Surface Transportation News: Hydrogen fuel cells, automated trucking, and more
Photo 213310558 © Scharfsinn86 |

Surface Transportation Innovations Newsletter

Surface Transportation News: Hydrogen fuel cells, automated trucking, and more

Plus: Transit contracting, commuting data, electric vehicles to power the grid, and more.

In this issue:

Hydrogen and Surface Transportation

In previous issues of this newsletter I have highlighted studies by the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) that estimated the carbon footprint of large trucks powered either by batteries or hydrogen fuel cells. For the largest U.S. trucks—Class 8 vehicles that are especially important for long-distance hauling—the numbers clearly revealed hydrogen as more viable than batteries. The overall carbon footprint was lower, the range was greater, and so was the payload. Battery-electric big rigs would pay a large penalty in reduced payload due to the enormous weight of the batteries, and recharging time would be a serious constraint, even if there were enough high-capacity charging facilities located where needed.

The questions that have not yet been answered are whether hydrogen fuel cell trucks are anywhere near production, and when hydrogen “refueling” infrastructure would be available. There is some good news on the first question, and it applies to both trucks and trains.

Most of the development work involves hydrogen fuel cells that use gaseous hydrogen, supplemented by a battery pack to assist with acceleration (with partial battery recharging en route via regenerative braking). This model is being developed for trains as well as trucks, with hydrogen fuel-cell trains already in operation in Germany. The leader so far is Alstom, whose Cordia iLint trains are in operation in Germany. Since last Sept, 14 of them have replaced diesel trains on a 100-kilometer-route in Lower Saxony, near Hamburg. The trainset uses two 200-kilowatt (kW) fuel cells plus batteries, together providing 0.6 megawatts. Gaseous hydrogen is stored onboard at a pressure of 350 bar, to feed the fuel cells.

Alstom estimates the cost of a hydrogen fuel cell locomotive as 30-40% higher than a comparable diesel unit, but that cost is partially offset by 14-20% lower maintenance costs. Their studies suggest that hydrogen fuel cell trains are more cost-effective than electrifying railroad lines, which in Europe cost $1-$3 million per kilometer. Competitor Siemens is developing its Mireo Plus H trainset, which also uses gaseous hydrogen fuel cells with battery assist, with a total power of 1.5 megawatts. Prototype testing has been going on for more than a year, and Siemens expects certification by mid-2023.

The trucking industry appears to be somewhat behind the passenger rail industry in pursuing hydrogen fuel cells. One of the highest-profile tests was the shore-to-store project at the Port of Los Angeles last year. It involved 10 hydrogen fuel cell Class 8 trucks developed by Kenworth Truck Co. and Toyota Motor North America, designated as T680 fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs). These vehicles were used in drayage operations between the port and warehouses/distribution centers in the greater Los Angeles area. The T680 FCEV has a 300-mile range when fully loaded to a gross weight of 82,000 lbs. Its claimed “fill time” for gaseous hydrogen is 15-to-20 minutes—far less than the charging time for a battery-electric Class 8 truck.

A competing fuel-cell Class 8 is being developed jointly by Iveco and Nikola. Unlike the European rail projects and the T680, the Iveco/Nicola truck uses gaseous hydrogen at 700 bar pressure, to achieve longer range for a given fuel volume, estimated at 650-to-800 kilomters (or 401-to-497 miles), and with an estimated fill time of 20 minutes. It also includes a battery pack for better acceleration, with a maximum total output of 480 kW. The 44-metric ton gross weight vehicle has a payload of 27 metric tons, compared with 28.5 metric tons for a diesel equivalent. Twelve pre-production vehicles are planned for operations in France, Germany, and Switzerland by November of this year, according to Iveco. Volvo and Daimler are jointly developing hydrogen fuel cell trucks of various sizes, to begin operational testing in northern Europe in 2025.

Development is also under way on hydrogen-fueled combustion engines. Cummins converted its base diesel engine into a hydrogen-fueled combustion engine which was shown off at the 2022 IAA Mobility Show in Hannover, Germany. It uses a 700-bar pressure hydrogen storage system and is claimed to have a range of up to 310 miles for multi-stop distribution hauling. This engine is aimed at trucks up to 88,000 lbs. gross weight, so this includes Class 8s. A European consortium called HyCET is working to develop two sets of prototype hydrogen combustion trucks, one aimed at 18-ton trucks and the other at 40-ton trucks. BMW and Volvo are part of that project. Another joint effort for hydrogen combustion trucks, HYVIA, includes Renault and hydrogen supplier Plug.

Bottom line: Truck makers and researchers are investing significant sums into hydrogen propulsion. It’s too early to tell whether combustion hydrogen or hydrogen fuel cell will prove more viable and cost-effective. And for the smaller size trucks (below Classes 7 and 8), battery-electric may well win out over hydrogen. In the railroad sector, I think hydrogen plus battery has a head start over other forms of electrification.

» return to top

Can Electric Vehicles Power the Grid?

A March 12 editorial in the Los Angeles Times was headlined, “California Should Tap Its Growing Fleet of EVs to Prevent Blackouts.” The editors contrasted the growing supply of individually owned electric vehicles (EVs) and the growing trend toward electric power blackouts and blithely assumed that a simple solution would be for EVs to plug into the grid and feed in excess power. By coincidence, I had just finished reading an article from IEEE Spectrum, the journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, which concluded that the idea is, well, simplistic.

The article, by Matthew N. Eisler, is titled “False Starts: The Story of Vehicle-to-Grid Power” and should be required reading for everyone interested in vehicle-to-grid (V2G) power. It turns out this idea dates back to pre-World War I times, before we had anything like today’s national electricity grid. Early local electric utilities viewed that era’s early electric cars and trucks as important adjuncts to their own generating capacity. They themselves acquired and used such EVs for their business operations as well as for helping to cover peak loads. But that use died out in the following decades due to the emergence of very large regional grids and the disappearance of most electric vehicles as the internal combustion engine displaced early EVs.

A key factor unknown to many is that in order to maintain the 60 Hertz standard on which our electric devices depend, the grid must be stabilized to avoid too much or too little power being transported. Pumped storage projects and later quick-response gas turbine systems enabled additional power to be fed into the grid on demand, and those peaking resources could be reduced in output or turned off to cope with potentially excess power. Electricity deregulation, starting in the 1990s, led to independent power producers that specialize in peaking power, charging premium rates for their on-demand electricity.

Problems with those arrangements kindled several researchers, discussed in the paper, to look into EVs as a potential alternative source of peaking power. Their research, focused especially on California, found that frequency regulation via V2G looked like a “much less attractive business proposition” than they’d thought. One problem is that the utility grid management computer systems designed for things like gas-turbine peaking were programmed for large peaking systems, so they turned peaking on and off gradually, but batteries turn on or off almost instantly, precluding easy upward or downward adjustment.

Another problem is that in a challenged grid system like California’s, EV batteries wired to feed the grid on demand would have far more starts and stops than are involved in driving the EV. So despite the electric vehicle owners being paid for the electricity, that would come at the expense of potentially much shorter EV battery life (and the battery pack is by far the most expensive part of an EV). The researchers concluded that household V2G was unlikely to be viable. Perhaps a bidirectional EV could provide backup power to the owner’s house on occasion, but that was no basis for a viable business.

Author Matthew Eisler concludes his piece by saying, “The core conundrum of V2G is a conflict of interest that comes from repurposing privately owned automobiles as power plants. Scaling up this technology will require intimate collaboration between automaking and electricity-making, enterprises with substantially different revenue models and systems of regulation. . . . A strong V2G patron has yet to emerge.” Other researchers, pundits and journalists, please take note.

» return to top

The Short and Long Views of Automated Trucking
By Marc Scribner

Automated vehicles (AVs) received a great deal of attention over the last decade. Robotaxis for urban passenger travel and automated heavy trucks were supposed to transform transportation by making it safer and cheaper. While AVs still have great promise, the deployment timelines touted by many enthusiasts proved to be overly ambitious. The chaos of the COVID-19 pandemic and the end of historically low interest rates didn’t help, but investors and traditional automotive companies expecting to see rapid returns to AV technology have understandably adjusted their expectations.

In the schema of the Gartner Hype Cycle, AVs are clearly in the “trough of disillusionment.” Like the robotaxi market, recent news in the AV trucking industry has been mostly gloomy. However, there are also bright spots worth highlighting that indicate a smaller but hardier AV trucking industry may be developing and, to put in Gartner terms, approaching the “slope of enlightenment.”

In March 2020, once-promising AV trucking developer Starsky Robotics shut down for good. This took place several months after the company had laid off 90% of its staff in late 2019 after a failed funding round, so its end can’t be largely attributed to the pandemic and higher interest rates that hadn’t yet risen. Starsky founder Stefan Seltz-Axmacher published an article announcing the closure, in which he predicted several years of declining investment in AV trucking. Interestingly, his otherwise pessimistic memo offered a brief message of narrow optimism: “If we showed anything at Starsky, it’s that this is buildable if you religiously focus on getting the person out of the vehicle in limited-use cases.”

One AV trucking developer in particular seems to fit this bill. Gatik, which focuses on automating the short-haul “middle mile” between commercial facilities, last month announced a new partnership with grocery giant Kroger in the Dallas metropolitan area. This follows an ongoing partnership with Walmart in Arkansas, as well as a more recent partnership with the Loblaws Canadian supermarket chain that was announced in October.

In contrast to Gatik, the more ambitious long-haul Class 8 segment of the AV industry has been hit hard in recent months. Struggling developer TuSimple in December ended its two-year partnership with major truck manufacturer Navistar following declining investor confidence. This was quickly followed by layoffs that reduced the company’s workforce by 25%. TuSimple continues to struggle to regain its footing after a tumultuous 2022 that saw major shakeups in its C-suite, including the firing and re-hiring of CEO Cheng Lu.

Things were even worse for TuSimple’s Class 8 competitor Embark, which wrote in a March 3 filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission that it was laying off 230 of its employees, or 70% of its staff, and looking for a buyer of the company or liquidation of its assets. Locomation, an interesting AV trucking startup focused on long-haul two-truck platoons where the human-driven lead truck would direct the automated following truck, also announced layoffs of most of its employees in February while denying that it was shuttering. Waymo Via, the trucking division of Google parent Alphabet’s AV subsidiary Waymo, has reportedly cut its workforce to a “skeleton crew” according to The New York Times.

But the recent news on Class 8 AV truck developers hasn’t been uniformly negative. Aurora Innovation said in March that it plans to begin running its trucks between Dallas and Houston by the end of 2024. Aurora and Waymo’s joint filing to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration was also revealed in March, in which the companies request an exemption to use lights mounted on the truck cab in lieu of the traditional requirement that warning triangles or flares be placed outside trucks that break down on the side of roadways—a normal operating task that an AV truck without a driver obviously cannot do. These sorts of activities don’t generate much media attention but are an important gauge of how serious AV developers are in integrating their technologies into real-world, mixed-fleet operating conditions.

The next few years will be critical ones for the automated vehicle industry. More companies are likely to fail or be absorbed by competitors and investor confidence is likely to remain restrained. But the developers who survive this shakeout will be those that successfully demonstrate both near-term commercial viability in narrow use cases and credibly identify a path to long-term growth and mainstream adoption—or in Gartner terms, “the plateau of productivity.”

» return to top

Journey to Work Data Show Surprising Changes

Data from the 2021 American Community Survey reveal very significant changes in travel behavior during the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic. While things certainly changed again in 2022 as lockdowns ended and much travel resumed, the 2021 data are the best we have for now.

The headline figures nationwide showed that 75.6% of commuting trips took place by car, with only 7.8% of that as carpools. Work from home averaged 17.9%, transit 2.5%, cycling 0.4%, walking 2.2%, and other (jitney? ride-hailing?) 1.5%.

The most interesting data are from the 56 largest urban areas. These averaged 70.1% of commutes by car, 21.9% work from home, and 3.8% via transit. The transit figures vary somewhat between larger metro areas within the top 56 and their smaller counterparts. In the larger metros, the transit champ is New York, with 19% of commute trips utlilizing some form of transit. Other legacy transit cities are way below that: Boston (5.6% of commute trips), Chicago (4.8%). Philadelphia (4.7%), and San Francisco (4.9%). Among the nine legacy metro areas with heavy rail systems, Atlanta’s had only a 1% transit commute share and Miami had 2.0%. The Washington, D.C.—Arlington-Alexandria metro area despite its extensive Metrorail and commuter rail systems, had only 4.1% transit commute share.

Many of the other 56 largest metro areas have invested in light rail transit systems, and the ones with the highest 2021 transit mode share were Seattle (3.0%), Baltimore (2.6%), and Portland (2.3%).

Work-from-home (WFH) figures do not seem to correlate with transit share. The highest WFH share among the heavy-rail metro areas are San Francisco (35.1%), Washington, D.C.-metro region (33.1%), and Boston (26.9%). All three have among the lower automobile commute shares, suggesting that work-from-home seems to be having a larger impact on auto commuting than transit commuting. In the light-rail transit metro areas, the top WFH areas are San Jose (34.8%), Austin (32.2%), and Seattle (30.6%), all three of which have among the lowest automobile share in this group.

More recent data, such as the 2022 congestion data from INRIX (summarized in the Feb. 2023 issue of this newsletter) show that traffic congestion is back significantly in most U.S. metro areas, which may mean that working from home has declined from 2021 levels. Transit commuting increased somewhat from 2021 but was still nowhere near pre-pandemic levels. It will likely take several more years to have a clear picture of post-pandemic commuting.

Note: My thanks to demographer Wendell Cox for posting these 2021 data.

» return to top

Trucking Industry Proposes Less Highway Trust Fund Revenue

A bill being promoted by just about every trade association related to trucking would repeal the Federal Excise Tax (FET) on the purchase of new trucks. Thus far, it has supporters from both Democrats and Republicans in both the House and the Senate.

The coalition makes a number of sensible arguments for repeal. Among its strongest is the inconsistency of the federal government charging a 12% excise tax on new truck sales at the same time federal policy increasingly favors replacing fossil fuel trucks with electric trucks. Electric trucks already cost considerably more than diesel trucks, so the 12% tax makes the cost disparity even worse. Trucking groups also attack the tax as being the highest excise tax in the nation and being over a hundred years old (which is not per-se wrong).

But there’s a strange omission in the rhetoric about the tax repeal proposal. The trucking industry pays three main federal taxes, whose proceeds support the federal Highway Trust Fund. The diesel tax yields the largest amount, $10.5 billion in 2020, per the Congressional Budget Office. Next, at $5 billion, is the 12% Federal Excise Tax. Last and smallest is the heavy vehicles annual use tax ($1.3 billion). Altogether, federal tax revenue from trucking provides 43.2% of the Highway Trust Fund’s revenue.

By repealing the 12% FET, the bill would cut trucking’s share from 43.2% to 38.2% of a smaller (by $5 billion per year) Trust Fund. There is no mention of this reduced share or the reduced total in any of the many articles and commentaries I’ve seen since this bill was introduced.

Were the bill being honestly discussed as leading to a reduction in the trust fund’s revenue, and of trucking’s share of the cost of supporting the federal highway program, it might take on a somewhat different coloration. A cynic might even call it an effort to pull a fast one on all other highway users.

A more honorable approach for the American Trucking Associations and allies would be to propose a 50% increase in the federal tax on diesel, to make up for the $5 billion annual loss generated by repeal of the FET. After all, ATA has long called for an increase in federal fuel taxes to shore up the federal highway program. Inquiring minds want to know: Why aren’t they calling for an offsetting increase in the diesel tax rate?

» return to top

Transit Contracting Does Not Run in Cycles
By Baruch Feigenbaum

U.S. transit contracting has ebbed and flowed since the Reagan administration began promoting privatization measures in the 1980s. When conducted correctly, competitive contracting has been proven to improve service and reduce costs. Generally, research suggests contracting transit services can reduce operating costs by 20% and improve service quality (headways, vehicle cleanliness, vehicle reliability) by 20%. Yet transit contracting has faced opposition from public employee unions and some transit leaders who believe that transit should be operated by public agencies or think that contracting results in a loss of control over the service.

Many researchers have speculated that the regulatory cycle (transit agencies moving back and forth between direct public operation and contracting) operates in an ongoing loop and is a major factor in contracting. But a recent study authored by the University of South Australia’s Lionel Pengilley and titled “Evaluating the Evidence for Public Transport Regulatory Cycles” argues that the regulatory cycle plays only a minor role. The study examined 104 regulatory regimes in major world cities and found only one full cycle.

The regulatory cycle in developed countries is assumed to have four steps. First, systems move from a regulated public monopoly to the private sector to combat regulatory capture and budget burden.  Next, they become a private sector area monopoly where they consolidate by merger or success in franchise competition. Third, they become a regulated private monopoly where they have direct quality regulation agreements in response to local pressures. Finally, they return to being a regulated public monopoly in response to a high perceived cost of service.

Most interesting are the underlying conditions. Here is when tranist systems tend to cycle:

  • Inefficient fare regulation. If fares are lower than costs, operators become insolvent;
  • Regulatory capture;
  • Consolidation of providers and ease of entry into the market for new providers;
  • Vehicle size; smaller vehicles tend to be more efficient than larger vehicles;
  • The balance of partnership relations between regulators, operators, and competition; and
  • Constraints on anti-competitive practices (often because there are not enough contractors in a certain market).

There are different factors that affect the regulatory cycle. For transaction costs, introducing competition in a regulatory environment is expensive and introduces uncertainty. With incumbency bias, new contracts are more likely to be awarded to the incumbent provider. For example, in France out of 50 retendered contracts only two were awarded to a new contractor. There can be difficulty assessing competition since bidders are encouraged to demonstrate creative solutions. Many transit agencies are more comfortable with what they know, and thus they tend to award contracts to incumbent providers or the private sector. For changes in contract type, many countries switched from cost-plus to fixed price or vice versa. Finally, private sector financing relates to risk. Operators must be in a low-risk environment. Operators in Colombia and even France could not obtain financing due to risk.

When sorting contractors into groupings, the author chose six different operating schemes: public monopoly, competition in the market, competition for the market, unregulated monopoly, regulated monopoly, and regulated monopoly (publicly owned). Some of these contract types can be very similar. For example, a public monopoly and a corporatized in-house operator can be the same thing.

Overall, public transit providers often move from one type of operating relationship to another. Most of the contracting arrangements that did not change were modifications to existing contracts and relationships. Most of the contracts that did change—two regulated monopolies, one publicly owned regulated monopoly, and one competition in the market regime—changed to another regulatory regime. Public monopolies largely stayed the same.

Of the 104 regulated regimes studied byPengilley, 30 were considered extremely stable (same operating type for 25 years). Twenty-two were public monopolies, two were in-house operators, and six were stable private sector regimes. Of the six, four were bus operations and two were rail operations.

In conclusion, Pengilley found that there is a preference for regulators to choose competitive contracting (although not in the U.S.). Competitive regimes are not succeeded by private regimes or nationalization. Competitive regimes that failed are more likely to be replaced by a different type of competitive regime. But the type of contracting method is very stable over time.

The Pengilley study has several potential takeaways for the United States. First, the agencies that initially contracted continued contracting with the same firm or contracted via another entity. Very few reverted to public operations. While inertia clearly played a role, most of the agencies preferred contracting their services instead of operating them directly. Many U.S. agencies are hesitant to contract due to fear of the unknown. But international success stories show these worries are unfounded.

Of the six stable private sector regimes, four were bus. This suggests that bus services may be the place for transit agencies to start contracting. In the U.S., local, express, and limited-stop bus service is more likely to be contracted than bus rapid transit and rail. (Demand response service is most likely to be contracted and is contracted more than 75% of the time). There are more private bus operators, and the contracts are simpler, because bus operation and maintenance is easier than rail, and buses operate for fewer hours. A menu for U.S. success would be for all U.S. transit agencies that have not contracted their bus service to examine contracting it. Later on, agencies can tackle rail contracting.

» return to top

News Notes

New Tennessee Law Authorizes P3s and Express Toll Lanes
On April 6, Gov. Bill Lee signed the Tennessee Transportation Modernization Act, after it was approved by wide margins in both houses of the state legislature. The new law authorizes long-term design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) public-private partnerships aimed primarily at adding variable priced express toll lanes (dubbed choice lanes) to congested freeways in the state’s metro areas. Tennessee has been among the fastest-growing states in recent years, and its roadways have not kept up. TDOT has a $26 billion backlog of roadway infrastructure work, leading to support for the bill, which will tap into billions of dollars’ worth of private investment.

Louisiana I-10 Bridge Replacement RFP Released
Last month, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development issued its request for proposals for the $1.5 billion Calcasieu River I-10 bridge replacement P3. It was sent to the short-listed firms that were announced in 2021. DOTD expects to select the winning P3 developer by the end of the year. State Rep. Mark Abraham introduced a bill to create a county toll authority to govern the toll rates and other factors, perhaps not realizing that in a long-term DBFOM P3 this role is carried out by the state transportation department (because the state owns the bridge). The replacement bridge is to have at least three lanes in each direction, like the I-10 corridor on either side of the river, so the new bridge would no longer be a traffic bottleneck like the current two-lanes-each-way bridge.

Pennsylvania Legislator Proposing Toll Refunds
Pennsylvania State Sen. Steve Santarsiero has proposed legislation that would give toll refunds of up to $500 per year to state residents and customers who use the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If enacted, Pennsylvania would join New Jersey and Florida in undercutting the future of its toll roads, by hiding the real cost of modernizing and maintaining them. In the short term, it will not harm toll road finances, if the legislature compensates the Turnpike (using general tax money) for the amount of the toll refunds. But toll roads are supposed to be self-supporting, not taxpayer subsidized. The toll industry should be speaking out on this damaging trend. The bill may also violate the Constitution’s interstate commerce clause, by limiting the refunds to Pennsylvania toll-payers.

St. Paul to Cap Freeway that Split a Community
When I-94 in Minnesota was built decades ago, it wiped out homes and businesses in the African-American community called Rondo. A local group called ReConnect Rondo proposes mitigating the damage by decking over the below-grade freeway. The plan would create 21 new acres of land, planned to include housing, parks, and other amenities. In late February the group received a $2 million federal grant to develop detailed plans for the project. Unlike some plans in other cities, this one would not tear out the freeway, disrupting both local and long-distance travel. Not all freeways that split communities are below-grade, but for those that are, this is a far better way to reconnect communities on either side.

Nikola Trucks to Haul Nissan Vehicles from Los Angeles Ports
Electric truck startup Nikola and established truck producer Kenworth are providing two battery-electric Class 8 trucks to transport new Nissan vehicles from the docks at the Port of Los Angeles to auto dealers in the Los Angeles area. Norwegian-Swedish company Wallenius Wilhelmsen is installing charging infrastructure for the demonstration project. Battery-electric big-rigs have reduced payload and range, due to the weight of their batteries. But the routes they will travel in this project are short hauls.

Bus Beats Rail for LaGuardia Link to Manhattan
An expert panel selected by the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey has rejected the plan to construct a $2.1 billion rail link that would have required a transfer at an intermediate rail station. The panel recommended improvements to the existing Q70 bus line, including a one-mile exclusive bus lane on a stretch of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The study was requested by New York Gov. Kathy Hochul due to extensive concerns over the rail plan’s cost, environmental impact, and route. Crain’s New York Business termed the rail project dead. The expert panel members were Mike Brown, a former director London Heathrow, Janette Sadik-Khan, former New York City transportation commissioner, and Phillip Washington, CEO of Denver International Airport.

Feds Approve Modified Houston I-45 Plan
The $9 billion Texas Department of Transportation project that will reconstruct and widen I-45 between downtown and the North Sam Houston Tollway has received Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approval, after making a number of changes to reduce property takes and reduce impacts on the surrounding communities. The intersection of I-10 and I-45, which is part of this project, is eleventh on the trucking industry’s current list of the top 100 U.S. truck bottlenecks. The neighborhood impacts effort will benefit from federal grant funding from its Reconnecting Communities program.

Spanish Road Network Up for Long-Term P3s
The government of Spanish state Aragon plans to offer long-term, availability-payment P3 concessions for 11 different highways totaling 1,700 kilometers. Inframation (Feb. 20, 2023) reported that several consortiums of infrastructure funds and P3 developers are interested in the concessions, which will require an estimated €630 million investment in improving the highways. Developers ACS, Acciona, Ferrovial, Meridiam, and Vinci are reportedly interested. The concession period will be 25 years following completion of the initial improvements.

Rural Drivers Better Off with Road User Charge than Gas Tax
A major study by consulting firm EBP, for RUC America, found that a per-mile charge aimed at generating the same amount of revenue as the state gas tax would slightly increase highway charges for urban residents and slightly decrease charges for rural residents. The study examined household driving data from 22,193 census tracts in 14 western states, finding that even though rural residents drive somewhat more, they drive vehicles with higher fuel consumption than urban residents. The average rural household would pay 6.4% less with the RUC while the average urban household would pay 2.9% more.

Cincinnati Sells Railroad for $1.6 Billion
In the latest U.S. example of asset recycling, the city of Cincinnati has reached an agreement to sell its 337-mile Cincinnati Southern Railroad to Norfolk Southern Corporation. The rail line links Cincinnati to Chattanooga, TN. It has been leased for many years to a division of Norfolk Southern at an annual price of $25 million. City officials plan to use the sale proceeds to create an infrastructure fund, the Build Our Future Infrastructure Trust, to fund rehabilitation, modernization, or replacement of existing city infrastructure.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Adds Off-line Cash Payment Option
For toll customers without an E-ZPass transponder or a credit card, the Pennsylvania Turnpike has joined a cash payment network under which those customers can pay E-ZPass and Toll By Plate bills using cash at kiosks. Such kiosks are available at 70,000 locations of chains including 7-Eleven, CVS, Dollar General, Family Dollar, and Walgreens. Similar cash options are offered by the toll roads of Puerto Rico and Florida’s Turnpike.

San Jose Selects Plenary for Airport Connector P3
A consortium led by Plenary (and including HNTB) was selected last month as the preferred bidder for a project to develop and operate a “scalable transit solution” linking the Mineta San Jose International Airport with the downtown Diridon [Rail] Station. If approved by the city council in April, the first step will be to negotiate a pre-development agreement (PDA) with the Plenary team, prior to a subsequent implementation phase.

When Adding Lanes to a Congested Highway Is OK
Route 17, a two-lane highway leading to the Catskill Mountains vacation area west of New York City, is highly congested. Gov. Kathy Hochul and Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are strongly supporting a plan to spend new federal infrastructure funds to add a third lane each way to Route 17. Not only that, but the $1 billion plan calls for converting those 47 miles to Interstate 86. Needless to say, the plan has aroused opposition from environmental and anti-highway groups.

7-Eleven Plans National EV Charging Service
Last month, 7-Eleven announced plans for a national network of electric vehicle charging facilities, to be installed at those of its retail outlets that are staffed 24/7 and located on “often-traveled corridors.” Customers will be able to use a credit card at the charger or pay via the 7Charge app. Prices will be based on energy consumed and/or time spent charging, depending on state laws. Several 7Charge stations are already in operation in California, Colorado, Florida, and Texas.

Express Toll Lanes in Operation on US 101 in Silicon Valley
Last month saw the opening of express toll lanes (ETLs) on Highway 101 from Redwood City (Whipple Ave.) to South San Francisco (at I-380). Users must have FasTrak transponders that can be set to show how many people are in the vehicle. Those with three or more are exempt from the variable tolls; certain kinds of clean-air vehicles get a 50% discount. Strangely, the ETLs operate only on weekdays and only from 6 AM to 8 PM. Investor-financed ETLs generally operate 24/7 because customers choose them on all days and all times.

Ford Shifts AV Focus to Advanced Driver Assistance
Hundreds of employees of Ford’s now-defunct AV company Argo are staffing Ford’s new subsidiary, Latitude AI, dedicated to improving the company’s existing BlueCruise driver assistance features. Its headquarters will remain in Pittsburgh, but it will have additional offices in Michigan and Silicon Valley.

Recommended Readings

In a March News Note, the name of an AV company was mis-spelled. Its correct name is Zoox.

» return to top

Quotable Quotes

“Walkable cities are great for residents and the laptop class, but banning cars makes those cities less affordable for the working class. If you prohibit cars, how is a tradesman with a 40-pound toolkit going to get to work? Turning parking spots into bike lanes is great for cyclists, but where are the trucks supposed to park when delivering goods to those cosy neighborhood cafes? A city dweller can work from a coffee shop with a laptop, but the coffee neither delivers, brews, nor serves itself. The Uber passenger may relish not needing a car, but the driver doesn’t have that luxury. Congestion pricing keeps traffic down in exclusive neighborhoods, but it is in effect a tax on people driving into them. The concept of a 15-minute city, where you can walk or cycle to everything you need within 15 minutes, doesn’t seem to give much thought to the help”.
—Gus Downes, Letter to the EditorThe Economist, March 11, 2023

“The same benefits of exurban living also appeal to minorities. Over the past decade, some 96% of all suburban growth was among racial minorities. In the 50 largest U.S. metro areas, 44% of residents live in racially and ethnically diverse suburbs where non-whites make up between 20% and 60% of the population. Hispanic and other immigrant families tend to seek out such places, just as primarily Anglo buyers did during the Levittown era.”
—Joel Kotkin, “Ex-Urbia: The Post-Urban Future of Cities,” The American Mind, March 21, 2023
“I strongly object to the word ‘vision.’ Vision is personal. An artist has a vision, a philosopher has a vision, a prophet has a vision. Fine. A mayor to me has to be a good janitor. If you have a vision, that means that other people do not have vision. I believe that the individual entrepreneurs or workers in a city all have a vision. And this is legitimate. But the mayor himself, he’s just there to provide the infrastructure which supports the vision of those individuals—he should not have the vision himself, and is not the prophet. He is not elected to impose his vision on other people. . . . So take this example of a janitor. A good janitor knows when the heater has to be replaced, when the elevator needs to be maintained, and whether it’s time to do the roof again. And that’s the role of the mayor. The mayor has to recognize that it’s the inhabitants who created the wealth of the city. It’s not him or some genius guy.”
—Alain Bertaud, author of Order Without Design, New York University Marron Institute Newsletter, March 8, 2023

» return to top