National Links: Extreme Subsidies, Ridership Data, Housing

Every day at The Direct Transfer we collect news about cities and send the links to our email list.  At the end of the week we take some of the most popular stories and post them to Greater Greater Washington, a group blog similar to that focuses on urban issues in the DC region.  They are national links, sometimes entertaining and sometimes absurd, but hopefully useful.

UberPool gets extreme subsidies: Former employees of Uber recently leaked stories about trying to build up UberPool, disclosing that at one point Uber’s investors were subsidizing Pool at a rate of $1 million per week in San Francisco alone. When prices went up to accommodate lower subsidies, riders flocked to other options.  It’s almost as if transportation is always subsidized because no one wants to pay the true cost… (Buzzfeed)

A bigger housing shortage in Des Moines than Brooklyn: In cities all over the country, housing is becoming a bigger issue; it’s just the problems aren’t always the same. In a city like Des Moines, the fact that incomes aren’t high enough to afford virtually any type of housing seems to be a big issue; in other areas, incomes are higher, but the big problem is supply. (Guardian)

Driverless cars have a ways to go: There are many rosy projections out there of driverless cars being standard fare on American roads in three to four years time. However, if the electric car is any indication, it will take much longer to persuade a skeptical public that vehicles that drive themselves are safe enough and smart enough to transport us around our world. (The Economist)

Driverless transit isn’t so glamorous… but it will be useful: Once autonomous vehicles do truly arrive sometime in the future, there will be a huge market outside of individual four door cars. While technology companies and auto manufacturers seem focused on luxury vehicles, European transit agencies are focused on the boring—yet perhaps ultimately more useful—market for autonomous transit vehicles. (New York Times)

Visualizing LA Metro ridership data: Dr. Lisa Schweitzer, a professor at USC’s Price School of Public Policy, has crunched the numbers on LA Metro ridership to try and understand recent downward trends overall in the face of rising or stable rail ridership. Her look is in depth, however inconclusive as to what the data is trying to tell her.  But the charts are awesome. (Lisa Schweitzer)

Quote of the Week

“One study of a 15-block area in downtown L.A. revealed that people ‘cruising’ for scarce parking cumulatively drive an extra 3,600 miles per day.”

Ethan Elkind and Mott Smith in the LA Times, discussing how existing parking supply is mismanaged to the point that people waste crazy amounts of time trying to park a car.

Cross Posted at Greater Greater Washington

18 thoughts on “National Links: Extreme Subsidies, Ridership Data, Housing

  1. Monte Castleman

    I’m not sure it’s safe to make the assumption that just because battery technology hasn’t been accepted yet despite decades of development, automated vehicle.

    The benefits of AVs are huge and the drawbacks are none.. Imagine if you want but can’t afford a single family detached house in Minneapolis or the suburbs. Rather than settle for a condo or townhouse, buy a single family house in Le Sueur and catch up on your sleep or Netflix queue for the drive downtown to work. Maybe enroll your kids at a downtown charter school and have some quality family time. Imagine leaving from your own garage at 10:00 at night, going to bed, and waking up at 8:00 AM ready to explore Chicago in your own vehicle. It can drop you off at the Sears tower and then drive itself to the suburbs to find a cheap place to park itself.

    The whole “shared care” model is just a big distraction. We’ve had alternatives to owning your car for a while- taxis, ride-sharing, and car sharing. None of them have made any kind of significant dent in private vehicle ownership when you get away from anecdotes about the Millennials that choose to live in the city.

    By contrast to date the benefits to EVs are few and the drawbacks are huge. You have things like the Leaf that are impractical for most families (imagine trying to drive to Chicago or even up to the cabin in one), or too expensive for most families (Tesla). Even in two car families, most of the ones I know they have a new car that’s reliable enough for road trips, then the present car becomes the second car, and the second car goes to the kids or gets sold or scrapped. Buying a new car that’s only suitable for in-town use isn’t on the radar.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      The drawback I fear from AVs (and which you might see as a positive) is potentially way more miles being driven.

      Now, if everything works like it should they might be more evenly distributed and make far more efficient use of existing capacity, but the utopian notions of sharing/parking remotely/commuting from Le Seour might mean enough more miles to overcome those advantages. That could mean strains on capacity, and, of course, does mean more energy consumption.

      The thing you list as downsides to EVs are limitations that decrease as the technology advances, not risks or unintended consequences.

      1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

        Good point. However, an AV may take much longer to get from A to B than a vehicle driven by a human, at least on U.S. roads (post hopefully coming tomorrow). Combined with the extra congestion of more miles being driven this could be some significant congestion and potentially much more than can be effectively engineered away with more lanes. Will people be OK with an extra 10 or 20 minutes if they can read while getting there?

        I think too that at some point we will have to move to some type of wheelage fee that will charge people based on pounds/mile travelled. Your point actually makes a good argument for implementing that sooner rather than later as having to drive has acted as a bit of a natural control over how much we drive (though clearly only a very minor deterrent).

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      The economics of EV’s is changing quickly? By the end of this year we’ll have at least 3 somewhat affordable EV’s with over 200 miles of range (Chevy Bolt, Leaf, Tesla Model 3). And many more on the way.

      I think carshare is changing rapidly as well (despite the sudden demise of one recently) and Autonomy will have a huge impact. Convenience, cost and comfort are drawbacks today. You either need to walk to where a car is or you need to call Lyft or Juno or whomever to come pick you up which comes with a high cost (mostly due to the driver) and for some a comfort factor of not knowing who the driver is.

      An autonomous carshare eliminates these as the car will come to you wherever you are, has no driver so an estimated 70-80% cost reduction vs JUL (Juno, Uber, Lyft) and no worry about who the driver is. There is also much greater reliability as you will have quite high confidence in when an AV will arrive vs a JUL driver who can be quite unreliable.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Is the state range of the Bolt and Leaf realistic. Like “battery with 80,000 miles on it, car full of kids and ski gear, heater on full blast because it’s below zero outside” or “skinny guy on a test track without even the radio on on a day with no headwind”. How long do these take to recharge? Would it be done by the time a person wanders back from McDonalds to continue their trip?

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

          Yes, the range (US test procedure) is quite accurate. The European (NEDC?) is a bit optimistic.

          And yes, range does vary a bit based on payload, weather, terrain, and driving style. But not by a huge amount. A model S rated for 265 miles can very often average 280-300 on flat roads in nice weather with one person. On a highway with lots of hills in -20f weather, a headwind, 800 lbs of payload and driving 90 mph it will get about 190 miles.

          Charging time varies based on the car, charger, and beginning state of charge. A battery can be charged much faster, like 400 mph, at a low state of charge. As the battery fills the rate must be tapered off. I believe a Leaf is currently limited to about 45 MPH. Rumors for the new one are for 200 MPH. For most people the vast majority of charging is done overnight while they sleep so charge time is effectively zero.

          On a trip people will charge just enough to make it to their next charge destination plus a bit of reserve. A typical day begins with a full charge, a stop for morning coffee (or coffee and breakfast) for 20 minutes, a 40 minute lunch stop, and a couple of afternoon/evening stops. Someone who is a slave to miles will likely not like traveling by EV because it does take a bit longer.

          OTOH it is a much more pleasant journey and you are more awake than if you’re a slave to mileage. Instead of standing around at a gas pump for 10-15 minutes you plug in and walk over to the nearby coffee place or walk around a park or whatever.

          It also averages out. If someone spends 12 road trip days per year doing nothing but driving and charging, and the rest getting a charge overnight, then they will spend about 11 fewer hours fueling than if they had a gas car.

          1. Jeb RachJeb Rach

            On road trips, if someone’s a slave to miles they might also make it a bit further simply because it gets much more difficult to just keep pushing if there’s more than one person in the vehicle. A vehicle with one person will weigh less and thus get a bit better range (so less time between stops.) Two people would usually result in more stops, and 3+ people almost certainly more/longer stops (one person takes longer to decide, etc.)

            In general, I’ve grown to dislike the idea that a vehicle needs to serve 100% of a person’s trips in order for it to be useful; it usually winds up resulting in the vehicle being sub-optimal for 90-95% of the trips (think an SUV or large van as a daily commuting vehicle instead of a smaller sedan/hatchback.) If a vehicle can serve the needs of 90-95% of the trips well (commutes, daily/weekly events, etc.) a vehicle can be rented for the 1-2x/month (if that) that a larger/less efficient vehicle is needed. I’ve started doing this myself, though mainly because my car is at 210,000 miles and paid off, so I’d like to keep that car as long as possible without worrying about it breaking down somewhere. For the price of a rather low car payment ($150) I can usually get 1-2 weekends of a rental vehicle at Union Depot and 2-4 hours of Hourcar if I need a truck to pick something up. That’s without calculating the incremental savings of moving those miles away from my vehicle (while with a rental car I do need to pay for gas I don’t have to worry about oil changes, brakes, tires, etc. that do wear out based on miles driven.)

            1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

              Seems like the universal law of cars is that both the vehicle and the road should be purchased/designed for (often imaginary) peak usage.

              No, you’re really not going to need to be able to haul drywall.

              1. Rosa

                it might not matter if you are going to need to – we often haul large objects in the bike trailer because they don’t fit in even a goodsized car (though the Prius seems to be better than our old Camry was for that.)

                But more practically, long trips are why we HAVE a car. We can set our day to day life up to be non-car-dependent but we can’t control either long-distant transit options or the habits of all the family members we visit who live in far-flung suburbs of places with no transit. Having to rent a car at the other end raises the costs of going places to see family by a lot and is the reason we got a hybrid instead of an all-electric. I don’t think we’re alone in that.

                1. Jeb RachJeb Rach

                  The couple of times so far that I’ve done it, I’ve rented from a local agency here in the Twin Cities. I’ve gotten lucky that, with discounts, a rental has been under $50 both times for the weekend. It makes it easier for me as I’m able to get to and from the rental agency without a car and I’m comfortable with the way to get there and that, other than the cost of gas, I don’t have to think about any expenses (so I’m not having to tie myself to the bus schedule to Des Moines to visit the in-laws nearby, for example.)

                  1. Rosa

                    yeah, when we didn’t have a car we rented for long trips several times.

                    But, owning a car, having that overhead already, we’re going to own a car that can get us ro and around the transitless, far-flung suburbs we are actually going to when we say we’re “going to Milwaukee” or “going to Des Moines” – much less smaller towns (originally I got a car because Greyhound doesn’t even go to my hometown and plane tickets to there are ridiculously expensive.)

                    Of course, most of the people in this country live in places where cities are much closer together than here and points west. The electric vehicles we thought about were all almost but not quite at the range of our typical out of town trip and would have been in range for people whose families live closer.

              2. Monte Castleman

                Not drywall, but I’ve hauled 2 X 4s, an IKEA sofa, a half skid of wood chips, a traffic signal cabinet,

                Until we make the rental car experience more convenient and pleasant or until the cost of gasoline goes up substantially most of us are going to get the car we need for every circumstance, not the one that we need most of the time. Obviously if the rental model of self-driving cars comes to pass it will solve this issue.

                  1. Aaron Berger

                    The trucks are very useful and very cheap. If you live reasonably close to a store you can haul home whatever you need for about $20. No need for a large vehicle for most trips, though – just a well-designed vehicle. I can get a lot home in my Honda Fit – just last weekend I brought home 100 16″ rubber pavers and an 8′ canopy (in two trips).

                    1. Aaron Berger

                      And here reading up the thread I realize that doesn’t mean much when the conversation is about electric vehicles… I like the new comment policy, but I’m still waiting for that edit button.

                    2. Justin Doescher

                      I brought home a 7 foot tree from Bachmann’s in our VW Golf, no problem.

                1. Justin Doescher

                  Plenty of people have smaller cars, not everyone needs an SUV or pickup truck. We’re a one car household and share a Golf, works for almost everything we need to do.

  2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Economist stated: “According to statistics from America’s Bureau of Transportation, there were about 35,000 fatalities and over 2.4m injuries on American roads in 2015. That may sound a lot but, given that Americans drive three trillion miles a year, accident rates are remarkably low: 1.12 deaths and 76 injuries per 100m miles.”

    I would rather say that this is remarkably high. It is 2 to 4 times the fatality rates of European countries. And let’s remember that in 2016 we appear to have had over 40,000 deaths. But wait, it’s worse. A bicycle rider in the U.S. is about 16 times as likely to be killed for each mile ridden as one in Europe. Remarkably low?

    How much do we blame on drivers and how much on poor traffic engineering?

    If a Level 4 AV is being driven autonomously and kills or injures someone then who is at fault? The manufacturer? The driver? Nobody?

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