Tuesday, July 08, 2008

More Houston top rankings and kudos, IAH A380, and more

Again, the smaller miscellaneous items have stacked up beyond one post, so here's half of 'em:
"Do not move to Austin. I live there now. There are no jobs, unless you want to be a cashier at Target for $9 an hour. Yes, Dell has laid off and will continue to lay off. Most everyone who works there says "Dell, no we call it hell". I grew up on OC (Mission Viejo) and thought Austin would be a good escape from the So Cal attitude I got so sick of over the years. Nope! Austin is the next OC. If Trader Joe's ever opens there, I'm leaving. I doubt they will since Whole Foods is headquartered in Austin and I'm sure they have a whole team of lawyers sitting in the trenches just waiting for the TJ's people to come. Do not move to a college town, and do not move to a place where MTV has done a "Real World" series. Learn from someone who made these mistakes. "

"The train is from one and a half to five times as expensive (vs. a plane), and takes four and a half to five times as long, turning a four-day trip into seven or eight days...

It’s not a matter of the government not supporting Amtrak. It’s not a matter of the U.S. not having the “will” to have the best passenger trains in the world. It’s that passenger trains, using any current technology or any technology we see coming in the foreseeable future, simply can’t compete with airlines.

It’s just arithmetic."

  • A very cool rumor that Emirates may soon be flying the new A380 double-decker mega-plane to IAH. Their nonstop Dubai service has been extremely successful - so much so they need a bigger plane. It will require double-decking one of the gates in Terminal D.
  • Finally, Joel Kotkin and others have started a new web site called "The New Geography." Good stuff definitely worth exploring. Here's one recent article on the decline of Chicago:
"In conclusion, Chicago’s long decline continues. In the coming years, public pension commitments will test even the high tax tolerant Chicago residents. Look for low regulation, low tax Houston to overtake Chicago in population in the next eight to 15 years."
They have 2.8m, and we have 2.2m, in the city limits - so we'd have to add a pretty good chunk of people inside the city to pass them and go from 4th to 3rd-largest city in the country. Possible, but not easy. We won't be passing their metro population (3rd largest) anytime soon: 9.8m vs. 5.6m.
I'll be attending the Center For Houston's Future ULI luncheon on Thursday (sold out), and hopefully a blog post on it that night, so the rest of the misc items will have to wait until next week.

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8 Comments:

At 10:27 PM, July 08, 2008, Anonymous common_sense said...

Uhhh...the post about train travel and economics is annoying. No one is talking about cross-country routes!

I think the consensus is that long distance travel by trains (i.e. Denver to New York as described in the post) is not practical. That is actually one of the major problems with the current AMTRAK system; they focus too much on these intercontinental lines.

What we need are high speed regional trains to supplement a wider transportation system. Every post-industrial country in the world has these trains to varying degrees. Even countries like Argentina are well on their way to develop these lines. Here in the US...surprise, surprise...we are behind.

Face it folks, we have the transportation system of a 3rd world country. Shockingly embarrassing.

 
At 8:07 AM, July 09, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Actually, Europe is headed our direction, with cheap flights like RyanAir displacing train riders. Why build multi-billion dollar train lines when the airports do it with very little public subsidy? Magnitudes less than trains would require. Not to mention that airports are a cakewalk to secure from terrorists vs. hundreds or thousands of miles of high-speed track.

> Face it folks, we have the transportation system of a 3rd world country. Shockingly embarrassing.

You're kidding, right? Most airports, most flights, most freeway miles, huge ports, extensive freight rail network. It's not perfect, and it has been neglected vs. the investments needed, but "3rd-world" is a huge mischaracterization. Try traveling to some of those 3rd-world countries first and you'll see what true 3rd-world transportation infrastructure is: unpaved roads, cramped 2-lane highways, and tiny, archaic airports with ancient planes.

 
At 8:44 AM, July 09, 2008, Anonymous kjb434 said...

Tory,

You also can add besides increase cheap plane routes, Europe is massively expanding their road network with expressways to connect all the EU countries to mimic the nimbleness of the US interstates system. Although is will be tolled.

Trucks can move goods more easily than trains to more destinations. The trains maybe could for moving from a port to a distribution point, but it will be all truck after that.

Also, Europe is seeing a massive rise in passenger car travel.

common_sense,
We aren't behind, everybody else is behind us.

What other countries are building massive road networks: China and India. Roads are cheaper and more effective to move goods and people.

China's highway expansion will connect all of it's large cities and provide access to small villages to growing modern economy.

 
At 12:29 PM, July 09, 2008, Blogger AC said...

You don't need a Forbes ranking or academic research to prove that Houston's housing prices are low relative to wages. All you need to know is that Houston experiences net inward migration year-in and year-out.

 
At 4:19 PM, July 09, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>> Face it folks, we have the transportation system of a 3rd world country. Shockingly embarrassing.

Correction: we have the train transportation system of a 3rd world country. Happy? I forget whether it is Bulgaria or some other country that Amtrak service is often compared to - nevertheless - it is definitely not France.

The future of travel in the sub 1000 mile range is the high speed train.

>>Not to mention that airports are a cakewalk to secure from terrorists vs. hundreds or thousands of miles of high-speed track.

On the other hand, you cannot steer a train into the White House, but it is relatively easy to fly a plane into the Williams Tower or wherever you'd like. Perhaps jets can be scrambled quickly enough to shoot down a hijacked plane in the case of the Pentagon, but probably very few targets in Texas would be successfully defended.

Speaking of terrorist targets, you could also pretty easily drive 5-6 cars or H2s onto I-10, blockade it, and shoot down everyone in the area with machine guns if you were so inclined and had a death wish.

I'm guessing that terrorism on this level does not happen much because not many people harbor death wishes, and most acts of terror are ultimately acts of suicide. Also, road or train terrorism is sort of boring when you can fly a plane into the Pentagon, or release a dirty bomb over NYC.

Also thought you would like this article that says that highways are massively subsidized.

 
At 6:49 PM, July 09, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Hijacking a jet is next to impossible post 9-11, for all sorts of reasons, from enhanced security to changed attitudes by passengers and crew (including that nobody is allowed in the locked cockpit).

The I-10 scenario you describe would have minimal casualties. And both scenarios require suicide terrorists. Anybody can break or bomb a high-speed track, derail a train, and kill hundreds of people while cleanly getting away.

As far as the subsidies: this is an incorrect analysis focusing on specific roads. Bottom line is that all Texas highways are built with gas tax money, so there is no subsidy. The deal is "tax our driving/gas to pay for the state roads we drive on, and let the political process determine which roads get built." It doesn't matter that some roads attract fewer drivers than others. At the end of the day, users pay - and if you don't drive, you don't pay. Same with flying and plane ticket taxes. So trains are fine as long as the same principle is applied: if I don't ride, I don't pay for it. Unfortunately, that completely undermines their economics.

 
At 10:03 PM, July 09, 2008, Blogger Michael said...

>>As far as the subsidies: this is an incorrect analysis focusing on specific roads. Bottom line is that all Texas highways are built with gas tax money, so there is no subsidy.

From TxDOT (emphasis added) - nope, looks like they are analyzing all roads:

The Asset Value Index is the ratio of the total expected revenues divided by the total expected costs. If the ratio is 0.60, the road will produce revenues to meet 60 percent of its costs; it would be “paid for” only if the ratio were 1.00, when the revenues met 100 percent of costs. Another way of describing this is to do a “tax gap” analysis, which shows how much the state fuel tax would have to be on that given corridor for the ratio for revenues to match costs.

Applying this methodology, revealed that no road pays for itself in gas taxes and fees.

As well as:

This is just one example, but there is not one road in Texas that pays for itself based on the tax system of today. Some roads pay for about half their true cost, but most roads we have analyzed pay for considerably less. To conclude, in the SH 99 example, since the traffic volume for that road doesn't generate enough fuel tax revenue to pay for it, revenues from other parts of the state must be used to build and maintain this corridor segment. The same is true across the state, meaning that, as revealed by the tax gap analysis, overall revenues are not sufficient to meet the state’s transportation needs.

>>The I-10 scenario you describe would have minimal casualties. And both scenarios require suicide terrorists. Anybody can break or bomb a high-speed track, derail a train, and kill hundreds of people while cleanly getting away.

Really, you don't think blocking off I-10 at rush hour, hopping on some scooters, and machine-gunning down people in their cars would not kill tens if not hundreds of people?

What about filling a van with explosives and sitting next to a building? The OKC bombing left 168 dead, 800 injured, and a federal building destroyed. The 9/11 bombers initially tried to blow up the WTC in the same manner in 1992. And, you don't need to commit suicide using this approach either.

What about launching a rocket at a plane? A Continental plane nearly got hit a few weeks back near IAH by somebody's backyard experiment.

The point is this: Surely if terrorists wanted to disrupt our way of life they could do so in numerous ways - thus the argument that we should not build trains because of terrorism threats is a non-unique argument, and a dishonest reason in my personal opinion.

In fact, Light rail now has a good analysis showing that personal motor vehicles (roadside bombs, etc) account for 75% of all terrorist incidents and over 50% of the deaths over the past 40 years (rail was less than 7% of the incidents and 7% of the fatalities). You can find that here.

You could argue that this is because a smaller portion of travel was done by train, but still the fact remains: terrorism is a threat to any mode of transportation. What we should focus on is technologies and approaches to secure our modes of transit as best we can, not avoid pursuing means of transit because of overblown fears. At train stations they can scan for biological agents / nerve gas, etc. Certain segments of track could be monitored by camera. Technology, procedure, and law enforcement are our weapons against terrorism.

(BTW - I write this as someone who was evacuated from a train which was crossing from Spain into France and the conductor suspected a bomb on the track in the Basque country. We unloaded the train, got on a bus, picked up the train at the next station in France, and were on our way.)

 
At 10:24 PM, July 09, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Nonetheless, the budget for our highways = the budget from the gas tax. Obviously, we collect gas tax from driving on all roads, not just highways. The rest of the roads are rightfully paid for with property taxes. This is TX-DOT's way of arguing for more tolled roads, which I happen to agree with if we can't increase the gas tax.

All the things you mention require technology or access to automatic weapons (btw, in your highway scenario, they would almost certainly be gunned down - or at least pinned down - by gun-carrying drivers relatively quickly, esp. in Texas). Cutting rail track does not - not to mention little or no security with what people bring on the trains. Not saying it's the end-all-be-all, but it is another disadvantage vs. flying for the same routes. Local rail goes slow enough it's not as much of a risk, but any kind of inter-city high speed rail would be risky indeed.

 

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