Transportation headlines, Friday, April 19: A major city on lockdown, gas prices dip, CSUN bike collective, bullet train bidding rules changed

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 Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

Boston Marathon bomging. Photo by hahatango via flickr

Boston Marathon. Photo by hahatango via flickr

It’s almost impossible to put an entire U.S. metro area on lockdown (The Atlantic: Cities)

How can you lock down an American city and its public transit system? Not very easily.

Gas prices dip below $4 a gallon (Los Angeles Daily News)

Southland gas prices have fallen below $4 a gallon after an extended run-up. We’re all happy about that. But remember that prices are down because of an unexpected increase in U.S. stockpiles in the face of weak demand. We’re buying more fuel-efficient cars. We’re driving less and taking public transit more. So will Americans take the bait and start driving again as prices dip?

And yet the cost of driving a car is on the rise (Next City)

Despite the (shall we call it “temporary”?) drop in gas prices, for car owners the only good news to come out of this year’s “Your Driving Costs” study, an annual report from AAA, is that the price of tires and tire maintenance has not gone up. But all other costs for car ownership, from gas to insurance, have collectively increased by nearly 2 percent since last year.

Bike collective at CSUN: Maybe the kids know best (CSUN Daily Sundial)

Do it yourself, is a key attitude for the Bike Collective, an on-campus community of CSUN student cyclists who emphasize empowering commuters to take an alternative and sustainable mode of transportation to CSUN. As many of them no doubt know CSUN is served by a number of Metro buses and a frequent shuttle connects students and teachers to the Metrolink station in Chatsworth. Both Metro and Metolink are decidedly bicycle friendly.

Bullet train bidding rules were changed (Los Angeles Times)

State high-speed rail officials have acknowledged that they changed the rules for selecting a builder for the bullet train’s first phase in the Central Valley, a shift that made it possible for a consortium led by Sylmar-based Tutor Perini to be ranked as the top candidate despite having received the lowest technical rating among bidders. The technical score is based on safety measures, engineering, scheduling and other construction-related issues. Worth nothing is that the Tutor Perini $985.1 bid came in lowest.

16 replies

  1. Metro could really learn from Japan. Is it some sort of “white pride” that they cannot admit that they are failures compared to Asia or something? Is it really that hard to just take a flight out of LAX and go visit Japan? There’s like six or seven flights to Tokyo alone. It shouldn’t be that hard to pool some frequent flier miles to go on a fact finding mission on how Japan runs them so efficiently.

    Did you know that out of 51 busiest train stations in the world, only 6 of them are NOT Japan?

    Check these statistics out:
    The 51 Busiest Train Stations in the World– All but 6 Located in Japan

    Not a single American train station made the list. And Japan runs them profitably. And it has the most advanced train systems in the world. And it runs so efficiently that you can time your watch to it down to second.

    Metro thinks they got game? Try beating Shinjuku Station’s ability to move 1,260,000,000 passengers a year! XD

  2. Matt,

    Also HSR is an intercity transportation method. Metro is an intra-city transit system. Metro has nothing to do with HSR. Even if HSR is profitable, their profits will not help Metro. Metro needs to make profit on their own.

    To put into perspective, this is what the US does:
    Amtrak (inter-city): government agency
    Metrolink (suburban commuter rail): government agency
    Metro (intra-city light rail and local buses): government agency
    Greyhound (long distance bus): private corporation
    Wal-mart (shopping center): private corporation
    Costco (shopping center): private corporation
    Coldwell Banker (real-estate): private corporation

    This is what Japan does:
    JR East (inter-city, intra-city, suburban commuter rail, long distance bus, local distance bus, real estate, shopping center) private corporation
    Keikyu (inter-city, intra-city, suburban commuter rail, long distance bus, local distance bus, real estate, shopping center) private corporation
    Tokyu (inter-city, intra-city, suburban commuter rail, long distance bus, local distance bus, real estate, shopping center) private corporation
    Odakyu (inter-city, intra-city, suburban commuter rail, long distance bus, local distance bus, real estate, shopping center) private corporation
    Toubu (inter-city, intra-city, suburban commuter rail, long distance bus, local distance bus, real estate, shopping center) private corporation
    Seibu (inter-city, intra-city, suburban commuter rail, long distance bus, local distance bus, real estate, shopping center) private corporation

    Corporations run everything in Japan. They develop real estate, they build the rails, they build the stations, and they make huge profits. Said profits go back to fund their other enterprises.

    The US has yet to understand this concept. And that’s why it fails.

  3. Matt,

    Yes, but that was in the 1960s. JNR was dissolved in the 1980s. Since then, they have built their own newer high speed rail projects on their own with their own profits.

    Journal of Transport and Land Use (JTLU) has a good article on why Tokyo’s rail system is vastly superior to the US and works as a private enterprise:

    “Government regulation of fares coupled with limited subsidies for railway operations pushed the private railways to innovate and diversify into a wide variety of related businesses, most notably real estate. Due to their long-term interest in the communities they built along their rail lines, the private railways provided valuable social benefits through public transportation while still pursuing profits. High quality, frequent rail service to dense, mixed-use, safe, pedestrian-friendly developments has allowed Tokyo to achieve enviable rates of public transit usage and given Tokyoites the freedom to view automobile ownership as a lifestyle choice rather than a necessity.”

    Everyone working for Metro and all the politicians sitting on the Metro Board needs to read this.

  4. Shaun Y,

    You are forgetting that Japan used taxes to build their systems including their high speed rail system. Also, Japan is a heavily indebted country, but like you said driving is a much more expensive proposition in Japan so it is not comparable to our current transportation system by any means. Once high speed rail is built in CA it will assuredly turn an operating profit as well.

    Anyway, you misunderstood my post. I was responding to an earlier commenter who said that a rise in gas taxes would dramatically reduce gas consumption.

  5. In Asian countries, mass transit companies are also real estate developers. This concept is completely alien to most Americans even though it makes perfect sense.

    Americans are single-taskers. Americans focus on one thing. Public transit is public transit, real estate is real estate. They are two different things and the two industries should be worked as a separate issue on their own. So what you have is an unprofitable public transit system that’s reliant on taxes and a robust real estate market that’s highly profitable. But since the profits of the real estate market never make it into funding mass transit, it leads to a very inefficient system.

    Asians are better at seeing the bigger picture. They are able to focus on a lot of things and think in terms of the whole. Transit and real estate are two issues that go along with each other. Transit companies invest heavily in real estate to bring in a whole new revenue stream. They build train stations as profit centers. They build condos and business parks nearby the stations too so that those properties become hot real estate for being close to the stations. The profits from real estate are then funded back into transit. They use those profits to invest in new technologies, buy newer state-of-the-art trains, and make transit more efficient and even make transit profitable. Once transit becomes profitable, they go back and start using those revenues to invest in real estate to develop newer properties at an affordable price.

    When it comes to mass transit, Americans are just not that bright. We could stand to learn from the best. The way things are going with our economy, indeed, we could be much better off selling Metro to Asian transit companies and let them handle everything.

  6. Looked at JR East on

    Stock is worth 8360 Japanese yen or about $83 per share. Pays out a 1.33% dividend and has a P/E ratio of over 17.5 and it makes a 8.5% profit margin. Wow, just wow.

    Why can’t Metro run like this? The City of LA should just sell Metro to JR and let them handle everything. The Japanese obviously know how to make trains run better, more efficiently and for profit than Americans.

  7. Matt,

    Furthermore, Japan is also a country that does:

    1. $3,000 to obtain a drivers license for the first time. Doubt that will ever fly in the State of CA. Public transit is non-existent in most parts of CA. A car is a necessity whether you like it or not.

    2. Everyone pays when they use the Expressways. We can’t even get past the Express Lanes debacle on whom should be charged to pay.

    3. Annual vehicle registration is over $1,000

    4. Cost of parking is over $150 a month in Tokyo

    5. Because of this, only 75% of Japanese households own a car. Compare that to pretty much 1 car per PERSON in the US. The car over there is more like a “weekend family vacation” thing than a daily commuting method.

    6. All of Japan runs on a distance based scheme so that longer commuters pay more so it makes extra revenue to help run their public transit systems

    7. Japanese railways also invest heavily in real estate which brings more revenue into their system to help pay for their operations

    8. Japanese public transit is actually, not even “public” transit. It’s PRIVATIZED FOR-PROFIT mass transit ENTERPRISE. It’s a CORPORATION. Banks and investors buy and sell and trade stocks.

    Raising just the gas tax does very little. If you somehow imagine that 25 cents will make us have a better transit system like Japan, you are way off the base. A LOT OF THINGS have to change.

  8. Matt,

    In Japan, mass transit is profitable to run on its own without taxes. High gas taxes or no taxes, no taxes are used to run mass transit in Japan.

    Look it up. JR Lines is a private company that is run for profit.

    JR East Railway Company

    Tokyo Stock Exchange ticker: 9020

    JR is a totally different ballgame than Metro which is government run agency that is reliant on taxes to keep it running.

    Comparing JR to metro is like comparing FedEx to the US Postal Service.

    If anything, mass transit in Japan is proof that privatization is better than being a government agency.

  9. I’m 100% in favor of HSR in California, but the current project seems like it’s turning into a boondoggle. I totally can see why it’s in trouble.

  10. O Singh,

    As we have seen with the rise of gas prices from less than $2 a gallon to over $4 over the last decade, there really hasn’t been this huge shift to scooters and electric cars. People still drive, albeit at maybe slightly reduced rates with just slightly higher mpg cars. Cars and SUVs still fill the roads and freeways. A 25 cent rise in the gas tax would fund a lot of public transit projects, but would hardly change much behavior. Just look at all the other countries that do this (Japan, Canada, pretty much every Western European country). They have better funded transit all around.

  11. Slight correction regarding the CSUN snippet (I’m a CSUN student myself, go Matadors!)
    Our metrolink shuttle connects to the Northridge station, not Chatsworth. CSUN’s transit station is served by Metro 167 and 741. 240 and 166 have stops near campus as well. Glad to see the daily sundial getting a shoutout here. 🙂

  12. It should be noted that Tutor Perini is a CA based company based right here in Sylmar.

    While safety should never be compromised, keeping jobs here in CA and hiring a CA based company to do a mega-project is a way to help out our economy.

    Once you give a CA company the job, they gain experience to build mega-project later on in other cities too.

    So you have to look at this in a broader view.

  13. “Safey last, lets just build high speed rail and hope no one gets hurt. If we build it, we can say we did our job.” is what imagine this has turned into for HSR…. “Mono raaiiiiil, mono raiiiiiiil, mono raiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiil” Catch The Simpsons reference?

  14. Craig,

    Taxes rarely help. Yes it changes habits, but it usually ends up in ways that it was never intended. If the intent of raising gas taxes to help fund public transit and help people switch to them, it backfires.

    You raise gas tax, what do people do? They buy hybrids which because they get better gas mileage, the frequency of putting them is decreased, further driving down tax revenues.

    Some buy electric cars which consume no gas at all. Raise the gas tax all you want; zero gas consumed times whatever gas tax = zero; therefore no revenue.

    Some go and buy scooters and motorcycles. Same as hybrids. They get better gas mileage, some get over 100 MPG. A gallon of gas on a 50 cc scooter can last over 2 weeks for some people depending on how far they go to get things done.

    In the long run, it doesn’t help out. In the long run, we become worse off.

  15. I sure hope with the decrease in gas prices that people don’t start driving more and buy more gas guzzlers. We’ve been down this road before when we thought the limitless supply of cheap gas would last forever. I know it’s painful, and a political non-starter, but we really should pay more in taxes for gasoline. In the long-run it will pay off.

    Maybe an alternative to raising transportation funds in LA county could be to add a gasoline tax instead of (or in addition to) raising the sales tax (as Measure J proposed).