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Much more effective, in fact. A new paperfrom researchers at MIT’s Global Change program finds that higher gas taxes are “at least six to fourteen times” more cost-effective than stricter fuel-economy standards at reducing gasoline consumption.
The 5.5 billion hours Americans sat in traffic in 2011 cost the country a whopping $121 billion, according to an Urban Mobility Report from Texas A&M. Not surprisingly, the most congested cities are also some of the most populated, including Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, New York-Newark, Boston, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, Philadelphia and Seattle.
In recent years, transportation experts have found that if drivers get a free taste of mass transit, many of them find they actually want a bit more. The approach has worked, albeit on a limited trial basis, in developed cities around the world: from Kyoto to Leeds to greater Copenhagen. Transit ridership in Châteauroux jumped after the mayor made the system free. Swedish commuters who rode free transit for a month found themselves more satisfied with it than they thought they’d be.
Now we can even add American drivers to the mix. In an upcoming issue of the journalTransport Policy, a research duo reports that nearly 30 percent of regular car commuters in Boston and Cambridge, Massachusetts, gave up their full-time parking permits immediately after a brief free-transit trial, with most downgrading to an occasional permit and a few making a full switch to transit. About 25 percent had stuck with the change six months later.
In Automotion’s garages, drivers pull into a 17-by-20 foot cabin. All of the mechanics and plasma screens aside, this should actually be easier, Milstein says, than trying to make the parking-spot squeeze between a cement ceiling support and a poorly parked Range Rover. The system then moves and deposits cars in about two minutes, and the entrance bay is ready for a new car within about a minute and 10 seconds.
A major rationale — perhapsthemajor rationale — touted by supporters of mass transit is that by reducing our output of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, transit can help save the environment. The proposition seems intuitive and even obvious: by no longer encasing each traveler in thousands of pounds of difficult-to-move metal, surely transit is more energy-efficient. Plenty of analyses prove this. But then again,Aristotle, who was revered as the infallible font of truth for more than 1,000 years, proved that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones and that women have fewer teeth than men. Might studies that demonstrate transit is greener be similarly wrong?
They might. The reason is that many studies of energy efficiency by mode often make questionable and — depending on the author’s point of view — self-serving assumptions. The main trick is to look at autos with but one passenger and compare them to transit vehicles in which every seat is full. (For example, see this.)
But in the real world, this is emphatically not the case. At any given time, the average auto has somewhere around 1.6 passengers, and the average (typically 40-seat) bus has only about 10. Rail vehicles typically have more passengers (on average about 25), but then again they are also typically much larger. Thus their average load factor (percentage of seats filled) is also not high, at about 46 percent for heavy rail systems (think subways in major cities) and about 24 percent for light rail (think systems that mostly run at street level).
Paulson and colleague Yifang Zhu measured pollutants in the air during Carmageddon last year and have recently released their pretty astounding findings. Air quality near the normally busy highway improved by 83 percent that day last July, relative to comparable weekends. Elsewhere in West Los Angeles, the improvement was equally dramatic. Air quality improved by 75 percent on that side of the city and in Santa Monica, and by 25 percent throughout the entire region, as a measure of the drop in ultrafine particulate matter associated with tailpipe emissions.
Expanded and improved service. While Germany’s transit mileage has decreased in recent times, as we pointed out last year, the country still has three times the service of the United States. Roughly 88 percent of Germans live within a kilometer of a transit stop, compared to 43 percent of Americans. German fleets are modern, reliable, and well-integrated (more on that in No. 3).
Attractive fares. As we also pointed out last year, transit fares have increased in Germany — so much so that riders now cover three-quarters of operating costs. But most of that increase went to single-fare tickets. In the past two decades German transit authorities have arranged great discounts for children, the elderly, and students. Many employers have good rates too.
Regional and intermodal coordination. German transit has what Buehler and Pucher call “full coordination of routes, schedules, and fares” in metro areas. That’s partly because the country has regional transit organizations that manage bus-rail transfers to minimize wait time and distance. The German metro also does a great job encouraging biking by offering parking and allowing bikes on trains.
Car restrictions. German public policies are designed to discourage car ownership, driving, and parking. Unlike in the United States, where the federal gas tax has been stagnant since 1993, Germans pay very high fuel costs — with 60 percent going to taxes. (Sales tax on vehicles is also four times higher there.) And while American drivers fail to cover highway costs with user fees, with the Highway Trust Fund dipping into the general budget more every year, Germans cover 2.5 times government road expenditures through taxes.
Land-use policies. According to Buehler and Pucher, German planning laws encourage dense, mixed-use development more than American ones do. This facilitates transit use and concurrent transit development. Generally speaking, German planning is also more integrated with transport than it is in the United States.