Pharyngula

Let’s put the cartoonists in charge!

The US is too dependent on cars and oil, and the automobile companies have been total failures at addressing the needs of the country…which is why they’re now looking for bailouts. So I have to say I thought Keith Knight’s solution is very appealing. After pointing out the incompetence of our automakers, he suggests…

i-69b452c732e9851cc8ffe942e06b6487-keef.jpeg

Yes! Rebuild the railroads and put together a national mass transit system! Now there’s a public works project that would put people to work and improve our infrastructure. I’d also really like to be able to climb onto a train at the local station when I have to travel.

Comments

  1. #1 Dunc
    November 26, 2008

    Good idea, but with my pedant hat on I have to note that “Europe” doesn’t have a national railway system.

  2. #2 jim
    November 26, 2008

    Also, for the purposes of this discussion, the UK should not be considered part of Europe.

  3. #3 alex
    November 26, 2008

    Britain has a pretty awful rail system. Because it’s far too inconvenient to just replace the old system of tracks that was laid down decades ago, all the trains are restricted to roughly the same dimensions as they were when the tracks were first made, and thus are fairly crap/slow/cramped etc.

    In Japan however, the railway/subway system is sublime. Very handy. Perhaps America needs a Japanese national rail system.

  4. #4 Enzyme
    November 26, 2008

    “Europe” clearly doesn’t include Britain. We dug up most of our small local railways yonks ago. It’s called PROGRESS.

    Besides: public transport means that you might have to sit next to someone smelly. Or boring. Or ugly. Or poor.

    Ewwwwwww. :)

  5. #5 Lai Ti
    November 26, 2008

    I’m from the UK. Back in 2003 I was working on a project looking at advertising opportunities in cities across America. I thought I’d gone completely wrong, because I couldn’t find railway stations in major towns and cities all over the country.

    I consulted my boss who confirmed that in most cases there are none. In Los Angeles the auto makers bought up the (high efficient) tram network and then ripped it out.

    The UK rail network is a disaster since privatisation, but the US is worse than many third world countries for transport infrastructure.

    Any idiot can see the problem, but successive idiot presidents and governments have been so far up the backsides of the auto industry that they’ve never done anything about it.

  6. #6 Lai Ti
    November 26, 2008

    Now I live in China.

    You can’t beat a totalitarian state for transport infrastructure.

  7. #7 pixelfish
    November 26, 2008

    I would adore a great transit infrastructure.

    I was about to note that I’ve actually been thinking along these lines for years–ever since I was a kid in Utah, weirdly–but then I thought, maybe it isn’t so weird as all that. When you’re a have-not (as in I had no car) in an area that requires one, you really notice the lack of an infrastructure that suits your needs. Even the bus system in Utah was lacking–because it was expected that most people didn’t need it. To this day, I hate bumming rides or asking people to pick me up–I’d prefer to be reliant on a transit system wot works. (I’m so pleased that Seattle just voted in a huge transit package which is going to include light rail extensions.)

  8. #8 clinteas
    November 26, 2008

    Isnt it amazing,to think that lobbyistskilled public transport in the US..

  9. #9 Kirk
    November 26, 2008

    What!?! You mean I would have to WALK to a rail station to go somewhere? America might lose weight, perish the thought!

  10. #10 PixelFish
    November 26, 2008

    I also note that my brother purchased his first car only after he couldn’t get a job without having a five hour bus commute from where he lived. (That was North Carolina, incidentally. The Raleigh transit system sucks.)

    Slight digression: I might be kinda crazy, but I’d love to make most of the transit inside cities bus-and-shuttle-and-bike-and-pedestrian only, and link up the suburbs with super zippy light rail. Or give everybody teeny tiny cars and scooters. Oil dependency is certainly an issue, but so is parking spaces and health and safety.

  11. #11 Wowbagger
    November 26, 2008

    I hope you can manage it, but you’ve got to break America’s love affair with the shiny penis substitute car. I have a car but try to drive it as little as possible; I catch the bus to and from work and ride my bike as often as is practical.

    But I do love cars – looking at them at least. Top Gear (the UK one that is; the Australian one was rubbish) is one of my favourite shows. More than half the reason I bothered to see Quantum of Solace was for the Aston Martin – and I was bitterly disappointed when it was only on screen for one scene.

  12. #12 Arno
    November 26, 2008

    True, but lots of train lines do connect cities in different countries together. So in a way, I see where they are going.

    And most countries in Europe do have a relatively good national railway system tbh. It sometimes isn’t too awesome to wait, but in a proper station, that’s really a minor setback.

  13. #13 bric
    November 26, 2008

    I live in South-East London and here at least the rail and bus networks serve us well. Sydenham, a smallish suburb, has three rail stations and a lot of bus routes; the tube will be coming through as far as Croydon in 2010 and there is an excellent tram service centred on Croydon. Best of all, as I am over 60 all train tube and bus services within Greater London are free (after 9.30/9.00 am) and local bus services throughout England are free.

  14. #14 Matt Heath
    November 26, 2008

    re British Railways: They aren’t as clean or reliable as they should be, and they aren’t as extensive they once were. But they are nowhere near as bad as British rail users often bitch about. There are a lot of trains going to a lot of towns at varying speed and British usage stats sit amongst our fellow Europeans, better than some worse than others. When compared to the US (where rail has 0.3% of transport compared to 5.9% in the UK or 7.7% in Germany*) British railways clearly deserve to be counted with the rest of Europe.

    *This excludes city underground and tram systems; considering the size of the London Underground system this may deflate the UK figure disproportionately.

  15. #15 Holbach
    November 26, 2008

    Oh yes, wouldn’t it be great to have a national passenger train system again! The abandoned Interstate system can be used for a coast to coast passenger trains, with feeder lines to refurbished stations in the center city all along the route. Many jobs will again be created as in the heyday of good passenger train service, with frequent trains and timely schedules. It will obviously take considerable time to resurrect a great passenger train service, but it is feasible, and with a concerted effort it will come to fruition. We need the trains badly and the time to act is now while we are in these economic hard times. All aboard!

  16. #16 SC
    November 26, 2008

    I thought of this solution a long time ago.

    And I don’t have a car.

    *pats self on back*
    :)

  17. #17 clinteas
    November 26, 2008

    *Pats SC the night owl on the back too*

  18. #18 Sili
    November 26, 2008

    Public transport?!!

    That would be socialism which is the same as communism which is bad!

    We go rid of our lovely local railroads in Denmark too, because everyone should have a car as part of progress.

    Someone did the numbers and it turned out that if they’d close down all the local ticket offices and let people get onboard for free the goods transport would still make it pay. They were losing the money on the salespeople.

    Of course, letting people ride the train for free is communism, which is bad, so no more local trains.

    And out coachroutes are getting cut now because they’re too expensive to administrate. So every fifth ride is getting slashed. Hands up, class, what is that gonna do for peoples’ desire to use the coaches and busses?

    Shorter me: Arrgle, rarrgle, blarrgle!

  19. #19 Steve P.
    November 26, 2008

    It’s a nice thought, but “new” American cities (read: southern and western) aren’t dense enough for good viable public transport. It takes me an hour to get to campus from my apartment via bus. It takes 10 minutes via car. And my city has “the best public transportation in Texas”. Even with gas at $4 a gallon (it’s around $1.80 now), it wasn’t even close to making me switch back to the bus, which I miserably rode for two years.

    Cities like Chicago (which I’ve lived in), New York, Boston, and San Francisco have great transportation because they’re dense. Cities like LA and Dallas have shit because they’re not dense. Why do you think Japan is so great at it? It’s not a presidential problem, as Lai Ti suggests. We have to rethink city planning, which is a state and local problem. We don’t have the space constraints that Japan and Europe have, so we have sprawling cities that cannot be properly funded for public transportation. If we deem public transportation to be intrinsically valuable, then we have to impose artificial constraints on ourselves, which is what government is for, economically. I just don’t think it’s as simple as “Detroit is in presidents’ pockets”. But it is as simple as “good public transportation is not economically feasible below certain densities without government intervention” and the only good reason I can think of for such intervention is pollution. Things like traffic reduction already factor into the economics of the situation.

  20. #20 Atheist Chaplain
    November 26, 2008

    Ashton Kutcher got it right, let the oil companies bail out the car companies.

  21. #21 Enzyme
    November 26, 2008

    Matt @#14 – Stop bringing facts to the table. You know we Brits don’t like ‘em and can’t deal with ‘em.

    Steve @#19 – That sounds like a councel of despair. The reason older cities are denser is that the car wasn’t available. Provide a transport infrastrure such as trams, bike lanes and pedestrian access as a priority over roadbuilding, and cities’ll become denser as if by magic. Your vicious circle can be made virtuous.

  22. #22 Enzyme
    November 26, 2008

    Btw – I keep reading the headline as “Let’s put the creationists in charge!”

    It’s proper doing my nut.

  23. #23 Bill
    November 26, 2008

    I’m not sure that Europe is a good model for a U.S. train system. Most places in Europe are close together enough to get where you want to go in a single day; so most of the service is handled by relatively short-distance day trips. (Although there are some overnight trains…I even had occasion to ride one once, a NachtZug from Berlin to Brussels.)

    There are a handful of places in the U.S. where the European model would work (and, no, not just on the coasts); but we also need a network of long-distance overnight trains to connect those places. Also, the long-distance trains often provide the only service in remote areas…the Empire Builder through northern North Dakota and Montana comes easily to mind.

  24. #24 Walton
    November 26, 2008

    I agree that federal government should not bail out the big auto manufacturers – if they can’t survive in a free market, they should be left to fail, like any other business – but I strongly disagree with the idea of federal investment in rail services.

    Amtrak is already a loss-making federal enterprise. Why? Because Americans simply don’t want, in general, to travel long (intercity) distances by train. Why would they? Amtrak should never have been taken into federal ownership in the first place. Like any other business, if it can’t survive commercially then it should be left to fail.

    The market will take care of things. As oil gets more and more scarce and expensive, fewer people will be able to afford to use cars – which will create a demand for public transport, which, in turn, will spur the private sector to provide more public transport in order to serve the growing market. There is no need for government to be involved in the process at all.

  25. #25 negentropyeater
    November 26, 2008

    The USA will need BOTH :
    1. an efficient High Speed modern railway system in the higher density areas
    2. an efficient automotive sector that builds small fuel efficient cars

    That’s what we have in France and Germany. The UK gave up on both when Thatcher and Blair decided to put all its future prosperity in the financial and real estate bubble (which worked great for the last quarter century, but now they’re in a deeper hole even than the US).

    Doing both 1) and 2) will still cost much less than bailing out the banks. The nonsensical Citibank bailout alone anounced monday is going to cost at least $170 billion to the tax payer. And there’s many more banks to come. Which is btw a beautiful exercise on spreading the losses that the fat-cats on Wall Street didn’t want to assume on their own.

    Nationalizations of these segments of the economy (transport, banking, energy) would be the wisest way of doing this and protecting the tax payers. But of course, this would be “un-American”, so tax payers will have to pay useless agency costs to shareholders and bond holders just to please the free-market dogma.

  26. #26 Matt Heath
    November 26, 2008

    The market will take care of things

    [citation needed]

  27. #27 MissPrism
    November 26, 2008

    If you Americans do build a rail system, for squids’ sake don’t then sell it off piecemeal to a bunch of total incompetents like we Brits did. Last time I had to travel in rush hour it cost a HUNDRED AND FORTY POUNDS to go 150 miles, and it was dirty and late and too crowded to sit down.

  28. #28 bric
    November 26, 2008

    Enzyme @#21 – this part of London illustrates that perfectly; until the 1850s it was a few rural villages, the relocation of the Crystal Palace to the top of Sydenham Hill created a demand for transport: four rail lines were built and very rapid urbanisation followed in the 1860s and 70s. This was of course private development and private enterprise, for example Dulwich College made enough money from charging the railway companies to cross it’s land to build one of the iconic buildings of South London costing £60,000. In Japan too private companies are part of the picture, Seibu own not only the largest department stores in Tokyo they also operate train lines into the stations that many of them sit on top of, and built the housing developments that commuters using those trains live in.

  29. #29 B.T. Murtagh
    November 26, 2008

    It seems that there is some movement in the right direction, headed up by Senators Kerry and Spector:

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/11/25/95822/061/985/666177

    Since VP-elect Biden is a daily Amtrak user passenger rail might finally start to get some decent support now. :)

  30. #30 Valhar2000
    November 26, 2008

    I’m sorry, guys, but it is a much larger problem than simply building the infrastructure. Americans have become used to living in suburds, in very low density housing, and low density housing is the first and foremost enemy of public transportation.

    Thus, it will only be in relatively large and dense urban areas that public transportation will be a good alternative to private transportation (unless, of course, you wish to force people to use a method of transportation that takes 4 times as long to get there, as some people do, which is the best way to guarantee that public transportation will be killed by the voters on election day).

    People will have to agree to give up the garden and climb a flight of stairs once in a while, or else most of America will never have a minimally adequate, or profitable, transporation system.

  31. #31 David Utidjian
    November 26, 2008

    I kinda like that idea…

    I have a desire to “box the continent” by taking trains as much as I can starting in NYC —> Nova Scotia —> Vancouver (or Prince Rupert) —> Los Angeles —> New Orleans —> NYC
    Something like that.

    Bring some good books, binoculars, camera, and a few changes of clothes.

    I get the impression that the Canadian rail system is in much better shape than ours and cheaper! Canada is considerably less densely populated than the US and when I did a little planning to see the costs and travel times and options many of their berths are sold out on the dates I looked. The service in Canada also runs more frequently.

    I am not buying the argument that efficient passenger rail transport requires a high population density.

    Having worked in a truck shipping transfer point I would agree that truck-to-rail-to-truck is not always the most efficient. Every time you load or unload a truck or box car it is extremely labor intensive. Much less so if the trailer or shipping container is loaded on to the rail car as a unit.

    -DU-

  32. #32 Pat Silver
    November 26, 2008

    The words of a friend of mine sum up up public transport. A system which goes from where I am not to where I don’t want to be, at a time that is inconvenient, at high cost, in the company of those whose company I do not choose to keep. The UK rail system is very expensive and unreliable. Our local buses cost more per mile than buying and running a car. Unless public transport is both cheap and convenient it won’t be used.

  33. #33 negentropyeater
    November 26, 2008

    Walton,

    As oil gets more and more scarce and expensive, fewer people will be able to afford to use cars – which will create a demand for public transport, which, in turn, will spur the private sector to provide more public transport in order to serve the growing market. There is no need for government to be involved in the process at all.

    What’s the price of gazoline in the UK ? More than 5$/Gal. Well that didn’t seem to get the private sector investing in a modern high speed ralway system like we have in France and Germany, did it ? I bet you that even at 10S/Gal the private sector still wouldn’t be making ths kind of long term investment. Because it’s much more interesting for the private sector to invest capital on assets that yield short term returns.
    Now they pay only 2$/Gal in the USA, so you can forget the private sector making this kind of long term investments. Even if the US Govt, in a strike of wisdom, would rase 100% taxes on Gas, they still wouldn’t do it.

  34. #34 speedwell
    November 26, 2008

    @MissPrism: Here in Houston we’re going backwards in that respect. They recently switched from one reasonable small fare for anywhere you wanted to go (including transfers) in the VERY large, sprawling city, to a “zone” system that nobody understands and winds up costing hundreds percent more.

    It’s not like we had a terrific mass transit system anyway. Buses, almost exclusively, using the skimpiest possible routes, and driven by folks who would blow right by your stop and not pick you up if they didn’t want to… the only response if you called the central office was, “The next one should be by at…”. We do have a short rail route, that runs only downtown and only on a few streets. People have no idea what to do with the surface-level rails, and cars and pedestrians are continually getting clobbered by the train. (I was in Hannover this year with a rental car for work, and got chased around by a train in the shopping district, so I sympathize, but gee.)

  35. #35 Mystyk
    November 26, 2008

    clinteas @ #8: “Isnt it amazing,to think that lobbyists killed public transportation in the US..” (minor grammar fix)

    I live in Las Vegas (at least, I do when not deployed in the Middle East like now) and there was once an effort to build a monorail connecting all the major hotels, downtown, the convention center, and the airport. Everything was set to go until the taxicab union got involved. They pumped massive sums of money lobbying for the entire project to get scrapped. The end result was that although they didn’t block it entirely, they made it only service half the hotels on the strip plus the convention center (it stays to only one side of the road). It doesn’t go downtown or to the airport, where it would actually be useful. The monorail has been losing money every month, and is now little more than an overpriced tourist attraction.

  36. #36 Bill
    November 26, 2008

    negentropyeater wrote:
    >
    > The USA will need BOTH :
    >
    > 1. an efficient High Speed modern railway system
    > in the higher density areas
    >
    > 2. an efficient automotive sector that builds
    > small fuel efficient cars
    >

    How do you get from one “higher density area” to another? Driving a car?

    And what about folks in Shelby, Montana…Las Vegas, New Mexico…Poplar Bluff, Missouri…Del Rio, Texas? Don’t they get to travel, too?

  37. #37 speedwell
    November 26, 2008

    As for increasing density in Houston? Perish the thought. We don’t have cheap land out here to waste it. To increase density uptown, we might have to get rid of a few parking garages and lots, and rip out a few of those useless townhouses that are an overpriced, overdesigned, and underbuilt drug on the market even in a good economy.

  38. #38 andyo
    November 26, 2008

    Enzyme #4,

    Besides: public transport means that you might have to sit next to someone smelly. Or boring. Or ugly. Or poor.

    On the other hand, we lesser people get to sit next to aromatic, entertaining, beautiful, rich people too!

    Reminds me of a Demetri Martin joke in the Daily Show when discussing online social networking:

    “On the downside, they’re loaded with sexual predators. On the plus side they’re also loaded with sexual prey.”

  39. #39 negentropyeater
    November 26, 2008

    How do you get from one “higher density area” to another? Driving a car?

    Airplanes !

    Building a high speed railway system doesn’t mean giving up on planes. It means shifting some of its use to a more energy effcient means of transportation.
    What’s the % of air traffic in the US that is made on routes of less than 700 miles ? Like LA-SFO, NY-DC, Boston-NY, DC-Charlotte, Chicago-Mineapolis, Houston-Dallas, etc… ?
    Well, on all these routes high speed train is extremely competitive and convenient, as it in most of France and Germany and between Paris and London.

  40. #40 speedwell
    November 26, 2008

    Walton, I am an anarchocapitalist with probably more years of experience than you (I’m probably almost double your age, but who’s counting). But I despair of the market being allowed to gently reform mass transit in this country.

    There really was a time when it was feasible; that time was just at the same time that automobiles started to become popular. Market forces at the time dictated that the car win out over ubiquitous and cheap trains to everywhere. You and I are too young to remember exactly how many train routes there used to be, but most of them have been ripped up now to make room for roads.

    Now, the market has to contend with the sort of petty politics that mired light rail in Atlanta while I lived there, and constantly prevents the subject from even being raised here in Houston. The main objection appears to be “I don’t want those poor people coming to my neighborhood with their drug habits, breaking into houses and panhandling on street corners.” How is the market going to reform people’s petty prejudices and stubborn resistance to cooperate with the political and social “enemies”?

    Well, a public transportation system that is on time, affordable for everyone, and useful even for people who are unable to walk far (children, the old, people coming home from the hospital after surgery, Houston’s notoriously fat people trying to run to the bus stop in Houston’s notorious 103-degree July weather, you name it) would help. Getting the goddamed politicians out of the way and letting private enterprise construct a system based on the preference of its customers might help, if it weren’t for the fact that such a thing would be so subsidized by tax money that the government would be the only customer that the enterprise would think about satisfying. And how do we sculpt routes through the existing buildings and residential areas? Let’s not even talk about eminent domain, if we want to keep our breakfast down. Arrrgh.

  41. #41 Nick Gotts
    November 26, 2008

    “The market will take care of things. As oil gets more and more scarce and expensive, fewer people will be able to afford to use cars – which will create a demand for public transport, which, in turn, will spur the private sector to provide more public transport in order to serve the growing market. There is no need for government to be involved in the process at all.” – Walton

    Negative externalities. Social dilemmas. The market will blithely overload the environment with pollutants, notably but by no means exclusively excess greenhouse gases, for short-term profit. We know this because it’s exactly what they’ve been doing for centuries. As a civilisation and possibly as a species, we cannot afford your stupid fantasies Walton.

  42. #42 speedwell
    November 26, 2008

    Nick, there’s no need for hyperbole when the reality is bad enough.

  43. #43 Jake
    November 26, 2008

    I… I didn’t know that, wow.

    The fact that the US are the one of the greatest users of oil for transportation is all the more clear now.

    Having originally been born in England and lived all my adult life in Melbourne, Australia, I couldn’t possibly imagine living without a public transport system. While Melbourne’s is by no means perfect often with delays and the such, but you can get almost anywhere on a Train/Tram/Bus service. Granted there’s often wait times and such, but bitching about that is meaningless when compared to the US that seems to have almost none?

    The Melbourne system, while being fairly convenient is rather expensive to use, the expense is similar in Japan, however the Japanese system is amazingly convenient, with trains coming minutes apart.

    I’m very proud to live somewhere where I believe that owning a car is more hassle than it’s worth.

  44. #44 Bill
    November 26, 2008

    negentropyeater wrote:
    >
    > Airplanes !
    > [examples of short trips where trains might serve instead]
    >

    No, except in a handful of cases like the ones you cite, planes and trains serve completely different markets. Most plane trips are non-stop, and that’s one of their advantages (raw speed…admitedly important when you need it); trains make lots of stops along the way,
    and that’s one of their advantages (serving places that don’t have airports). It’s generally a big mistake to conflate the two markets.

    Intercity trains compete with intercity busses and private automobiles, not, generally, with airplanes.

  45. #45 SC
    November 26, 2008

    Market forces at the time dictated that the car win out over ubiquitous and cheap trains to everywhere.

    Market forces, indeed:

    http://www.culturechange.org/issue10/taken-for-a-ride.htm

  46. #46 Flex
    November 26, 2008

    In the FWIW department, yesterday I costed out a trip to San Diego from Ann Arbor with the options of driving, flying and renting a car, and taking the train.

    (17 day trip next June)

    The estimated cost for driving came to $2352 for gas and lodging, sans food.

    Flying and renting a car for 15 days, again sans food but with motels; was estimated at $3100.

    Travelling by train, renting a car for 14 days, no food but motels; was $4185.

    Assumptions: $100/night for motels, $2.50/gallon for gas. Train included beds on the Chicago-L.A. leg of 40+ hours.

    Travel alone:
    Car: $2135
    Plane: $500
    Amtrak: $1100 (Including beds on long leg)

    Note: As a veteran, my train ticket would be $729 because of veteran discounts.

    As a point of referance, we are also considering going to Vienna for a couple weeks with friends of ours. I can rent an apartment in downtown Vienna for 17 days for $2,403, divide that cost by 4 and add the $1700 plane fare and the cost per person is only $2300. It’s not much more expensive to fly to Europe than take the train to California.

    Happy Thanksgiving

  47. #47 Masklinn
    November 26, 2008

    #1

    While you’re technically right of course, european initiatives such as the Railteam group/network is trying to integrate and unify the european HSR very interestingly. I think if it pans out we could get a workable pan-european HSR network within 10 years or so.

  48. #48 negentropyeater
    November 26, 2008

    trains make lots of stops along the way

    How many stops between London and Paris ? Zero. Paris and Frankfurt ? One. etc…

    You need to rethink completely your model.

  49. #49 cadicusthedamned
    November 26, 2008

    Nice idea in theory, but Americans hate giving up their independence. That’s why Amtrak has been such a failure.

    However, we could sell the idea with the lure of anonymous sex with strangers in the bathroom stalls. That lends adventurous appeal to the idea of national transit.

    *crickets*

    What? Nobody else has read Palahniuk’s novel, “Choke?”

  50. #50 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    November 26, 2008

    Train usage is not just for city to city travel. We’re fighting here in Charleston (admittedly poorly) to get a light rail system implemented to cut down on traffic and the need for road expansion, well slow it down at least. The city of Charleston is on a peninsula between two rivers. I have to cross two long bridges to get to work one way or one big one another direction. It is virtually impossible to ride a bike to my office. Getting people in typically conservative SC to agree on a tax hike to implement it is of course the issue.

    cue Libertarians ….

  51. #51 mayhempix
    November 26, 2008

    Walton | November 26, 2008 6:52 AM
    “There is no need for government to be involved in the process at all.”

    Why are Libertarians such idiots? Ideoillogical fools like Walton aren’t really atheists. They worship at the alter of the Infallible Market God. The market is God and the government is the Devil. It’s the same black and white “thinking” all fundamentalists use to ignore reality and foist their silly dogma on everyone else.

    Most of the infrastructure in the US including utilities and roads were built as government projects and the reason they are falling apart is due to lack of public investment and greedy privatization. Maybe Walton should quit using the internet because it too was a developed as a government program initially deployed to the civilian population through public universities.

    When a society through it’s government invests in the development of new technologies, transportation, etc. it spurs private investment and accelerates the ability for new markets to establish themselves. “Survive or die by the market” can be detrimental and is the reason the US is far behind many other countries in broadband deployment and speeds. That is bad for all US business in the competitive world we champion.

    Imagine if we had built an extensive modern high speed passenger rail system instead of spending trillions in Iraq. We would be less dependent on foreign oil and reducing our carbon footprint. This benefits the health, security and future of all citizens.

    Build it and they will come… and go.

  52. #52 Nick Gotts
    November 26, 2008

    speedwell,
    Unfortunately, it is not hyperbole. Look at the proceddings of the conference “Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change”, for example. In the case of anthropogenic global warming, it’s generally the case that those who are best informed – scientists doing leading-edge work – are the most worried. The scientific consensus is that any increase in temperature much above 2C will see agricultural yields start to decline and great increases in extreme weather (storms, floods and droughts), as geographic patterns of weather systems shift rapidly and unpredictably; and also risks triggering positive feedbacks such as summer Arctic sea ice disappearance (possibly in the next few years); permafrost melting; and great tracts of land becoming net carbon sources rather than sinks.

    If this is correct, these positive feedbacks will push the temperature rise up further. Under such circumstances, how long will it be before nuclear or biological weapons are used, to eliminate competitors for the dwindling food supplies?

    It may be possible to stop the net increase going above 2C if we act promptly, radically, and in a globally coordinated fashion to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. That has to include both widespread cultural change, and far-reaching action by governments. The condition of rescue for the US car companies should be that they rapidly shift production toward low-emission and public transport vehicles. The US is actually in some ways easier to give a low-emission (as soon as possible zero-emission) transport system: it’s a far more unified political entity (I know US states and cities have powers both of initiative and obstruction; but nothing to those of the EU’s members); and it’s geographically a much more convenient shape! I haven’t studied the matter, but I’d guess a skeleton of ultra-high-speed trains between major centres, with coaches covering the shorter distances, would be the way to go.

    On European railways. British railways should be renationalised, subsidised and upgraded; but even without that a lot of Brits, me included, benefit from the higher standards of continental European railways. From Aberdeen in northern Scotland, in the last few months I’ve visited Brescia in Italy, Brussels in Belgium, Valladolid, Madrid and Cordoba in Spain, and now Paris (I’m on the train back now), all by train. Although slower, it is in many ways preferable to flying in terms of comfort, convenience (main rail stations, unlike airports, are in city centres), and interest.

  53. #53 Bill
    November 26, 2008

    Flex wrote:
    >
    > Plane: $500
    > Amtrak: $1100 (Including beds on long leg)
    >

    You conveniently neglected to mention that your sleeper ticket on the Southwest Chief is first-class, which includes all meals (except alcoholic beverages) on the train and use of a first-class waiting area in Chicago Union Station called the “Metropolitan Lounge”. You need to compare the Amtrak fare with first-class air fare. (OK, the flight is short enough that a first-class seat has considerably less value than a bed on the train; still, you’re comparing “apples and oranges”.)

    Also, if you fly, you’ll have the security hassle, you’ll probably be rushed, and you’ll miss the scenery over Raton Pass.

  54. #54 Sven DiMilo
    November 26, 2008

    If we put the cartoonists in charge, can we proactively impeach Scott Adams?

  55. #55 Matt
    November 26, 2008

    >>>the automobile companies have been total failures at addressing the needs of the country…which is why they’re now looking for bailouts

    Sorry PZ, you’ve got it dead wrong here. Trucks and SUVs were about the only thing American companies were selling.

  56. #56 Matt
    November 26, 2008

    >>>the automobile companies have been total failures at addressing the needs of the country…which is why they’re now looking for bailouts

    Sorry PZ, you’ve got it dead wrong here. Trucks and SUVs were about the only thing American companies were selling.

  57. #57 Peter Ashby
    November 26, 2008

    One thing you are forgetting about spread out suburbs is that when the energy crisis hits nobody will be able to afford to live in those houses anyway. Not with heat/cooling or lights, or piped clean water and sewerage and refuse charges. That’s before we get to the difficulty of maintaining all those gardens without petrol. If you can barely or cannot afford to fuel your car you will not be wasting fuel in your motor mower, neither will you waste electricity on it.

    Assuming that the spread out suburbs will still be there needing servicing in an energy poor, needing mass transit world is looking at only part of the picture. Oh and add in the decreasing mobility of the Baby Boomers who inhabit many of those houses.

    Here in Dundee, Eastern Scotland I live surrounded by ripped up rail lines. The station at the bottom of the hill (easy walking) has only two trains a day early in the morning and mid evening. Only for long distance commuters. I cannot use it to travel into the city centre. Our buses are quite good, clean and reasonably frequent, but they cannot be as fast as a train, even if they put in/reinstated more stations in between us and town.

  58. #58 Bill
    November 26, 2008

    negentropyeater wrote:
    >
    > How many stops between London and Paris ? Zero. …
    >

    How many stops between Springfield, Illinois and Minot, North Dakota? Or should people take only the trips that you can imagine?

    But, yes, trains can complete with airplanes in some cases. I’ve already acknowledged that.

  59. #59 watercat
    November 26, 2008

    What about school buses? It seems to me a parallel system that exists everywhere (in US) to serve pretty much the same functions, idle half the time. Wouldn’t it be cost effective to integrate the school bus system somehow with public transport?

  60. #60 negentropyeater
    November 26, 2008

    Nice idea in theory, but Americans hate giving up their independence.

    Makes you wonder why they use airplanes then…
    Example : How many people fly each day between SFO and LAX instead of using their cars ?
    A high speed train would take about 2hrs to cover that distance. And spend far less energy than planes or cars. And is more comfortable and convenient than the plane. And much faster and comfortable than the car.

    That’s why Amtrak has been such a failure.

    Nonsense. The reason why the SNCF in France and Deutschebahn in Germany are succesful is because govt invested heavily in building an efficient High Speed Railway system connecting the major cities. The US govt didn’t do anything, so Amtrak is a failure.

  61. #61 deadyeti
    November 26, 2008

    As someone who uses british public transport everyday, around london on buses and trains and to and from southampton via train at the weekends. I think our system is excellent and has been for a couple of years now.

    I’m 32 and have never felt the need to take my driving test yet.

  62. #62 negentropyeater
    November 26, 2008

    Bill,

    How many stops between Springfield, Illinois and Minot, North Dakota? Or should people take only the trips that you can imagine?

    How many inhabitants in Springfield and Minot, compared with New York and DC ?
    Of course, you’re not going to build a high Speed train between every city in the country. But if you could build it between the 20 largest population centers, that would already take care of at least 50% of the traffic that’s nowadays done on energy guzling planes and also reduce energy inefficient car traffic between these centers.
    It’s not the routes that “I imagine”, its the routes that are high traffic (between large population centers) and not long distance (less than 700 miles). You don’t need a PhD in economics to understand that, now do you ? And I’m sure you can draw them on a map yourself easily. Some of the most obvious examples I have already mentionned.

  63. #63 C. L. Hanson
    November 26, 2008

    It’s true that the sprawl (lower population density) in the U.S. is an obstacle that will make it harder to create an efficient public transportation network. The American idea that anything public is the enemy of freedom is another such obstacle.

    But that’s not a reason not to try. The energy situation (the finite limit to the amount of existing fossil fuel) is going to get a lot worse before it gets better (hopefully through a successful switch to sustainable energy sources). It’s better turn around and start walking in the right direction now, while we can still more or less afford to make difficult changes.

  64. #64 Pat Silver
    November 26, 2008

    Deadyeti, you are being disingenuous since London is one of the very few places in the UK which has a public transport system that is useable in a practical sense.

  65. #65 marilove
    November 26, 2008

    I live in Phoenix and had to get a car after 8 years of living here because I no longer worked downtown (I live in Central Phoenix so the bus system is actually pretty awesome if you work downtown). :(

    SO YES PLEASE.

  66. #66 Michael Fonda
    November 26, 2008

    I have to go to work and don’t have time to read all the other post so please forgive me if this point has already been made but one big reason why America has craperific national train service is because its major cities tend to be a lot farther apart than they are in Europe. There has in the last couple of decades been a major explosion in localized mass transit with new bus and rail lines added so we are headed in the right direction just not enough to meet future demand once the price of oil starts heading north again.

  67. #67 KristinMH
    November 26, 2008

    David @ 31, the Canadian rail system is was it is because it’s a government-run service. Wisely, I think, the powers that be realized that there would never be a profitable way to run rail services across a massive and underpopulated country like this. So they don’t try to make a profit.

    The fares are OK, reasonable enough if you book in advance. My feeling about the fares is this: They should figure out how much it would cost, on average, in terms of gas and wear on your car to drive from one place to another, then make the train fare between those points say, 25% less than that. And advertise it that way.

    The biggest problem is that the service outside of Ontario and Quebec is pretty much skeletal. Also you have to put your dogs in the baggage car, and most trains don’t have a baggage car. I personally would enjoy train travel more if the dogs got to be in the main car, and you had to put your baby in the baggage car. But that’s just me.

  68. #68 Flex
    November 26, 2008

    Bill wrote, “You conveniently neglected to mention that your sleeper ticket on the Southwest Chief is first-class,….”

    I don’t know how conveniently I didn’t mention it. I made it clear that I was comparing the options I looked at for the trip, and I mentioned that I was looking at a plan which involved comfortable sleeping arrangements. I can’t get a bed on a train without getting all the other amenities.

    I do know that I wouldn’t want to travel for 43 hours on the Southwest-Chief or 70.5 hours on the Texas-Eagle without having a place to lie down.

    If that means I have to take what is called a first-class ticket on the train, while I would be comfortable in coach on a 3-hour flight, so be it.

    There are many ways to look at travel options. I could look at cost/time and in terms of dollars/minute of actual transportation the train wins, hands down. It even beats driving for long trips. But you have to be willing to take the extra time and not be concerned about the higher total cost.

    If you view travel as a cost/options, then a personal car allows the most options, even if the time is the longest of all three transportation methods. That is, you can take a detour to the world’s largest ball of string if you desire. Something you can’t easily do on a plane or a train.

    Of course, in terms of cost/speed, planes are the most economical. I can get anywhere in the US within six hours (including the time waiting in the airport) and anywhere in the world within 24. But the price is pretty high.

    Bill, you appear to want to compare cost/luxuries. In which case the first-class service on a train is certainly much cheaper than the first-class service on an airplane. If this is your point, well, then I agree with you.

    And I also agree that it’s much easier to enjoy the scenery on trains.

  69. #69 Kevin Klein
    November 26, 2008

    I seem to recall that the glorious railroads of years past were built by profit-seeking capitalists. The pigs!

    It was government meddling through subsidized road-building that created the mess we are in today. Why does everyone think that more government meddling is the answer?

  70. #70 KristinMH
    November 26, 2008

    Michael @ 66, according to your logic, Canada’s rail service should be even worse, since our land mass is bigger than yours and we only have three cities which would be considered “major” by American standards – Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Yet our train service is (in my admittedly unscientific opinion) more convenient, comprehensive, and affordable. Why do you think that is?

    American’s train service is craptastic because the government hasn’t invested in it. Hopefully that’s about to change.

  71. #71 Bill
    November 26, 2008

    negentropyeater,

    Peace.

    I promise I don’t dispute the value of the high-speed corridor trains you suggest. I just don’t want to forget long-distance trains which, IMO, are an important part of the network.

    It’s not a zero-sum game; we can have both. Indeed, the capital needed for expanding the long-distance network (basically, double-tracking, or in some cases upgrading to class-4, a bunch of the freight railroads’ lines and acquiring new rolling stock) wouldn’t be much compared to the cost of high-speed corridor infrastructure (acquire land, do the environmental studies, build completely grade-separated class-5 track); and the long-distance trains generate more revenue because folks are taking longer trips. (OK, operating costs for long-distance trains are also higher, principally because of the food service required. On corridor trains, you can get by with just one person shoving shrink-wrapped stuff into a microwave.)

  72. #72 watercat
    November 26, 2008

    My only transportation is by car. Don’t take the bus because the nearest bus stop is a mile away. I’m 6 miles from the center of town. Don’t walk or ride my bike because there are no shoulders and the rednecks like to run you off the road: you are risking your life, particularly if you are female. There are no passenger trains. And this is the state capital.

  73. #73 culmastadm
    November 26, 2008

    I am quite pleased that many commenters here don’t agree with the comic. I work in Detroit, and live a half mile north of 8 Mile. The Big 3′s falling is going to screw us here around the D.

    With Dingle out, the greenies are going to press down so hard on the automakers, that they will fall under over regulation, if of course they can make it through thier bad choices.

    Hey, I wanted to drive over in my tiny very efficient car and punch those CEOs in the face when I heard about the private jets to DC. But, still, just becouse the guys on top are idiots, doesn’t mean everyone else in the industry should suffer.

    Anyway, I thought long ago that the SUV craze was bad news. They are awfully damn big.

    Anyway, I’m just saying, there are a lot of people, not only CEOs here working on those cars.

  74. #74 Ouchimoo
    November 26, 2008

    Ya BUT! In Minnesota they took out most of the old railways and turned them into bike paths!

    *Which in some area’s expected snowmobilers to pay for it.

    Really that would be nice though, as there is only a handful of Amtrak stops in MN. That and Amtrak is pretty much the only passenger train around here.

  75. #75 aweb
    November 26, 2008

    Train service is exactly the type of thing that only a government effort can do. The complaint I hear about trains is that “they require population density around the stations”, which is used as a reason to never build them at all.

    The thing is, you must build the railway first, and let communities spring up around them. This means a long view which profit-driven private companies can’t wait for. This is how many towns/cities formed as the railways spread east-west in North America. Many towns simply did not exist prior to the railway coming through, and many communities which are currently suburban sprawl would quickly find ways to become more dense if there was a train station with convenient travel times nearby.

    Toronto has seen this, even if they don’t appreciate it. Condos and apartments line the main subway lines, well out of downtown, because that’s where people want to live so they can commute easily. But the service must be in place first, and it must be good service, before it happens. And even then it takes a long time….apartment buildings don’t spring up overnight.

  76. #76 Bill
    November 26, 2008

    Flex,

    I regretted the “conveniently” as soon as I hit the Post button. To the extent that I was suggesting
    that you were being disingenuous, I take it back.

    I do know that I wouldn’t want to travel for 43 hours on the Southwest-Chief or 70.5 hours on the Texas-Eagle without having a place to lie down.

    I agree completely. That’s what I was trying to get at by saying that first-class air fare has less value than a sleeper on an overnight train.

    <btw>I wouldn’t try connecting from a Wolverine to the Texas Eagle…the Michigan trains often run very late.</btw>

  77. #77 negentropyeater
    November 26, 2008

    Kevin Klein,

    I seem to recall that the glorious railroads of years past were built by profit-seeking capitalists. The pigs!

    Yes, but at that time there was no competition neither from road nor air so of course, such a low risk and highly profitable investment attracted private capital.

    It was government meddling through subsidized road-building that created the mess we are in today.

    Because if they had waited for private capital to do it, it would never have been built. Risk was much higher and profitability much longer term than railroads. And there was huge scarcity of long term private debt financing.
    The same happened in Western Europe by the way.

    Why does everyone think that more government meddling is the answer?

    Because it’s the same as for the highways, we’re now entering a period of incredible scarcity of long term private debt financing, and even more than before private capital will only invest on projects which have short term profitability and/or low risk.
    The only ones who could succesfully implement a high Speed rail coridor were the governments of France, Germany and Japan. I don’t see why the US Govt can’t do the same.

  78. #78 Robert S.
    November 26, 2008

    Bill @ #76

    It seems you are failing to account for the reason you don’t get a nice place to lie down in the plane. It doesn’t take 2 days of flight time to get from any point a to any point b in the united states

  79. #79 Matt Heath
    November 26, 2008

    t was government meddling through subsidized road-building that created the mess we are in today.

    Actually the US railway companies own incompetence in the face of road and air competition is the stuff of legend. It was the main example Theodore Levitt use in his paper “Marketing Myopia” which is one of the most important papers in business studies (my wife’s a business academic; what? It pays the bills). Basically the private rail-road folks were too stupid to see new technology (rather than just other rail-roads) as competitors.

    Why does everyone think that more government meddling is the answer?

    Because in every comparable case (Europe, Japan, India…) government meddling has shown itself to work better than the American way?

  80. #80 Bill
    November 26, 2008

    Robert S. @ #78

    No, I haven’t forgotten that. In fact, I said it twice, although not in just those words.

  81. #81 Flex
    November 26, 2008

    Bill wrote, I wouldn’t try connecting from a Wolverine to the Texas Eagle…the Michigan trains often run very late.

    Thanks for the tip.

    If we go by train we’ll probably stop in Chicago for a day or two anyway. It’s a fun town.

  82. #82 papa zita
    November 26, 2008

    A lot of people cite problems that are solvable. If people wish to live in distant low-density suburbs, they should pay for the privilege. The problem is not service, but profitability that causes these problems. We have to accept that profit is not going to be made and must be made up for by taxing areas that force one to use a car to subsidize mass transit for everyone else. For those who complain that they couldn’t afford a big enough house close to work, I’ve heard that one before and it generally isn’t true. They just prefer living as far away from the city as they can, or want as big a house as they could get (4000sf house for a 2-child family?!? Ridiculous, I lived in a 1400sf house with the same size family and was never bothered with it).

    SFH doesn’t necessarily preclude rail transit. Trolley suburbs were everywhere in old cities (I live in one), which means that it was easy to live without a car even if one wished to live in the suburbs. Trolley/light rail lines can be built and housing density will go up in the areas where the lines are situated for the simplest reason – their is an investment in the transit infrastructure that can’t be removed easily (which is the problem with regular buses, they can be removed easily – trolley buses are a possible, but less desirable alternative). Mandate that a development cannot start anywhere unless there is transit available within 1/4 mile and that no house in the development can be over 1/2 mile from a station. Heavy rail for city to city travel needs to be speeded up as well.

  83. #83 Kevin Klein
    November 26, 2008

    Basically the private rail-road folks were too stupid to see new technology (rather than just other rail-roads) as competitors.

    You can’t give the companies all of the blame here. It certainly doesn’t help any when your new technology competitor is being heavily subsidized by the government.

    Because in every comparable case (Europe, Japan, India…) government meddling has shown itself to work better than the American way?

    I could quibble with your classification of tiny Japan and crowded India as “comparable”, but that’s a side issue. I would argue that it is largely because Europe didn’t subsidize highways to the extent we did that their rail systems are more effective. Without highway-induced sprawl, European cities are more densely populated and much more “walkable” than the typical American suburb. I would also argue that forgoing subsidies that favor one transportation mode over another is actually more of the “American Way” than the way we Americans actually acted.

  84. #84 uncle frogy
    November 26, 2008

    I type so slow and read even slower and have to do some things to day like try and make some money so I will be able to make my share of the bailout payments when they come due so I have not read the whole thread yet but wanted to make a comment on one of my favorite cartoonists.

    I think justice would be if the Oil Companies were to bail out the Auto Companies but think there would be legal reasons that they would not be aloud to do so. It would tend to give the impression of some collusion between the two industries and we would not like to imply any such connections were true.

  85. #85 jj
    November 26, 2008

    California passed prop 1A, to build a high-speed train to link So cal to Nor Cal and the Valley to the Coast. Sweet.

  86. #86 mayhempix
    November 26, 2008

    Posted by: negentropyeater | November 26, 2008 10:02 AM
    “Kevin Klein,
    ‘I seem to recall that the glorious railroads of years past were built by profit-seeking capitalists. The pigs!’
    Yes, but at that time there was no competition neither from road nor air so of course, such a low risk and highly profitable investment attracted private capital.”

    When Klein is talking “low risk” he forgets to mention the high risk of human life. There were no injury protections and regualtions. Men were permanently maimed and killed with no insurance or support structure. The Chinese were brought in as indentured slaves becuase they were even cheaper and their lives considered to be of less value than the Americans. Without laws and regulations, that’s what “profit-seeking capitalist pigs” do. Bottom line you know…

  87. #87 mayhempix
    November 26, 2008

    mayhempix #86

    I wrote incorrectly “When Klein is talking “low risk” he forgets to mention the high risk of human life.” What I meant was not that Kilein mentioned “low risk,” but that part of that low risk was the lack of basic worker health protections.

  88. #88 Muffin
    November 26, 2008

    @Bill/#23: You are aware that Europe is actually bigger than the USA, aren’t you? (I’m talking about Europe as a whole, of course, not just the EU.)

    Although maybe I should I find it flattering that you think that it’s possible to go from Finland to Portugal in a day by train – I had no idea our trains were THAT fast. :)

  89. #89 Scott from Oregon
    November 26, 2008

    “”Imagine if we had built an extensive modern high speed passenger rail system instead of spending trillions in Iraq. “”

    Ahhh yes, just imagine!!

    But what happened instead? “Government” did what government often does, it made BAD DECISIONS and used its over-sized power base to kill and maim.

    If you want to measure pollution as Nick Gotts does, then you can measure the amount of pollution put out by war. Lead in the water. Huge amounts of fossil fuels burned…

    Government CAN do good things but it also screws up badly.

    Most public transit systems outside of dense cities have suffered in the US because PEOPLE DON’T USE THEM.

    That is the market reality, regardless of your idealistic leanings toward a utopian society- run by “perfect” administrators- that doesn’t pollute…

  90. #90 Flex
    November 26, 2008

    Mayhempix wrote, “When Klein is talking “low risk” he forgets to mention the high risk of human life.”

    He also forgot to mention the large number of town governments which PAID railroads to pass through (or build spurs to) their towns.

    I’m not saying that the towns shouldn’t have done it, there are good reasons to spend public monies to encourage growth. And putting a railway through a town in the 1880′s definitely helped a town grow. But to say there weren’t government subsidies is not exactly true. There may not have been federal government subsidies, but there were plenty of government subsidies. Not including the graft and corruption, the siphoning of government funds for railroads, and public works projects which included railroad companies.

    (Which should not imply that these things didn’t occur when the national highway system was built. The bottom line is that most people are about the bottom line. I.e. people are greedy, and they always have been.)

    Maybe Klein should actually study the period.

  91. #91 Nerd of Redhead
    November 26, 2008

    Won’t the insipid and boring libertarians ever realize the election is over, and they need to put their politics to pasture for a while?

  92. #92 PZ Myers
    November 26, 2008

    Yuck. One-Note Scott again. Go sing somewhere else, OK?

  93. #93 Walton
    November 26, 2008

    Wisely, I think, the powers that be realized that there would never be a profitable way to run rail services across a massive and underpopulated country like this. So they don’t try to make a profit.

    That’s the kind of silly attitude which irritates me about the Left. Why should I, as a taxpayer, subsidise a form of transport that I don’t necessarily use? Why should I pay for other people’s intercity transport?

    If a form of transport does not have enough passengers to survive commercially, it should die. Period. Anything else is an abuse of taxpayers’ money. And, of course, if it can survive commercially, there is no need for it to be run or subsidised by government. Ergo, government should not be involved in transport (except for highway maintenance, and I think that should be funded out of user fees paid by drivers, rather than general tax revenue).

  94. #94 Nerd of Redhead
    November 26, 2008

    Walton, the insipid and boring also applies to you, And, I suspect, PZ’s warning.

  95. #95 BMcP
    November 26, 2008

    Eh.. even if they had a national transit I would still mostly use my car, I like to be in control of where and when I move about. The less dependence on government I have the better off I am.

    Have no issue anyone else using it though. Although where would the money come from?

  96. #96 Flex
    November 26, 2008

    SfO wrote, “Most public transit systems outside of dense cities have suffered in the US because PEOPLE DON’T USE THEM”

    As much as I usually find SfO’s comment less than useful and usually ideologically driven, he does have a point here.

    In my experiance there does appear to be a general attitude within America that public transit is for people who are poor. There are exceptions, I don’t think that opinion is nearly as strong among the dwellers in a few of the big cities or among the denizens of some of the more liberal blogs.

    But remember, we are a self-selected group of people who share similar interests and a similar view of the world, i.e. we can do better. While we frequently disagree about what is the best way to make the world a better place, we haven’t yet thrown up our hands in dispair and devolved to the opinion of, ‘what’s in it for me?’

    I remember my grandfather telling me about riding the inter-urban light rail in Detroit in the 1930′s. Everyone used it, from the poorest to the upper-middle class (the rich drove or were driven). There was no stigma attached to using public transist like there is today.

    However, that opinion in the populous is not going to change by doing nothing. The fact that some suburban light-rail systems fail is a not an argument against them. Some suburban light-rail systems are doing fine. The metro system in DC which serves the surrounding cities appears to be doing quite well.

    Cultural changes are the hardest to make, but it happened the other direction fifty years ago. That itself should give us hope that it can swing back the other way.

  97. #97 Patricia
    November 26, 2008

    Insipid & boring, Scott & Walton, seconded.
    Not even slutty remarks or teasing can cause either of them to deviate from their tiresome paths.

  98. #98 negentropyeater
    November 26, 2008

    Walton,

    That’s the kind of silly attitude which irritates me about the Left. Why should I, as a taxpayer, subsidise a form of transport that I don’t necessarily use? Why should I pay for other people’s intercity transport?

    And that’s exactly the kind of silly question that irritates me with the ignorants who ask them :
    -why do I pay for schools when I don’t have any Children
    -why do I pay for roads when I don’t own a car ?
    -why do I pay for the police and the jails when I’ve never committed any crime and respect the rules ?
    etc…

    Because you live in a society, and you benefit from it. Maybe you need to learn what that means.

  99. #99 Bill
    November 26, 2008

    Walton @ #93

    That’s the kind of silly attitude which irritates me about the Left. Why should I, as a taxpayer, subsidise a form of transport that I don’t necessarily use?

    That’s the kind of silly attitude that irritates me about the Right. The answer is obvious: because you’re not the only person in the world who matters.

    <aside>I tried to listen to Rush Limbaugh once. Maybe I caught him on a bad day; but the show I heard was all me-me-me. It was I want this and I want that. I wanted to shake him and tell him to grow up.</aside>

    To put it another way, “Why should I, as a taxpayer, subsidise a highway that I don’t necessarily use?” (No, highways are not funded by “ user fees”; they’re funded by taxes.) The answer is that highways provide a known public good; and it’s not all about me.

  100. #100 Scott from Oregon
    November 26, 2008

    ‘””Yuck. One-Note Scott again. Go sing somewhere else, OK?””

    I see…

    So “Religion is bad” is a chorus, and “big central government planning is bad” is a single note? I could join the chorus and it would make you feel good, or I can express my beliefs and make you defend yours…

    You are an educator? Really?

    Besides ALL the evidence to the contrary, wars and killing and misallocated funds, collusion with banking elites and corporations, restriction of rights (homosexual) by the state, destruction of the environment (remember the atolls?) (Here in Oregon we have mismanaged forests, all federal government doings) you STILL want to promote central planning and a strong central government elected by a population that, for the most part, believes in nonsensical sky fairies?

    In other words you want an elected government to have dictatorial power, elected by a population that is irrational and deluded to a high degree…

    It isn’t even a rational position to take. Why do you take it?

  101. #101 Flex
    November 26, 2008

    Walton opined, “Ergo, government should not be involved in transport (except for highway maintenance, and I think that should be funded out of user fees paid by drivers, rather than general tax revenue).”

    Would you believe, Walton, that the Michigan $0.19 flat- rate gas tax goes entirely to highway maintenance? I believe that many states operate the same way. I think the Michigan department of transportation gets some additional funds from the general fund, but most of their money is from the gas tax. You really should research where the money comes from and goes to before you make a fool of yourself.

  102. #102 mayhempix
    November 26, 2008

    ScottO claims he’s not a Libertarian because he has a “heart”. But if it walks like duck…

    Posted by: Scott from Oregon | November 26, 2008 11:40 AM
    “Government” did what government often does, it made BAD DECISIONS and used its over-sized power base to kill and maim.”

    - You mean that’s what a rightwing free market religion government did. If Gore had been elected and the Dems were in charge, we would never have gone to war and a substantial investment in greener transit away from oil would be well underway.

    “Most public transit systems outside of dense cities have suffered in the US because PEOPLE DON’T USE THEM.”

    - They don’t use them because for the most part they don’t exist. Despite the cries of government folly by wingnuts and Libertatarians, Los Angeles which is much flatter and sprawling than other major cities which are verticle instead of horizontal, the transit railway system is a success. the biggest complaint is that there aren’t enough lines to service demand in much of the area. I fly or drive from LA to the Bay Area because there is no efficient fast rail sytem. A 200 MPH modern train could do the trip in less than 2 hours plus train stations are much faster and much less hassle to get in and out of than airports.

    “That is the market reality, regardless of your idealistic leanings toward a utopian society- run by “perfect” administrators- that doesn’t pollute…”

    -Libertarians and Free Market Acolytes are the utopians. Free Market God worship is for hypocritical white middleclass male wimps who accept unemployment insurance checks when they don’t work… like carpentars… and will collect without protest SS and Medicare when the time comes. If it were left up to them there would be no seat belts in cars, many models would still be rolling bombs with gas tanks placed at the highest point of impact, and there would lead in our paints, gas, plumbing , children toys, and of course our livers and brains… what would be left of them.

    We want real world pragmatic solutions that address real world problems like pollution, global warming, wholesale destruction of natural resources and dependence on foreign oil, overpriced and restrictive healthcare and ridiculous college fees. Profit is not the primary goal here.

    Libertarians are the Scientologists of dogmatic utopian politics. In fact most Scientologists I’ve known or met were Libertarians. Makes my skin crawl to even think about it.

  103. #103 mayhempix
    November 26, 2008

    Posted by: PZ Myers | November 26, 2008 11:48 AM
    Yuck. One-Note Scott again. Go sing somewhere else, OK?

    Maybe time it’s dungeon time before he starts calling everyone “pussies” again.

  104. #104 mayhempix
    November 26, 2008

    Posted by: PZ Myers | November 26, 2008 11:48 AM
    Yuck. One-Note Scott again. Go sing somewhere else, OK?

    Maybe it’s dungeon time before he starts calling everyone “pussies” again.

  105. #105 Nova
    November 26, 2008

    Yes, I’ve never thought about it before. For you guys in the US the idea of hoping on a train to go from town to town must seem bizarre, yet here in the UK that’s what trains represent. Even though I’ve never been to the US, now I think about it the way trains are depicted on American TV is totally different to how they are in Europe. I think the people complaining about the British railway system miss how big the gap is between British and American rail usage. We may be lagging slightly behind the rest of Europe and are rail system may not be as extensive as it once was, but the whole concept is different in America and has a much smaller role.

  106. #106 Scott from Oregon
    November 26, 2008

    “” You mean that’s what a rightwing free market religion government did. If Gore had been elected and the Dems were in charge, we would never have gone to war and a substantial investment in greener transit away from oil would be well underway.””

    Ahh yes. IF IF IF!!!

    You seem to think people make rational choices and that a central government is the rational place for controlling society…

    The problem is, people don’t make rational choices and government is run by imperfect people. The more power you grant government to do harm, the more harm it will do. Take a look at the current monetary crises, if you want an example…

    Better to untertake these changes in smaller, more localized areas of the country. California has been leading in emission standards IN SPITE OF the federal government.

    LA is now promoting its own solar energy program. This is a perfect example of how local remedies are a better solution than piling huge sums of money in one place and then having to beg for it back.

    I’m not a Libertarian for the same reason I’ve stated many times before. It is too strident an ideology and does not factor well the amount of damage a single “free” person can make on society.

    Railway systems, for the most part, exist where practical in the US. They don’t exists where cars are favored by the population. You want to dictate to people what they can and cannot drive? What else do you want to dictate? Are you willing to be dictated to by a bunch of Christians who own your ass in voting strength? If you want to grant an entity power, you better be willing to bend over when it gets used against you…

  107. #107 mayhempix
    November 26, 2008

    Walton | November 26, 2008 11:49 AM
    “Why should I, as a taxpayer, subsidise a form of transport that I don’t necessarily use? Why should I pay for other people’s intercity transport?”

    That would mean there would be no international airports in major cities. Chicago, LA, NY, etc, they are all subsidized by public funds, both local and national. And why would they do that? Because of the monetary gains of business and commerce those airports enable. Put even more simply, the whole society benefits from public investment.

  108. #108 Dietrich
    November 26, 2008

    I would like to see a lot more investment in developing personal rapid transit (PRT), which provides a flexible solution that addresses most of the objections to mass transit options like buses and light rail.

    The basic idea behind PRT is to use small vehicles and offline stations which allows for passengers to travel to their destinations non-stop without a long wait at the station.

    Since the vehicles are small (3-4 people), riders would not have to share with others. Because the stations are offline (on sidings off the main line), vehicles can sit at the ready for riders to arrive, and vehicles bypass stations on the way to their destination. Also, adding additional stations doesn’t slow down system throughput which means that many more conveniently located stations can be added to the system.

    Wikipedia has an entry on the concept here. The system I’m most familiar with is Skyweb Express, which is being developed in Minnesota: here is their website.

  109. #109 oldtree
    November 26, 2008

    what you said PZ. But will they let me keep the electric utility vehicle?

  110. #110 Bill
    November 26, 2008

    Muffin @ #88

    You are aware that Europe is actually bigger than the USA, aren’t you? (I’m talking about Europe as a whole, …

    You’re right, I was thinking only of Western Europe. My mistake. Even there, I know you can’t get everywhere in a day. (For example,I just asked Hafas for a route from Rome to Copenhagen…no same-day connection found.)

    But there are lots of trips that can be made in a single day, some of them fairly long. For example, I’ll be attending some meetings in Frankfurt in July; and since it turns out that the QM2 will be making the eastbound crossing at just the right time, I came up with a fantasy itinerary that gets me from Southampton to Frankfurt in a day, even if the ship is a little late and I don’t get off until about 11:00am.

    • South West Trains to London Waterloo
    • Bakerloo Line to Oxford Circus
    • Victoria Line to King’s Cross-St. Pancras
    • Eurostar to Brussels
    • Thalys to Cologne
    • ICE to Frankfurt

    Plan B if the miss a tight connection in Cologne: there’s another ICE an hour later that gets me into Frankfurt about half past midnight.

    Plan C if the ship is very late and I miss the desired Eurostar out of London:

    • A later Eurostar to Brussels
    • City Night Line to Dortmund
    • ICE to Frankfurt

    arriving in Frankfurt just in time for my meeting Monday morning (just around the corner from the Hbf).

    (I won’t really be going that way, though…because I can’t afford the time on the ship.)

  111. #111 mayhempix
    November 26, 2008

    Posted by: Scott from Oregon | November 26, 2008 12:52 PM
    “” You mean that’s what a rightwing free market religion government did. If Gore had been elected and the Dems were in charge, we would never have gone to war and a substantial investment in greener transit away from oil would be well underway.””
    Ahh yes. IF IF IF!!!
    “You seem to think people make rational choices…”

    - Clearly the free market worshipers don’t make rational choices as they voted for the government that gave us the war.

    “… and that a central government is the rational place for controlling society…”

    Complete BS. I never said or implied any such thing. It’s that black and white mentality that leads to such inane conclusions. Most of reality exists in shades of grey and must be approached accordingly. That is the problem with rigid ideologies. They cannot deal with the complexities of the real world. A healthy democratic society should employ a complete tool palette with mixture of capiltalism and socialism depending on the situation. A society run completely by one or the other is doomed to fail.

  112. #112 negentropyeater
    November 26, 2008

    SfO,

    Railway systems, for the most part, exist where practical in the US. They don’t exists where cars are favored by the population.

    Sure, the only reason why there’s no high speed rail connecting the bay area with LA in less than 2 hrs is because people prefer to use their cars.

    You really believe what you write ?

  113. #113 negentropyeater
    November 26, 2008

    SfO,

    Railway systems, for the most part, exist where practical in the US. They don’t exists where cars are favored by the population.

    Sure, the only reason why there’s no high speed rail connecting the bay area with LA in less than 2 hrs is because people prefer to use their cars.

    You really believe what you write ?

  114. #114 Walton
    November 26, 2008

    That would mean there would be no international airports in major cities. Chicago, LA, NY, etc, they are all subsidized by public funds, both local and national. And why would they do that? Because of the monetary gains of business and commerce those airports enable. Put even more simply, the whole society benefits from public investment.

    Please tell me you are not seriously suggesting that, say, JFK Airport would shut down if not for public funding.

    No airport should receive federal funding. The large international airports can easily survive as commercial businesses, since they get large numbers of passengers. And if a small third-rank city in the back-end of nowhere wants an airport, then they can damn well pay for it themselves. Why should federal taxpayers in New Jersey be forced to subsidise an airport in Boise, Idaho? What good does it do them?

  115. #115 Last Hussar
    November 26, 2008

    Pat Silver
    It may depend on where you live. Some places public transport works.
    Aylesbury to Milton Keynes 25 miles. Return ticket £5
    HM treasury milage rate (ie the max level that doesn’t attract tax, because it is assumed to be the *total* cost of running a car) 40p mile.
    40p x 50 miles (for round trip) = £20

    Baldock to Oxford 84 miles- Coach £20.50
    Car 40p x 85= £34

  116. #116 Qwerty
    November 26, 2008

    “Senile old babyboomers” in thirty years. Well, I will be about 90 if still alive. Huh… What was the question…

  117. #117 Nerd of Redhead
    November 26, 2008

    Walton, get off your libertarian soap box. We are tired of it.

    By the way, you will find that often the City or a semi-government authority owns major airports in the US. For example, Chicago owns O’hare airport.

  118. #118 CJO
    November 26, 2008

    Railway systems, for the most part, exist where practical in the US. They don’t exists where cars are favored by the population.

    Isn’t it funny: in the libertarian fairy-tale, when it’s convenient, the will of “the population” is being flawlessly implemented, no government needed, and all is as it should be. Sounds like the libertarian dream has come true, Scott. You can retire now.

  119. #119 Scott from Oregon
    November 26, 2008

    “”Isn’t it funny: in the libertarian fairy-tale, when it’s convenient, the will of “the population”””

    What libertarian fairytale? I just merely pointed out what has occured in the US.

    Americans are not mass transit-minded people.

    “””Sure, the only reason why there’s no high speed rail connecting the bay area with LA in less than 2 hrs is because people prefer to use their cars.

    You really believe what you write ?”””

    I grew up in the Bay Area so I know we voted down a measure to build that railway. We also voted down building a train that ran from Santa Rosa, down the 101 freeway and into Marin. We voted up a widening of 101 for more cars.

    While I disagree with both of these votes, the option of spending tax dollars to build a system few will use is pretty ludicrous, and the notion of using the Federal Government to force this system on people who don’t want it is obviously flawed. We would have that system if people wanted it.

  120. #120 natural cynic
    November 26, 2008

    For those who want to understand the fate of non-auto transit in the US in the late ’40s [especially LA], see the subtext of Who Framed Roger Rabbit

  121. #121 cynickal
    November 26, 2008

    I agree.

    But it should be Mag-Lev trains.

  122. #122 Rey Fox
    November 26, 2008

    “That’s the kind of silly attitude which irritates me about the Left. Why should I, as a taxpayer, subsidise a form of transport that I don’t necessarily use?”

    Because it gets people off the roads that you DO use. Try to think of the bigger picture for a moment.

  123. #123 mayhempix
    November 26, 2008

    Posted by: Walton | November 26, 2008 2:03 PM
    “Please tell me you are not seriously suggesting that, say, JFK Airport would shut down if not for public funding.
    No airport should receive federal funding. The large international airports can easily survive as commercial businesses, since they get large numbers of passengers. And if a small third-rank city in the back-end of nowhere wants an airport, then they can damn well pay for it themselves. Why should federal taxpayers in New Jersey be forced to subsidise an airport in Boise, Idaho? What good does it do them?”

    Are you really that ignorant? Airports are owned and run by the states, cities or counties they live in including JFK which is owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. At least Google your facts before you write something so mind numbingly stupid. They would never have been built with purely private funds. They were all built with bonds and public money, including JFK. Also, airports don’t have passengers, planes do. Airports make their money from renting terminal space to airlines, concessions, parking and assorted ticket fees they have resorted to because the rightwing and NIMBYs have effectively campaigned against most upgrade bonds based on the everything government is bad.

    Federal funds are often used for radar and runway upgrades, all saftey issues that affect all passengers be they from Boise or New Jersey. Without FAA inspections, which the Bush administration grew dangerously lax in implementing because of politcal appointments favorable to the airlines, more planes would dropping from the skies.

    You have just made more of an ass of yourself than I thought was possible.

  124. #124 Lurkbot
    November 26, 2008

    People’s attitudes may finally be changing re mass transit. As someone pointed out above, in Seattle we finally, to my unutterable amazement, voted in the light rail system we could have voted in in the Forward Thrust election in 1969, and several times since.

    Of course, now it will cost many times as much and be paid for in the most regressive way imaginable (a .5% sales tax increase in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties), but we’re finally locking the barn door, too little, too late, better late than never. Or something.

  125. #125 Rey Fox
    November 26, 2008

    Lurkbot: What kind of mass transit? The monorail seems to have been killed.

  126. #126 Jadehawk
    November 26, 2008

    Bill, the only reason amtrak stops every 50 miles (and HAS to stop that often, trust me I know. I live in Minot, amtrak is my only lifeline to civilization AKA Minneapolis) is because it’s the ONLY train going there. if there was an extensive system, the Empire Builder could be a high-speed, long-distance train stopping on average only once per state (so for example Seattle, Spokane, Whitefish, Fargo, Minneapolis etc), while local trains connected the smaller towns on the route (and even some not at all on the amtrak line!) to the major hubs. that way, travel would be quicker on long-distance routes, while remaining the same on shorter distances.

    And generally, the more extensive a public transport system, the more people use it.

  127. #127 Jadehawk
    November 26, 2008

    the monorail in seattle was a project designed to fail. but they are building various useful light-rail lines now. I remember the Burien-Airport line being built while I was living there aobut a year or two ago, and I believent ehy wanted to extend that one into Downtown Seattle.

  128. #128 natural cynic
    November 26, 2008

    @69 Kevin

    I seem to recall that the glorious railroads of years past were built by profit-seeking capitalists. The pigs!

    It was government meddling through subsidized road-building that created the mess we are in today. Why does everyone think that more government meddling is the answer?

    IIRC, the railroads in the latter half of the 19th century western US were heavily subsidized by the government. The routes were through government lands and large land grants adjacent to their proposed routes, which they could then sell for a tidy profit. It wasn’t the railroads themselves that made the money for the RR barons, it was the essentially free land they got that could be developed. See Pacific Railway Acts

    @93 Walton:

    If a form of transport does not have enough passengers to survive commercially, it should die. Period. Anything else is an abuse of taxpayers’ money. And, of course, if it can survive commercially, there is no need for it to be run or subsidised by government.

    Probably the most important reason for government intervention is to realign the transport infrastructure before serious AGW occurs. How can a system that is always inclined towards immediate or hear-term profits work towards ameliorating a problem that will not become serious until 15-50 years in the future? Who, other than a few institutional investors, is going to invest in private 30 year bonds for transport infrastructure? The way I see it:
    2015… ho hum
    2025… ho hum
    2035… oh shit, how did we get into this mess, now we have to invest beaucoup trillion$$ to clean up this mess.

  129. #129 gort
    November 26, 2008

    Contrary to libertarian reconstructions of history, the construction of US railrods were heavily subsidized by federal land-grants: http://www.landgrant.org/history.html

    Also, 19th century laws and courts were, IMO, heavily biased towards guarding corporations, especially railrods, from liability.

  130. #130 Arnosium Upinarum
    November 26, 2008

    Okay by me. Just one condition: please PLEASE make it an efficient system that doesn’t treat people like cattle AND with major cross-country lines utilizing high-speed NON-STOP transits THAT DON’T STOP IN EVERY FRIGGIN’ TOWN WITH AT LEAST 3 CATS.

  131. #131 Jadehawk
    November 26, 2008

    Okay by me. Just one condition: please PLEASE make it an efficient system that doesn’t treat people like cattle AND with major cross-country lines utilizing high-speed NON-STOP transits THAT DON’T STOP IN EVERY FRIGGIN’ TOWN WITH AT LEAST 3 CATS.

    Minot has at least 4 cats. I counted. :-p

  132. #132 Wowbagger
    November 26, 2008

    Monorail.
    Monorail!
    MONORAIL!

    Well, it put Brockway, Ogdenville and North Haverbrook on the map.

  133. #133 Lurkbot
    November 26, 2008

    @ Rey Fox & Jadehawk
    Yes, the monorail is dead. (That was inside Seattle only, anyway.) They were only going to build one of the six branches to start with, and couldn’t get financing, because the lenders could tell it was just a stunt. Maybe if they’d tried to finance the whole system at once….

    The line to the airport and Kent and Auburn that’s almost finished is the first part of the light rail system that will now eventually run from Everett to Lakewood, south of Tacoma. We’re fortunate in that the whole corridor here is strung out north-to-south.

  134. #134 Jadehawk
    November 26, 2008

    gah. blockquote failure. and typos. i suck.

  135. #135 Tom Morris
    November 26, 2008

    I’m living here in the good old United Kingdom of Great Britain, and I rue the day Mr. Beeching sold of our railways. I currently live in Sussex countryside on the edge of suburbia, and commute to university in London. Once you could go from my tiny little hamlet straight to London without any changes.

    Public transport in Britain isn’t that bad. The way the government privatized the railways hasn’t been too much of a butchering. Each region is operated under a franchise and that franchise can be cancelled by the government if they don’t maintain high standards. A few years ago, this happened – a French company called Connex was running the south-central and south-east services, and they were so lousy the government pulled their contract and set up publicly-owned separate companies in their place. It’s not really a free market, but it does allow some innovation combined with a regulator who will smack the companies down if they fuck up.

    The problem with public transport will always be the last mile. Even out in the leafy suburbs, people still need to get to and from the station. Which means people will either need bus services or cars to do the last mile. And they are going to need the last mile service to be a lot more flexible. This will mean that new communities will have to spring up.

    Of course, all this would be a lot easier if we could spend more of our time telecommuting rather than real-commuting. Here’s hoping that the credit crunch and global warming will prompt a lot of employers into moving out of the city and having people collaborate online instead of wasting lots of energy and time travelling.

  136. #136 Vortmax
    November 26, 2008

    I would love to see an investment in rail infrastructure in this country. A network linking the major population centers with high-speed rail, and then smaller light-rail lines branching out to get the smaller population centers, would be ideal. I’m glad they’re finally looking into light-rail for my metro area, along with a bus system for my city.

    I see a few people saying that the reason it doesn’t exist now is that nobody will use it. Put very simply, it’s because Amtrak runs on freight rails, and so the passenger trains are constantly having to pull over and wait on the sidings so the freight trains can go through. If the government had invested in a passenger rail infrastructure when it took over Amtrak, so the trains could run on time and more frequently, I know I’d be using them much more often. Not to mention they’d now own the land needed to upgrade for a high-speed rail network.

  137. #137 Chronos
    November 26, 2008

    I recently visited Zürich, Switzerland on business. Oh. My. God. They need to start selling seminars to public officials in other countries on how to build a rail system. The Zürich tram system was everything SF Muni isn’t, and the S-bahn was leagues beyond anything that exists on US soil.

  138. #138 Jake
    November 26, 2008

    Posted by: Tom Morris | November 26, 2008 6:55 PM

    … Connex …

    I live in Melbourne, train usage is quite high here and the phrase ‘Connex apologises for any inconvenience caused.’ is one that is ingrained into the minds of every person who can hear, that has used the trains in Melbourne.

    That being said, we still have quite a wonderful system.

    In all honesty I think that the public transportation system in Melbourne is possibly one of the best in the world for getting anywhere. In Victoria (at least) one can get to pretty much every single town by one form of public transport or another. In the metropolitan (read: denser) areas, a Tram/Light Rail service covers all of the inner (and some outer) suburbs, and those that it doesn’t cover, are covered by busses or trains.

    The country towns are accessible by specific country train services, and for any that are still left out, they’re likely not on the map, or have a bus that runs through them.

    The Trains, while sometimes late and sometimes don’t run, for the most part are wonderful, especially the breadth that they cover.

    For a public transport system that, for all intents and purposes, works. Investigate the Melbourne system a bit.

  139. #139 Aquaria
    November 27, 2008

    I would definitely use public transportation if it would accommodate my weird working schedule. That’s the problem with public transport in a huge swath of America–it acts like everyone works M-F, 9-5.

  140. #140 RickrOll
    November 27, 2008

    Posted by: Enzyme #4:

    “Europe” clearly doesn’t include Britain. We dug up most of our small local railways yonks ago. It’s called PROGRESS.

    Besides: public transport means that you might have to sit next to someone smelly. Or boring. Or ugly. Or poor.
    —-+——

    The way the U.S economy is going, those differences will dissapear REAL QUICK lol.

    —-+—–

    Posted by: speedwell #40:

    Now, the market has to contend with the sort of petty politics that mired light rail in Atlanta while I lived there.

    ——+——–

    This is why i’m happy to live in a pretty forward thinking place like california. We just passed a prop that will increase California’s rail system considerably, and the BART is just fantastic! Tere may also be a reason why we voted on prop 8 there too lol (not me btw)- don’t wanna have to sit across from a gay guy that keeps winking at you on your trip from Sacramento to LA *shivers* hahaha.

    ——+———

    Posted by: watercat #59

    What about school buses? It seems to me a parallel system that exists everywhere (in US) to serve pretty much the same functions, idle half the time. Wouldn’t it be cost effective to integrate the school bus system somehow with public transport?

    ——+—–

    What Really irks me is why, for the love of Spaghetti Monster, don’t they hybrize the damn things! They are huged gas guzzlers, and that is why so many of them had to be decomitioned. Now that Gas has gone back down, they shouldv’e hybridized them and taken them back. Would haelp them out in the long run. or is no one going to be that good to our already shitty school system? Again, if politicians had thier head out of their ass (yes they are an asshat collectivly), they would have thought of thic before cities did and saved themselves a great deal of trouble in that regard. Wasteful.

    In addition, it is times like these that building infrastructure makes the most sense (the greatest such period was in the Great Depression), offering jobs, incresing the effeciency of the flow of goods/ people to and fro (something desperately needed), and so on. It is the kind of thing that makes sense, rather than merely increase debt as Bush’s policies loved to do(1. cut taxes 2. spend 3. spend. 4,->1). Of course i’m being fairly inconsiderate to those who drive trucks or build cars for a living, but hey, with better transcontinetal/ intercity rail systemsm they couls move the fuck out of Detriot and go where the work is! That’s how my grandparents came to be in Spokane, Wshington (Cooly Dam), and why my family lives in Ca (my dad is a paint contracter). Follow the money!

  141. #141 RickrOll
    November 27, 2008

    Jake #138:

    “‘Connex apologises for any inconvenience caused.’”

    Lol, no fucking way! Is that really what inspired God’s final message to His creation?! “We apologize for the inconveniance.” ROFL

  142. #142 Peter Ashby
    November 27, 2008

    Walton your comments would have more force if you were not obviously ignorant about the subsidies, many of the hidden, that prop up road transport in the UK (and air to a certain extent too). The rail companies have to pay the full cost of running on the rails. The truck and bus companies do not pay anywhere near the cost of their running on the public roads.

    We can argue about whether those subsidies are necessary or a good thing, but the fact remains that rail in the UK has been dogged by being forced to compete on an uneven playing field. Are you going to stand by your libertarian principles and demand that road users’ subsidies are cut?

  143. #143 negentropyeater
    November 27, 2008

    SfO,

    I grew up in the Bay Area so I know we voted down a measure to build that railway. We also voted down building a train that ran from Santa Rosa, down the 101 freeway and into Marin. We voted up a widening of 101 for more cars.
    While I disagree with both of these votes, the option of spending tax dollars to build a system few will use is pretty ludicrous, and the notion of using the Federal Government to force this system on people who don’t want it is obviously flawed. We would have that system if people wanted it.

    Apparently proposition 1A, or the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, has just been approved on the Nov. ballot.

    So now people want it, when before they didn’t.
    You see, in France, Govt started pushing high speed rail more than 20 years ago. If we had asked the people to vote, it would have been postponed empty number of times, like in California. Same with much stricter emission standards, smaller cars that consume far less, nuclear power stations, high taxes on oil, etc…
    The net result of all this ? Well today France is the western country which is the less dependent on oil in the world. We have by far the most efficient railway system in the world together with Japan, and we have the lowest electricity cost. And we consume per capita one third of the oil of what Americans consume, for roughly the same GDP output.
    Ah, but we should have asked “the people”, they know best ! Because everybody knows “the people” are best known for their strategic vision.

  144. #144 Walton
    November 27, 2008

    The truck and bus companies do not pay anywhere near the cost of their running on the public roads… Are you going to stand by your libertarian principles and demand that road users’ subsidies are cut?

    Erm, in the UK the truck and bus companies, along with all other vehicle users, pay massive excise duties on fuel, meaning that road users more than pay for themselves.

  145. #145 negentropyeater
    November 27, 2008

    BTW, to all libertarians hanging around here, you should read this open letter to the President.

    No, it’s not from Chuck Norris this time, it’s from the greatest economist of the day :

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2008/nov/25/john-maynard-keynes-us-advice

  146. #146 Walton
    November 27, 2008

    negentropyeater at #145:

    Application of Keynes’ theories led to widespread disaster in the 1970s. Keynesianism ought to be thoroughly rejected. Just because we’re experiencing a little temporary blip (which is mainly to do with bad monetary policy decisions and other government errors) is no reason to reject capitalism.

    The greatest economist of the modern era was Milton Friedman; it’s regrettable that he passed away in 2006 (though I doubt Obama would have listened to him anyway).

  147. #147 negentropyeater
    November 27, 2008

    Walton,

    Erm, in the UK the truck and bus companies, along with all other vehicle users, pay massive excise duties on fuel, meaning that road users more than pay for themselves.

    Have you made the calculation, or this just your assumption ? Did you also include polution costs, CO2 emmisions, health and safety costs, depletion and opportunty costs (because we’re dealng with a fixed amount of total resource, every liter consumed now increases the future price of oil, the net present value also needs to be factored in…)…etc.

    Show me the money !

  148. #148 John Morales
    November 27, 2008

    negentropyeater, you’re just waiting for Walton to say “show me your numbers for #343″, aren’t ya? ;)

  149. #149 negentropyeater
    November 27, 2008

    Walton,

    Application of Keynes’ theories led to widespread disaster in the 1970s.

    Which one ?

    Just because we’re experiencing a little temporary blip

    little temporary blip ?
    Now I understand why you are so blindfolded.

    which is mainly to do with bad monetary policy decisions and other government errors

    which is mainly due to Reaganomics and Thatcherism, or Milton Friedman’s ideas that one could build fake prosperity on riding on the development of the financial and real estate sector, via a phenomenal credit bubble of about $30 trillion fueled with deregulation of the credit instruments in the shadow banking system.

    $30 trillion, little blip ? You’re going to see how long it’s going to take to resorb and how hard it’s going to affect particularly the American and British economies.
    Think 10 to 15 years of negative or zero growth.
    The Japanese lost decade scenario is the Best case scenario ! The great depression is worst case, if Govt wait too long to implement sufficiant Keynesian stimulus packages.

    You really are either dreaming, or you haven’t understood a iota of what really happened.

  150. #150 clinteas
    November 27, 2008

    Jake @ 138,

    That being said, we still have quite a wonderful system.

    Mate,I dont know what train youre using,but i lived in St Kilda for 3 years and took the train and tram to get to my workplace in the SE Subs,and I was late about half of the time…
    Are the train and tram services covering Victoria pretty well? Yeah,no doubt….Are they broken or late or fucked half the time,and pretty expensive? Most certainly !

  151. #151 negentropyeater
    November 27, 2008

    John,

    you’re just waiting for Walton to say “show me your numbers for #343″, aren’t ya? ;)

    You mean #147 ? Don’t know haven’t seen the calculation done. But it’s Walton who made the blatant affirmation first, so he probably has the calculation somewhere ;-)

  152. #152 John Morales
    November 27, 2008

    negentropyeater, I meant #143, because it preceded his, and did have affirmations. A typo, obviously.

  153. #153 Markus
    November 27, 2008

    I live in Switzerland where we have trains running from any city to any other city at least every half hour and mostly on time (but trafic is so dense that a small glitch can cause delays on the whole system.) With the new timetable there will be 6 trains per hour between Geneva and Lausanne during rush hours.

    I have to say that my recent UK experience was not that bad if anecdotical. Went from London to Cardiff and back in a comfortable and fast train. At 80 pounds it was a bit expensive but less so than Switzerland. 24 pounds to go and 56 to come back was a bit strange though.

  154. #154 negentropyeater
    November 27, 2008

    btw Walton, here’s a clear sign that this is not just a “little temporary blip” :

    You know times are tough when the rich start cutting costs on their mistresses.

    According to a new survey by Prince & Assoc., more than 80% of multimillionaires who had extra-marital lovers planned to cut back on their gifts and allowances.

    http://blogs.wsj.com/wealth/2008/11/18/rich-cut-back-on-payments-to-mistresses/

  155. #155 Valhar2000
    November 27, 2008

    The high speed train line from Madrid to Sevilla here in Spain is profitable and in great demand, as far as I know. In large part, this is because it costs the same or less as an airplane but does not require waiting 2 hours in the station, and it take less than half the time a car ride would take to get there.

    The high-speed line from Toledo to Madrid is cheap enough that many people now have monthly passes for it and use it to commute to Madrid and back! And it takes 1/3 of the time…

    I dare say that a high speed train connecting large urban areas might work well in the US, for these reasons. Attempting to rein in the suburbs will be a much larger undertaking; it shoudl be left for later.

  156. #156 Scott from Oregon
    November 27, 2008

    “””Apparently proposition 1A, or the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, has just been approved on the Nov. ballot.

    So now people want it, when before they didn’t. “””

    Good. The market has spoken. Had it been built twenty years ago, the system would have languished and sucked money away from other enterprises, like California’s education system, which was cheap and quite good back then.

    “””BTW, to all libertarians hanging around here, you should read this open letter to the President.

    No, it’s not from Chuck Norris this time, it’s from the greatest economist of the day :”””

    Ummm, different circumstances. Back in 33, we weren’t the biggest debtors in the world with out debt held mostly in T-Bills, and back then we had the foundation (think Ford) of the world’s greatest manufacturing base.

    No longer the situation. We have very little means to create wealth anymore. There is no money to spend. There is a printing press and a world who cannot afford to loan us any more money…

    Spending huge amounts of cash on a railroad project designed by Washington so that Americans can talk about the cool railroad nobody uses that loses money daily while we are broke is ignorance of the highest order.

    “””Reaganomics and Thatcherism, or Milton Friedman’s ideas that one could build fake prosperity on riding on the development of the financial and real estate sector, via a phenomenal credit bubble of about $30 trillion fueled with deregulation of the credit instruments in the shadow banking system.”””

    Ummm, actually, you’re wrong. If you want to see the source of the problem (not the only source, but an accurate display of just how things got screwed up) here is a nice clip showing how government can have good intentions but screw up royally–

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MGT_cSi7Rs&NR=1

    As for the “shadow” industry, the government is supposed to prosecute fraud. Major fraud was perpetrated. Where are the perp walks?

    http://finance.yahoo.com/tech-ticker/article/133224/Former-Regulator-Clear-Fraud-in-Financial-Crisis—-Why-Isn%27t-Anyone-in-Jail?

  157. #157 negentropyeater
    November 27, 2008

    SfO,

    Had it been built twenty years ago, the system would have languished and sucked money away from other enterprises

    Why ?

    We have very little means to create wealth anymore.

    At every moment in history, in the first century, the 17th or the 21st there have always been people to make this assumption. Sure, wealth won’t be created with exotic paper financial instruments and real estate bubbles, but who are you to say that human progress has come to an end ? Biotechnologies, new energies, new forms of energy efficient transport, space exploration and maybe explotation etc…

    Spending huge amounts of cash on a railroad project designed by Washington so that Americans can talk about the cool railroad nobody uses that loses money daily while we are broke is ignorance of the highest order.

    First, not designed by Washington, but by engineering companies. Second, why do you assume nobody will use it ?
    The high speed tran TGV in France between Paris Lyon Marseille has been in operation for almost 20 years and has taken over plane travel between these cities. The Eurostar between London and Paris the same. These are highly succesful and profitable ventures over the long term and reduce dependency on oil. Users find it very convenient, comfortable, safe, fast, and affordable.
    You have preconceived ideas that are typical of those who block all forms of progress.
    I’d advise you first study the subject, try a ride on the TGV and then talk.

    Ummm, actually, you’re wrong. If you want to see the source of the problem (not the only source, but an accurate display of just how things got screwed up) here is a nice clip showing how government can have good intentions but screw up royally

    If you don’t understand what I write, just say so, but don’t say “I’m wrong” and then link me to a video which shows just one of the elements of what I just wrote about.
    It does tend to give the impression that you are an economic illiterate.

    And the shadow banking system was not fraudulent, it was authorised and cautionned by the current legislation and the libertarian wave of deregulation that prevailed since the dogma of economic freedom was the only one that was tolerated (amongst others the fantastically crazy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commodity_Futures_Modernization_Act_of_2000
    that enabled the phenomenal growth of the CDS market and caused a huge chunk of the losses of the financial institutions that will now have to be paid by the American tax payers).

    You don’t seem to understand, everybody in America wanted hyper-growth of the economy, and the easiest way to get this was to inflate a credit bubble. For that you needed people to consume the credit and inject it back in the real economy. It had two man recycling engines, real estate, and the shadow banking system. And it worked for many years, the USA had very good GDP growth rates, much better than Europe or Japan. But it was all artificial, fake prosperity based on easy credit.
    The subprime mortgages were just a tiny part of the whole credt bubble. What financial institutions did with their off balance sheet operations and the shadow banking system in CDSs and other derivatives are orders of magnitude bigger.

  158. #158 Scott from Oregon
    November 27, 2008

    “””It had two man recycling engines, real estate, and the shadow banking system. And it worked for many years, the USA had very good GDP growth rates, much better than Europe or Japan. But it was all artificial, fake prosperity based on easy credit.
    The subprime mortgages were just a tiny part of the whole credt bubble. What financial institutions did with their off balance sheet operations and the shadow banking system in CDSs and other derivatives are orders of magnitude bigger.”””

    Yep. You’re right. But that link you provided just makes my point for me. Having a Federal Government with a behind closed doors Federal Reserve trying to manipulate basic and honest markets is immoral and a recipe for disaster. The term “honest money” is lost on institutions that scam the system by buying legislation in Washington. Trying to give this entity more power to fix the system that is demonstrably broken makes no logical sense. You are trying to claim the libertarian vision was wrong when it was plainly NOT their vision that was implemented. The moment you mention Greenspan and Bernanke, you have leapt onto another playing field.

    “Everybody wanted hyper-growth” is incorrect. Washington wanted growth when a recession was untimely due to the attacks on 9-11 and an off the books war, and manipulated the monetary policy accordingly.

    My economic literacy is low, I fully admit. I see things in as simple a form as I can to understand basic structure problems. I think the conversation is important to have. Monetary policy IS demonstrating itself to be important by the weight of the situation. America IS indeed broke. We have shipped away our factories and have over-shifted into what everyone calls a service economy, and I call a golf course economy. Asia is our producer of our golf clubs and golf bags and disposable Tee’s. We keep losing our balls and they keep sending us balls that they made for us, so that they can have our paper, which we are rendering worthless by printing and borrowing.

    The game is over. Time to get back to work.

  159. #159 negentropyeater
    November 27, 2008

    SfO,

    they didn’t “manipulate the monetary policy accordingly”. They simply gave people more economic freedom.
    Then people don’t save, they consume and spend all they earn, they don’t invest for the long term, and because the paper value of the assets they bought with easy credit is always going up, they forget about the risks.

    Here, read this long but extremely good article (one of the best I’ve found on the web) that describes the great consumer crash :

    http://www.prudentbear.com/index.php/commentary/guestcommentary?art_id=10098

  160. #160 Scott from Oregon
    November 27, 2008

    “”they didn’t “manipulate the monetary policy accordingly”. They simply gave people more economic freedom.
    Then people don’t save, they consume and spend all they earn, they don’t invest for the long term, and because the paper value of the assets they bought with easy credit is always going up, they forget about the risks.”””

    When you make it more beneficial to borrow than to save, by holding interests rates down below what the market dictates, you are manipulating monetary policy and you are manipulating people’s behavior. It is no secret Greenspan held interest rates low while the government promoted fudging loans. Heck, even a dumbass like me could see what was happening, jumped in, took advanage, and jumped back out and retired.

    I never would have acted that way if Greenspan hadn’t stacked the deck in favor of borrowing and spending. Trust me, I didn’t “make” anything to earn the money I made, I simple did the logical thing.

    I have friends who dumped good careers (like engineering) to flip houses, and are now learning how to fill out bankruptcy forms.

    The derivitives that formed on top of this bubble was ALL fraud. You can’t package a loan that was fraudulently applied for and sold, and call it a non-fraudulent loan and then sell it. That’s fraud. It is the chore of the government to prosecute fraud, but instead, they are paying off those who commited fraud with money they are taking from honest folks.

    That’s “big government” at work.

    Eww.

  161. #161 Rev. BigDumbChimp, KoT, OM
    November 27, 2008

    Scott

    [blockquote]….[/blockquote]

    replace [ ] with greater than / less than

  162. #162 Scott from Oregon
    November 27, 2008

    “”First, not designed by Washington, but by engineering companies. Second, why do you assume nobody will use it ?””

    Because our society isn’t mass transit friendly. Once you go from San Fran to LA by train, you have to rent a car. So why not just drive your car and have it for your time in LA?

    I can see it being effective on the East coast, where populations are denser, but not anywhere over the Mississippi to the West. So then the question, why should Californians foot the bill for an East coast railway?

    Freight lines already exist east/west and they are under-utilized because you have to then transfer the goods onto a truck to deliver them, and that delivery is often half the distance north/south than the train trip. Why not drive the diagonal instead? Less time, not much more expensive…

    Being a tree hugger, I appreciate the thought of railroads replacing cars. But knowing America and Americans, we aren’t ready to use a system just because its good for the world. Putting one in place when the country is broke is an even worse idea.

  163. #163 uncle frogy
    November 28, 2008

    reading on and off on thursday and not getting to the end to post I have to say.
    there are two train systems, passenger and freight.
    The increase in fuel costs will drive even more freight traffic to rail which is doing well. I live near the Los Angeles and Long Beach Harbors a few years ago they finished modernization which mostly included new rail lines to all the births and a complete rebuilding of the connecting lines to the major switching yard inland.
    For CO2 reduction rail freight is doing its part and not to be discounted in importance. I do live in the amazing “L.A.basin” passenger rail is minimal and bus service is ponderous. It all suffers from sprawl that is further than the eye can see where there are very few concentrated point destinations. The few that do exist tend to be fed more like the hub of a wheel then any other way, it’s a city that shaped itself by and for automobile traffic.
    It feels like a hopeless condition with no easy solutions forth coming.
    There is some growth in inter city light rail but the city is choking on “freeways and auto traffic”
    The only good thing really is the increased freight rail’s reduction in truck traffic. I do hope there is some improvements that I can use some time before I’m dead!

  164. #164 negentropyeater
    November 28, 2008

    SfO,

    your description of what happened @160 is partly correct, but your conclusion is not.
    First, in a FIAT currency there is no market mechanism to dictate the base rate, so the notion that the fed held rates below what the market would dictate doesn’t make sense.
    Second, what you describe is exactly what happens when a government gives more economic freedom to the people and abandons its duty to regulate and tamper the hyper-growth that will necessary occur when it opens up the valve and deregulates the instruments of consumption of credit, ie gives more degrees of freedom to all agents to consume the available sources of funds. In other words, it’s not “big government at work”, but exactly the opposite.
    Typical examples of this libertarian dogma of economic freedom at work :
    - in a sane economy, you impose a minimum debt/equity requirement. In a libertarian utopia, you want to give maximum freedom so you don’t.
    - in a sane econmy, you do not authorize the kind of chains of CDS contracts (legalized gambling) because they are far too risky. In a libertarian utopia, you want to give maximum freedom so you let people do what they want.
    When you believe in Adam Smith’s dogma of the invisible hand, that is in a free market economy the individual pursuing his own self-interest tends to also promote the good of the community of the whole, that’s what happens.

  165. #165 negentropyeater
    November 28, 2008

    SfO,

    Because our society isn’t mass transit friendly. Once you go from San Fran to LA by train, you have to rent a car. So why not just drive your car and have it for your time in LA?

    And Americans don’t fly ?

  166. #166 Scott from Oregon
    November 28, 2008

    “”First, in a FIAT currency there is no market mechanism to dictate the base rate, so the notion that the fed held rates below what the market would dictate doesn’t make sense.””

    Which is why fiat currency is anathema to a libertarian ideal. Once you don’t have “honest money”, you don’t have a free market. Which is why I continue to say you are wrong. You accept the monetary system as given, and then expect the rules to be applied over the top of a system that starts out fundamentally flawed in the eyes of free market folks. Then when the flawed system breaks, you blame the free market for the break and not the fiat system, which is big government (and unelected) and the source of the break.

    It was the markets that broke the system, and for good reason. The debate now should start at monetary policy. The rest of the world is having that debate internally, seeing the US for what it has become- a country who has benefitted greatly by the fiat US-dollar-backed world economy, but who took the privalege and abused it by borrowing and consuming more than it could afford to pay back.

    Russian is looking at founding its own currency to trade its oil, setting up new exchanges, China is thinking hard about its relationship with the US and all of the dollars it thought it wanted, the Mid East is talking to the Chinese and the Russians, and the US wants to borrow and print more dollars to “fix” its broken too big to fail companies…

    Weeeeee….

  167. #167 zilch
    November 28, 2008

    I agree that we need a mixture of capitalism and socialism. But the mixture in the US now is tending towards laissez-faire capitalism for the poor, and corporate socialism for the rich. Unfortunately, free markets don’t tend to deal well with long-term problems, and the destruction of the environment is a long-term problem.

    I live in Vienna, and I don’t have a car. I grew up in the Bay Area, and while I use BART and am glad it was built, it cannot be compared to the real public transportation systems any large European city has. The difference in quality of life this makes cannot be appreciated if you don’t experience it.

    Tom, #135-

    The problem with public transport will always be the last mile.

    I hope you are speaking figuratively. I walk a couple of miles a day- a mile takes about a quarter of an hour. When I’m staying at my parents’ house in El Cerrito, CA, and walk six blocks to the local Safeway, the sidewalks are deserted. Everyone drives their cars everywhere. Kids don’t walk to school. They don’t even play outside. And they’re fat. What kind of life is that?

    Life is not perfect here by any means. The Viennese drive me up the wall sometimes. But we do have good public transportation, and we do consume about half the oil that America does, per capita. It’s a start.

  168. #168 negentropyeater
    November 29, 2008

    SfO,

    please stop with this nonsense of believing those who tell you that monetary policy is the source of all our miseries. Do yourself some good, study a bit more the subject and you’ll see, monetarism is long discredited by the vast majority of living top economists, there are so many obvious counter-arguments.
    Just to start with one, the Bank of England and the Fed held SUBSTANTIALLY different monetary policies during the last decade, however the real estate bubble and asset bubble were extremely similar in both countries.
    Low interest rates are certanly NOT the prime cause of asset bubbles, otherwise we should have had a bubble in the 1950s, when interest rates were the lowest of the past century :
    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/6f/IE_Real_SandP_Prices%2C_Earnings%2C_and_Dividends_1871-2006.png

    It’s not by making simplistic assumptions like the ones you are making that one is going to solve this crisis and avoid the ones to come. You should learn more about behavioral economics, and understand better the impact of what happens when monoideological group-think and over-confidence takes over the markets. That’s the prime cause of these bubbles, and unless we learn how to counter this kind of phenomenon and are willing to regulate, free-market capitalism will continue to produce them. The longer we wait, the bigger they become, and when they burst, the more damage they cause.

  169. #169 Scott from Oregon
    November 29, 2008

    “””You should learn more about behavioral economics, and understand better the impact of what happens when monoideological group-think and over-confidence takes over the markets. That’s the prime cause of these bubbles, and unless we learn how to counter this kind of phenomenon and are willing to regulate…”””

    So NOW you want to regulate human behavior? You want to somehow regulate monoideological group-think? And just WHO are you going to give the perogative to to dictate which behavior you are allowed to partake in? What kind of a masochist chooses to give another that kind of control? That is called “fascism”, and is prevailent in China- that country people picket about all over the world because it does not grant its citizens’ rights and freedom…

    When the money supply is sound and limited, interest rates rise when the supply gets scarce, putting a limit on these bubbles. Bubbles pop on their own, are smaller, and become part of the ebb and flow of things.

    When money is easily printed, the tempation to print is too great and you get way too much money flooding the system, and an elite class forms that can use the system to sell ponzi schemes…

    The UK’s asset bubble was fed with US dollars as were so many other nations. That’s what people need to get. The dollar has burned a lot of foreign countries. We rely on their buying US dollars to keep inflation down here while we print money like mad…

    Tipping point?

The site is undergoing maintenance presently. Commenting has been disabled. Please check back later!