Monday, June 10, 2019

Houston Carbon Council, free transit reduces congestion, HTX #2 for STEM jobs, and more

Last week I attended the fantastic Houston Low-Carbon Energy Summit put on by the Center for Houston's Future and KPMG (story).  Speaker after speaker said Houston has the assets and skills to really make difference in reducing carbon, from carbon capture and sequestration to methane reduction to biofuels to hydrogen manufacturing (a key one for anything requiring high energy densities like aviation). That extends to the energy trading world too, where carbon offsets are a natural market for us.  There is a lot of pragmatic room in the middle between "nothing to worry about here" and "pure green renewables are the only answer" (lots of obstacles there that will take decades).  My proposal: we need to form a Houston Carbon Council (maybe through the GHP?) to set pragmatic economic and technical goals and coordinate efforts, while also publicizing carbon-reduction efforts and improving Houston's brand as a can-do city doing its best to mitigate climate change as we transition towards a long-term low-carbon future.  It could provide more realistic alternatives to the fantasyland green new deals of the world, including cost-effective solutions governments could really implement.

UPDATE: Chris Tomlinson column in the Chronicle on the summit.
UPDATE 2: Great Chronicle op-ed on why Houston needs to lead on carbon reduction.

Moving on to this week's smaller items:
"The Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston metros respectively garnered the #1 and #2 overall rankings for best STEM metros. This was due to each scoring in the top 10 on all three metrics – total STEM employment, total employment growth and relative affordability for first time buyers (FTBs). ...
#2: Houston earned the number 2 spot among the 30 largest STEM employment centers by also having top ten ranking on all three metrics: 
- STEM employment of 207,000 earned a 10th place ranking, just below Seattle. 
- Overall employment growth of 70% since 1990 earned a 6th place ranking, more than double the national average of 33%. 
- A FTB median home price to median income affordability ratio of 2.7 landed a 6th place finish. 
A vibrant new home construction sector helps Houston maintain both a high rate of employment growth and FTB affordability. New construction sales accounted for 25.5% of all home sales in the 4th quarter of 2018, well above the national rate of 11.2%. For the entry-level home segment, the new construction share was 16.1%, also well above the 6.2% rate for the national entry-level home segment. In the move-up home segment, Houston’s share was 42.3%, again well above the 19.6% rate for the national move-up home segment."

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At 6:22 PM, June 10, 2019, Anonymous Rich said...

Charging a nominal fee to use public transport can pose a nuisance, but not as much of one as free riders from everywhere could instead pose. Public transport needs our tax dollars and needs to prioritize serving folks with economically worthwhile intentions. If someone isn't willing to pay $1.25 to ride all over the county, are they worth forcing the taxpayers to pay the other 90% (or more) of the costs that they impose per (nearly free) ride? It's been said that public transport facilitates theft in otherwise clean neighborhoods. Public transport's financing taxpayers don't desire paying so that loiterers can travel from hub to hub and do nothing while living off of others' entitlement expenditures.

Louts sometimes board public transport and slow things down for everyone else while occasionally even picking fights with passengers and / or drivers, thereby making public transport less appealing for actual taxpayers. Can public transport budgets afford to have even more such free-loading?

Even if free transport in some parts (but not others) of Estonia has been credited with a favorable outcome that (by the way) may have resulted from other factors, what (if anything) in the following demographic statistics suggests that Estonians have significant segments of the population which are inclined to ride buses all day to panhandle, get free air conditioning (or heat), harass other passengers and drivers who won't give them money or listen to them rant and sufficiently agree with them?

"Estonians are Finnic people who speak Estonian, which is closely related to Finnish. The ethnic breakdown is currently 69% Estonian, 25% Russian, 2% Ukranian, 1% Belarusians, 0.8% Finns and 1.6% other."


A symbolic fee to ride public transport is a means of requiring that ridership has "skin in the game" and at least some appreciation of the fact that there are no free rides. Besides which, without evidence of monetary transactions involving each rider, how can we adequately know that ridership statistics aren't being faked to try to boost budgets for ride-providers? How can we justify the removal of unruly riders for lack of payment? Free rides would open a can of worms and make public transit about as appealing as taxpayers typically consider inner city public schools to be.

At 7:11 PM, June 10, 2019, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

There are a couple of solutions to that:
1) Force off all riders at the end of a route.
2) Still require passes to ride (just like the MetroCards now), even if the rides themselves are free (similar to library cards). If a rider is disruptive in any way (create a code of conduct), their pass gets revoked.

At 8:57 PM, June 10, 2019, Anonymous Rich said...

WalMart: Northline Shopping Center (and metro station) is run like that, and it's unduly hazardous. Entrance is free, and no promise to purchase is required. Shoplifting abounds. Meanwhile if you get rudely approached (or worse) by someone and a knife is pulled on you and you call for help, you get forever banned from all WalMarts & Sams for violating their code of conduct. This, even as WalMart has video coverage (which it denies) of what happened. Meanwhile WalMart runs folks out at closing time, like you propose, but that doesn't improve the problems transpiring during the day. If Houston Metro will be run that way, who wants to keep shelling out tax dollars for it? It's already dangerous enough. I'm not aware that they ever caught this guy for attacking another passenter on Metro, despite abundant evidence. The video's remarkable, but perhaps no longer available on this page:

He beat the stuffings out of that sitting passenger, unprovoked.

At 10:07 AM, June 12, 2019, Blogger Jardinero1 said...

The hulking forest which is overlooked for the trees is the 9% farebox collection rate. Any private business whose gross revenue covers only 9% of capital outlay and operating expenses would not survive even one payroll period. This alone should tell you that Metro is do something egregiously wrong.

By statute, Metro is the monopoly provider of mass transit and there are no consequences if they do a poor job. By statute, no other providers are allowed to provide service along any route, or cross a route, without Metro's permission. The way to encourage more mass transit usage is not to reduce farebox collection to zero. The optimal solution is to eliminate the monopoly and let other competitors be lawfully permitted to provide mass transit.

At 4:15 PM, June 12, 2019, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I agree with that for commuter services, but it probably doesn't work for local bus. At the end of the day, it is a public service for the poor and disabled, and cannot be profitable (or even close to breakeven). A few competitors might skim off popular routes, but that would just weaken it further.

At 1:55 PM, June 13, 2019, Blogger Jardinero1 said...

Maybe private mass transit will work or maybe it will not work; but in either case, the taxpayers are not on the hook for it. My position takes no skin off anyone's back. The losses are born entirely by those who would choose to invest. As for weakening metro. The taxpayers already subsidize each rider to the tune of 91 cents on the dollar. Metro is not weak; it is dead, a walking corpse, a zombie given animation by the taxpayers. I will adopt your position and advocate subsidizing the zombie at the rate of 100 cents on the dollar. Let anyone ride for free. But allow other operators the opportunity to provide a competing service for whatever fare they can gather. How could anyone compete with Metro as a free service you may ask? Re-read your exchange with Rich above.

At 5:51 PM, June 13, 2019, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Good point. I would support that.

At 4:36 PM, June 15, 2019, Blogger George Rogers said...

Links for videos

At 6:40 PM, June 15, 2019, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Cool link - thanks George!

At 6:41 PM, June 15, 2019, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

More of the videos from the low-carbon summit here:


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