Friday, June 26, 2009

Open source hydrogen automobiles

There is a new company promising to build affordable hydrogen cars. The cars are designed for use as city cars with limited top speeds and range. While those limits are likely to be problematic as people tend to buy much more car than they ever need, the company intends to make the designs available to everyone so that they can be adapted and improved locally. This open source arrangement may be novel enough to overcome the speed and range limits, though it's not clear how the open source process will work with all of the regulations to which cars are subject. However, because hydrogen powered cars can be much simpler (meaning fewer parts) than conventional autos (because there isn't a transmission and the engine is electric) there aren't the same economies of scale issues as conventional building.

Another critical feature is that the cars will only be available as leased vehicles. The idea is that companies will design the cars, own the cars, and invest in the required infrastructure. By turning to an open source model with relatively low overhead the fueling network can be installed city by city (or region by region). This seems like a much more promising approach for switching to hydrogen than a national mandate, but at least in the US requires the federal government to get out of the way.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Who rides transit?

Transit is too often viewed as a a travel mode that is used by a non-representative sample of the US. But the recent deadly crash of the Washington Metro demonstrates that transit is be used by all types of people. This story about the Metro crash victims is a sad reminder that transit is not only for low-income riders.

NYC MTA sells subway station naming rights

The MTA sold the naming rights to a busy subway station in Brooklyn to Barclay's Bank. If the Nets ever build their arena and start playing nearby, this won't be terrible as the arena will be Barclay's Arena. Regardless of the value of the advertising, I think this can potentially diminish the ease of using the system and create too much confusion. This is particularly true as many of the naming rights deals never reach the end of the contract. It is not assured that Barclay's will even exist in 20 years.

But even the advertising people don't like it:

"Still, while selling station names could bring the authority revenue it needs, advertising experts say companies may not be as well-served.

“To be effective, the viewer needs to understand the relevance of the ad,” said Allen Adamson of Landor, a branding firm. “To rename the 59th and Lex stop the McDonald’s stop — it ain’t going to work. I don’t think it will stick.”

Indeed, other cities have tried this with little success. Boston, for example, tried auctioning off four historic stations a few years ago and received no bids. Though Citigroup paid $400 million to sponsor the new Mets stadium in Queens, the company refused to pay the authority to rename the stop nearby, which is now known as Mets/Willets Point."

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Should cities be allowed to regulate greenhouse gas emissions?

A federal judge has ruled that New York City cannot require taxi operators to drive hybrids. (Never mind that there aren't enough hybrids for the entire fleet to comply with the city ordinance.) The judge affirmed that the U.S. government alone has the authority to regulate gas mileage and engine emissions. This is a bad ruling as it limits policy innovation since the city was only requiring a shift towards existing technologies and not new technologies. Most states and cities are too small to have enough market power to change auto companies ways, but New York City is sufficiently large and can act as a laboratory for innovative transportation policies. (Los Angeles and California are also laboratory opportunities for policy innovation using existing technologies.)

Greenhouse gas emissions are certainly a global concern, but particulate matter, noise pollution and other direct effects of gasoline engines are strictly local concerns and should be regulated locally. I wonder if the Mayor required that taxis operated quietly would pass muster legally. Certainly the city ought to be able to regulate particulate matter that causes asthma and other respiratory problems.

If the city is serious about reducing the environmental effects of driving they absolutely should price curb parking at a level that eliminates cruising, which can be as much as 40 percent of traffic in some neighborhoods, and get rid of minimum parking requirements, which incentive driving to work.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Training your customers

Ford has decided that it is in their best interest to offer driving lessons to Chinese. Jalopnik has the press release and many nice videos that demonstrate how insane Chinese intersections can be.

Any new technology requires training, and most Chinese cars are sold to first-time buyers. Not only first time buyers, but first-time drivers. Unlike the U.S., the driving education system in China is virtually non-existent and teaches weird techniques like how to drive on two parallel beams. In the U.S. driver education creates a public good that comes from having well trained motorists. What Ford is doing with their educational efforts in China is anticipating that the public benefits of good drivers will translate into private gains through increased vehicle sales. In addition, by lessening the environmental and social damage from autos Ford can also avoid potential regulations in the future. Though I wonder if the Chinese penchant for queue jumping is manifest in their driving behaviors.

A new congestion pricing proposal for NYC

New York has a real problem with congestion, and the biggest culprit is all the food trucks. Citydesk jokes that the city will start charging food trucks a $15 fee to use certain roads during peak hours. The fake pricing plan led to a fake protest where the food trucks slowed traffic during a PM rush hour. Industrial discrimination, they say! If only there were an El Camino filled with baked beans cruising the city.