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Surface Transportation Innovations # 91

Assessing infrastructure bank proposals, more states opting for PPPs, risk transfer and toll concessions, electric car dreams

Robert Poole
May 23, 2011

In this issue:
•    Assessing infrastructure bank proposals
•    More states opt for tolling and PPPs
•    Risk transfer with toll concessions
•    Tolling and HOT lanes in Administration’s draft bill
•    Electric car dreams
•    Brookings on access to jobs via transit
•    Upcoming Conferences
•    News Notes
•    Quotable Quotes

Should Congress Create a National Infrastructure Bank?

Congress now faces at least three proposals to create some kind of national infrastructure bank (NIB) as part of reauthorizing the federal surface transportation program. I’ve long advocated increased infrastructure investment (which is why I support expanding the successful TIFIA credit-support program, as I discussed in last month’s issue). But after examining the three leading infrastructure bank proposals, I’m not persuaded.

In the first place, if it’s to be a “bank,” it should make loans that are expected to be repaid. As Janet Kavinoky of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently said, “Part of our condition for support was that the bank has to be a bank. . . . If you want a grant-making program, the DOT, Department of Energy, and EPA have a lot of grant-making programs. This is about trying to create a level of financing that draws in private sector investments. If you’re doing project finance, there has to be some form of revenue to pay back the debt and the equity.”

The Administration’s proposal flunks this test. Its transportation-only NIB would use about half its annual appropriations for grants. The Rockefeller-Lautenberg “American Infrastructure Investment Fund” (S. 936) would do mostly loans but also offer $600 million per year in competitive grants. Least-bad on this score is the Kerry-Hutchison “American Infrastructure Financing Authority” (S. 652) that would provide only loans and loan guarantees (and would include water, energy, and other infrastructure in addition to transportation).

Another key factor is who would make the decisions on which projects to fund. As Transportation Weekly has pointed out, the Administration’s plan calls for a nine-member Investment Council to make those decisions: its five permanent members would be the Secretaries of Treasury, Commerce, HUD, and Energy plus the EPA Administrator. The other four (rotating) slots would be filled by various DOT modal administrators. Hence, “A majority of the votes needed to recommend transportation projects at an all-transportation agency housed within the DOT (and funded by the new Transportation Trust Fund) will be held by non-US DOT personnel.” And since the Administration’s overall transportation program would eliminate all FHWA discretionary grant programs, replacing them with the Infrastructure Bank, “highway experts could have almost no say in the final project selection process.”

The Rockefeller-Lautenberg bill would also make the TIGER grants program permanent and would amend Title 23 (the highway title) of the United States Code to let states use any or all of their highway formula funding apportionment under the Surface Transportation Program (STP) for rail and port projects. There goes what’s left of the users-pay/users-benefit principle!

Among the three, Kerry-Hutchison is certainly the least bad. It would limit the maximum loan amount to 50% of a project’s total budget, versus 70% for both the Administration and Rockefeller-Lautenberg. It would also require the overall investment portfolio to be investment-grade (as does Rockefeller-Lautenberg), though that would still leave a lot of room for pork-like projects to be part of the mix.

And that is my real concern with all three of these proposals. We’ve heard endless rhetoric from this Administration about how it wants to shift from formula funding to “merit-based” and “performance-based” funding. But we need to lift the rhetorical curtain and see what lies behind it. The Administration’s TIGER and High-Speed Rail programs offer some empirical evidence. Last month the GAO released two reports investigating how projects were selected for both programs (GAO-11-283 on rail grants and GAO-11-234 on TIGER grants). In both cases GAO found no evidence to document how such decisions were reached. In the TIGER program, half of the awards went to projects assessed as “recommended” by staff, rather than ones assessed as “highly recommended.” Likewise, for HSR, “the documented reasons for these selection decisions were typically vague or restated the criteria listed in the funding announcement.” And in a Freedom of Information Act request, a group called Crossroads GPS asked the Federal Railroad Administration to release its cost-benefit analyses in support of project selection decisions. FRA chief counsel William Fashouer disclosed that “the agency’s files do not contain any records related to cost-benefit analyses created by or on behalf of the Federal Railroad Administration related to the construction of a national high-speed and intercity passenger rail network.”

Rather than take the risk of more of the same, but on a much larger scale, I think the prudent thing for Congress to do is to forget about creating a new institution and instead expand the successful TIFIA program. In doing so, it’s crucial to retain its current safeguards that restrict it to providing gap funding, especially that TIFIA loans provide no more than 33% of a project’s funding and that a project’s senior debt must get an investment-grade rating.

States Moving Toward More Tolling and PPPs


Facing the prospect of reduced federal highway aid in coming years, governors and legislatures in eight states are pursuing legislation to allow public-private-partnership (PPP) agreements for major highway projects.

The Indiana legislation, SB 473, was enacted last month. For the next 10 years, the governor and state DOT will be able to designate projects as PPP candidates and solicit proposals from the private sector, without having to go back to the legislature for approval. It also explicitly permits the use of PPP tolling on the forthcoming Illiana Expressway and on any new bridge project connecting Indiana and Kentucky. It does not permit the use of tolls on any currently untolled highway (unless the legislature agrees), but does permit the addition of toll lanes to such highways.

In Washington State, the legislature approved enabling legislation for the first phase of WSDOT’s project to add express toll lanes to congested I-405, from SR 520 north to I-5 in Lynwood. The state already has PPP legislation in place, but no decision has been made on whether to use it for this project.

PPP bills have passed one house thus far in several other states. The Texas House approved HB 2675 reauthorizing TxDOT and including an amendment by Rep. Larry Phillips that would permit up to 14 specific projects to move forward as long-term PPPs (called Comprehensive Development Agreements in Texas). The bill will have to be reconciled with SB 1420, which does not include the PPP amendment. The state Senate in Nevada has passed a bill by Sen. Joe Hardy to permit development of the proposed Boulder City Bypass as a PPP toll road. A broader PPP bill is also being considered. And a PPP enabling act was passed by the Illinois House and approved by the Senate Executive Committee. It is narrower than most such measures, and would apply only to new roads and bridges (e.g., not to the addition of express toll lanes to existing highways).  And like the Indiana enabling legislation, it would require PPP firms to pay “prevailing wages” (a.k.a. union scale).

PPP enabling legislation is also being debated in the legislatures of Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania. And Alaska’s Knik Arm Bridge and Toll Authority, which already plans to use a PPP to procure its planned bridge, announced on April 28th that while the bridge will be tolled, as long planned, the agency itself will collect the tolls (thereby taking on traffic and revenue risk), so it will compensate the concession company by means of availability payments.

Toll Project Bankruptcies Demonstrate Risk Transfer

The bankruptcies of two major PPP toll projects—one in Australia and the other in California—are unfortunate for their investors, but have a silver lining for motorists and taxpayers. In both cases, these important new links in urban transportation networks have remained in operation. And in both cases, there were no taxpayer bailouts.

The first of these is the Clem Jones Tunnel project in Brisbane, Australia. This 4.25-mile-long project, including 3 miles of tunnel beneath the Brisbane River, cost $2 billion—nearly twice the original estimate of $1.2 billion.  Its twin tubes, each with two travel lanes and 7 feet of shoulders, were constructed using massive tunnel boring machines of 40.5 feet in diameter. The project opened in March 2010 (eight months ahead of schedule) but went into receivership in February 2011, due to traffic running at only one-quarter of projections and revenue below even that. The combination of much higher construction cost and much lower traffic and revenue than forecast led to the bankruptcy.

So who is left holding the bag? A consortium of 24 banking firms provided $1.3 billion in short-term loans, and individual investors put in $715 million buying shares at $1 each. Those shares are now worthless, and the receivership process will sort out how much the banks get paid, probably from the proceeds of selling the 45-year concession to a company willing to make a go of it based on a much lower acquisition cost. Queensland premier Anna Bligh summed up the public policy lesson as follows:

“The taxpayers won’t be out of pocket here. All of the risk has been borne by the company. The tunnel will stay open, and it’s a good example of why governments, including the Brisbane City Council, have chosen to go down this path. The commercial risk is not being borne by the taxpayer, and that’s a good thing.”

Closer to home, the 9-mile South Bay Expressway (SR 125) in San Diego County emerged from bankruptcy at the beginning of this month. It filed for Chapter XI in March 2010, after the great recession cut traffic to far below forecast levels, making it impossible to make debt service payments. A complicating factor was a large cost overrun by the design-build contractor, which led to costly litigation. Under the terms of the settlement, owner Macquarie lost all its $150 million equity investment. A group of 10 banks that held $363 million in debt settled for $210 million in new loans (58% of the previous amount) and a 68% ownership stake. The federal TIFIA program, suffering its first-ever default, wrote down its $172 million loan to $93 million, while gaining the remaining 32% ownership stake. The company is now exploring a sale, and queries have been received from several private groups as well as the San Diego Association of Governments.

Here again, the Expressway has remained in operation, serving its customers, throughout the bankruptcy process. No taxpayer bailout has occurred. The TIFIA program has suffered a modest loss, but—consistent with the program’s rules—its secondary debt received equal treatment with the senior debt during the bankruptcy process.

The bottom line here is that start-up toll projects are inherently risky. They are not for the faint-hearted or for well-meaning amateurs. The best way to deal with that riskiness is to shift it from general taxpayers to sophisticated investors who are prepared to balance the occasional loss in exchange for solid long-term returns in other cases.

Flap Over Administration Draft Bill Misses Key Points


I was amazed earlier this month at the huge media and political furor over the item in the “leaked” draft of the Administration reauthorization bill calling for research on VMT fees. Like most of the draft bill, it followed very closely what was contained in the FHWA’s budget justifications for FY 2012, released back in February. The proposed Revenue Alternatives office and its plan for research and field trials of a mileage-based user fee (MBUF) were all there, way back then (and are still available online at: www.dot.gov/budget/2012/budgetestimates/fhwa.pdf); see pages II-101 through III-110. Given that fuel taxes are clearly on the way out as the principal highway funding source, no administration would be doing its job if it did not propose serious R&D on a replacement.

But what also surprises me is how little attention the highway community has paid to several other provisions in the leaked draft. Section 2217 on Tolling includes a proposal to replace all the existing tolling and pricing pilot programs with two new permanent programs. Metropolitan Congestion Reduction would allow state and local governments to impose variable tolls on all or portions of the expressway systems of metro areas of one million or more people (which includes just about every urban area with a congestion problem). And if there are surplus revenues, they may be used “for other Title 23 eligible projects directly benefiting the operational performance of the tolled facility or facilities if the State or public authority certifies that the tolled facility or facilities are being adequately maintained, that priority for use of the revenues that have been collected has been given to capital improvement projects located on the toll facility or facilities that reduce congestion, and if the annual performance report demonstrates that the pricing strategy has been effective in reducing or managing congestion.” That’s pretty close to what a lot of us have been asking for. It would provide a great deal of flexibility to state and local officials, without mandating anything. And it provides careful safeguards against milking motorists to pay for grandiose transit programs.

The second program in this section is called Interstate System Improvements. It would let states use toll financing to construct new Interstates, but not to reconstruct aged and obsolete ones. Instead, it allows those Interstates to be tolled for the purpose of lane additions, and the toll revenues may only be used for the improvement, operation, and maintenance of the facilities that are tolled. This would prohibit what Pennsylvania twice tried to do in putting tolls on I-80 in order to use the revenues as a statewide funding source for highways and transit. I would rather see the existing Interstate Reconstruction Toll Pilot Program expanded to all states (with no limit on the number of projects), which would ensure that the aging Interstates get reconstructed and modernized in a timely manner.

There is also interesting language in Section 2504, HOV Facilities. This provision would eliminate free access for “low emission and energy efficient vehicles” from HOV lanes, restoring the original intent of such lanes to improve person and vehicle throughput. It would also “strengthen performance requirements for facilities that allow use by statutorily permitted single occupant vehicles”—i.e., HOT lanes. But the rest of this provision needs some rethinking. As now drafted, it would not permit conversion from HOV to HOT unless the operating agency first demonstrates that the HOV lane’s performance is not degraded and will not become degraded by allowing SOVs to use it. But this is backward. The first requirement should be that HOV operators solve the performance failure by increasing the occupancy requirement for free passage. That, by itself, will almost always restore free-flowing conditions and create excess capacity that can be sold to toll-paying customers. And with the majority of vehicles priced, it would not be hard to ensure uncongested traffic flow, on a long-term, sustainable basis.

Electric Car Dreams


Back in January, President Obama in his State of the Union address set a goal of having one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. That is looking more and more like a pipe-dream. I’ve been monitoring developments in the electric car field for many years, and here are some points you should consider.

In February, an 80-page study by a panel of experts convened by Indiana University’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs concluded that the President’s goal is unlikely to be met. Sales figures for the first two “real” plug-in electric vehicles on the market suggest the magnitude of the challenge. Sales figures through the end of March showed that GM had sold a grand total of 1,536 Chevy Volts from December through March. The Nissan Leaf racked up just 452 U.S. sales in that same period.

One major factor is the price. At $41,000, the Volt costs about double what a conventional car of that size and performance goes for. And the smaller Leaf, at $32,780, is no bargain, either. GM hopes to sell 45,000 Volts this year, and Nissan 25,000 Leafs; both have a long way to go.

The main reason these cars are so expensive is their lithium-ion batteries. Although Nissan has not disclosed its cost, the Leaf’s battery pack is estimated at $18,000, and the Volt’s battery pack is likely in the same range. A detailed article in Technology Review (“Will Electric Vehicles Really Succeed?” by Peter Fairley, January/February 2011) points out that current batteries cost $600-850 per kilowatt hour, but the Department of Energy estimates that plug-in hybrids will not become competitive with conventional cars until that cost is reduced to $168-280 per kilowatt hour.

And of course, it’s not just the price tag that gives car buyers pause; it’s also performance. As Charles Lane pointed out in a Washington Post column last January 28th, in cold weather the chemical reaction inside the battery that generates the electricity slows down. According to www.thecarelectric.com, a drop of as little as 10 degrees can reduce battery output by 50%. That means the battery has to work a lot harder to power the car, and that means a significant reduction in driving range. It also means that the heater won’t produce as much heat on those cold days.

Weather hot enough to require air conditioning is also a problem. I recall back in 1996 when I was one of a set of Los Angeles opinion leaders invited by GM to test drive their EV-1. It was a hot day (90 degrees or so) in August, and because the battery pack was not really up to the task of serious air conditioning, GM had the test cars hooked up to a truck that was pumping them full of cold air, pre-cooling them before each test drive. That was not a very impressive demonstration.

Several Technology Review readers raised further problems in the subsequent issue (March/April 2011). One pointed out that lithium-ion batteries have a limited number of deep-discharge cycles, likely limiting the useful life of the Volt’s battery pack to 35-40,000 miles, at which point Chevy will replace the batteries (at a hefty price). Another reader compared the overall thermal efficiency of electric cars with conventional cars. Today’s gasoline cars convert only about 20% of the fuel energy into motion, wasting the rest as heat; diesels can do up to 35%. For electric cars, he estimated the batteries at 80% thermal efficiency, but after taking into account the thermal efficiency of electric power plants and transmission losses, the overall electric car thermal efficiency works out to about 36%, not much better than diesel.

Rather than subsidizing existing mediocre batteries via grants and loans to battery producers and rebates to electric car buyers, the government would do far less harm by funding basic research into dramatically better batteries, flywheels, and other advances in automotive propulsion. Attempting to pick winners and jump-start markets nearly always wastes money.

Brookings Study Shows Transit Mis-Match to Jobs

Just out from the Brookings Institution is a major new study called “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America.” Its purpose is to estimate how well transit systems can connect people to jobs, given the last four decades’ suburbanization of jobs as well as housing. To do this, Brookings constructed an elaborate computer model representing the 371 transit providers operating in the country’s 100 largest metro areas, along with geographic data on where jobs are located in each of those metro areas.

The headline finding is that the typical metro area resident could reach about 30% of the area’s jobs via transit in 90 minutes (one-way AM commute). That is a pretty dismal result, considering that the average home-to-work commute is just under 26 minutes. That’s the average of all modes, of course, so the ubiquitous car commute is shorter than that. And the average transit commute is about 48 minutes. You have to read a good ways into the report (Box 2 on page 13) before you find their modeling results using a more realistic one-way commute time. If you use 60 minutes instead of 90, only 13% of jobs are reachable by transit in the typical large metro area. And if you use 45 minutes (very close to the average transit commute of 48 minutes), a mere 7% of jobs are reachable.

Instead of showing how important transit is for access to jobs, the Brookings report shows how relatively minor a factor it is. Recent research shows that recent immigrants are the most important set of transit commuters in most metro areas—it’s the only mode they can afford. As soon as they can scrape together enough money to buy a used car, they switch to driving, opening up a much larger array of job possibilities. And they quickly become the best car-poolers in the metro area—again, until each can afford a used car and expand his or her access to jobs.

The Brookings researchers have done a prodigious job of modeling, and for that we should thank them. But their results tell a different story than their words.
(www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/Programs/Metro/jobs_transit/0512_jobs_transit.pdf)

Upcoming Conferences

Note: I don’t have space to list all the transportation conferences going on; below are those that I or a Reason colleague am participating in.

22nd Annual University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies Research Conference, May 24, 2011, Minneapolis, MN. Details at: www.cts.umn.edu/Events/ResearchConf/2011/
(Adrian Moore is keynote speaker.)

2011 Mileage Based User Fees Symposium, June 13, 2011, Breckenridge, CO. Details at:
http://tti.tamu.edu/conferences/mbuf11/  (Adrian Moore speaking)

InfraAmericas’ 7th Annual US P3 Infrastructure Forum, June 14-15, 2011, New York, NY, Grand Hyatt. Details at: http://bit.ly/P3RFWEBH. (Reason Foundation is a Supporting Organization.)

Transportation Research Board Joint Summer Meeting
, July 10-12, 2011, Boston, MA, Seaport Hotel. Details at: http://www.trb.org/conferences/JointSummer2011.aspx. (Robert Poole and Adrian Moore speaking)

News Notes

CBO Compares Fuel Taxes and VMT Taxes
At the request of the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, the Congressional Budget Office has produced a useful report, “Alternative Approaches to Funding Highways,” released in March. It points out that far more highway costs relate to miles traveled than to fuel consumed, and it goes on to discuss, in quantitative terms, the differences between fuel taxes and mileage-based taxes. (www.cbo.gov/doc.cfm?index=12101)

Three Groups Agree on Transportation Reforms

Reason Foundation teamed up last winter with Taxpayers for Common Sense and Transportation for America to produce a report advocating “taxpayer-friendly solutions for the nation’s transportation challenges.” The report—The Most for Our Money—was released last week at a Washington, DC news conference. Among the reforms are bus rapid transit (BRT), HOT lanes, intercity bus, ITS, and teleworking. The full report is available on the Reason website: http://reason.org/files/solutions_transportation_challenges.pdf

Focus Highway Funds on Highways, ATA Urges
In testimony last month before the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, Barbara Windsor, chairman of the American Trucking Associations, called for the surface transportation bill to focus on highways, with transit funded separately. She criticized the current federal program for “giv[ing] as much priority to funding bicycle paths” as to providing funds for interstate highways. (“ATA Urges Separation of Highway, Transit Funding,” Journal of Commerce, April 4, 2011)

Commutes Longer in Europe, INRIX Finds

Traffic congestion is considerably worse in Europe than in the United States, according to data assembled by traffic information firm INRIX. Annual peak hours of delay are two to three times higher in Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Although Los Angeles had the largest total (74.9 hours per year), the second through sixth worst metro areas were all in Europe (Utrecht, Manchester, Paris, Arhem, and Trier), each with 65 or more annual hours of delay. Those figures are in sharp contrast with the misleading claims put forth in “Life in the Slow Lane,” a three-page article in the April 28th edition of The Economist. The latter’s figures were taken apart by demographer Wendell Cox in a May 3 piece on New Geography. (www.newgeography.com/content/002217-the-transportation-politics-envy-the-united-states-europe)

Review of Glaeser’s Triumph of the City
Randal O’Toole has penned a thoughtful review of the important new book by Harvard urban economist Edward Glaeser, Triumph of the City. While I have long admired Glaeser’s work, O’Toole points out some important flaws and blind spots in the new volume, while also noting many important insights (such as the link between government regulation and high-cost housing). Of the several reviews I’ve read of the book, this one was the most insightful. (“Antiplanner’s Library: Triumph of the City,” March 17, 2011; http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=4756)

Senate Terminates Historic Covered Bridge Program
Early last month the Senate agreed to an amendment to a small business bill (S. 493) that repeals the “National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation Program” enacted as part of TEA-21. One hopes this will set an example for stripping out numerous non-federal special-interest provisions from the federal surface transportation program as Congress reauthorizes it this year.

Mileage-Based User Fee Testimony Now Online
My Reason colleague Adrian Moore testified on mileage-based user fees for highway funding last month, before the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit. You can read his testimony at: http://reason.org/news/show/funding-transportation-with-user-fe.

Americans Want Smart Growth—but with Houses on Large Lots
The National Association of Realtors has released its 2011 Community Preference Survey, subtitled “What Americans are looking for when deciding where to live.” A reputable survey research firm polled over 2,000 adults, finding that Americans’ ideal community would have a mix of houses, places to walk, and amenities within an easy walk or short drive. When asked to choose between a “smart growth” community and a “sprawl community,” 56% of respondents chose the former. However, when asked about specifics, 61% of the total prefer “larger lots and needing to drive” over “smaller lots and being able to walk to stores and restaurants.” Privacy from neighbors was the top consideration in deciding where to live, and 80% would prefer a single-family, detached home over townhouses, condos, or apartments.

Quotable Quotes

“America continues to suburbanize. The country’s metropolitan areas have two major components: core cities (New York City, for example) and suburbs (such as Westchester County, Long Island, northern New Jersey, and even Pike County in Pennsylvania). During the 2000s, the census shows, just 8.6 percent of the population growth in metropolitan areas with more than a million people took place in the core cities; the rest took place in the suburbs. That 8.6 percent represents a decline from the 1990s, when the figure was 15.4 percent. . . . This may be shocking to some. For years, academics, the media, and big-city developers have been suggesting that the suburbs were dying and that people were flocking back to the cities that they had fled in the 1970s. . . . Yet of the 51 metropolitan areas that have more than 1 million residents, only three—Boston, Providence, and Oklahoma City—saw their core cities grow faster than their suburbs.”
--Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox, “Cities and the Census,” City Journal, April 2011 (www.city-journal.org)

“[I]t is easy to see the [Administration’s] proposal for one big Transportation Trust Fund as a reaction not just against the existing Highway Trust Fund but against the ‘user fee’ principle in general. After all, the Highway Trust Fund is financed exclusively by excise taxes on the users of the highway system, via gasoline and diesel taxes, [etc.] . . . . Under the ‘user fee’ principle established in 1956, the proceeds of those taxes are supposed to pay for programs that give direct benefit to those particular taxpayers, so a heavy bias in favor of highways and bridges out of those tax receipts is natural, even proper. The Obama Administration’s Transportation Trust Fund would be half financed by the existing tax receipts from highway users and half-financed by a mystery tax . . . . But it is a safe bet that the Administration does not intend to raise several hundred billion dollars through additional user charges.”
--Jeff Davis, “The ‘Transportation Trust Fund’ Idea, 40 Years On,” Transportation Weekly, April 29, 2011.

“Wind projects are a waste of time. And the reality is that electric cars today are coal-powered cars, because the USA and much of Europe have mostly coal-based electricity. Environmentalists use artificial rates of return, buried assumptions, and ‘what if’ assumptions about behavior change. It’s useless crap.”
Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla (Khosla Ventures), quoted in “Betting on Green,” The Economist Technology Quarterly, March 12, 2011.

“Ideally, I’d like to see our highways with four lanes for cars and four lanes for trucks. If we took trucks off some lanes, [the lanes] would last three times longer, would stay smoother, and we would have fewer accidents. . . . If we added 15 or 20 cents to the fuel tax, we could build those lanes. The savings from fewer fatalities and less fuel used because of smoother roads and longer road life would pay for that tax increase. We could use a different structure for the truck lanes to make them last longer and stay smoother, too . . . A dime in the gas tax would add about $75 a year to the average driver’s budget, and I think the public would go along with that if you had a visionary plan run by people they could trust.”
Don Brock, Chairman and CEO of Astec Industries, interviewed by John Latta, Better Roads, April 2011.

“The comeback of the intercity bus is noteworthy for the fact that it is taking place without government subsidies or as a result of efforts by planning agencies to promote energy-efficient forms of transportation. Instead, it is a market-driven phenomenon that is gradually winning back demographic groups that would scarcely have contemplated setting foot on an intercity bus only a few years ago. Our DePaul University study estimates that curbside operators like Megabus expanded the number of daily departures by 23.9% last year. In the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, service grew at an even faster rate. . . . Curbside buses achieve more than 160 passenger-miles per gallon of fuel burned, making them several times more fuel-efficient than commercial airplanes and private automobiles, as well as conventional diesel trains.”
--Joseph Schwieterman, “Here Comes the Bus: America’s Fastest-Growing Form of Intercity Travel,” New Geography, April 22, 2011 (www.newgeography.com)
 
“[B]ack on the political agenda is the Boone Pickens plan, the Texas billionaire’s recurrent campaign for congressional tax credits to encourage natural gas vehicles. There is no end, of course, to people promoting the use of the tax code to support nice-sounding things. That’s why we have the tax code we do. In his recent energy speech, President Obama said the world is running out of oil, and [that] higher gasoline prices are foreordained. If so, higher gas prices will provide a bigger incentive for natural-gas cars than any puny tax subsidy. And if Mr. Obama is wrong, the tax benefit will have done nothing but create stranded investments in natural-gas vehicles that will require endless subsidies to remain viable.”
--Holman W. Jenkins, “After Osama, Energy Sanity?” The Wall Street Journal, May 7, 2011.


Robert Poole is Searle Freedom Trust Transportation Fellow and Director of Transportation Policy


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