Size matters, HSR, CA vs TX, rail, regs, stats, and more
On to the misc items this week:
- USA Today on "Why we can't afford the luxury of high-speed rail":
“The history of transportation shows that we adopt new technologies when they are faster, more convenient, and less expensive than the technologies they replace. High-speed rail is slower than flying, less convenient than driving, and far more expensive than either one. As a result, it will never serve more than a few marginal travelers.”
"Amtrak brags that its high-speed Acela between Boston and Washington covers its operating costs, though not its capital costs. It does so, however, only by collecting fares of about 75 cents per passenger mile. By comparison, airline fares average only 13 cents a passenger mile, and intercity buses (which, Amtrak doesn't want you to know, carry about three times as many passengers between Boston and Washington as the Acela) are even less expensive.
According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, Americans spent about $950 billion on driving in 2008. This allowed us to travel, says the Federal Highway Administration, more than 2.7 trillion vehicle miles, for an average cost of about 35 cents per vehicle mile. Since the California High-Speed Rail Authority estimates cars in intercity travel carry an average of 2.4 people, the average cost is less than 15 cents a passenger mile."
- An argument against Richard Florida and his mega-regions concept, inc. the argument to connect up mega-regions with high-speed rail.
- Forbes blog on "Urban Light Rail Fail". Hat tip to Chuck.
"The praise for Phoenix light rail reminds me of a home I visited recently that had a $50,000 super-size 100-inch flat screen TV. That TV was gorgeous. Everyone who saw it immediately fell in love with it. It worked flawlessly, and everyone at the party wanted one. In fact, it was probably the greatest, most sensible and successful purchase of all time … as long as one never considered the cost. This is exactly how light rail seems to get evaluated."
- An excellent story in the Wall Street Journal on why public infrastructure projects (like rail lines) tend to run substantially overbudget:
"The question is, what causes spending to expand well beyond initial projections? Explanations range from subtle psychological impulses when numbers are involved (irrational optimism), to the economic phenomenon known as the winner's curse (projects with rosier estimates are more likely move forward), to outright lying."
I like the proposed solution: an independent agency to validate projections. Maybe something similar to the Congressional Budget Office? Texas could certainly use such an agency to validate projections on all sorts of projects before moving forward, from Metro rail lines to TXDoT freeway expansions. Anybody want to submit a bill to the upcoming legislative session?
- Demographia has released a new report detailing the additional housing cost burden of regulations in different cities, and Houston looks very, very good in their charts (summary report and full report). Another win for light-touch development regulations and no zoning. Hat tip to Hugh.
- A new TPPF report: Competitive States 2010: TEXAS vs. CALIFORNIA - Economic Growth Prospects for the 21st Century. Guess who won? Hat tip to Josh.
- Wendell Cox over at New Geography analyzes recent Census stats on the rapid rise of telecommuting since 2000.
- A counter argument to the last item in this recent post declaring that city size is no longer a key factor in building a vibrant local economy. Key excerpt:
After analyzing the statistics, the answer was clear: Cities are like elephants. They get more economical with size. It doesn’t matter whether the city is located in China, Europe, or the American Midwest; every city is simply a scaled version of the same city. In metropolis after metropolis, the indicators of urban “metabolism”—like the per-capita consumption of gasoline or the surface area of roads or the total length of electrical cables—scaled to an exponent of (population)0.8, which is very similar to the biological equivalent of (mass)0.75. This means that a city can double its population without doubling its resource consumption. “One of the basic principles of cities is that it’s more efficient to bring people together,” West says. “You need a little bit less of everything per person. It’s the exact same way in biology. As animals get bigger, they require less energy to support each unit of tissue.”
Bottom line: growth matters, and people who argue against growth are arguing for economic stagnation.Finally, I'd like to just pass along some recently released random stats on Houston. Note the higher average income and lower cost of living - that's why the living here is so good. Also note our lower public transportation and higher carpool shares vs. the nation, which I think is a strong indicator of our decentralized, multi-centric metropolis of many different job centers (rather than everybody trying to get downtown, <7% of jobs), and a good argument for a new and better vision for Metro. Thanks to the Greater Houston Partnership for these stats, esp. Patrick and Marycruz.
- Population was estimated at 5.865 million and households at 2.004 million.
- The median age of the region’s residents was 32.9 years, compared to 36.8 nationwide.
- The percent of the population age 25 and over with a bachelor’s degree or higher was 27.9, the same as the nation.
- In Houston, the labor force participation rate for those ages 16 and over was 68.5 percent. Nationwide, the rate was 65.3 percent.
- The mean travel time to work in Houston dropped from 28.9 minutes in ’08 to 27.6 minutes in ’09. In the nation, mean travel time also fell, from 25.4 minutes in ’08 to 25.1 in ’09.
- In Houston, the percent of workers using public transportation to commute to work totaled 2.2 percent, while 78.8 percent of commuters drove alone and 12.1 percent carpooled. Nationwide, 5.0 percent used public transportation, 76.1 percent drove alone, and 10.0 percent carpooled.
- Real median household income was $54,146 in Houston, compared to $50,221 nationwide.
- The median value for owner-occupied homes in Houston was $139,800, compared to $185,200 in the nation.
- The median gross rent was $848 in Houston and $842 in the nation.
- Nationwide, 84.9 percent of the civilian noninstitutionalized population had insurance coverage, compared to 75.4 percent in the Houston.
- 1.278 million residents in the region were foreign born, representing 21.8 percent of the population, compared to 12.5 percent nationwide. The percent of foreign born in Houston increased from 21.5 percent in ’08 to 21.8 percent in ’09.