The market has spoken.

Saturday, May 10th, 2008 @ 1:18 pm | Energy, Ethanol, Iowa, Peak Oil

Here at Iowa Liberal we’ve spilled a lot of ink bemoaning the ethanol boondoggle and contended that mass transit is a better idea than expecting consumers to wait around for whatever combination of miracle alternative fuels that will allow them to carry on driving Ford Expeditions and GMC Yukons. And we’ve never said that these alternatives won’t exist, just that they’re not scalable to the point of providing a viable replacement for gasoline. Metro commuters seem to agree:

Mass transit systems around the country are seeing standing-room-only crowds on bus lines where seats were once easy to come by. Parking lots at many bus and light rail stations are suddenly overflowing, with commuters in some towns risking a ticket or tow by parking on nearby grassy areas and in vacant lots.

“In almost every transit system I talk to, we’re seeing very high rates of growth the last few months,” said William W. Millar, president of the American Public Transportation Association.

“It’s very clear that a significant portion of the increase in transit use is directly caused by people who are looking for alternatives to paying $3.50 a gallon for gas.”

Some cities with long-established public transit systems, like New York and Boston, have seen increases in ridership of 5 percent or more so far this year. But the biggest surges — of 10 to 15 percent or more over last year — are occurring in many metropolitan areas in the South and West where the driving culture is strongest and bus and rail lines are more limited.

Hopefully we wont have to wait until gas is six or seven dollars a gallon before state and local leaders start looking into light passenger rail service along I-80 or I-380. Regardless of those who are pathologically opposed to anything resembling mass transit it’s inevitable that pubic demand will bring these alternatives to the fore simply because it’s more economically feasible than waiting for electric cars (which would necessitate a massive overhaul of the electric grid, the costs of which would invariably be shifted onto taxpayers) or E85 ethanol which, even in it’s infancy, is proving to be a massive disappointment.


15 Responses to “The market has spoken.”

  1. Jldmeyer Says:

    Now would be the best time to push a mass-transit service along I-380. The road is an utter mess and the cost to truly repair it, not just pour asphalt over the top of it, is going to be huge. The idea was only presented when gas was under $3. What will public opinion be in 3 weeks when it passes $4? Public transit isn’t going to sound so bad.

  2. I love IC Says:

    There’s a feasibility study regarding the rehabilitation of the light rail line between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City and one of the more interesting facts that stood out was that the construction of an additional lane on 380 would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $160 million. The rail system, on the other hand, would cost around $60 million. Which is still a lot of money but a difference of $100 million is a rather stark contrast considering that rail projects are always portrayed as boondoggles and union give-aways while on the other hand we’re supposed to believe that paving contractors are run by penny-pinching choir boys.

    I really can’t admit to knowing what drives the anti-mass transit crowd but I do know that they will complain regardless of public opinion or commercial necessity. The North-South line in Minneapolis is a perfect example. That project was met with opposition at every turn and it has since become a resounding success. Now that city planners have suggested a line between the East and West suburbs the same people are regurgitating the same complaints; no one is interested in taking the train and besides, it’s just some sort of fiscal shuck-and-jive perpetrated by greedy politicians who are looking to grease the unions or whomever.

    The problem is that mass transit detractors only take into account the price of transport RIGHT NOW. They’re only thinking about how much it costs to fill their tank TODAY, let alone next week, next month, or next year.

  3. mike g Says:

    Anti-mass transit fanatics also believe that some hypothetical “they” will “come up with something” that will allow them to commute in Ford F350s forever whether it be soy diesel hybrids, ethanol, electric cars, etc. Basically, there are no other solutions besides insisting that the cars must roll on at all costs!!!

  4. Thomas Tallis Says:

    the NYC subway began as a private enterprise, and once its practical uses were clear, it thrived – then when the city wanted to spend money on it, it had public support behind it. Getting public support for something whose uses are theoretical (even when it’s blindingly obvious that they’d also be practical) is rough going – whole campaigns are built around “my opponent wants to spend your money on some magic light-rail beans!” etc. I’m afraid conservatives are correct on this one: private enterprise has to drive an idea like this, at least at first. People will pay twenty dollars a gallon before they’ll actually think “maybe we should try something new” – everybody is from Missouri with new stuff, you have to show ’em.

  5. mike g Says:

    Private enterprise did a spectacular job with the subway system in LA!

  6. Thomas Tallis Says:

    a publicly-funded subway wouldn’t have done so good out there either – the problem w/SoCal is the culture: people just wanna drive, the whole place was built around that idea. There’s really nothing wrong with the bus system out there, but only people without cars wanna use it, because if you have a car in southern California, you’re gonna drive it.

    beyond that though the failure of the L.A. effort doesn’t really offset/cancel out the riotous success of the NYC one

  7. mike g Says:

    What? The city built the lines in NY and leased them out for the private companies to operate. And LA did have a pubicly funded system until it was privatized and sold off to Firestone and Standard Oil who then quickly moth-balled it so they could sell more tires and gasoline.

    Most mass transit systems are public/private ventures and I don’t think I lead on that I was averse to this scenario in my original post. Mass transit systems, because of their size and complexity, require the type of intensive start-up capital that private companies are not able to provide and since it’s a civic concern it’s the duty of state and local governments to provide incentives to get these projects started and completed.

  8. Thomas Tallis Says:

    The Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT) subway opened in 1904. The city contracted construction of the line to the IRT Company, ownership was always held by the city. The IRT built, equipped, and operated the line under a lease from the city.

    IRT built the lines. NYC owned them and took in revenue, that’s my understanding. The City did start building its own lines in 1913.

  9. Thomas Tallis Says:

    As I say though, this is where I’m an unabashed conservative. # of public officials I trust to get public transit right = zero. I don’t trust people who hold public office, especially local city people (the history of Chicago public transit is filled with riotous city invovement – mob-owned stops that opened and closed randomly, etc). Private companies can conceivably get things done right if doing things well and profit can be made to coincide.

    Put it this way about L.A.: private enterprise got a dysfunctional train line running. Left to the City, there’d be no train at all.

  10. jeromy Says:

    Testimonial: Mah woman started taking the bus to work this month. $64 for a month pass on the trolley/bus system, vs. $100 a week to fill up her shitty Ford Explorer…the math became inescapable.

  11. mike Says:

    History of the LA fixed-rail system:

  12. mike Says:

    History of the LA subway system:

  13. Bob Moffitt Says:

    The Market talks at the Norwalk Kum & Go:

    Cheaper E85 leads to lines at Norwalk store

    Norwalk, Ia. – The vehicle models were newer, but otherwise the scene Thursday at the Kum & Go convenience store in Norwalk could have been taken from 1978, when oil shortages caused the first lines at gas stations Americans had seen since World War II.

    There was no gas shortage Thursday, but motorists waited in line for an hour or more to buy E85 fuel offered for $1.60 per gallon.

  14. rico Says:

    The rub is that they waited that long with their motors running, burning the $3.45 per gallon fuel already in their tank.

  15. mike g Says:

    E85 is cheaper only because it’s enormously subsidized with tax dollars. Take away the subsidy and it’s more expensive than convention fuels. It’s also a net energy loser because of the massive fossil fuel inputs required to cultivate, plant, harvest, and refine the crops used for ethanol distillation.

    People enjoy all sorts of things they can’t afford. So what’s the point?

    We also don’t have the fresh water resources to acheive any meaningful levels of production.

    It’s terrible for the environment in the long-run.

    And it’s destroying the Gulf.

    The list goes on. It’s important that we don’t approach climate change and energy issues like we do politics. When science is involved you don’t do anyone any favors by starting with an agenda and then going out and looking for evidence to support it. In the case of ethanol, Midwestern politicians saw a chance to replace Exxon with Cargill and went hunting for earmarks. And who can blame them? That’s their job! But the numbers just don’t pan out, folks. We’re not going to produce the twenty million gallons of gasoline a day it’s going to take to run this country with fossil fuel intense, industrial scale farming. What the ethanol advocates are promoting is a perpetual motion scheme. Unfortunately, all it will result in is burning up the last five inches of top soil in our gas tanks.