Car Sharing and Saving in a Tough Economy

Car Sharing and Saving in a Tough Economy

Buses Popular at Universities

Buses Popular at Universities

By John Addison (2/25/09)

American’s rise to tough challenges. This recession is hitting people hard. Transportation is 20 percent, or more, of many people’s expenses. American’s are finding smart ways to save. Public transportation use is at its highest in over 50 years. Commute program participation is breaking records. Americans drove 100 billion fewer miles in 2008 than the previous year.

A study by the American Automobile Association (AAA) shows that the average cost of owning and operating a passenger vehicle is 54.1 cents per mile. This is over $8,000 per year per vehicle, based on 15,000 miles of driving. Depreciation is part of that cost. Anyone who has bought a car for $20,000 and later sold it for $5,000 understands depreciation. Fuel, maintenance, tolls, parking, financing, and insurance add up. Most U.S. households have two vehicles, costing them over $16,000 per year.

The opportunity to save on transportation costs depends on many factors: living in the city or suburbs, household size, number of kids, type of work, and feasibility of car sharing.

A friend of mine is getting hit hard with vehicle costs and by being in an industry that is in a downward spiral. He and his wife are refinancing the home to stay above water. Their family of five includes four vehicles – primarily SUVs and a pick-up truck. When their youngest turns 16 this year, my friend is planning to get his son his own car. Vehicle number 5. At first glance, it looks like they have no other choice. Like most suburbs, frequent public transit is not in walking distance. Everyone is busy with work, school, sports, and community activity.

A closer look shows that this family could save over $10,000 per year. The three teenagers/young adults could share one or two vehicles. They live two-miles from a main street where public transit is reasonably frequent. All are great athletes who could bike to and from transit. Transit includes express buses during morning and evening commute hours that connect to a major downtown, other transit systems, rail, colleges, and more.

No one likes to deal with conflicts with teenagers and vehicle sharing is sure to create some conflict, yet communication and conflict resolution are important lessons for teenagers to learn. Family members might surprise you in creating sharing solutions that work, especially when bike and transit options are there. Taking the bus or biking to and from high school is not the end of the world. A young adult that insists on having their own vehicle can take the responsibility of working part time to pay for the vehicle, insurance, and fuel.

For years, Mark and Lisa Williams shared one vehicle. Both Mark and Lisa commuted during similar work hours from Elk Groove to Sacramento. They rode to work together. By riding together they saved up to an hour daily by using the HOV lane for vehicles with two or more passengers.

They also saved the $1,740 per year that would be necessary to pay for two Sacramento parking spaces instead of one. Mark and Lisa were not always able to commute together. When their jobs were miles apart, Lisa would take Mark to the nearby light rail that transported him to Sacramento. The Williams, including their son, never ceased to find irony as the three of them in one vehicle drove past the three vehicles parked in the driveway of a single neighbor.

When their teenage son approached driving age, the Williams bought a second vehicle, a Toyota Prius. Most of the time, the three rode together, leaving their SUV in the garage. When someone was going in an opposite direction, then the second vehicle is used. After seven months, they we’re using the SUV so little that they could not justify the cost of keeping it. They are back to a one-car family which works for the three of them. On rare occasions, the SUV is missed. Mark says, “It does require some compromises, like borrowing a vehicle when we want to use our kayaks, but it is well worth it, and will only become more so as gas prices slowly start climbing again.”

When I talk with people aged 14 to 30, I am surprised by how many do not want a car. My niece Lindsay Short was given the family’s 2001 Prius when she graduated high school with honors. She leaves the car with her parents and lives car free at the university. Like many universities, anything is faster going from class to class than trying to drive and search for the impossible parking space. On campus transit, bicycling, and walking work best. When cars are needed, car sharing services such as Zipcar, offer qualified students aged 18 and older, vehicles by the hour. What many students need is a monthly allowance that is a fraction of the cost of car ownership, so that they can pay for car sharing, public transportation, and trips home to see family. As an environmentalist, Lindsay wants to be true to her values.

You do not need to be in school to make a difference. For everyone, from those who live alone, to roommates, to families, transportation costs can be cut with flexwork, commute programs, public transit, and car sharing.

During his February 24 Address to Joint Session of Congress, President Obama stated, “The only way this century will be another American century is if we confront at last the price of our dependence on oil… That is our responsibility.”

Millions of Americans are responding to the current challenge of being financially secure; they are also addressing the need to provide their children with a future that is energy secure and climate secure. People are riding clean, riding together, and riding less.

People-Oriented Development

By John Addison (1/22/09)

Enlightened communities are in the transition from being car-centric to being people-centric. Homes, public transportation, and businesses that serve neighborhoods are designed in close proximity. A people-oriented development often has a rapid transit station at its center, or at least a bus stop that is frequently served. Nearest to the station are higher density apartments and condos. Streets are alive with people and convenient shops. A short walk from the station is less density and single family homes. Walking is the easiest way to get around.

While the sprawl of many cities forces long commutes, there are three United States cities where at least 30 percent of employment is within 3 miles of the central business district: New York, San Francisco, and Portland. In these cities, people find it easy to take light rail or buses between work and home. A surprising number walk. For those that drive, they save by traveling fewer miles. People-oriented development increases real estate values.

In California, there is a strong interest in integrating transportation planning, regional development, and climate solution planning. Last week, 240 leaders of government, private industry, and non-profit leaders converged at CALSTART’s Target 2030 conference. Vehicles, fuels, and transportation planning were themes for many speakers and discussions.

Shelley Poticha, CEO of Reconnecting America, sited the statistic that if someone can walk to transit, they are 5 times more likely to use public transit and only drive half the miles of those who cannot walk to transit. Reconnecting America works with real estate developers and transit agencies to develop more housing within walking distance from transit, services, and shopping.

Mary Nichols, Chairwoman, California Air Resources Board, took center stage as a key executive in implementing California’s Climate Solutions law – one of the world’s most comprehensive approaches to reducing global warming. Some of the implementations are complex, such as the low carbon fuel standard. Other solutions are more straightforward. She observed that California could reduce its petroleum consumption by 5 percent if everyone walked an extra half-mile daily instead of covering the distance in a car.

Some cities with intelligent urban planning make it easy for people to live near work, friends, and fun. Portland has limited the boundaries of the city and invested in rapid transit. The results are impressive. The citizens of Portland save $2.6 billion per year, estimates economist Joe Cortright, Senior Fellow with The Brookings Institute.

Mr. Cortright identifies that a billion less going from Portland to foreign oil, is a billion more that is being spent on local goods and services, and being invested in local homes and businesses. For Portland, sustainable development and efficient transportation are good investments.

Learning from the success of cities such as Portland, California passed a law (SB 375) requiring regions to develop integrated urban and transportation plans that reduce long commutes and reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions.

Michael McKeever, Executive Director, Sacramento Area Council of Governments, identified a major opportunity for Boomers who want smaller homes with more community services. Fifty percent of new California home sales could be for this target market.

Baby Boomers, specifically 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, are starting to shift to work that requires less travel and provides more fulfillment. Some will retire in the next few years; most will reinvent how they live and earn money. Millions of these Boomers will accelerate the shift to new urbanization as they move from the suburbs to cities. Freed from the demands of needing individual cars for long daily commutes to work, they will discover that it is easier to live “car-light” or car free in a city.

New urban development could create millions of jobs in construction, public transportation, and infrastructure. Making it a reality is not easy. California is facing a $40 billion budget deficit, creating tough choices such as new gasoline or sales tax, or major cuts in education, health care, and emergency services. The 480 cities which need to plan for the future lack funds for comprehensive planning. More urban density requires infrastructure upgrades from sewer pipes to reliable electric grids.

City living is not for everyone. Many prefer to raise families in the suburbs with their dream homes inside gated communities and their jobs located miles away. In the suburbs, the environmentally conscious share rides in hybrid vehicles, work at home at least a day per week, and are clever about letting their fingers do the walking. Others enjoy rural living near communities oriented around farming, ranching, mountains, and water.

Sixty-five percent of Americans live in the top 100 metropolitan areas. In cities, millions find work and play convenient. Some estimate that two-thirds of the urban areas that will exist in 2030 do not exist today. This gives us an incredible opportunity to develop in a sustainable way with near-zero emission transportation.

As I interviewed countless people, gathering their stories and ideas for Save Gas, Save the Planet, urbanites delivered a consistent message – people living in cities burn less gas and cause less global warming than those living in suburbs and rural areas. In cities, trips to grocery stores, friends, and work are often done by walking. Light rail and bus service is predictable and fast in cities. In cities, everything is closer together.

Copyright © 2009 John Addison. This article includes excerpts from John’s new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet. Last year, John and his wife moved from suburbia to the city, living 2 blocks from public transportation, now John’s primary mode of travel.

340,000 New Green Jobs in Public Transportation

“On behalf of the more than 1,500 members of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA),” stated William W. Millar, President American Public Transportation Association. “I congratulate President-Elect Barack Obama on his recent announcement of support for a major economic stimulus package that includes transportation infrastructure investment. In a recent APTA survey, its members have reported that they have at least 736 public transportation projects that can be initiated within 90 days of approval of federal funding.  Worth a total of $12.2 billion, these public transportation investments would create over 340,000 green jobs for Americans and help transit systems meet the steadily growing demand for public transit services.” APTA

Elastic Demand from Stretched Consumers

Elastic Demand from Stretched Consumers

LA METRO passengersFaced with record gas prices, American fuel use is at a five-year low. Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles since November than during the same period a year earlier.

Americans joined their employers’ flexwork and commute programs. Families and friends linked trips together and rarely drove solo. Everyday heroes kept their gas guzzler parked most of the time and put miles on their other car which gets forty miles per gallon.

Now that my wife and I have moved from suburbia to the city, we have discovered what urban dwellers have long known, public transportation works. Our cars stay parked much of the time, as we travel on buses, subway, and good old-fashioned walking.

Although public transportation is effective in a compact city, it is a challenge in suburban sprawl such as Southern California, home to nearly 24 million people stretched from Los Angeles to Orange County to San Diego to San Bernardino and Riverside Counties.

When I grew up in Pasadena, a suburb of Los Angeles that is famous for its Rose Parade, my father had one choice to reach his L.A. job; he crawled the stop-and-go freeways to work and came home exhausted from the stressful traffic. While attending recent conferences in Los Angeles, I was able to take a more pleasant journey from Pasadena. Each morning, I walked two blocks, waited an average of five minutes, and then boarded the Metro Rail Gold Line, a modern light-rail that took me to Union Station in the heart of L.A. From there, I took L.A.’s modern and efficient subway to the conference hotel, a half-block walk. All for $1.50 (and system-wide day passes are just $5.00).

Later in the week, I added one transfer to the Blue Line, and then walked two blocks to the L.A. Convention Center. Although a car trip would have been somewhat faster at 5 a.m., I got door to door faster than cars in rush hour gridlock. L.A.’s light-rail and subway form the backbone for effective intermodal travel.

The L.A. Union Station is also the connecting point to train service from all over the U.S., servicing Amtrak and efficient local trains such as Metrolink. L.A. Union Station also offers express bus service to L.A. Airport. In the past, I have used Metrolink to travel from Irvine and from Claremont. Metrolink is seeing a 15% increase in ridership this year. “It’s absolutely the sticker shock and awe at the gas prices,” said Denise Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Metrolink. “This is the time of year that we normally have lower ridership, but it’s only going up.”

In a few years, L.A. Union Station may also be the hub for the type of high-speed rail now enjoyed in Europe and Japan. Southern California travel time will be cut in half. Travel from L.A. to San Francisco will be two hours and forty minutes. High-Speed Rail Report

1.7 million times per day, people travel on Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (Metro). Although light-rail is at the heart of the system, 90% of the rides are on buses, not light-rail. Much of the bus riding is similar to light-rail, using pleasant stations, pre-paid tickets for fast boarding, electronic signs that announce when the next bus will arrive, buses that seat 84 to 100 people, and some dedicated busways. Metro is using bus rapid transit that once only succeeded in South America. The Secrets of Curitiba

Although Southern California is highly dependent on foreign oil, Metro is not. Its fleet of over 2,550 buses represent the largest alt-fuel public transit fleet in the nation. Over 2,500 buses run on CNG. The natural gas is pipeline delivered to 10 Metro locations.

Last year, when I met with Metro’s General Manager Richard Hunt, and he discussed ways that more people would be served with clean transportation. He shared how Metro will move more riders at 4-minute intervals at the busiest stations. Like other major operators, Metro is under a California ARB mandate to start making 15% of its replacement fleet zero emission buses (ZEB). Metro has evaluated all of these potentially zero-emission alternatives:

• Battery electric
• Underground-electrified trolley
• Hydrogen fuel cell
• Hydrogen-blended with CNG

Currently, the most promising path to meet the ZEB requirement will be battery-electric buses. Under consideration are lithium-ion batteries operating with an electric drive train. The configuration could be similar to the six 40-foot New Flyer ISE gasoline hybrids currently on order. Metro is working with CalStart, a non-profit leader in clean transportation, and a consortium of Southern California transit operators.

Diesel and CNG buses normally need a range of at least 300 miles to cover routes for 16-plus hours daily; battery electric buses would be better suited for six to 8 hours of daily use during peak service periods (morning and evening rush hours). Ranges of 100 to 150 miles daily would be appropriate for peak battery electric use. Theoretically, with a bigger investment in batteries, advanced drive system maker ISE could actually build electric buses that meet a full 300 mile range by putting a remarkable 600kW of lithium batteries on the roof of each bus.

Critics of electric vehicles claim that oil is merely being replaced with dirty coal power plants. This is not true. There is excess grid-electricity at night. Metro already uses several MW of solar roofing with plans to expand. Coal is less than 30% of California’s electric grid mix, with megawatts of wind and concentrated solar power being added to the grid. Vehicles with electric motors and regenerative braking have reported fuel economy figures that are 300% more efficient than diesel and CNG internal combustion engine alternatives.

Yes, even in the sprawling 1,400 square mile region that Metro must service, transit is growing in use while total emissions are declining. Riders are freed from their oil dependent cars, save money riding transit, and can now enjoy the ride and breathe the air. A dollar spent on public transportation is going farther than spending ten bucks on more oil.

Conventional wisdom has been that American’s demand for petroleum is inelastic in relation to price. We are told that we are addicted to oil. We are lectured that the only solution is to find more oil at any price or turn coal into oil at any environmental price. The U.S. Congress is criticized for not turning California’s pristine coastline and the Artic National Refuge into oil patches. It now looks like the best solution is Economics 101. Price goes up and demand goes down. In fact, Americans are eager for fuel efficient vehicles, corporate commute programs, and effective public transportation. Now that we are economically stretched, demand for gasoline is suddenly elastic.

Copyright © 2008 John Addison. Some of this content may appear in John’s upcoming book, Save Gas, Save the Planet.

CARB ZEB Program Would Add 1,000 Hydrogen Buses

CARB ZEB Program Would Add 1,000 Hydrogen Buses

Oglesby, Bono, SimpsonLeaders from public transportation, the California Air Resources Board (CARB), bus and fuel cell manufacturers meet on June 21 at the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) to discuss plans to have 1,000 hydrogen fuel cell buses in service in California. Currently there are eight. 1,000 hydrogen buses would result in over 400,000 daily riders on hydrogen buses and a demand for over 40,000 kg/day of hydrogen.

The proposed Zero Emission Bus (ZEB) Regulation would accelerate the transition to hydrogen in California by providing large “anchor fleets” and large capacity fueling stations. Public response has been excellent for the hydrogen buses at AC Transit in Oakland, VTA in Santa Clara, and Sunline in Thousand Palms. Proposed Transit Agency ZEB required buses would be as follows:

• Long Beach Transit 29
• Golden Gate Transit 33
• San Mateo County Transit District 52
• Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority 80 (has 3 HFC buses)
• AC Transit 101 (has 3 HFC buses)
• San Francisco Municipal Railway 134 (meets requirement with electric trolleys)
• North County Transit District 23
• Santa Monica Big Blue Bus 26
• Omnitrans 26
• Sacramento Regional Transit District 38
• Foothill Transit 46
• San Diego Metropolitan Transit System 68
• Orange County Transportation Authority 92
• Los Angeles County MTA 384

1,132 is the total ZEB requirement if public transit fleets do not grow. Assuming some of these will be electric with limited range or an expensive overhead electric system, 1,000 are likely to be hydrogen.

Half the fleets are proposed to put ZEB in-service in 2009, half in 2010. These agencies will typically purchase buses annually, replacing buses that have been in service at least 12 years. The proposed 15% ZEB would not affect some of these agencies until 2011, and others until 2012. From there, it would take 12 years to reach the number of ZEB listed above.

Facilitating the meeting for CARB was Gerhard Achtelik and Analisa Bevan. Mr. Achtelik summarized the proposal and alternatives. His presentation included acknowledgement of public transit agencies concerns:

• Cost
• Reliability
• Availability
• Fuel cell service life
• Fueling infrastructure

Many of the leading California public transit agencies took part in the workshop as did the MTC which represents the bay area’s leading agencies. The proposal is controversial. Public transit leadership in ZEV and hydrogen will accelerate large capacity fueling and fleet adoption of clean vehicles, but early hydrogen buses cost over $3 million each. Public transit agencies run on tight budgets. Concerns were discussed, but no public transit agency stated that the proposed program could not be achieved.

Several factors will make hydrogen buses affordable. Jaimie Levin, Director of Marketing for AC Transit, reports than their suppliers VanHool, UTC and ISE are building a new 40-foot hydrogen fuel cell bus for about $2 million. Public transit normally receives 80% FTA funding for buying new buses. This would put the initial transit agency outlay at $400,000 per hydrogen bus vs. about $80,000 for a diesel bus.

The bigger concern about hydrogen for transit agencies is operating cost over the typical 12 year life of a bus. For most, hydrogen would be affordable if the fuel cell was replaced only once during the life of the bus and the replacing fuel cell would be a fraction of the current $1 million. Meeting both concerns appears likely.

UTC supports the CARB proposal. With manufacturing volume, UTC is confident of reducing fuel cell cost and extending fuel cell life. UTC currently provides a 4,000 hour warranty. In the future, UTC hopes to extend fuel cell life to 40,000 hours, which would match the 12-year life of most buses. The four buses currently using UTC fuel cells at AC Transit and Sunline are reaching double the equivalent miles-per gallon of standard diesel buses. The current fuel cell buses are demonstrating reliability, performance and a quiet ride. Michael Tosca, Senior Product Manager for UTC, felt that a $1 million hydrogen fuel cell bus could be produced if 100 were ordered together, lowering component and manufacturing costs.

CARB is considering several alternatives to soften requirements and timeline should technology not progress as expected: initiate purchase requirement through an Advanced Demonstration program; increase the fleet requirement from 2 to 15% as technology milestones are achieved; and the well-received Executive Officer Discretion Clause in implementing requirements as cost and warranty targets are achieved.

Hydrogen ICE (HICE) and CNG with hydrogen blends (HCNG) may also be allowed for the Advanced Demonstration and for being credited as 1/3 of a fuel cell bus. Such proposals would lower initial costs and simplify the transition. Many fleets are predominately CNG.

The proposed ZEB would accelerate the transition to cost-effective hydrogen transportation in California, reduce emissions, and reduce dependency on foreign oil.
Presentations on ARB Website