Thursday, May 24, 2007

Metro fares

I was quoted in today's LA Times article on Metro's (MTA's) proposed fare increase:

"Rail gives greater speed, it's more comfortable and it has higher capacity than buses," said Darrell Clarke, co-chairman of Friends 4 Expo Transit, which has been pushing for the line from downtown to Culver City. "Buses are stuck in traffic."

I'm disappointed the article was cast as bus vs. rail, though, framing the issue as:

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority today will consider approving a series of large fare increases that would hit bus riders particularly hard at a time when officials are spending $1.5 billion for a network of new rail lines.

Construction costs for rail come from different sources than operations, and operating costs for rail are less than for buses. In Metro's FY07 Budget (Appendix 15, pp. VII-46-47), buses cost $0.61 per passenger-mile, compared to light rail's $0.49 and the subway's $0.47.

This is consistent with national statistics, and makes sense: the largest cost of running transit is vehicle operators, and one 3-car Blue Line train carries more passengers than six regular buses (or four of the new articulated buses). (Click for more.)

It's not either-or; we need both rail for main high-speed corridors and buses to fill in the gaps and provide local service. Rail is also more attractive to get people out of their cars and to attract the transit-oriented development Los Angeles needs to handle population growth without completely choking on traffic.

On the fare increase, many transit advocates recognize Metro's costs have been increasing for labor, fuel, and expanded service, while fares have been held flat for a decade. Like the LA Times editorial today, we seek a middle ground between no increase and Metro's original proposal:

Big transit systems in the U.S. get 38% of their operating revenues from fares, on average, while the MTA went from 32% before the decree to 24% today. If transit riders don't start paying their fair share, the agency will have no choice but to cut bus and rail service, which won't benefit anybody.

An ideal solution would find new sources of transit operations funding from sources like gas taxes, parking fees, carbon taxes, or congestion pricing, to mitigate for the externalized costs of automobiles.

Updates: I just spoke about this with Patt Morrison on KPCC.

Here's the LA Times on the final compromise by county Supervisors Gloria Molina and Zev Yaroslavsky that was adopted:

... the original increase, which would have raised the cash fare for both rail and bus to $2 per ride from $1.25. The monthly pass would have increased to $120 from $52 over the next 19 months.

Instead, ... fares will increase to $1.50 by July 1, 2010, then $1.80 by 2012. The $3 daily pass will jump to $5 by 2008, $6 in 2010 and $7.25 two years later. The $52 monthly pass will go up to $62 in 2008, $75 in 2010 and $90 in 2012.

A special [off-peak] 25-cent fare will be established for the disabled and seniors 65 and older. The fare would be in effect 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and after 7 p.m. on weekdays, and all day Saturday, Sunday and federal holidays.

Be sure to read Steve Lopez' column, especially Martin Wachs' comments:

"There's no question that in a metro area like L.A., a transit system cannot be sustained" by current formulas, said Martin Wachs of the Rand Corp. "You need some form of tolls or parking or gas increases, with a transfer of funds from auto users to transit users."

He and Brian Taylor of UCLA's Institute of Transportation Studies support a variable fare system, saying it's illogical to charge a flat $1.25 for a bus ticket regardless of whether the rider goes 30 miles or three blocks.

Southern California Transit Advocates (So.CA.TA) has an extensive discussion of their fare recommendations and the final Metro plan.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Olympic-Pico update

Allyn Rifkin presented his Olympic and Pico Boulevards one-way study at the CD-11 Transportation Committee Monday evening. (See my earlier post for an introduction.)

He set the stage well, saying, "Think of this as someone's first idea ... now let's go out to the community about it." His main points were:

  • Olympic and Pico are major Metro and Big Blue Bus corridors. Because they're mostly more than 1/4 mile apart, he rejected pure one-way roadways in favor of contra-flow bus lanes.

  • Left turn arrows eat up a lot of intersection capacity. The one-way direction would be clockwise — east on Olympic, west on Pico — so changes in direction would use right turns.

  • His "5/2" (5 lanes one-way, 2 contra-flow) diagrams are here — off-peak with parking and left turns above, peak without parking or left turns below.

    Without peak-period left turns capacity would increase by 20%; with peak left turns capacity would only increase by 6%. A questioner was concerned about banning left turns, which would require many to drive around a the block through neighborhoods.

  • The roadways would not become "freeways" because speeds would be regulated by synchronized signal timing.

Zev Yaroslavksy's transportation deputy Vivian Rescalvo emphasized this is about improving transit in the corridor, not only for automobiles, and that it's "absolutely not" an alternative to the Expo Line, but that is eight years away.

Rifkin agreed with my question that Santa Monica's section of Olympic is difficult, long blocks west of Centinela with many west-bound cars headed to the freeway at Cloverfield, and with the median's coral trees and Expo Line west of Cloverfield. Pico is also narrower in Santa Monica. But switching from one-way to two-way would require a large connector street. Could Barrington do that? Bundy is already jammed.

The next step is more study and public process. Will we end up deciding to just synchronize signal timings in the dominant direction?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

LNG terminals

A number of proposals for Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) terminals along the southern California coast are being promoted, citing increasing demand for gas. Because natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel — in both CO2 and other air pollutants — it has been favored to displace coal and oil for generating electricity and diesel in large vehicles like transit buses.

To ship natural gas across the ocean it is liquified by chilling to minus 259 degrees Fahrenheit, stored in special tanker ships (photo), shipped, and re-gasified at a receiving terminal. See the California Energy Commission for an LNG overview.

There are serious questions, however, about the safety and emissions of LNG terminals:

  • A proposed terminal in the Port of Long Beach was voted down by the Long Beach Board of Harbor Commissioners in January. "Specifically, opponents raised safety concerns, citing the potential for a catastrophic natural gas explosion that could kill hundreds of people and devastate much of the Long Beach waterfront."

  • The proposed Cabrillo Port LNG terminal off the Ventura County coast was rejected by the state Lands Commission and the California Coastal Commission in April. It would have emitted "23 million metric tons of carbon dioxide a year, or about 40 percent as much as New York City" as well as "failed to meet local air pollution standards."

  • Woodside's OceanWay proposal, "over 20 miles offshore" in Santa Monica Bay, raises similar issues of air pollution and safety near LAX. The LAX area and the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are already the largest air polluters in Los Angeles County.

  • The energy used to liquify the gas, transport the gas, and regasify it — 15% in one example* — reduces its advantages over other fossil fuels.

There are better alternatives. I find this a critical decision point, whether we invest in more fossil fuel infrastructure that does not reduce global warming, or instead in efficiency and sustainable alternatives that reduce California's greenhouse gas emissions.

Around 50% of California's gas is used to generate electricity. Natural gas demand can thus be directly reduced by:

  • Replacing old power plants (right) with the most-efficient combined-cycle plants;
  • Increasing building energy efficiency in lighting, cooling, and heating;
  • Increasing wind and solar electricity generation (especially when combined with smart grid storage with EVs and PHEVs).

Solar thermal hot water systems can also reduce the 10% used to heat residential hot water and swimming pools.

*Julian Darley, High Noon for Natural Gas, p.60.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

High Speed Rail budget alert!

The California High Speed Rail Authority's budget request of $103 million for 2007-2008 will be discussed at a Budget Subcommittee meeting scheduled for this Thursday, May 10th in Sacramento. This funding is critical for the authority to continue its environmental planning and begin acquiring right-of-way while it is still available.

Besides high speed rail's strong mobility and economic benefits, it will be an important component in California's commitment to sustainable energy and reducing global warming. Electric-powered high speed rail is an excellent alternative to CO2 emissions from jet plane flights and long car trips within California. See my earlier post for more.

Click here to write Governor Schwarzenegger and here to send an email to key state legislators by tomorrow!

Monday, May 07, 2007

The (Fossil) Invaders

Too good to not pass on! (Via Energy Bulletin. It and Gristmill, links to the left, are my two best daily sources of energy and climate news.)

Friday, May 04, 2007

Carbon Footprint

Dr. James Hansen, Director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, emphasized last year that,
We have at most ten years — not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions.

A major purpose of my starting this blog is to examine what we can do in Los Angeles, what can work to change course on energy, within the urgent timeframe we have.

I'll begin with the idea of "carbon footprint," because the increase in carbon dioxide emissions caused by burning of fossil fuels is the largest contributor to global warming.

It helps to break it into four main areas we can change as individuals, regionally, and nationally:

  • What and how much we drive
  • Electricity and gas used in our homes and other buildings
  • How much we fly
  • Energy used to make and transport what we buy

Different "carbon calculators" are available online. The website for "An Inconvenient Truth" notes,

The average American generates about 15,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year from personal transportation, home energy use and from the energy used to produce all of the products and services we consume. Calculate your personal impact to see how much CO2 you produce each year.

Another is The Climate Trust's Here is my estimate there:

So what do I do after I calculate it? Stay tuned, there's a lot to explore....

Thursday, May 03, 2007

South Bay Energy Fair

I'll be speaking on "How public transit can serve you in the South Bay, and other ways to make your transportation greener", and hosting a table for Friends 4 Expo Transit and the Sierra Club, at the South Bay Energy Fair this Saturday, May 5th.