Transportation headlines, Monday, Oct. 10

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the library’s blog.

Brown vetoes three-foot passing law (L.A. Streetsblog)

Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday vetoed AB 910, a law that would have required motorists to stay at least three feet away from cyclists when passing them when traveling more than 15 mph. In his veto message, Gov. Brown said he liked the buffer but didn’t like a provision that would have also had motorists to slow to 15 mph when passing a bike — which he said could cause rear-end collisions on streets with higher speed limits.

Seeking the Steve Jobs of transit (Human Transit)

Not much of a post here, but I like the sentiment: that mass transit really needs someone to step up to the plate and figure out how to design it better, make it more useful and more appealing to the vast majority of Americans who still drive everywhere they go.

Putting a bus app together in a weekend (San Francisco Chronicle)

Instead of waiting for five years for the city of S.F. to revamp its approach to technology, a group of programming enthusiasts created an iPhone app that would help San Francisco Muni run its buses on time and allow customers better info about where their buses are. They plan to tweak the app and submit it to Apple for listing in their app store. The newspaper says this is another example of Government 2.0 in which citizens use technology to help government function. Works for me.

Scant CO2 benefit from China’s electric car push (New York Times Dot Earth blog)

China can pump out all the electric cars it wants. But as long as the electricity consumed by the cars is created by dirty coal-fired power plants, it’s not going to do much good reducing the country’s output of the global warming ingredient carbon dioxide. One more reason to clean up our power grid here — clean power equals cleaner cars and transit that is powered by electricity — such as light rail and subways.



5 replies

  1. James,

    While true that Japan invested in rail, you also have to consider that they pretty much got everything done after Japan was flattened out through Allied bombing. I don’t want to put it this way, but Japan had a “fresh start” to rebuilding their cities based on a public transit oriented society.

    Even moreso is that they got the infrastructure laid out when labor and material costs were still cheap, and ideas such as eminent domain, environmental concerns and safety issues were secondary.

    When the first Shinkansen tracks were laid out before the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the Japanese were being paid 1/10th of what Americans were making back then. Japanese steel industry was booming and everyone was supportive of a “government knows best” idea as the Japanese government was promising the post-war Japanese a better quality of life and rising incomes. The Japanese were supportive of a conservative government where taxes were kept low but incomes kept rising for everyone and everyone was sharing the vision of rebuilding Japan from ashes to becoming one of the economic miracles of the 20th century.

    Compare that to Japan of today where the government of Japan is reaching roadblocks with NIMBYism, environmentalists, safety lawsuits, eminent domain laws, and political roadmapping for the intended maglev project. Building government funded public transit in Japan today was far different than what they did back in the 1950s and 1960s when things were much more simpler back then.

  2. The biggest issue is that not one of the public transit agencies in the US makes any money and that’s a problem in the eyes of investors.

    Even if LA Metro or NYMTA IPO’d onto Wall Street, who’s going to invest in a company where they continously run in the red? Let me rephrase that: would you want to plunk down your life savings to invest in LA Metro or the NYMTA?

    That’s where the key difference is between Apple and public transit. Investors saw Steve Jobs as the darling child who made their AAPL shares grow from $4.25/share in 4/1997 to almost 100 times that today.

    If LA Metro wants a Steve Jobs, they need a person who can prove to the people that the money they put down now would make them richer in the next decade.

    And in that light, I’m not talking about richer and healthier lifestyle, but a foot-on-the-ground promise where the company can say “if you give me $100 now, I will turn that your investment into $100,000 in ten years.”

    But it doesn’t seem that way with public transit in the US, there’s no money to be made. And while people may disagree what the reality is, the US is a capitalist society driven with the motivation to earn profits.

    If you want investors to plunk down billions to make public transit grow, a paradigm shift has to be made to turn the agency from a taxpayer dependent organization to a fully for-profit enterprise.

  3. Without the U.S. Defense Department, there would be no ARPANET. Without ARPANET (and other related government technology grants), there would be no Internet. Without the Internet, Steve Jobs’ legacy would be far less impressive.

    Private investment in rail transit is possible. Japan has private railways, privatized-public railways and public-private partnerships.

    However, take Japanese government investment in high-speed rail and commuter trains out of the picture, and even Japan’s incredibly vast rail network would wither.

    Metro Rail can and should encourage private development at its train stations. But I know of no private American company at this time interested in a purely private, viable passenger rail operation larger than a tourist railroad.

    The major private investors in Cal HSR will be Japanese, European or possibly Chinese, and even they won’t move forward until the state proves it can build HSR.

  4. I’ve always wondered about both the possible privatization and/or generous support of transit.

    As we saw with the Pacific Electric… a massive transit system can be built by a private company. The problem, however is that it was mostly built by the real estate developers as a way to get people out to the new “suburbs” they were creating.

    Today, there doesn’t seem to be a business motive like that for a private company to build and operate transit. While we see the benefits of transit to many different housing developments, restaurants, bars, and businesses, that benefit is spread across many and there doesn’t seem to be a way for a single private company to capitalize on it. It becomes a tragedy of the commons, where no one wants to take responsibility for and care for something that is shared by many.

    I’m generally a small-government type of guy, but transit is one of the very few areas that I see the need for transit to be built by the city/county/state/fed. I’d love to find a way that it could become successful as a private operation and still available to many.

  5. I doubt there will ever be a Steve Jobs for public transit.

    The biggest difference is that Steve Jobs publicly traded his company’s stocks on the NYSE and transformed a failing company to the most highest priced companies in the world, even beating out oil companies like ExxonMobil.

    When was the last time Steve Jobs asked taxpayers to foot the bill to release the iPad?

    So long as public transit remains beholden and dependent on taxpayers, it will never be like Apple.

    That being said, if you want a Steve Jobs for public transit, privatization has to happen first.