Monday, April 6, 2009

The goodwill of strangers

How far and where could you travel in 30 days relying only on the kindness of strangers reading your Tweets asking for a ride?

Turns out you can get from England to New Zealand! Which is pretty amazing. Here is Paul Smith's blog. It makes for some fascinating reading. He went without any money or plans -- and he worried quite a bit about what would happen if he got stranded or if his project didn't work. How did he manage? How did he actually get across those enormous expanses of water for free?

You'll have to read the blog. Oh, this was a fund-raising as well, for water.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Tips for Driving Low CO2

Drive Less. The average American drives 15,500 miles per year, which is double what we drove 25 years ago. Think twice before you run that errand. Could you bundle it with another trip? Could you accomplish the task another way? Do you have to go at all? Reducing your miles will give you more time, more money, and a healthier future.

Drive Full.
The average American car gets 22 miles per gallon and most of those miles we consume alone in our cars. Sharing those miles with others results in the most fuel efficient of all car travel. Driving with 3 people in a car is like getting 66 miles per gallon -- that's better, faster, cheaper, smarter than buying a fuel-efficient car. GoLoco!

Drive Calm (like a Sunday driver?). Most of us get behind the wheel and suddenly act as though every minute matters. We accelerate quickly, brake often, and go as fast as we think we can get away with. We can get as much as 20% higher mileage just by driving like we've got plenty of time. It might reduce blood pressure and add months to our lives as well.

Buying? Think Twice. Don't be fooled. Look for fuel efficient cars. There are many traditional engine cars that get many more miles per gallon than those labeled. "Hybrid" and "Flex Fuel." And while you're thinking, think about whether you need a new car at all. If you really want to reduce CO2 emissions you'll buy fewer new cars in your lifetime. Keep the car you have for a longer period of time, and reduce the number of cars your household owns whenever the opportunity arises. In addition to saving CO2, it'll save you about $8000 a year in car costs.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Canadian Nonsense, and it could happen here

"Canada Has Spent Billions On Carpool Lanes, But The Courts Are Now Forbidding Their Use By An Online Ridesharing Website." is the article headline that explains the situation well.

In Ontario there has been a long running lawsuit by a bus company against a ridesharing website for going against that province's definition of ridesharing/carpooling which was made back in the '70s. The court just ruled in favor of the bus company, and has given the ridesharing company fines and restrictions on its service.

So what is the right answer?

We demand that government establish safety and environmental standards that protect the people, as well as provide a level playing field for businesses to thrive. In this particular case, companies that transport people for a fee have safety, vehicle, insurance, and environmental standards they have to adhere to, all of which come at a cost which effects the price of the service to consumers. Yet individuals who share their own cars for a fee aren't required to comply with all those laws, and therefore can offer up a cheaper service. And theoretically, this leaves passengers at risk and the environment unprotected.

One likes to imagine that governments serve "the people" as a whole, and not particular interest groups. So where should they stand on this issue?

We typically give small businesses exceptions to all sorts of regulations because it just too much time and money involved for their small revenue stream and small volumes to comply. Michael Pollan has argued this same point in his book, An Omnivore's Dilemma when it comes to slaughterhouses (it is impossible to raise livestock on small local farms anymore because of these restrictions). For consumers, it is buyer beware when dealing with small local providers. And as Pollan points out, this is acceptable because we can know, see, and complain about the actual provider in a very direct way, that we can't do with big business. And therefore small businesses need to maintain high quality services if they want to remain in business.

From an environmental perspective, I really believe that we have to start enabling every resource to be used to its maximum capacity and efficiency. (See my personal blog entry on this.) Filling up cars that are making the trip anyway can only be a good thing. And if I had to predict the effect of this on bigger formal transportation services, I say that this can increase demand, not diminish it. As ridesharing becomes more popular, more people will feel that they can actually get to where they need to go without the need to own a personal car. Once you get rid of your personal car, your consumption of and reliance on public transportation in all its incarnations will rise dramatically.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Rock Band Tours by Bike

Great music, great idea, and great execution. Check out this 4 minute video. As Kipchoge Spence, the person behind this idea, wrote me:

"In 2007, the Ginger Ninjas became the first band in the history of rock and roll to tour by bicycle, unsupported by automobile. On a 5000 mile odyssey from their home in Northern California to the pyramids of Southern Mexico, they promoted transportation cycling while also exploring the frontiers of pedal-generated electricity, using their own bikes to power a hyper-efficient sound system. The audience took turns getting on stage to pedal the bikes to make the sound, taking crowd participation to a new level. Originally conceived as a one-time adventure/statement/experiment, the band became addicted to low-impact touring, and now does so exclusively.

The Ginger Ninjas' mobile human-power stage is the first of its kind in history. Coupling super efficient digital amplifiers, lightweight components, and generators attached to working bicycles (as opposed to purpose-built stationary bikes), the system allows a band to play off-grid anywhere, wall outlet or no, and to also carry the system to a gig on the same bicycles (Xtracycle sport utility bicycles). This enables a new kind of completely self-sufficient bicycle touring, sans automobile support. On the band's most recent tour, the system and touring style enabled them to avoid generating close to 60,000 pounds of CO2, or 95% of what a similar sized band creates in a similar tour."

We're hoping GoLoco can partner with them on their next tour in the U.S.
great 4 minute video describing 2007 tour

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

10 Things to Like about $4/gallon Gas

Wow. I am so impressed with Amanda Ripley, who wrote this story for Time magazine. She offers sympathy about the suffering and expands on this list:

1. Globalized jobs return home
2. Sprawl stalls
3. Four day workweeks
4. Less pollution
5. More frugality
6. Fewer traffic deaths
"If gas remains at $4 per gal. for a year or more, expect as many as 1,000 fewer fatalities a month, according to professor Michael Morrisey at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and associate professor David Grabowski at Harvard Medical School, who calculated that estimate for TIME. That means annual deaths could be cut by almost one-third — a public-health triumph."

7. Cheaper Insurance
8. Less Traffic
9. More Cops on the Beat
10.Less obesity
"A permanent $1 hike in prices may cut obesity 10%, saving thousands of lives and billions of dollars a year, estimates Charles Courtemanche, an assistant professor of economics at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro."

To read it yourself, see the full article.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Should Brave Men Die So We Can Drive?

This is one of the headlines used on public service announcement posters during World War II to encourage conservation of fossil fuel. This 2 minute compilation shows how times and values have changed. While we look back at old tobacco ads with horror "Doctors agree that smoking BRAND NAME is the healthiest choice," these ads generate some nostalgia for doing the right thing.

Other headlines include:
"oil is ammunition"
"all fuel is scarce...plan for winter now"
"have you really tried to save gas by getting in a car club?"
"Is your trip necessary?"

This group of ads shows how energy conservation is patriotic. In this election year, and in the next administration, we would do well to encourage Americans to think about their most deeply held values -- a safe, secure, and sustainable future for us and our children. It is high time to push out a new round of PSAs to complement policy at the state and national levels.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

How much does it cost to drive?

The IRS formally increased the number it uses for cost per mile car travel, from 50.5 cents per mile, to 58.5 cents per mile. The question for drivers is -- are you sharing that cost or sucking it up all by yourself?

I recently did an analysis of AAA 2007 cost data for driving. I wanted to understand how much the rising cost of gas is actually changing the real costs of driving. [These aren't quite real costs since they don't include any of the externalities associated with driving like global warming, protection of oil resources, asthma, car accidents, among others.] AAA numbers are averaged over five years, assuming you own the car for the first five years of its life.

Today, with gas at $4 a gallon, looking at the two extremes of car types, it costs

$18.60/day for a small sedan ($6,795/year)
$31.00/day for an SUV or pickup truck ($11,309/year)

This covers travel of 41 miles per day (15,000 miles per year), average for Americans.

When -- not if -- gas goes to $5 a gallon, it'll be

$21.66/day for a small sedan ($7,906/year)
$33.32/day for an SUV or pickup truck ($12,161/year)

What was particularly interesting to me is how the rising price of gas has transformed the variable costs of driving. When gas was $1/gallon, it was only 9% of the total cost of owning and operating a small sedan. Today, at $4/gallon, gas ranges between 28 and 30% of the cost of operating a car. When it is at $5/gallon, that'll be 32-35%. With such high variable costs, people are really having to think twice and three times about when and how they drive. [see blog entry on changed driving behaviors]

This is so much money!!!

Back in 2006, 17% of household income went toward cars. I ask myself: if the median household income in the US is $48,000/year, what percent of income is going to car transportation today? A recent study found that in households with cars, they own on average 2.28 cars per household. Now comes some very murky and suspect assumptions, just to get it into the ballpark. Those households are unlikely to have 2.28 new cars, so what if we just round down and say 2 cars that are 0-5 years old are going to stand in for 2.28 cars of unknown age. And that households will have one big car and one little car, which is kind of like saying they have 2 average-sized cars.

OK, if we accept these bad assumptions, the answer to the question:

What percent of household income is going today to car transportation when gas is $4/gallon?




Another way to look at this is to use a a report written in September 2005 by Mark Singer of the Consumer Federation of America. His estimates of gas prices for 2005 were about $1.80/gallon. For prices found between 1995-2003 (his baseline) he found little elasticity in demand. Here is his table:

We know that $4/gallon seems to have been a tipping point for demand. And $4 is more than double $1.80. But what if we imagine that people today are spending about double on gas, taking into account some reductions in demand? That would put low income groups spending 20% of their incomes just on the gas.

Washington, I think we have a problem.

Americans need options to traveling around by car all by themselves. Some of those options can happen fast (GoLoco! and for those lucky enough to live in cities feet, bike, transit, train); some will take longer (changing where we choose to live, work, shop, creating dense mixed use communities, adding more transit of all kinds, reducing fossil fuel dependence on all motorized modes).

Next Mr. President: are you listening?