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.
SOURCE: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1919162,00.html

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. (http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/2027.42/64025/1/102323.pdf)

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. (http://www.cars.gov) "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 HonoluluTraffic.com 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 HonoluluTraffic.com 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 [http://www-03.ibm.com/press/attachments/28320.pdf]. 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. Honolulutraffic.com 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: http://www.publicpurpose.com/ut-usptshare45.pdf

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: http://www.publicpurpose.com/ut-ussby.pdf

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.