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Thread: Automobility investment and what else it could buy

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    Automobility investment and what else it could buy

    Hi- I'm looking for any research that has computed the total monetary investment being made each year towards driving (public and private investment) and comparing that to what that same investment would buy if used exclusively for public transportation. I'm thinking of doing a thesis paper on the total investment Los Angeles County makes to auto transport over a 30 year period, and estimating the purchasing power of that same money if used only for public transportation. How far would that money go towards building a first-class transit system in relatively low density L.A.? Anyone know of similar research that might be helpful? Thanks in advance.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Everyone should spend every dime they can on cars. Buy three of them! Oh and if you can make sure they are engineered or built in Southeast Michigan I hear that is the secret of happiness.

    I got this information from an unbiased source.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian jkellerfsu's avatar
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    Interesting - at first thought, I'd think investing in exclusively rail would be impossible. How would transportation agencies pay for gas to put in trucks needed to fix street lights? This is just one example.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Here is a major issue that would need to be adressed. Currently, much of the transit funding is tied to State and Federal Gasoline Taxes.

    If you get rid of investment in driving, this source goes away. In addition, the roads which buses use will turn to crap unless the roads are supported by funding from the transit agency. Buses are the most common mode for most transit in the United States, so without a huge shift in mode many roads would still be needed to run transit.

    You should be able to get the following inputs: Number of cars registed in the area of study.
    Average cost of new car.
    Note that not eveyone buys cars new so a factor needs to be researched for that.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    You might look to Europe (especially those countries that haven't jumped on the auto bandwagon like Germany and the UK) to see how non-auto transportation is funded. I would bet a month's pay that all the fuel & license taxes paid in Hunguary each year wouldn't pay for the trams and metro in Budapest. So it is NOT necessary to run cars to pay for transit. We may have set the system up that way in this country now, but it could change.

    Another difficult nut to crack will be the intangables like air pollution, added death and injury from autocentric living.

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    Dan Staley's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by silverthorne View post
    Hi- I'm looking for any research that has computed the total monetary investment being made each year towards driving (public and private investment) and comparing that to what that same investment would buy if used exclusively for public transportation. I'm thinking of doing a thesis paper on the total investment Los Angeles County makes to auto transport over a 30 year period, and estimating the purchasing power of that same money if used only for public transportation. How far would that money go towards building a first-class transit system in relatively low density L.A.? Anyone know of similar research that might be helpful? Thanks in advance.
    Off the top of my head, I'm not aware of anything like this, and a quick search on The Google Scholar for the authors I think would do this work reveals nothing. I suspect your advisor should direct you to work that is sorta close and point you toward a research project to get this sort of econometric study going (meaning, you will be doing the first cut. If you do it right/well, here's your ticket.)

    You'll need a factor for the positive spillover effects of the benefits of road work for the existing automobiles. You'll also want to keep in mind that there are negative effects of the added time for commute, and the density factor (min DU/ac) needed by the trans authority to break even - meaning there will be areas not served by transit and thus won't receive infra maintenance, and what are the negative effects on that. This will need to be factored by the average per capita VMT and the VMT on those roads. I think if you front-load this very hard you can get decent assumptions and make a decent paper out of this, provided you make clear that there will be significant chunks of the area that won't benefit from public transportation inputs and may receive negative externalities from the lack of maintenance. Meaning: there are equity concerns either way, and the time spent on public transit is the trade-off of not having a POV to create options.

    Good luck in your decisioning.

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    Thanks for the input thus far. I am aware that significant spillover effects would need to be addressed from such a radical change in transportation investment. I'm trying to limit this research, though, to merely the purchasing power of Los Angeles County's automobile investment (public and private) if used exclusively for pubic transit. Looking at a 30 year period, would this amount of money be sufficient to build a comprehensive public transit system (comparable with Manhattan lets say) or would it be insufficient due to the sprawling state of LA County?

    Anyone knowledge of similar research or additional suggestions/comments are appreciated. Thx

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    Cyburbian safege's avatar
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    There is a professor at the University of Minnesota that has done some work to describe how to build the "third grid" of transportation.

    I can't think of his name, he has a thick German accent, but that's not much help.
    Psychotics are consistently inconsistent. The essence of sanity is to be inconsistently inconsistent.
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    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by silverthorne View post
    Thanks for the input thus far. I am aware that significant spillover effects would need to be addressed from such a radical change in transportation investment. I'm trying to limit this research, though, to merely the purchasing power of Los Angeles County's automobile investment (public and private) if used exclusively for pubic transit. Looking at a 30 year period, would this amount of money be sufficient to build a comprehensive public transit system (comparable with Manhattan lets say) or would it be insufficient due to the sprawling state of LA County?

    Anyone knowledge of similar research or additional suggestions/comments are appreciated. Thx
    Are you assuming identical development patterns, even with the public transit system being built? One can argue that Los Angeles would have millions more people if a heavy rail transit system were in place equivalent to Manhattan and zoning allowed denser development - and the millions more people would help fund the system through whatever funding mechanism is used. I think it's very unlikely that Los Angeles would look the same had investments in subways been made in the past - and it's likely that the Basin would change dramatically in the future if those investments are made now.
    Two wrongs don't necessarily make a right, but three lefts do.

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    Are you assuming identical development patterns, even with the public transit system being built? One can argue that Los Angeles would have millions more people if a heavy rail transit system were in place equivalent to Manhattan and zoning allowed denser development - and the millions more people would help fund the system through whatever funding mechanism is used. I think it's very unlikely that Los Angeles would look the same had investments in subways been made in the past - and it's likely that the Basin would change dramatically in the future if those investments are made now.
    For the purposes of this research I am assuming the same development pattern that currently exist for LA County. However, your point is definitely valid. LA would look a lot different given heavy public transit investment (its already starting too with only moderate public transit improvements), but i have to draw the line somewhere for my research, and therefore I've chosen to evaluate alternative transportation investments (to auto) using land-use patterns built on automobility.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I would agree with CJC land use would be entirely different. Either LA would have millions more people, or not as sprawled out.

    I am wondering how you would address the movement of frieght if we went to an all transit system. For example, it currently makes sense that trucks be used for small movements of goods within a city itself. If we get rid of cars, investment in roads will go away making it next to impossible to accomplish this. How would people doing things such as rehabilitation to existing buildings be able to get materials to the site in a cost effective way? I don't see too many people getting on the bus with a handfull of 2 x 4's or a bag of quickcrete.

    There is always a need for personal transport for these sorts of things. We have always used at least a horse and cart for the delivering of goods or services since the very early days of civilization. A car or truck is essentially a replacement for the horse and buggy (why else would power be refered to as horsepower?)
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  12. #12
    A few thoughts come to mind:

    You shouldn't use the cost of buying a new car for the automobile investment in a given year. You should use the depreciation amount. After all, a car is used up over a number of years.

    LA's spread out pattern was created before cars by its extensive early 20th Century trolley system. The nodes set out by that system represent many of the higher use nodes today.

    Most of Los Angeles is dense enough for some sort of public transportation system. A large part of the LA basin and the San Fernando Valley have population densities over 6,000 persons per square mile. A lot of census tracts are over 10,000 persons per square mile. The problem is that it lacks a dominant center such as Midtown Manhattan or the Loop/..

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    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I am wondering how you would address the movement of frieght if we went to an all transit system. For example, it currently makes sense that trucks be used for small movements of goods within a city itself. If we get rid of cars, investment in roads will go away making it next to impossible to accomplish this. How would people doing things such as rehabilitation to existing buildings be able to get materials to the site in a cost effective way? I don't see too many people getting on the bus with a handfull of 2 x 4's or a bag of quickcrete.
    I think you're taking it to the extreme. All cities have roads, even those with nearly zero cars where everyone gets around by other means (Pyongyang, for example). Roads will always be necessary, and I wouldn't even include all local roads as part of "automobility investment" - to me that would be freeways, excessively wide roads, parking lots, parking garages, parking under developments, etc. As Gotta Speakup mentioned, much of the LA Basin has a good road network for transit-oriented development - it's not a big mess of culs-de-sac.

    It would be interesting to me just to see the amount of investment that has gone into parking. The actual cost is really just a start - the opportunity costs of having to use all that land for parking are enormous as well.
    Two wrongs don't necessarily make a right, but three lefts do.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    CJC, about 85 percent of the roadway funding spent in places like Detroit is to rebuild current roads. In comparison to most of the country, the northern midwest's severe seasons beat the heck out of roads, buses and to a lesser extent trains. These dollars come from a user fee (combination of gasoline tax and registration fees). Without these fees the funds that are used for this infrastructure goes away. In dddition, all FTA funds come through the Highway Trust Fund.

    Granted, I am playing somewhat of a devil's advocate, but the current trends are going to set the Highway Trust Fund up for an Eight Billion Dollar shortfall next year. This means there will only be a fraction of the funding to maintain both federal transit and highway projects for the year (unless the patch is approved, and with about two weeks left until FY 2009, I don't see it happening.)

    The impacts of moving to a totally transit based system need to be explored. What would it do to funding? How will it impact the ability to do business or get product to market? These topics should at least be brought up in the thesis, I don't expect them to be fully addressed, but transportation is a comprehensive system and its not just as simple as use the money spent on cars and put it towards transit. In a free market a certain segment will choose some other mode over transit, be that cars, walking, or even horse. A family with five kids may very well find that a mini-van will be more cost effective than paying a much larger fee to ride transit.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian CJC's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    CJC, about 85 percent of the roadway funding spent in places like Detroit is to rebuild current roads. In comparison to most of the country, the northern midwest's severe seasons beat the heck out of roads, buses and to a lesser extent trains. These dollars come from a user fee (combination of gasoline tax and registration fees). Without these fees the funds that are used for this infrastructure goes away. In dddition, all FTA funds come through the Highway Trust Fund.
    To rebuild all current roads, sure - but how much is used to rebuild local roads? Freeways and wide boulevards are much more expensive per mile to rebuild than other roads - and we are talking about Los Angeles here, not the northern midwest. The Southern California climate is not harsh on roads at all. The research is about redirecting money to public transit, but there's no reason that tolls couldn't be implimented to maintain existing freeway infrastructure. Existing highways could even be sold off to private enterprises and maintained solely as for-profit using a tolling method.
    Two wrongs don't necessarily make a right, but three lefts do.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    CJC excellent point about LA being pointed out specifically. I have a tendancy to think universally, and what may work under one set of conditions won't in another. Interestingly enough though, local roads in Michigan are are primarilly funded through the State gas tax as well. I am still leery of privately leased toll roads, I know of a few examples in the midwest where this has happened but the full impact of these have not been seen as of yet.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  17. #17
    the gas tax (both state and federal) only pays for about one third of the cost of roads.Cities spend vast amounts of general fund dollars on these things. The general public also thinks that the gas tax more than pays for highway construction with enough surplus to pay for mass transit and who knows what else. But they are wrong.

    When there is talk about the deficit, it means the gap between what has been committed and what is available.

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    I am wondering how you would address the movement of frieght if we went to an all transit system. For example, it currently makes sense that trucks be used for small movements of goods within a city itself. If we get rid of cars, investment in roads will go away making it next to impossible to accomplish this. How would people doing things such as rehabilitation to existing buildings be able to get materials to the site in a cost effective way? I don't see too many people getting on the bus with a handfull of 2 x 4's or a bag of quickcrete.
    Yes I had been thinking about the issue of freight, and I think for this research I will not include road and freeway maintenance as part of "automobility" investment. In effect, I'll dodge the whole question of freight by maintaining the status quo for movement of goods.

    It would be interesting to me just to see the amount of investment that has gone into parking. The actual cost is really just a start - the opportunity costs of having to use all that land for parking are enormous as well.
    Good point. Estimating LA County's investment in parking could get a little tricky.

    You shouldn't use the cost of buying a new car for the automobile investment in a given year. You should use the depreciation amount. After all, a car is used up over a number of years.
    I plan to use data compiled by AAA, which estimates average private auto costs per year (and per mile driven). I think it works out to around $7,000 a year per car.

    (dumb question: what button do you use to quote someone on this forum. I've been using the "wrap quote around selected text" button, button it doesn't include the name of the person I'm quoting.

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    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    the gas tax (both state and federal) only pays for about one third of the cost of roads.Cities spend vast amounts of general fund dollars on these things.

    I need to move to Boston! Thats not the case in Michigan, not by a long shot. I guess thats why our roads are so crappy.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

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    Cyburbian jsk1983's avatar
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    You may want to check out Asphalt Nation by Jane Holtz Kay if you have not already done so. It addresses some of your concerns to a certain extent. Its been a few years since I read but I know it tries to come up with the costs associated with driving.

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    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I need to move to Boston! Thats not the case in Michigan, not by a long shot. I guess thats why our roads are so crappy.
    I had to laugh at this. Have you been to Boston? The city and the region likely have the most poorly maintained roadways in the entire United States.

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