Saturday, August 25, 2007

Lie Trail

Here we go again. Neil writes:

I think the light-rail system will be next on your list of flops. Because it is a subsidized transportation system, you at the newspaper and our esteemed politicians will probably never admit the folly. We, the taxpayers, will pay for it.

It's the highways and airstrip-wide surface streets that will flop. All of which, by the way, are tax-payer subsidized. There's crazy talk out in the west Valley about widening I-10 to allow for more cars and trucks. Because fossil fuels are renewable and without limit in availability, I suppose.

Here's a grade-school math problem: Bob and Betty and their 2.4 children buy a nice new home in Verrado.

Since they can't make enough as barristas and pool maintainence workers to pay their mortgage they keep their jobs in central Phoenix, a marathon-distance of 26 miles away. They have two vehicles, both sticker-rated for 20 miles-per-gallon on the highway, but every morning on their way downtown the 101 jams up and traffic crawls. Often it stops altogether. So let's generously presume they each average 13 miles-per-gallon to make the math simple enough.

They each then burn two gallons of gas going to work, and two coming back, for eight gallons a day. They combine trips, shopping and carting the kids around as economically as possible. Toss in another gallon a day for that.

Gasoline is going for well under $3/gallon at this time, but it's safe to assume it will hit that mark again. And besides it makes the math easy so it comes out to $27 per weekday for gas expenditures. $135 per week, assuming that they do no other auto travel.

That of course is completely unrealistic.

Instead of burning through $540 a month on gas they likely spend considerably more. Let's round it up to $600/month guessing that Bob and Betty each consume another half-tank of gas every four weeks. That's not much.

Will gas peak out at $3 per gallon? Of course not. Within a few years it will hit the $5 mark, then inexorably continue to climb. There will be bumps and shocks along the way. Perhaps one soon as a result of hurricane-related temporary production difficulties at Mexico's Cantarell oil field, which is slowly dying anyways. The Saudis have been pumping out all they can since 2004.

Maybe the Russians will discover a billion-barrel oilfield under the North Pole arctic seas and, you know, just give it to us for free. Probably not.

Anyways, the point is that gas will within the forseeable future cost $6/gallon here and that makes the math simple again, elegantly doubling Bob and Betty's routine transportation costs to way over $1000 per month assuming they cut down a little. Carpool maybe.

The cost of groceries and evrything else they buy will increase with transportation costs. We don't grow much to eat here in the Valley. It's all trucked in.

Neil complains:

We are off on the right foot in ruining beautiful Central Avenue and putting many small businesses out of business. The coup de grace will be the unsightly overhead wiring, the "no U-turn" signs, "no left turn" signs and the limited crossing of the new rail line.

But light rail is the current fad, and we in Phoenix will now have one along with another tax that will go on forever.

He's wrong, of course, because it's exactly those businesses along the rail route that will continue to have a steady flow of customers. We can only hope that our metropolitan planners will soon see the light and expand rail to all parts of the Valley.

We can use the empty highays as skateboard ramps.

Even though we in the United States transport a lot material by rail, James Kunstler is right on the mark when he says that we have a train system even Bulgaria would be ashamed of.


Marc said...

I've been telling a friend that I'm moving closer to where food is grown within the next few years. Life without vast quantities of petrol will turn the clock back about a century, and modern living isn't suited to commuting via horse and buggy.

dbackdad said...

Great post. Mr. Neil Butterfield is all too representative of the John Wayne types that seem to exist out here. Their take is, "today is more important than a few years from now" and "if I ignore the problems of the future, they will just go away".

If the right-wingers in Salt Lake City can even admit that their light rail is a success, our right-wingers should wake up. Somehow I don't see them admitting they were wrong in a few years.

Joyful Alternative said...

That's one advantage of BosWash!