Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Public transport, & the personal auto

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According to the US Transportation Energy Data Book as quoted in Wikipedia, the following are the energy efficiencies of various modes of transport:

Intercity Rail - 1.6 (Mega Joules)/(passenger-kilometer)
Commuter Rail - 1.84 MJ/p-k
Air - 1.85 MJ/p-k
Cars (1.55 passengers/car) - 2.32 MJ/p-k
Buses - 2.78 MJ/p-k

The thing to note is that cars are not THAT bad compared to the other methods.  What is more, the average fuel economy is mandated to double to 54 mpg (about a current Prius C's fuel economy) in a few years.  If nothing else changes that will halve the energy consumption for the average car to 1.16 MJ/p-k making it much BETTER in energy efficiency than anything else, including public transport.

But other things can change.  These car sharing programs like Zip-Car could really take off so people could commute 4/car instead of 1.5/car with self-driving cars and coordinated real-time source-destination matching programs.  

In addition, bio-fuel is fast becoming a reality with commercial feasibility making cars carbon neutral:

And of course electric cars powered by small electric currents embedded in the road and fed by solar panels could make it all clean energy with no charging issue.

Driving in the US may have actually peaked in 2004 meaning more people are using public transport or biking or walking.  

There is still the space factor.  Cars take up a lot of space but so do buses and trains.  Even in cities like SF it can get hard to get public buses to get across town so cars are going to be needed even in cities.  Cars like the Smart Car are making "small = cool" so even space issues can change.

So, cars will evolve to become one part of the transportation mix and possibly the most energy efficient, earth-friendly mode.

No one has yet told me why I still see the "Cars Bad!  Buses/Trains Good!" attitude.  Since no one else has addressed it I will hazard a guess that it is left over from the early 1970's when cars REALLY were bad.  The average car sold in 1971 got 13 MPG and one popular Pontiac got 9 MPG!  That was when repeated oil shocks over the 70's gave us stagflation but forced congress to mandate a doubling of fuel economy from 13 mpg to 27 mpg.

Old opinions die hard and I suspect many in the environmental leadership may have formed their opinions then and not noticed that things have changed while young environmentalists just accept it as gospel.

So, can we get away from the anti-car thing?  If friends come to visit, I would like them to be able to park.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

High Speed Rail part 2

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See also:

The claim was made that High Speed Rail would be cheaper than air fare.  The High Speed Rail was sold as a ballot measure with the assurance that it would cost $50 SF-LA.  This is inconsistent with existing high speed rail costs in the US & other countries.

The air fare for Tokyo to Osaka is about Y13,000 = roughly $130.  The Bullet Train is almost exactly the same.  Various discounts are available for both modes of travel.  Tie.  Bus is about Y5,000 and based on my personal experience is the most popular for business passengers who board at night and sleep on the bus.  (Companies in Japan are notoriously cheap except for higher ranking managers at very big cos.)

Paris - Marseille: The TGV (HSR) costs $130-$214.  Skyscanner gives air fares of $86-$130 and above so air can be cheaper than train.  The TGV is subsidized.

Madrid - Barcelona:  Air = $90-$132 on "Cheap Air".  The HSR is $153-$309.  Air is cheaper than HSR.  HSR is extensively subsidized in Spain or it wouldn't exist.  Given the sad state of the Spanish economy I have seen numerous complaints about this subsidy from Spaniards.

Boston-Washington, DC by air (one day in advance) $153-$222 (Google).  By train - $199-$219.

"The Economist" has a blog post on HSR here:

If you drive SF-LA (300 miles) one way in a standard car averaging 25 mpg it costs 12 gallons X $4.00 = $48.  In a Prius it would cost $24.   Families of 2-4 would average $6/person - $24/person depending on car and how many people.  Families don't count wear and tear or amortize the cost of insurance since they would pay those anyway.  Steady highway cruising is the least stressful on an auto so even if you count wear and tear it would be at a lower rate than typical cos. mileage allowance.  Business people aren't going to drive so any HSR will have to rely solely on business air travelers.

The argument is often made that SFO or LAX will not be able to accommodate the growth in intercity traffic.  Heathrow, UK is one of the 2-3 busiest airports in the world and has 2 (TWO!) runways.  SFO has 4.  LAX has 4 which can be landed on from both directions.  Airport capacity is not an issue.

I consider myself a liberal Democrat but I am at a loss as to why my fellow Democrats are so in love with HSR.  Is it some sort of reverse "cool" thing where anything different is automatically better?  Like hipsters who derive great pleasure in adopting things others consider uninteresting but immediately drop it once it becomes popular?

Everyone has the right to believe in miracles, the tooth fairy, Santa Claus, and HSR.  What a wonderful country that allows people to create their own realities and get quite energized over them!

The HSR will never get built in CA so I am going to drop it.  There are so many people pointing out the absurdity of the entire thing in every conceivable way that I cannot believe this ongoing drain on the state coffers will last another economic dip, no matter how mild. 
HSR is a matter of belief - like the tooth fairy - the numbers don't add up in any way, shape, or form.