The Rail Transit Debacle

The Anti-Planner links an absolutely scathing article in the Miami Herald on the absolute disaster they have made of their mass transit system.  This is a great summary:

Miami is just one more example of the points the Antiplanner keeps making about rail transit:

1. Transit agencies might run excellent bus systems. But when they
start building rail, they quickly get in over their heads by optimistic
forecasts, unforeseen costs, and the sheer humongous expense of
building dedicated transit lines.

2. Though all rail systems require periodic expensive maintenance,
few transit agencies set aside any money for this because it is easier
to spend the money now and let future managers worry about the future.

3. Though the rail systems are usually built to serve downtown
white-collar workers, in the end it is the transit-dependent people who
rely on buses who pay the cost.

4. There is only one thing rails can do that buses can't do better,
faster, and more flexibly, and that is spend a lot of your money.

I would like to observe one other thing at work in the Miami example that looks to be exactly what we are facing here in Phoenix in the next election.  Miami offered up a transit tax referendum for something like $800 million.  They promised a mix of highway improvements and rail.  In several cases, including the upcoming referendum in Phoenix, I have tried to warn people that the people who put these referendums together are rail-ophiles.  They have learned, however, that rail alone won't sell a bond issue or tax, so they throw in a bunch of highway improvement promises, which people really will pay for, as window dressing.  Often, however, these improvements never get done, as they are empty promises to sell the tax.  We see exactly this in Miami:

But five years and more than $800 million later, the county has spent more
than half the new money on routine Transit operations and maintenance while adding 1,000
jobs to the payroll.

   There were initial achievements. The county added 11 million miles of bus service, gave
free rides to seniors, and briefly experimented with 24-hour rail. It spent $40 million on
hundreds of tiny public-works projects....

   For example, here is the cost estimate that was attached to the 44 road projects that
county commissioners asked for: $0. The projects have since been estimated to cost
$428.2 million.

   Nor was any money earmarked for an unspecified number of flyover intersections on the
list of promised improvements. Such projects, which involve raising an existing road to
pass over another, cost as much as $18 million apiece today. None have been built.

So this tax was sold in part as a highway improvement tax, but $0 was actually budgeted.  The highway piece was a lie to sell the tax.  Beware Phoenicians.

  • Bob S

    I taught civil engineering for 37 years. Virtually every transportation engineer I ever met despised rail rapid transit because of its cost, low ridership, inflexibility, inconvenience to riders, and in many cities danger to riders from gangs. On the other other, city and region planners love rail. Buses have every advantage possible over rail, except, again, in some cities threats to riders from street gangs.

  • http://www.listentothefranchise.com David

    I can think of a significant advantage of rail: reliability of schedule. In my city (DC), we have a big problem with bus clustering and busses getting stuck in traffic or detoured around construction events in non-deterministic ways. This is a substantial issue when it comes to folks who use transit systems to get to inflexible things like jobs or doctor's appointments - there's only so many times "the bus was late" works before you get fired, or the overall travel time becomes intolerable.

    I am an engineer, and I regularly drive, take the bus, and take the subway (I prefer the bus, because there is no subway station within a mile of my house).

    A lot of city groups are completely stupid when it comes to correctly estimating the cost of delivering a service - this is partially driven by a low-bid mentality: saving a nickel on every bus even though it makes it cost $500 more in gas every year.

    In my opinion, a transit system should be a service provided by the city - one which isn't expected to directly cover all of its costs - much as a park is something which improves quality of life for the residents of an area, a good transit system does too. The idea that it can pay for itself is idiotic - at best the fares should be considered partial cost offsets. I blame dishonest municipal officials for promulgating the idea that this comes for free.

  • John Dewey

    David,

    Do you suppose that DC bus transit is unreliable relative to DC rail transit because tens of billions have been invested in rail transit?

    In Dallas, express buses use HOV lanes, which solves most of the traffic problems. Had Dallas not spent $4 billion (so far) on light rail, even more bus-oriented and HOV roadways could have been built.

    I disagree with your assertion that a transit system cannot pay for itself - or at least pay for far more than current transit systems are paying. I do not understand why you believe all citizens should pay for a transit system used by a small portion of commuters.

  • Dan

    John:

    Let me take the other side of the argument: Why should I pay taxes for highway improvements when I take the train to work?

  • Yoshidad

    There's a lot to untangle in the rail v. bus debate. First, here are some rules of thumb about costs for transit systems:
    - Heavy rail (BART, subways, etc.) costs 10 times what light rail costs
    - Light rail costs 10 times what bus systems cost, even when the buses have dedicated busways (Bus Rapid Transit)
    - Buses are clearly the winners when it comes to cheap installations, but lose ground when passenger loads are high. Buses typically carry 40 - 80 passengers, so if you need to carry more, you'll need to hire more drivers, so in the long run, driver salaries make light rail cheaper, or so they'll tell you.

    ...And those rules of thumb apply unless you have imaginative, intelligent government, like Curitiba Brazil. Curitiba worked with Volvo to design a multi-section "accordion" bus that carries 270 passengers to deal with the driver salary issue.

    Public v. private isn't really germane, either. In Curitiba, the government owns the stops and controls fares, but the buses are privately owned. The Curitiba transit system makes money (it is not subsidized), and has increasing ridership even though per-capita auto ownership is also increasing. Not even the Europeans can make this claim.

    Of course Curitiba has real land-use planning, and tailors that planning to their transit system, so riders can get to the stops easily. At least half the problem with any discussion of transit is that such discussions completely ignore land use. How are riders going to get to stops if, as is typical in sprawl development, the barriers to pedestrians comfortably walking there are high? Scaling berms, walking along the shoulder of freeway-speed roads, and other impassable or at least undignified barriers to pedestrians remain a real problem for most sprawl.

    If the passengers can't walk to the stops, one abominable solution is the park-n-ride. Since 80% of the hydrocarbon emissions even for modern vehicles come from the first five minutes of driving, even park-n-rides are enormous polluters, and remove one good reason to build transit.

    The best reason to build transit is that, fully used, it costs 1/8 the energy per passenger mile of single-occupant autos. It would, however, be amazing if transit in sprawl were ever anything resembling "fully used." Sprawl builds the high energy use literally in its concrete. (A reminder: pedestrian-friendly mixed-use is favored by the home-buying public, so sprawl is *not* a market-driven development pattern.)

    About road building: The Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) mathematically modeled every possible congestion remedy, up to and including double-decking the freeways (the ultimate widening). SCAG's conclusion: One, and only one, strategy provided significant congestion relief. And no, it was not double-decking the freeways.

    The only effective congestion relief is mixed use. That is putting the shopping and offices in the same neighborhoods where people live. Sprawl is single-use. Pods of home are separated by barriers like walls and berms from pods of shopping and pods of offices. Sidewalks and footpaths are often discontinuous, so even if a shopper lives directly adjacent to the mall, he's likely to drive. Therefore everyone meets in the traffic jam out on the "collector" street.

    And you don't need a study to conclude that, if people can work or shop in their neighborhoods, and the access for pedestrians and cyclists exists, traffic congestion will subside. In addition, mixed use ensures transit riders will actually have real destinations if they come into the neighborhood, so mixed-use is transit-friendly.

    Because the only real congestion remedy is mixed use, not road widening -- even though the money spent on them exceeds any transit spending by orders of magnitude -- road widenings are a waste of money. And even the proponents of such widenings will admit they are.

    An arterial in my neighborhood is about to be widened at the cost of $45 - $60 million. Even the proponents say that traffic congestion will return to current levels within a decade.
    So we'll get our $45 - $60 million back when that happens, right? Nope.

    Anyway, I'm down with Coyote's criticism of rail. Mostly it's a stupifyingly bad boondoggle. Most transit and the accompanying land-use planning in the U.S. is either massively corrupt or truly pathetic, or both. The fact that intelligent planning exists elsewhere, however, is an indication that it doesn't have to be that way.

    One final note about rail: To give rail proponents their due, most say that its fixed path means that infrastructure intensification follows the rail development. People build more intensely at the stops, they say.

    In my actual experience, though, this has not occurred. Local government recently approved an auto dealership near a light rail station, discarding the "zoning" that would have prevented it just as you or I would discard a used tissue. I couldn't make it up.

    Anyway, perhaps stupid public policy needs to precede intelligent public policy, but criticizing transit proposals without noticing land-use or the orders-of-magnitude-bigger road "improvements" is straining at a gnat, swallowing a camel. The American public needs to get much smarter about this stuff before we can expect public servants to behave smarter too. Expecting some exotic alternative fuel to permit Americans to continue their current high-energy-consumption lifestyle is not realistic.

  • http://www.listentothefranchise.com David

    Hi John,

    Actually, I think that a lot of the rail problems in DC are caused by not spending enough money - they built a subway system with only two pair of rails between stations, so anytime there's maintenance or a problem, the system immediately goes to half-capacity.

    Dallas is very different than Washington, DC - things are vastly more spread out there, and therefore there's lots of room to devote lanes to express busses. The type of commute I'm describing is one which is about 3 miles: I live in the city, and when I'm using public transit, I'm mostly going to other destinations inside the city.

    I agree that rail is inefficient at low passenger volume - that's precisely the situation where a bus makes a lot of sense. However, for getting around inside a city, or for inter-city travel, rail makes a lot of sense. Where it fails, in my opinion, tends to be in dealing with pre-existing low-density suburbs which were designed with cars in mind.

  • John Dewey

    Dan: "Why should I pay taxes for highway improvements when I take the train to work?"

    Dan, highways are paid for through motor fuel taxes and tolls. Some of those fuel taxes are paid by the trucking companies which transport the goods almost everyone in the U.S.

    The answer to your question is that you pay for very little of highway improvements if you do not drive. To the extent that transport taxes are included in the prices you pay for goods, you do help pay for the highways that benefit you. The benefit is lower prices and even availability of goods you consume.

    On the other hand, 15% of fuel taxes are being diverted to mass transit, to subsidize riders such as yourself. I see no reason why I should subsidize your ride.

  • John Dewey

    David: "Dallas is very different than Washington, DC - things are vastly more spread out there"

    Most cities in the U.S. are spread out like Dallas, including, I suspect, the huge metro DC area. Rail makes sense almost nowhere in the U.S. The density to support it is just not there.

    David: "However, for getting around inside a city, or for inter-city travel, rail makes a lot of sense."

    Trains cannot serve all locations. They must be confined to rail lines. However, roads and trails have long existed to serve nearly every inhabited point in the U.S. That was true before the autombile existed and even before trains were introduced to the nation.

    intra-city rail makes economic sense almost nowhere. The origin and destination pairs for trips are just too numerous. The densities for such O-D pairs is just not there.

    The economics even for most inter-city rail transport is really poor. That's because of the value people place on their time. For long trips, air travel, even with increased security delays, is far less time-consuming than rail. For shorter trips, automobile travel is also less time-consuming than rail, unless one is travelling to a single destination point, so that taxi service is feasible.

  • http://www.listentothefranchise.com David

    John,

    I've traveled to many (25+) of the large and medium-sized cities in the US for my job, and while most are more spread out than downtown DC is, I haven't seen anything which comes anywhere near the DFW area for distance between points.

    Rail is phenomenal when you're dealing with lots and lots of people going the same basic direction - inner suburb to a variety of downtown destinations, for instance. However, it takes a lot of capital, and bad decisions linger on like dead fish. Buses are certainly a better solution in many cases - they are a LOT more flexible, for instance - but it is mistaken to say that busses are always better than trains.

    If commutes are sufficiently unpleasant, or parking sufficiently scarce, trains look better and better. I doubt that Dallas will ever experience the kind of automotive congestion that the DC area gets on a daily basis (which is why so many folks use the metro in the first place.

    In DC, it's often faster to take transit than it is to deal with fighting traffic AND parking. I can't imagine that that would be true in Dallas.

    YMMV.

  • http://amateureconblog.blogspot.com/ Speedmaster

    The term 'light rail' is a religious phrase for some.

  • Yoshidad

    A few comments about another conversation held here:

    > Dan [playing devil's advocate by turning the argument around]: "Why should I pay taxes for highway improvements when I take the train to work?"

    > David: Dan, highways are paid for through motor fuel taxes and tolls. Some of those fuel taxes are paid by the trucking companies which transport the goods almost everyone in the U.S.

    This is the first untrue statement: Gas taxes do not pay for all the road improvements used by autos and trucks, nor do they pay for the cost of the injuries that originate there, nor do they pay for the military protection for overseas sources of petroleum. Since 70% of U.S. petroleum consumption is imports, sending our troops out on pipeline duty is not an insignificant expense. The U.S. currently spends more than the rest of the world combined for its military, and has troops stationed in 144 countries overseas.

    The World Resources Institute estimated in 1989 that in the U.S., petroleum is subsidized to the tune of $300 billion annually. This includes the items above plus tax breaks for petroleum producers like the depletion allowance -- a special write-off.

    So if we're subsidizing petroleum use, the price at the pump is actually artificially low -- and that estimate of $300 billion does not include the now-inflated military costs post-Gulf-Wars I & II.

    > David: The answer to your question is that you pay for very little of highway improvements if you do not drive.

    Again, untrue. The military expenses of protecting pipelines and oilfields, and the depletion allowance are enormous subsidies, so is the subsidy to the health care system for auto- and truck-related injuries. *Everybody* pays more taxes because of this.

    > David: On the other hand, 15% of fuel taxes are being diverted to mass transit, to subsidize riders such as yourself. I see no reason why I should subsidize your ride.

    This is the same argument as "I'm childless, why should I pay school taxes," and includes about as much foresight. How interested would you be in transit if the price of gas was $10 - $15 a gallon, the unsubsidized price?

    The comparatively tiny amount given transit is not well-spent, but it's what we have to invest in alternative infrastructure to the sprawl of auto-only roads. I won't quarrel about how transit available in the U.S. is pathetic, but complaining about transit while saying the auto travel subsidies are OK is straining at a gnat, swallowing a camel.

    Sadly, David's insights fairly represent the state of consciousness about U.S. infrastructure and the public realm, generally. Of course now he'll say "Oh thank you for pointing out the error of my ways! I'm ever so grateful!"...8^)

  • Yoshidad

    One thing I forgot: Do you ever see those kind of self-righteous signs on the back of a truck that says "This truck paid $50,000 in road fees last year!" (Implied: "So don't complain that we're in your way, we paid a lot more for this road than you did!")

    The truth, apparently, is that truck weights have been increasing incrementally over the years and roads would last *much* longer if only cars drove on them. Trucks often do more than $50,000 (or whatever the figure is) worth of damage to the roads. Another hidden subsidy.

    Rail, on the other hand, got the Union - Pacific subsidy (free right-of-way and land), I suppose truckers could legitimately complain about that particular line getting a subsidy they didn't share. I'm just guessing that the Interstates were a bigger subsidy, though.

  • John Dewey

    Yoshidad,

    Why do you claim that my statement is untrue, and then use completely irrelevant statements to try and prove your assertion?

    My statement was that "highways are paid through fuel taxes and tolls".

    You stated that road improvements are not paid for by fuel taxes and tolls. Highways are not the same thing as roads, Yoshidad.

    Roads to provide access in a community - access for grocery supply trucks, for ambulances, for schoolbuses, for police cars, for trips to the gym, etc, etc, - are not usually paid for through fuel taxes and tolls, but rather through community tax assessments. But remember that roads are not highways. Dan's question and my reply referred to highways.

    Your statements about military spending have nothing to do with who pays for highways. Nor do those statements have anything to do with the price of gasoline. Gasoline prices are not lower because of military spending in the Middle East. In fact, there is pretty good indications that gasoline prices are higher than they would otherwise be because of military spending in the Middle East.

  • clouse

    "...has troops stationed in 144 countries overseas."

    This is a misleading statement. If the U.S. has an embassy in that country, we probably have U.S. troops there.

    "...if the price of gas was $10 - $15 a gallon, the unsubsidized price"

    And where are you getting this dollar amount for unsubsidized gas? BTW, in an earlier post you just had $10, now it is $10-15

  • markm

    The most salient characteristics of mass transit (including busses,though less so than rail):

    - It does not go all the way to where you want to go
    - It does not leave when you want to leave
    - At every stop, many passengers wait while relatively few get on and off.
    - Each stop is quite expensive in fuel, because of the need to accelerate a behemoth back up to speed.

    Mass transit can only beat or match individual vehicles in transit time when it is given an unobstructed right of way to compete with cars snarled in traffic jams. Subways sometimes make sense (given sufficient density, which you won't find in any American city constructed since automobiles became the main means of transport) because their right of way is constructed where it isn't blocking any actual or potential road traffic. Light rail and busses hardly ever make sense, because the only way they can move at all in a city is by blocking other traffic, or by having dedicated roadways that reduce the space available for other roads.

    What we should be working towards is self-driving cars that cooperate in keeping traffic flowing.

  • Yoshidad

    > John Dewey writes: "Highways are not the same thing as roads, Yoshidad."

    Boy! Talk about a distinction without a difference! So what happens at the offramp?

    BTW, the talk of subsidies ignores the auto-centric local street design. This is as important as what is the funding source, IMHO. The street in front of my sprawl home has 12 foot travel lanes -- identical to the freeway's -- that are such an invitation to speeding that the street standards require a bend every 1,000 lineal feet. Otherwise, speeding cars would mow down the neighborhood kids. This is the source of lots of extra pavement, and suburban spaghetti streets.

    And what about the pathetic three-foot sidewalks that terminate at the edge of the subdivision? If I want to walk abreast with someone and carry on a conversation, I must walk in the gutter.

    Even if my property taxes, not gas taxes, paid for that, who paid for the Traffic Engineer to come up with those extraordinarily auto-centric design guidelines?

    FYI, a pedestrian-friendly street would have set-back sidewalks (you know, with the mower strip) at least 4' wide, vertical curbs, small curb radii. On my street, the curb radius -- that quarter circle at the corner -- is something like 20'. This means that I have further to cross at the corner, exposing me to more dangerous traffic, and the cars can take the corner at higher speeds -- a double whammy. A 3' curb radius is a commonplace at older, pedestrian-friendly street corners.

    And what about the lighting? Pedestrian-friendly lights are 10' - 14' tall on 75' centers. I have 21' tall lights that are fine if you're behind a tinted windshield, but seem like interrogation lighting if you actually try to walk at night.

    This stuff doesn't show up in the finances, but we tend to take for granted that pedestrian discomfort is a necessary evil. Gee, I wonder why pedestrians don't walk to the transit stops?

    > John Dewey writes: "Your statements about military spending have nothing to do with who pays for highways. Nor do those statements have anything to do with the price of gasoline. Gasoline prices are not lower because of military spending in the Middle East."

    Mr. Dewey, do you also believe that your purchase at the mall doesn't also pay for the security guard?

    I'll agree that W's agenda included big profits for Halliburton and Blackwater, while making oil more expensive and controlling it at the source, but if you don't believe that the U.S. sends plenty of troops to Turkey and Ecuador on pipeline duty, ...and if you don't believe that such security is essential to retrieving the oil ...and if you don't believe the cost of that military protection for the oilfields and pipelines is unpaid in the price at the pump...

    Well, I just want to play poker with you because you'll believe *anything*.

    The truth is that the enormous security costs to control and get that imported oil are essential and *not* paid at the pump, and the gas tax barely pays for the petroleum-intensive infrastructure we have, no matter where you divide what it pays from what it doesn't. These facts means oil is subsidized, and additional oil consumption is encouraged -- orders of magnitude more than any transit subsidy, BTW.

    This is just as true as saying that because oil producers get a special write-off (the depletion allowance) oil is subsidized. And does Exxon get to write off its lobbying costs? Subsidies distort markets and encourage consumption of oil rather than exploration of the infrastructure alternatives to sprawl, in particular.

    > clouse writes: "...has troops stationed in 144 countries overseas." ...is a misleading statement. If the U.S. has an embassy in that country, we probably have U.S. troops there.

    That's a statement I read about where we have troops stationed, not embassy guards (sorry, no citation. It was in a nybooks.com article). Private firms like Blackwater often guard embassies (as they do in Iraq), so what you believe may or may not be true. But what about this statement: "The U.S. spends more than the rest of the world combined on its military."...? Either one makes my point.

    That the U.S. has the worlds largest military budget (more than the rest of the world combined) is indisputable, and a large part of that expenditure is to provide security for the resources that we must import because we cannot produce them domestically. In the last 37 years, the U.S. has gone from 30% oil imports (at $1.75/bbl) to 70% oil imports (at $100+ per bbl). No amount of drilling offshore or in ANWR will have more than an insignificant impact on this, either -- and that's according to the API (the oil lobby). Railing against those darned enviros who prevent such drilling is just a paid advertisement for ANWR lease holders. Oil companies hold leases on far more offshore oil that they can drill for *now* than what they're complaining about, and they haven't even got the equipment to drill that.

    So imports are not optional or discretionary. The U.S. economy *must* have them, and a considerable amount of lobbying and/or expense has been undertaken to ensure no alternative is viable, too. The subsidies cited above are part of that expense.

    > clouse writes: "...if the price of gas was $10 - $15 a gallon, the unsubsidized price"

    > And where are you getting this dollar amount for unsubsidized gas? BTW, in an earlier post you just had $10, now it is $10-15

    The sources vary. The World Resources Institute (wri.org) estimated the U.S. subsidy for petroleum, including roads unpaid for by gas taxes, military security provided overseas, and tax breaks like the depletion allowance was $300 billion annually. That includes $50 billion for military expenditure, and the estimate was made in 1989, before both Persian Gulf wars, so it's really got to be higher now. They estimated this subsidy subtracted $5 from the real price per gallon, but I've since read another source (sorry, no citation) that said $15/gallon.

    But why quibble about the amount? The subsidy clearly exists. Subsidies distort markets (not that there has *ever* been a really free market for petroleum -- thank you OPEC and John D. Rockefeller). The public demand for more efficient transportation (and other uses of energy, but 70% is transportation in the U.S.) would be *much* larger than it is now without such a subsidy distorting things.

    BTW, An even crazier bit of business is in the accounting. Oil production is, by modern accounting standards, counted as income. But a more accurate accounting would classify it as natural capital. If the distinction sounds meaningless, try applying for a loan based on your income, then tell the banker you're counting your savings account (capital) as income. You will be ejected from the bank as a crazy person. But that's how oil accounting works now. I couldn't make it up.

    A sensible person sets aside money to replace capital that is wearing out or depleting, just as a sensible person would spend part of the gas tax to fund transit. We would be sensible too if we had something that didn't use as much petroleum to get around. A sensible person would also not expect the infant alternative infrastructure to be productive right away, just as he would not expect his infant child to immediately earn a living.

    Nevertheless, aside from pointing out real public policy stupidity, plenty of posting to this blog acts as though transit is going to have zero ramp-up to immediate peak productivity. Not realistic, IMHO.

    > markm writes: [Yoshidad comments in brackets] The most salient characteristics of mass transit (including busses,though less so than rail):

    - It does not go all the way to where you want to go [Only if you build the city that way]
    - It does not leave when you want to leave [Only if you under-fund transit so you have long waits - I've often spent more time waiting for my wife than for a bus in San Francisco]
    - At every stop, many passengers wait while relatively few get on and off. [And this is different from ferrying teenagers around how? How many meandering trips have you taken in an auto with stops for others than yourself. Couldn't the bus be more direct if different family members have different destinations? This could be a wash.]
    - Each stop is quite expensive in fuel, because of the need to accelerate a behemoth back up to speed. [Because people are sharing the ride, this is inconsequential. The figures I read say overall bus is 1/8 as expensive as single-occupant autos per passenger mile]

    > markm continues: Mass transit can only beat or match individual vehicles in transit time when it is given an unobstructed right of way to compete with cars snarled in traffic jams. [You mean like Curitiba's dedicated busways for their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)?] Subways sometimes make sense (given sufficient density, which you won't find in any American city constructed since automobiles became the main means of transport) because their right of way is constructed where it isn't blocking any actual or potential road traffic. Light rail and busses hardly ever make sense, because the only way they can move at all in a city is by blocking other traffic, or by having dedicated roadways that reduce the space available for other roads. [What, no credit for the congestion reduction wrought because transit takes autos off the roads?]

    What we should be working towards is self-driving cars that cooperate in keeping traffic flowing. [This is called "Automatic People Movers" (APM). You can read Roxanne Warren's "The Urban Oasis: Guideways and Greenways in the Human Environment" to find out all about this. She's the source for the 1/8 cited above, BTW. Her point about APM-friendly land use: You must have at least 30 dwelling units/acre -- that's three-story apartments -- before APMs make sense.]

    [Planner Robert Cervero observes that the pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use, and typically mixed-density neighborhoods where transit and neighborhood commerce are viable are typically a minimum of 13 dwelling units/acre. This does not have to be slightly denser than duplex (10du/acre). It can be mansion, mansion, eight-plex, mansion, mansion, mansion on 6-to-the-acre lots. In other words, it is indistinguishable from old, nicer neighborhoods for which people now pay premiums.]

    [Finally, who cares about whether transit is slightly less comfortable than, oh, I don't know, personal helicopters, if you can't afford the helicopter? And what is it exactly that gives anyone the sacred right to business as usual? If conditions change don't we need to expect change in our own lives, or are those habitual ways we deal with transportation sacrosanct? And which god blesses this arrangement? And why does Iran refer to the U.S. as the "headquarters of global arrogance"?...]

    [If you remove the energy subsidies from the market, people will be far more worried about getting around (and getting fed) than about an extra wait at the bus stop. The real question is whether we can afford to wait to start conserving. People may dispute the importance of climate change (climate instability, really), or beating up Iraqis for their oil, or even that the U.S.' current dependence on imported oil that contributes mightily to its trade deficit, but all three? Come on, people, suck it up. We're not so *special* that we deserve to get a lollipop every time we throw a tantrum. Ditto for oil.]

  • John Dewey

    yoshidad: "The truth is that the enormous security costs to control and get that imported oil are essential"

    That is not the truth, yoshidad, but I'm confident that no one will ever convince you. That George W. Bush and Dick Cheney as well as environmentalists make that claim about "essential" security or defense costs still doesn't make it the truth.

  • Yoshidad

    Mr. Dewey, certainly the naked claim that security costs are essential doesn't make it the truth. But consider these historical facts:

    The size of the economic stakes is enormous. Every single recession since World War II coincides with an oil shock. Oil is an essential commodity.

    Daniel Yergin's history of the petroleum industry notes that after 1973, the price of oil quadrupled from less than $2 a barrel virtually overnight. And it didn't stop rising until it reached the previous peak price (until now) in 1982 ($42/bbl in '82 dollars). This caused the worst recession since the Great Depression because the U.S. couldn't produce its way out of this shortfall. Remember: U.S. domestic production peaked in 1971. Think "Stagflation"!

    At no time during this astronomical rise in the price was more than 3% of the world's oil supply impacted. Yergin calls the U.S. payments to the Arabs the greatest peacetime transfer of wealth in history.

    Anyway, do you think our meddling in the Middle East is because we like the weather? Or that stationing troops in Saudi Arabia -- Ben Laden's actual complaint, BTW -- was an accident? Or putting them near pipelines in Turkey, or on the sea lanes at the choke points in the Persian Gulf?

    And what about that Iraq war thingy, was that just because they hate our freedom, or because Saddam was such a threat? None of that has turned out to be true, yet we're still there, building large, permanent bases (it takes decades to fully develop oilfields).

    Was the Iraq war to quell terror? Nope. One study says terror is up 700%, worldwide, and the State Department says something like 400%, since the invasion. It was to get the oil.

    Notice that even the recent sovereignty negotiations with the Iraqi government re-introduce western oil companies into an arena Saddam kicked them out of years ago -- developing Iraqi oil. The reason the Iraqis are so intransigent is not that they hate our freedom. They object to us expropriating their resources. The reason they balked at passing legislation to divide the oil revenues was that it too brought back the western oil companies. Did you hear that the Iraqi oilfield workers actually had a strike about that? (Where was the Western media....? As far as I know, only Dennis Kucinich reported this, and was pretty much ignored. See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-naiman/kucinich-seeks-to-strip-o_b_43398.html)

    Heck, the CIA replaced Mossadegh in Iran (the duly elected leader) with an awful tyrant (the Shah) because Mossadegh was threatening to nationalize BP's oil assets there. Do you think we'd do less in Iraq? Incidentally, when the people who overthrew the Shah raided the houses of the his secret police (SAVAK), they discovered basements with ovens for roasting people, and stacks of severed limbs. Yep, they hate us for our freedom; that must be it!

    Sorry, but saying that "security" for overseas oil sources isn't important fails every test for credibility I can think of. And historically American resource grabs with the military or by proxy wars are so frequent that the idea we wouldn't use our military to protect, or at least control such a resource is simply not believable either.

    Ask yourself, for example, what would happen if Saddam had been able to plant a dirty bomb over the Saudi Gahwar field (the majority of their production), essentially putting it out of business for the half life of plutonium. You may believe in the Easter Bunny for all I know, but believing that the U.S., with its massive military, isn't using that same military to control and protect for domestic consumption the resources of the Middle East is beyond the pale.