California’s Looming Transportation Funding Crisis

Nov 21st, 2012 | Posted by

The passage of Prop 30 has stopped the bleeding at California’s K-12 schools, at least for the time being. The $6 billion in revenues it raises won’t fully backfill the nearly $10 billion in cuts made to K-12 education since 2008, nor will it restore the huge funding cuts made to the community college, CSU and UC systems in that same time. But it’s a start.

Transportation funding faces a crisis too. It has been slashed over that same amount of time, and even before that, revenues weren’t keeping pace with basic road maintenance needs nor were they sufficient to fund the level of mass transit that the state desperately needs. Years of reckless tax cuts had led to cuts in these important programs and transportation services, leaving California vulnerable to the impact of rising gas prices while existing infrastructure deteriorates.

In 2006, alarmed at the backlog of projects that had accumulated, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature placed Proposition 1B on the ballot, funding a wide range of projects around the state. (One side effect was that the high speed rail bond vote was again delayed, to 2008, which worked out pretty well.) But because of Schwarzenegger’s anti-tax ideology, there was no funding source for these projects – they were funded by bonds. That’s a sensible way to fund infrastructure, but it avoided the deeper revenue problem.

Schwarzenegger himself was a primary cause of that problem. In 2003 he ran for governor in the recall election on a platform of cutting the Vehicle License Fee. He won that election and legislators were panicked into giving him his reckless tax cut. The VLF had helped fund local governments, including their transportation budgets, but when it was cut $6 billion was lost from state funds. Schwarzenegger pledged to backfill the VLF cut, but that just created a budget deficit that was never filled – until the passage of Prop 30. That has made it difficult to properly fund transportation projects in California and contributed greatly to the state’s ongoing fiscal problems.

Still, the VLF cut remains a problem. It had been at a 2% rate from the 1940s to 1998 and it didn’t create any hardship for Californians, didn’t stop the sale of automobiles, didn’t stop the housing industry. In 1998 the VLF rate was cut by outgoing Governor Pete Wilson and a legislature hungry to win the public’s favor during a boom economy. Budget wonks were horrified, but the dot com boom masked the problem – until 2002, when the recession eliminated the revenue spike and revealed the underlying problem that the 1998 tax cuts were unsustainable. Governor Gray Davis and the legislature agreed to restore the pre-1998 VLF rate, which helped set up Schwarzenegger’s recall campaign.

So as California looks to build a sustainable budget, the VLF ought to be on the table. And work on that front has already been under way. Earlier this month, State Senator Ted Lieu sat down with the editorial board of the Los Angeles Daily News to discuss a proposal that had been in the works for several months – a restoration of the Vehicle License Fee to its longstanding 2% rate in order to fund transportation beyond the expiration of Prop 1B next year. The plan had been to put this before voters at the November 2014 election. But Lieu noted that with Democrats now having a 2/3 supermajority in the legislature, they could just enact it themselves.

Lieu’s sensible proposal ignited a firestorm of criticism from the anti-tax forces, still smarting from having gotten their asses kicked at the November election. The Daily News editorialized that Lieu should abandon the plan but did not seriously grapple with the underlying problem that Lieu identified.

On Monday, Lieu announced he was dropping the plan, releasing the following statement:

“Investment in California’s complex transportation system paved the way for our economic growth over the last 60 years. Unfortunately, this system is now in crisis. Investments in transportation infrastructure have fallen drastically behind, jeopardizing the state’s future economic growth and stability. According to a recent assessment by the California Transportation Commission, rehabilitation and reconstruction of our aging state highway system is underfunded by more than $5 billion a year. Local street repair is additionally underfunded by $1.8 billion a year.

“In an attempt to address one of California’s most critical economic needs, last year I started to brainstorm with Transportation California and other stakeholders on ways to bridge the enormous gap in transportation infrastructure needs. Key features would include constitutional protections so the funding can only be used for its intended purpose; an equitable formula to provide needed revenue to state, local and transit projects; and a requirement that voters approve the revenue stream. A proposal was being developed to place on the 2014 ballot a proposition to essentially revert the Vehicle License Fee to its prior rate of 2 percent, which was the rate from 1948 to 2004, to provide a stable funding source for transportation and infrastructure.

“However, over the last few weeks California’s political landscape has changed. I have listened carefully to those who have contacted my office or me. Additionally, more stakeholders weighed in on this important issue. As a result, I will not be introducing the proposal. Instead, I will work with transportation stakeholders and the public next year on alternative ways to mitigate the transportation infrastructure problem. This problem is not going to go away and will only worsen when the final installment of depleted Proposition 1B funds are allocated next year. I am open to any suggestions and if you have any, please feel free to contact me or my office.”

The problem remains, of course. Democrats are going to lose their supermajority if they don’t use it to solve ongoing problems – see here for a fuller explanation of that argument – so let’s hope this isn’t a sign that Democrats will be too conservative with their new power.

One thing that would help: a constitutional fix that would help local governments fund transportation. It looks like transportation funding measures in Alameda County and Los Angeles County will fail despite getting 65% of the vote. This is an utterly ridiculous situation, as 65% would be a huge win in any other election. Democrats ought to propose a constitutional reform package to voters that would include eliminating the 2/3 rule for tax increases, especially for local revenue proposals.

As gas prices continue rising, as climate change continues to worsen, and as Californians shift away from driving, it’s more important than ever that transportation get the funding it needs. A VLF restoration would be a good method to raise that revenue. If not that, then something else. Democrats have a chance to solve this problem, and they ought to take it.

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  1. Derek
    Nov 21st, 2012 at 19:47
    #1

    Barring a constitutional reform of the 2/3 supermajority law for tax increases, three simple and practical solutions are:

    1. Shut down less needed road lanes (fewer lane-miles to maintain saves money)

    2. Convert normal free-flow freeway lanes to express lanes (prevents traffic congestion and creates a revenue source not subject to voter approval)

    3. Abolish minimum parking requirements, and use modern parking management technology to prevent parking shortages (having fewer parking spaces reduces VMT)

    This blog advocates option 4, create an alternative to driving. But the above three options would help create demand for HSR.

    Andy M Reply:

    The best thing you can do for trainsit/HSR is to slow down investement in roads. That automatically creates demand for alternatives.

    Shutting down roads or lanes does not automatically save money. The reason being that whereas maintenance is modelled as being an ongoing continuous thing, it is really done in big pushes and then several years in between with very little maintenance. For example a bridge needs to be replaced at the end of its lifespan (a big push) but in between may just require the occasional inspection or fixing holes in the asphalt (minor costs). So if you close a road two weeks after replacing a bridge, you are still writing off the costs of that replacement and so saving nothing by not using it. However, if you close or downsize the road when the end of the bridge’s lifespan is acheived, you save heaps.

    The same is of course true for rail.

    The amount of money you are willing to spend on road maintenance is a political matter and can be influneced by different things. The same is true for rail.

    Now people who don’t drive re less likley to see the need for roads and so in areas with low driving, there will automatically be less support for roads and more support for walkability, cycling, transit etc, and so there is a self sustaining spiral that sucks money into those projects and away from roads. In an area with virtually no alternatives to driving, the opposite is true.

    So of you want to break out of the all car spiral, you need to create alternatives first. They don’t have to be gold plated and perfect from day one, but some skeletal service attracts some passengers and the word spreads.

    Derek Reply:

    Yes, when you shut down roads and bridges, sometimes the near term savings are minimal or even negative (restriping isn’t free), but sometimes you’ll be shutting down those that need major repairs immediately. And in all cases, the long term savings are substantial.

    And in all cases, it provides greater visibility of the need for more money for maintenance (which helps drum up political support for a higher gas tax, which in turn increases support for alternative such as HSR), and it can also increase traffic congestion (but see my antidotes #2 and #3), which also increases support for alternatives.

    Derek Reply:

    On second thought, to save money, I think we should wait for a road to need restriping anyway, before we shut down less needed outside lanes.

  2. Joe
    Nov 21st, 2012 at 19:55
    #2

    3. Has the advantage of fostering walkable development. I do not think classic SF neighborhoids are legal any more, not enough parking.

    I’m in Torrance / Palos Verdes this week and it is car centric development. Hawthorn used to have a trolly, now it is parking island.

  3. jimsf
    Nov 21st, 2012 at 21:17
    #3

    im against raising vlf mines to high already its too large a chunk at once. i am in favor of toll roads. that way you pay for what you use. charging 220 for a vlf whether the person drives alot or a littleisnt as eqitable

    Peter Reply:

    Same way charging $50 whether a car is driven little or a lot is not equitable.

  4. Jerry
    Nov 22nd, 2012 at 00:22
    #4

    Would a very very small vehicle carbon emissions tax help?

    Paul Druce Reply:

    A typical car would only release about 6 short tons of CO2 per year.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Yeah, but there are tens of millions of registered vehicles in California.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Still. If you want a serious carbon tax, measured in three figures per ton, then it’ll help. A very,very small tax, say $10/ton, will not.

    Peter Reply:

    Like the approximately $10/ton that CA’s recent carbon auction netted?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah, for example. That kind of tax only covers local adaptation and mitigation measures – relocating critical infrastructure away from floodplains, reimbursing people who live in Stockton and have to pay more for flood insurance, and such.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Well, it’s easier, for basic bureaucratic reasons, to raise a tax which exists than to raise a tax which does not exist — the progressive income tax couldn’t be implemented until the income tax existed. So *having* a carbon pricing system is actually a step forward, albeit a small step.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    22 million automobiles, about 1.3 billion for every ten dollars per ton.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Yep. But if it was charged at around $10/mo, as a tax on liquid hydrocarbon fuel, that’d add up to about $15 bn/yr. I don’t know average fuel purchase per vehicle. Perhaps on the close order of a quarter a gallon?

    If half that went to road maintenance, and half to HSR/transit, that’d be a considerable revenue source.
    As long as it didn’t get pissed away on idiocy like BART to San Jose Flea-Market, BART to nowhere-in-Livermore, BART to Stockton, … ;)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t think I understand your math. If you’re charging an average of $10 per car per month then that’s $120 a year, which is $2.6 billion, equivalent to about $20 per t-CO2. The conversion rate is about $110/t-CO2 = $1/gal-gas, since burning a US gallon of gas emits 8.8 kg of CO2.

    On top of that, carbon taxes should not go back to roads. That’d be like plugging cigarette taxes back to cigarette advertising. An externality tax is a simpler way of levying recompense on people who cause damage that’s so diffuse no single person can bring a lawsuit. Morally it should go to the people who are facing the most negative repercussions from climate change. However, since that would in practice require developed countries to send 5-20% of their GDP in aid to developing countries (5% if you’re Switzerland, 20% if you’re the US), a more politically achievable alternative would be to levy an even higher carbon tax and plug it back into alternatives to CO2-emitting activities: mass transit, dense urban infill, alternative energy, building insulation, more energy-efficient appliances, rail and sea freight transportation, etc.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Alon:

    22 million vehcicles. Average tax of $10/mo,.vehicle times 12 mo/yr, is $120/yr/vehicle.
    $120/vehicle-year times 22 million vehciles is 2,640 million, or about 2.6 bn/yr.
    I must’ve taken “1.3″ from Paul Druce’s $1.3bn/ten-tons and multiplied by 12.

    And _I_ don’t want taxes to go back to roads. I’m simply assuming the road-using lobby is powerful enough to force that to happen. Call me cynical. Taxes on fuel for vehicles _feels_ to voters like taxes on vehicles.

  5. Jo
    Nov 22nd, 2012 at 08:52
    #5

    Regardless of whether you are for or against HSR, transportation funding will eventually have to be resolved if california is to be competitive in the word economy. And no amount of complaining that government already spends too much is going to resolve it. The gas tax and the VLF are not enough. Other – 21st century solutions are needed.

    Perhaps a vehicle mile travelled tax is needed, with maybe a reduced rate for better milage cars, or large families which need a larger car, and also for certain businesses which need work trucks or must travel all over a region for the services they provide.

    neville snark Reply:

    Why not just raise the gas tax? Simple, rewards electric cars, punishes SUV etc. I suppose that even with a 2/3 majority, they’d shrink from it, of course.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Because that would be too simple? The argument made for a vehicle mileage tax is that alternate fuel vehicles, mostly electrics, don’t use “gas”. There’s mature cheap technology to gauge how much “fuel” you are using when you use electricity, electricity meters…..

    Jo Reply:

    Correct, the technology is not exotic or even expensive. There are businesses already using this technology whose employees must drive a lot miles that have simple GPS type devices in their cars to track employee milage.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Electric meters don’t need GPS information tell you how many kilowatts they metered. 19th Century technology….

    Jo Reply:

    What do electric meters have to do with installing a simple GPS device in your car???

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Why do you need a GPS device in your car to tell you how much fuel you are using? Or how many miles you have driven?

    Jonathan Reply:

    It’s not to tell _you_; it’s to tell the Tax-Man, so he can tax you on vehicle-miles traveled.
    Surely you got that already?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    My odometer is reasonably tamper resistant. I can anyone else can easily determine how many miles I traveled.

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    I have thought that for some time that CA DMV should charge for how many miles are traveled. Our insurance is already based on that very information. DMV could simply have the insurance company verify miles travelled electronically and base your renweal information on that.

    The problem I see is what if your miles are not driven in CA? What if your secondary car is used to travel from CA to Chicago to visit family? Most of your miles are out of state, yet the state will charge you for those miles like they were used here.

    Charge too much for registration, and citizens will find “alternative” registration methods, like out of state… which does not benefit CA.

    JimBo

    Peter Reply:

    My insurance company doesn’t verify my mileage, they just ask me about it.

    California already has laws in place for dealing with vehicles based in CA being registered out-of-state. They take them seriously. My wife got pulled over on her way to work mere days after moving to CA because she had PA plates.

    VBobier Reply:

    Charging for mileage is a stupid idea, if ones well off or rich, it might work, but for the most part it’s a tax the poor and stick it to them, I’ll be getting $866.40 a month in 2013, I’m sure not getting rich and that type cost I would not be able to bear, I live out in the desert and to simply get food means I have to drive or to get My mail to get mail, this would affect UPS, FedEx and USPS, among others. I merely exist, it’s not like I can take public transportation out here, as there isn’t any practical public transport, sure there’s dial a ride which requires cash, which has a 4 bag limit and the bus stops are bare ground, not very friendly to the disabled, I’d rather people stay out of My car, as that’s essentially My wheelchair, I’m severely disabled and I can’t even afford to replace it as I don’t even have enough income…

    But then everyone here, compared to Me, is RICH, I’m not.

    I would oppose this to My last breath and I’m sure others would too, one way or another…

    Neville Snark Reply:

    VBobier: Maybe they could do a low-income rebate or reduction on one’s state income taxes. Of course, I’m with you, taxes should in general be increased (and made sharply more progressive).

    VBobier Reply:

    Neville: I get Supplemental Security Income, income tax is the one thing I’m not allowed to file for, I have what is essentially a small salary, to keep Me alive as I’m disabled and unable to work, it’s not like I wanted to be this way. My point is Your ideas there are noble and all, but are unworkable for someone in My situation.

    Neville Snark Reply:

    VBobier: How about gas vouchers, or mileage vouchers?

    Jonathan Reply:

    @adirondacker: when an undergrad, I knew people who disconnected their speedometer/odometer ca ble. it’s not rocket science. Dashboard odometers can fail; what do you do then? (how many miles, or thousands of miles, or tens of thousands of miles ago, did it fail?)

    The additional costs of directly taxing miles, versus taxing fuel, makes it seem not very rational. But, if voters aren’t rational about paying taxes at the pump….

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The antenna feeding the whiz bang GPS device would be just as easy to disconnect.
    Wrapping the self contained whiz bang GPS device in aluminum foil would be even easier.

    VBobier Reply:

    Neville: How about gas vouchers, or mileage vouchers? I don’t know, SSA might say their income and My check could be reduced as a result, SSA & the IRS can see into My checking account, it could be considered income in kind. CA and the SSA would have to have some sort of MOU on this and usually this type of thing comes from Congress and not the States… Remember these are Federal benefits and I live with the strings attached to the check, I don’t like making involuntary payments back to the SSA for what SSA considers an over payment, as it makes My check either smaller or nonexistent before I ever get it.

    Jonathan Reply:

    @adirondacker

    Gee, I dunno. I grew up in a country which put hub-odometers on all deisel viehicles, and charges them per-mkile road user charges. What do you know, that they don’t?

    Derek Reply:

    The gas tax is incapable of eliminating traffic congestion without overcharging during quiet traffic periods.

    What the gas tax does well is recover the external cost of air pollution.

    Therefore, there should be a gas tax plus some sort of time-of-use congestion fee. Either one alone is not sufficient.

    joe Reply:

    Congestion fees require we build a capability to conduct surveillance on every car. No road use without voluntary surveillance.

    I don’t advocate creating a gov’t agency to track my car 24/7 and bill me and Lord no I would not want that service to be privatized so some company like google will know everywhere I go – all the time and sends me a bill.

    We’re going down that path now:
    The Golden gate bridge is eliminating tolls and will require fastrac

    http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=resources/traffic&id=8895480
    Well no, there will be no pulling over, no machines. When they say no cash, they mean it.

    Options will include what now feels like good old fashioned FasTrak pre-paid accounts. Or you can pay cash for FasTrak at service centers.

    Otherwise, billing will be tied to your license plate with a “pay-by-plate” account, or one-time payment handled online, or at payment kiosks throughout the Bay Area.

    Nathanael Reply:

    In actual fact, as soon as we required license plates, tracking of all cars become inevitable. But we need the license plates because of the sheer number of crashes caused by car-driving.

    In contrast, walking, biking, and public transportation still allow anonymity, and *that’s as it should be*. Trains and buses should NOT require ID, and should allow anonymous cash payment and hoodies. :-)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    … hoodies.. especially on Amfleets when it’s cold out. Brrr.. it can be a bit brisk in them at times.

    VBobier Reply:

    I’ll stick to My Military type winter camo jacket, I can remove the liner or even get the hood out of its recess.

    joe Reply:

    “In actual fact, as soon as we required license plates, tracking of all cars become inevitable. ”

    The technology to automate the identification plates exist now for deployment in police cars and road cameras.

    IMHO, it is invasion of privacy – and unnecessary to collect, stored and model our movement. That is not inevitable and taxes depending on that data should be avoided.

    Road use can be tallied anonymously. Measure car traffic without tracking individual cars. allocated a pot of funds guided by accumulated use. I bet that’s done now to some degree.

    Tolls collected and locked to a road sounds nice and simple but that’s a hell of poor way to run a government owned transportation system. We’d end up with roads funded like our schools – uneven and unfairly dependent on what the local population can afford. Or local gov’t can toll prime right of ways – East Palo Alto can charge a $5 toll to enter their city to take the Dumbarton bridge.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Or local gov’t can toll prime right of ways

    …. the Delaware Turnpike. Less than 12 miles long and a 4 dollar toll.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delaware_Turnpike

    JBaloun Reply:

    Cities charging tolls? Do we really want to open a can of worms? A commerce clause at the municipal level? In the extreme we would turn the clock back hundreds of years and become arguing city-states. Free interstate trade (aside from taxes) is a powerful economic force that helps the country prosper.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I agree that it’s unnecessary, but I still think it’s inevitable that someone is gonna start collecting the data. Which is why it’s so important to maintain the right to travel anonymously by other means.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Excuse me, but why should East Palo Alto not extract value from roads that pollute its own residents and are used by people traveling from one rich suburb to another?

  6. Howard
    Nov 22nd, 2012 at 10:25
    #6

    Implement an oil severance tax in California for road maintenance. Most would not oppose raising taxes on oil companies. I would also add a mileage tax on all commercial vehicles because trucks do almost all the damage to pavement, the company that own them already track them with GPS and it does not raise the same privacy issues as personal vehicle tracking would.

    Jo Reply:

    An oil severance tax is the first thing our new 2/3 democratic controlled legislature should do.

  7. jimsf
    Nov 22nd, 2012 at 10:39
    #7

    I support converting to a state toll road system with revenues from each tollway going directly back to the specific road where the money was collected to pay for maintenance and expansion

    Starting with the i-5 from border to border.

    Ihave no idea how many total vehicle miles are traveled annually on the 796 miles of i 5 in cali but multiply it by say 3 cents per miole and im sure it would raise a substantial amount of money to invest back into the road

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I haven’t checked in a while. The median toll in the East for toll roads is 6 cents a mile.

    jimsf Reply:

    That would be reasonable. The 400 mile drive from sfto la would cost about 24 bucks. And i would remove the state portion of the gas tax to lower prices. The road funding would no longer come from the general fund but directly from the tolls

    joe Reply:

    Toll roads are not anonymous. You are consenting to surveillance and the data will be retained and it can be mined and your movements reconstructed – quite easily.

    The way CA now make tolls “easy” and “cost effective” is to push fastrak and out of state users would be required to buy a prepaid fastrak account or the car gets billed via license plate surveillance.

    This is exactly the policy for the golden gate bridge come 2013.

    I have no faith the data will be protected – none.

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Out here it’s about 25 cents or more.

    VBobier Reply:

    That might work here and there, but some would just drive on untolled parallel highways, I’d have to do that instead of driving to Barstow CA on the 15, between Yermo and Baker CA there are no other roads and from Baker CA to Primm NV it’s the same way, empty…

    An oil severance tax and a carbon tax, I like both ideas.

    jimsf Reply:

    Im more in favor if direct funding. if people drive on alternate routers that fine as it reduces congestion and maintenance costs.

    id start with the entire i 5
    then the 10
    then the 80
    then the 405
    and the 280
    then the 210 and 680

    VBobier Reply:

    LA County is tolling the carpool lanes on the 110, on a part of the 105 and part of the 10 from what I’ve heard on the local TV News. Me tolling the whole freeway would increase My gas costs as the surface streets between Yermo and Barstow is the long way back to town and the roads out here sure could use more maintenance money, as right now their held together with what looks like tar in the cracks and nothing else, of course they do paint fresh stripes on afterwards…

    VBobier Reply:

    It’s not over Yet folks, As of 11/23/2012 the votes are as follows for Measure J:

    J – MTA SALES TAX CONTINUANCE -
    Votes Percent

    YES 1,746,963 65.49%
    NO.__920,428 34.51%

    Measure J: MTA SALES TAX CONTINUANCE

    Only 1.21% more to reach 66.70%…

    Peter Reply:

    Do we know how many uncounted votes remain, though?

    VBobier Reply:

    There may or may not be enough votes left to get to 66.67% according to this story published on Nov. 20th 2012 Here.

    County officials still have 215,991 ballots to process, it was announced today in their bi-weekly update. The L.A. County Recorder-Registrar/County Clerk’s office has through early December to finalize processing votes.

    Now if there are 2,883,382 total votes on Measure J, then for J to pass there would need to be 1,922,351 Yes votes to get to 66.67% or another 175,388 votes out of 215,991 or a little more then 81% of the remaining votes need to be Yes in order to reach that 66.67% for Measure J to pass, It would be nice to reach that, but We’ll just have to wait and see how this plays out.

    Merry XMAS…

    VBobier Reply:

    This site here, for J to pass, J could use a miracle possibly…

    Final election results will be certified Dec. 4, per the county website.

    Otherwise it’s try again some other time when conditions are more favorable.

    Derek Reply:

    some would just drive on untolled parallel highways

    This wouldn’t happen with a congestion toll, because the toll would never be set any higher than is needed to eliminate congestion, which means the highway would always be running at peak capacity. With the highway running at peak capacity (meaning it’s full), if there are people driving on untolled parallel highways, you can’t blame the toll for that, because where else would they drive?

    joe Reply:

    “because the toll would never be set any higher than is needed to eliminate congestion, which means the highway would always be running at peak capacity.”

    That kind of “fine tuning” is a fantasy.

    And I would like you to define peak capacity. This is apparently a feature of the road, not a attribute for the human driver – the one making the decision.

    For example a queue system for a bank/airline would best minimize wait time for an individual customer. That is a single line, multiple server. This may not be the most efficient queue in terms of cost/efficiency for the company/asset owner. That queue might need a helper to send people to the right server, which costs more in labor, and the time to walk to the server is wasted time BUT that is the best queue for a customer.

    Derek Reply:

    No, the best queue for a customer is the one without any other customers in it, which isn’t a queue at all.

    You’re right, technically express lanes don’t run at peak capacity. If they did that, then any minor disturbance in traffic flow would quickly devolve into stop-and-go traffic. Instead, they run the express lanes just under peak capacity so that they can absorb minor traffic disturbances.

    joe Reply:

    An empty queue is still a queue.
    The average response time (what is being optimized) for a single queue with multiple servers is faster than multiple queues.

    Peak capacity – What is being optimized or How is capacity measured?

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    There are 2 ways to go. The public can keep ownership of their infrastructure, and charge user fees. The other way is to sell or lease the infrastructure to investors. The latter is being tried in the midwest. Chicago leased the Chicago Skyway, as well as parking facilities and streetside meters to private companies for some upfront money. The downside is the public’s loss of control over the use and development of what was formerly important public infrastructure and public space, in return for getting politicians out of a near-term fiscal bind. Indiana leased the toll road connecting Illinois with Ohio. Again, the lease resulted in a loss of control. A bypass around the congested expressways in northern Indiana cannot now be constructed without violating the lease agreement. It’s impossible to see 100 years into the future when you’re writing a contract. The Illinois Tollway is state-owned, and charges hefty tolls, but at least it can be managed and improved according to the needs of the region. User fees will never be popular – and toll roads aren’t popular with me. Still, I think it’s better to keep public control and not be bashful about charging user fees.

    jimsf Reply:

    im not advocating new roads just converting existing roads and absolutely keeping them in public ownership. thery are the publics investment and under no circumstance should they be given to the private sector

    Marc Reply:

    Apparently, it’s a violation of federal law to charge tolls for existing lanes of federally funded interstate highways. Tolls can be charged for new lanes or new highways, as long as they were built without using federal funds. The interstate highways that charge tolls back east were toll roads before they were designated as part of the interstate highway system.

    Derek Reply:

    It’s allowed when the toll revenue will only be used on the same highway.

  8. D. P. Lubic
    Nov 22nd, 2012 at 15:16
    #8

    Off topic, and no doubt considered slow compared with what is being proposed, but these video clips of “traditional” high speed operations, some with British steam, just looked too good not to share. I particularly like the opening shot, with a steam excursion at speed over a grade crossing–man, can you imagine that as part of my (jokingly, kind of) proposal for making the Peninsula line a heritage operation to shut up the HSR critics there?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLXqnFW8FRg

    Canadian Genesis diesel at 100 mph:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=fvwp&v=42R_jP_r8sM&NR=1

    Gotta close out with an American classic–UP 844. Nowhere near the speed this machine is capable of, but still a beautiful sight, good lighting, and as always, simply amazing how this machine just seems to loaf along, no matter what the speed or load. . .

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=naQNY4f3QKU

    Who can blame us serious rail enthusiast for missing steam?

    neville snark Reply:

    UP 844! I thought that such fantastic things were just made for models ..:)

    robert Reply:

    I was on Amtrak yesterday between Fullerton and LA. We were doing over 80 mph per my phone. We were right next to and passing a freight train going maybe 30mph. Quite unnerving i was wondering what would happen if one switch were in the wrong position…

    Robert

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Rail travel can be unnerving for some not used to it. Some people don’t like the idea of no direct forward view.

    Other somewhat unnerving things, at least early on, would be approaching a junction or switch with another train coming on the other route, in which you get closer and closer until you are running on parallel tracks. That was noticeable at Washington Union Station as my commuter train approached and ran alongside a switcher with a cut of coaches in the station throat, and was replayed on another occasion at Point of Rocks, Md., where a commuter train I was on came off the Metropolitan Division and ran alongside a freight train coming off the Old Main Line Division. Interesting to be riding alongside a big, fat whale of a tank car, rocking ever so gently, then overtaking the freight and getting to look inside its cab at the engine crew. You also see just how big some of the lettering is on those freight cars.

    Quite startling is to be running at 80 mph. on the Metropolitan again and meet a freight coming in the opposite direction at 50–this wall of steel appears instantly, just like from nowhere and seems to turn the window black in shade, and is accompanied by an initial explosion of sound, even in a sealed passenger car.

    Most impressive for me, though, was a steam excursion on the former Chesapeake & Ohio in West Virginia. At 50 or 60 mph, we met a diesel freight, then the brakes came on and speed dropped to about 30 or so as we clanked through a crossover to the track just occupied by that freight. As the rear of the train crossed over, the engineer opened her up and we were accelerating again to track speed, and soon were passing another freight. Shortly after passing this other freight, the brakes came on again, and we crossed over in front of it. Again we had hard acceleration from the steam engine–and again we met still a third freight, barrelling along on the track we just left.
    Heads up railroading in West Virginia!

    The return trip had an interesting point as well. Coming through Mount Carbon in deep twilight, we were coming up on a signal displaying “approach,” coming up at track speed. This signal changed to “clear” right in front of the locomotive, and of course flashed back to “stop” as the engine went under it. I can still see in memory the smoke in the red lights.

    We went around one curve, and then another, following the Kanawha River. The sky was deep indigo blue, the hills black silhouettes, the river deep indigo as it reflected the sky. Going around another curve, the lumpy silhouette of the steam engine was visible, a headlight beam shining ahead.

    This was around a particularly long curve in the river and the railroad, and we could see ahead for miles–and ahead was another signal displaying “approach.” Beyond it was another signal displaying “stop,” and just beyond this was a moving pair of red lights–the rear end markers of a caboose on another freight train. We were running right itat track speed and minimal distance as set by the signal system. It was most fascinating to watch those rear-end markers on the freight pass another stop signal–and then the closer stop signal went to “approach,” and perhaps a second later the “approach” signal went to “clear,” again right in front of us. This was repeated for miles. I’ve read where the NYC was running the 20th Century Limited in multiple sections, and that the performance was something like that in the 1920s, with the sections running close like that. It was an amazing and impressive glimpse of how well we used to do things here. Hope we get to do it again, and then some!!

    Jonathan Reply:

    Robert,

    the whole point of interlocking signals and turnouts is to make sure that such an accident can’t happen. The interlocking machinery makes it impossible to simultaneously THe technology dates back to the early 1850s.

    But if something _did_ happen, you have four possible results:
    1 benign — no collision because the trains have passed
    2. Head-on collision — train diverges onto same track as approaching train, before appoacing trian gets there.
    3. Flank collision — the train which diverges onto the crossover plows into the side of the other train.
    4. Turnout switches whilst train is crossing ithe points.. train derails in the middle, may or not be into the path of the oncoming train.

    if you want to understand the history of interlocking, i suggest either browsing at
    mysite.du.edu/~jcalvert/railway/railhom.htm

    (note: there is a _lot_ of information here)
    or via hardcopy, with Joern Pachl’s book, “Railway Operation and Control”, 2nd. ed.
    i find the two sources complement each other well.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Oops. if the trains *do* collide: look up the 2008 Chatsworth collision.

  9. D. P. Lubic
    Nov 24th, 2012 at 17:19
    #9

    Highway funding problems aren’t just in California; we’re having the same problems in West Virginia, too, and largely for the same reasons–people driving less, cars are more efficient, even some electric cars running around here. At the same time, raising the gas tax isn’t seen as being politically viable. One Republican even commented that we need a new highway funding model, one that isn’t tied to gasoline consumption, but even he doesn’t know where to go, as in any event, it’s going to cost more to drive, and the voters won’t like that. . .

    More details in the story below, though unfortunately it’s only available behind a paywall. The rate looks reasonable, though–it’s advertised as only about 15 cents. Guess it might be worth it, seeing this is a local county weekly, with an exclusive story. The article is decent–except that nobody mentions bringing back trains as part of what we need to do!!

    http://spiritofjefferson.com/blog/2012/11/lawmakers-roads-face-big-woes/

    Two items of note–one is that West Virginia’s road system is almost entirely state maintained; we don’t have county road authorities here. The other is that the state legislators are finally talking about things I said needed to be addressed at least 10 years ago!! And I told them that!! Sure took a long time to sink in!!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    …sorry they’ve ( the automobile owners ) going on and on and on about how roads are financed out of fuel taxes. Even though they aren’t. Let ‘em tax the cars or the drivers or both.

  10. John Nachtigall
    Nov 25th, 2012 at 10:07
    #10

    So much for the idea all that cap and trade money will be used for HSR

    http://blogs.sacbee.com/capitolalertlatest/2012/11/first-cap-and-trade-auction-a-bust-for-california-budget.html

    less than 20% of anticipated revenue

    Paul Druce Reply:

    Personally I’d prefer it be used to set up a lot of charging stations for electric vehicles. Slow charge ones are pretty cheap (4-5K) and while fast ones are about 10x as much, could stick those simply in the normal official rest areas that the state already has established.

    joe Reply:

    Slow charging stations (level 1 or 2) at rest areas – ?!? I would not bother – too slow.

    Tesla put “super chargers” (level 3) in Gilroy. Super charger takes 30 minutes for ~150 miles.

    Nissan Leaf takes 7 hours to charge 240 volt (level 2) – 30 minutes with level 3 to 80% of it’s modest range of 70 miles under 95 deg, 55 mph, A/C. That’s approaching horse travel – which was 50 miles a day.

    …Tesla has installed superchargers at Gilroy, Folsom, Harris Ranch, Tejon Ranch, Hawthorne and Barstow…..
    For those who can use the superchargers, the service will be free. The company expects that drivers will spend perhaps half an hour at a station, recharging while grabbing a burger or taking an extended rest stop. Thirty minutes with a supercharger will give the car enough electricity to drive about 150 miles.
    http://blog.sfgate.com/energy/2012/09/24/teslas-new-charging-stations-coming-to-a-freeway-near-you/

    Paul Druce Reply:

    I explicitly said the fast ones at rest areas you nit. Learn to read.

    joe Reply:

    Yes, Indeed. I did miss that so accept my apology but the math is still confusing.

    The slow stations make little sense anywhere but a garage or employer’s lot. Right? 7 hours for 50+ miles at level 2 charging with 240 volts.

    Level 3 is 30 minutes to charge a car (Leaf) that realistically is going 50+ miles until the next charge. SF to LA is how many charges away? 385 miles? ugh. And that degrades the battery life.

    Teslas with the larger battery are 80K and that’s about what it takes to make the trip – there the range is 3x per 30 minutes or 150 miles.

    Peter Reply:

    Cap and trade never seems to work that great. It’s taken EU ETS a number of years to become workable/effective. A carbon tax regime would likely be a lot more effective.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Yeah, but it’s a lot less popular, especially with right-wingers: no market means no arbitrage.

    joe Reply:

    Jeeze – conservatives focus on the short term.
    Another perspective:

    More important, all of the 23.1 million permits offered at the auction to cover 2013 emissions were purchased, raising $233 million and calming fears that the market would be under-subscribed.

    The state did not disclose how many companies participated in the historic auction. But there were three times as many bidders than buyers, a sign that the business community is taking the new carbon market seriously. A ton of carbon sold for $10.09 at the auction, just slightly above the $10 floor price established by regulators, according to data released by the California Air Resources Board.
    ..
    But cleantech venture capitalists cheered the outcome. Rob Day of Black Coral Capital in Boston has been watching California’s experiment closely.
    ..
    “The price of carbon matters, but the price is going to change over time. It’s more important to me to see that there was an appetite for these credits,” Day said. “This is a robust market. It’s real. It’s not going away. California is pricing carbon, and companies are saying, ‘I need to start paying attention to my carbon footprint.’

    So there will be two additional sales, after this initial sale, in the first year of a new market.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Ok let’s look at a system that has been going for awhile

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/14/us-eu-ets-idUSBRE8AD1CL20121114

    Oops. Went from bad to collapsing

    The problem with liberals is that they keep ignoring reality and assume that hope and prayer are going to change reality and human behavior

    joe Reply:

    Thanks for giving another example of conservative short term thinking.
    The problem is the weak EU economy reduces energy consumption and weaken the demand for carbon credits.

    Liberals ignore reality – yeah sure. How do you think Gov Meg Whitman will do in 2013? Will she work closely with President Mitt Romney?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    quite the contrary joe…I look forward to living in the utopia that California will now be since the democrats have a 2/3rds majority in both houses and the governorship. Since by definition there can be no more GOP “obstruction” I am excited to see the awesome progressive policies that will now flow as easy as water in a river.

    and more to the original point, as you pointed out, the carbon credits (tax really) have done little to nothing to reduce pollution because the health of the overall economy drowns out their effect. But I am sure that if the EU in all their liberal wisdom does manage to get the EU economy going again (unlikely but possible) they will use these and other taxes to bring it back down to substandard growth. I am an optimistic about that.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Unfortunately, as we’ve seen in NY state politics, it is easy enough to have “Republicans in Democrats’ clothing”, and you are likely to have a few in California, so don’t expect awesomeness immediately.

    If you actually did manage to turf out all the right-wingers from office, you would find yourself sitting on an economic boom.

    “Right-wingers” includes the economic right-wingers, austerity fanatics, who are ruining the EU, who now occupy almost all the major parties in Europe, including the formerly left-wing parties. Disaster followed predictably for anyone who understood macroeconomics, which the politicos didn’t.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    you want a liberal fantasy land…welcome to Greece

    Highest minimum wage in the developed world
    generous pensions and welfare state
    job security for life in government jobs
    Excellent perks like 14 months of pay for 12 months of work and an automatic raise for getting married

    Other than the rampant corruption, bankruptcy, and widespread strikes every day it is a paradise

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And nobody pays taxes.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Amen to that. When you encourage people to not pay for a service just to punish restaurants for not paying taxes (Google tag left to get past the paywall)

    http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=newssearch&cd=1&cad=rja&ved=0CCkQqQIoADAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fonline.wsj.com%2Farticle%2FSB10001424052970204789304578089082754150940.html&ei=JqizUIiQI7HlyAGgroGYBQ&usg=AFQjCNEj_oef1uh_wAhjEQ13t0gYeIWtNQ&sig2=nQO-YiPTuofKwPden0NDJg

    and you are the government, you have lost the plot.

    I wonder how well a flat 10% tax would work that is enforeable rather than a 23% levy with so many loopholes more than 1/2 dont pay.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    10% flat doesn’t fund government services.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    I think it would if everyone paid (instead of 50%+ tax evasion) and you stopped paying 14 months for 12 months work and got private secot growth rather than dead wood government jobs.

    The truth is Greece is so desperate they need to try something radical…that would be radical.

    But you are right, it might not quite be enough….which is the situation they are already in so you don’t loose anything.

    Jon Reply:

    Do you think that the social benefits that Greece has are the cause of the rampant corruption, bankruptcy, and widespread strikes? If the two are connected, why is it possible to identify other European countries which also have excellent social benefits but have much more stable and less corrupt economies?

    Greece’s problem is that after entering the Euro it borrowed more money that it’s GDP could support, via a number of shady deals conducted with the connivance of Goldman Sach and JP Morgan. Much of that went on vanity projects such as the 2004 Olympics; Greece’s robust social welfare system was there long before their entry to the Euro and long before the economic crisis began. Economic liberalization is to blame for the crisis in Greece, not social spending.

    Peter Reply:

    Anyone, Republican or Democrat, who thinks that the California Democrats are going to go tax crazy is delusional. They are going to be very careful when it comes to how far they push tax increases, so that they can maintain their 2/3 majority.

    And, like Nathanael said, the EU is hardly awash in “liberal wisdom” these days. They’re just “liberal” in comparison to Democrats. Hell, even European “conservatives” are liberal in comparison to Democrats. All of U.S. politics is heavily slanted to the right.

    joe Reply:

    Let’s see John, with Prop 30 approval, CA’s projected to have a balanced budget in 2014.

    It’s amazing that the EU – by definition – is liberal. They are not.

    Obama and the Dems pushed a 2009 stimulus bill (ARRA). The “liberal” EU cut spending. They’re “austerity” policy is a failure.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    First, CA is projected to have a balanced budget every year….because by law they are supposed to balance the budget. Just because the Dems (who control the state) ignore the substance of that law and assume revenues that never happen does not change the requirement to balance the budget every year.

    Second, having a balanced budget is a MINIMUM requirement, not something to celebrate.

    And finally, if you are going to argue that the EU is less liberal than the US there is nothing I can do to change your mind because you are already so disconnected from reality. This is a place where they take an entire month (August) off. The reason they are pushing austerity is because no one will lend them any more money, not because they want to stop borrowing. Even then, countries like Greece refuse to reform without dire threats.

    Jon Reply:

    “This is a place where they take an entire month (August)”

    I think you’re the one disconnected from reality. Either that or they did a very good job in keeping that piece of information from me in the 24 years I lived there.

    The EU as a project is an attempt to force the countries of Europe to adopt an unregulated capitalist economy similar to that of the US. Unlike the US, the EU actually defines free-market capitalism as its economic system in its constitution. So yes, sometimes their economic policy is even more to the right than the US.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Not only do they get August off,

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/27/paid-vacation-eu_n_911210.html#s316931&title=Denmark_30

    It is double the US

    http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0922052.html

    And the EU high court recently ruled if they get sick they get to extend the vacation

    http://www.marketplace.org/topics/world/europeans-get-vacation-do-over

    Just stop, you can’t argue something that is not true and the truth is that Europe is more liberal on average then the US.

    Jon Reply:

    The links above specify average vacation days by European country, which is set by the country itself and therefore varies considerably. The EU does not set vacation days.

    What you stated is that the EU is less liberal than the US, and what I stated is that the economic policy of the EU is often similar to that of the US. Policies set by the constituent nations of the EU are often more liberal than the US but also vary considerable from country to country. (Ever tried to get an abortion in the Republic of Ireland?)

    Be careful using terms like ‘the EU’ and ‘Europe’ interchangeably. I’m sure that was a genuine mistake, and was not born out of ignorance of the way that European government is structured.

    Given that the countries in the link you provided with the highest vacation days are also the strongest economically (e.g. Denmark, Germany), please tell me what the number of vacation days has to do with anything other than your own bitterness over having poorer working conditions than your peers in the rest of the first world.

    Jon Reply:

    (Whoops. What you stated is that the EU is more liberal than the US.)

    Peter Reply:

    I like how you attribute the vacation habits of a few European countries on all of the EU. I guarantee you that not all of the EU takes month-long vacations every year.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Especially for the people who work in the hotels, bars, restaurants etc in the resorts the people who get the month of August off, vacation in.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Four weeks’ vacation has been the norm for a number of European countries for years. Here, we struggle to get two weeks’ worth.

    I can take that myself–but it took me almost 30 years to earn the right to accumulate that time and to actually accumulate that much.

    The French also have a four-day work week. This was originally instituted as a way to fight unemployment, in that businesses and government would have to hire additional people to cover the extra three days. What is interesting is what happens when you have a business that doesn’t have the work to justify opening those extra three days, but has more work to do in the four. There, the supposedly lazy French, famous for sitting around cafes in April and taking those four-week vacations, bust their butts to get the work done in the four days so they can have those three days with their families!

    They work for a real reward. Bust your butt for a business in America, and what do you get? You get named “Employee of the Month,” with a paper certificate. No raise in pay, no real prize. Bah!

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCsNg6XB3dg

    Source for info about the four-day week–good read, I highly recommend it, and it’s fun and not too long. Written by a British journalist working in France. His description of the British health care system sounds a lot like our own. . .

    http://www.amazon.com/Talk-Snail-Commandments-Understanding-French/dp/1596913096

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    We do have a minor employment problem along the lines of the August vacation here in West Virginia. Our problem is that most everybody wants to take off for the first week of deer season. We have a lot of deer hunters here, including about half the audit staff in the government agency for which I work.

    Oh, you should have been with us at a staff meeting held in a state park in a November some years back. One wall of the dining room at the lodge there is made of glass, with a great view of the clearing and a valley below. Good view of turkeys, deer, groundhogs, and all the other woodland creatures we have here.

    All week long during this extended training and computer session, we had been watching deer in the clearing, all does and fawns, the fawns still in their spots. The last day, a beautiful buck showed up. He was a magnificent animal, and it was fun to observe the does making doe-eyes at the buck–and even more fun to watch half the audit staff come down with buck fever! I still remember one of them, J.R., who was looking at that buck and said, “Look at him, look at him! He’s an eight-pointer! I’d love to have that rack on my wall!”

    http://www.wv.gov/news/Pages/2012WestVirginiadeergunseasonsfactsheet.aspx

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    MMM mmm MMmm. Bambi burgers made out of the scraps after the roasts etc are cut. MmmMMMmmMMM.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Deer burgers? We have people who do it, even have books with recipes for them. . .not as crazy as some other things out there, such as chocolate covered ants or other insects. . .ugh!

    http://books.google.com/books/about/Deer_Burger_Cookbook.html?id=EytaA4MGf_UC

    http://www.cooks.com/rec/search/0,1-0,deer_burger,FF.html

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    ..ya can grind up almost anything and make burgers out of it. It’s the stuff they make after they have made the burgers and the then sausage that you have to watch out for. Boudin noir anyone?

    Nathanael Reply:

    The current problem with the EU carbon market is that Poland is demanding that lots and lots of free pollution permits continue to be given out. To be quite specific about it.

    There really is only one solution to that, and it involves telling Poland to pound sand.

  11. Reedman
    Nov 26th, 2012 at 16:27
    #11

    San Francisco supervisor David Campos plans to run for the state assembly seat being vacated by terming-out Tom Ammiano in 2014. One of Campos’ platforms: free MUNI transit youth passes.

    The concept that, for example, the cost of riding a ferry should cover the cost of operating the ferry is not acceptable CA liberal politics.

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