Tag Archives: mass transit

Friday Linkage 5/24/2019

You may not believe climate change is here and you may not believe that the strange weather we have seen this spring is the future, but I have seen what our flagrant disregard for science has wrought and it is not pretty.

Rain events that were once rare are now common.  Floods in Iowa are an annual or more regular occurrence.  My prediction is that after a wet and cold spring we will have a hot and dry summer.  Nothing like a little baking heat and drought to bookend the seasons.

On to the links…

How the Baby Boomers Wrecked the Economy for Millennials—Let’s start a new trend where we replace “Millennials are killing…” with “Baby Boomers wrecked…”  Never has a generation produced so little when given so much and left such a mess for future generations to clean up.  As a member of the tail end of Generation X—whatever the hell that means anymore—I feel like we will spend the next twenty years sweeping up the rubble of Baby Boomers’ excess.

If 2020 Democrats Are Going to Be Serious About Climate, They Need to Cut Out Congress—The U.S. Senate is a retrograde institution run by a power hungry vestige of the post-Civil War southern power structure who cares for nothing other than his own political power.  The 2020 Democratic nominees need a plan that can be acted on from Day One in office.

Scientists Have Pinpointed the Mystery Source of an Ozone-Destroying Chemical—Trump may be wrong on almost everything, but his desire to realign our relationship with China may not be that awful.  His methods are crap, but there is something fundamentally rotten about the way that China does business.  Agreements are meaningless, business is paramount, everything else be damned…kind of sounds like the modern Republican Party.

Xcel’s Plan to 2030: Close Two Coal Plants, Extend Nuclear Plant, Add More Solar—Coal is dead.  It is just going to take some time for the dinosaur to roll over and actually know its dead.

Puerto Rico Got Rid of Its Coal Ash Pits. Now the Company Responsible Is Moving Them to Florida.—At what point can we just write off the entire state of Florida?  If there is a bad idea that has failed everywhere else, it will get a new lease on life in Florida.  If there is a grifter who has been run out of every town in America, that person will eventually end up somewhere in Florida.

Critics Question Ethics Behind Impossible Burger’s Rapid Fast-Food Expansion—The purity police are out to get Impossible Foods now that they are working with fast food chains.  This is ridiculous.  Every animal based burger replaced with a plant based burger is a win.

Impossible Foods’ Rising Empire of Almost-Meat—The buzz is there.  Now it is time for Impossible Foods to see if they can execute in an efficient enough manner to actually scale their business.

It’s Not Just Salt, Sugar, Fat: Study Finds Ultra-Processed Foods Drive Weight Gain—Maybe the new guideline should be “If you cannot figure out how to make the food at home you should not eat that food.”  Can’t figure out how to make a homemade PopTart?  Do not eat a PopTart.

It is Solved by Walking—Just putting one foot in front of the other is a powerful choice in a world defined by our mechanized transport.

Americans Need More Bike Transit – And these Nonprofits are Bringing It—Bicycles are a humble solution to the problem of transportation emissions.

There Is No Excuse for You to Casually Drink Bottled Water—Outside of people dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters, why are we even having this discussion about bottled water?

It’s Time to Embrace American Hemp Production—Did you have that guy in your dorm who always liked to tell you about the magic nature of hemp?  I remember that guy.  Maybe he was not so crazy after all.

Friday Linkage 3/14/2014

A note to everyone, I am going to be out of touch and offline for the next week and a half.  It’s not really a vacation unless you totally unplug and I am going to park my smartphone at home before I leave.

On to the links…

Use of Public Transit in U.S. Reaches Highest Level Since 1956—This report made a lot of headlines when it was released, but most reporters failed to mention how abysmal our mass transit ridership numbers were to begin with.

Turning Food Waste Into Fuel Takes Gumption And Trillions Of Bacteria—Why aren’t we turning all of our biological waste into energy and/or compost?  It seems like a no brainer.

U.S. Homeowners, Especially Republicans, Want To Be Able To Choose Clean Energy—People want the ability to have renewable energy.  It’s not an issue with the end user.  It’s an issue with the people who want to control the means of production.  And you thought Marxist political theory was dead along with the Soviet Union.

California Set Back-To-Back Solar Records Last Week—Not only do people really want renewables, but in some places in the U.S. it’s really taking off.

These Mad Scientists Want to Replace Solar Panels With Potted Plants—I always thought potato clocks were cool, but moss producing electricity is even cooler.  Now I can imagine green roofs putting out electricity.

Spraying Toxic Coal Ash Is A Cheap And Popular Way To De-Ice Roads—This just really bums me out because I have no idea if my town in Iowa uses coal ash.  My emails and letters to the city have gone unanswered.  I can take solace that I do not live in Muscatine, which is confirmed in the article as using the coal ash to clear roads of ice.

Meat Makes the Planet Thirsty—If it was not already apparent, eating meat is just about the most environmentally destructive thing that we do on a daily basis.  Given how much meat we eat in the U.S. it’s probably the worst thing we do on a collective basis.

The Fat Drug—It’s interesting that the same effect antibiotics have on livestock, in terms of promoting growth, may also be something that affects humans.

Poll Suggests Americans Think Sugar Is A Bigger Health Threat Than Marijuana—Sugar is a bad thing.  In small amounts it is sweet and delectable.  In the amounts modern Americans consume it might as well be a mainline of nasty into your veins.

The Japanese Can’t Stop Eating Endangered Sea Mammals—I used to have a lot of respect and interest in Japan, but the more I learn the more I lose both respect and interest.

Momentum Building for Deforestation-Free Palm Oil—Palm oil is a dirty business.  I avoid the product with a religious zeal and advocate that anyone else do the same.  It’s not that the product itself is bad.  It’s that everything involved in its production is bad.  Plus, I love orangutans.

Wish You Could Fertilize Crops with Pee? Urine Luck—My dilute with water and pour it on the base of a tree approach is not really scalable, but I am hoping that more people being to see urine going down the toilet as a wasted resource.

Spending 15 Minutes With a Great White Shark on a Boat Deck—It’s always interesting to get a look into the lives of researchers.  Spending some time on the deck with a great white shark is something I am going to leave to more brave souls.  I have an irrational fear of sharks.

So You Think You Want to Open a Brewery—This is a question I get a lot from friends and family who know I am not the most happy person at my job.  Why don’t you quit and start a brewery?  Other than I believe the field is full of excellent brewers already and the market looks saturated, the job is not always about the beer.

Walt Disney World’s Eco-Hypocrisy

No one is going to claim that Walt Disney World is an eco-friendly destination.  Ever.  It’s built on what is essentially swamp land in the middle of the sprawl of Orlando, which has to be one of the most unsustainable developments in the history of mankind.

Some of the hypocrisy just gets to me.  Particularly at Animal Kingdom.  All throughout the park you are preached to about certain elements of eco-centricity.  There are no straws at Animal Kingdom because those are a common item that ends up polluting the animal enclosures at zoos all over the world.  I am down with that, but then explain to me why each tray of food at the quick service outlets had a small plastic card begging people not to litter?  Why not just print the message on the trays rather than include a disposable plastic card?  I cannot explain this conundrum.

However, you are given a paper straw with dinner at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  So, not all straws are bad I guess.

Then there are balloons.  A common souvenir is a balloon that encases another balloon shaped like Mickey Mouse’s head.  Cool right?  Except at Animal Kingdom you cannot get balloons because they might float away and end up in an enclosure.  Okay, but a balloon released at any of the other parks—Magic Kingdom is the farthest park away at less than 5 miles—could easily end up in Animal Kingdom.  Why not ban the balloons at all parks?  Oh wait, dollars…

There are dozens of examples of eco-hypocrisy that I witnessed in my five day trip to the resort.  I do not want to sound like a grump, but wrapping yourself in the flag of self-righteousness when everything else runs counter to that image is just wrong.

At least the toilet paper has 25% post-consumer recycled content:

Magic Kingdom Toilet Paper

You can understand my fascination with toilet paper considering that I started this blog talking about toilet paper so long ago.

One place where the resort does a better job than most other parts of the country is in terms of mass transit.  In the middle of Florida, which seems to hate mass transit because it just smells like some kind of socialist conspiracy, there is plenty of mass transit on the resort grounds.  You can spend your entire trip from airport and back in the embrace of Disney operated mass transit.

Even more impressive than its ubiquity is the organization of the mass transit.  There are no disorganized bus stops with people trying to figure out what queue to stand in.  Nope.  Each destination has clearly marked stops and where the frequency merits there are actual employees assigned to assist people in finding their way.  Even at the busiest of times the wait is rarely twenty minutes.  Granted, you are paying a premium to stay on-resort but getting to where you are going without renting a car is pretty sweet.

Now, about that monorail…

Friday Linkage 12/7/2012

It’s December.  If I thought the holiday spirit of crass commercialism, bad songs, and even worse parties was in full gear last week it’s like a double barreled blast of nasty in my face now.

On to the links…

Tim DeChristopher Blocked from Doing Social Justice Work—What a joke.  Considering that he was imprisoned for protesting something that was later ruled invalid is just the beginning of this sordid tale.  At the end of the day the U.S. federal government has appeared to be nothing more than a petty bully.

Cornstalks Everywhere, but Nothing Else—It is sad to drive past acre after acre of corn planted in fields realizing that none of it is really “food” in the traditional sense.  It’s not like I can take an ear of field corn and consume it or get any nutrition from it.  It appears that is true for the natural world as well.

Tree Puts on More Wood at 3,200 Years Old Than Younger Trees–Amazing, simply amazing.  The more we learn about the natural world the more I am convinced that we have not explored the potential that is present.  But, we have managed to produce Honey Boo Boo so humans are doing something right.

Countries Spend Five Times  More on Fossil Fuel Subsidies than Climate Aid—This really should not surprise anyone.  For all the talk about how dynamic the oil and gas sector is in the economy, it truly is one of the most subsidized and supported industries in the modern economy.  About the only thing worse is the military industrial complex.

Will India Surge Ahead of the West in Renewable Energy?—India seems to be the new laboratory for renewable energy because the current infrastructure is so decrepit that the hope is India can leap beyond the step of a centralized system—a la the West—and to a distributed generation model.  Hmmm….

U.S. Energy Outlook: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly—With all due apologies to Sergio Leone, the U.S. energy future is a mixed bag.  A lot of this depends on one thing: the price of natural gas and the ability of companies to continue fracking.  If natural gas gets a lot more expensive than renewables become even more attractive vis a vis coal due to the truly brutal negatives for coal generated power.

Chevrolet Volt Owners have Driven 100 Million Electric Miles—The Chevrolet Volt seems like one of the most interesting stories in next generation automobiles.  Every day there is a story about the insane amount of data that is being collected about the driving behaviors of the owners that speaks volumes more than any anecdote ever could.

Good News for Coffee Drinkers: It’s Basically a Nutrient—Essential for my daily life, but a nutrient?  Sweet.  Now all those late nights and early mornings at my “real” job can qualify as wellness improvement.

A New Day is Coming for St. Paul’s Union Depot—The Twin Cities really seem to have it going on lately.  First, the cities are amazing biking destinations even when you factor in the brutal winter.  Second, mass transit is really happening in a lot of places with the light rail expansion, North Star commuter rail, and the reopening of St. Paul’s Union Depot.  Plus, the city is a great destination for beer drinkers.

Transit Ridership and Gas Prices

It is commonly held wisdom that as the price of gasoline rises—or the price of oil as its corollary which I have shown is highly correlated to the price of gasoline—ridership on mass transit increases.  That’s what CNN reports.  I do not like to subscribe to commonly held wisdom because it is so often wrong.  Anecdotal evidence only counts for so much.  I like hard facts and statistics.

Using the same series of gas price information used to determine the correlation between oil prices, demand, and relative U.S. dollar strength I compared them with a set of data related to ridership on all forms of mass transit.  The data on mass transit comes from the American Public Transportation Associations (APTA).  The data is available here.

The dataset I chose was the total of unlinked transit trips.  This dataset combines heavy commuter rail with light rail and bus systems as well as less widespread systems like ferries.  Originally plotted, the transport data was not indicative of anything because it was jagged month to month:

The dataset also bounced within a fairly narrow range.  However, a twelve month average looked different:

The scale is a little different, but the 12 month rolling average shows a peak and then a decline.  What does that trend correlate with?  How about gas prices:

The correlation between the monthly average for gas prices and the 12 month rolling average is quite weak.  It calculates to ~(0.174), which connotes weak if any correlation.  The correlation between the monthly average for gas prices and the monthly unlinked transit trips is higher—~.351—but it is weak nonetheless.

So, gas prices and transit trips do not correlate strongly.  Why?  My theory is that mass transit ridership is impacted by gas prices, but its driving factor is people getting to and from work.  Look at the curve in the 12 month rolling average of unlinked transit trips.  The decline corresponds to the deepening of the recession that began in 2008.  See what happens when you plot it against the monthly unemployment rate:

Nothing to see here, right?  Wrong.  The datasets are actually negatively correlated.  The math works out to ~(0.694).  That is to say that as unemployment goes up—more people out of work—then transit ridership goes down—fewer people going to work.  The converse is also true.  The unemployment statistics were taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

I do not think any of this is definitive, but it suggests a more complex relationship than merely higher gas prices driving behavior.  Ironically, the president of the APTA Michael Melaniphy said “As people get jobs and go back to work, they get on mass transit more.  And then when people look at gas prices, they really get on transit more.”  The converse of the statement is true.  As gas prices rise people get on mass transit more, but as they get back to work they really start to ride mass transit.

Another aspect I am struggling with how to model is the capacity of mass transit relative to ridership and gas prices.  The capacity of mass transit, outside of adding busses, is not something that can be scaled with any rapidity.  There is a long lead time in building rail lines or adding trains.  The need for additional capacity is probably reduced by the time that new capacity is installed meaning that only the farthest looking of civic planners actually put systems in place to handle future demand growth.