Thursday, August 28, 2008

Grading the States, and On-Street Parking...

I'm feeling lazy; anybody out there in blog-land feel like doing some research for me?

First: many months ago the Pew Center released it's "Grading the States" report, where it ranks the states on the "effectiveness" of state governments.

I think it would be interesting to see if there's any correlation between their rankings and economic growth. Or poverty rates. Or student performance on the NAEP tests. Does it really matter if state governments are "effective"?

Second: the Town wants to ban parking on our street (High Street). My gut reaction is "no way! People drive too fast down our street already..." I wanna know: does traffic really slow down on residential streets with on-street parking? Are there more or fewer accidents on streets without on-street parking? I bet the answers are somewhere on the NTSB web site, but, as I said, I'm feeling lazy...

Monday, August 18, 2008

Miles per Gallon on the Bus

A week or three ago I read that if you divide the number of passenger miles ridden by the number of gallons of fuel used by the public transportation systems of many cities, you end up with a pretty lousy number (see here for the full scoop). That makes sense if the public transportation system runs lots of mostly-empty, big, heavy, diesel-hungry buses or trains or ferry boats.

Which made me wonder: how does our local public transportation system fare?

The National Transit Database gave me the number of passenger miles ridden in 2006 for the entire PVTA system: about 31 million miles.

And an email to the nice folks at the PVTA got the number of gallons of fuel they used last year (2007): about 1.5 million gallons.

Divide miles by gallons and you get about 20 MPG (that's not quite right-- I should divide 2007 miles by 2007 gallons; I'll update this post when the 2007 ridership miles are available).

20 MPG is lousy. The CAFE mandated fuel efficiency for single-passenger vehicles is 27.5 MPG. Unless you own a gas-guzzler, and especially if you're going somewhere with a friend, then the raw data says driving will use less gas than riding the bus.

But that's not really right. The "marginal cost" of riding the bus is probably pretty close to zero; add another person to the bus and it's not going to use a whole lot more fuel. At least, until the bus gets too crowded and you need to buy and run another bus to fit everybody. Then the marginal cost of that one extra person is ginormous.

I think the lesson is that it is not as simple as "bus good, car bad." Running lots of empty or mostly empty buses is worse for the environment (and our economy) than running smaller, more fuel efficient private cars or taxis. If we really care about the environment, then the fuel efficiency standards that we set for cars should also be applied to public transportation. Why not tell PVTA: "You must be at least as fuel efficient, on a passenger-mile-per-gallon basis, as the CAFE standard for single passenger automobiles (27.5MPG)."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Pot Luck or Banquet?

I've been thinking a lot about central planning versus spontaneous order lately, and wondering if my personal preferences are clouding my thinking.

For example, I like the typical pot-luck dinner better than the typical catered banquet. I like not knowing exactly what will be there, and I like trying new things. I don't like the "would you like the beef, chicken, or vegetarian?" question; I always want to answer "give me a little of all three."

My political preferences match my culinary tastes. I don't want to choose between Democrat and Republican, I'd like to have a little of each, please. And I don't want the government to create a least-offensive solution for whatever problem I might face, whether it's what kind of school my kids attend or what type of health insurance I think is best for me. I'd rather have a gloriously chaotic array of choices that I can try or ignore.

I'm probably atypical-- I bet most people would choose a safe, boring catered meal over a riskier but more exciting pot luck. I can hear them now: "What if everybody decides to bring a lime Jello® salad?" I suspect that the same type of irrational fear of the worst-case scenario drives a lot of government programs, policies and laws that I think we'd be better off without.

But maybe they're being perfectly rational, and they just value consistency and safety a lot more than I do. Either way, I kinda wish they'd stop making me pay for stuff I don't want...