Friday, December 17, 2010

Some Milestones

This past week has been one for milestones, especially in transportation.

To begin with, there was the first delivery of a Nissan Leaf to a customer in Redwood City, California. The Leaf is the first mass produced electric car which is priced for the average person, around $33 thousand a pop but with state and federal rebates the final cost is about $20K. I have discussed electric autos before and I still believe that the controversy of “range anxiety” will still cause some folks to hesitate on such autos. Eighty miles on an 8 hour charge just doesn’t seem like a lot.

The new owner, a west coast tech guy, had a charging outlet installed in his garage last Friday after he was informed that he was chosen to be the initial owner. Not bad for a first car although he has some experience with electric bikes and his commute is only about twenty miles round trip.

Then came the delivery of the first Chevy Volt. This car is not totally electric since it has a gasoline engine to assist when the battery pack runs out. The Volt has an estimated range of 40 miles, about half that of the Leaf, on a full 8 hour charge and is best re-charged from a 220-volt outlet for that length of time. I somehow see that as slow cooking a roast in the oven EVERY night in addition to the regular cooking and HVAC usage. I am not sure that my KU budget can stand that.

The first owner here, came on the other side of the country - in New Jersey. In this case, the buyer is a retired airline pilot who traded in an older Prius for the Volt. After a career behind the controls of, what I consider a very inefficient travel mode, he appears to save the planet by driving more fuel efficient vehicles. The cost of the Volt runs a bit higher than the Leaf at approximately $41 thousand (or $34.5K after rebates) and charging from a regular household outlet will take much longer.

Our new owner of the Volt did interrupt his trip to Florida to fly back home so that he could take delivery, but then he left it at the dealer’s lot and flew back to Florida for the rest of his vacation. So much for his save the planet attitude.

Then we come to the 10th anniversary of America’s “high speed” rail, the Acela.

Amtrak’s attempt at high speed train travel is still going strong despite the efforts of previous administrations to gut both Acela and Amtrak. The Acela service has survived and even become quite popular as an alternative to both I-95 and flying in the Northeast Corridor. They have carried more than 3.2 million passengers in fiscal 2010 and rider-ship is up substantially in the past five years. It will be interesting to see what they figures do with increasing animosity toward TSA screenings at airports.

Acela’s passengers have generally welcomed the possibility of faster service with some hoping for similar service to Japan or Europe. In this business world, time is money and traveling from downtown to downtown by rail(particularly with real high speed rail) will be done nearly as fast as airport to airport is today. Amtrak has now captured 55 percent of the Boston-New York air-rail market now that the electrification, long delayed by the Reagan and Bush(I) White Houses, was completed in 1999.

Paul Krugman recently noted that it has become obvious that America, once the nation of builders, now cannot build those projects of heroic infrastructure any more. The average age of our “Capital Stock” (our structures, equipment and software) is rising, modestly in the Residential and Non-Residential elements but drastically in the Government items. Our highways and Interstates (Government) are decaying as are our railroads (Non-Residential) just not at the same rate. Our bridges and tunnels need replacing but we claim that it is too expensive.

I wonder where we will be on Acela's 20th anniversary.

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