Thursday, January 17, 2008

Battery tech, baby boom 2, rail vs. ridership (and stadium), energy trading, and Texas job growth

An assortment of smaller items today:
  • Stanford researchers claim they can get a 10x improvement in lithium ion batteries. If the improvement can be manufactured affordably and reliably, it would certainly be a great improvement for laptops and cell phones, but the larger potential is plug-in hybrid cars that get through a typical commute-day using no gasoline at all. Toyota and GM are already announcing plug-in hybrids using existing battery technology for 2010 or so. This can only help their cost, weight, and performance. Good news for the environment, but another sign that Houston's oil & gas industry needs to be diversifying into a broader array of energy sources over the long-term...
  • Story out this week that the U.S. is having a mini-baby boom, with fertility rates far higher than most of the developed world (Europe, Japan). We're back up to 2.1 children per woman, which is the break-even replacement rate. They speculate on several reasons, but as I've noted before, when people become more affluent, they want more private space. If they can't afford more space (as is common in Europe and Japan), they compensate by having fewer children to keep household size down. The U.S. has just been through a seven-year housing boom with low rates and easy credit allowing people to move from rental apartments to home ownership, or upgrade to a larger home. The average house size in America keeps growing. It's only natural for a baby boomlet to follow.
  • Tom comments on an inauspicious op-ed in the LA Times pointing out that LA transit ridership dropped precipitously as they shifted money from affordable, extensive bus service to a rail network, and has only started to bounce back since the courts forced them to put money back into bus service:
"Taking all this into consideration and adjusting for inflation, the MTA has spent more than $11 billion since 1986 to build its rail network, and the effect has been to reduce total transit ridership on the system by more than 3 billion boardings. That's a bizarre result."

Metro's overall ridership has also dropped after the opening of the Main St. line, and this doesn't bode well for the larger network now being built. It's not just that the new lines will lead to more transfers and longer trip times (as they will), but they also use money that could have been used for more frequent bus service subsidized at lower prices to attract more riders. I do think the new network will help attract more people to the HOV express commuter buses (since they can easily get around town during the day without a car), but unfortunately I doubt that will be enough to compensate for the other ridership losses.
  • Speaking of rail, Christof notes that the proposed new eastside soccer stadium for the Dynamo also would block the eastside rail line, as well as almost all continuous east-west streets to downtown. It might still be able to get down Texas, but then we're talking about one of the only through east-west streets losing lanes for rail, creating a constricting bottleneck. Doesn't seem like a good move. Couldn't the stadium be shifted a couple blocks north or south to keep some through streets?
  • In case you missed them, a couple good articles from the Chronicle. The first is on the resurgence of the financial and physical energy trading industry in Houston since the Enron collapse. Most top-tier world cities have a major financial industry business base of some kind (including commodities trading in Chicago). That's the industry where the big money is: revenues, profits, salaries, and bonuses (just ask NYC and London). It's good that Houston is developing that leg of our economy to go along with oil and gas, the medical center, aerospace, and the port.
  • Here's the second item of note:

Forbes touts Texas as haven for jobs

Texas is a hot spot for jobs in 2008, according to

The publication released its third annual list of the 100 best cities for jobs. Austin was No. 3; Fort Worth, No. 5; Houston, No. 7; San Antonio, No. 11; McAllen, No. 33; and El Paso, No. 49. (where's Dallas? Ah, just found it at #18)

"It seems like the Lone Star State is the place to go if you're looking to start a career or continue the one you've got," said Matthew Kirdahy, a reporter with, who wrote the article.

Forbes compiled the list from Moody's data, including unemployment rate, job growth, income growth, median household income and cost of living, Kirdahy said. Salt Lake City was No. 1 and Wichita, Kan., was No. 2.

That's it for this week. Have a great weekend. It's supposed to be a bit chilly, but I guarantee it'll be a lot warmer than Green Bay or Foxborough...

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At 9:17 AM, January 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This soccer stadium deal still bothers me. We had no money for policeman and fireman raises or to hire more cops, but we can whip our $20million to buy some land to hand to a private entity.

I guess hiring more cops and fireman doesn't look as good on a future campaign trail as the soccer stadium. Especially considering the voter demographic White will be looking for.

At 2:34 PM, January 18, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you mean we can't hire cops? We are hiring cops.

As for firemen, I don't know.

But I get your point, still. However, there are always better things the COH can spend their money on than sports stadiums beneficial to only a handful of people.

At 6:34 AM, January 19, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just received my latest request for ridership numbers from Metro, which I will put into my spreadsheet when I get around to it. The agency's boardings numbers did better for the second half of 2007 (about 2 percent) better than I expected. The early 2008 boardings numbers are better.

I will be posting an analysis shortly of fuel prices, population growth, fares, density, and a few other factors as an influence on transit patronage. I will also speculate at what point government transit agencies could be once again be self supporting in the future, ergo justifying their abolition and relying on private companies for the provision of public transportation. Such an event would take some of the heat off of the transit debate.


At 9:39 AM, January 20, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see Neals numbers. How do I do that?

At 5:48 PM, January 20, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Tory emailed me telling me that you wanted to see the transit agency's boardings numbers.

I keep a spreadsheet dating back to 1997 on boardings numbers. The sheet includes boardings numbers by bus route, and after 2004 it includes boardings for the train by total numbers and by station. The sheet includes numbers for local routes, commuter bus routes, special events, Park and Rides, and Metro Van.

Currently the spreadsheet is up to date through March 2007. What I was referring to in my previous post is that I received the numbers through the end of 2007 about 1-2 weeks ago. I have yet to put those numbers into the spreadsheet.

Anyway, here is where you can download the spreadsheet:

You will be asked if you want to enable macros. Answer yes. I actually only wrote a couple of macros before realizing that they were not necessary, but I never took them out of the sheet, mostly out of being lazy. The original effort in constructing the sheet took me 10 weeks and some 200 hours of work to do, as it involved inputting some 20,000 - 30,000 pieces of data off of hundreds of pages of hard copy.

Anyway, Enjoy!


At 12:50 PM, January 21, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think house size causes large families - Large houses (affluence) tend to be correlated to smaller family size if anything.

At most, the ability and desire to buy large houses results from optomism, which leads to a willingness to have children (see also the dramatic decrease in family size in Iran and the FSU and in Depression-era all three countries people suffered significant economic reverses and pessimism - distinct from undeveloped countries where birthrates have always been high as a "hedge").

A better explanation for larger family size is the proportion if immigrants in the US vs. other developed countries and the prevalance of religious activity (religious people tend to have more children and fewer abortions) as better reasons for the echo boomlet.

At 2:20 PM, January 21, 2008, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I agree demographic factors play a part (like race and religion). I also agree that "we have all this room, we should fill it with kids" doesn't really make sense. But it is quite believable that around 2000/2001, many families were thinking they'd like to have kids (or more kids), but they were stuck in a cramped apartment or small home. The Fed crashed rates to alleviate the 2001 recession, which, in turn, brought mortgage rates way down and lead to our property boom. All of a sudden, those people who wanted to buy a house, or who wanted to sell their current house and buy a larger one, could - because the financing was so much more affordable. Bush even touted that homeownership rates hit an all-time high, and several articles noted that average home sizes grew quickly. So these people who wanted larger families suddenly could get the space to do it. Thus the fertility micro-boom.

I agree that lower-income Hispanics do tend to have larger families even though they often live in cramped spaces. But that still fits the rule: as *affluence* increases, people desire more personal space. Less affluent families have always been willing to make do with less space and often have larger families. This has played out in many central cities lately as they have lost population because buildings that often held many large, poor families are gentrified to fewer, smaller upscale households (think central Boston, Philly, Chicago, DC, Manhattan, etc.).


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