To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Keeping an electric vehicle easier than ever


 By Dave Kunz, June 5, 2013

If it's been a few years since you looked at electric vehicles (EVs), you may want to consider the latest models. There are new innovations and lower prices that make electrics more competitive.

Now that EVs are becoming more a part of the automotive landscape, the downsides to owning one are becoming fewer.

Nissan's Leaf, for example, has gotten some improvements to entice more buyers: a lower base price, faster charging times, and options that give it a more premium feel. Plus, the Leaf is now built in the U.S. These things all seem to be helping, as sales have picked up recently.

And if you have a Leaf or another electric, more places to recharge have sprung up. For example, one McDonald's restaurant in Riverside was remodeled to be more "eco-friendly." Yes, those golden arches are turning a bit green.

"We're LEED Gold certified and we really push the envelope on technology. We're seeing mroe and more electric vehicles and it seems like the wave of the future that wherever you go, you need to be able to get a quick charge," said Candace Spiel, the owner-operator of the McDonald's location.

They might really be on to something. The new green McDonald's was recently packed with regulars, not just for burgers, but for kilowatts.

"I will actually shop at a place that has a charger. And I'll choose that restaurant or business," said customer Brian Casey.

There are essentially three ways to charge an EV. Level 1 is that cord that comes with the car and plugs into a household outlet. That takes many hours to charge up a battery. Level 2 is higher voltage. That's those home chargers and most public charging stations.

Level 3 is a quick charge. It can give a car like the Leaf an 80 percent charge in about the time it takes to have lunch.

And the location of the new charging station makes it an ideal EV waypoint for trips to places like Palm Springs or Big Bear. For now, the new quick charger is free, but it'll eventually cost about $5 to use.

And charging at home is about to get a bit more economical. Bosch announced a breakthrough price for its new Level 2 charger: $449, about half the price of others.

There are lots more choices in cars now too, from the tiny Smart Electric to Toyota's plug-in electric version of their RAV4 in the event you need a small SUV.

EV's still aren't perfect, nor are they for everyone. But living with one is getting a little bit easier all the time.
More measures launched to tackle air pollution


By Shi Yingying, June 5, 2013

Thirty-four construction sites in Shanghai were selected as pilot programs to take dust-control measures by installing online monitoring systems for 24/7 real-time reading of air quality.

“Records of construction sites' particulate matters as well as noise pollution will be available through the system online,” said Hu Guoliang, an engineer from the Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau.

Hu said the pilot program is the best option as enterprises can regard the monitoring system as a guide. “They're the first to know if the readings are too high,” Hu told China Daily.

Earlier this year, authorities from the bureau said measures such as an emergency pollution-reduction plan have been applied to coal-fired power plants and chemical industries.

Shanghai's average density of PM2.5, particles smaller than 2.5 microns, reached 56 micrograms per cubic meter since the city posted its reading last June. The city's worst air was observed during Jan 16 to 18 when the air quality index, reached 254, followed heavy air pollution in Beijing.

Beijing's average PM2.5 density is between 80 to 90 micrograms per cubic meter.

China to issue new plan for air pollution control


May 29, 2013


A national plan for air pollution control could be outlined as early as this week, said 21cbh.com, a professional financial news website Tuesday.

The outline will target the reduction of air pollution on a national scale by establishing clear standards of air quality in different regions.

Coal plants, motor vehicles and dust that produce fine particulate matter will be the focus of strict control in the outline initiated by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, according to multiple sources who told the news website.

The overall plan has undergone multiple revisions and will be submitted to the State Council, China's cabinet, for review by the end of this month, the Shanghai Securities News quoted Yang Tiesheng, deputy director of the energy saving department under the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, as saying on May 22.

The specific measures put forward by the plan include stipulating the declining rates of atmospheric pollutants such as PM2.5 (particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter), sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide in cities, the reduction of coal consumption throughout the country, as well as the promotion of using clean energy such as natural gas, while banning coal-fired power plants in cities and minimizing heavy-polluting vehicles.

The Yangtze River Delta region and the Pearl River Delta region will be the key areas of the new air pollution prevention campaign.

Roughly one million heavy-polluting vehicles, popularly known as "yellow label cars", will be prohibited from driving on roads in Beijing, Tianjin municipality and Hebei province, which would reduce half of the PM2.5 by vehicle emissions alone, said one environmental expert as quoted by the news website.

The outline stipulates that air quality must "make substantial progress" in the upcoming five years rather than the next 20 years, a standard previously adhered to by big cities such as Beijing, according to a source from the National Development and Reform Commission, China's economic planning body.

Grade II air quality stipulates the average concentration of PM2.5 over a 21 hour period should be between 35 to 75 milligrams per cubic meters, according to the latest standard made by the Ministry of Environmental Protection in 2012.
Leaders promise to improve China's air quality


By Wu Wencong, June 6, 2013

Government plans to promote clean energy, rigorously monitor pollution

China will set higher anti-pollution standards and implement stricter measures to achieve better air quality, Vice-Minister of Environmental Protection Li Ganjie pledged on Wednesday at a celebration of World Environment Day.

Current measures undertaken illustrated by Li include eliminating outmoded production capacity,
promoting clean energy and enhancing comprehensive management and control. They also include setting up warning systems to monitor and forecast smog and hazy weather, perfecting trans-regional prevention and control to combat airborne pollution, and encouraging the public to use resources in a green manner.

Leaders promise to improve China's air quality
A fisherman rows a boat on the Chaohu Lake in Hefei, Anhui province, on Tuesday. Part of the lake is covered by algae because of pollution. Liu Junxi / Xinhua
China's environmental conditions in 2012 remained stable, as total emissions from four key environmental indicators continued to drop, but the outlook ahead is still grave, according to the ministry's 2012 Environmental Conditions Report, issued on Tuesday.

The report said emissions of chemical oxygen demand, a measure of organic pollutants in water, is 3.05 percent less than the 2011 level. Emissions of ammonia nitrogen, another major pollutant in water that threatens some aquatic organisms, dropped 2.62 percent.

The report also noted a decrease of 4.52 percent in the country's total emissions of sulfur dioxide, a major air pollutant, and a fall of 2.77 percent in nitrogen oxide emissions compared with 2011.

The last indicator, nitrogen oxide, an airborne pollutant that comes mainly from motor vehicles in big cities, should drop by 10 percent in 2015 based on the 2010 level as planned. But last year, rather than going down, its emissions increased by almost 6 percent from the 2010 level.

National water conditions made a slight improvement, according to the report. Out of the total 469 State-controlled monitoring sites on 10 main water systems, the proportion of water qualified to be used as drinking-water sources increased from 61 percent in 2011 to 68.9 percent in 2012.

As to heavy metal pollution, about 2.3 million metric tons of chromic slag that was left over in the past five decades was treated in 2012, marking the end of work that began in 2005 to treat about 6.7 million metric tons of industrial waste.

As water pollution gradually increased in rural areas with the advent of urbanization and modernization of farming, all levels of government spent a total of more than 43 billion yuan ($7.01 billion) in 2012 to build safe drinking-water facilities in rural China - 12 billion yuan more than in 2011 - solving water problems for 77 million people.

The report also said another 5.5 billion yuan from the central government was spent to improve the environment in rural areas, including the processing of domestic garbage.

China's top leaders at the 18th National Congress of the Party in November said that building an ecological civilization will be integrated into politics, culture and the economy.

A national action plan corresponding to the United Nations Decade on Biodiversity was issued in June 2012 during the first conference of the China Biodiversity Conservation National Committee, hosted by then-vice premier Li Keqiang.

All 363 State-controlled nature reserves by 2012 are monitored by environmental satellites, so that illegal tourism development or construction within the reserves can be spotted and supervision departments can take further action. Such remote monitoring activity covered only 230 nature reserves in 2011.

The biggest environmental issue in the past year has been airborne pollution. Based on the air quality standard issued in 1996, more than 91 percent of the 325 cities met the standard in 2012, higher than the 89 percent in 2011.

But the passing rate would be less than 41 percent if the nation's updated standard, currently scheduled to take effect in 2016, were adopted to evaluate air quality today.

The new standard, issued in February 2012, set three more indicators to assess air quality in addition to sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter: fine particulate matter, carbon monoxide and ozone.

Readings of these six indicators from about 500 monitoring sites in 74 cities have been made public since January. The new standard will be implemented nationwide on Jan 1, 2016.

The international theme of the 2013 World Environment Day is "think, eat, save". Considering the country's most urgent priority is pollution control, the national theme is set as "breathe the same air, work hard together", as Premier Li Keqiang said during his first meeting with reporters in March.
"Since we breathe the same air, we should work hard together," Li said when answering a question about airborne pollution.

Leaders promise to improve China's air quality

Blue Line in Long Beach Getting Security Upgrades, Paint Job


By Neal Broverman, June 5, 2013




Just a week after introducing legislation to urge Metro to fix up the crickety Blue Line light rail, Vice Mayor Robert Garcia is reporting success. His office sent out a release today saying Metro agreed to install TAP Card validators at all eight Long Beach Blue Line stations, and by the end of the year, the agency will upgrade all station canopies, adding safety signage, and repainting all stations. Maybe most importantly, especially to those who say the line is fraught with ne'er-do-wells, Metro agreed to add "four additional Sheriff Deputies every day who will be patrolling the Long Beach stations by foot" and "four additional Security Assistants every day who will be checking fares at Long Beach stations. While Metro's subway stations are all in the process of adding locking turnstiles, many of the system's above-ground light rail stations are impossible to gate because of spatial constraints, but Metro is looking into whether it can add any to the Blue Line. Garcia says he's looking forward to Metro upgrading the Blue Line track, purchasing new rail cars (in about three years), and working on signal issues so the train moves faster between LA and Long Beach. · Long Beach Politician Pushing for a Cleaner, Safer Blue Line.

California high-speed rail's choice: Price or quality in building first leg?


By Mike Rosenberg, June 5, 2013

SACRAMENTO -- The leaders behind California's $69 billion bullet train face a stark choice Thursday: Should they save a hundred million dollars or more by hiring a contractor with the poorest qualifications or pick a more expensive firm they think would do a better job?

Bullet train critics say the state will pay more in the long run by hiring a Southern California firm that came in with the lowest bid but has a history of cost overruns.

But project leaders, who already altered the bidding rules to give an edge to the cheapest developers, are under intense pressure to save money right now and say the firm they are recommending still meets their standards for quality. The bullet train is struggling to move forward amid sharp criticism that largely centers on the rail line's record price tag, which has doubled since voters approved the plan in 2008.

"I think after the last five years you have a ton of politicians, activists and media outlets screaming about the cost of high-speed rail -- of course they're going to pick based on price," said Robert Cruickshank, who runs a popular high-speed rail blog supportive of the project.

The seven-member California High-Speed Rail Authority Board, meeting in Sacramento on Thursday morning, is expected to pick a consortium led by Sylmar-based Tutor Perini to build the first 29-mile construction project in the Central Valley, now set to break ground in late summer. The developer, recommended by rail authority and Caltrans executives, offered a bid of $985 million, the cheapest by a margin of about $100 million among five finalists.

The details of the technical bids have not been released, but the rail authority says it graded on a curve based on each developer's experience, its ability to meet construction schedules and budgets, and ability to come up with innovative solutions to improving the state's plans.

The construction job includes no tracks but lays the physical groundwork for the first $6 billion, 130-mile stretch of rail between Merced and Bakersfield.

Tutor Perini officials did not respond to requests for comment. CEO Ron Tutor has previously used harsh and sometimes obscene language to deny claims of cost overruns.

Jeff Morales, the rail authority's CEO, said Tutor Perini promised to finish the plan six months ahead of the agency's February 2018 target date for completion, an appealing offer because officials have already seen their groundbreaking pushed back a year.

Rail officials have said that bashing Tutor Perini for scoring the worst technical grade among five "world-class" finalists is like criticizing the player in the National Baseball Hall of Fame with the worst batting average or calling the Mensa member with the lowest IQ "dumb."

"One of them is going to have the lowest score," Morales said. "But all five were judged to be clearly capable of performing the work. There is no issue there at all."

But critics say the rail authority is gambling by selecting Tutor Perini, which has had large cost overruns building projects such as the BART extension to San Francisco International Airport, the Los Angeles subway and an Oakland Coliseum retrofit. An analysis last year by the Bay Citizen news organization found the firm has collectively gone over budget by $765 million -- 40 percent -- while building 11 major Bay Area projects since 2000.

"Low bid is not low cost," said Elizabeth Alexis of Palo Alto, a bullet train critic with Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design. "If you've agreed to do Tutor's D+ project and you want a C- project, get your checkbook out."

The rail authority has so far shown a strong preference toward keeping upfront costs down.
After the Legislature narrowly approved the first section of track in July amid concerns over the project's high cost, the rail authority in August altered the bidding rules for the first phase. Instead of narrowing the finalists to the three firms that submitted the best-quality proposals, as officials had previously planned, they allowed all five finalists to be eligible as long as they passed a basic technical test.

Then, in December, the rail authority told bidders they needed only to include a two-year "warranty" instead of previous bid rules requiring firms to cover their work for five years.

Tutor Perini's group, which also includes Pasadena-based Parsons and Texas-based Zachry, submitted a bid in January along with four other finalists. Cost amounted to 70 percent of each company's overall score, and Tutor Perini's $985 million bid beat the state's initial $1.2 billion estimate and the four other developers' proposals, which ranged from $1.09 billion to $1.54 billion. Tutor Perini's technical score was 68.5 percent while the four competitors averaged 80 percent. The contract includes a $53 million contingency to cover potential cost overruns and a $60,000-a-day penalty for finishing the job late.

Morales noted that officials placed a high weight on cost in this first contract because it's one of the simpler parts of the bullet train plan, for which officials hope to secure an additional $55 billion to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles by 2029.

"You still want top-notch firms doing it, but it's not tunneling through seismic areas," Morales said.

But Tutor, a major political donor who has financially supported Gov. Jerry Brown and many other politicians, has been nearly outlawed in the past from doing business in some cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, after being accused of piling on extra bills during construction.

 "After lowballing it they make it up in change orders," said Kevin Williams, a retired San Francisco contract compliance officer who worked with Tutor on projects in the 1990s.

Comparative Subway Construction Costs, Revised


June 3, 2013

Here is a list of subway projects in the last 15-20 years, in both developed and developing countries.
It’s in addition to my initial lists for developed and developing countries, but includes projects mentioned in past blog posts not on those two lists. This is still not an exhaustive list, due to some cities for which I couldn’t find any information (Moscow), cities for which the information from different sources contradicts itself (Bucharest), and cities for which I couldn’t source numbers beyond Wikipedia (Osaka). My rule is that Wikipedia is an acceptable source for construction timelines and route length but not cost.

While the list is meant to be for urban subways, urban rail projects that are predominantly elevated are also included. As far as possible I have tried using PPP dollars adjusted for inflation to give 2010 dollars (2010 and not 2013, because when I started comparing costs that’s what I used). For core developed countries, because inflation rates are similar, I use American inflation rates, using the CPI (not GDP deflator: the two measures have disagreed for a while, and the CPI points to higher inflation). For other ones, I’ve tried focusing on more recent projects, including even some that are under construction, but I use actual inflation rates.

Bear in mind the data is only as accurate as my sources for it and my PPP conversions. Errors of 10-20% in each direction are to be expected: sources disagree on conversion rates, sometimes the years of construction are not made clear so deflating to the midpoint is not reliable, etc. Even larger errors sometimes crop up, for example if old cost figures are not updated after a cost overrun.

Explicitly, the rates I use today are C$1.25 = S$1 = US$1 = 3.8 yuan = 100 yen = 800 won; £1 = $1.50; €1 = $1.25; CHF1 = $1.65.

Singapore Thomson MRT Line: not yet under construction, expected to open 2019-21, S$18 billion for 30 km. This is $600 million/km, all underground. Included only as a lower bound of costs; costs can rise beyond budget but rarely come significantly under it.

Hong Kong Sha Tin to Central Link: a 1-km segment underground (not underwater) is £270 million, under construction with opening expected in 2018. After converting to PPP using Hong Kong’s conversion rate this is $586 million/km.

Singapore Downtown MRT Line: under construction since around 2008, to be completed in 2017;
S$20.7 billion for 42 km: $493 million/km. This line is fully underground. This represents a 70% cost overrun already, announced after I previously reported the original budget of S$12 billion.

Budapest Metro Line 4: under construction since 2006, completion expected in 2014, 400 billion forint for 7.4 km. This is $358 million per km. The line is fully underground.

Fukuoka, Nanakuma Line extension to Hakata: construction expected to begin 2014 with line opening expected in 2020, ¥45 billion for 1.4 km: $321 million/km. I do not know for certain that the extension is fully underground, but this is likely, as the preexisting line is underground and the extension follows busy CBD streets.

Cairo Metro Line 3, Phase 1: opened 2012 with construction since 2006, LE4.2 billion for 4.3 km. This is $310 million/km. The phase is fully underground.

Kawasaki Subway: under construction, opening expected in 2018, ¥433.6 billion for 16.7 km: $260 million/km. The line is fully underground. Update: people in comments explain that the line was actually canceled; the link in this paragraph is just a plan.

Stockholm City Line: to open in 2017, 16.8 billion kronor (2007 prices) for 6 km of tunnel and 1.4 km of bridge: $259 million/km.

Sao Paulo Metro Line 6: construction due to begin in 2014; 7.8 billion reais for 15.9 km: $250 million/km. The line is 84% underground.

Sao Paulo Metro Line 4: construction began in 2004, first phase opened in 2010, completion expected in 2014; 5.6 billion reais for 12.8 km: $223 million/km. The line is fully underground.

Dnipropetrovsk Metro extension: under construction since about 2008, opening expected in 2015€367 million for 4 km. After PPP conversion this is $214 million/km. It appears to be fully underground.

Malmö City Tunnel: built 2005-10, 9 billion kronor for 4.65 km: $212 million/km. This is a fully underground project.

Bangalore Metro Phase 2: to be opened by 2017, 264 billion rupees for 72.1 km. This is $164 million/km. I do not know what proportion of the project is underground; it does not seem to be large, as the extension of the phase 1 lines are all outbound, and only line 4 seems to have significant tunneling, about 14 km by pure Wikipedia eyeballing.

San Juan Tren Urbano: built 1996-2004, $2.28 billion (2001 figures, see PDF-p. 145) for 17.2 km: $163 million/km. The line is only 7.5% underground by direct inspection on Google Earth.

Lucern Zentralbahn: built 2008-13, CHF250 million for 1.32 km of tunnel: $151 million/km.

Hangzhou: I can’t find any ex post numbers, but in both 2005 and this year (Chinese) officials pegged the cost of future construction as ¥550 million/km: $145 million/km.

Sofia Metro Line 2: built 2008-12, €952 million for 17 km. After PPP conversion, this is $148 million/km. The line appears to be almost fully underground: the numbers here do not fully add up but point to 1.3-2.9 km above ground (7.6-13% of total line length) in one segment while Wikipedia’s line map shows only that segment with above-ground segments.

Thessaloniki: I can’t find any ex post numbers, but in 2005 the budget for the first phase, under construction to be opened in 2016, was €798 million for 9.6 km: $104 million/km. The second phase received bids last year and is expected to open in 2017, with an estimated cost of €518 million for 4.78 km: $135 million/km. Both phases are fully underground.

Vancouver Evergreen Line: under construction since 2012, completion expected 2016; C$1.4 billion for 11 km: $103 million/km. Only 2 km of the system, 18%, is underground, but Vancouver seems to have an unusually low underground construction cost premium.

Dubai Metro (lines 1 and 2): built 2005-11, Dh28 billion ($6.9 billion in PPP2010US$) for 75 km: $92 million/km. Only 13 km of the system, 17%, is underground.

Mexico City Metro Line 12: built 2007-2012, $1.8 billion for 26.4 km. After PPP conversion, this is $90 million/km. From a Google Earth overlay map, this line is 49% underground.

Seoul Sin-Bundang Line: built 2005-11, 1,169 billion won for about 18 km (sources disagree on whether it’s 17.3 or 18.5): $87 million/km. The line is 100% underground according to YouTube videos.

Bangalore Metro, Phase 1: built 2006-11, 8,158 crore rupees for 42.3 km: $93 million/km. Only 8.82 km, or 21% of the project, is underground. See above for Indian construction costs in a heavier-tunneling setting.

Helsinki Westmetro: under construction since 2009 with completion expected in 2015, €714 million for 13.5 kilometers: $66 million/km. The line is fully underground.

Seoul Subway Line 9: opened 2009, 900 billion won for 27 km: $43 million/km. The line is almost fully underground by direct inspection on Google Maps.

Barcelona Sants-La Sagrera tunnel: built 2008-11, €179.3 million for 5.8 km: $39 million/km. This project is intercity but fully underground.

Just from eyeballing the data, spliced together with the two older lists, the biggest correlation of each country’s construction costs is with the construction costs of other lines in the same country. When there is more than one project listed separately in a city – e.g. Seoul, Singapore, Sao Paulo – the projects have similar costs. This persists across different cities in the same country, judging by the similarity between Bangalore Metro’s Phase 2 cost and the Delhi Metro’s cost from a previous list and by the similarity between Hangzhou and Beijing’s costs.
Magic Cars and Silver Bullets: Will the Self-Driving Car Save the World?


By Anne Lutz Fernandez, June 5, 2013

Back in the day, we beheld the future, and in it, we were zipping about in electric cars. Yes, on that day way back in the aughts, we beheld a future in which a passel of problems were about to become passé: crippling gas prices, entanglements with oil-rich frenemies, dirty air, and climate-changing emissions would all disappear through the magic of automotive engineering. Chevy’s Volt, Nissan’s Leaf, and next generation EVs would mitigate car culture’s costs. And we would still get to drive all over kingdom come.
Look, ma, no hands! Behold, Google's self-driving car. 

What happened to the fantasy of EVs should provide a reality check to our understanding of self-driving cars — but that doesn’t seem to be happening.
Just over 71,000 of the vehicles now traversing America’s roads are electric — less than 0.03 percent of the total. Their share is likely to remain in the single digits through 2035. The revolution so heavily televised hasn’t happened.

New CAFE standards championed by environmentalists and set by the EPA have had a more profound effect, forcing incremental improvements to models across automakers’ fleets. Model year 2012 saw the greatest annual boost in fuel economy since 1975; from MY2006 to 2011, emissions dropped 10 percent as fuel economy improved 11 percent. Still, overall fuel economy remains under 24 mpg, far from the triple-digit dream that electric cars presented when rolled out. Experts also caution that the used-car market could undermine these standards, keeping old gas-guzzlers on the road longer as people avoid buying pricier new cars.

The evolution toward a less gas-guzzling car fleet is a slow one, nudged along by force of advocacy and regulation, and so too will be the evolution toward safer, self-driving cars. 
It’s hard to tell this, though, from the coverage of self-driving cars in the media, which might be even more breathless than the coverage of EVs. Hopped-up headlines blare that self-driving cars will “change our lives.” They are going to “change everything.” Crash rates and insurance and medical costs will go down! Fuel efficiency up! Pollution and traffic congestion down! Productivity up! And everything’s going topsy-turvy “faster than you think” — our dramatic new future is once again moments away. Get ready.

Of course, self-driving cars have their critics. Some say consumers will resist them, distrusting their new technology or disbelieving they’d be fun to drive. Others claim that consumers should resist them because they are part of a government plot. Still others worry whether or not regulators can keep up with technology well enough to protect the public interest. NHTSA’s policy statement on “automated vehicle development,” released last week, gives credence to this concern, explaining that the agency “is conducting research on self-driving vehicles so that [it] has the tools to establish standards for these vehicles.”

EVs faced similar charges pre-launch. Yet one argument used against electric cars has not been employed against self-driving cars, though it is among the most compelling: that they benefit only elites.

Hay has been made of the Volt’s roughly $40,000 price compared to the $30,000 average amount paid for a vehicle. Driverless cars could cost many thousands more. Yes, savings may come in the cost of ownership of these vehicles, but a high purchase price remains a hurdle only the well-financed can cross. The companies integrating some early self-driving technologies are mostly luxury purveyors: Audi, Mercedes, Volvo. And if the entire fleet ultimately turns over to self-driving cars, the last to have them will be the car-dependent poor, which means that if these cars are all they’re cracked up to be, the poor will be the last ones stuck driving the most dangerous, most costly-to-operate vehicles on the road.
Will transit lose its advantage as the mode of the multi-tasker?

Even Randall O’Toole, who predicts “fully self-driving cars” will be sold in the U.S. by 2020, admits that flow-through would take another 18 years, so now we’re talking 2030-2040. More cautious forecasters, including some auto execs, don’t see truly autonomous cars arriving for several more decades. A few automotive journalists have acknowledged cars that entirely or largely drive themselves may never come to be (although headlines such as “At High Speed, on the Road to a Driverless Future” fail to reflect that tempered view.) So we should expect — or hope — that the process will be slow if we expect regulators to help maximize safety. Viva la Evolución.

So, is there any harm in the hype? Full-bore enthusiasm may be needed to produce incremental improvements, and every increment in lives saved is a good thing. Pedestrian detection systems alone could advance traffic safety. Viva la Evolución.

The harm is this: Perpetuating the belief that a magic car will be the silver bullet that solves our transportation problems doesn’t just focus too narrowly on automotive solutions to transportation problems — it slows down progress on non-automotive solutions. Detractors of transit like to point out that it can take decades for investments in rail infrastructure to be realized, claiming that nimble private car companies can and will bring us a better future more quickly. Media salivation over self-driving cars helps sustain this myth.

It also furthers the notion that the only really cool transportation technologies are automotive ones, preserving the car as a key marker of social status and symbol of progress. This makes it harder to encourage healthier and more sustainable and efficient modes, and harder to rally taxpayers behind transit investments. 

“Mobility is freedom, at least a part of it,” O’Toole states, and that’s not wrong. What’s wrong is the persistent conflation of mobility with cars, born of a fascination with the latest gee-whiz technology. The expansion of mobility and freedom must work for all — not just those who can shell out for the latest vehicl
 2010 Spirit Of Accessibility

Video : Los Angeles program shows seniors how to use transit comfortably if they did not use it in their youth)
via YouTube

25 Ideas for LA's New Mayor Eric Garcetti 


By Peter Drier, June 5, 2013

Eric Garcetti has enormous potential to be one of L.A.'s great mayors. He is young (just 42), full of energy, experienced in politics and government, passionate about L.A., brimming with policy ideas, compassionate toward the disadvantaged and a great communicator and explainer. I saw many of these traits up-close when I co-taught a course with him at Occidental College in 2000, and have watched him blossom as he joined the City Council and served as its president.

Now he faces the daunting challenges of running America's second-biggest, and most diverse, city.

No mayor can succeed unless he or she attends to the routine civic housekeeping tasks that residents expect from municipal governments -- fix the potholes, keep traffic flowing, maintain public safety, keep the parks and playgrounds clean and in good repair.

But Garcetti didn't run for mayor just to be a caretaker. He promised more. He can build on some of the successes of his predecessor but also stake out new directions.

Garcetti inherits a city with more millionaires than any other, while also the capital of the working poor. The divide between the rich and everyone else is widening. Equally important, the condition of the city's middle class is precarious as the prices of basic things like housing, health care, food and gas increase faster than incomes.

Despite several years of declining housing prices, the city still has a huge shortage of homes that most L.A. workers and residents can afford. This undermines the city's business climate. L.A. is a city of renters (over 60 percent of the population) and most of them are paying more than they can afford just to keep a roof over their heads. If families are paying half or even two-thirds of their incomes in rent, as many are, they have little left to spend at neighborhood businesses and for other basic necessities. And they are constantly at risk of losing their homes. So, not surprisingly, L.A. is the nation's homelessness capital.

Moreover, the nation's epidemic of foreclosed and "underwater" homes (where the mortgage exceeds the value of the home) has damaged Los Angeles in several ways. Even if home prices rise, as they are doing now, many families are hurting, victims of banks that engaged in risky, reckless predatory lending. But these banks have not been held accountable for bursting the housing bubble, which led to plummeting home prices and a huge loss in property tax revenues. This -- and not the pay and pensions for municipal employees -- is the major cause of the city's fiscal problems.

Los Angeles outgrew its suburban roots years ago when the freeways became parking lots. Now Los Angeles needs to grow up around transit stops. Making public transit a real possibility for people trapped in their cars means both building up Los Angeles' bus and rail system and building up the areas within walking distance of that system.

In recent years, traffic flows have improved, and new rapid bus routes are in place. The city is now in the early stages of a large-scale expansion of public transportation, which will be the largest land-use change in the city since the build-out of the freeway system. Garcetti's job will be to help manage land-use policies around that expansion so that they create livable, walkable neighborhoods and maximize use of the transit system, thereby reducing traffic congestion, pollution and harmful gas emissions. Such goals require that working families and core transit riders be able to live around the transit stops and do not get displaced or shut out of those areas by rising rents and home prices.

The success of Measure R in 2008, the "30-10" plan to accelerate implementation of our transit revolution and the 66 percent "yes" vote on Measure J in 2012 (just short of the two-third needed for passage) demonstrate that Los Angeles voters are ready to invest in a transportation transformation. Garcetti should build on this voter trust - and on the partnership between elected officials and labor, business, environmental and community groups - to expand our transit system into one that is robust, environmentally sustainable and financially sound, and that contributes to economic prosperity.

No mayor of a city of more than 4 million people -- balkanized by a City Council comprised of 15 powerful fiefdoms and a separate school board -- can please everyone. As a member of the City Council, Garcetti had a mostly good relationship with L.A.'s business community, labor unions and neighborhood groups. As mayor, he will be called upon to make some tough choices about raising revenues, spending money and setting rules.

Traditionally, city officials have allowed private investors and developers to dictate the terms of economic development and growth. Business lobbyists consistently warn that efforts to raise wages, improve the environment and public health, and require corporations to be more socially responsible will scare away private capital, increase unemployment and undermine a city's tax base. Typically, they are bluffing -- or, more bluntly, lying. In the 1990s, for example, the L.A. Chamber of Commerce and the Central City Association warned that passing a "living wage" law would bankrupt the city and kill jobs. They were crying wolf. The city's living wage law has been so successful that it has been expanded several times.

The lesson here is that Los Angeles can and should promote a progressive "growth with equity" policy agenda that balances private profit and public interest.

One of Garcetti's key tasks is to educate L.A. residents about what city government can and can't do. No city on its own has the all the resources or legal authority needed to address the myriad of problems -- poverty, homelessness, crime and underfunded schools, traffic congestion and pollution, accelerating foreclosures and abandoned homes, crumbling infrastructure, widening wage inequality, and escalating health care and food costs - it must confront. It needs to forge partnerships with county, state and federal officials to adequately address these issues.

At the same time, cities have much more capacity to bring about change than most people realize. They have lots of levers -- zoning, regulations, subsidies, tax breaks - to shape economic, physical and environmental conditions.

Another one of Garcetti's most important tasks will be to persuade business groups that a "healthy business climate" is one where economic prosperity is widely shared by working families. This requires business leaders to have a more enlightened view of their responsibility to the broader community.

Garcetti's supporters will need to have patience. He and the City Council must reach some consensus on the top priorities for the first year, and then consider what can be accomplished in subsequent years. Inevitably, unanticipated events and crises will intervene, but it is important to have a clear roadmap of where he wants to go. This is a time that requires bold initiatives and decisive action.

Here are 25 recommendations to consider:

Good Green Jobs and a Clean Environment

1) Support the full implementation of the newly adopted Don't Waste LA plan to promote citywide recycling by business and apartment owners, improve working conditions for garbage and recycling workers, and improve public health by eliminating polluting sanitation trucks. Getting the city to zero waste could also create thousands of living wage jobs.

2) Expand the Department of Water and Power's goal of reducing energy consumption from 10 percent to 15 percent by 2020. That's like taking more than 50,000 cars off the road. It now gets 40 percent of its energy from coal-fired plants that pollute our air and contribute to climate change. The DWP has pledged to eliminate coal from its energy mix by 2025 and replace it with cleaner energy sources, including renewable power like solar and wind. Energy efficiency should be part of the new energy mix, as it is the cheapest alternative to dirty energy sources, keeps customer bills low, creates local jobs and helps L.A. adapt to climate change by making homes and businesses more comfortable. The new mayor and City Council should push the DWP to expand programs and help tens of thousands of small businesses, schools and struggling families reduce energy and water consumption by installing energy-efficient lighting, faucet aerators, attic insulation and the like. This not only greens our neighborhoods. If done right, it can provide middle-class union jobs for L.A.'s unemployed who are being trained to retrofit buildings.

3) Use the city's land use powers to encourage clean manufacturing jobs centered in green industrial parks and to promote new grocery stores in underserved "food deserts" where residents lack access to affordable and health food.

4) Continue greening the ports and the regional goods movement system -- an enormous resource that provides hundreds of thousands of jobs and can do so with clean technology. There are plans for clean freight. We need to create an investment program to build it. Garcetti should support the ongoing efforts to improve the brutal conditions faced by the Port's 10,000 truck drivers, most of whom are misclassified as independent contractors.

5) Push for final passage of the city's ban on plastic bags, which pollute our streets, parks and beaches and cost a small fortune in tax dollars to clean up.

Living Wage Employment

6) Support a $15 living wage for the city's hotel workers. Tourism is one of L.A.'s biggest industries, occupancy rates are very high and hotels are making big profits. Even so, many of them pay poverty-level wages. Moreover, hotels can't threaten to move to Arizona, Mexico or Asia. The wage boost would increase workers' pay by $71 million, most of which would be spent in the local economy and create more jobs.

7) Create a task force to consider adopting a citywide minimum wage for all workers, like the ones in San Francisco and several other cities.

8.) Continue and expand L.A.'s pioneering workforce investment and job training programs, including the path-breaking Construction Careers model, to provide young people with the skills they need to secure good jobs. Build the partnership with the community college system as a key link in the job training system.

9) Take a strong stand against Walmart's efforts to bring its low-wage jobs to Los Angeles. The retail giant's attempts to open grocery stores in Chinatown and elsewhere threaten the vitality of the city's unionized supermarket chains, one of the last remaining sources of decent blue-collar jobs.

Affordable Housing and Economic Development

10) Champion, protect and increase the supply of affordable housing, especially in neighborhoods with strong transit service. Increase density and reduce parking requirements around transit stops, but only once there is a clear way to ensure that existing affordable homes are protected and new ones are built. Start to "land bank" property near transit stations to ensure there is land priced reasonably enough to make affordable housing feasible in the "hot" transit-adjacent market. Require that private developers who take advantage of increased density or reduced parking around transit stations include more affordable homes in the development than they tear down or convert.

11) Enact a desperately needed housing demolition/conversion ordinance to protect rent-regulated units from demolition and condo conversion, particularly as the market heats up and developers trigger another wave of speculation and gentrification. This is particularly important in order to protect affordable rental housing near transit stations.

12) Help break the logjam on an inclusionary mixed-income housing ordinance by advocating for state legislation to give cities the clear authority to adopt inclusionary housing.

13) Champion SB1, the Sustainable Communities bill sponsored by Senator Darrell Steinberg, which would give cities new tools to create revitalize neighborhoods with affordable housing and good jobs without triggering gentrification and displacement. He can help build a coalition of labor, business, environmentalists and community activists to support the legislation and lead the way in inventing a new generation of bottom-up community development. At the same time, the mayor should work with local housing advocates to create a permanent funding source for affordable housing in the city and county. To make sure this is a top priority, he should appoint a Deputy Mayor to coordinate the many city agencies involved in housing.

14) Make a firm commitment to oppose and stop any effort to weaken or eliminate rent control or housing code enforcement. In a city where more than half of all residents live in rental housing, the administration needs to quickly investigate complaints of rent-control violations and ensure strict landlord compliance. This will require much better outreach to tenants so they know their rights.

Public Transportation

15) Become a national leader in advocating for a federal transportation policy that turns transit investments into a win-win for cities across the country. L.A. has created the model, with the adoption of the Construction Careers policy and the U.S. Employment Plan, to make sure that public funds used to purchase buses and trains create good jobs for those who need them most. By working with business, labor, environmentalists and other transit advocates, along with the new Secretary of Transportation and L.A.'s Congressional delegation, Garcetti can urge Congress to put more resources into the America Fast Forward program, which will improve public transit, create good jobs and improve the environment in cities around the country, and provide LA Metro with the financing needed to build the 30-year transit program in 10 years.

16) Help L.A. dream big again, as it did in 2008, and begin planning what we could accomplish with another countywide ballot measure in 2016 to fund completion of the transit system. This includes extending the Crenshaw Line to Wilshire Boulevard and connecting it with a new line from Hollywood and Highland, forming a continuous system from North Hollywood to LAX. It also includes a light rail connection from the San Fernando Valley to LAX, extending the Foothill Gold Line to San Bernardino County and on to Ontario Airport, and extending the Eastside Gold Line to both Whittier and El Monte. In addition, it would complete the Greenline/Crenshaw connection to LAX and extend the Green Line to Torrance, finalize the West Santa Ana Line from downtown L.A. to Cerritos, connect the San Fernando Valley from Burbank Airport to the San Gabriel Valley and finish the "Subway to the Sea" along Wilshire Boulevard.

17) Collaborate with LA Metro to build out the new strategic plan that's underway for first mile/last mile bicycle, pedestrian and shuttle improvements.

Budgets, Taxes and Finance

18) In terms of the city budget, raise revenues by closing loopholes like cracking down on city parking lot owners that skim money from the city's parking tax. Don't eliminate the business tax. And don't blame municipal employees for the city's budget woes.

19) Review and renegotiate the city's financing deals with Wall Street banks. During the past decade, the city (including the Port of Los Angeles and LAX) got swindled by banks just like many homeowners did. Banks gouged the city with predatory fees and interest rates, increasing the city's debt load. Debt service and finance costs together now constitute a huge drain on the city's budget. Last year, for example, the city paid $560 million, or 8.4% of its expenditures, to service its debt. The city should make the banks renegotiate these deals on better terms and thus save money that is now being siphoned off by Wall Street, whose reckless practices crashed the nation's (and L.A.'s) economy in the first place.

20) Help build a statewide coalition to champion a California constitutional amendment that lowers the local voter threshold to 55 percent and restores democracy to the voting process. Why should every "no" vote count twice as much as a "yes" vote? Reducing the local voter threshold will enable voters to step up and provide local governments, and school districts, with the revenue that's needed to make government work for everyone.

21) Work with L.A. County, the United Way and employers to guarantee that every eligible working person in the city gets the Earned Income Tax Credit, a federal program that boosts the income of the working poor but is sadly underused. Expanding enrollment in the EITC would bring tens of millions of dollars into the local economy.


22) Use his bully pulpit to make sure L.A. stops catering to the out-of-state corporations and billionaires, like Walmart and Rupert Murdoch, who want to privatize our public schools, rely on high-stakes testing to evaluate students and teachers, and treat teachers like hired hands rather than professional educators. L.A. has more charter schools than any other big city. A handful of them -- like the L.A. Leadership Academy - are innovative and creative. Most of them, however, are educational fast-food franchises. Research shows that most charters are no better and often much worse than public schools in terms of learning outcomes, especially for low-income students and English-language learners. The mayor should use his influence to refocus attention on what's needed to fix our schools: smaller class sizes, expanded pre-school, more collaborative professional development for teachers and more state funding for public education (California now ranks 47th in per-student funding).

Health Care

23) Work with L.A. County to make sure that eligible residents are enrolled in the new Affordable Care Act so they have access to health care services from local providers, especially community health clinics.

Immigration Reform

24) If Congress passes comprehensive immigration reform, support groups like the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights in LA (CHIRLA) to provide aspiring Americans with basic immigration services.

Media Ownership

25) Lend his influence to the effort to keep the Koch brothers or Rupert Murdoch from buying the Los Angeles Times and help find a consortium of local civic leaders to purchase the paper and restore local ownership (or stewardship) that cares more about the city than about quarterly earnings.

Finally, Garcetti must recognize that his success as mayor will depend in part on the ability of L.A.'s progressive movement -- unions, community organizing groups, environmentalists, public health advocates, community development organizations, enlightened businesses and others -- to join forces around a common agenda to catalyze good jobs, livable neighborhoods and a healthy environment. I hope that our new mayor will follow the example of FDR, who told his progressive supporters: "I agree with you. Now go out and make me do it."


Taxpayers Foot Bill for Metro Fare Evaders

New locking turnstiles go into effect this month at two of Metro's six rail lines


By Joel Grover and Phil Drechsler, June 4, 2013


 Taxpayers are footing the bill for thousands of cheaters who ride Los Angeles’ growing subway system for free, an NBC4 I-Team investigation finds.

Taxpayers already subsidize most of the fares for commuters who pay.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority is about to implement a plan to stop these fare evaders. But the government’s plan might not stop a lot of cheaters.

Commuters are supposed to buy a TAP card and load it with enough money to pay their fare -- $1.50 for regular fare; 55 cents for passengers who are seniors, disables or eligibile for reduced fare. They then tap it on the turnstile and, when a green light flashes, they’ve paid. Otherwise, a red light goes off.

Video from the Hollywood and Highland Metro station shows several commuters breezing through 
the turnstiles without paying, and some of them used the turnstile for commuters with disabilities.

One commuter said he skipped the fare because, “I don’t have any money right now.” He added that he feels badly about not being able to buy his ticket.

There’s no way to tell just how many commuters get a ride free, according to transit officials.
Paul Taylor, with the Metro Transportation Authority, said on June 19, Metro will start latching the turnstiles on the red and purple lines.

If commuters don’t pay, the gates won’t open.
Taylor said the change “is going to pay off.”

But Metro’s former chief financial officer thinks the agency is wasting an untold amount of money to lock the turnstiles.

“I’m 65. I could get over that if I wanted to,” Tom Rubin said, pointing to a fence at one of LA’s Metro stops. “But hopping the turnstile, no problem.”

Other lines, including the Blue and Gold lines, will remain on the honor system. Riders are supposed to buy a TAP card, but there are no turnstiles.

That loophole infuriates rides, like Charley Santangelo, who say they always pay.

“The idea of having a large city on an honor system just makes no sense,” Santagelo said.
Rubin said the only way to stop cheaters is with “a lot of human bodies.”

There are a handful of sheriff’s deputies who spot-check the subways to make sure riders pay, but Rubin thinks there should be paid guards posted at all station.

“The message is, we’re here, we’re watching, and we want to help you do it right,” Rubin said.
Taylor said that’s a possibility.

But until then, much of LA’s rail system could be vulnerable to commuters who don’t want to pay.

110 Freeway Toll Road Evasion Tickets: Is This Extortion?


By Gracie Zheng, June 4, 2013



Amanda Ferguson, 42, of Echo Park, on May 30 received in the mail a toll road ticket for driving on the 110 in South L.A.

She is upset. But not so much about the ticket as its due date -- May 30, the same day the ticket arrived in the mail. Had she failed to pay the $3.05 due on that very day, she would have owed $28.05 for being "late."

Many people are angry about the new tolls and surprise tickets. Sometimes motorists don't even realize they were on a toll road until the demand for payment arrives in the mail.
Ferguson explains:
I don't have a problem paying the $3 fine. It doesn't seem reasonable to demand payment on the same day it arrived.
I was frustrated because I wasn't given time to understand what the violation was about. A few days notice would be good to open the mail, send out a check for what was being asked.
We went to the MetroExpressLanes.net website and found this Metro rule about how the fees work:
All vehicles traveling on the Metro ExpressLanes must have a FasTrak® transponder.
On the I-110, vehicles with two or more occupants per vehicle will be able to continue using the Metro ExpressLanes toll-free.

On the I-10, vehicles with three or more occupants will be able to use Metro ExpressLanes toll-free at all hours. Vehicles with two occupants will pay a toll during peak hours (5 a.m.-9 a.m.; 4 p.m.-7 p.m.), but will have toll-free use during off-peak hours.
She drove with a passenger on the 105, then the 110, as she returned home from LAX the morning of May 13, the date of her violation. She didn't have the FasTrak "transponder" required of all motorists who use the experimental, congestion-priced route that has been in effect since November. She didn't even know she was on a toll road because -- lucky woman -- she very seldom has to actually drive on the crammed 110.

Her ticket, for "toll evasion," showed she used the 110 northbound between Slauson Avenue and 39th Street, a section of about 1.6 miles designated as part of a Metro Express Lane.

Courtesy of Amanda Ferguson

Rick Jager, a Metro spokesman, had a curious response to Ferguson's ticket, which was due to be paid to Metro pretty much right that minute, or else:

 "She is lucky she didn't get a ticket from CHP. That would be hundreds of dollars."
Jager said he couldn't comment on who is responsible for what happened to Ferguson, explaining that he didn't know who delivered her mail or where she lived. Then he added this second, curious, comment:
"I don't know how the mailing system works," Jager said.
Notices of toll evasions are sent out up to seven days before the penalty is due, according to Jager. In Ferguson's case, her ticket was dated May 23, 2013, which is seven days before the penalty was due, even if it didn't arrive until the deadline.
By the end of the day on May 30, Ferguson had paid the $3-odd fine by calling customer service for the Metro Express Lanes.
Here's the next curious part: The postage on her envelope was dated May 28, one day after the Memorial Day weekend. Yet along the top of the envelope, a machine has printed a different date: May 29. Ferguson checked her mail on May 29 and didn't have the ticket. She got it on May 30.
Many people are sick of the confusing tolls, the late mail and the government-ese responses from Metro.
On MetroExpressLanes Facebook page we found these recent comments:
"I hope this pilot program crashes and burns. Take lanes that have been free for years, and start charging for them. And send $50 fines to someone (me) who accidentally strays into the lane out of force of habit, after having driven in those lanes on the weekend for 15 years (at 11 p.m. when there's no traffic)." (Brad Horstkotte/Facebook)
"I made good time on the eastbound 10 tollway yesterday, using the express lanes to get to the 605. The signage clearly displayed the cost, but failed to tell me the entire onramp to the 605 North was closed." (Richard Yaussi/Facebook)
"I understand that there is a battery inside these transponders that should last four or more years. Have these batteries been thoroughly tested to ensure that they will not catch fire when sitting in the sun and the temperature inside the vehicle rises to 150 degrees?" (Paul Eddie Cline/Facebook)
The Metro Express Lanes on the 110 transitway stretch about 11 miles between Adams Boulevard and Harbor Gateway Transit Center. On the 10's El Monte Busway, they stretch about 14 miles between Alameda Street and the 605, according to MetroExpressLanes.net.
To avoid fines, any car using Metro Express Lanes must have a FasTrak transponder.

The fee for driving on the Metro Express Lanes ranges from 25 cents to $1.40 per mile depending on the level of traffic congestion. The more congested, the higher the price per mile.

If you want to join the party, here's what it costs to obtain a transponder.
According to MetroExpressLanes.net:
Credit/Debit Card Accounts: An initial prepaid toll deposit of $40 per transponder is required to open an account. The $25 transponder deposit will be waived. If the FasTrak® is not returned in good working condition when the account is closed, a $25 fee will be charged to the account.
 Cash/Check Accounts: An initial prepaid toll deposit of $50 per transponder and a per-transponder deposit of $25 will be required to open an account. When the account is closed and the transponder is returned in good working condition, the $25 deposit will be returned.
For those commuters who qualify for our equity plan, a one-time $25 discount will be applied to their account.

Losing Revenue From Hybrids Prompts States to Hit Owners: Taxes


By Alison Vekshin, June 4, 2013

Hybrid and electric cars are sparing the environment. Critics say they’re hurting the roads.

The popularity of these fuel-efficient vehicles is being blamed for a drop in gasoline taxes that pay for local highway and bridge maintenance, with three states enacting rules to make up the losses with added fees on the cars and at least five others weighing similar legislation.

“The intent is that people who use the roads pay for them,” said Arizona state Senator Steve Farley, a Democrat from Tucson who wrote a bill to tax electric cars. “Just because we have somebody who is getting out of doing it because they have an alternative form of fuel, that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t pay for the roads.”

State and local gas-tax revenue has declined every year since 2004, falling 7 percent to $37.9 billion in 2010, according to inflation-adjusted data from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, a Washington-based nonpartisan research group.

U.S. sales of electric and hybrid cars soared to 443,985 last year from just 22,407 in 2002, according to WardsAuto in Southfield, Michigan, which tracks industry performance. Electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid auto sales jumped almost 60 percent in 2012 from the preceding year, representing 3.3 percent of the 14.4 million cars sold, the data showed.

Opponents say taxing the vehicles contradicts government promotion of renewable energy, and the hybrid-electric share of the auto market is too little to cut into taxes. The federal government offers a tax credit from $2,500 to $7,500 on the purchase of a new plug-in electric car based on the traction battery capacity and the gross weight rating.

‘At Odds’

Boosting taxes “for people who want to use less gas is at odds with policies that are trying to make it easier for people who want to adopt clean and efficient technologies,” Genevieve Cullen, vice president of the Electric Drive Transportation Association, a Washington-based industry group, said in a telephone interview.

Fuel taxes provide close to 40 percent of state revenue for highways, according to a 2012 report by the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures.

“Yet these revenues have not kept pace with needs, partly due to changing travel patterns and fewer miles driven nationwide,” the report said. “Improvements in vehicle fuel efficiency and growing use of alternative fuels also present serious challenges.”

More Efficient

Tax collections have declined relative to the amount of driving as cars become more efficient, said John DeCicco, a research professor specializing in transportation energy use at the University of Michigan Energy Institute in Ann Arbor.

“The larger issue is not electric cars as regular cars are getting more efficient,” he said in an interview. “More miles per gallon means less gas tax per mile. That’s the crux of the problem.”
In Washington state, electric-car owners this year began paying a $100 annual fee. Virginia in April approved a $64 annual fee on hybrid and electric cars.

In New Jersey, Senator Jim Whelan, a Democrat from Atlantic City, has proposed a $50 annual fee on electric and compressed natural-gas cars that would be deposited into a state fund for road and bridge maintenance.

Free Ride

“Those of us who drive gas-powered vehicles, which is 98 percent of the people in our state, are contributing to the transportation trust fund,” Whelan said at a May 20 hearing. “The 2 percent who are driving electric cars or compressed natural-gas cars drive the same roads and bridges that we do -- they currently contribute zero. They literally get a free ride.”

The state offers a 10 percent discount on off-peak New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway tolls through E-Z Pass for cars that get at least 45 miles per gallon (19 kilometers per liter).

In Arizona, Farley’s measure, which has stalled, would impose a tax on electric cars of 1 cent per mile driven on the state’s highways, amounting to about $120 annually per car, he said. Texas lawmakers considered a similar bill this year.
In Indiana, lawmakers created a committee to study a local road impact fee on electric and hybrid cars to be paid at registration.

North Carolina’s Senate on May 23 approved a budget plan that includes a $100 fee for electric cars and $50 for hybrid cars, said Amy Auth, deputy chief of staff for Phil Berger, Senate president pro tempore. The plan has gone to the House for review, she said.

Unfair Tax

Tom Stricker, vice president of technical and regulatory affairs at Toyota Motor North America, said it’s unfair to single out hybrids for an additional tax. Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, almost doubled its sales of hybrids last year to 327,413, from 178,587 in 2011, according to company statements.

“A compact gasoline car may consume less fuel and pay less gasoline tax than a hybrid SUV, but only the hybrid SUV would be subject to an additional tax,” Stricker said in an e-mailed response to questions.

The approach is “wholly inconsistent” with federal and state government efforts to spur technology innovation, improve fuel economy and reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, he said.

A Disappearing American Original: The Roadside Rest Area


By Mark Byrnes, June 5, 2013A Disappearing American Original: The Roadside Rest Area




During a move from Los Angeles to Austin six years ago, photographer Ryann Ford kept coming across 20th century rest stops, each one different from the other. Humble in stature, these traditional rest areas, despite their charm, have become a relic of America's roadside past, unable to match the conveniences of modern day travel centers with their fast food restaurants, wireless internet, and large bathrooms.

On her website, Ford expresses disappointment in the nation's increasing preference for homogeneous travel centers, allowing rest areas to lose "the fight to commercial alternatives." We talked with her about her ongoing rest stop project, why they're so special to her, and the modern day travel centers that are replacing them along America's roads:
What inspired this project?

I started noticing these cute little roadside tables along the different Texas highways. We had the giant interstate rest areas in California, but it wasn’t until living here that I really started to notice rest areas. I noticed that a lot of them looked really old, some had cool mid-century architecture, some were really quirky, like they were shaped like a teepee or an oil derrick, or had a theme to them depending on the region you were in.
Sonora, Texas

One night I decided to Google “rest areas” to see what they looked like in other areas of the country and I came across a news article detailing the closure of many of them due to budget cuts - and they weren’t just being closed, but demolished. I had considered doing a photo project on them before, but this was definitely the deciding factor.
Flower Mound, Texas

While doing my research, I read about a rest area just north of Ft. Worth that was “a breeding ground for crime.” Evidently a lot of prostitution and drug deals went on there, and it was scheduled for demolition. They showed a photo of it - it had a roofline mimicking the shape of longhorn horns, and on its sidewalls was the Texas flag. It had so much personality and charm; I just couldn’t believe they were tearing it down. The next weekend I high-tailed it up there to shoot it. A few weeks later I had to drive up there again for work and it was gone.

After that, I got serious about the project and set out to start documenting as many as I could. I think what really drew me to this project was a mix of things - definitely the architecture, but I also just love roadside culture and Americana. I’ve always been big into road trips, especially through the southwest. After learning the history, and visiting so many of them, I have become even more attached to them.
Walker Lake, Nevada
What surprised you about these places as you discovered them?

While doing some research on the history of rest areas, I had read about how when they were designed, no two were designed the same. With the introduction of the Interstate Highway System in 1956, this new system standardized highway design coast-to-coast, making all roads across the country perfectly uniform, right down to the thickness of the asphalt and the width of the double yellow line.  
Organ, New Mexico

The one design element that stayed with the jurisdiction of the states was their rest area design. It was a state's chance to make an impression on travelers. Rest areas were designed to be unique and provide a window into local regions as motorists pass thru them. Developers designed shelters in forms that drew on regional imagery such as teepees, wagon wheels and windmills and designed buildings that reflected the architectural heritage of indigenous people.

Upon hitting the road and having this knowledge, it was really fun to in fact see how each one really was different from the previous. It was fun to feel that anticipation and mystery of what the next one down the road would look like.
Big Bend, Texas
Do you have a favorite rest area from shooting this project?

This sounds cheesy, but almost all of them are special in some way. It’s amazing that something as mundane as highway rest stops could have so much personality and charm. So much thought went into the design of these things, from the architecture, down to the small details such as BBQ grills in the shape of Texas, or birdhouses with the state flag painted on the side.
White Sands, New Mexico

I definitely do have my favorites though. White Sands, New Mexico, was probably the most amazing. The picnic tables there are iconic, straight out of the '60s, and the landscape is like no place else on earth. It was a hot summer day at sunset when we were shooting, and a thunderstorm had just rolled through, so hardly anyone was around. You couldn’t take a bad picture at that place.
Augusta, TX

It was also surprising to see that yes, these places aren’t really used anymore. There are still a decent amount of people that stop to use the restroom at some of the stops along the big interstates, but hardly anyone uses the roadside tables, or the picnic areas without a bathroom, other than the occasional trucker to pull over and take a nap. It was strange to see what disrepair some of them were in – some had benches that were broken in half, caving in roofs, and a lot of them had piles of household trash in the trashcans that looked as if it hadn’t been emptied in weeks.

While shooting this project, we used a lot of these rest stops. We brought along food in an ice chest and picnicked at a few of them and it was really fun.  It was often really peaceful, as there was no one around, and as you can see from the photographs, the picnic tables are often placed in really scenic locations, so it was a beautiful place for a picnic. Some of the tables were placed really far back from the road, and far apart, so each little site had a good amount of privacy, almost like your own little campsite.

I am also surprised how fast they're disappearing. As I drive around Texas and the southwest on various trips, I almost always come upon a recently closed or demolished rest stop. When they are demolished, it’s as if they never even existed. All of the structures are flattened and taken away, the dirt smoothed over, and nature quickly takes back the land.
Thackerville, Oklahoma

The teepee rest area in Thackerville, Oklahoma, was definitely a favorite too. It was closed down and fenced off, but we found a farm road just past the rest area that took us around back. It looked like it had been closed for years, some of the giant oaks had fallen on a few of the teepees, and it was winter, so the trees were bare, and beautiful fall leaves covered the ground. It was silent, and the amazing teepee structures stood against a gorgeous field. I’ve always had an eye for minimalism, so I particularly love the tables that sit out on a stark landscape.
Ft. Stockton, Texas
Is there a part of the country, a roadway or even a state that seems to still have a decent amount of these rest stops?

In my experience, the areas that are the most rural, or desolate, still have the most roadside picnic areas and rest stops. I've focused my attention on the southwest, and of the states in the southwest, Texas still has most left. As you get closer to Texas’ urban areas, there are less and less rest areas, and that’s where I am seeing the majority of the demolition. I guess they figure since you are so close to a town or city, why have a rest area?
You seem to have a strong dislike for the travel center. Can you envision a point in the future where we find them as endearing as these aging rest stops you're capturing?

It’s not that I dislike travel centers, it’s just that they are highly commercialized, and when you are at one, you have no idea where in the country you are since they all look the same. In a way, they are a step up from rest areas, with amenities like wi-fi, multiple restaurants, showers, etc., but they lack that local charm, and you miss that experience of being outdoors, enjoying a view and surroundings that is unique to only that region.

It’s hard to imagine a day that these mega travel centers would be nostalgic, but who knows, maybe in the future as we all fly around in our personal flying cars, we’ll look down at the old highways and travel centers. I guess after enough time passes, anything can become nostalgic.
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