Toll roads at one point appeared to be unstoppable. Steady growth in traffic yielded rapidly rising profits, especially for pioneers in the field such as Australia’s Macquarie Bank where executives became so rich from deals that included the leasing of US roads that it was dubbed the “millionaires’ factory.” That all changed when the recession took hold and motorists scaled back on the mileage driven each year. Losses began to mount, and as a report released last week by Fitch Ratings argues, the dynamics for tolling may not improve in the near future.
“Fitch tracks data on toll roads, bridges, and tunnels across its ratings portfolio,” Fitch analysts wrote in the report, Downshifting: US Transportation Reacts as GDP Growth Flattens. “Traffic declined year over year as much as 10 percent during the Great Recession. Sustained positive growth in traffic commenced in February 2010. The most recent Fitch data indicates that growth in traffic volumes began slowly declining on tolled facilities, heading to zero growth in second-quarter 2011.”
Colliers International has come out with its 2011 parking survey results for North America [PDF] and the world [PDF], and you might be surprised by what people pay on average to let their car sit somewhere. The global expensive parking crown (on a monthly basis) goes to London’s West End, which runs a cool $1,014 per month… by comparison, the US average is $155.22 per month. On a daily basis, Copenhagen takes the cake with $73.11, with the highest daily rate in the US coming to $41 per day in Midtown Manhattan. Puts things into perspective, doesn’t it?
A study released earlier this month by the Cascade Policy Institute questioned whether pricey mass transit options in Portland, Oregon are really being used by the public. The city has been a leader in securing funding for various forms of passenger rail and trolley systems. The Obama administration, for example, pledged $745 million in federal gas tax dollars to pay for the construction of a $1.5 billion, 7.3 mile light rail project connecting Portland to Milwaukie. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has singled out the city’s priorities as for praise.
“By adding innovative transit opportunities, Portland has become a model livable community, a city where public transportation brings housing closer to jobs, schools, and essential services,” LaHood wrote in March.
One of President Obama’s signature achievements, passage of $812 billion in stimulus funds at the height of the recession, was labeled a failure by the chairman of the US House Transportation Committee, which had jurisdiction over about eight percent of the projects funded. In a hearing yesterday, Representative John Mica (R-Florida) explained that the money did not end up going to needed infrastructure projects.
“This will go down in history as one of the greatest failures of a government program to stimulate the economy that mankind has ever created,” Mica said. “This is a trillion-dollar lesson.”
When Better Place launched their Visitor Center in Tel Aviv, the attending journalists’ fingers couldn’t keep up with all the numbers and the promises flogged by the company chiefs: tens of battery switch stations to be built, hundreds of charging stations to be deployed and a thousand cars to be sold to Israeli customers each month.
Just over a year has passed since these statements made air, and in typical Israeli fashion – most of the goals were not met. Despite promising to begin delivery of cars in the beginning of 2011, Better Place has not sold a single car over the four months that passed since New Year’s Eve. And the number of battery switch stations built in Israel was – you guessed it – exactly zero. Until now.
Good news! Google Maps will now point you to the nearest “electric car charging station” if you search for same, reports CR.
[Google] is working with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which is developing a database of available charging stations (known as EVSEs, or electric vehicle supply equipment) around the United States. Installers of EVSEs have the option of having their stations displayed as public. When we were charging the Nissan Leaf at our facility, not a public venue, our chargers showed up on the Leaf’s navigation system; The navi in the Leaf is designed to remember sites at which it had been charged.
The bad news? Well, just look at that map. Unless you live in California, you don’t need Google to tell you where the nearest charging station is, you need a clairvoyant to tell you where one might someday be built. If you’re still struggling to understand why EVs need to be tested on a local level before the federal government spends more money subsidizing them on a national level, look no further. [UPDATE: The screen grab above is not comprehensive. Surf over Google Maps for a closer look at EV charging stations in your area]
For most Americans, the appeal of electric vehicles is somewhat blunted by the fact that they tend to be small, European-style hatchbacks rather than large, red-blooded “American-style” sedans. But what if large, rear-drive electric sedans were developed, using battery-swap technology that could allow battery-leasing business models and instant range-extension? Might Americans rethink a few of their long-held stereotypes about EVs?
Well, the United States isn’t the only nation facing this dilemma, and unlike the US, Australia is actually doing something about it. Australian automotive suppliers, Air International, Bosch, Continental and Futuris, have teamed up with Project Better Place to develop seven “proof of concept” Holden Commodore-based rear-drive electric sedans that could be the first of their kind [press release here in PDF] in a joint venture called EV Engineering. The project is part of Australia’s effort to revamp its automotive industry by 2020.
Consulting firm Accenture took a look at a number of EV pilot programs in hopes of gaining some insights into how exactly the rise of plug-in vehicles will change the automotive industry, the refueling infrastructure and the customer experience [full PDF here], and came away with some interesting conclusions. First, the study finds that the market models for plug-ins will vary from region to region. That’s good news for the automakers, as it makes it less likely that they will be forced to comply with standards set by a single firm dominating a global market model. On the other hand, the regional variations in market models (more on the models themselves shortly) will worsen one of the major challenges of plug-in proliferation, namely scale. The study finds that scale, along with cost and grid control are the three factors that pilot programs can not provide insight into, and all three require “creative” solutions. And here’s where business-as-usual in the car business gets blown wide-open: the business models, rather than the vehicles themselves, are where the real competition is. So, what are the models?
As one of California’s leading bastions of privileged liberalism (2009 per-capita income: $91,483) , Marin County is probably one of the top counties worldwide in terms of EV market potential. But apparently the local government isn’t ready to tap its unique combination of money and idealism to become a leading market for electric cars. Even as Californian EV activists are being forced to install second power meters to separate EV charging from home electricity use in order to take advantage of lower electricity rates for EV charging, the NYT reports that Marin County has banned the use of “smart meters” which would allow more widespread EV adoption.
Smart meters, which communicate electricity use wirelessly to the power company would allow EV charging to be easily separated from home use, but they also raise a number of issues that Marin County simply doesn’t want to have to deal with. Privacy, health risks from electromagnetic frequency radiation, and radio communication interruptions are all cited in the Marin County ordinance [PDF here] which bans installation of the smart meters in unincorporated areas of the county. The upside for EV enthusiasts is that this affects on 70k of the county’s 260k residents… but again, knowing Marin County, the county’s numerous rural mansions are probably a huge part of its potential base of EV support. And the towns of Fairfax and Watsonville have already banned smart readers, as has Santa Cruz County, another prime EV market. Time to start rethinking those running costs?