California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard

Apr 25th, 2009 | Posted by

The LA Times reports that the California Air Resources Board has just released a complex new environmental regulation called the “Low Carbon Fuel Standard” (LCFS). This is relevant for High Speed Rail in that it will inevitably raise both vehicle and fuel prices for cars and trucks in the medium and long term. That in turn should boost ridership on all types of mass transit and the popularity of transit-oriented real estate development statewide.

Objectives

One objective is to diversify the fuel sources for the millions of internal combustion engines powering motorbikes, cars and trucks in California, away from (mostly) imported fossil crude oil and toward substitutes derived from locally grown energy crops and agricultural waste streams or, from other local, renewable sources of primary energy. Considering that California requires so-called “boutique” gasoline with special additives to curb summer smog, it could not import finished product from out of state or abroad if one of its refineries went offline. Therefore, the diversification of fuel sources is a priority both for energy security and for the state’s balance of trade.

A second objective is to reduce net carbon emissions of each gallon of fuel pumped at California gas stations to help meet climate policy goals. Vehicles fueled partially or wholly by substitutes must of course not emit more toxic compounds than those running on conventional oil distillates, but their net CO2 emissions will be lower. The savings accrue not at the tailpipe when the vegetable matter that is used as a feedstock for the alternative fuel production grows back a year later. This is why ARB selected the GREET model for the entire carbon life cycle of each type of fuel. For biofuel compounds, it also takes land use and food web impacts into account.

Note that California’s new low carbon fuel standard does not aim to directly reduce total vehicle miles driven, nor to increase vehicle occupancy rates, nor to reduce aggregate net CO2 emissions from ground transportation in the state. Some or all of these outcomes may materialize indirectly as a result of higher vehicle and/or fuel prices.

Exempt Industries

The aviation industry was apparently exempted from the new state regulations. Part of the reason may be that jet fuel is subject to very stringent quality standards for safety reasons. In addition, federal laws and international treaties restrict individual states’ ability to tax aviation fuels and/or enforce the use of fuel substitutes in blends or neat form.

In general aviation, there is a desire to phase out 100 octane low lead (100LL) AVGAS, but all substitutes – 91 octane gasoline, methanol, ethanol – require significant modifications to airframes, fuel system components and engines. In the US, any retrofit kits would have to be certified by the FAA, so the industry is moving toward new designs featuring turbocharged diesel engines that can run on either diesel or jet fuel. Some US airports have already stopped selling AVGAS, perhaps in a thinly disguised effort to free up more slots for commercial flights.

Off-road, marine and locomotive fuels are also not covered by the new regulation, nor is the US military.

Natural Gas, Hydrogen and Electricity

Returning to trucks and cars: natural gas, hydrogen and electricity are all included in the list of alternative transportation fuels in the new regulations, which do not consider the details of the alternative drivetrain technologies required to take advantage of them. The GREET models for these fuels do account for how these substitutes are produced and distributed.

Regular natural gas is less carbon-intensive than gasoline but it requires some engine modifications. In addition, achieving an acceptable operating range of ~200 miles between fill-ups requires heavy, bulky and expensive fuel tanks that can withstand 250-300 bar (3630-4350 psi) of pressure plus a network of gas stations equipped with the requisite compressors. On the other hand, biomethane blended with a small amount of propane is the only cellulosic biofuel that could easily be produced in bulk today. EU regulations already permit producers to feed it into the existing European network of natural gas pipelines.

The cheapest way to produce hydrogen is steam reforming of fossil natural gas, but this releases copious amounts of CO2. There may still be a niche application for it in the context of blends of natural gas and a small amount of hydrogen, e.g. Hythane. Relative to CNG, the hydrogen additive accelerates flame propagation and ensures near-complete combustion while improving thermodynamic cycle efficiency. It is best used in efficient homogenous lean-burn spark ignition engines equipped with oxidation catalysts and NOx traps or SCR systems originally developed for diesel engines. To avoid hydrogen embrittlement, special alloys or composite materials must be used to contain fuels containing hydrogen.

This also applies to the entire distribution chain of neat hydrogen and the 700 bar (10150 psi) pressure tanks deployed in fuel cell vehicles (FCVs). However, thanks to the GREET model, hydrogen will now have to be produced using electrolysis of fresh water using electricity from controversial nuclear or expensive renewable sources. Thus, the LCFS virtually guarantees that FCVs will remain a niche phenomenon.

That in turn could create more of a market for vehicles that can store such zero-carbon electricity directly in on-board battery banks. High-volume manufacturers prefer the more expensive and less energy-dense chemistries based on nickel metal hydrides (NiMH), lithium-manganese spinel or lithium nanophospate to banks of commodity lithium-cobalt ion cells found in cell phones and laptops (cp. Tesla Motors). To understand why, watch these videos of nail penetration tests of commodity vs. automotive-grade Li-ion cells, simulating a severe crash scenario.

Regardless of chemistry, all automotive applications of advanced traction batteries have to be maintained at intermediate states of charge (30-90%) and forcibly cooled to near room temperature to ensure they will last for the lifetime of the vehicle. The battery packs used in electric bicycles and scooters are much smaller and cheaper, but owners typically have to replace them after a few years.

Implications for Oil and Utility Companies

Santa Barbara County recently reversed itself on a controversial decision to lift a ban on new offshore drilling in the area. From the oil industry’s perspective, the new LCFS adds insult to injury as the carbon life cycle analysis also exposes oil produced from tar sands (cp. Athabasca, Canada) as incredibly carbon-intensive. Developing the US Navy’s vast oil shale deposits in Colorado would be even worse.

The new rules point in exactly the other direction: they require refineries to cut the net carbon emissions from their products by 10% in the next decade by blending in renewable compounds or, by selling neat substitutes alongside traditional oil distillates. The latter option would permit oil companies to set up networks of rapid recharge stations for battery electric vehicles, though fire safety considerations will require these to be located sufficiently far from gasoline pumps. Note that oil companies could presumably also comply by taking equity stakes in utilities or else, in specialized start-ups such as Better Place.

However, it’s far more likely that oil companies will invest in emerging, relatively benign liquid hydrocarbon technologies such as cellulosic ethanol that are more compatible with their existing distribution infrastructure and the existing vehicle fleet. The fuel systems and engines of all cars and trucks sold in the US since the 1970s can tolerate E10 (10% ethanol) blends. In addition, a loophole in CAFE rules allows auto manufacturers could avoid gas guzzler taxes for popular SUV and pick-up models equipped – at modest expense – with seals and gaskets made from materials that can tolerate blends as high as E85. Millions of car and truck owners are not even aware that their vehicle is already flex-fuel capable.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest headaches presented by cellulosic feedstocks is that they are usually solid and therefore expensive to transport to a large central biorefinery. Moreover, the end product ethanol is highly hygroscopic i.e. it attracts moisture from the ambient air. To avoid corrosion risks, it must be distributed via truck or freight rail instead of existing gasoline pipelines. In addition, storage tanks at gas stations must contain stirrers for fuels containing ethanol. California refineries currently purchase most of their ethanol from the Mid-West, where it is produced from glucose contained in corn kernels – competing directly with applications in the food web. Cellulosic ethanol avoids this problem, but large amounts of energy are needed to increase the surface area of readily available feedstocks like corn stover, switch grass etc. Only then can bacteria begin to break the cellulose down into simple sugars and then ferment those into ethanol. Fermentation into the more desirable biobutanol is in a much earlier stage of microbiology R&D.

An alternate, more easily scalable route is the conversion of cellulosic waste streams, including lignocellulosic biomass, into synthesis gas, a mix of hydrogen and carbon monoxide. This can be converted in Fischer-Tropsch reactors into a variety of useful fuels including synthetic natural gas (SNG) and, alkanes suitable as bulk substitutes for diesel, even gasoline. Unfortunately, F-T is highly exothermic (i.e. inefficient) and also not very selective (i.e. you get lots of worthless by-products) and the results become worse as you scale plants down to reduce the overheads associated with feedstock logistics. This makes F-T unattractive in the context of the carbon life-cycle analysis at the heart of California’s new LCFS, unless both the waste heat and the waste CO2 can be leveraged for secondary processes such as steam generation and algal oil production.

Implications for Car and Truck Manufacturers

Gasoline and diesel are the dominant fuels for internal combustion engines used in ground transportation for two very simple reasons: low cost and high energy density. They are also very well suited to precisely controlled combustion in spark and compression ignition engines, respectively. All of the technologies involved have been the subject of continuous refinement for over a century. In addition, there are well-established networks for fuel production and distribution plus vehicle maintenance and repair.

Auto manufacturers therefore also prefer incremental changes, e.g. new and retrofit fuel systems for ethanol and biodiesel (FAME). Only modest changes to fuel pumps, combustion control and/or exhaust gas aftertreatment are required for these. Keep in mind that fuels with lower energy density (e.g. E85) are consumed at higher rates, so MPG goes down, as does range on a full tank.

The problem is that lawmakers and regulators see a need to go much further much faster, in terms of both toxic emissions and energy security/climate change. To that end, they are pushing concepts such as hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and various types of electric hybrids using both mandates (Zero Emissions Vehicle Program) and incentives (Tax Credit Programs) to overcome substantial technical hurdles and encourage the construction of new distribution infrastructure.

Battery electric vehicles can be charged off the existing grid, if you happen to have a garage or reserved parking space. Unfortunately, using a standard 110V/15amp household circuit require a charge times of 4-8 hours for an operating radius of just 40-100 miles, depending on vehicle mass, aerodynamics and how aggressively they are operated. High acceleration/deceleration rates and high speeds are very detrimental to range, as are hotel loads such as cabin heaters and A/C. Fortunately, research has shown that privately owned motor vehicles are typically operated less than 2 hours out of every 24 and, cover less than 30 miles on most days.

General Motors is betting the farm on a technology that combines a full battery electric drivetrain with a small gasoline engine attached to a generator to extend vehicle range. This concept was first presented in the Lohner-Porsche Mixte Hybrid in 1901. It remains to be seen if consumers will be willing to pay a premium of $15k for a Chevy Volt over a comparable conventional Malibu, even if the federal government provides a super-generous $7500 tax credit for early adopters. Even if your daily commute distance (15-20 miles each way) allows you to very nearly deplete the grid electricity charge without firing up the gasoline engine, it will take many years to recoup the additional initial investment as long as gasoline remains comparatively cheap.

Supply regulations like LCFS that indirectly force consumers to shell out for motor vehicle features that they would not purchase voluntarily tend to reduce both profit margins and annual unit volume. Approaches that deliver fiscally sustainable changes in consumer demand would ultimately deliver a greater aggregate impact on climate policy while also making a smaller auto industry more profitable.

Implications for Transit and High Speed Rail

As indicated at the beginning of the post, the new Low Carbon Fuel Standard will above all make buying and operating a motor car more expensive, because essentially all alternative fuel and propulsion technologies cost more than the status quo. This means California families will likely own fewer and on average, older cars and trucks than is the case today.

In the long run, high school and university students may not be able to afford owning a car. Instead, they make do with a scooter or electric (folding) bicycle instead. In addition, simple economics may force them to use local and regional transit more frequently. From there, it is a just a small step to riding high speed rail instead of catching a short-hop flight. Later, this new generation may well prefer living in an apartment in a walkable transit village to their parents’ dreams of a large free-standing house in the suburbs where cars are the only way to go anywhere, at least in the winter months.

Electric passenger rail is today and will likely remain the only transportation technology capable of moving millions of people across hundreds of miles quickly, safely and in comfort while making time spent in transit productive via reliable broadband Internet access. The much-ballyhooed zero tailpipe emissions vehicle is actually a very old hat, the hard part is getting urban planners and real estate tycoons to revert to thinking in terms of linear rather than area development patterns, i.e. dense transit villages instead of low-rise sprawl across a grid.

Coda: The Future of the LCFS

If history is any guide, it is very likely that a variety of business interests will lobby California politicians as well as ARB bureaucrats to make incremental changes to the complex new regulation. The cumulative effect will likely be a gradual watering-down, even if crass excesses like the aforementioned E85 loophole are avoided. If the state is serious about reducing its net carbon emissions, by far the most effective approach would be to raise fuel taxes as Japan and European countries did long ago.

Unfortunately, very few politicians are prepared to be honest with voters, so they favor new regulations such as this one. Moreover, forcing industry to lobby them fills their campaign coffers.

It is not yet clear if other states will adopt California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard in addition to its strict limits on toxic tailpipe emissions. Note also that the Obama administration has recently given EPA jurisdiction over CO2 emissions, which may well translate to fleet average limits per mile that will render CAFE (administered by USDOT) and the gas guzzler tax (administered by the US Treasury) essentially irrelevant. That sets the stage for a new arena of jurisdictional conflict between EPA and California ARB.

  1. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 08:43
    #1

    As much as I support transit progress and clean air – things like this are very hard on ordinary working people. People who must drive, can’t afford the latest tech in cars, can’t afford the higher taxes, the gas etc. Just remember there’s a huge portion of working class californians, outside the core urban areas, who can’t, don’t want, and quite frankly shouldn’t be forced to ride a bus or walk or suffer economic hardships so that dreamy eyed idealists can push an agenda. People are tying to feed their kids.

  2. Rafael
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 09:38
    #2

    @ jim -

    I’m not the one who decided to introduce the LCFS, it basically makes no more sense than the European biofuels directive. Fleet average requirements on fuel economy (US) or CO2 emissions (Europe, China) are also attempts to shape the supply by forcing innovations merely to abide by an edict.

    In essence, that’s no different than some Soviet central planner deciding in his infinite wisdom that all shoes produced under the next five-year plan shall be loafers.

    Personally, I’d much rather just see higher taxes on carbon-intensive fuels, balanced by lower sales taxes, because that shapes consumer demand. Let people earn their tax cuts by changing their behavior in ways that benefit society as a whole, instead of just giving them away as freebies come election time.

  3. ingtram
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 10:16
    #3

    Jim-

    Forcing the poor to pay for garbage collection is also such a burden. Why not let them just burn it, so they can feed their kids?

    Gas already doubled. It sucked. Arguing price on better gas as an attack on the poor is diversionary. There are plenty of small, cheap used Hondas and Toyotas that run forever out there that use less gas if economics trump style in the choice of auto. But so often it seems it’s the opposite.

  4. Spokker
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 11:15
    #4

    “Just remember there’s a huge portion of working class californians, outside the core urban areas,”

    If they want to live outside the core urban area, then they will pay for it with increased transportation costs. Instead of living in a McMansion they can pay the same price for something smaller and closer to work. In one fell swoop transportation costs go down. Hell, incorporate an analysis of mass transit options into your hunt for a new residence. Few people consider it. All things being equal, I’m going for the home next to a light rail stop.

  5. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 11:45
    #5

    @rafael – I think your are right about keeoing it simple with a higher gas tax and lower sales tax. That way it offsets some of the pain for those who don’t have much choice in the matter. Of course every time the cost of energy goes up, the cost of food goes up. Thats’ why I maintain that if america would pursue a manhattan project for nuclear energy/power plants building our demand for for oil/fossil fuels would drop so dramatically that it would drive the price of oil down. If we only had to use oil for gasoline and used electricity for every other application we’d cut our dependance great and we wouldnt have to burn coal at all. Coal is the filthiest thing on earth. and we’d break our middle east dependance , clean up the air, and lower the cost of energy all at once.

  6. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 11:48
    #6

    USA should be 80 percent nuclear and 20 percent solar and wind, for electricity production. We could then swtich to an “all electric” society with the exception of those things were oil and gas work best. Then keep all our domestic oil at home and not allow it to be sold on the open market. Then we’d only have to purchase foreign oil as needed.

  7. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 11:51
    #7

    @ ingtam and spokker “If they want to live outside the core urban area, then they will pay for it with increased transportation costs. Instead of living in a McMansion they can pay the same price for something smaller and closer to work”

    This is exactly the kind of attitude im talking about – THEY dont live in McMansions dude, they freaking live in motels, tralier parks, apartment complexes, they mop the floors and clean the toilets and flip burgers and pick wait tables and cut hair, they don’t own homes, they are barely getting by, and there are millions of them in californian. They are the working class and the working poor. The CONT have 500 buck for an old honda get it???? The don’t have money to move elsewhere.

  8. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 11:52
    #8

    typos sorry) the “don’t have” 500 bucks for a old used honda”

  9. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 11:57
    #9

    Im noting about suburban folks who commute in to work Im talking about people who live and work in Olivehurst and Marysville and Corning, and Cleal lake and Adin, and Red Bluff, and Mendota, and Quincy, and Oroville, and Gridley. I know these people. I’m from these people. They have nothing to do with the world the rest of live in. They have drinks not cocktails. They go frog giggng in the summer.

  10. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 11:59
    #10

    ingtram said…
    Jim-

    Forcing the poor to pay for garbage collection is also such a burden. Why not let them just burn it, so they can feed their kids?

    It so happes that we never had garbage pick up when I was kid, we did burn it. every other day was a burn day. Everyone did. We had burn barrels. It didn’t bother anyone. The government took them away.

  11. Rafael
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 12:24
    #11

    @ jim -

    even though I think the LCFS is a flawed policy, it should create some green-collar jobs. There is something to be said for diversifying the Central Valley economy beyond food production or rather, for using the whole plant instead of just the edible part.

    There would also be more of an incentive to clear brush in state and national forests if the wood could be turned into something more valuable than heat/electricity. Less brush = less risk of uncontrollable wildfires.

  12. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 12:25
    #12

    The forest are in desperate need of cleaning. ( you can thank the sierra club for these fires)

  13. Alon Levy
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 14:11
    #13

    It’s not the Sierra Club – it’s the huge fires that erupted after decades of fire suppression created fuel buildups.

  14. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 16:47
    #14

    Its the sierra club not letting letting loggers get in and remove anything.

  15. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 16:51
    #15

    thin and clean the forests and burn the debris for power.

    “Ironically, many national groups that call themselves environmentalists opposed a bill in congress that would thin the forest and build large fire breaks in national forests in northern California. This plan is called the Quincy Library Group plan. It was formulated by local environmentalists, experienced U.S. Forest Service officials, and lumber industry representatives meeting in Quincy, California, over several years. A bill to implement this plan was approved overwhelmingly in the House of Representatives by both parties. In press reports, then President Clinton praised the plan as an example of what he wanted when he asked for compromise, not confrontation over the issue of managing our national forests.

    Nevertheless, national environmental groups such as the Sierra Club lobbied selected U.S. Senators such as Barbara Boxer from California to stop the bill in the Senate because these groups claim that approval of any activity by man in our national forests will lead automatically to expanded exploitation of the forests. But they, the self-styled environmentalists, are quite willing to watch these same forests go up in smoke! They know that all our forests, even the few remaining old growth forests that they claim they are protecting, eventually will be burned to blackened stumps if there is no way to stop unnatural forest fires or at least limit their extent during peak fire season.”

  16. Alon Levy
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 18:05
    #16

    The forests survived perfectly well in the tens of millions of years before logging. There were natural forest fires, just like there are now. These fires recycled nutrients and allowed new trees to grow; some tree species can’t disperse seedlings unless the parent tree is destroyed in a fire. I’m not sure where you get your information about forest fires, but I get it from someone who actually has a Ph.D. in the subject, rather than some random logging industry hack.

  17. Alon Levy
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 18:07
    #17

    On another note: why do you think ordinary working people shouldn’t take the bus? And why do you think American workers are so special that they have the right to pay $2/gallon gas, when French, German, and Japanese workers pay $7?

  18. resident
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 19:25
    #18

    “above all make buying and operating a motor car more expensive, because essentially all alternative fuel and propulsion technologies cost more than the status quo”

    Really? Motor Car?

    Above all you appear to know absolutely zero about the history of innovation in this country.

    http://www.snopes.com/quotes/kenolsen.asp

  19. Spokker
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 20:30
    #19

    “And why do you think American workers are so special that they have the right to pay $2/gallon gas, when French, German, and Japanese workers pay $7?”

    Haha, thanks for this. I just used this point in an argument right now.

  20. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 20:44
    #20

    And give us the right to make people pay more… these people are americans with the same rights as the rest of us. p the cost of energy and put the final nail in the economies coffin.. Look My point is that too many people get too gung ho about doing this that and the other without thinking about the consequences. Just because some of us live in the city doesn’t mean everyone else wants to live like us. and NO I dont’ think they should have to take the bus. This is america and the government shouldnt be forcing anyone to take the bus. Out of everyone on this board how many of you own a car? all you no doubt. with he exception maybe of the san diego guy. The rest of californians have to have their needs considered as well.

  21. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 20:47
    #21

    Its the arrogance that Im just reminding people of. I know that in our perfect world things would be a certain way but HSR supporters are not the only people on the planet and jacking up prices on stuff just because you can afford it and to hell with your fellow californians is every bit as bad as rich mfers in PA trying to block a train cuz itll mess up their view. And remember that its this arrogance of the LA-BAy set in californai that really alienates so many californians.

  22. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 20:51
    #22

    Opposition to forest floor clean up, any type of clear cuts, and the let burn policies of the Sierra Club and other radical environmentalist groups are destroying our National Forests. Environmentalist and bureaucratic policies have rendered federal agencies ineffective in managing our wildland (all land under federal agencies). National forests in the West are in deplorable condition, and the advocacy of letting natural fires burn, or in some cases to correct decades of fire-fuel buildup with prescribed burns, is destroying our forestlands. Examples of the catastrophic damage done to our National Parks and National Forests from advocating these policies are the Yellowstone National Park forest fires of 1988, the Mesa Verde forest fire of 2000, both of which were caused by lightning, and the prescribed burn that resulted in the Cerro Grande forest fire near Los Alamos, New Mexico in 2000. And now, there is the Colorado Hayman Fire and the Oregon Biscuit Fire of 2002 followed by the California Forest Fires of 2003 and 2004. As long as some environmental and conservation groups fight every change in forest management policy or cleanup efforts this pattern will continue…as an example, three environmental groups have filed lawsuits to prevent removal of burned trees from the Oregon Biscuit Fire area.

  23. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 21:00
    #23

    Here alon- its not logging hack http://www.pushback.com/Wattenburg/articles/let-it-burn.html

    Home • Bill Wattenburg • Justice • Shocking Facts • Terrorism • Energy • Cars • Environment • Heroes & Villains • Suggested Reading • Fun • Write your government • Contact • About

    Re-Examine “Let It Burn”

    The “Let Our Forests Burn Policy” is Criminal and Stupid—It Must be Re-examined by the Scientists of This Nation

    by Dr. Bill Wattenburg

  24. jim
    Apr 25th, 2009 at 21:04
    #24

    Alon Levy said…
    On another note: why do you think ordinary working people shouldn’t take the bus? And why do you think American workers are so special that they have the right to pay $2/gallon gas, when French, German, and Japanese workers pay $7?”

    Because we aren’t french or german and we don’t have to

  25. Alon Levy
    Apr 26th, 2009 at 11:33
    #25

    Wattenburg is an electrical engineer by training, not a geographer or an environmental scientist. His Smokey Bear opinion isn’t any more informed than this of anyone else.

    I don’t get the “This is America” comments. Hong Kong and Singapore are perennially ranked as the world’s two most free market countries; both have steep taxes on cars and spend their infrastructure money on buses and rail. The idea that you have nothing to learn from other countries is why so many non-Americans think Americans are arrogant bastards (or for that matter why so many non-New Yorkers think the same of New Yorkers).

  26. BruceMcF
    Apr 26th, 2009 at 12:56
    #26

    jim said…
    Because we aren’t french or german and we don’t have to.

    When we were producing our own oil, we weren’t like the French or the Germans and we didn’t have to. They had to impose or maintain steep gas taxes after WWII in order to avoid their current accounts from going too far into the red.

    Now we consume a quarter of the world’s petroleum and import 2/3’s of what we consume, and at the same time have a massive deficit in trade in goods.

    And with our production of crude oil four times our share of world reserves, that import share can only rise.

    The choices available over the medium term do not include keeping gasoline cheap enough for working families to be able to afford long individual commutes, and no amount of wishing will make it so.

    However, while the easiest transition by far would be a genuine gas tax, with the proceeds redistributed on a per capita basis, it is true that the starry eyed idealists of the anti-tax movement are a massive roadblock toward progress … all throughout the country, but especially in California hobbled by insane supermajority rules.

  27. Alon Levy
    Apr 26th, 2009 at 16:07
    #27

    Bruce: Britain and Norway, which are net oil exporters, have the same gas taxes as France and Germany.

  28. BruceMcF
    Apr 27th, 2009 at 04:51
    #28

    @ Alon, you are saying that Britain and Norway were oil exporters after WWII?

    Obviously once a genuine gas tax gets established, there is a strong economic incentive to keep it in place. Oil exporters that adopt low gas taxes or, worse, gas subsidies find themselves with escalating gasoline consumption and a declining share of oil production going to export.

  29. Alon Levy
    Apr 27th, 2009 at 11:50
    #29

    No – I think they became net exporters in the 1980s, after large discoveries in the North Sea. It’s legitimate to ask why they didn’t drop their support for rail transit then and there.

    I’d say the real differences between the US and the rest of the developed world (including Canada) are,

    - US railroads were distrusted because of their corruption, especially in the West; Californian political cartoons portrayed SP as an octopus.

    - The US was and is more capitalist than Europe and Japan, and in particular never nationalized the railroads, which would defuse the corruption concerns.

    - The US had oil earlier, which led to a large oil industry that could shill for roads.

    - The US mass produced cars first, leading to a large car industry. The car industry was large but relatively young and fast-growing in the 1950s, so it wasn’t viewed as a corrupt special interest. “What’s good for the GM is good for the USA” made more sense than the same statement made about the PRR.

    - More than any other country, the US engaged in massive auto-oriented urban renewal starting in the 1920s and 30s in New York.

    All these issues conspired to make rail in the US politically unpopular before there was enough investment to make it popular among riders, at least outside New York and parts of Chicago. Conversely, in Japan the auto industry only became very big after the Shinkansen and most of the rail transit systems of Tokyo and Osaka had been built; in Britain, not only did the oil industry rise too late but also good transit came very early, with most of the London Underground built before 1900.

  30. Daniel Jacobson
    Apr 27th, 2009 at 19:19
    #30

    I am surprised at this site’s frequent bias toward the costlier, more dangerous, energy consuming electric bicycles rather than traditional bicycles. It is almost as though you guys do not see regular bicycles as a practical transportation option.

  31. Alon Levy
    Apr 27th, 2009 at 20:23
    #31

    Daniel: I think it’s more about the fact that bikes consume your own body’s energy, which is especially wearing when you go uphill, especially in the summer. Cities with good bike infrastructure can get their walking/bicycle modal share to about 20-30%, I believe, and even that is only for specific populations, such as students and active duty troops.

  32. BruceMcF
    Apr 28th, 2009 at 07:21
    #32

    Daniel Jacobson said… “I am surprised at this site’s frequent bias toward the costlier, more dangerous, energy consuming electric bicycles rather than traditional bicycles. It is almost as though you guys do not see regular bicycles as a practical transportation option.

    Whether an electric bike is more dangerous or not depends in part on whether they are an electric scooter in disguise or a genuine electric bike.

    There’s no reason why a real electric bike would be more dangerous than a regular bike. Indeed, by reducing the effort penalty for obeying the traffic laws in full, at stop signs and traffic lights, if combined with cyclist education on effective cycling, they could end up being safer.

    When I had my 14 mile commute to work in the warehouse slinging boxes up to 90 pounds off the boxline, it definitely would have saved over half an hour with electric assist up the three hills along the way.

    For a more relevant example (few would be mad enough to cycle that far to work that hard for that little money), at the Marquette limit of the half hour commute, a expanding the average speed … not necessarily the top speed … by 20% will increase the area within the Marquette limit of a given cycle commuter by 44%. And in hilly terrain, it may be possible to increase average speed by 40% … again, without necessarily increasing top speed … which is a 96% increase in the area within the Marquette limit.

    I feel the Marquette limit myself … with my present job within a 15 to 20 minute ride, I am never on the lookout for a lift. When it was over an hour and a half, I was always looking for a lift.

  33. Daniel Jacobson
    Apr 28th, 2009 at 10:08
    #33

    Bruce MCF and Alon Levy: Riding an electric bicycle is fundamentally different than riding a regular bicycle because speeding is much easier. It’s almost like riding a motorcycle in a congested city, but without the training to get a license. From my experience, it’s much less intuitive and you’re more likely to lose control without extensive training.

    Either way, my main point is that this blog has ignored traditional bicycling as a practical transportation option. I understand your points about heat, range, terrain, etc. but we are talking about cities like Redwood City, San Jose, Fresno, Bakersfield, etc. that aren’t exactly the most difficult terrain. The heat in the summer can be an issue, but Davis still maintains about a 20% mode share even in summer temperatures of 80-100 degrees. And I think that once you get to trips above 7-10 miles, people will end up taking public transit anyway. Bicycles, and bicycle infrastructure, are among the cheapest and most cost-effective investments an individual (or a local government) can make, while electric bicycles and some of the other suggestions on this site are asking too much of individuals and local governments.

    I am a big fan of this blog and all, but you cannot honestly push a progressive transportation policy while completely ignoring bicycling. It just doesn’t make sense.

  34. jim
    Apr 28th, 2009 at 12:50
    #34

    Daniel Jacobson said…
    I am surprised at this site’s frequent bias toward the costlier, more dangerous, energy consuming electric bicycles rather than traditional bicycles. It is almost as though you guys do not see regular bicycles as a practical transportation option” who in hell is gonna ride a bike to work Im 44 years old Im not getting a bike in the rain. forget it.

  35. jim
    Apr 28th, 2009 at 12:52
    #35

    the bikers in sf are obnoxious as hell. they ride very fast, and they ride on the sidewalk which is illegal, and they disobey traffic rules and terrorize pedestrians, and then get huffy about it if you point it out.

  36. Daniel Jacobson
    Apr 28th, 2009 at 14:38
    #36

    Great logic, Jim… Because you do not want to ride a bike, and stereotype all SF bicyclists as evil (even though they’re trying to navigate through a city that hasn’t built any bicycle infrastructure in two years and had little to begin with), therefore bikes should be banned from the streets.

  37. BruceMcF
    Apr 28th, 2009 at 19:20
    #37

    The fundamental reason pedelecs get the attention that they do on the site is that Rafeal thinks they’re cool, and he likes to write about things he thinks are cool.

    Daniel Jacobson said…
    Bruce MCF and Alon Levy: Riding an electric bicycle is fundamentally different than riding a regular bicycle because speeding is much easier.

    As is, I would hope, staying up with traffic, respecting red lights and stop signs, and clearing intersections when turning mixed with traffic.

    Of course, how fast an electric bike can go is in part a state by state issue. In states where an electrified bicycle cannot be able to go over 20mph unassisted on level ground, or else it must be registered as a motorcycle (and pass motorcycle specs), the scope for speeding on a 25mph or 35mph street is nowhere near as great.

    jim said…
    the bikers in sf are obnoxious as hell. they ride very fast, and they ride on the sidewalk which is illegal, and they disobey traffic rules and terrorize pedestrians, and then get huffy about it if you point it out.

    This kind of cycling is not unusual where there is little training of cyclists in effective cycling techniques and little training of drivers in the their responsibilities to cyclists under the law. Large numbers of motorists drive cyclists off the road illegally, large numbers of cyclists treat motorists as an obstacle course, maximum friction all around.

    Blogger Daniel Jacobson said… “Great logic, Jim… Because you do not want to ride a bike, and stereotype all SF bicyclists as evil (even though they’re trying to navigate through a city that hasn’t built any bicycle infrastructure in two years and had little to begin with), therefore bikes should be banned from the streets.

    The primary cycling infrastructure a city needs is an adequately staffed police force that come down like a ton of bricks on motorists who break the law with respect to cyclists, and once that is sufficiently well understood, then come down like a ton of bricks on cyclists who break the law.

    Most “separate infrastructure” is an excuse to take away the right of cyclists to ride on the street where they belong.

  38. jim
    Apr 29th, 2009 at 12:18
    #38

    Daniel Jacobson said…
    Great logic, Jim… Because you do not want to ride a bike, and stereotype all SF bicyclists as evil (even though they’re trying to navigate through a city that hasn’t built any bicycle infrastructure in two years and had little to begin with), therefore bikes should be banned from the streets.” – No they can have the streets they need to be banned from the sidewalks and they need to be more pollite and follow traffic rules thats all.

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