Davis and Kahn on the effects of used vehicle imports on emissions

Davis, Lucas and Matthew Kahn. 2010. International trade in used vehicles: The environmental consquences of NAFTA. Economic Policy. 58-82.

Davis and Kahn set up a nice little set of models to help us understand what has likely happened in the durable goods market for vehicles. In comparatively higher income countries, used durables like cars are likely to get traded out to lower income countries–here, the US and Mexico. And since older durables emit more than new cars, they find that this robust trade in used vehicles increases lifetime emissions as Mexico consumers substitute away from transit use to used car consumption and those cars stay in use longer. An excellent paper: I highly encourage you to go read (and to spring for membership in the American Economic Association: you get lots of good journals and a calendar with economist centerfolds! One of my happiest investments this year.)

A couple of weak points: they say at the beginning that they establish that trade makes emissions go up in both countries. No, they actually show that emissions go down in the US but up in Mexico, and the increases in Mexico outstrip the reductions in the US. I don’t love the way they calculate emissions: they have to make some assumptions about the distribution of vehicle miles of travel, and I suspect that it is possible, given their analysis, that trade make makes VMT go up in both countries. Moreover, they note that costs of repairs are low in Mexico, yet they really don’t calculate how repairs can significantly improve engine performance. A car isn’t as good as new, but that doesn’t mean it stays a clunker after it’s traded. This may be particularly true depending on where the used car ends up in Mexico: Mexico City has different incentives and regulations for fixing up a car than other parts of the country.

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The Future of The Car in the Financial Times

The US carmaker and its Chinese partner SAIC unveiled in March their vision of a car for 2030: a self-driving, networked bubble-car run on electric power, and small enough to park in your living room. It was called EN-V (for Electric Networked Vehicle) and came in three variants with Chinese names: Xiao (“laugh”), Jiao (“pride”) and Miao (“magic”)

link: FT.com / Reports – From hybrids to self-driving vehicles

It’s worth checking out the whole series about they think the future of the car will be, particularly for very small cars, indeed. If you click the graphic, you get the full effect of how important Asian markets are going to be–even with transit.

Some of the things they are discussing are very interesting indeed. I just imagine my very tall colleague driving around in a bubble car!

Does transit get too little funding?

One of the common arguments I hear is that transit is underfunded. Now, this is a subjective question. For those who believe that having transit is absolutely vital to cities, no amount would be enough. So that’s not the point.

The other argument that I hear is that we spend too much on highways rather than transit. Again, subjective. There’s no way to suss this question easily enough for a blog post.

But we can take a look at what people seem to believe is a disparity in funding.

This is the graphic you are most likely to see when we discuss differences between highway and transit funding:

Ok, so of the total, highways get about 55 to 60 percent and transit gets 17 percent on average over the time period, but by the end of the time period, transit’s share has risen to about 20 percent and highways has gone to about 54 percent.

So that’s a pretty big difference in funding. But when you factor in the passenger miles served, the calculus changes. In the following graphic, I have assigned 100 percent of the spending on highways to passenger cars–a major overstatement, but it serves the point. It’s an overstatement because highways also serve trucks (a big deal), motorcycles and some transit (less of a big deal.)

My transit advocate friends will patronize me at this point and lecture me about how I’m not factoring in the external costs of the cars–and that’s true.

But I am not sure that external costs are relevant to expenditure fairness. Whether we factor in external costs or not is relevant to tax policy, for sure, but it’s probably not relevant to the budget equity arguments often made. It’s one thing to talk about optimum investment, which would require marginal social cost: it’s another to try to figure out if transit exists is “David” to auto’s “Goliath”.

Here, we’re trying to figure out if transit riders are getting the shaft. Are they getting the shaft (the transit advocate side)? Or are they rolling in dough they don’t need (the Reason foundation argument)?

This is one of the few times I actually might believe the apples and oranges arguments about comparing. Transit is in a building stage, but highways, for the most part, are in the maintenance phase. We could argue ourselves in circles: to reach investment parity, we’d need to double the transit numbers per passenger mile, etc, etc.

I just don’t know what I think. I need to fiddle with the numbers more.

All these data are from BTS, btw.

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David King on Richard Florida’s leaps from logic

Richard Florida, having always been a little light on the “how to use data” side, has really drunk the New Urbanist Kool-Aid here late, and it’s been hard to sit through. One of his latest “light on evidence, heavy on major claims” forays explains to us in the Atlantic how commuting is, basically as bad for us as smoking or obesity. Here’s a quote:

Commuting is a health and psychological hazard, not to mention the carnage and wasted time on our over-clogged roads. It’s time to put commuting right beside smoking and obesity on the list of priorities for improving the health and well-being of Americans.

Are you kidding me? My walk to USC takes me an hour. The car trip takes me 15 minutes. I’m pretty sure that the hour is the healthiest part of my day, and that commute time has little to do with health. I get that when Florida says “commuting” he’s thinking car, but he’s addled up the theorized relationship between commuting time and health in so many ways my eyes are crossed.

I don’t have the energy to go into everything that is wrong with his claims, but fortunately David King from Columbia did take some time out to break down the problems. Take a look.

Here’s a couple of favorite quotes from King:

A more inconvenient truth for Florida is that the extreme commuters–those with commutes over 90 minutes–are most likely to get to work by commuter train. Advocates for rail transit to reduce commuting costs should be careful what they wish for. People driving to work alone have the shortest commutes, and commutes are growing most in suburb-to-suburb travel which are poorly served by any transit but rail in particular. The megaregions that Florida and others hold so dearly are also polycentric regions with employment centers spread out all over the place.

link: Getting from here to there: Commuting is not bad for you

Commutes by transit are, on average, longer than in duration than car commutes, by any data set you use. So…I guess since according to the commutes are bad logic, transit commutes are so long that transit is actually bad for health. Sweet cracker sandwich. Maybe transit commuters spend so much time waiting for transfers they can’t go to the gym?

One point to note: King suggests that about half of US commuters commute less than 20 minutes. One thing he leaves out: that figure has remained remarkably stable over the years that we have been collecting data on commutes. My speculation is that if we could get transit commutes down to 20 minutes they would be much more competitive with cars (but they would also be competing with bicycles, too); I suspect that many people just have travel budgets, and over time people adjust their residential locations according to their preferred access locations–not necessarily the work location. I also suspect that many of the very long commutes we see in the data are people who don’t commute every day but still report their commute length, or are people in a “change mode”–they are in the process of changing jobs or lifestyles, and they are putting with a longer commute for constrained time period until the “right time to move” comes up. Leases are sticky, and so is house buying and selling. Cross-sectional data doesn’t describe these very well.

Another point, from commuting in America II:

Contrary to what some might expect, it is the smaller metropolitan areas that show strong center city dominance. In areas below 100,000 population, The internal center city flows alone are about half of all flows, but drop to below 24% at the highest metro size levels

King highlights this but doesn’t go the full way of critiquing the assumption: why anybody wouldn’t expect polycentricity to grow with region size is beyond me. It’s what urban economics would teach us to expect as a land market response to higher downtown costs.

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In which Peter Gordon makes me LOL about policy and planning

The New Yorker’s view of the world? Today’s WSJ, includes Joel Kotkin’s “The Myth of the Back-to-the-City Migration”. Many commentators live and/or work in Manhattan and cannot imagine that they are the outliers. Many others have not yet accepted the auto-oriented city — which is here to stay. Still others cannot imagine that the suburbs offer enough in the way of “density” in various “sub-centers” to fulfill urban areas’ role in providing all of the agglomeration benefits and opportunities. It’s akin to high-speed rail, rail transit, downtown convention centers and sports stadia, transit-oriented development, and many variants. One side of the brain (if brains actually have sides) says, “get used to it.” The other side says, “this is waste, fraud, and even occasional theft.” I suppose this is why they have Tylenol.

link: Peter Gordon’s Blog

I started skylarking this morning about a novella where all of planning is just a grand cabal between aspirin companies and the gummint.

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Scientific American’s Breakdown of Plug-In Hybrids

This is a nice media presentation of the lifetime energy issues for plug-in hybrids. I particularly like the way it shows the regional energy markets. For people who are doing this work, it’s basic, but it’s a nice tool for high school students.

Play the presentation here.

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Pat Mokhtarian on telecommunications, travel and cars

Here’s some video where Dr. Mohktarian discusses the implications of her work for future transport in cities:

Patricia Mokhtarian – We still need handshakes.

Here is a selection of her work on the subject:

Mokhtarian, P.L., 1990. A typology of relationships between telecommunications and transportation. Transportation Research 24A (3), 231–242.

Mokhtarian, P.L., 1998. A synthetic approach to estimating the impacts of telecommuting on travel. Urban Studies 35 (2), 215–241.

Mokhtarian, P.L., 2000. Telecommunications and travel. In: Transportation in the New Millennium, Transportation Research Board, National Research Council, National Academy of Science, Washington, DC. Available from:here.

Mokhtarian, P.L., 2002. Telecommunications and travel: The case for complementarity. Journal of Industrial Ecology 6 (2), 43–57. Mokhtarian, P.L., Meenakshisundaram, R., 1999. Beyond tele-substitution: disaggregate longitudinal structural equations modeling of communication impacts. Transportation Research 7C (1), 33–52.

Mokhtarian, P.L., Salomon, I., 2002. Emerging travel patterns: Do telecommunications make a difference? In: Mahmassani, H.S. (Ed.), In
Perpetual Motion: Travel Behaviour Research Opportunities and Application Challenges. Pergamon Press/Elsevier, New York, pp. 143–182.

Mokhtarian, P.L., Handy, S.L., Salomon, I., 1995. Methodological issues in the estimation of the travel, energy, and air quality impacts of telecommuting. Transportation Research 29A (4), 283–302.

Choo, S. & Mokhtarian, P. L. (2007). Telecommunications and travel demand and supply: Aggregate structural equation models for the US. Transportation Research Part A, 41(1), 4-18.

When you are a young scholar, you get to meet people whose work you’ve admired for years and years. When I first read Pat Mokhtarian’s work on telecommuting, the lights went on–a lot like when I read Randy Crane’s and Marlon Boarnet’s work. These were policy and planning people who understood and applied economic thinking to cities. Just because you provide additional, alternative options to auto travel does not mean that auto usage in the aggregate will shrivel. It probably means more travel overall because now people have more ways of getting around. Yes, some substituting goes on for some individuals, but for public policy, but what actually matters is overall VMT reduction, and nothing about additional supply of alternative modes guarantees overall VMT reductions because nothing keeps people from simply consuming more of all types of mobility options. “Ooo! A wonderful train to work! I shall take that instead of drive!” Victory, we planners exclaim! But then suddenly your stay-at-home spouse has a car available during the day and starts to use it more. Or, the same decision-maker says “Ha! I take the train the work, and since I’m not annoyed by driving for my commute, I will take the car after work to visit my friends in the far-flung suburb when I would otherwise beg off.” Those may be utility-increasing, but they are not necessarily VMT-reducing scenarios. They may be congestion-dampening, however.

Mokhtarian is part of an absolutely amazing cluster of scholars at the University of California Davis doing research on transportation: Dan Sperling, Deb Niemeier, Michael Zhang, Mark DeLucchi, and Sue Handy.

The City Fix Coverage of Delhi’s Rickshaws

A Day Without Auto Rickshaws: Inconvenience, Intimidation and Corruption | TheCityFix.com is a nice story demonstrating the important role played by the jitney and taxi services in urban transport, particularly in mega-cities. Yet, the working conditions and compensation offered to the actual labor for this system is exploitative.

So what’s the answer? Peter Gordon and I are argue about this point, as I do think a base level of safety regulation is a good idea for jitneys; they should have seat belts and licensed drivers at least. Peter correctly points out that more freedom you allow drivers, the better off they are and the more mobility they can supply, and passengers benefit from price and service competition. Here seems a pretty clear case of destructive unions; drivers would be better off without the unions, and they are probably better off without the type of controls the city seems to be considering.