Does carsharing promote balanced, sustainable economic growth?

carshare invis1ble parked car

Before digging into the details, the important mechanics of carsharing[1], it is important for policy makers to ask these deeper questions if we are ever to be able to shift gears into sustainable transport, sustainable cities and sustainable lives.

This is an extremely important foundation question to which the short answer is: yes definitely. But let us dig deeper.

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Bicycling to Solve Traffic Congestion in Penang

BICYCLING WITHIN A COMPREHENSIVE TRANSPORT PLAN,
TO SOLVING TRAFFIC CONGESTION

Dr Lim Mah Hui, Address to MPPP Council Meeting, October 25, 2013

malaysia penang  cycle picWe must start to draw up a bicycle strategy, policy and plan and this must be integrated into town planning. It should be coherent, not piece-meal and ad hoc. It must be bottom-up and not just top-down, i.e., the bicyclists must be intimately involved in the planning. The plan must include a budget

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Planetary Boundaries and Low Carbon Urban Mobility

Useful presentation and overview of the issues and trends by  Professor David Banister (University of Oxford) in a three part series “The Future of Sustainable Mobility”.  The following introduces his presentation but for the full text please click here.

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The xCar Landscape: New Ways of Owning and Using Cars in the 21st Century

This is a collaborative thinking exercise addressing essentially a single question. But one of many parts. What is the “modern motor car” going to look like in the decade immediately ahead?  Will it be  more of the same?  Or will it mutate into a very different form of mobility?  Who is going to own it?  And how is it going to be used? Where will it be driven (and eventually parked)?  Will it be piloted by a warm sapient human being, or will it be driverless? Will it still have wheels, doors and tires? What will be its impact on the environment?  And what will be the impact of the “environment” on it? On public safety? On quality of life for all.  Will it be efficient, economic and equitable? Who will make them and where?  Is it going to create or destroy jobs? And how fast is all of this going to occur?  . . . Continue reading

Thinking about Equity-Based Transport Systems: Get Ready to Embrace Complexity (or Get Off the Bridge)

As is or at least should by now be well known, a transportation “system” is well more than a collection of largely free-standing bits of infrastructure, modes, links, agencies, institutions, operators and more, concerning which decision scan be taken on a piecemeal basis. .  It is in fact a textbook example of a disorganized complex system, or more specifically a vast, chaotic but ultimately manageable ecosystem.  And if it is our ambition — which it should be — to construct, or rather reconstruct, our city transport systems into functional high-performing sustainable ecosystems. it can help to build up our understanding of the process in steps. Continue reading

Book report: Sustainable Transportation Planning

Michael Alba reports from Boston on this new guide for transport planners:

Sustainable Transportation Planning seeks to tackle the greatest social and environmental concerns of the 21st century, focusing on the role of transportation in creating more sustainable communities. It is a how-to guide for anyone interested in the economic, social and ecological health of cities. Continue reading

What about using our heads (for a change)?

At the end of the day our transport sector, no matter where it is, is shaped by the perceptions of the main players, the opportunists, planners, decision makers and the public of what is there and what is it that people want and need. And if it is a mess in your country or city,well that’s because these perceptions are simply not clear enough. Read what Nate Sliver of the New York Times has to say when there is a collision between the experts and common sense on one much discussed transportation topic. Interesting things happen when smart people from the outside poke their noses into the transportation box. As we say: “you never know where the next good idea is going to come from”. Continue reading

Sustainable Transport and the Importance of Pattern Recognition

In order to turn around a very big boat that is moving in the wrong direction – think global warming or any of the other wrong-way trips that we are currently locked into when it comes to transport in cities – it helps to be smart, studious and work very hard. But it is if anything even more important to have a feel for what is really going on. And this is where the fine art of pattern recognition comes in. Pattern recognition: all too often the empty chair when it comes to understanding and decision making in the field of transport policy and practice. No wonder we are doing so poorly. Continue reading

Testimony: Science and Technology Select Committee, UK House of Lords

In the last weeks I was asked to provide written testimony and evidence in answer to a “Call for Evidence” for the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee on the subject of “Behaviour Change —Travel-Mode Choice Interventions to Reduce Car Use in Towns and Cities”. As can happen in these things, in my remarks I moved away from the chosen topic (instruments for behaviour change),  on the grounds that there are other more fundamental issues that need to be tackled first. In the following you will find my submittal of last Monday to the committee, whom I thank for giving me this opportunity to share my views.
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Delhi Metro – A Transport Planner’s Perspective

Associate editor Faizan Jawed reports from Delhi:  At a time when the Delhi Government, politicos, media and the middle-class is raving about Metro Rail as a panacea to all traffic woes in Delhi (traffic congestion included), an objective assessment of its performance and appropriateness is highly warranted. Built at a cost that could provide free bus-based public transport and high quality non-motorized transport facilities for years, or feed millions of destitute malnourished Indian citizens, the Delhi Metro, now in operations since 2002, seems to not be living up to its promise. Ravi Gadepalli brings us a unique insight in to the planning and workings of the Delhi Metro. [* * * See Comments here.] Continue reading

Transport, environment and public policy in hard times

We have no money gentlemen, so we shall have to think.
– Ernest Rutherford, on taking over the Caversham Laboratory in 1919

On 2 December the managing editor of World Streets, Eric Britton, was invited by the organizers of the National Autumn Conference of ACT TravelWise to present the keynote address, following an opening presentation by Norman Baker, MP and Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Transport of the just-elected UK coalition government. The theme of the conference was “The Right to Travel – Getting more for less” — and Britton was asked to bring in some international perspectives and possibly some less familiar ideas for the largely British audience after the Minister’s presentation. Continue reading

The Road Transport/Energy Challenge in India

Environment vs. Mobility? (Image source: Times of India)

“A few weeks ago, we (India Streets) had reported about India’s plans to reduce the climate change impact from its transportation sector. However, we saw that India’s plan, like many other plans out there, attempts to tackle the problem almost entirely by improving vehicle and fuel technology without adequately dealing with the most important factor – the number of vehicle-kilometers travelled. In the article below, we will read Prof. Madhav Badami of McGill University argue that “[fuel economy improvements will do little to mitigate [climate] impacts, and might even exacerbate them to the extent that the improvements increase motor vehicle activity by reducing the costs of driving… On the other hand, measures to curb vehicle-kilometers can provide major “co-benefits” by helping control energy consumption and related emissions, as well as other transport impacts.” Continue reading

Victoria Transport Policy Institute Summer 2010 Newsletter

This carefully compiled seasonal report from Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute is a fine tool and up to date source guide for researchers and policy makers worldwide. We are pleased to present it in its entirety here, together with references you will find handy to take these entries further. Thanks for your continuing fine work Todd.


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Parking slots are like . . . toilets?

This is supposed to be the fatal ten day stretch during which your valiant editor has promised to be out there pounding the pavement to secure sources of finance so that we can keep World Streets going. But every day interesting ideas and proposals for projects keep slipping in over the transom, some of which just too hard to resist. Here is today’s slip in his otherwise firm resolve. Sorry. Simply irresistible.
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The New Mobility Strategy

Step 1: Say good-bye to Old Mobility:

“Plan Zero” – also known as “old mobility” – with its stress on supply, more vehicles  and more infrastructure as the knee-jerk answer to our mobility problems, has been the favored path for decision-making and investment in the sector over the last 70 years. It is well-known and easy to see where it is leading. Aggressing the planet, costing us a bundle, draining the world’s petroleum reserves, and delivering poor service for the majority . . . Plan Zero is a clear failure. It’s time for Plan A : The fifteen steady steps to sustainable transport and a sustainable city. Continue reading

World Streets: The voice of the New Mobility Agenda

World Streets is the daily reporting arm of the New Mobility Agenda. Its content derives from adherence to a consistent set of overall program goals, mediated by a network of collaborative relationships that have been built up over the last two decades, which involve on the order of two thousand collaborating expert colleagues and friends of sustainable transport worldwide. The goal: sustainable transport policy and practice. Continue reading

What was wrong with "Old Mobility"

In order what needs to be done to create a healthier and better performing set of transportation arrangements, World Streets make a consistent distinction between what we call “old mobility” and “new mobility.” The difference between the two is quite simple. And substantial.

Old mobility was the form of transportation policy, practice and thinking that took its full shape and momentum starting in the mid twentieth century, at a time when we all lived in a universe that was, or at least seemed to be, free of constraints. It served us well in many ways at the time, albeit with exceptions, though we were blind to most of them most of the time. It was a very different world back them. But that world is over. And it will never come back.

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Density without tears: Singapore’s Transportation Secrets

Density. Sprawl. Car-dependence as a result of car use’s gradual reshaping of our cities. The unintended consequences of a no-policy transport and land use policy can be catastrophic for many, in many ways. And once the damage has been done(see the map of last week’s piece contrasting two cities of the same population size: Atlanta and Barcelona)it is not easy task to get the toothpaste back into the tube. But let’s get to that another day. Today let’s listen to Christopher Tan on Singapore’s no tears transport policy.

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A Manifesto for Sustainable Transport

Sustainable Transportation, New Mobility, Access, Green Transport and the long list of good and great names go on, but upon inspection they have three important things in common. They are all extremely well-intentioned; each is trying to get at a largely shared agenda; and, by whatever name, they are thus far losing the battle against the established interests and old and often quite bad ways of doing things in our sector. However that’s not the end of the story. In fact, it’s just the beginning. The proponents of sustainable transport and sustainable cities are making real progress on the ground, and we are starting to network worldwide for success. We are ready to build on what we have thus far learned and achieved. So let’s have a look through the eyes of Sudhir Chella Rajan to get a better idea of our common challenge.
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Don’t count on "alternative fuels" to save the world? (Dark bet on a pessimistic, high tech future)

Here we have an unusually perceptive piece from a specialist in chaos theory who helps us make sense of the “alternative fuels” proposals and claims. It is good to have his hardheaded expert view on the potential of alternative fuels in our future transportation arrangements. But it is important too that we reflect on his dark bet on a pessimistic, high-technology future: in which he sees us as stumbling from crisis to crisis, in response to which we manage each time to come up with last-minute ad hoc “solutions” which leave us as still basically operational, but not all that much more. That I am afraid is the bleak face of the future, unless we are able to find the vision and leadership to do otherwise.

The Methadone Economy

– Tom Konrad, 27 April 2010.

Peak Oil Investments I’m Putting My Money On:
If the measure of success for alternative fuels is the ability to continue to live in suburbs and commute in multi-ton boxes of metal on congested freeways for hours each day, then alternative fuels will fail. No alternative fuel has the existing infrastructure, supply potential, energy density, and low environmental impact that we would need to replace oil without changing our unsustainable lifestyle.

Peak oil may mean the end of bigger and bigger cars driven farther and farther on more and more congested roads. Peak oil may mean the end of suburban life as we know it. Yet life as we don’t know it does need not be a vision out of Mad Max. Peak oil will mean changes, some for the better, some for the worse.

The surest change peak oil will bring is less driving, in fewer vehicles that are filled closer to capacity. Those vehicles will use less oil (or alternative fuels) per person-mile. We’ll also find ways to satisfy the desires and needs that we currently satisfy with travel without traveling.

Alternative Fuels

The first eight parts of this series looked into alternative fuels. I concluded that no alternative fuel listed could replace oil as we use it today fast enough to replace dwindling oil supplies. Conventional biofuels cannot be produced in enough quantity, and making hydrogen is an inefficient use of electricity or natural gas. Electric vehicles are too expensive or have too little range. There is not enough natural gas and there is too little fueling infrastructure to make natural gas vehicles practical on a large scale. Gas-to-liquids makes sense for stranded natural gas, but there are too many other high value uses for natural gas to make a large dent in declining oil supplies. Coal to liquids does too much environmental harm, and algae needs too much more technological development to achieve its promise in time.

The biggest problem with alternative fueled vehicles, however, is not the alternative fuels, the problem is the vehicles and how we use them.

Oil was a one-time bonanza of a readily available, easily transportable, durable, energy-dense liquid. With oil, humanity won a natural resources lottery ticket. Like a lottery winner who blows cash that could have lasted a lifetime in a few months, we now need to realize that we’ve spent most of our winnings. It’s unreasonable to expect that we’re going to win another such jackpot before we have to start watching our fuel budget again. The main question is how soon and how deliberately we will make the necessary adjustment. Will we act like the lottery winner who uses his last hundred thousand to tide him over while he looks for a job? Will we keep partying to the bitter end, until one day we wake up, hung over in the gutter? Will it be something in between?

The Methadone Economy

Switching to a drug analogy, most alternative fuels are the methadone to treat our petroleum / heroin addiction. Methadone is given to heroin addicts in treatment because it mitigates withdrawal symptoms and can block the euphoric effects of heroin, morphine, and similar drugs, reducing the urge to use.

Alternative fuels can be sufficient to allow our society to function, but we’re not going to feel the highs we felt when the oil was flowing freely. Alternative fuels cannot take us back to a “normal” pre-peak oil state because our use of petroleum over the last few decades as been far from “normal:” it has been one long, fossil-fueled high. We will eventually kick the petroleum habit with the help of alternative fuels not because alternative fuels are better than petroleum and can bring us something that petroleum cannot, but because our supplier will be getting smaller shipments over time, while the number of fellow junkies knocking on his door will keep going up with big increases in petroleum demand from emerging economies.

There are several competing visions of a future powered by alternative fuels, ranging from wildly optimistic to gloom-and-doom, with variations depending on how effectively the prognosticator thinks we can replace fossil fuels with alternatives.

A high-technology optimistic vision includes smoothly running efficient pods in mass transit systems powered by renewable energy. High speed bullet trains network the land, making overland air travel unnecessary. The low-technology optimistic vision involves a peaceful return to local economies where food is grown locally, and increasing local interdependence fosters strong local community ties, and people grow happier as they become more connected to the land and each other. The low-technology pessimistic vision is a free-for-all scramble for dwindling resources like the vision out of Mad Max referenced above.

I’m long on optimism about technology, but short on optimism about our will to make the necessary sacrifices to implement that technology quickly or efficiently. I’m betting on a pessimistic, high-technology future. In this future, we manage to cobble together a hodge-podge of last-minute, jerry-rigged solutions to keep the economy functioning at a basic level, but not at all smoothly or evenly. In it, we lurch from a crisis caused by financial melt-down, to a crisis caused by peak-oil to one caused by climate change. We’ll tackle each crisis with incredible ingenuity, staving off total chaos, but at the cost of mis-allocated resources and a deteriorating standard of living. We hold out in the belief that after just this one more fix, the world will be back to normal and we can stop worrying. But that day will never come.

Forward thinking planners in some municipalities and communities will work on implementing true, long-term solutions. But they will not have enough money or resources to do more than ameliorate the next crisis. The large-scale, system wide solutions of better mass transit, algae biofuels, and continent-wide electricity transmission of the high-technology optimistic vision will be implemented too slowly, on too small a scale to achieve the economic stability the techno-optimists hope for. But these half-built systems will still bring considerable benefit, and keep the succession of crises from being the complete disaster that would come with a complete lack of planning.

This is the Methadone Economy. Alternative-fuel oil replacement therapy is necessary because oil supply will not keep pace with demand; we must replace oil or do without. But alternative fuels are not oil, and will require more effort devoted to energy production to produce the same effect. The Methadone economy will function, but it won’t give us the highs we got from the cheap, concentrated, easily accessible energy of oil.

A future characterized by thoughtful, long-range planning seems unlikely to arise from the same political class and voting public that has not meaningfully prepared for anything but good times in decades. The first IPCC report was released in 1990, and it made clear that human activities were substantially increasing levels of greenhouse gasses which would warm the planet. Two decades later, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. We had the first warnings about peak oil in the 1970s oil crises, but only now are we starting to put serious political and economic capital into searching for solutions. When the pre-2008 global debt bubble was on, NINJA (No Income No Job no Assets) loans were welcomed by politicians praising financial innovation and its ability to bring home ownership to people who could not previously afford it.

The Methadone Economy may sound gloomy, but I see it as the most optimistic vision possible given the political reality we see around us. More pessimistic visions abound, but if you expect them, you’re probably better off investing in guns and physical gold than you are investing in the stock market.

Conclusion

I see three major investment themes in the Methadone Economy.

First, there is the knowledge that long-term solutions will be implemented, although not completely and at insufficient scale. Investors in contractors who specialize in mass transit and high-speed rail should do well, as should the longer-term alternative fuel solutions discussed in earlier articles of this series. Vehicle efficiency improvements will find rapidly growing markets as fuel becomes more expensive.

Second, band-aid solutions will thrive. Bike lanes, electric scooters, buses, and any other transportation solution which can be implemented with only small changes to existing infrastructure. Road pricing schemes and the software technology to help people coordinate ride sharing. The clever use of a few resources will always win over grand schemes when there are few resources to spare.

Finally, the Methadone Economy is an economy where we cannot expect long term growth. More likely, we will see periods of anemic (and occasionally robust) growth punctuated by periodic crisis-driven declines. This will be mirrored in the stock market, and so investors in the above two solutions should do well to hedge their overall exposure to the market.

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About the author:
Tom Konrad, PhD., CFA is a regulatory consultant and financial analyst specializing in renewable energy and energy efficiency. In his consulting role, he testifies on behalf of clients before public utilities commissions and state legislatures to promote clean energy. In addition to AltEnergyStocks.com, he writes about clean energy and economics as a freelancer. He has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Purdue University, where he wrote his thesis on Complex Dynamics, a branch of chaos theory. His study of chaos theory led to his conviction that knowing the limits of our ability to predict is much more important than predictions themselves.

This article originally appeared http://seekingalpha.com/ on 27 April 2010 and can be seen here. Kind thanks for the author for permission to reprint in these pages.