Shutting down the port ban on independent truckers

In what was hailed as a “green-blue” coalition, the Port of Los Angeles decided to mandate out independent truckers–largely based on a green rationale. That is, independent contractors tend to have the oldest rigs, as they have less access to capital for new engines or third-party add-on technologies that reduce emissions. Here’s the story from the Journal of Commerce (HT to Peter McFerrin):

As part of its clean-truck program, which is intended to reduce harmful diesel emissions by more than 80 percent, Los Angeles included a requirement that harbor trucking companies hire drivers as direct employees. The port’s reasoning is that in order to sustain a clean-truck program over the years, the burden of purchasing and maintaining expensive new trucks cannot be placed on the shoulders of relatively low-paid drivers.

Environmental justice folks around the region tended to celebrate the port’s decision; I was less enthusiastic. If the problem is that independent truckers are undercapitalized and can’t stay current with emissions reduction requirements, then work on getting them better access to capital–don’t try to run them out of business or force them into employee status.

The court agreed, arguing that that the port’s program enabled it to dictate terms between contractors and subcontractors. The NRDC is well-intentioned here:

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which participated in the case on the side of the Port of Los Angeles, expressed a similar concern that without the employee mandate, the sustainability of the clean-truck program over time will be jeopardized. “Absent the employee mandate, motor carriers will force drivers to shoulder the costs, and the environmental benefits will be at risk,” said Melissa Lin Perrella, NRDC staff attorney in Los Angeles.

A worthy concern, but I really do not see how see how requiring them to be employee truckers rather than independent contractors truly helps them. It can make them even more dependent on their current contractors in the move from being subs to employees. Coase applies here. Regulation is a windfall and wipeout game, and if you are going to play, you can just as easily pay to help independent truckers to get brand-new trucks rather than expect them to eat the cost of compliance if the environmental benefits are as large as estimated around the ports–neither of which requires they come into another organization’s umbrella.

Transport London and its farebox ratio

The BBC ran a story yesterday that Mayor Ken Livingstone promised to drop fares on Transport London by 5 percent by October 2012 if he is elected.

Boris Johnson, by contrast, has said that he will stick to the existing formula for raising fares, which is the retail price index plus 2 percent.

So that formula says it all; it’s a policy-level move to shift more of the burden onto the users themselves.

Sure enough, that’s what the Beeb’s numbers suggest, showing that users are covering about 54 percent of TCL’s costs–certainly not bad by any measure to US operators.

The other part of the story I don’t quite understand–they’re arguing over a surplus, which is not a word I’m used to seeing in transit finance, and I can’t quite figure out if there is an actual surplus or there isn’t–or there was, but central government austerity measures meant the agency used that surplus already.

What do you think of the approach? At least with a formula, transit riders would know what kind of fare increases to budget for, as I think US austerity measures are likely to pull back on federal support for transit very hard.

The world loses a brilliant role model and her incredible smile

The LA TImes obituary for Nobel Prize Winner Wangari Maathai captures why she was so inspirational:

She was a thorn in the side of the government of Daniel arap Moi in the 1980s and ’90s, and was arrested for treason, harassed and beaten several times.

She also exasperated her husband, who divorced Maathai in 1979, reportedly complaining that she was “too educated, too strong, too successful, too stubborn and too hard to control.”

Too magnificent for this world, she’s gone to another. Godspeed, good lady.

Discovering joy with a smelly blind dog

Andy and I went to the South LA shelter on Saturday to pick up a Pekingese who was in terrible shape–I’ve never smelled such a revolting smell, and I’ve sorted through landfill samples to test for what percentage of the material is recyclable.

Mickey went straight from the shelter to the vet who had to shave off pounds of filth and hair. Underneath we found that he has dozens of lumps which the vet aspirated. She says they look benign–Pekes often get cysts–but I’ve never seen so many on a dog, and his tail is covered. We will have to have the lumps tested if I notice any change in them.

There are a few things quite clear: his age, for one, much older than the shelter guessed (they usually lowball), and he appears to see only shadows. His mouth is a complete mess and he needs dental work done. He has quite a bit of pigmentation covering his eyes, and I doubt he will ever see well. We have been helping him learn the layout of the Suburban Lair little by little.

He is exhausted and extremely depressed most of the time. But–but–he seemingly takes joy in the smallest of his victories. Among the myriad tail-waggers at the Suburban Lair, Mickey is already the undisputed champion. The simplest thing brings about a minor tsunami of tail wagging: the touch of your hand, a good clear-smelling breeze in his face, the realization that he has finally found his favorite bed after creeping his way through a disorienting maze of furniture in what must seem like a cavernous room. It warms even my my tar-hard, dime-sized heart.

Where’s my transit revolution? Today’s infuriating commuting numbers from the ACS

Ok, so the answer to the question I pose is, inevitably: we haven’t spent enough on transit yet. However, the mode choice numbers in a report this morning from the American Community Survey discourage and, since I don’t take being discouraged very well, infuriate.

Let’s take a look at some of the graphics:

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Blargh! WHAT? WE’RE TALKING FIVE DECADES OF TRANSIT INVESTMENT AND THE MODE SHARE AND COUNTS HAVEN’T CHANGED HARDLY AT ALL? WHA? WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT?! “Wah wah wah I don’t liiiiiiiiiike buses. I neeeeeeeed light rail plunked down all over hell and gone just like Europe. THEN I’ll stop driving.”

We’ve done our part. We’ve built rail line after rail line after rail line. We’ve been condemning sprawl since the 1980s, advocating for denser residential patterns since roughly the same time. Living in the suburbs in our popular media is treated as the moral equivalent of being fat or smoking. DAVID FREAKING BYRNE IS WRITING ABOUT HOW COOL IT IS TO BIKE IN CITIES FER CRYIN’ OUT LOUD. We’ve romanticized places like New York and Portland. WHAT’S IT GONNA TAKE, PEOPLE?

With mode shares, the percentage taking transit masks the fact that more people are taking transit in 2009 than in 1960, but still. In reality, this time period reflects a changing geographic distribution of the US population where, yes, people left the precious central city for the suburbs (something that doesn’t seem to have hurt NYC-NJ transit one little bit, BTW), but people also left rural areas for metropolitan areas. These numbers should be shifting simply by virtue of that phenomenon.

So that graphic shows the commute counts. Maybe commutes just aren’t shifting and we’d see a different story from 1960 to 2010 if we had leisure travel here.

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So transit operators should advocate for open borders because immigrants are good customers.

This last one may be too hard to see. The report is freely available (until the Republicans decide to shut down the Census), so go look at the report.

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Thirty years ago in public transit, there was NYC, and then there was everybody else. Today, apparently, it’s still NYC and everybody else.

I don’t see happy things ahead in terms of changing these numbers, especially with big systems like BART reducing frequencies, even with higher gas prices.

Blargh. Bad way to start my day.

Richard Green’s testimony on how to work through foreclosures

My wonderful colleague, Richard Green, testified in front of the Senate Banking Committee. He’s convinced me, and I’ve been a bit dubious about bailing out homeowners (still: why didn’t we make the banks refinance when we were handing the banks money with TARP? I don’t get it). Here’s my favorite part of the testimony

There are those who argue that it was the attempt to advance
mortgage credit to minorities that led to our current condition—
I do not accept that argument. The loans that have performed
most poorly were originated by institutions that were not
covered by the Community Reinvestment Act or the Affordable
Housing Goals. Moreover, as Mr. Wallison himself once noted,
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac did not do a good job of advancing
credit to minorities or low-income neighborhoods. While this is
to their discredit, it undermines the argument that their
troubles arose because they made too many loans to underserved


Learning from the Parrot Project

My new neighborhood has parrots. We used to have parrots–I believe parakeets–when we lived in WeHo. I never observed any parrots in DTLA–I think they like to be in groups, and I think they like free flight.

At our new home, we have I think two distinct groups of parrots. I went to the California Parrot Project Page to identify them. I think our green birds are the Mitred parakeet. They have little red faces, they are about the right size, and they numerous.

But we also have grey parrots–I’m pretty sure–and they are not listed on the parrot pages anywhere. I’m assume they are naturalized African Greys, but perhaps I am wrong. They are hard to see well, but they are bigger than the green ones, and there are fewer in the flock that swoop around. They are also chatterboxes, yammering at each other even they are at rest.

I filled out a parrot report–let’s see if they get back in touch. I’m going to try to catch a picture of them, but I usually see them when I am pottering around in the garden.

Have any of the rest of you seen grey parrots in SoCal?

Here is a picture of the parakeet I’m pretty sure of, from the Parrot Project website:

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Goodbye to Metropolis Books

I haven’t written about the closing of Metropolis Books in downtown Los Angeles yet, largely because I though if I just ignored it, it wouldn’t actually close.

Just like with the recall election and G.W. Bush’s second term, however ignoring it didn’t work. Here is the story from the Los Angles Times on Metropolis Books as it closes its doors.

Downtown still has another wonderful bookstore—the Last Bookstore, which I wish the LA Times writer had mentioned. It’s in a lovely space. Go visit, and spend lots of money.

Starlings in the bird bath

I know you aren’t supposed to like starlings, but I do. We’ve have some juveniles using the bird bath, and they remind me of rough but good-natured teenage boys, shoving each other in and out of the water, with much attendant splashing and squawking. The winner of the shoving match seems quite proud of himself, though victory is fleeting, as the others rush in to displace him.