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.

34 comments:

Tim Auld said...

This will never happen for many reasons, but consider that the US is unable to maintain its current infrastructure and is deeply in debt. Steel and concrete prices are rising rapidly, and other factors are reducing the ability of the US to achieve major works, such as a contracting credit market. It is unreasonable in these circumstances to hope for a completely new nationwide infrastructure. You might want to look at other solutions to these problems that are not so capital intensive, such as the Transition movement (http://www.transitiontowns.org/). Fast personal mobility is a luxury, not a necessity.

npts2020 said...

Thanks for your input Tim. I believe the basics of what you say to be true i.e. unable to maintsin current infrastructure, debt, rising prices etc. However, I have concluded that this is precisely the reason a new system is in order and possible. The other "solutions" you refer to are all well and good for energy production and other problems but do nothing to solve the congested highways and over 40,000 deaths and about 2.5 million injuries that occur every year. I am very well aware of the scale and cost of what I have proposed but if you crunch all of the numbers (a process I am in the midst of), I dont see how it will cost any more than maintaining the current system, plus the new system will generate income instead of requiring 100% government funded upkeep. Lastly, I would disagree with you that fast personal transportation is a luxury, not many people would be willing to give up their cars for bicycles or horses and buggy. Furthermore, robust commerce helps the economy grow and stay healthy, a trend that will only go downward by maintaining the current antiquated paradigm. The most true thing you said is the first four words, "this will never happen", but only if nobody ever learns there are alternatives. All of the reasons you mention for not upgrading our transit system are logical but unfounded and either are or will be addressed in this blog somewhere, hopefully to your and most other skeptics satisfaction.
Cj

Tim Auld said...

You're not making any sense. If the US is not able to maintain its current infrastructure then it's not going to be able to build an entirely new infrastructure and maintain that either.

Transition towns is about living locally and having vibrant local economies with community values. It addresses congestion, deaths and injuries by making long distance travel unnecessary.

People are already finding that they have no choice but to give up their cars, because they can't afford the fuel. This trend will only continue as peak oil and resource nationalism erodes the oil export market. You will be amazed at people will give up if their priorities are put to the test.

I'm sorry but you really are wasting your time with this.

npts2020 said...

Perhaps my choice of words was not good, we are fully "able" to take care of the current system but we do not, the most dramatic example of which was the bridge collapse in Minnesota. The main problem isn't having the money, it's allocating it away from "more important" things like wars over resources. I do like the idea of transition towns but I dont see how you are going to restrict people to staying in them (much less getting them to move there in the first place) without making travel nearly impossible. Those towns still have to have a way of getting around while there plus travel between them. One of the facts of economics is that travel is good for the economy, provided of course it isn't the means of travel that is destroying the economy. You are correct that people will sacrifice for a good reason, I have discussed that elsewhere in this blog, the trick is to make that sacrifice worthwhile. Most Americans are not moving to small towns, however, suggesting to me that roads will become ever more inefficient. For the same reason, I see transition towns pushed even farther into the future than any sort of national personal transit. Finally, I would like to say that new ideas that solve large problems are never a waste of time, even if they are bigger than most people wish to think about. Again, thanks for your input but I have yet to see any valid argument against my idea other than the sheer scale of it and politics, themes I hope to address throughout this blog.

Tim Auld said...

It's not about restricting people. If there are products and services that their local community provides then they do not have to travel to obtain them. As the cost of transport increases, the balance will shift to favour the local economy. There will be trade with other towns and cities but essential goods must be sourced locally to maintain resilience.

There is already a long list of towns in many countries involved, providing real benefits now.

It seems you have made your judgement regardless of the arguments against it. It's not that they aren't valid.

Cj said...

I agree that transition communities are not about restricting people but the reality of our current transportation paradigm is that it does and will only become more restrictive as costs increase. A community can have all of the goods and services in the world but people will still want to travel. In addition, no community in the world produces everything its populace requires and wants, making some sort of transport a necessity. If you have read through my blog you would know that the system I am talking about is intended to replace nearly all land transport and is not simply a luxury for high speed personal transport. Having said that, is there some particular point of my plan you see as unreasonable or impractical? If you can provide facts for me, I am willing to modify or abandon my ideas but nobody has ever shown me how my thinking about this matter is wrong.

Tim Auld said...

You're not listening. I never said there would be no travel. I even said there would be trade between towns and cities, and there would of course be a natural migration of people. None of that requires a new sprawling, all-or-nothing, high-tech, and expensive infrastructure. There will still be trains, trucks, cars, buses, bicycles, horses, boats and feet. Powered vehicles will just be used more sparingly and roads will deteriorate (at a faster rate than now) with time.

What facts could I provide to sway you? You might as well ask me for facts proving that we can't inhabit Mars, and I think your proposal is only marginally more likely than that. The fundamental barrier is capital cost. Your country is a lot poorer than you believe, and stopping a war won't change that. It is basically insolvent and it staggers along due to its economic empire building (the petrodollar and free trade agreements mostly). That will end like all empires do. It passed its own oil peak in 1971. Standard of living has been dropping and total debt has been growing since then. Its major 'asset' and the engine of its economy - the real estate and financial markets - are in a death spiral. Gasoline shortages are imminent in parts due to low inventories and declining export market. The cost/benefit analysis is irrelevant if the cost can't be afforded.

Tim Auld said...

I thought of the perfect analogy. It's like trying to sell a poor man a Ferrari. He has more pressing needs that it wouldn't service, and he can't afford it anyway!

npts2020 said...

You are trying to dissuade me from something without providing a shred of evidence. How much is too expensive? Do you even realize Americans spend over $1.5 trillion a year now on transportation? Plans are being made right now to inhabit Mars, yet you dismiss that as well. You claim the fundamental barrier is cost without even estimating the cost. Which "facts" am I supposed to be listening to? I agree with you about the direction of our country, the difference is that I believe that there are solutions to change that course. Building a sustainable transit system is a part of it and a step that can be done with no new scientific advances. Your analogy about the Ferrari is wrong for two reasons, the cost is far greater and it is no real improvement in his travel situation (you may still only go the speed limit, subject to traffic signals, accidents, etc.). A closer analogy would be offering to replace that persons car with a chauffeured limosine that goes faster for the same price. Again thanks for your post but I would like to see your economic projections as to exactly how expensive it will be.

Tim Auld said...

I don't have to estimate the cost of anything. The progressive failure to maintain existing infrastructure and other failures such as rebuilding New Orleans is proof enough. The cost of building and maintaining a new system (in parallel with keeping the old one for many years) is going to be orders of magnitude greater.

Do you know that the oil industry is suffering a shortage of rigs? Here is an industry with massive demand for its product, and it can't get enough steel and capacity to make enough rigs! Conversely there is no demand for a "national personal transit" system, and it would take far more resources and energy. We aren't living in the 1950s any more. Resources are scarce and you will be competing with China and India for them. The projected cost for building nuclear power stations is rising rapidly. Look up 'asphalt shortages'. Your project would be a classic white elephant.

You're adjustment of the analogy is fine, except it doesn't take into account the cost of buying the limo. The poor man would still see marginal benefit, since lack of time is not his problem. The US has enjoyed historically fast and cheap transport for most of last century. A new system would suffer badly from the law of diminishing returns.

Tim Auld said...

Have a look at this: http://ncsl.typepad.com/the_thicket/2008/09/highway-trust-f.html

The Federal Highway Trust Fund is almost broke. What hope does that give building more infrastructure? Peak oil means not being able to do as much!

Tim Auld said...

From the documentary I.O.U.S.A. (http://www.iousathemovie.com/):

'When many Americans think of debt and deficits, their knee-jerk reaction is to blame the war in Iraq, or defense spending. Some people think that we can solve the country's financial problems by stopping fraud, waste and abuse, or by canceling the Bush tax cuts. The truth is, the United States could do all three of these things and still wouldn't come close to solving the nation's fiscal challenges.

'The U.S. already has $11 trillion in fiscal liabilities, including public debt. To this amount, add the current unfunded obligations for Social Security benefits of about $7 trillion. Then add Medicare's unfunded promise: $34 trillion, of which about $26 trillion relates to Medicare (parts A&B) and about $8 trillion relates to Medicare D, the new prescription drug benefit which some claimed would save money in overall Medicare costs. Add another trillion in miscellaneous items and you get $53 trillion. The United States would need $53 trillion invested today, which is about $175,000 per person, to deliver on the government's obligations and promises. How much of this $53 trillion do we have? Nada.'

npts2020 said...

Your numbers do paint a very dark picture. You have still not moved me significantly toward your position for several reasons. Firstly, unlike all of the things you mention causing the federal debt, the transit system I have proposed will support itself, if not completely mismanaged. Secondly, if America is to retain ant relevance as a political and economic power in the world, it must become a leader in solving societal problems, not just for the "larger good" but to be able to do other things besides be policeman to the world. Thirdly, if there isnt enough resources to build my system, where is there ever going to be enough resources to build transition cities? Finally, I disagree that shouting the sky is falling and burying my head in the sand is an acceptable alternative, especially when the numbers you give, while pretty ugly, are not yet untenable. What is untenable, is allowing those numbers to get significantly worse and having the rest of the world follow. Humans, especially Americans, have the opportunity to do great things at this point in history, the main obstacles are greed and lack of co-operation, not resources, economics, or politics. Again, thanks for your input.

Tim Auld said...

It's great that you feel strongly about addressing these problems, but if you actually want to achieve anything meaningful you have to be realistic. There's a saying that you can't solve a problem with the same thinking that got you into it. Building more high-tech, resource intensive infrastructure will not solve America's problems, but make them worse. It's not the kind of leadership the world needs, and as I've tried to show, the funds and raw resources do not exist to make it a reality, never mind the political will or practicalities of it.

The Transition Town movement is about reducing dependence on imports and building up an economy based on local resources. It therefore does not need large amounts of capital. It naturally leads to efficient and frugal lives enriched by community, renewable resources and locally grown food. I recommend you pick up a copy of the Transition Handbook by Rob Hopkins and read news and articles at www.energybulletin.net. Also good are Dmitry Orlov's Reinventing Collapse or books by James Howard Kunstler or Richard Heinberg.

npts2020 said...

Energybulletin.net is a site I frequent anyway so there will be little new there. I have also read about the ideas in the "Transition Handbook" and am not in substantial disagreement with them. It is you who claims that what I say is impossible despite any logic to the contrary. I am sure the authors you mention have worthwhile things to say but at the moment I am more preoccupied with economics and construction engineering. I am not sure why you continue to argue with me if you feel the project is so utterly impossible and unworthwhile. Still, thanks for your post.

Tim Auld said...

Suit yourself. I threw you a bone to help you and to stop this kind of delusional thinking.

npts2020 said...

The abandonment of technology is not the answer either, unless you fancy a return to medeival life.

Tim Auld said...

Reducing dependence on motorised vehicles does not mean "abandonment of technology". There are many technologies that are appropriate for a low energy future. The fewer resources we waste now, the more we have to use wisely in the future. At some point we may be able to sustain a small fleet on biofuels and renewable electricity for essential uses, as well as trains, trams, buses, boats, etc.

It also does not mean a return to a medieval standard of living. We do not have to return to serfdom and slavery, give up human rights and voting for women. We have also gained a lot of knowledge in productive sustainable farming, such as Permaculture. There is a lot of useful infrastructure and materials that can help provide a good standard of living. It may even be better than the existing dysfunctional and socially divisive system that exists.

Sure, mobility will be reduced, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. There is an inverse relationship between mobility and the care people give to their environment and community, since they do not have to suffer the effects. What we need now are people who care about the consequences of their actions.

I don't believe there's any combination of vehicle technology and renewable power that can sustain the recent levels of mobility. The cheap energy that has heavily subsidised efforts to date is vanishing. The disruption is making any large scale project difficult. Food and water availability is going to be a bigger issue in any case as industrial farming and distribution breaks down, and climate change affects water distribution patterns.

npts2020 said...

I cannot substantially disagree with much in your most recent post, except that I dont believe that people will accept moving into transition cities until their standard of living and environmental quality is so reduced that it becomes a necessity. I also believe that point is not many years in the future, maybe even in my lifetime. It seems hopeless to try to get people to radically change their habits on their own. It has taken 40 years for global warming and the environment to become a widespread topic of discussion but even now most people seem to do little about it, how are you going to convince them its a good enough idea to actually act upon? There are good reasons, other than the environment, for committing to the system I am proposing. That is the source of my optimism about it. Appropriate technology is very important but will never happen quickly enough if left to the "free market". The government already builds and maintains our transportation system, so it is not much of a stretch to just nationalize the system. Imho, mobility is one of the things that define a modern society, unless the majority of people begin living a "virtual" existence or somehow transition cites suddenly appear in great numbers I dont see people reducing their travel enough to make a large difference. The small recent reduction due to gas prices is more than made up by the rest of the world (that is why prices are so high now) and is insufficient to have great effect anyway. Finally, water use is a big issue as places like the Middle East and Southeastern U.S. are finding out. One of the proposals for the npts is to build utilities on the same rights-of-way as the system. I would like to see a drinking water only system supplied by several of the best sources in America. Charge a few cents per gallon (exhorbitant by municipal water standards and that system should also pay for itself.

Tim Auld said...

Nobody makes anybody move to a Transition Town, or forces them to change their habits. People are deciding to change their own towns to be less oil dependent and more resilient. Others join in as they see the benefits and learn. The government isn't forcing anything down their throats - it's just the opposite! They do not have to pay for decisions they have no say in. You seem to believe that the people can not help themselves, but this is exactly what some are doing right now.

npts2020 said...

Two questions: Are people moving to transition towns in great enough numbers and fast enough to solve the problems those towns purportedly address? Do we allow petroleum to be burned up as quickly as possible until its (for practical purposes) gone?
I have a lot faith in peoples ability to accomplish great things or I wouldnt even bother to write anything about it. Where I am from the "people" (meaning pretty much anyone not making six or seven figures a year maybe 90% of us)routinely have "things shoved down their throats" anyway. I fail to see how my system is "shoved down anybodys throat" any more than the current system is. Fortunately, I live in a democracy (after a fashion anyway) where change will occur if a substantial majority is in favor of it. The most powerful organizations in human history are those that attract the biggest following.

Tim Auld said...

You don't have to move to a Transition Town - you make your own town into a Transition Town. It can happen everywhere.

To answer your first question - no it's not happening fast enough to "solve" the problem of oil depletion and climate change. That doesn't mean it couldn't - it is still gaining steam after all. But you're implying that there's a neat solution that we can just plug in and everything will be right again. Sadly this is not the case. Oil depletion is only one aspect of our unsustainable lives. As The Limits To Growth pointed out, one thing or another is going to create a glass ceiling. Large scale technical projects to "solve" the crisis amount to gambling resources on our engineering skills. These approaches are reducing dependence and improving quality of life now. That's a big advantage over your proposal that would take decades, if ever, to get off the ground.

To your second question - by 'we' I assume you mean government edict. I doubt that government will impose a rationing scheme before shortages develop, or seriously promote alternatives that break dependency. I welcome any sensible measure by government, but I'm not pinning my hopes on it. So it's up to us to do what we can. Transition Towns and Permaculture are all about eliminating unnecessary work and travel, and empowers the population.

Of course your proposal would be forced down peoples' throats - as much or more than the current transit system. By your own estimates, every one of the population would have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to fund it. Many of their existing investments would lose value, and who knows what kind of social and political issues it would cause? Who decides service routes? That's not about the power of the people, but of the cynical power of big government to do what they want with little sensitivity to local politics. You want to leverage that power to take a gamble, mistakenly believing it's in the interest of the people.

npts2020 said...

Even you admit that transition towns on their own will not, on their own, solve all of the environmental and social ills that we need to address. My proposition is meant to directly address perhaps the greatest of those ills, even if it takes time to implement. The "neat" solution I propose will not solve all of our problems, I am not sure where you get the idea I think it will, but it will put a big dent in a few of them. All you are doing is trying to justify continuing on the same transportation mode that is unsustainable regardless of how many transition cities are inhabited. It is too bad, but if your aversion to government is a widespread sentiment among transition city promoters, they too will never happen in time to have any effect. I dont share your optimism about "the people" doing anything substantive on their own. Nobody in the history of this planet seems to have done much about anything environmentally until some sort of disaster or chronic condition occurs that forces the government to be involved, the only difference is that current environmental concerns are global. BTW those "people" having this "foced down their throats" are on course to pay all that money anyway and end up with nothing but a broken system.

Tim Auld said...

Do you intentionally miss my points? The growth paradigm is kaput. That is what you mean by "solve". That if we do the right thing then we can continue our current lifestyle. We can't! If we desperately try to prop it up we will end up wasting more resources. You suffer from the psychology of previous investment that Kunstler talks about. Instead of getting behind something that is actually making a difference, you complain that it isn't doing enough.

I get this idea that you think your solution is 'neat' from your naive assessment of its benefits, and your glib oversight of its costs and impracticalities. For example, you think that the system will provide for itself. This is ridiculous. In your fantasy it provides all of its own power, but it will take many other materials and expertise to maintain, indefinitely.

I'm not averse to government. I just do not have much faith that they have the will or capacity to make truly constructive policy. You are being very naive about that too. Just look at the US congress' inability to maintain renewable energy tax incentives.

It's true that it takes a crisis to really have the majority respond and change culture. What's your point? The crisis has already started. This is the process. You're trying to deny what is in plain view. People will adapt, and they are not going to wait for you.

Finally, you condemn the current system for imposing such costs on people, and then feel it's alright to foist even higher costs on them! You are truly confused.

npts2020 said...

I belive it is you who is missing the points. Never have I said anything about growth in economic terms, only population and particularly as it relates to transit. In nearly every post you have tried to put words in my mouth and ignore what I have said. Never have I said that what you seem to believe is the only solution to our current need to modernize civilization is wrong, just that it is only part of the solution. The part about "doing enough" depends on what you envision the results to be. Fact of the matter is, that if one believes the science behind climate change, we cannot wait for the disaster that will encourage individuals to act on their own (if that has already occurred why are there so many climate skeptics?). If there are "costs" that I have not taken into consideration, please point them out, that is the pupose of me bothering to discuss any of this to begin with. I believe it is you who overestimates the costs and underestimates the benefit but neither of us will win that argument at this point (unless you have some economic data I have never seen). The users of the system will pay for it directly, including upkeep, through fares, instead of having roads that many cant even use foisted upon them through the current government financed system, that everyone (user or not) pays for. One thing that is for sure, in my mind, the current paradigm will change, its mostly a matter of if planning for it will take place or do we just allow whatever to happen. I am not sure what you think I am denying, but I do not expect civilization to grind to a standstill anytime soon if there are people actively trying to prevent it.

Tim Auld said...

You said in your most recent post "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." That sounds to me as if you believe economic growth is good, possible and necessary. It's not clear how crippling the country with even more debt will enrich the population. It would also make difficult trade and tourism with neighboring countries who may still rely on traditional road and rail infrastructure.

You say we can't wait to respond to climate change. So let's examine your proposed response. It would involve an increased rate of fossil fuel consumption and emissions during planning and construction, which may take decades, while the old transport system would have to be maintained. Theoretically the system would be self supporting in electricity, but not other resources, and would require 'the largest corporation in the world', with all the inefficiency that entails. So please explain to me how your proposal is a more immediate and efficient response to climate change and oil depletion than learning to live without these services, which can be done right now with little upfront cost, with many addition benefits.

You say that the users of the system will pay for it directly through fares. Please explain where the capital outlay will come from, and who will cover the interest? (Here's a hint - the taxpayer and foreign nations holding US dollars). By a back of the envelope calculation, the annual interest on $34 trillion is in the order of $1.7 trillion dollars (using an interest rate of 5%). The borrowing costs alone would be more than the running costs of the existing system. Also what is the estimated fare needed to maintain the system while providing wide enough coverage for the system not to be inconvenient or crippling? What options do people who can not or do not want to use the system have? Will the old infrastructure be maintained indefinitely for them? And if not, how is that not forcing them to pay for the new system?

You are denying that people can reasonably adapt to this situation without government intervention. I'm pointing out that they already are, and they will in increasing numbers as the crisis becomes more acute.

npts2020 said...

Firstly, economic stimulus is not the same as economic growth, a little economic stimulus before The Great Drepression of the last century, may have ameliorated much suffering. It looks to me as if such stimulus may be necessary to keep the economy from total collapse (its already happening with Wall Street being bailed out). In the past 6 months the federal government has guaranteed over a trillion dollars in debt, of which the taxpayer will get absolutely nothing for. At least money spent on a transit system will have some benefit (well, to those of us who like to eat foods that do not grow in the climate we live in, or travel to see Aunt Marge on occassion, or visit the Grand Canyon, anyway). The money we are talking about for the system is staggering but I fail to see how the cost will be any more "crippling" than the continuing on the path we are on. It is not the governments job to "enrich" anyone but it is the governments job to protect them from one another, otherwise you have anarchy. This system would save at least 40,000 lives every single year, why wouldn't the government be interested? I also dont understand how trade with other countries will be "crippled". Load everything on freight vehicles at the ports or border crossings (inspection of contents will be easier that way as well).
You have made every "worst case" assumption and still come up with figures that are not out of line with what is being done now. How much more are the emmissions going to be? It seems that from completion of the first segment (a relatively short time) onward, emissions should start declining. The amount of resources required will be great as well but again no more than we are on course to use anyway. This system is designed to address power production and usage more than other resources but I dont see how it wont be more efficient than what we are now doing. You claim "the largest corporation in the world" will be inefficient but fail to say why. How can it possibly be more inefficient than the thousands (mostly governmental) of entities now, debatably, performing those functions? While this system may not be the most immediate thing we can do, it will solve many problems over the long run, not the least of which is an inevitable collapse of our transportation because of current costs. I for one would like to at least try to change things rather than just make transportation available only to the wealthy.
Even using your economic analysis, the flaws of which I will get to, the two systems are comparable. $1.7 trillion is a lot but we are already spending nearly that much on todays system (about $1.5 trillion according to U.S. DoT). Then you throw in the costs of insurance, traffic enforcement, environmental degradation, 40,000 deaths, 2.5 million injuries, and tens of billions of dollars in property damage every year. Are the numbers approaching comparison yet? How about if we throw in the savings of including a new electric and fiber optic grid with the design of the system, things that need doing as well? Our highways alone handle over 3 trillion miles of vehicle travel, of which about 8% is freight. Whatever percentage of the system is functional will determine how much of those vehicle miles will be replaced, the intention to be nearly all of them by end of system completion. I think a modern society without good transportation is not an option. Conceding failure at this point, is to prepare to move civilization backward, a very real possibility. I am not willing to do that yet, but the challenges are such that an automated transit system is going to have as much or more positive impact than any proposal I have seen. BTW I have been hearing the "end of the world" being nigh for almost 50 years and it seems the only way it will ever be true is by our own doing. Your whole argument about whois going to pay for it is a straw man. Fact of the matter is that we are all going to pay for whatever system is in place, including the current one. The real debate is about what we get for what we pay for. You mention "all those unable to use the system" yet provide not even one example of such a person, far more could use my propsed system than can use the current one. The old system would be substantially incorporated into the new system, and maintained only until the new one is near completion. Anyone who wanted to then drive a car would be free to, just not at the expense of the rest of us.
Finally, denying the real costs of the current system, economic, sociopolitical, and environmental, may convince you that a real replacement cannot be constructed but it tells me that it can. I believe the current system is useful to our society but needs a sustainable replacement. Just allowing it to collapse into nothing is not an option, even if every human on Earth moves to a transition town.

Tim Auld said...

The purpose of stimulus in the context of an economy is growth in activity. The financial system is predicated on growth, and requires it to function. This financial turmoil is rooted in unsustainable growth. The complex investment vehicles could not cope with contracting asset values, and the highly leveraged system has amplified the downside as much as it has the upside. This kind of stimulus is borrowing to support economic activity. You can't borrow your way to wealth over the long term. Wealth comes from living within your means, accumulating capital and then putting it to productive use. All capital ultimately comes from nature, and the world is in a different place than it was during the great depression. Natural resources have been exploited and polluted to the point of collapse. You want to borrow against a future that can't afford it. The purpose of economic growth is ostensibly to enrich the population, so I would disagree with you and say that the government has taken up the misguided effort of promoting unlimited growth on a finite resource base. Further efforts to prop up economic activity by borrowing are futile and wasteful.

You said: "The money we are talking about for the system is staggering but I fail to see how the cost will be any more "crippling" than the continuing on the path we are on." It's a matter of degree. Current national debt of the US is about $10 trillion, excluding Medicare liability. Many point out that this is unserviceable and the currency is suffering for it. You want to blow that out to some $40+ trillion with no regard for the consequences. Is this how you conduct your personal finances?

Bottlenecks form at the interface between transportation system. Ports, train yards, and bus depots for example. Altering the transport system of one country would introduce bottlenecks that did not exist before. New infrastructure would be required to support trade, and tourism would suffer as travellers would not be able to simply drive their car into the neighbouring country. A partially built system would have the same problems. You can't use it for transport outside of built service areas.

Examples of those unable to use the new system? The poor who live in remote rural communities who have no hope of having millions of dollars spent on extending the system to their residence. Oversized loads (houses, cranes, etc). Garbage trucks. Oversized people. Emergency service vehicles. Hazardous waste transport, military and other special vehicles. Flat roads have the advantage of being very flexible. They are also relatively easy to get back into service after accidents and storm damage. A complex, connected system like yours would suffer from all kinds of mechanical, electrical and software faults. One broken vehicle or rail would hold up every other on the same rail.

You missed the point that the $1.7 trillion annual cost was just for borrowing. I can't hazard a guess at the running cost of the new system - that's what I was asking you regarding the estimated fare to maintain the system (which you didn't answer). I suspect you have no idea either. Given the US is running a deficit of $500 billion per year (and growing), there is no hope that the country can afford $1.7 trillion in interest repayments, on top of running costs of the old infrastructure and partially built new system, let alone pay down the principal. You appear to have no respect for limits of any kind.

Tim Auld said...

I'm not denying the cost of the current system. It's expensive, dangerous, and environmentally destructive. I agree completely. However you can't just ignore its legacy. It's there, mostly paid for, and useful. The real problem is over dependence on personal motorised transport and long distance freight.

There was an interesting article on Energy Bulletin recently that stated that halving speed limits would save 75% of fuel costs. It would also save a great deal of life and injury. It could happen immediately, and with just the cost of changing signs. Coupled with improved self-dependence of local economies, better infrastructure for cycling and public transport, it could go a long way to preserving quality of life.

Tim Auld said...

"Your whole argument about whois going to pay for it is a straw man."

No, it's a critical issue. The end users can't fund it before it is built, but that is what you claim. The US government's credit rating is dropping, and if you can't find someone to willingly lend the money then the government will have to take it forcefully through inflation or taxes.

Tim Auld said...

With regard to emissions, fuel use escalation, and construction duration - I am not taking the worst case. I'm being conservative and using your own numbers. According to 2001 statistics there were 161,017 miles of national highway. At 10 miles per day it would take about 44 years to complete. Total public road length was about 4 million miles. Even at 200 miles/day it would take 55 years. That doesn't cover private roads. It's pretty optimistic of you to guess that emissions would soon drop over a period of unprecedented construction (assuming the resources were available). Research and development, financing, planning and preparation for such a system would take a great amount of time also, during which you have offered no suggestions for surviving peak oil. You think a scale model could be nearing completion by the end of next year. What a joke! The numbers are so large that it is ridiculous.

Taking an approach that avoids a lot of new construction, and instead uses conservation and efficiency - that would have a much higher chance of lowering fuel consumption and emissions.

npts2020 said...

Ok. let me get this straight, you seem to believe that no investment in the transportation infrastructure is worthwhile since the entire paradigm is supposedly about to collapse. If this is not true, what level of investment do you feel is appropriate? Fact of the matter is, I have seen estimates (see Dual Mode Vehicle and Infrastructure Analysis by Christine Ehlig-Economides and Jim Longbottom published this past April) from 1/5 to 4 times of current highway construction for automating the highway system, my proposal just happens to be nearer the higher end. A "bare bones" system would change no technology other than putting sensors in cars to follow the interstate on an electric eye grid and change the current infrastructure little other than embedding the sensors. While that may be a good start it doesnt address energy or the safety of mixing cars with pedestrians, bicycles, weather, stray animals etc., the biggest problems of the current system. I agree 100% that people should live within their means, but its a fact that many people were able to produce and accumulate wealth only because they borrowed some of it to begin with. How many people buy a house by purchasing it outright? or major road projects without a bond? I for one do not believe there will be any economy to speak of if you dont have transportation to support commerce. Where your economic analysis seems off to me is when you state that all things come from "nature". Unless we change what we have been referring to as nature (natural resources), not all wealth is created in that manner, i.e intellectual property and services, an ever growing part of the economy. Even if the costs end up being as high as $40 trillion, lets examine it. At the end of WWII we were spending 1/3 of our annual $112 million of GDP on the war and had debt of almost $270 billion about a 23:1 ratio. $40 trillion is about 3 times our current $12.5 trillion GDP, this is why I think your complaint on economic grounds is not valid. If you wish to say that people will not want to put up the money, that is a different matter. It is true that the resources on earth have been heavily exploited but to continue in the same manner as we have in the past is not going to leave a future most people want. The issue in itself is not a straw man, only the way in which you raise it. You seem to think my system is much more expensive than the current one when nobody knows the true cost of either. One of the things I am spending a great deal of time trying to figure out at this point is the costs and benefits of each.
In regards to some of your other statements. Bottlenecks already exist at borders, if DHS is planning to "check" everything coming over, transferral to the automated system will facilitate this. Currebtly, ports mostly have to do this anyway. Tourism will be hurt if nobody can afford to drive. This system should promote tourism since anyone can use it, not just automobile operators. Besides, what part of the world have you been to that you cant rent a vehicle if required? Guess what, any commonly used modern transportation system is restricted to its infrastructure and "can't be used for transport outside built service areas". The people (poor or otherwise) in remote rural areas have little hope of the present system being maintained to their residences, but if you can believe the U.S. Census, that is a very small minority. All of the others you mention would be able to use the system with the possible exceptions of the largest of oversize loads (which dont travel by interstate) and emergency vehicles (which dont need to travel by interstate and could be automated as well). Electrical and software faults are the reason you have redundancy in the system and both should have outstanding reliability if a new electric grid is part of the system. Likewise, catastrophic mechanical failures would be kept to a minimum by automatic monitoring and retrieval of low performing vehicles for repairs. In the current system, everything stops or slows down when there is a mechanical failure now, the difference is it will happen less often and wreak less havoc on an automated system. Conservation and efficiency are necessary and great ideas but neither solves the underlying problem of being dependent on fossil fuels. You also complain that there will be increased fossil fuel use for construction. How much more will we use than if we continue as we are? Every trip on the new system is one that will not be using those fuels. One of the goals is to have the first part of the system usable within months of beginning construction, utility will only increase from there. Ten miles a day of construction is a fast rate for a single crew to achieve but the idea is to have many crews in different parts of the country doing that rate of construction. Prefabrication should enable this or something close to it. The numbers are ridiculous but not nearly as untenable as you imagine. Good luck at trying to get everyone to drive at half the current speed, imo an unnecessary step backwards. There are already prototypes of automated systems out there, albeit not exactly like the one I have proposed. Additionally, there has been one in Morgantown, West Virginia (on WVU campus) operating for many years now and Heathrow Airport is about to open one of its own. Nowhere have I ever said this system would be easy to bring about, I have stated just the opposite more than once. The objections you raise all need to be answered but in doing so, they have convinced me even more that my idea is not only possible but necessary. If people were not willing to sacrifice for the future (admittedly not a popular concept these days), humans would never have achieved anything of significance.

Tim Auld said...

And you call me stubborn! Have fun wasting your time.

Tim Auld said...

One last thing. You might benefit from watching the following, to put your ideas into context:

http://www.chrismartenson.com/crashcourse