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, August 27, 2014

China Touts Itself as Winner in High-Speed Rail Stakes


By Bree Feng, August 25, 2014

 A high-speed train being inspected at a railway maintenance station in Xian, Shaanxi Province.Credit

High-speed rail has brought many benefits to China, and now one more can be added to that list: a handy point to lord over the United States.

Last week, People’s Daily, the newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, ran a lengthy analysis of high-speed rail development under the headline, “America’s High-Speed Rail Dream Has Become a Global Joke.”

Seeing the “revolutionary impact” high-speed rail has had on the economies and on people’s daily lives in China and Europe, it said, “Americans’ high-speed rail dream has become increasingly intense.” But, it adds, “though America leads in freight rail, its passenger rail conditions are terrible.” The article cites, by way of example, a train ride from Washington to Boston that was scheduled to take between six and seven hours but took 13 hours because of heavy rain.

The People’s Daily article was also distributed by the prominent Chinese news portals Xinhua and Huanqiu.

The Obama administration has set ambitious goals for rail in the United States. “There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains,” President Obama said during his State of the Union address in 2010. The following year he pledged to provide high-speed rail access to “80 percent of Americans” within 25 years. But despite having earmarked nearly $11 billion for the American rail system since then, little progress has been made toward meeting that goal.

The People’s Daily article also lists the various obstacles that high-speed rail faces in the United States, including political opposition and environmental concerns.

From the perspective of Chinese leaders, who brook no opposition to major infrastructure projects, the Obama administration’s efforts to upgrade tracks in the United States must indeed appear lackluster.

High-speed rail — usually referring to trains that run at more than 155 miles, or 250 kilometers, per hour — has become one of the Chinese government’s most successful large-scale infrastructure initiatives. Over the past six years, under former President Hu Jintao and the current president, Xi Jinping, the government has pumped hundreds of billions of renminbi into ensuring that China’s high-speed rail system matches any in the developed world. The system now transports nearly twice as many passengers each month as China’s airlines.

As the World Bank reported in July, construction costs per meter of rail are significantly lower in China than in Europe and the United States as a result of high volume, the low cost of land acquisition and a cheaper labor force, among other factors.

Those advantages might make a fair comparison with the United States difficult. Still, the People’s Daily article said that one American lawyer on a business trip in China was so dazzled by the country’s high-speed rail system that he became a “China fan” and began studying Chinese after his return to the United States.

Such global influence is exactly what Chinese leaders are after, targeting high-speed rail as a pillar of Chinese soft power abroad in addition to fueling regional economic growth.

Much as Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has been advocating rail development in the United States, China’s second-ranking official, Premier Li Keqiang, has made Chinese high-speed rail technology central to diplomatic efforts. Over the past year, Mr. Li, dubbed “China’s super salesman” by the state new media, has successfully promoted railway cooperation between his country and Thailand; led 16 Central and Eastern European leaders to a Chinese rail exhibition featuring a 21-meter, 0r 70-foot, model train; and told African leaders that China is ready to help build a network of high-speed rail on their continent.

Still, the rapid development of high-speed rail in China, often with lax oversight, has not been without problems, including corruption, cost overruns and deadly accidents. The former railway minister, Liu Zhijun, who made high-speed rail his pet project, was dismissed in 2011 for corruption and in 2013 was given a suspended death sentence.

After Mr. Liu’s downfall, the Ministry of Railways was dismantled and its regulatory and business components separated.

In a visit last Friday to the headquarters of its successor, the China Railway Corporation, Mr. Li called for more private financing of the rail system. The corporation’s investment target for the coming year is 800 billion renminbi, or $130 billion, and it aims to put more than 4,100 miles of new lines into operation.

California drivers brace for costly new gas tax


By William La Jeunesse and Laura Prabucki, August 27, 2014

 (See website for a video.)

Californians already pay the nation's second highest gas tax at 68 cents a gallon -- and now it will go up again in January to pay for a first-in-the-nation climate change law.

"I didn't know that," said Los Angeles motorist Tyler Rich. "It's ridiculous."
"I think it’s terrible," added Lupe Sanchez, pumping $4.09-a-gallon gas at a Chevron near Santa Monica. "The economy, the way it is right now with jobs and everything, it's just crazy."

When gas prices go up, motorists typically blame oil companies, Arab sheiks and Wall Street speculators. This time they can blame Sacramento and former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger for passing a bill requiring California to reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

The tax on carbon already raised about $1 billion in revenue by requiring manufacturers and utilities to buy credits for each ton of carbon emitted into the atmosphere. At the beginning of next year, the law will also apply to oil and gas. Refiners and distributors say they will pass another $2 billion in costs on - largely to consumers.

"Ultimately it hurts the consumer," said California Independent Oil and Marketing Association spokesman Mike Rohrer. "It is going to affect anyone who has a vehicle. Be it a motorist that is commuting back and forth to work or a trucker just moving goods throughout the state of California, the cost is immediately going to increase because whatever we have to pay for in carbon credits ultimately we have to pass through to the consumer."

Estimates of the cost of the tax vary. The California Air Resources Board, the Golden State's premier anti-pollution agency, predicts the new tax will raise gasoline prices from 20 cents to $1.30 per gallon. A prominent state senator who helped author the bill estimated the cost at 40 cents a gallon. Environmental activists downplay the cost, but hail the impact.

"We're going to now tackle probably 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the state that are emitted mostly through transportation - oil and gas use," said Climate Resolve Executive Director Jonathan Parfrey.

The cost of the climate change law never was spelled out in the original bill in 2010, which did not even include transportation fuels.But any meaningful climate change law would have to address driving, the state's largest single source of pollution. By raising the price, officials hope to reduce the number of miles driven as consumers are forced to consider options.

"We have to effect a transition away from the polluting of fuels that we currently have," said Parfrey. "We have to pay a little extra so that we're making sure that our energy in the future is not going to be spoiled."

Not everyone is sold on the idea. Europe tried a cap and trade program in the last decade and pollution levels still increased dramatically.

California is the only state to extend the idea to gasoline. By the end of the decade, the state is expected to collect $5 billion in revenue by charging businesses and consumers for the right to pollute. So far the state collected $833 billion by selling 'carbon credits' to polluters.

"They have generated close to a billion dollars in revenue just from the carbon tax credit auctions that have been going on for over a year. Where has that money gone?" asked Rohrer.

"And why do we have to tax the consumer to make this happen for clean air? Everyone is for clean air but let’s not hurt the consumer in the process and not giving them a full explanation of how this exactly works and why."

Last week California sold all of the nearly 22.5 million carbon credits it offered this year. Revenue from the auction is deposited into California's greenhouse gas reduction account. There it is used not just to reduce emissions or the cost of pollution controls for business, but also to build low-income housing near mass-transit hubs and support construction of the state's high-speed rail project.

Critics claim the money could be better spent to directly reduce emissions from industrial sources. Instead, some say the fund acts more like a pot of money for state politicians to build projects in their district for residents who may or my not use the transportation alternatives.

LADOT Seeking Input on Plan to Offer Discount to TAP Users


By Dana Gabbard, August 27, 2014

Are reduced fares on the way for users of LADOT’s TAP and Commuter Express bus service?

The city of LADOT recently held public hearings seeking comments on proposed new Electronic Payment Incentive Fares along with sharing new Disparate Impact and Disproportionate Burden Fare Policies that it says “are supportive of the incentive fares, and also establish criteria for how fares would be raised in the future”.

New TAP Cards
New TAP Cards

Here is a summary of the main proposals per the announcement on the LADOT website:
The implementation of the Los Angeles Region’s TAP smart card system has enabled LADOT to offer new pricing options to riders that were not available with LADOT’s existing passes and tickets. LADOT’s demonstration of mobile ticketing, through the use of smart phones, will also support these proposed fare options. That mobile ticketing demonstration, called LA Mobile, will take place in Fall 2014.

LADOT is proposing to reduce its DASH single-ride fare from 50 cents to 35 cents if a rider uses a TAP card to pay the fare. The 30% discount is intended to lure riders to using the TAP card that provides multiple benefits including the ability to protect the card balance from loss or theft. Additionally, when multiple passengers pay their fares using a TAP card, it makes boarding the bus quicker. Through the introduction of the Electronic Payment Incentive Fares, LADOT is seeking to reduce rider use of cash to pay fares. LADOT pays a high price to collect, handle and reconcile cash payments.
Policy wonks who want in-depth information can examine the fare equity analysis LADOT has posted.

I am working to have stakeholder groups like Southern California Transit Advocates and the Transportation Committee of the Sierra Club Angeles Chapter endorse this. It occurs to me to help make it happen that there would also be value in having DASH users who read this blog send LADOT an e-mail expressing support for the discount proposal. They can be sent to hearingofficer@ladottransit.com.

BTW, buried on the LADOT website is a fascinating piece by former Assistant General Manager John Fisher titled Transportation Topics and Tales: Milestones in Transportation History in Southern California that some with an interest in the history of transportation in our region may find of interest.