Combating Climate Change With Free Busing

Ideas worth trying to tackle the extremely relevant problem of climate change.

We are clearly going to have to change much about our lives if we are going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by enough to save the planet. We can and should look for technical fixes like more fuel efficient cars and increased used of solar and wind energy, but it is not likely that these fixes can be adopted quickly enough to prevent lasting damage to the environment. We will also have to change the way we do lots of things.

One obvious target is commuting. We burn an enormous amount of oil in the process of getting to and from work. Part of this story is rush hour traffic, which causes people to burn fuel sitting in their idling cars, especially in the summer months when they have their air conditioners running.

There are some fairly simple ways to combat this congestion. For example, we could have congestion pricing, which would charge people for driving into city centers in the middle day. This is a Milton Friedman idea that was put into practice by London’s left-wing mayor, Ken Livingston.

A second way to reduce congestion is to try to smooth out the flow of traffic over the work day, by encouraging employers to have flexible work hours. A modest tax credit may go a long way in this regards. After all, a 9 to 5 work day is a norm, not a matter of religious conviction.

The same story would apply to four-day work weeks. Suppose companies switched to four-day work weeks, with workers putting in 9 or 10 hour days, instead of the current standard five-day work week. This would reduce commuting by 20 percent, with the reduction in gas use being even larger since it would also reduce congestion.

But in addition to these actions, we should look to more mechanisms to get people out of their cars and to instead take advantage of more efficient modes of transportation. Most progressives will quickly sign on to mass transit, but this generally means subways or light rails. These modes of transportation have the serious disadvantage that, they tend to be both very expensive and that they take a long time to get up and running. The light rail approved in 2019 is likely to still be under construction in 2029. That is not a good story if the goal is a near-term reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

There is a simple, quick, and cheap alternative. It’s called a “bus.” For some reasons, busses don’t seem to feature prominently on the mass transit agenda. I have never been quite able to figure that one out. Perhaps it’s one of the many cases where the answer is too simple to be taken seriously.

It wouldn’t cost a lot of money or take very much time to get more busses on the road. Currently, we manufacture around 5,000 passenger busses a year. I suspect that number could be increased rapidly, if there was demand. We could also import busses from foreign manufacturers.

Of course many city busses now travel half empty. This both makes the cost per trip expensive and raises the obvious question as to what good having more busses would do if they are already hugely underutilized?

This is where having free bus transportation would make a big difference. If people had the option of taking a free bus, as opposed to driving to work and paying for gas, insurance, and parking, many more would opt to take the bus. We could even try to make busses more attractive by doing things like having more bus only lanes, that would allow them to pass other traffic. We could even follow an example used in other countries, where traffic lights are set to adjust so that busses will have green lights when they approach.

But even if these measures sound too expensive and/or exotic, simply making bus rides free should hasten their rate of travel considerably. We would no longer have to wait for people to fumble with their money or transit cards, or deal with card readers that don’t want to read. They would just hop on and off the bus.

Would free busses break the bank? To take one example, the Chicago Transit Authority, which serves the whole metropolitan area of 9.5 million, gets a bit less than $300 million a year from its bus fares. This means that replacing current passenger revenue would require annual tax revenue of a bit more than $30 per person.

Of course this would go up if we envisioned ridership doubling or even tripling. But there would also be savings if the bus system no longer had to deal with cash or issuing and reading fare cards. And, the cost increase would be nowhere near proportionate to the increase in ridership, since it costs little more to operate a full passenger bus than one that is nearly empty.

When comparing policies to deal with global warming, free bus fares has to rank near the top in yield per dollar. It would also have the great advantage of reducing other pollutants in the air in major cities. Gasoline is much cleaner than it was five decades ago, but the less we burn of it the better.

In addition, taking cars off the road is also going to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities in car accidents. Yeah, driverless cars will do this too, but that is not going to be next year. In fact, with average insurance cost per car close to $1,000 a year, the typical driver may save enough on their insurance to more than compensate for the taxes needed to pay for free bus fare. (We could also start pushing pay by the mile auto insurance, but that is another story.)

And, free bus travel can be phased in, just to see how people respond. We can have free travel days where the city announces that Tuesdays or some other day of the week will be free. We can also do it by route, where some bus routes are free, while people still have to pay regular fare on others.

Free bus travel is only one part of what we will have to do to limit greenhouse gas emissions, but it is a simple step that could in principle be quickly implemented. It should rank high on the agenda for folks who care about saving the planet.

First Electrified Road for Charging Vehicles is Now Open in Sweden

An amazing innovation that should be deployed much more broadly to drastically reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

The world’s first electrified road that recharges the batteries of cars and trucks driving on it has been opened in Sweden.

About 2km (1.2 miles) of electric rail has been embedded in a public road near Stockholm, but the government’s roads agency has already drafted a national map for future expansion.

Sweden’s target of achieving independence from fossil fuel by 2030 requires a 70% reduction in the transport sector.

The technology behind the electrification of the road linking Stockholm Arlanda airport to a logistics site outside the capital city aims to solve the thorny problems of keeping electric vehicles charged, and the manufacture of their batteries affordable.

Energy is transferred from two tracks of rail in the road via a movable arm attached to the bottom of a vehicle. The design is not dissimilar to that of a Scalextric track, although should the vehicle overtake, the arm is automatically disconnected.

Hans Säll, chief executive of the eRoadArlanda consortium behind the project, said both current vehicles and roadways could be adapted to take advantage of the technology.

In Sweden there are roughly half a million kilometres of roadway, of which 20,000km are highways, Säll said.

“If we electrify 20,000km of highways that will definitely be be enough,” he added. “The distance between two highways is never more than 45km and electric cars can already travel that distance without needing to be recharged. Some believe it would be enough to electrify 5,000km.”

At a cost of €1m per kilometre, the cost of electrification is said to be 50 times lower than that required to construct an urban tram line.

Säll said: “There is no electricity on the surface. There are two tracks, just like an outlet in the wall. Five or six centimetres down is where the electricity is. But if you flood the road with salt water then we have found that the electricity level at the surface is just one volt. You could walk on it barefoot.”

National grids are increasingly moving away from coal and oil and battery storage is seen as crucial to a changing the source of the energy used in transportation.

Boeing 757 Hacked, Shows That Airplanes Can be Vulnerable to Hacking

Well, this is a news item that has flown under the radar. It shows the world why we need stronger computer security though — more and more is vulnerable as the role of technology expands in modern times.

A team of government, industry and academic officials successfully demonstrated that a commercial aircraft could be remotely hacked in a non-laboratory setting last year, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official said Wednesday at the 2017 CyberSat Summit in Tysons Corner, Virginia.

“We got the airplane on Sept. 19, 2016. Two days later, I was successful in accomplishing a remote, non-cooperative, penetration,” said Robert Hickey, aviation program manager within the Cyber Security Division of the DHS Science and Technology (S&T) Directorate.

“[Which] means I didn’t have anybody touching the airplane, I didn’t have an insider threat. I stood off using typical stuff that could get through security and we were able to establish a presence on the systems of the aircraft.” Hickey said the details of the hack and the work his team are doing are classified, but said they accessed the aircraft’s systems through radio frequency communications, adding that, based on the RF configuration of most aircraft, “you can come to grips pretty quickly where we went” on the aircraft.

[…]

Hickey, who is a staff officer in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence on assignment to DHS S&T, said that while aviation is a subsector of the transportation component of the National Infrastructure Protection Plan, the focus is squarely on traditional terrestrial-based systems. The reservation and scheduling systems of airline aren’t part of Hickey’s research, he said.

“I want to suggest to you that there’s a different type of critical infrastructure, and that’s critical infrastructure that’s in motion, of which aviation is one of the third of that,” Hickey said. The others are surface and maritime transportation, he said.

“And I look at all of those and say, ‘If we’re not looking at those from a different perspective, we’re going to miss the boat,’ no pun intended,” Hickey said. He said he doesn’t know the answers yet for aircraft cyber infrastructure, adding that it’s not a policy issue yet because more research needs to be done on these systems to understand what the issues are. Patching avionics subsystem on every aircraft when a vulnerability is discovered is cost prohibitive, Hickey said.

The cost to change one line of code on a piece of avionics equipment is $1 million, and it takes a year to implement. For Southwest Airlines, whose fleet is based on Boeing’s 737, it would “bankrupt” them if a cyber vulnerability was specific to systems on board 737s, he said, adding that other airlines that fly 737s would also see their earnings hurt. Hickey said newer models of 737s and other aircraft, like Boeing’s 787 and the Airbus Group A350, have been designed with security in mind, but that legacy aircraft, which make up more than 90% of the commercial planes in the sky, don’t have these protections.

Aircraft also represent different challenges for cybersecurity and traditional land-based networks, Hickey said. He said that whether it’s the U.S. Air Force or the commercial sector, there are no maintenance crews that can deal with ferreting out cyber threats aboard an aircraft.

“They don’t exist in the maintenance world,” Hickey said, noting that when he was in the Air Force, he commanded a logistics group. Hickey was also an airline pilot for more than 20 years. The chief information officers of airlines “don’t know how to chase a cyber spark through an airplane either,” Hickey said. “Why? Because they have been dealing with, and they’re programmed to, and they do a great job of, protecting the terrestrial-based networks. Airplanes are absolutely different — crazy different.”