Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Free Hobby!, mobility's economic boost, Jane Jacobs for car-based cities, top rankings

This kind of Chicago corruption coming to Houston is so depressing I don't really feel like posting this week (evidently United has contributed to all of the City Council members re-election campaigns), but I will press on.  Please don't forget to sign the petition and share it with all of your social media channels.  The City Council really must feel the pressure from the voters or they will just fall in line with what United tells them to do.

On to some of the ever-growing stack of smaller items.
Finally, a strong item from Bob Poole's Surface Transportation Innovations newsletter at Reason on why Houston needs to keep making mobility investments, especially in freeways and congestion pricing.  The benefits are strong.  A truly devastating argument against the "it'll just fill up again anyway" crowd:

Congestion’s Impact on Urban Economies 
Several years ago in this newsletter I reported on the work of economists Remy Prud'homme and Chang-Woon Lee. Using data on travel times and labor productivity from cities in France and South Korea, they found a robust relationship. The effective size of an urban region's labor market is bounded by how long it takes to make a typical journey to work. When shorter travel times increase the size of the labor market by 10%, the productivity of the metro area increased by1.3%. In the United States, Robert Cervero of UC Berkeley found that a 10% increase in commuting speed in the San Francisco Bay Area increased economic output by 1%. And more recent studies by David Hartgen and Gregory Fields, using data for eight U.S. metro areas, found similar effects—specifically, that the ability to go 10% farther in a commuting time of 25 minutes would lead to a 1% increase in regional economic productivity
I recently came across another study addressing basically the same question, using a different methodological approach. The paper is "Does Traffic Congestion Reduce Employment Growth?" by Kent Hymel, then at UC Irvine and now at Cal State University Northridge. It appeared in the March 2009 issue of the Journal of Urban Economics. Hymel employs an econometric approach drawn from the city growth literature, which focuses on the economics of agglomeration. He sets out to assess whether there is empirical evidence for the hypothesis that congestion reduces employment growth in a metro area. This turns out to be more complicated than it sounds because, as he notes in the introduction to the paper, the two variables interact: employment growth leads to more workers, who generate congestion, and congestion then "discourages [further] employment growth by raising workers' reservation wages and increasing shipping costs for goods." So he comes up with a number of clever methodological approaches to deal with this problem. Since I am not an econometrician, I will not attempt to summarize them for you, but will skip to his conclusions. 
The last table in the paper provides results for the 10 most-congested metro areas in 1990 (based on data from the Texas Transportation Institute's Urban Mobility Reports. For each of them, he provides an elasticity of congestion with respect to freeway capacity and an elasticity of employment growth with respect to congestion. This allows him to compare actual employment growth from 1990 to 2003 with two counter-factuals—a 10% increase in freeway capacity and a set of congestion tolls that would reduce congestion by 50%. For Los Angeles—then as now the most congested metro area—estimated employment growth would have been 8% greater if there had been a 10% increase in freeway capacity. Even more impressive, if congestion pricing reduced congestion by 50%, employment growth would have been 23% greater
I get frustrated when elected officials tout infrastructure projects because of "jobs, jobs, jobs"—by which they generally mean short-term construction jobs (which could also be generated by building pyramids or by digging holes and filling them in again). By contrast, productive infrastructure investments are those which make an economy more productive, generating an increased gross regional product. Hymel's findings join those discussed above in bolstering the case for investing wisely to reduce commuting time in urban regions.

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At 8:24 PM, April 18, 2012, Anonymous Chris Bradford said...

I'm not surprised United is lobbying against this, but I'm surprised it can out-muscle Southwest. Southwest can contribute to campaigns too. Why can't it buy a level playing field?

At 10:44 PM, April 18, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It would be a huge loss to Houston if the Southwest International terminal at Hobby is blocked. The Chronicle article seems inconclusive to me in terms of the vote - it talks about "council members" and mentions 4 who are apparently against it. So does United have a majority of votes lined up?

If the international terminal is blocked, Southwest would have to decide if it should proceed elsewhere or try again after the 2013 election. I don't know how many council members are at their 6-year limit. So if the vote is very close in favor of United, I could see Southwest possibly trying again in two years.

At 9:15 AM, April 19, 2012, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

"Southwest can contribute to campaigns too. Why can't it buy a level playing field?"

I had assumed it was against company policy. Might also be a calculation: council members really have to think twice before they support UA if they only get money from UA and not SWA - it will really make them look bad.

At 3:03 PM, April 19, 2012, Anonymous houston said...

It would be a huge loss to Houston if the Southwest International terminal at Hobby is blocked

At 7:09 PM, April 19, 2012, Anonymous awp said...

"a study done in two months for $110,000"

"A council chamber gallery usually vacant for committee meetings was packed with operatives for both airlines, which have enlisted lobbyists, former city officials, attorneys and public relations professionals to make their case to the 17-member council."

This should not have needed a $110,000 study. And all the lobbyists should have just be money down the drain.

This is stinking no-brainer. I have no idea of any decent argument against the terminal except for craven rent-seeking from UA.

At 9:12 PM, April 19, 2012, Blogger Rail Claimore said...

New York and Los Angeles are markets that are not beholden to one airline. If Houston is to join the top tier some day, it can't allow such monopolistic tactics to hold back a vital part of the area's transportation interests. And so what if United decides to pull international service from IAH? That just opens up the market for other carriers, particularly foreign flag carriers.

At 12:45 PM, April 20, 2012, Blogger Anphang said...

I remember the Love Field stuff vaguely, and even as a child I found many of the arguments against it to be disingenuous at best - not that I would've used those words, lol.

Definitely spreading the word to all my Houston friends, those few of them who aren't already aware.

At 4:50 AM, April 23, 2012, Anonymous Mike said...

I don't think political involvement is against any airline's company policy. Didn't Southwest derail the Texas Triangle back in the 90's?

At 7:52 AM, April 23, 2012, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

That's the official story. I believe they simply argued against govt subsidies competing against them, which is of course impossible with HSR. They certainly lobby, I just heard they don't give to political campaigns - not sure if it's true.

At 3:55 AM, May 17, 2012, Anonymous Classified said...

It will be a big loss :(


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