist or provides poor service. But more fundamentally: This is a generation that has moved around in automobiles its entire life. You don't wake up one day at age 65 or 70 and say, "I think I'll take the bus." [think that many boomers grew up in one-car families, whereas their children grew up in two and three car families. How many will sell their car and ride trains?]
  • The car is no longer just a transportation system. It is a platform for living. When we enter the car, many of us pick up the phone and call a spouse or friend or finish the day's business. We turn on the satellite radio. It may be one of the only parts of the day that truly provides some private, quality time. If it was only about transportation, any mode would do. But this is a way of living—not just a way of moving.
Isn't it interesting that the Obama Administration is in favor of trains and renewable energy but they raided renewable energy funds to provide Americans with the opportunity to buy cars with the cash-for-clunkers program? Nearly 700,000 new cars were obtained in this way complete with registration, taxes, fees and insurance. How many of them will lock them up and ride trains?

Washington State obtained a FONSI (finding of no significant impact) in its environmental justice analysis for the installation of toll roadways. What is very important in that body of work is the analysis for the usefulness of transit to the poor. Politicians often mention that rail will help the poor.

The summary result is as follows:
Transit is not a viable alternative for the poor and the jobless. More specifically transit is not considered a viable alternative as 51% or responders said that would not use transit to avoid the toll, 53% of them said that the service is too infrequent and 56% they live or work too far from transit stations. Many low-income users were found to be car-dependent and support congestion pricing.
Source: Jamie Strausz-Clark, PRR, Seattle, WA

9/24 update: "Taiwan’s struggling high speed rail line, the only fully private and commercial high speed rail system in the world, will be taken over by the government his week. The line has been plagued by disappointing ridership levels totaling approximately one-third projected levels. The cost of the system was approximately $15 billion."

Secretary LaHood needs to get in touch with transportation reality in the U.S. and stop pedling support for taxpayer financed transportation losers defined as overly expensive transportation systems that survive only with continuous tax subsidy, provide marginal improvements to productivity, harm the environment and deplete funds for real solutions to productivity, congestion and environmental impacts.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

How Much Did Cash-For-Clunkers Improve Fuel Efficiency? Quite A Lot!

The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute conducted research supported by Sustainable Worldwide Transportation to estimate the vehicle fuel economy improvement from the 2009 vehicle scrappage program, CARS, popularly known as “Cash-for-Clunkers” program. (

About 690,000 vehicles were purchased (and traded in) under the CARS program and this was part of the total of about 2,260,000 vehicles sold in July and August 2009. ( "Generally, the trade-in vehicles must have had fuel economy of 18 mpg or less and be less than 25 years old. The rebate was either $3,500 or $4,500, depending on the difference between the fuel economy of the new and the trade-in vehicles."

They found that the program improved the average fuel economy of all vehicles purchased by 0.6 mpg in July 2009 and 0.7 mpg in August 2009. The program's outcome is plotted below:

The government's conclusion is similar and is posted at the end. Basic statistics of the CARS program are copied below.

Top 10 New Vehicles Purchased
1. Toyota Corolla
2. Honda Civic
3. Toyota Camry
4. Ford Focus FWD
5. Hyundai Elantra
6. Nissan Versa
7. Toyota Prius
8. Honda Accord
9. Honda Fit
10. Ford Escape FWD

New Vehicles Manufacturers
Toyota 19.4%
General Motors 17.6%
Ford 14.4%
Honda 13.0%
Nissan 8.7%
Hyundai 7.2%
Chrysler 6.6%
Kia 4.3%
Subaru 2.5%
Mazda 2.4%
Volkswagen 2.0%
Suzuki 0.6%
Mitsubishi 0.5%
MINI 0.4%
Smart 0.2%
Volvo 0.1%
All Other <0.1%

Top 10 Traded-in Vehicles
1.Ford Explorer 4WD
2.Ford F150 Pickup 2WD
3.Jeep Grand Cherokee 4WD
4.Ford Explorer 2WD
5.Dodge Caravan/Grand Caravan 2WD
6.Jeep Cherokee 4WD
7.Chevrolet Blazer 4WD
8.Chevrolet C1500 Pickup 2WD
9.Ford F150 Pickup 4WD
10.Ford Windstar FWD Van

Average Fuel Economy
New vehicles Mileage: 24.9 MPG
Trade-in Mileage: 15.8 MPG
Overall increase: 9.2 MPG

84% of trade-ins under the program are trucks, and 59% of new vehicles purchased are cars. The fuel efficiency improved by 58% for 690,000 in the U.S fleet of private cars.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Frankford Elevated Line -- A Worrisome Connection to Honolulu

Readers of this blog and of are akamai about the maintenance nightmare that elevated heavy rail is. The weight and vibrations of trains are severe for concrete compared to the much lighter and rubber tired vehicles on elevated roadways.

Here is a quote from the September 18, 2009 issue of The Philadelphia Inquirer: "The Frankford elevated line, which was completely rebuilt in the 1980s and 1990s to last for 75 years, needs significant repairs because of a basic flaw in its reconstruction design. To prevent pieces of concrete from falling onto cars or pedestrians, SEPTA crews have installed 8,000 metal mesh belts on the underbelly of the El and plan to install 2,000 more, beginning Monday."

What is one lesson from this paragraph? Just like BART in San Francisco and all urban rail systems, they have to be largely rebuilt every 30 years. What's worse in this case is that the rebuilt needs to be rebuilt. Poor Philadelphia you say and you move on.

But then you read this in the same article: "SEPTA last month filed suit against the two companies, Parsons Brinckerhoff and Sverdrup (now part of Jacobs Engineering Group Inc.), for the repair costs."

What's the connection? Parsons Brinckerhoff is the main consultant working on Honolulu's Rail Project, and Jacobs Engineering is the Project Management Oversight Consultant to Region 9 FTA responsible for Honolulu's Rail Project.

Are you in good hands?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Five Hurdles Hannemann Administration Must Jump to Get Proposed Honolulu Rail Project Built

The brief but precise analysis done by on the procedural steps for the proposed rail system of Honolulu to move forward is available at Hawaii Reporter:

2009 Commuter Pain report: Lessons for Oahu

The 2009 Commuter Pain report, an annual study conducted by IBM was released before Labor Day. It is based on surveys of 4,400 commuters in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas-Forth Worth, Los Angeles, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, and Washington, DC. Here are some of the study findings []. As you read along you may agree that we're not much different than those big metro areas in the U.S.

Frustration levels are rising: 45% identify start-stop traffic as the most frustrating part of the commute (up from 37% last year), and 32% identify aggressive/rude drivers (up from 24% last year).

If commuting time could be reduced, 52% would spend it with family/friends – nine points higher than 2008; 37% (6 points higher than 2008) would exercise more.

With gas prices down more than $1.00 from 2008, 23% of respondents have changed their commuting habits in favor of driving versus relying on public transportation or carpooling: 19% carpool less, 19% take public transportation less, and 17% work from home less. The lesson here is that sensitivity to gas prices will be less when most SUVs are replaced with efficient 4-cylinder and hybrid vehicles (let alone full electrics in the near horizon.)

44% of respondents now say they can work from home one or more days a week (up two points from 2008). The lesson here is that telecommuting is an inexpensive alternative that reduces traffic on roads and crowding in mass transit.

For trips other than to work or school, 90% of the potential drivers in this study say that driving is their main mode of transportation (91% last year). To this, The San Francisco Examiner adds that Bay Area commuters are still overwhelmingly likely to drive to work. Some 57 percent of workers in the region drive alone to get to their place of work, a total that far exceeds the next closest mode of transportation — the bus — which is used by a mere 6.7 percent of workers, according to the study. Question: Where is the multibillion dollar BART? The lesson here is that heavy rail provides tiny congestion relief and is a marginal transportation mode.

The typical commute for survey respondents is 16.7 miles or 31 minutes. Surprisingly the average statics for Oahu are similar because of the spread out residences and the concentration of jobs between airport and Waikiki.

The value of time consumed commuting is enormous. Like last year, 75% of respondents say that every 15 minutes stuck in traffic is worth $10-20 or more -- that’s a minimum of $40/hour. The 10 area average is at least $70.80/hour (versus $73.22/hour in 2008). Washington, DC, and Los Angeles are highest with $76.80 and 76.00/hour, respectively. There is a huge lesson here: A $5 toll on a road with reliable travel times that shortens commutes by 20 minutes is a sweet option to many.

The nation’s transportation problems did not occur overnight and it will take time -- along with targeted, state-by-state solutions -- to fix them. Investments in smart transportation solutions, coupled with intelligent fleet management principles such as better route planning, off-peak freight movement, alternative fuel vehicles, and hybrid vehicles, are among the many strategies that can help.

To alleviate the congestion crisis, the answer is a compendium of solutions – a comprehensive portfolio of traditional methods coupled with new innovations and political will. Commuters are eager for change. Now is the time to invest in the future of smart transportation.

I could not agree more. But who, in his or her right mind, would call a five billion steel on steel rail system for an island paradise "smart transportation"?

What are smart solutions you ask? Active traffic management, intelligent signals, urban underpasses, priority bus rapid transit (e.g. on freeway shoulder lanes), high occupancy/toll lanes (HOT lanes for carpools, vanpools and buses), telework centers and telecommuting incentives. And bikeways where they can be safely provided.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Summary of Scoops on Honolulu's Elevated Heavy Rail: From Bad to Worse

Honolulu's per person cost for rail will be $4,300. No other community has paid such a heavy tax. Phoenix recently opened its light rail service at a cost of under $180 per person! Normally, rationally this cost per person would be a show-stopper. That is, at ten times the cost of rail in other cities, Honolulu's proposal is insane. Insane proposals should not proceed. But with "strong leaders" and many special interests lined up to make billions, this boondoggle is still alive.

The $4,300 per person is based on numbers from the project's promoters, Mayor Hannemann and his well paid consultants. The fact is that the project will cost much more because utility relocations, stoppages for iwi (ancient burial grounds) and delays from lawsuits are not included in the costs. Not enough taxes are being collected due to the prolonged slow economy, so property taxes will have to be raised to cover the escalating costs. FOIA documents shed critical light into this.

If Honolulu builds rail it will face two predictably bad situations: Low ridership and high cost to run the system. Here are two examples for 2009:

(1) New Seattle light rail has low ridership. It is empty outside the peak. Only during football games it is packed. "Link trains make about 248 one-way trips a day, about 48 in the peak direction during peak hours, and there are 148 seats per 2-car train." They carry just under 15,000 people per day, much less on Sundays. So it would seem that on the average weekday, each rail car carries 30 people and the average train load is 20.4%.

That's the definition of "near empty" but it is an over-estimate because it assumes that these passengers traveled the entire length of the line. In reality, many passengers do short trips. If the average trip is one half of the rail line length, then the average number of people per rail car drops to 15 and the train load to 10.2%. That is a poor level of performance and it is typical of rail systems outside New York City. At least light rail cost Seattle residents a bearable cost in taxes (still a waste of money.) There are two Seattle Link lines. One cost Seattle $335 per person and the other $579 per person.

(2) Phoenix light rail underestimated their operating expenses. "Metro is so alarmed at the pace that power bills are climbing, and by other unforeseen costs, it has begun a top-to-bottom review of operations." (What a surprise!)

B. R. Horton's Ho'opili development with 13,000 proposed new homes next to a gridlocked freeway is a non-starter. The Land Use Commission is not likely to re-zone prime agricultural land into urban land. So the proposed rail will drive piles through prime ag land and two stations will be available for the exclusive use of tomatoes and watermelons. Ewa and Kapolei residents are not as lucky as produce. They won't get any station.

Bishop Estate, Architects and Planners are mounting a fight in favor of light rail. Ian Lind has many important scoops including the strong-arming tactics by the Hannemann administration. Some mayoral candidates are likely to jump on the light rail bandwagon. Unfortunately for them, there is no light rail design anywhere in the city's federally mandated NEPA process, so if light rail is chosen by the next mayor, then transit plans have to start from square one. The heavy rail "choice" was a trap created by specific politicians and willing professionals.

Here is a letter by Mayor Hannemann with his 2006 promises (please scroll to the bottom of the link.) Observe that the price of rail has nearly doubled in three years from 3 billion to well over 5 billion dollars. And we have not started building anything yet! He also promised partnerships with the private sector to pay for rail. (
Private funding for rail is zero dollars.)

Do you remember those pro-rail radio and TV ads "paid by city taxpayers" during the 2008 elections? Were they designed to dupe the voter? Yes! This has been a classic bait and switch: This is Not What 50.6% Voted Yes For.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Investment in Expanding Public Transit is a Tax Black Hole

Although it does not take a genius to realize that investment in public transportation in the U.S. is a counterproductive exercise, the pace of that investment continues unabated and the U.S. is determined to keep throwing good money after bad money in the futile effort that the trend will reverse itself.

What trend you ask? The trend of the share of trips done using public transit, or the market share of public transit. In 1910 it stood at 93.8% meaning that 94 out of 100 trips were made on public transportation. Forty years later, 1950, it dropped to 18.3%. Another 40 years later, 1990, it dropped to 1.9% and presently is somewhere around 1.6%. For every 1,000 trips, only 16 of those trips in the nation are done using public transit. The detailed trend can be found here:

The companion story is public subsidy. How much were the local, state and federal taxes that in addition to fares helped public transit break even? There was good news, once upon a time. Until the late 1950s these systems were profitable and owned and operated by private companies. But after WWII their profits diminished and then the public took over (or created subsidized competing systems and drove the private operators out of business. )

This was the beginning of a large black hole of taxation. In 1970, the taxpayer subsidy to move one person one mile on public transit was 27 cents, so for a 10 mile trip the public paid $2.7 for each passenger who made that trip. That was the good news too because by the turn of the millennium, the public’s taxes paid about one dollar per passenger mile so the average 10 mile trip required $10 in taxes in order to sustain public transit. These are inflation adjusted costs. The trend of subsidy can be found here:

An additional highly worrisome trend is the state of serviceability and safety of large existing rail and bus systems in the nation. Several hundred billion dollars are required for deferred maintenance, component replacements and technology upgrades of existing large systems in New York City, Washington DC, Boston, Atlanta, Chicago and San Francisco.

Ignorance of these trends creates a major mismatch in the allocation of funds for urban transportation. Hawaii mirrors this well. For example, between 1998 and 2008, Hawaii received $1.8 billion in federal funds for road, highway and bridge improvements, and $475 million for public transit. Even if Hawaii’s public transit share is three times as high as the national average, say 5% (this is a generous approximation), then public transit should have received 5% or so of the federal funds. Not so. It received 21%!

Another way to look at this is that we spend 21% on transit that serves 5% of the trips we make, and we spend 79% on roads that serve 95% of the trips.

The result of this funding mismatch is a decent bus system on Oahu that relatively few use, and terrible roads on Oahu that are counterproductive for our economy, and present an unsafe and unkempt condition for residents and tourists alike. Tiny sums have been allocated to effective alternatives such as bikeways and telecommuting. Or a ferry across Pearl Harbor.

If the proposed rail goes into construction and operation, then the share of funding for public transit will grow to about 40%. What would this accomplish? Nothing for the neighboring islands. On Oahu, public transit market share will grow 1%, from 6% to 7% over 20 years, if you believe the city's sales numbers for the proposed rail.

Nationally billions of dollars are likely to be spent in the next few years on public transit. Their net effect would be to increase market share by a tiny proportion. This is one of the worst tax black holes one can develop and a terrible transportation investment policy for the nation.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The National Debate on High Speed Rail Reveals Pitfalls of Old Steel-on-Steel Rail Technology

The International Maglev Board has published an series of short and informative articles of the advantages of magnetically levitated train and questions USA’s inertia and conservatism in thinking about steel-on-steel medium speed rail. They begin by asking: Why is America embarking on a high-speed rail initiative that is so prejudiced against maglev and so weighted in favor of 45-year-old “proven” technology? With minor edits I include below several important highlights of their positions that point to the direction that America is poised to make a bad choice. My own comments are in [brackets].

For the record, maglev is not traditional train technology. It is basically a long electric motor when accelerating and cruising, and a generator when decelerating. The 267 mph system in Shanghai has been running for over five years with 99.97% on time reliability.

Traditional high speed rail has very high annual operating and maintenance costs associated with a system subjected to repeated pounding and vibrations. [Expensive maintenance is required of all steel-on-steel systems to avoid excessive noise and derailments, particularly for systems like the one proposed in Honolulu which includes sharp turns that apply large lateral forces on rails and ties.] The yearly maintenance costs of the proposed DesertXpress would be 3 to 4 times higher than a maglev system and make economic sustainability problematic; e.g., desert sands sticking to oil-lubricated moving train parts, windblown sand damaging steel rails in.

“Steel wheel on steel rail” means wet and slick steel tracks. This is why trains typically do not travel on grades much more than 2%. [This is why Honolulu’s proposed steel on steel rail cannot go to Mililani.] To build a rail line between Las Vegas and Los Angeles through the mountains would require extensive tunneling and/or extensive use of switchbacks for a train to climb through mountainous terrain. Maglev is capable of climbing 10% grades regardless of how slick the surface conditions.

Why build a slow, noisy, polluting, and expensive to maintain train – a throwback to the 19th centurywhen we can build a sustainable high-tech bridge to the 22nd century? [Why indeed do so in Honolulu when a 10-mile HOT lane reversible expressway combined with an extensive Bus Rapid Transit system can offer much shorter travel times to many more people, reach twice as many riders and cost roughly half of the 20 mile steel-on-steel elevated rail?]

America is still trying to figure out what high-speed rail really means. For the record, the internationally recognized standard for high-speed rail is a cruising speed above 150 mph. [The current proposals for U.S. consider speeds around 100 mph.]

The CJR’s Tokaido Shinkansen or “bullet train” that runs between Tokyo and Osaka is not only the world’s oldest high speed rail line, but also the busiest, carrying over 150 million passengers per year. In operation since 1964, the 317-mile Tokaido line now operates 309 trains per day with sustained cruising speeds of 168 mph.

Shinkansen’s stellar safety record is not a happy accident, but the result of excellent civil, electrical and mechanical engineering, painstakingly thorough and dedicated maintenance. [It’s worth repeating that stellar infrastructure performance requires excellent engineering and consistent maintenance. Honolulu’s engineers pass muster, but "consistent maintenance" in not in the local government’s vocabulary.]

In 1987, CJR purchased its fixed facilities from the Japanese government for $38 billion, which netted the government a tidy profit from the 1964 construction costs of about $1 billion. CJR, which is one of six rail operators in Japan, refutes American conventional wisdom that no passenger railroad in the world makes a profit. Each year CJR has a ~10% rate of return. [This is all good but it takes 150 million passengers a year and a steep ticket price to reach this level of financial performance.]

The latest technology CJR will use on their newest Shinkansen line from Tokyo to Nagoya is the MLX01 superconducting magnetic levitation train. Tokyo and Nagoya are approximately the same distance as New York City and Washington, DC. The MLX01 will make the trip in only 40 minutes. CJR is funding this entire line without Japanese government participation. [The Boston to Philadelphia corridor is probably the only place where the U.S. should invest in true high speed rail. The population is so high, the airports are so crowded,and the competition from Amstrak's Acela is so minor that a public-private partnership is also likely.]

Could it be that America’s transportation “experts” are not really experts in HSR or maglev, and are themselves “unproven” in deploying such systems? [Case in point is the transit technology expert panel of Honolulu in which 4 of the 5 members were experts in steel-on-steel technology and the technology vote was 4-1 in favor of steel-on-steel technology!]


UPDATE: On August 24, Robert Samuelson of the Washington Post wrote A Rail Boondoggle, Moving at High Speed, in which he quotes Harvard University economics professor Edward Glaeser's analyses (Is High-Speed Rail a Good Public Investment?) and CATO Institute analysis (A High-Speed Rail Mirage). Also of great interest is the summary of The Guardian of analysis done by Booz Allen about high speed rail proposals for the UK. The conclusion is the article's title: "High-speed rail strategy not so green, report says." When construction energy impacts are factored in, high speed rail proposals become boondoggles.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Light Rail v. Prius OR Denver Post v. Honolulu Advertiser

This article from one of the members of the editorial board of The Denver Post is a breath of journalistic fresh air:

In the article it is made clear that light rail is more polluting that regular sedans and far more polluting than hybrid cars. In fact, that article is titled: Prius effect: Energy-efficient cars undercut the appeal of light rail.

Note that Denver produces electricity from coal and natural gas. Honolulu produces electricity from coal and diesel. Honolulu's electricity is dirtier than Denver's. Worse yet, Honolulu is proposing a massive heavy rail system that will be far more energy demanding than a light rail. Not only because the trains are larger, but because of the elevators, escalators and lighting of the elevated structure and stations. Add to that the huge energy draw for the construction of the massive project and compare it to laying rail on a street.

The article concludes as follows: "The Prius Effect means that unless Xcel weans itself dramatically from coal and natural gas, further expanding rail in metro Denver would be an outrage."

Now compare this Denver Post editorial opinion with the Honolulu Advertiser editorial opinions about rail. At best, the Advertiser opinions have been advertisements for elevated rail. Advertising elevated heavy rail for a Hawaiian island; for an island full of tourists who go mostly where the rail does not go; for Honolulu which is five times smaller than Denver; for Honolulu where a lot of people have multiple jobs and need a private mode to go from job to job; for Honolulu where students are driven to schools; for Honolulu's overtaxed population who is now asked to pay an extra $4,000 per head for rail.

I look forward to the Honolulu Advertiser editorial board, and other local media to catch up to the evidence presented by Sean Hao, Cliff Slater, myself and others as to what the rail proposed by Mufi Hannemann really is: Not pretty, not useful, not green, not practical, and a monumental waste of our money; now in order to build it and forever in order to
subsidize it.

Friday, August 14, 2009

230 miles per gallon

We seem to have set the bar quite low with our expectations for advanced compact vehicles delivering anywhere between 50 and 80 miles per gallon (mpg). Popular hybrids such as the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius deliver about 50 mpg in mixed traffic. Some European and Asian diesels reach 80 mpg. But 230 mpg?

That's the news for General Motors and its anticipated (late) 2010 Chevrolet Volt which has an all-electric range of 40 miles. Then its on-board gasoline generator needs one gallon to provide enough electricity to propel it for another 10 miles. Unlike regular hybrids that have a sizable internal combustion engine and a small electric motor, the Volt is more like a GE diesel-electric freight train locomotive that uses a small engine to generate electricity for the electric motor that exclusively propels the car.

And propels it does, as early accounts of pre-production samples show that a Volt pulls of the line with four adults in it stronger than a well-tuned V6 car. See a video here. Volt's electric motor is powered by batteries which are charged at home overnight with cheaper off-peak electricity.

As seen in the link above, a large Internet community has spawned around the Volt and some commuters in the U.S. (the all important "early adopters") are ready for an all-electric vehicle. The news of a 230 mpg all American vehicle made national headlines. Here is a sample from the New York Times.

Does a Volt make sense in Hawaii? Let's analyze this by using HECO prices and regular gas prices on Oahu for the past 12 months. The table below sums up the calculations. Three scenarios are shown for the Volt: (1) Use it for up top 40 miles per day in which case it is operated in "all electric" mode and needs no gasoline, (2) Use it for up to 50 miles per day in which case it uses battery power for the first 40 miles and then the generator consumes gasoline to provide electricity for another 10 miles, and (3) Use it for 80 miles per day, so battery and gas usage have a 50-50 share. The results show that the most economy is achieved at the "all electric" mode even at Hawaii's very high cost per KWh.

So does a Volt make sense in Hawaii? One positive aspect is that the limited range of electric vehicles is much less of an issue on a small island, although even nationally, almost 8 out of 10 commuters use their vehicle for no more than 40 miles per day.

On the other hand, Hawaii's electricity is all dirty (coal and oil) so green benefits will be rather minimal. A Volt would make a difference in greenhouse gas production in cities which receive hydroelectric or nuclear power.

A Volt would make good economic sense for someone who drives a large, heavy but fairly efficient SUV which in Oahu's sluggish traffic outputs about 16 miles to the gallon. But if the choice is between a $40,000 Volt or a $28,000 loaded Prius III, then the answer does not favor the Volt. (A Volt without its battery pack will be priced at around $25,000.)

However, energy prices fluctuate and in the long term fossil fuel prices have only one way to go: up. So if in a few years from now gas is at $5 per gallon and you live in the mainland where a KWh costs 10 to 15 cents (as opposed to 20 to 30 on Oahu), then over five years the Volt has a $8,000 advantage over an SUV and a slim advantage over a hybrid.

Plug-in electric vehicles are economical to maintain by having minimal maintenance requirements, basically limited to tires and brake pads.
However, Volt's roughly $10,000 battery pack may need replacement sometime between year 6 and year 10 of the car's life.

Overall it is interesting to see where transportation technology is going. Only in 2009 car buyers had the choice of two fully competent hybrid cars, the Honda Insight and the Toyota Prius. These two are joined by a number of lower-end hybrids which offer smaller improvements to the fuel efficiency.

Come 2011 there will be two competent full-electric vehicles: The Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. And there are many more electrics and other alternative energy vehicles in the works, such as fuel cell and biodiesel powered vehicles.

Green transport is here and on balance its features and limitations make it suitable for a large number of households.

[Revised August 15, 2009]

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Honolulu's Pavements Among Nation's Worst

It is no secret that the roads on Honolulu are generally in mediocre to poor condition. A 2009 report of the American Association of State and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) makes this negative distinction official: Honolulu is 4th worst in the nation.

As a consequence of this, the average vehicle in Honolulu suffers about $700 in annual road damage in tires, suspension, etc. The analysis of this report does not include the cost of additional accidents and crashes that roads in poor condition cause.

The report states that when a road is good, the investment of $1 to keep it in good condition averts the expenditure of $6 to $14 in payments necessary to bring it from a poor condition to good condition. Unfortunately for Honolulu, the habitual raiding of the Highway Fund by the Legislature and the habitual neglect of the roads for 10+years of the Harris and Hannemann administrations could not have come at a worse time, since now we are in a belt tightening mode.

However, I need to remind our reader that on Oahu, it is not a priority to fix our roads or to reduce congestion on our roads or to provide work for projects our laborers can do (fix and build roads.) The priority (for now) remains to waste five-plus billion dollars on a rail system with 20 stops, for which specialized imported labor will be necessary.

A summary of the report and the report itself can be found here: The pavement quality table is shown below.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

U.S. DOT Guidance for Road Pricing to Benefit Highway and Transit Users

This is hot off the press from the federal Department of Transportation:
Economics: Pricing, Demand, and Economic Efficiency

The 24 page report can be found here:

In their words:
The application of tolling and road pricing provides the opportunity to solve transportation problems without Federal or state funding. It could mean that further gas tax, sales tax, or motor vehicle registration fee increases are not necessary now or in the future. Congestion pricing is not a complete plan of action. It has to be coordinated with other policy measures to maximize success.

This volume describes the underlying economic rationale for congestion pricing and how it can be used to promote economic efficiency. It lays out the basic theory of travel demand and traffic flow and shows how inefficient pricing of the road network helps create an economic loss to society, as well as the means by which this can be alleviated through pricing. The impact of congestion pricing on highway infrastructure investment and the revenue implications of congestion pricing will be discussed in a separate volume in this primer series.

Justification as to why road pricing should not be a strange concept since it's already applied in many other areas:

By charging higher rates during high demand periods, proprietors are able to better allocate demand to optimize the utilization of the available capacity.

Examples of such common practices include higher rates for lodging and other amenities in tourist areas during the “high season,” discounts for afternoon showings at movie theaters, and evening and weekend discounts for telephone use. More recently, other industries have moved in this direction, including professional sports teams (which have begun charging more for tickets to more desirable games, reflecting long-standing practices in the aftermarket for tickets) and electric utilities (in which advanced electronic meters now allow usage at different times of day to be recorded).

What are HOT Lanes and why are they "win-win"?

HOT lanes are a special case of tolled express lanes, in which high-occupancy vehicles (HOV; including carpools, vanpools, and transit vehicles) are allowed to use the special lanes for free, whereas low-occupancy vehicles are required to pay a toll to use the lanes.

Because most toll-paying users of the HOT lanes are likely to shift from the other lanes, congestion on these lanes will be reduced and travel times will be improved, whereas existing HOV users will see no reduction in the quality of the service they receive. The result is a pure gain to highway users.

It is important to note that the value of time savings reflects to the total value of all passengers in a vehicle, not just the driver. Thus, some of the highest value trips are likely to be those in buses or other transit vehicles.