Friday, June 14, 2013

OpEd | National | High Speed Rail: How Much More Convincing Do We Need?

Many of my classmates have already talked about the need for investment in a national High Speed Rail (HSR) system. It is a much-discussed topic in urban planning and transportation classrooms. HSR even has a cheerleader at the very top level, in US Department of Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood. "This is what the American people want. If you build it, they will come," LaHood declared (Chapman, 2011)." So what will it take to convince our legislators that the time to invest in HSR projects is long overdue?   

Opponents say that no amount of ridership will cover the initial cost of creating the infrastructure, nor the continued cost of operations and maintenance. “No mass transit system in the country charges riders enough to offset the expenses of running trains—much less the cost of capital. Amtrak loses hundreds of millions a year,” says author Steve Chapman (Chapman, 2011). It’s true, trains are expensive business. They fail to acknowledge, however, the fact that every other mode of transportation in this country enjoys subsidies of one kind or another. Though President Obama did pledge to spend $13 billion in federal stimulus funds over five years to seed America’s first HSR projects, the federal government hasn’t spent that little on highways in one year since 1958 (Selcraig, 2010). Auto subsidies are simply a prevailing fact of our culture, with federally-funded road maintenance as well as mandated parking spaces taking up precious urban real estate. And we all remember when the entire national auto industry had to be bailed out on the public’s dime. Locally, much-need improvements in bike infrastructure was able to be funded by pairing the work with storm water management projects. Meanwhile, the government has provided $4.64 billion in taxpayer funds to the airline industry for cash grants and $1.65 billion in loan guarantees (Surjaputra, 2008). Yet none of these modes of transport can equal the benefits that HSR can bring.

Cynicism is for the birds

I had a great term with everyone and look forward to this blog possibly continuing its intellectual momentum. This Human Transit blog came to me in my email today and I thought that it was worth sharing.  It is about the uselessness of cynicism and how it is more of a barrier to progress than anything.  On reflection, I don't remember reading or hearing any real cynicism during our class discussions and blog posts, which is refreshing to say the least.

Have a great break!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

(Bill 2452) Distance based user charge on EV in Oregon

Several states proposed a new road tax scheme including Washington, Virginia, New Jersey, Arizona, Texas, Oregon, San Francisco, Michigan. It seems distance based user charge would be alternative of the current gas tax in the long run. Because there is no tax on electric vehicles, the new road tax scheme will be tested on electric vehicles first. Here is House Bill 2452 which states distance based user charge on electric vehicles in Oregon.

According to House Bill 2452, the driver of high-mileage vehicle will pay distance based user charge or flat annual road usage charge in Oregon. High-mileage motor includes electric vehicles and vehicles that get 55 mpg or better. This bill would be applied for vehicles produced in 2015 or after.

The distance based user fee will be around 1.56 cents per mile, and for 15,000 miles electric vehicle drivers would pay $234. This rate is same with what a regular vehicle drivers pay in gas taxes. Also, there will be a penalty up to $2,000 for person who reports a false vehicle miles traveled.

There are three options of how to collect a new road tax. The first option is to use on-board GPS system or cell phone. The downside of this option is that it is disabled for some situations where a driver is not a owner of a vehicle for on-board GPS system, or registered drivers take a public transportation service for cell phone. The second option is an on-board mileage tracker. It would not record the location of vehicle but vehicle miles traveled. It can avoid privacy issue, but the records can be flawed by inability of recognizing between public roads, private land or out of state. The last alternative is a flat annual fee.

1. Antony Ingram, Oregon, Too, Wants To Tax Electric Cars(And 55-MPG-Plus Cars Too)
2. House Bill 2453

After Transportation

I had never paid much attention to abandoned railroads till the time I first heard of the High Line Park in New York City; I often thought of Transportation Planning as planning for a new system to move people efficiently from one place to another. This popular urban design project introduced to me the dilemma of what to do with a transportation project once it has served its original purpose.

The High Line, New York City

Monday, June 10, 2013

Op Ed: Parking Policy in India

It has been four years since I moved to the US, but I am still amazed by the amount of parking spaces available everywhere. This is a far cry from the parking situation in India, where every trip made by car has to account for an additional hour or two spent in traffic jams and looking for a parking spot. Indian cities are experiencing an exponential increase in traffic demand and the increased spending power is adding to more cars on the road. Currently, India is the eleventh largest passenger car market having recorded domestic sales of over 1.9 million cars in the country in the year 2009-2010(1)! Parking policies in India are struggling to keep up with the growing demand. This op-ed will examine the problems and focus on some possible solutions to India’s parking problems from around the world.

Op-Ed: Active People, Active Transportation

Portland Metro refers to the phrase “active transportation” as sustainable, multimodal transportation solutions that connect people to where they need to go (ODOT). At a local level, infrastructure is incorporated in city design in order to allow people to access what they need easily. Pedestrian focused design encourages people to get out of their cars and be active by walking, biking, and taking public transportation. It increases physical activity, decreases air pollution and gets people moving in and around their communities.

Op-Ed: Intelligent Transportation Systems Across the U.S.

Technology is continuously changing and improving making life easier each day. Cars are becoming more fuel efficient, mileage is increasing and they are getting smaller and even quieter. Vehicle cosmetics have been a technological focus but now the next step is for vehicles to get smarter; intelligent transportation should be adopted nationwide. Intelligent transportation systems (ITS) are a form of technology that works to monitor and manage traffic flow, especially in urban areas (USDOT 2007). It would create many benefits from reduction in traffic accidents, time delay and congestion, safer construction zones, and provide accurate and reliable information. ITS can be helpful when there is limited resources to pay for people to do the same work.