Thursday, March 27, 2008

Peak Oil and the Future of Transportation

photograph courtesy of flickr

The current issue of Cal Transit's Transit America serial has an interesting article on the issue of peak oil (here on p 7, in PDF). The article, written by the mayor of Huntington Beach, California, Debbie Cook, opens with the following:
Core to all U.S. transportation planning is the assumption that oil will always be abundant and cheap. This premise continues to dominate every regional transportation plan in the country and drives our auto-centric development patterns. But what if this assumption is wrong? What if we are near the peak of world oil production? It then follows that our assumptions on construction costs, gas tax revenues, travel and aviation demand, mode choice, and growth patterns are also wrong. It would mean that our fossil fuel-based energy future is in jeopardy and that we are not prepared.
Cook then goes on to provide some quantitative metrics indicating that the global community is indeed already in such a situation. Peak Oil, Cook explains, will yield a problem for transportation energy of a magnitude such that the United States' federal government will have to initiate policies to strongly militate against potential catastrophe.

A more passionately articulated position can be found in J.H. Kunstler, whose website can be found here. His book, The Long Emergency, speculates on this potential catastrophe and demonstrates to readers just how deep runs the modern world's dependence on oil as an energy resource.

-J. Chipman

Monday, March 24, 2008

Open Skies

This Sunday -- March 30, 2008 -- the Open Skies agreement between the United States and the European Union will take effect. The liberalization process has been in the works for over 15 years and currently involves more than 120 bilateral agreements. And this one between the U.S. and the E.U. has probably the greatest potential for economic impact. With this agreement, U.S. and E.U. airlines will be able to choose their own routes and set their own fares as they choose. Before Open Skies, scheduled air carriers were subject to any and all restrictions placed on them by the countries to which they flew. Governments of any country allowing international flights were required only to adhere to regulations set forth in the original Chicago Convention, which in 1944 led to the establishment of the International Civil Aviation Organization. The current edition (7MB pdf) of this convention, which Open Skies will augment, provided basic guidelines such as:
  • "The contracting States recognize that every State has complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory."

  • "No state aircraft of a contracting State shall fly over the territory of another State or land thereon without authorization by special agreement or otherwise, and in accordance with terms thereof."

  • "No scheduled international air service may be operated over or into the territory of a contracting State, except with the special permission or other authorization of that State, and in accordance with the terms of such permission or authorization."
It is the purview of Open Skies to allow airlines to fully compete in a free market. Whether or not this will benefit air travelers remains to be seen.

Image: KLM Cargo

Monday, March 17, 2008

Transit Oriented Book Lending

Have you ever gotten to the train station and discovered that you forgot to bring a book to read on your morning commute? Well if your commute starts at BART's Pittsburg-Bay Point station, that will soon be no problem. Simply go to the library book vending machine and check out any one of 400 titles available. The Contra Costa County library system, with grants from the California State Library and the Bay Area Library and Information System, will be installing Bokomaten book vending machines -- made by Distec AB of Sweden -- in three area BART stations. Hold your library card up to the machine to allow it to scan the barcode, browse through the inventory of titles displayed on the screen, select your book and about 20 seconds later out pops a real hard-copy volume in a plastic case which you then return to your local Contra Costa County branch library before the end of the three week loan period. See the machine in action: search for "Bokomaten" at

Thanks to S.D. Tannenbaum for the heads-up.

Photo courtesy San Jose Mercury News.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Greening of San Francisco Taxis

All of San Francisco's taxicabs will be greener by 2011. On March 6 mayor Gavin Newsom signed a bill that will authorize a $7.50 surcharge to the "gate cap" in order to facilitate purchase of low emission vehicles. Previously, taxi company owners were allowed to charge their drivers a maximum of $91.50 per 10 hour shift for the use of the cabs. This bill will increase that amount by $7.50. All new cabs must already be hybrids or run on compressed natural gase (CNG).
According to one taxi driver, quoted on, "new taxi medallions issued in San Francisco must be [for] hybrid or alt fuel taxis."

CW Nevius reports on the impact the bill will have on cab drivers. "I am running my ass off for $150 a day," says Bud Hazelkorn of the United Taxicab Workers, "Sometimes you don't make that until 11 or 11:30 in the morning."

The bill also requires taxi companies to reduce average per vehicle greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2012. City supervisors expect to achieve zero gross greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 by permitting only zero emission vehicles in the taxi fleets.

Photo courtesy Athan R. at

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

$31 Million In Valuables Missing From Luggage

A Fox News affiliate in Kansas City has gained access to a Transportation Security Administration database which reveals that $31 million worth of valuables has gone missing from luggage at American airports over the past three years. Due to heightened security theft of luggage from baggage carousels is down dramatically in recent years, but total luggage theft is up. It is believed that the majority of stolen items are being taken by baggage handlers employed by the airlines and even by TSA workers. One former baggage handler in Kansas City said that the when luggage is in the baggage hold area waiting to be loaded onto the plane it's particularly susceptible to theft. "You will have one person down there and all they are doing is transferring bags to different carts. It only takes one person. So you would just be in a room by yourself." The Kansas City reporters tell us that the airports with the worst record luggage security include LAX, with over 2,300 complaints, Newark, Miami, JFK, and Seattle.

As Cory Doctorow points out in his Boing Boing post, the stolen goods were "pilfered in transit after the TSA inaugurated its no-locks policy on checked bags."

Image courtesy