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News & Notes

20120921 46 Gas Pump

Photo (cc) David Wilson

→ The Verge: Uber surge pricing: sound economic theory, bad business practice

When the snow started falling in New York City this past weekend, the prices for a ride in an Uber car began rising. It’s part of the company’s long-standing policy of “surge pricing”: using an algorithm that raises prices to adjust for demand. Uber says the higher prices motivate more drivers to hit the road, ensuring that there are always enough cars available for customers, at least those who can afford much steeper fares. The adjusted prices, which got as high as $35 a mile, were roughly eight times the regular fare. The minimum of $175 a ride took many customers by surprise and they reacted with anger. Surge pricing happens regularly in Uber’s busiest markets, and has drawn customer outrage and media scrutiny before, including in New York during the snowstorm on New Year’s Eve, 2011, and during Hurricane Sandy.

See also → ValleyWag: The Weekend Uber Tried To Rip Everyone Off


→ The Walking Bostonian: Thought experiment: how much bus service can you get for the price of a parking garage?

We know that excavating an underground parking garage can cost from $50,000 to $100,000 per parking space (sometimes more, sometimes less, depending on conditions). Speaking loosely, then, each underground parking space could cover the net cost of approximately 5-10 weekdays worth of key bus route service. Let’s just assume for simplicity that every day has the same cost as a weekday. Then a year’s worth of key bus route service could be covered for the same cost as 36 to 73 underground parking spaces.

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News & Notes

Jersey City - Hudson-Bergen Light Rail

Hudson-Bergen Light Rail line in Jersey City, NJ. Photo (cc) Wally Gobetz.

→ Streetsblog: Why Free Black Friday Parking Is a Bad Idea

Lastly, providing free parking creates an inequity issue for people who do not own a car. As I’ve noted before, more than one-quarter of Cleveland households lack access to a vehicle. Yet, because the cost of parking is already factored into the price of retail goods, these individuals will have to pay for the hidden cost of parking, despite the fact that they will not take advantage of it. Ohio’s transportation policies are already skewed heavily enough towards driving. The round-trip cost of taking public transportation to Tower City ($4.50 per person) is higher than the price for two hours of on-street parking. Requiring the City to pick up this tab only serves to widen the gap between drivers and non-drivers.


→ The Atlantic Cities: Why Correcting Misperceptions About Mass Transit May Be More Important Than Improving Service

If you want to understand why people use a certain transit system, it makes sense to start with the system itself. Frequency, access, and any other service qualities that make riding as convenient as driving will help. Whether or not the way a city is designed and built nudges people toward the system — via residential density and street design, for instance — matters, too.

But as we’ve pointed out in the past, there’s a psychological component to riding transit that’s easy for city officials and planners to overlook. Fact is, we’re not all completely rational about our travel decisions. The perceptions that people have about public transportation, substantiated or not, are powerful enough to attract or repel them.


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News & Notes

Electric car charging.

Electric car charging station in St. Petersburg, FL. Photo (cc) CityofStPete

→ Grist: States promise to sell one new EV for every 24 people by 2025

They’re starting to step up. Eight states that represent, according to the New York Times, “a quarter of the national car market” just announced they’re going to work together on creating a better system for drivers of electric vehicles. They are, in descending order of population size, California, New York, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Vermont, and they say their goal is to help get 3.3 million new EVs sold by 2025. With a combined population of 79 million people, that means one EV for every 24 people.

How are they going to do it? By creating a system that will give EV owners something only gas-guzzling car drivers have now: certainty about where and when and how they’ll be able to fuel up.

I’m all for things that help improve the environment, but I’ve got to say, I’m a little sad that the environmental press is not being more thoughtful on this story. Reduced carbon emissions are wonderful, but it is not simply the carbon which is problematic, it is safety (for people inside and outside of cars) land-use, household budgets, and more. These are among the things states are supposed to do to encourage electric cars:

  • More charging stations
  • Building codes that require chargers at workplaces and “multifamily residences”
  • Reduced tolls
  • Better parking
  • Cheaper electricity prices

These are all things that encourage more driving; encouraging sprawl, paving land, putting pedestrians and cyclists in conflict with auto-traffic (I don’t think you’re any less dead after getting run over by an electric vehicle than you are getting run over by a gas powered one), and leaving individuals and families tied to the expense of a car (granted, made less so by reducing the costs of powering the vehicle).

Rhode Island seems quite proud of itself for being part of this group of states, but Rhode Island continues to poorly support alternatives to automobile use, namely mass transit and cycling infrastructure.

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News & Notes

Bixi

Montreal’s bike share system, Bixi. Photo (cc) arcsi

→ CBC: Bixi to continue despite financial problems

A member of Montreal’s city executive committee says he cannot guarantee the municipal administration will put more money into Bixi if it requires financial assistance.

The bike-sharing program has struggled to make ends meet since it first hit Montreal streets in 2008.

Jean-François Lisée, the provincial minister responsible for Montreal, said Bixi was a valuable service and deserved to be helped out. He said the Quebec government is working on a $5-million bridge loan for the program.

See also: → The Atlantic Cities: In Paris, Thefts and Vandalism Could Force Bike-Share to Shrink


→ The Walking Bostonian: Car-free housing in Boston is natural

I feel strange explaining the concept of a market to someone as old as Tom Keane. The idea that residents could rent or purchase a parking space in a nearby garage should not be that difficult to grasp, and it’s not much different from the many other transactions which take place between residents and local businesses. For example, most apartment buildings are not constructed with grocery store requirements. However, most people seem to understand that when a resident wants a bottle of milk, they can walk down to a nearby store and buy one. We do not need to build “minimum grocery store requirements” into the zoning code because those products are handled perfectly well by normally operating markets. And parking spaces are no different. They are just one type of land use, among many, that can be purchased or leased on the real estate market.

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News & Notes

Transportation Act Projects announcement

Governor O’Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown announces improvement to Marc train Red Line by Brian K. Slack at Baltimore, MD. Photo (cc) Maryland Gov Pics.

→ The Baltimore Sun: O’Malley to announce $1.5 billion for Baltimore-area transportation projects

Gov. Martin O’Malley plans to announce $1.5 billion in new state funding for the Baltimore Red Line and more than a dozen other transportation projects in the area Wednesday, officials said, outlining for the first time how the state’s gas tax increase will be tapped to improve local infrastructure and mass transit here.

O’Malley also plans to discuss the state’s interest in attracting public-private partnerships to help fund the Red Line project, and a Dec. 7 start date for weekend MARC train service between Baltimore and Washington, which has never been offered before.

[Baltmore Mayor Stephanie] Rawlings-Blake said the new funding “says that the state is serious about being a partner with Baltimore” to improve connections between transportation options.

“They’re putting their money where their mouth is,” she said. “They’re recognizing that for the state to be strong, Baltimore has to be strong, and it has to be strong as a connected city.”


→ The Boston Globe: Menino pushes plan to boost housing

Mayor Thomas M. Menino is proposing to reach his ambitious goal of building 30,000 homes in Boston by allowing taller structures with smaller units, selling public land to developers at a discount, and using subsidies to spur development of more affordable housing, according to a blueprint to be released Monday.

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City at Dusk, Boston (seen from Cambridge), Credit: David Fox

Boston at Dusk. Photo (cc) David Fox for Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism

→ Bloomberg: Boston Booms as Workers Say No to Suburbs: Real Estate

“In the last 24 months, suburban tech firms have been looking to relocate into town,” said Andrew Hoar, president and co-managing partner at CBRE/New England, a joint venture partner with CBRE. “For many other markets it’s the other way around. The young graduates in this town don’t want to commute.”


→ The Atlantic Cities: The End of Federal Transportation Funding as We Know It

This month marks 120 years since the federal government got involved in funding road transportation. (Strange as it sounds, bicycle advocates did the bulk of the lobbying.) The original Office of Road Inquiry — today, the Federal Highway Administration — was a line item with a budget of $10,000. That was only enough money to build about three miles of road, and the office wasn’t empowered to build roads anyway, but states fought tooth and nail against giving the feds even this incredibly modest level of transport oversight.

Today the federal transportation program faces perhaps its greatest challenge since that shaky start. The most urgent problem is funding. The Highway Trust Fund that pays for America’s road and rail program is heading straight toward bankruptcy. For two decades politicians have refused to raise the 18.4-cents-per-gallon gas tax that populates the trust, even as it steadily loses purchasing power to inflation and fuel-efficient cars. The public has yet to embrace alternative funding sources — road fares or mileage fees on the user-pay side favored by economists; income taxes on the social welfare end — in part because people (mistakenly) believe they already pay a lot for transportation.

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News & Notes

→ USA Today: New tax hikes eyed for roads, transit

States are scrambling to find taxes to pay for highway repairs and their public transit systems, including payroll and sales taxes, and raising taxes paid by gasoline stations.

The proposals, being kicked around in at least 13 states as governors lay out their legislative agendas for the year, come as states find revenue from stagnant federal and state gasoline taxes isn’t keeping up with highways, bridges and urban transit systems that increasingly are falling into disrepair.


→ Next City: For Obama, A Renewed Focus on Urbancentric Topics

One should never expect to glean much policy insight from inauguration speeches, but President Obama indicated today that his administration will seek to take action on climate change and immigration as it moves into its second term. And as always, cities will be the proving grounds for how future policies affecting these issues play out.

During this morning’s inauguration ceremony, Obama touched upon several domestic topics — including investments into sustainable industries — that should have urbanists and urban dwellers perking up their ears.

Though light on specifics, the issues spotlighted today will likely set at least part of the executive agenda for the next four years.


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News & Notes

→ DC Streetsblog: Oregon Takes the Next Step in Moving Beyond the Gas Tax

Rep. Earl Blumenauer likes to say that Oregon was the first state to adopt a gas tax and it will be the first state to get rid of it. In 2006-2007, the state conducted a pilot study of alternative revenue collection methods, with an eye toward moving to a better system. This fall, they’ll do another pilot, fine-tuning their process for replacing the gas tax with a vehicle-miles-traveled fee.


→ The Guardian: Paris to return Seine to the people with car-free riverside plan

The pedestrianisation of one of Europe’s most picturesque urban riversides means the death knell for the Seine’s non-stop riverside expressways. These were the pride of Georges Pompidou in the 60s when France’s love affair with the car was at its height. Opened in 1967 by him, under the slogan “Paris must adapt to the car”, the dual carriageway with perhaps the best view in France allowed a speedy crossing of Paris from west to east. But environmentalists have long complained it was a dreadful, polluting waste of architectural heritage.


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News & Notes

Seattle Sharrows - 1 of 8

Sharrows on a Seattle Street, Photo (cc) The Prudent Cyclist.

News & Notes→ Sharing time: Tracking the ‘sharrow’ on city streets [Grist]

Like many experts on transportation bicycling, Fucoloro wasn’t enthusiastic about them. Sharrows are spread so indiscriminately on Seattle streets, he said, that “they mean nothing now.” He has noticed that there seems to be “slightly less aggression” from drivers when they’re in place. “But does that mean all the streets without sharrows are worse?”

In other words, with sharrows everywhere, do drivers assume that cyclists don’t belong on streets without them?


→ Five myths about your gasoline taxes [CNN]

A perpetual deadlock in Congress has resulted in eight extensions of the national transportation bill, causing roads to crumble, bridges to fall, and transit to break down.

Come March 2012, politicians will once again enter into a political debate about funding American mobility. Without a fiscal safety net in place, the Highway Trust Fund will go broke.


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Highway

Photo (cc) Count Rushmore

News & Notes→ Will pay-per-mile be a buzzkill for American road trips? [CNN]

During the next 20 years, projections show average vehicle fuel efficiency nearly doubling.

Revenues from the fuel tax will be slashed by half, according to the Iowa study.

Meanwhile, the cost of safe roads, bridges and transit systems will skyrocket. By 2020, says the American Society of Engineers, the price tag could be as high as $1.7 trillion.

Bottom line: two cents per mile would be enough to pay for the nation’s transportation infrastructure needs. That’s according to a 2009 nonpartisan commission headed by two former U.S. transportation secretaries.


→ Bring Back the Rooming House? [CitiWire]

Is it time to restore the old-fashioned rooming house – or something akin to it – in America’s cities?

Candidate strategies for more compact urban housing units abound. Smith suggests, for example, basement or attic flats that use the “excess” space in larger homes in which an aging homeowner wants to remain but has rooms that are idle and chores that need to be done. “A bargain can be struck,” he suggests, with a younger tenant who pays reduced rent in exchange for upkeep and light maintenance. The net result: “to turn an over-housed, under-maintained single-family dwelling into a multi-household home that benefits both parties.”


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