Thursday, September 16, 2021

Robert Poole: Problems on the Road to All-Electric Transportation

Excellent summary of opportunities, impediments and realistic timelines for surface transportation electrification by Robert W. Poole Jr. of Reason Foundation.


Over the past few years, I’ve become convinced of the superiority of electric vehicles. Part of this was an exhilarating ride in a friend’s Tesla and more enthusiasm has come via keeping up with technology advances. As electric vehicles (EVs) mature, with next-generation battery systems having much greater range and/or much shorter recharging times, I’ll be happy to trade in my current vehicle for the cleaner, quicker, and less maintenance-intensive EV that is coming.

That said, there are some major problems preventing the emergence of an all-electric personal vehicle fleet. (I’ll discuss all-electric trucks on another occasion). As a starting point, I recommend renowned energy analyst Daniel Yergin’s recent piece in Politico Magazine, “The Major Problems Blocking America’s Electric Car Future.” His article discusses supply chain transformation, modernization and expansion of the electricity grid, and public acceptance of very different vehicles. Another good introduction is former U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) research and technology advisor Steven Polzin’s Q&A session at Arizona State University.

Here is my brief overview of the problems the industry and government must address to get beyond idealistic projections of no more fossil-fuel vehicles sold beyond 2030 and a completely carbon-free electricity sector by 2035.

Enough electric generating capacity

Most attempts to quantify a complete phase-out of fossil fuel electricity generation by 2035 take the objective to be replacing the current 4.13 terawatt-hours generated in 2019. Reason science editor Ron Bailey earlier this year wrote a good summary of the Energy Information Administration’s estimates of what this would take. For example, it would take 290 new nuclear power plants to replace the 62% of current electricity generated by coal and natural gas, at an estimated cost of $3.6 trillion—and in just 15 years. Alternatively, aiming to get 90% there via wind and solar (with some natural gas backup) was estimated by a University of California—Berkeley Center for Environmental Public Policy study to cost $1.7 trillion.

But that is just to replace current electricity uses. If even 60% of all US cars were electric vehicles by 2050, the nation’s electricity capacity would need to double by that date, according to the January 2021 electrification futures study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Reuters’ Nichola Groom and Tina Bellon provided a good summary of this challenge in “EV Rollout Will Require Huge Investments in Strained U.S. Power Grids.” I will venture to say that neither replacement of all existing electricity capacity by 2035 nor doubling its current capacity by 2050 will happen.

Battery problems

News articles regularly appear about the limitations of current electric vehicle batteries. They don’t provide enough range for trips beyond urban travel. They take far longer to charge than refilling a conventional car’s gas tank (which is why nearly all of today’s gas stations lack the room to serve more than a handful of EV charging customers per hour). The current lithium batteries cost way too much (which is why EVs cost far more than a conventional car of the same size), they can catch fire and explode, and they require a number of rare and expensive metals, whose sources are mostly in either China or underdeveloped countries. The good news is there’s a fortune being invested in new kinds of vehicle batteries, but no one can predict how soon and how much better the next generation of EV batteries will be.

Far more (and much faster) EV charging

The “more” problem is one focus of the Biden administration’s environmental agenda, focusing mostly on subsidies for electric vehicle charging stations. If successful, this risks putting lots of new capacity in place before there is enough demand for it, but leave that aside. The administration and the Senate have shown no interest in changing federal law to allow EV charging facilities on rural Interstate highway rest areas, unlike the House, whose Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act reauthorization bill includes such a provision. An informal business/environmental coalition is trying to build support for including this provision in one of the pending infrastructure bills, but the White House and DOT have remained silent on this.

Faster EV charging is being developed by researchers and battery companies (established and startups), but even cutting it from 45 minutes to 15 still means much longer waits for customers and far more acreage needed due to durations several times longer than at gas pumps. This will be a much bigger problem for long-distance car and truck trips than for urban travel, where much EV charging can take place overnight at home, or at workplaces.

Environmental opposition

Experts know that the kind of electrical transformation desired by the Biden administration and (in theory) by nearly all environmental groups will require a huge investment in new long-distance electricity transmission lines, huge areas to locate a vast expansion of solar panels and windmills, and a very large expansion of mining rare-earth minerals, such as lithium and others. Yet as these efforts are starting to get underway, we see various environmental groups, often allied with local NIMBYs, seeking to block new transmission lines, large-scale solar arrays even in deserts, a major expansion of wind power installations, and domestic attempts to start mining lithium and other rare earths. Since this is a surface transportation newsletter, let me just say that there are numerous examples and they are taking place with increasing frequency. The major environmental groups need to start speaking out against this kind of opposition if we are to take their commitment to widespread electrification seriously. And the Biden administration needs to reform the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to reduce endless opportunities for litigation that seeks to block just about every kind of new infrastructure project.

For all these reasons, I have to be skeptical about grandiose electrification goals for 2030, 2035, or even 2050. And if achieving those goals will actually take a lot longer, we need to think through what is actually possible, let alone cost-effective. A completely EV America will require a much larger electricity sector.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Honolulu Rail Critic Pushes for Middle Street Endpoint

"Longtime Honolulu rail critic Panos Prevedouros advocated that the project should hit pause, finish the line to Middle Street and the route should be reassessed. A city councilmember introduced a resolution this week with a similar stance.

A vocal critic of the Honolulu rail project, UH Manoa civil engineering professor Panos Prevedouros has never held back on his opinion of the decision to build the mass transit system.

"I'm totally exhausted about the inability of our decision-makers to do the right thing, after all the proof they have in front of them," he said. "These are crazy numbers by any standard of infrastructure project delivery."

I said so on May 11, 2021 in an interview with Hawaii Public Radio

Then on August 3 came devastating confirmation from a respected FTA agent. The retired FTA director, who evaluated every rail project for 30 years, said:

“The Honolulu project is way beyond anything that I’ve observed….I’m shocked. … Whenever I see the costs going up, I’m personally flabbergasted. It is way beyond and unmatched by anything that I have observed. Of the projects we’ve done in the last few decades, there’s nothing that even approaches that cost overrun. It’s extra­ordinary by any measure…. Because the shortfall’s so dramatic, there are questions about where should we stop the project… this project can no longer proceed."

More details of his opinion were published on August 9:

"One former, longtime FTA official who helped launch Honolulu rail more than a decade ago said the dramatic cost overruns that have plagued the project ever since construction started are worse than anything he’s seen. 

I’ve never seen anything close,” Ron Fisher, former director of the FTA Office of Project Planning, said of rail’s persistent and growing budget woes."

Fisher, meanwhile, said that rail is in an unusual situation among the nation’s transit projects because it’s woefully short on cash and essentially has been pushed back into a planning phase. 

Local transportation officials should pause the project, he said, in order to study different endpoints to the line as well as their impacts to ridership, rail operations and the surrounding environment. 

That study of the various costs and benefits of stopping at different places should involve credible experts, and it should include legitimate public input and participation, Fisher added."

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Is Hawaii Becoming a Perfect Contradiction?


  1. The state depends on tourism but cannot guarantee covid regulations for conventions in 2022.
  2. An island state without ferries but more than enough "environmentalists" that killed the Superferry.
  3. A state with the best astronomy in the world, but with enough cultural opposers that killed the 30 Meter Telescope.
  4. A place where people have multiple jobs and things to do that they cannot carpool two or three at a time, but will take a train 500 at a time.
  5. A place where politicians such as Ige and Caldwell do not deserve one term, but were voted into top office twice.
  6. A state with a button pusher who drove us all nuts, and still kept his state job.
  7. The state with the most workers per capita, but 15 months after the lockdown does not have nearly enough workers to clear the unemployment benefits backlog.
  8. The Aloha State takes care of ohana, but has the most homeless per capita.
  9. A state with modest incomes and high cost of (basic) living has exorbitant housing costs and a high preference for private K-12 education at $20,000 or more per year!
  10. A state having among the highest taxation delivers among the worst public K-12 education in the US.
  11. A state that has a waste to energy plant that makes electricity, but prefers to ship recycled paper waste 2,000 miles away.
  12. A state that has no connection to external electric grids for help, but focuses on unreliable intermittent energy for baseload power supply.
  13. A state with a rich volcanic reservoir enough to solve its energy problem, but hates geothermal energy development (New Zealand has a profit sharing scheme for use of culturally sensitive geothermal energy for the benefit of the indigenous Maori.)
  14. A state that has an 85% dependency on imported food, but converts prime agricultural lands such as Koa Ridge and Aloun Farms to cookie cutter suburban subdivisions (that are primarily car dependent too.)

Monday, April 19, 2021

Irrational Covid Vaccine Fears

Excerpts from an article titled Irrational Covid Fears by David Leonhardt, of The NYT

Guido Calabresi, a federal judge and Yale law professor, invented a little fable that he has been telling law students for more than three decades.

He tells the students to imagine a god coming forth to offer society a wondrous invention that would improve everyday life in almost every way. It would allow people to spend more time with friends and family, see new places and do jobs they otherwise could not do. But it would also come with a high cost. In exchange for bestowing this invention on society, the god would choose 1,000 young men and women and strike them dead.

Calabresi then asks: Would you take the deal? Almost invariably, the students say no. The professor then delivers the fable’s lesson: “What’s the difference between this and the automobile?”

In truth, automobiles kill many more than 1,000 young Americans each year; the total U.S. death toll hovers at about 40,000 annually. We accept this toll, almost unthinkingly, because vehicle crashes have always been part of our lives. We can’t fathom a world without them.

It’s a classic example of human irrationality about risk. We often underestimate large, chronic dangers, like car crashes or chemical pollution, and fixate on tiny but salient risks, like plane crashes or shark attacks. [Or thrombosis from a vaccine.]

The vaccines have nearly eliminated death, hospitalization and other serious Covid illness among people who have received shots. The vaccines have also radically reduced the chances that people contract even a mild version of Covid or can pass it on to others.

Yet many vaccinated people continue to obsess over the risks from Covid — because they are so new and salient.

To take just one example, major media outlets trumpeted new government data last week showing that 5,800 fully vaccinated Americans had contracted Covid. That may sound like a big number, but it indicates that a vaccinated person’s chances of getting Covid are about one in 11,000. The chances of a getting a version any worse than a common cold are even more remote.

But they are not zero. And they will not be zero anytime in the foreseeable future. Victory over Covid will not involve its elimination. Victory will instead mean turning it into the sort of danger that plane crashes or shark attacks present — too small to be worth reordering our lives.

That is what the vaccines do. If you’re vaccinated, Covid presents a minuscule risk to you, and you present a minuscule Covid risk to anyone else. A car trip is a bigger threat, to you and others. About 100 Americans are likely to die in car crashes today. The new federal data suggests that either zero or one vaccinated person will die today from Covid.

Friday, April 16, 2021

Finally an Article that Describes Me Well: Why Some People Are Willing to Challenge Wrongs

"The traits of a moral rebel

First, moral rebels generally feel good about themselves. They tend to have high self-esteem and to feel confident about their own judgment, values and ability. They also believe their own views are superior to those of others, and thus that they have a social responsibility to share those beliefs.

Moral rebels are also less socially inhibited than others. They aren’t worried about feeling embarrassed or having an awkward interaction. Perhaps most importantly, they are far less concerned about conforming to the crowd. So, when they have to choose between fitting in and doing the right thing, they will probably choose to do what they see as right."

That's right!

SOURCE:  Analysis: Why some people are willing to challenge behavior they see as wrong despite personal risk

Friday, April 9, 2021

Urban Transit After COVID-19

 Excellent input by transportation experts Robert Poole and Steve Polzin.


Urban Transit After COVID-19

Here is a recent set of headlines from a couple of reputable sources, to introduce a discussion of how urban transit will need to change when we enter the post-pandemic period:

The reporters of these stories reflect genuine concerns, but my impression is that many in the transportation community have not fully thought through the implications for urban transit in the “after” COVID-19 times.

One expert who has is Steve Polzin, a former transit official, university professor, and most recently as a senior advisor for research and technology at the U.S. Department of Transportation. After reading a detailed paper that he and a colleague produced while at DOT last fall, Reason Foundation commissioned Polzin to write a policy brief focusing specifically on how transit will have to change, and why. The new report, “Public Transportation Must Change after COVID-19,” was published last week and you can find it here.

Polzin first reminds us that in the five years prior to the coronavirus pandemic, transit experienced a significant loss of ridership, before appearing to stabilize at a lower level by 2019. Then the pandemic led to former transit riders avoiding buses and rail transit in favor of cars, bikes, walking, and working at home. Comparing January 2020 (pre-pandemic) with January 2021, unlinked transit trips were 65% less (though transit vehicle miles of service decreased only 23% for the same months).

Alas for those hoping for a post-pandemic return to “normal,” among the factors leading to permanent changes are, of course, some degree of permanent shifts to working from home, either part-time or full-time, along with the continued popularity of network companies like Lyft and Uber, a millennial generation that is getting older and buying houses in the suburbs, and a general movement of people and companies from higher-density to lower-density locations.

Polzin points out that even if many people work at home Mondays and Fridays, but still work in the office mid-week, this will “make it harder to justify peak capacity capital investments and complicate service scheduling.” In terms of permanent work-at-home shifts, he notes that if this share doubles from pre-pandemic levels of 5.7% to about 12% of people working from home, that could mean 15%-to-20% fewer downtown workers, a major change for downtown-focused rail transit systems.

Another section of the brief looks at declining vehicle occupancy by transit mode: bus, light rail, heavy rail, and commuter rail. All four are down significantly, but some much more than others. And this makes a surprising difference in the environmental friendliness of these modes. Here is his comparison of pre-pandemic vs. December 2020 fuel economy of various commuter modes, drawn from the U.S. Department of Energy Alternative Fuels Data Center plus estimated occupancies from the National Transit Database. The metric is passenger miles per gasoline gallons equivalent; hence the highest numbers are best.

Commuting Mode Pre-COVID Current
Heavy rail 50.4 18.0
Automobiles 41.7 41.7*
Commuter rail 39.6 10.9
Light trucks/SUVs 36.1 36.1*
Transit bus 26.6 14.5
Demand response (Uber, Lyft) 9.2 9.2*

*assumed to be unchanged

As of December 2020, the most fuel-efficient means of commuting was the car, followed by light trucks—but only because occupancy embedded in the transit calculations was so drastically low. Obviously, when we get past the pandemic those figures should rise but whether mass transit will be able to rebuild enough ridership to be more fuel-efficient (and hence more carbon-friendly) remains to be seen, and as you can see from the current numbers, transit has a long way to go.

A major premise of the Biden administration’s transportation agenda is to greatly increase federal spending on transit, compared with only modest, constrained increases for highways (with very little scope for adding highway capacity). This approach poses major risks of putting billions of taxpayer dollars into projects that will have costs far greater than their benefits (e.g., light rail systems for medium-sized cities, megaproject expansions of heavy rail and commuter rail systems, etc.).

At the very least, it is premature at this juncture to commit funding for major new rail transit projects before we have some idea of the extent of transit ridership in the first several years after nationwide vaccinations.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Inspections Discover Cracks in Rail Line Tracks

 Rick Daysog: Inspections discover cracks in rail line tracks. Also mirrored at Full Court Press with Greta Van Susteren.

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - During a recent inspection, rail officials discovered cracks in several crossover tracks along the line that could cause further delays for the embattled project.

According to Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation documents, the manufacturer of the crossovers ― called frogs ― was responsible for the casting flaws.

Recent inspections also found that some of the welds and surfaces on other parts of the tracks didn’t meet the specifications set under contract.

“Before we have an operating system, we have cracks and failures,” said rail critic and University of Hawaii Civil and Environmental Engineering Prof. Panos Prevedouros.

“That is really extremely disappointing. I don’t now how else to describe it. ... We’ve been had.”

Prevedouros said the rail system’s steel-on-steel technology was supposed to last for decades but can’t even last several hundred practice runs without cracking.

“We selected rail because supposedly it was bullet proof,” he said. “You build it out of steel and you’re done.”

How long the project is delayed will depend on how many of the cracked frogs need to be replaced and how long it takes to manufacture and install them.

Hawaii News Now asked HART spokesman Joey Manahan how many of these devices are damaged and how much of a delay replacing them will cause.

He declined to answer, saying that the rail authority planned to respond at its board meeting Thursday.

Prevedouros believes the initial opening of service between Kapolei and Aloha Stadium, which was scheduled for June, will now be delayed several months because HART won’t be able test their trains at normal speeds and under normal conditions.

HART Rail Cost Grows Past $12 Billion

 In January 2016, I projected that the cost to complete HART's rail will be $11 Billion (stated by HART as $6.9B at that time). Once again, that was the good news.

It's pretty clear that the people in charge need to do something about destroying the city's and state's finances while pursuing a largely useless, outdated and very expensive to run transportation "alternative."

We have great alternatives already... TheBus, Uber, Zoom, bikeways and soon enough, robotaxis. Plus people leaving Hawaii by the thousands

Monday, March 1, 2021

Why is My Car Insurance So High

 Quoted in this article on Why is My Car Insurance So High.

What steps can drivers take to get cheaper car insurance?

"Drivers need to do some comparative shopping for insurance rates every couple of years.

If they are considering purchasing another vehicle, they should investigate the insurance ratings and costs of their candidate vehicles and choose wisely; rates for vehicles in the same price range vary because of their varied repair costs, safety features and performance levels.

If the driver has a problematic traffic record, then he or she must consult with their DMV and insurance to go through re-education or other programs in order to lessen their risk score.

Other relevant decisions that affect insurance rates include location and distance driven. Some locations are much riskier than others (drivers who rent may have more flexibility to move to a safer area near by). Long commutes often correspond to higher annual premiums, so work or housing decisions affect vehicle operating costs including insurance."

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

Car Insurance for High Risk Drivers.

Quoted by WalletHub on Car Insurance for High Risk Drivers.

Their slight editing made one of my comments non sensical..."such as the passing of a divided highway" should be ... such as passing on a divided highway.

What can high-risk drivers do to lower their car insurance?

They can do several things starting with re-reviewing the rules of the road and pledging to adhere to the rules. Besides, they can attend safe driving classes and, if available, simulation lessons that help realize the risk of crashes in a controlled environment.

What makes a driver high risk?

The typical ingredients of high-risk driving are inattention, aggression, distraction, and intoxication. These apply to drivers of both genders and all ages. Typically younger, male drivers are more susceptible to speeding and high-risk maneuvers such as the passing of a divided highway and aggressive cornering.

What can drivers do to become not a high-risk driver?

Drivers need to continually work on their safe driving habits such as never driving intoxicated, devoting full attention to the driving task, and leaving speeding and aggressive maneuvering for the racetrack (i.e., track days and exotic car venues.)

Friday, January 8, 2021

Updated Reality for Autonomous Vehicles


In March 2018, Waymo confidently forecast that “up to 20,000” electric Jaguars “will be built in the first two years of production and be available for riders of Waymo’s driverless service, serving a potential 1m trips per day”.

Two months later, it added that “up to 62,000” Chrysler minivans would join its driverless fleet, “starting in late 2018”.

Today, there is little sign that any of these vehicles have been ordered and Waymo’s official fleet size remains just 600.

End Quote

  Financial Times, Rolling out driverless cars is ‘extraordinary grind’, says Waymo boss, January 4, 2021.