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CA Assembly Bill Aims to Delay Cap-and-Trade for Fuels

Delaying cap-and-trade for gasoline wouldn’t amount to noticeable savings for low-income drivers who make long commutes in old gas guzzlers. Photo: Moira Curry

In a last-minute maneuver before the California Legislature’s summer recess, Assemblymember Henry Perea (D-Fresno) amended a bill to delay the application of California’s cap-and-trade system to fuels until 2018.

Co-authors of the bill, A.B. 69, include Assemblymembers Cheryl Brown (D-Fontana), Tom Daly (D-Anaheim), Isadore Hall (D-Rancho Dominguez), Roger Hernandez (D-West Covina), Freddie Rodriguez (D-Chino), and Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), as well as Senators Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) and Norma Torres (D-Chino).

California’s cap-and-trade system is intended to encourage businesses to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) by placing a cap on the total GHG they may produce, and then allowing them to buy or sell emission credits, depending on their ability to meet the cap. It is being phased in over time, and until now has only been applied to manufacturing enterprises. The cap is scheduled to apply to the production and transport of transportation fuels starting in January 2015. Perea’s bill would delay that for three years.

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What Will Our Future Be Like If We Don’t Change How We Get Around?

What will transportation be like in 2030? It depends a lot on what policies we institute, a RAND report finds. Image: ##http://www.rand.org/pubs/research_reports/RR246.html## RAND##

What will transportation be like in 2030? It depends a lot on what policies we institute, a RAND report finds. Image: RAND

How will Americans get around in the year 2030? A recent report from the RAND Corporation lays out two “plausible futures” developed though a “scenario analysis” and vetted by outside experts. While RAND takes a decidedly agnostic stance toward the implications of each scenario, the choice that emerges is still pretty stark.

In the first scenario, oil prices continue to climb until 2030 and greenhouse gas emissions are tightly regulated, as a result of the recognition of the harm caused by global warming. Zoning laws have been reformed to promote walkable urban and suburban communities. Transit use has increased substantially. Road pricing is widely used to limit congestion and generate revenue for transportation projects. Vehicle efficiency standards have been tightened, and most drivers use electric vehicles. This is the scenario researchers at RAND call, rather dourly, “No Free Lunch.”

In the second scenario, “Fueled and Freewheeling,” oil prices are relatively low in 2030 due to increasingly advanced extraction methods. Americans’ relationship to energy is much like it was in the 1980s and 1990s. We’ll own more vehicles overall and drive more miles. Suburbanization will continue. Roads are in bad shape because no revenues are raised to repair them. Congestion is worse. This scenario represents the future if little action is taken to counter the effects of global warming.

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Well That’s a Relief: Hurricane Irene Shouldn’t Affect Gas Prices Much

Now that we’ve made it through Hurricane Irene, in many cases with less damage than expected, we can turn our attention to the real question: what does this mean for gas prices?

Hurricane Irene certainly had an impact on transportation, but don't expect a lasting change in gas prices from it. Photo: NY Daily News

From Lexington, Kentucky to Palm Springs, California, consumers have seen some jump in gas prices over the past week. Some say it may have had to do with the fact that one of the 10 East Coast oil refineries shut down temporarily due to the storm.

But don’t blame Irene for all of it. Some of the jump was just market jitters after Fed Chair Ben Bernanke’s speech last week. And a predictable spike in demand during the upcoming Labor Day weekend could push prices higher, according to Stephen Schork, publisher of the industry newsletter the Schork Report, quoted by CNNMoney.

Indeed, writes Eric Jaffe in Infrastructurist, Irene likely won’t have much impact at all:

After Hurricane Ike, in 2008, fuel costs crept toward $5 a gallon in places. But Ike hit the Gulf Coast, where fuel production is several times greater than it is among East Coast refineries. In addition, the supplies that do exist will go further than normal after Irene, since demand plummeted this weekend in the typically high-traffic Northeast.

CNN even speculates that lagging demand could send fuel prices downward.

Meanwhile, Streetsblog readers have commented that a few days with fewer cars (at least in some places) has been a nice change of pace, and Noah hopes that the event will remind people that it’s important to have multiple transportation options. If Irene serves to do that, her impact on transportation would be a heck of a lot more significant than a momentary blip in the price of regular.

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Poll: Rising Fuel Prices Hitting Middle-Class Americans Hard

American households will spend more money on gasoline this year, in dollar and inflation-adjusted terms, than ever before. And middle-class Americans are more concerned about fuel prices than at any time in recent history.

American consumers are feeling squeezed like never before by high gas prices, a new poll shows. Photo: The Washington Note

These are the findings of a poll of 1,000 Americans commissioned by the Consumer Federation of America, which has been tracking national attitudes toward fuel economy and oil consumption for six years.

Fueling up in 2011 will cost the average household about $2,800, or about the amount they spend on health care, the organization reports. They’re predicting gas prices to rise to an average of $3.56 per gallon this year, but CFA Research Director Mark Cooper said that projection “may ultimately prove to be low.”

That will squeeze American households that are still struggling with the effects of the recession.

A record 79 percent of those surveyed said they are “greatly concerned” about fuel prices, including 84 percent of middle-class Americans whose household income is between $25-75,000.

“Gasoline prices have become a middle-class issue,” said Cooper. “Obviously in Washington that is a big deal. It really does change the terrain of policy making.”

This was the first time since CFA began exploring this topic that middle-class Americans were the group most concerned about fuel prices — a fact CFA officials hope will embolden lawmakers toward reform.

The findings will be presented tomorrow to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where CFA will use the information to argue for increased fuel efficiency standards. The study found that, by a 2-1 margin, Americans support raising fuel efficiency standards to 60 miles per gallon by 2025.

But fuel efficiency isn’t the whole story. The American Public Transportation Association recently reported that people can save an average of $825 a month by taking transit instead of driving, given today’s gas prices.

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GOPers Re-Name the Climate Bill Again: Now It’s a ‘Gas Tax’!

Seven months after first trying
to re-brand congressional climate change legislation as an "energy
tax," Senate Republicans were back at it today with a new report and op-ed that attempts to expose the climate bill as a "$3.6 trillion gas tax."

kay_bailey_hutchison.jpgSen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) (Photo: GOP Lounge)

Sens.
Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) and Kit Bond (R-MO) gathered outside the
Capitol today, flanked by aides wearing black stickers imprinted with
the slogan "CAP & TRADE = GAS TAX," to promote a new report [PDF] that presents their "gas tax" assertions.

How
did Hutchison and Bond get to their $3.6 trillion total, which their
report calls "relatively simple and straightforward to calculate"? They
simply multiplied their estimate of how much fuel the U.S. would
consume between now and 2050 by their estimate of the per-gallon gas
price increase that would result from an economy-wide emissions cap.

Hutchison and Bond got their numbers from the National Black Chamber of Commerce (NBCC), a business group that released projections on the cost of the House climate legislation at around the same time it joined the official astro-turf lobbying campaign against the bill. The NBCC’s analysis, produced by consulting firm CRA International, is one of many competing cost estimates for the climate bill, each of them relying on different assumptions and models that claim to predict the future price of carbon under the pending legislation.

In
fact, the NBCC analysis states (in Appendix C) that it has assumed
higher CO2 allowance prices than the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) analysis of the same House climate bill, thus resulting in higher
estimates for the plan’s impact on real-world carbon prices.

What
does the EPA say about the House climate bill’s likely effect on fuel
prices? Its analysis found a 25-cent per-gallon increase by 2030, or
less than three pennies per gallon per year — small potatoes compared
to the oil price swings of recent years, as the Pew Center on Global
Climate Change pointed out.

Center for American Progress senior fellow Joe Romm has delved further into the claim, promoted by the oil industry,
that a cap on carbon emissions would increase gas prices. Using the
non-partisan Congressional Budget Office’s estimate of allowance
prices, Romm found a per-gallon gas price increase similar to the EPA’s.

Still,
it’s unlikely that Hutchison and Bond would be fazed by economic models
that discredit their case. Although they told reporters at today’s
event that they support cutting carbon emissions, the first page of
their report makes clear that they dislike the very idea of more
moderate energy consumption:

Advocates of climate
change legislation want to increase the price of traditional forms of
carbon-based energy, such as coal and oil, so that consumers are forced
to respond by using less of those forms of energy. Policy-makers call
this putting a price on carbon. Economists call this sending a price
signal. The bottom line is that the price of energy will go up.

More expensive energy from climate legislation can be seen as a new national energy tax on American consumers and workers.

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GM and Segway Unveil La-Z-Boy on Wheels

Picture_10.pngA revolutionary personal mobility device. Hint: it's NOT the couple in the foreground
I'd be laughing right now if I could just stop crying.

I thought billions in taxpayer money and Wagoner's presidential dismissal were supposed to mark the end of General Motors' bad plans, and I naively hoped the company would replace Dummers with innovative thinking, dynamic product design, maybe even switch some of its production to light rail.  Silly me.

GM's solution for the future of transportation is, hold your breath, a Segway built for two.  I don't know about you, but I want my money back. 

GM and Segway announced the prototype, which they dubbed Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility, or PUMA, today in New York City, where the old single-occupancy stand-up Segways are already illegal.  The wheeled chair, which GM claims will address congestion, safety, affordability, parking, and energy concerns in urban areas, gets 35 miles per charge and does 35 miles per hour, a blistering speed that makes them just slow enough to get run down by the automobile company's more traditional vehicles. 

deesse.jpg

Unfortunately for those of us who already utilize a personal mobility device with more than 100 years proven utility and health benefits, Dave Rand, GM's Executive Director of Global Design, said on Brian Lehrer today that he thought PUMAs should be able to use bike lanes.  Lehrer was skeptical of the device, saying that the last time he heard of a transportation "revolution" was when Segways were introduced, and he noted how small a market share they currently have. 

When Rand was challenged by Lehrer on how they would fit in already dense urban areas, where carving out room for a bike lane is as difficult as it gets, Rand suggested that they would start using PUMAs on college campuses and other areas that look nothing like cities.

Given that Segways cost around $6,000, the new PUMA would likely be more expensive.  There are also concerns about safety and visibility, which GM claims they'll solve with technology links to existing OnStar systems so that the PUMAs will sense another vehicle and slow automatically, at least other vehicles with OnStar.

Rand said on Lehrer's show that users could charge the vehicle at home overnight or where it is parked during the day, the implication being that people have an easy place to plug in at night, as in, a garage.  Has Rand spent any time in a dense urban setting, where most people don't have garages?  Has he seen all those plugs coming out of the parking meters? 

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California Could Start Requiring Drivers to Report VMT

Evil_Odo.jpg
When USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood last month suggested that the country should consider replacing the gas tax with a tax on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) to compensate for the dwindling Highway Trust Fund, which is primarily supported from gas taxes, the White House immediately rebuffed him, assuring the public and angry editorial boards that Obama had no such priority.  With a sluggish economy and greater fuel efficiency in new vehicles, a VMT tax would replenish the Highway Trust, though it would also allow planners and policy makers to develop solutions for reducing greenhouse gas emissions through better land use policies.

Several states, including Oregon, Washington, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Texas are studying the feasibility of the transition and what infrastructure and technology would be needed to plan for a VMT tax.  In 2001, Oregon DOT (ODOT) launched a study called the the Oregon Mileage Fee Concept (PDF), and in April of 2006, ODOT tested GPS systems in vehicles belonging to several hundred volunteers.  Based on those findings, Oregon governor Theodore R. Kulongoski this year called for outfitting every Oregon vehicle with a GPS device that would assess a tax at the pump based on how many miles had been driven, regardless of the fuel efficiency of the vehicle.

In California last month, Assembly member Nancy Skinner of Alameda and Contra Costa counties introduced AB 1135, which would require every motorist to report their odometer reading when they register or renew their vehicle.  The state DMV would provide overall VMT data publicly. It would theoretically be available through fairly specific tracts to aid planning, though whether it would be by block face, census tract, voter district, or county has yet to be determined.

As the bill points out, accurate VMT data is essential not only for immediate compliance with the greenhouse gas reductions mandated in AB 32, but also for smarter regional planning and the reduction of sprawl mandated in SB 375: 

More accurate data about vehicle-miles-traveled--the mileage driven annually by Californians--would provide essential information to guide local transportation and land use planning. Location of transit corridor improvements, light rail, bicycle paths, and high-occupancy freeway lanes now depend on the estimates done by various state agencies, but all of these projects would benefit from more accurate data. Better data would also provide more consistent local and statewide estimates for transportation planning, city planning, and air quality planning efforts. The data would be essential in establishing long-term, historical trends in vehicle use, traffic congestion, energy consumption, and air quality measures, including ozone precursor pollutants and greenhouse gases.

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Using Software to Find Walkable Neighborhoods and Live Car Free

Transit_Tree.jpgThe Bay Area's public transportation circulatory system.  Click for larger view
Though David Brooks might argue in his New York Times column that Americans want to live in small towns and suburban dreamscapes, the fact is more and more of us live in metropolitan areas, and discussions about what we want should have to do more with the context of those metropolitan areas.  Brooks should be looking at the quality of the public spaces where people live, and the walkability and ease of transit in those neighborhoods.

Front Seat, a civic software company based in Seattle, developed Walk Score to help people identify neighborhoods that range from totally car-dependent to walkers' paradises.  Not content to rest on the substantial press accolades they received on their launch, the company has been coupling their tools with real estate websites to pair a home with a walk score so that prospective home buyers can see how walkable a neighborhood is at the point of sale.  When the real estate site Zillow added Walk Scores to every house listing three days ago, 7.5 million monthly visitors got a clearer vision of the quality of their prospective neighborhoods.

Matt Learner, Front Seat's head of technology, said that their goal was to encourage a potential home buyer to consider neighborhoods that are mixed-use, transit oriented, and dense.  "We're trying to get it in front of people when they're looking for a place to live and give them tools to help them choose more walkable neighborhoods."

Building on the walkability concept, the next generation of Walk Score software will seek to provide more sophisticated tools for analyzing neighborhoods.  "What's exciting is the convergence of transit data and software geeks," said Lerner.  "At Front Seat we're trying to make the interface much easier for people who aren't transit geeks like us."

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Transit-Oriented America, Part 1: Eight Thousand Miles

AD_Honeymoon_El_Paso_2.jpg

My wife and I were married last month in Brooklyn. For our honeymoon, we wanted to see as many great American cities as we could. In 19 days of travel, we visited Chicago, Seattle, Portland (Ore.), San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans (and also stopped briefly in Cleveland, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Houston, Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore and Philadelphia).

How could two people as obsessed as we are with minimizing our transportation carbon footprints possibly justify taking so many flights for leisure travel? We didn't take any flights. We also didn't rent any cars or even set foot in a single taxi. We learned that thanks to the magic of transit-oriented hotel development (often inadvertent), it is entirely possible to travel this great country from sea to shining sea without any of those carbon-belching modes of travel -- and still have a fantastic time.

Our intercity travel consisted of 33 miles on Metro-North (because we couldn't allow ourselves to depart for such a historic trip from Penn Station), 48 miles on CalTrain, and 7,840 miles on our underfunded national railroad, Amtrak. To travel about in town, we rented bikes in Portland but mostly used an amazing variety of light rail, bus and subway transportation, including trips on Chicago's El, Portland's TriMet light rail, San Francisco's Muni and BART and New Orleans' streetcars. All of which worked perfectly well for our purposes.

Despite the large number of transit providers, it was Amtrak that did the heavy lifting and made our vacation possible. Amtrak employees are painfully aware of the railroad's reputation as habitually late. They desperately wanted to provide an on-time, high quality service, but were demoralized when the trains ran late and frustrated because it was almost always for reasons beyond their control.

We took six Amtrak trains more or less through the entire length of their routes: The Lake Shore Limited, the Empire Builder, the Cascades, the Coast Starlight, the Sunset Limited and the Crescent. All of these trains left their departure stations on time to the minute. It wasn't until we got moving that delays occured, and these were caused by chronic underinvestment in rail infrastructure that has left many lines with just a single track. The lines are owned by freight railroads, which Amtrak pays for the rights use. The freight railroads are in increasingly intense competition with one another for customers, and have a habit of having passenger trains wait at a siding while freight trains roll through. Despite this, the Empire Builder managed to travel 2,206 miles from Chicago to Seattle and still arrive 38 minutes ahead of schedule. If our national government invested in rail improvements just a fraction of the billions of dollars it spends annually on highway maintenance and widening, Amtrak would run on time and more people would ride it.

As gasoline prices have gone up and congestion at airports has increased, Amtrak has had record ridership for multiple years in a row, despite being starved by the Bush administration, which wanted to disband the railroad, and the Republican-led Congress. Many threats remain. On the day we rode rode the Sunset Limited across Texas, a Republican congressman from Texas introduced legislation that would have eliminated the Sunset Limited. (It was defeated with the help of our region's congressional delegation by a vote of 299-130.)

AD_Honeymoon_El_Paso.jpg

But the trains are still running and we had the time of our lives on this trip. Even if its running late, and even if they've replaced the chefs in the dining car with microwave ovens, there remains something inherently enjoyable and relaxing about riding on a train across vast distances. You have time to yourself to sit and watch the world roll by, completely stress free, and sleeping in a real honest-to-God bed while rolling along through the undulating darkness is just incomparable to anything else experienced in travel. Now with the addition of laptop computers, you can watch a DVD or play tetris to pass the time, but I prefer to leave the screen off and look out the window.

This is the first part of a five-part series on our travels to run this week. Parts two and three will focus on the cities we visited, with brief updates on their struggles for livable streets. Part four will describe in greater detail the trains we rode and the sights we saw. Part five will compare the cities to one another in terms of livable streets, pedestrian-friendly development and intermodal transportation.

The great American poet Robert Hunter has written that he and the other members of the Grateful Dead had the greatest time of their lives aboard a train across Canada that carried themselves, Janice Joplin, The Band and many other musicians. That's high praise from people who spent their lives rocking out. The trip inspired Hunter to write some lines that became the motto for our honeymoon:

No big hurry
What do you say
Might as well travel
The elegant way

UPDATE: Here are the other entries in this series: