Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Who Will Benefit

Everyone in America will benefit in some manner. There will surely be some who suffer as well, as always seems to happen during any great change, but with careful attention I believe most of the suffering can be ameliorated (auto workers can build vehicles for the new sysem, mechanics can be retrained to repair them, etc.). For the rest of us the worst things we will have to suffer are the construction and paying for it, not too bad a deal in my opinion. What we will get in return is far more than a faster, safer, more convenient, more efficient, greener, and less expensive system. It will provide a new economic stimulus to our economy on a massive scale, seemingly something that is going to have to be done anyway. It will also provide more stability to the American economy by helping blunt the effects of energy cost fluctuations, which never seem to go downward very far or for very long. Eliminating all the oil required for over 1/4 of our national energy use will do more good than any amount of drilling, plus it gives oil producers (national and corporate) far less leverage over us. Over 40,000 people every year will benefit by still being alive instead of dying in gruesome accidents, likewise, almost another 2.5 million will benefit from not being injured in those accidents. I dont know the number of people that will benefit, but it would be all those who own the property recieving damage to the tune of tens of billions of dollars every year. Government at all levels stands to benefit directly from not having to worry about transportation financing or enforcing traffic regulations and safety, the lost revenue from tickets, personal property taxes, etc. should be more than made up by this. People unable to drive for physical, medical, legal, or other reasons would have unprecedented ability to get where they need to go without assistance. Folks who have an altruistic streak in them will also be able to say that their generation did something that will be useful to us all, far into the future. Finally, the planet will benefit, from the skunk meeting its untimely demise in the middle of the road, to the pelican that is covered with oil after a spill, to a biosphere that is undergoing more rapid change than likely has ever been seen on earth (other than meteor impact or other major disaster).

Friday, September 12, 2008

Its Never Been Done Before

The fact that a system like I propose has never been built before will likely require a working model to demonstrate to skeptics its utility and feasibility. A scale model should be constructed as soon as possible along with designs for vehicles and infrastructure, hopefully to be well on the way to completion by the end of 2009. Never having been done before should be no excuse for pressing forward. Who ever built craft capable of taking and returning humans to the moon before the Appolo project or built a nuclear bomb before the Manhattan project? Yet Americans did both of those unprecedented things. For sure every idea and proposal needs thorough vetting for both technical feasibility and practicality, if it is to succeed. That is one of the reasons for this blog. I have talked with a fair number of individuals who believe the whole thing is impossible (see The Politics of Personal Transit thread) even if the federal government can be convinced to undertake it. What encourages me the most, however, is that most of those people have come more to my way of thinking about it, when facts are pointed to and discussed, than have stubbornly clung to their point of view. Additionally, the vast majority of people I have spoken with have thought it would be a great thing to begin with, if we could actually make it a reality. The sheer scale of the project is not the biggest obstacle, it is convincing people that the effort to do it is worthwhile. This ought to be the great legacy of positive effect from the current generation and for many reasons a way to get out of and control our national debt, the probable legacy we will leave instead if we continue our present course. The choice is ours.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Corporation Larger Than Exxon/Mobil

What follows may be the most controversial part of my proposed system but I dont think any of the current corporate models of government or the fortune 500 are up to the task of successfully managing the system efficiently. So let me jump right in with both feet, the national personal transit corporation will be owned by the federal government, possibly with some private investment. The first reason for this is the fact that it is the federal government who will own all of the assets, build, maintain, and regulate it anyway. Why should American society hand over trillions of dollars in investments to any private entity? The second reason is that it is the federal government that will ensure the system operates and remains solvent, it already insures that any corporation "too big to fail" will get a government bailout, so why not have a direct stake in the corporation? I realize many people will oppose the gov owning and operating anything, but it already de facto owns nearly all of the roads and associated equipment for construction, upkeep, and operation of roadways, plus it frequently infuses cash into the rail system. About the only part not owned by government is the actual vehicle, which is manufactured to more government standards than any product and even then you pay taxes to rent them. While there is no reason a person couldnt own their own vehicle for my system, it should be unnecessary. The biggest problem with government ownership (aside from purely ideological objections) is the waste and corruption that seems to inevitably plague government run enterprises, our department of defense is a glaring example. So how can we minimize that in our national personal transit corporation? The first way, I propose, is to tie the salary of every employee to success of the system. The method I like is to give every employee a base salary (say for example 110% of industry average for similar job) plus bonuses (monthly, quarterly or annually) when the system generates surplus or if they have an idea that cuts costs or improves services. This, I believe, would greatly improve the chances for efficient operation and ferreting out corruption. The goal of this corporation should be to provide its services to the public as cheaply as possible and still make a profit and mangement bonuses ought to reflect that when it happens (or doesnt). All profits should be split between system employees and the federal government according to a prescribed formula (say 80/20 the first billion $, 50/50 for the next billion $ and 20/80 above that), with so many quarters at some level of profit (if ever met) triggering fare reductions (which ought to give top managers big bonuses). As with any corporation, there will have to be some kind of oversight. This corporation will be the largest in the world (or very close to it) and will need to be subject to public opinion and scrutiny if it is to serve that public. I propose a board that will report directly to the secretary of transportation, that should include at least 2 independent financial auditors, 2 engineers (structural, transportation, civil, etc.), a management expert, all presidential appointees and a member each appointed by management and whatever organization the workers have. This board would be the final arbiter in all things npts not actully taken to a court of law and is ultimately answerable to both congress and the public marketplace. Unions should not need to be encouraged or discouraged since most of the usual issues will be automatically resolved (pay raises and bonuses tied to economy and success of system, arbitration instead of strike agreement, standardized working conditions, board to appeal management decisions, standardized health care plan...not currently available in America, etc.) but every employee should have a vote on their representitive to the board. None of this is intended to be a comprehensive or immutable, just my general idea of how to operate, what ought to be a model corporation, the likes of which to encourage on a broader scale. The ideas I have presented here are how to hopefully use the self interest of people for a positive result.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Largest Public Works Project Ever

I have been told my idea for automating our transportation system is crazy or undoable by different people, mostly because of the scale of it and political realities that exist today. If someone were to attempt this by themselves, there is little doubt of failure. Any project of this sort will require the efforts of a very large number of people and a vast amount of resources, akin to building pyramids or the great wall. This requires a well-thought out plan of execution and, in a representative democracy, the support of a large majority of the citizenry. In the beginning, there will be work for public relations people and planners (computer programmers, designers, engineers, etc). Public relations should be the number one emphasis until sufficient interest is generated to begin planning. Generating that interest will possibly be the most ambitious part of this whole idea and must be carried out in a thoughtful manner for any chance of success. Right now the plan for generating interest is to keep this blog up to date, do a valid cost/benefit analysis, comment every place I can find relevant (i.e. letters, newspapers, blog forums, conversations etc), find other people to participate in publicizing, and to write a book. Once a good cost/benefit analysis is done the rest should be much easier but still not easy. The next step will be finalizing the design of the system, requiring the work of many design engineers and others. If all of this is done and it is finally decided that the system will be built, there will be work for literally millions of people, from the most unskilled laborers to the most highly qualified engineers. I would expect construction to require more peoples efforts than the CCC work projects of FDR and if it is to be done in the time frame of by mid-century a societal commitment nearly on the order of what it took to build pyramids many centuries ago. The reason I don't think it is hopeless, is that I have seen most people work very hard when they can see that their efforts are producing a positive effect and not mostly wasted or for some unknown benefit.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

The Politics of Personal Transit

There will be many powerful interests opposed to ever building anything like the system I have been describing, especially since the government will inevitably be involved and much of the American economy will be changed forever. Opponents will include but are not limited to; the insurance industry (particularly auto insurance), automobile manufacturers and their related sub-industries, bus,rail and air transit providers, many power utilities, and those philosophically opposed to government involvement. All of those groups will be vociferous and ardent in their opposition but in a democracy it only matters who has the most support. I am not talking about the 50% plus one vote majority our politicians refer to, I am talking about the support of at least 80%-90% of the populace. Without such strong support those opposing interests will prevail, I believe to the detriment of all of us. The biggest problem is how to get that kind of support when the vast majority of people have never heard of a national personal transit system, much less the feasibility of it. We are halfway there now since most people are at least aware there is a problem, even if that awareness is limited to how much gas for their car costs. Additionally, nearly everyone sees or hears about deadly a accident on the highways on a daily or weekly basis, so there is also some awareness of the safety problem. It is my opinion that these two factors, plus gridlock and cost, will be the reasons most people support a project of this sort. It will not be easy, however, since a large number of people adamantly resist learning about anything new once they are out of school but if enough mention is made on talk shows, blogs, newspapers etc. enough people will see how much such a thing will change their world, and a fierce debate should ensue. Hopefully, most, if not all, opposition can be shown to be pure self-interest over the greater societal good, and will be dismissed by most to the point that a solid majority in favor of updating the American transit system into the 21st century emerges. Anyone who can mention the ideas on this site in any kind of technology/energy/transportation forum would be much appreciated.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

When Can We Start and How Long Will It Take

Fact of the matter, is that coming up with an idea is the start of anything and that has already been done, so the more relevant question is what to do next. There are several things I plan to undertake simultaneously immediately. In addition to writing in this blog and commenting on news stories, I am collecting information for a better cost/benefit analysis, looking for others (individuals and groups) interested in participating in design, education, lobbying, and setting up a nonprofit (hopefully in the next week or two) to promote the idea of a national personal transit system. I expect to have enough written and edited within the next year to publish a book with as many of the details about the system as possible. Within two years I would like to see such a system being widely discussed as a serious alternative especilly in political campaigns, a very ambitious goal I realize, but time is not on our side against the looming energy and environmental crises, especially if human population continues to grow at its current prodigious rates. Within five years, I would like to see design plans substantially finalized and commitment by the federal government to giterdone, as some friends of mine like to say. This may be the hardest part since there may be politicians who adamantly oppose the system and it only takes a few to obstruct change of any kind. Also, congress tends to only work on things there is widespread knowledge and support, making the first part of becoming a major topic of discussion even more important. In an ideal world, construction could begin by 2010 but if it takes until 2020 we will be moving too slowly, the underpinnings that support our current system are already beginning to show signs of crumbling at many levels. Once building begins it will have to average 10 miles of construction every day for a bare bones national system of around 17,000 miles to be completed. While this is an ambitious construction goal, I believe it is both possible and necessary and once real construction has given enough people the experience required. It should be possible to approach or exceed 200 miles per day, a rate that will put the system at the vast majority of Americans doorsteps within 20 years. This high rate of construction will be facilitated by prefabricating sections of the roadway in sections, like a childs car track, so that all that has to be done is level the area and put the pieces into place and align them. If that sounds simple or easy, make no mistake that it is neither, it will take every bit as much effort as winning World War II or sending astronauts to the moon, but it should be worthwhile even if it weren't necessary. To finish the system to the point where nearly all that is being done is upkeep may take 50 years or more but I dont think 20 years for the vast majority of Americans to be served by the system is at all an unreasonable goal.