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January 07, 2013


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Liked your "Baby Steps" piece from the Front Page.

Thanks, Cal. Got lots of hate on the comments section.

I concur with cal except for that cliched tidbit in the article about "The Limits of Growth" being wrong. The introduction in the first edition (1972) 'predicts' the end of growth within the next one hundred years. It never said anything about an imminent catastrophe. So far the reference scenario (end of growth around the middle of the 21st century) looks pretty good:

Of course "The end of Growth" will be wrong (by degrees). Growth could go on well into the second half of the century. But wrong by how much? It worries me that our relatively good times are, in the end, finite and that such basic facts are lightly dismissed. That's probably something that we have to block out to keep on living. On the other hand I'm comforted by the notion that I won't live to see the worst and that improvements are still possible. Whatever happens in the 22nd century is solely of academic interest to me; theoretical great-great-grandchildren are outside of my purview.

Re the biocluster: it won't come to the fore unless there are strong research universities that can serve as anchors (see Cambridge, MA). Local universities are apparently not there yet.

AWinter, Childs and Diamond are back with new books on the subject. I am holding off until I can get a used copy.

I agree on the biocluster, I think it is doomed. Downtown will just be an ASU extension.

Regarding our ancestors I think in terms of minimal resource use so they will have some degree of comfort until they can lift off and leave earth to the dogs and robots, "City" by Simak 1946.

I am still in a downsize mode, the Honda Ridgeline goes for trade on a Honda Fit and the 40 foot Motorhome goes for a 28 foot with slide outs of course. How many rooms can one be in at once?

Jon the article was great but I really liked the "conservative Obama" comment and "Americans should be wary of a childlike faith in technology-as-savior."

I may be wrong, but somehow I have a feeling that the brains which would be drawn to a biosciences research area instinctively know that Arizona is a petri dish where knowledge does not grow.

Alkali, heat, arid, hatred, racist. Not a healthy growth environment.

Amen Azreb

Recently, listening to KJZZ, I heard that Phoenix is not likely to become a ‘technology cluster’ on a scale that can compete with Silicon Valley and other cities moving up the coast to Seattle. Phoenix can compete with China and Texas for mid-level manufacturing jobs. However,as others have pointed out, education is the key. Texas bests Arizona in K-12 education.

I came upon this [a href="http://bmander.com/dotmap/index.html"]Census Dotmap[/a] that shows how population clusters have developed and are developing. It also shows that Phoenix is still fairly isolated.
(I am crossing my fingers that the hyperlink works.)

AWinter, I liked your Smithsonian link.

It is Census Dotmap @ http://bmander.com/dotmap/index.html

Petro, Did I miss something in translation?

One big problem is that Arizona leaders don't understand Texas' strengths (beyond oil, a big one). For example, Texas spends more in incentives to win headquarters relocations and plant expansions than any other state. Its congressional delegation brings home massive amounts of federal money, including research funds for universities and such nodes of excellence as the Texas Medical Center. It also benefits from enormous numbers of federal installations. All this is anathema to Arizona leaders. But the reality is that low taxes and light regulation aren't the key. And just having cheap, easy-to-fire labor isn't enough in the era of globalization.

Oh, I see what you did, Suzanne. You have to use the "<" and ">" symbols rather than the "[" and "]". I just had to substitute them or it wouldn't have shown up in the example I gave (they're "special" HTML characters.)

We should not forget the cultural and political motives behind the opposition. I remember a colleague rising to speak against this initiative on the floor of the legislature. He said that a bioscience campus would attract undesirables to the state, namely, people who were "opposed to the capitalist system," by which, I assume he meant well educated scientists and engineers who would be less likely to support conservative Republicans.

The man who said this is now our Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Wow - interesting, Tom P.

Did someone mention Alta Academy?

The battle to boost the biosciences as part of a more diverse Arizona economic revival also fell victim to the schism that was beginning in the GOP leadership ranks; it should not be overlooked. It was a GOP mayor (Rimsza) and governor (Hull) who asserted initial leadership; Napolitano and later Phil Gordon carried the initiative further. Napolitano made a bipartisan effort, adding GOP legislators. Business leaders from Tucson, Phoenix and Flagstaff also championed it. The "no government" GOP schism forced the halt/slow down, and they now dominate government decision making in Arizona.

Excellent point, John.

Re hate comments on Baby Steps: it's amazing how similar "Copernicus", "modestguy1", and "earthscience" sound: the same tone and type of ad hominem, the same crazy assertions backed up by kook-links, and so forth. If I had time I could do a number on these guys. Unfortunately, I seem to have less and less; and the thread closed after 72 hours anyway.

The guy who posted reams of info about intercity buses said that they are the fastest growing mode of intercity transportation, that they reduce fuel consumption by about 11 million gallons per year, and that they're four times as fuel efficient as private automobiles and commercial airplanes.

In a breathtaking example of non-sequitur, he then asserts that intercity buses are more energy efficient than passenger rail. But none of the aforementioned claims -- even assuming them to be 100% accurate -- have the slightest bearing on the energy efficiency of passenger rail.

Intercity buses are growing faster than rail and planes because plane service is already saturated and both planes and rail are expensive combined to the price of buses. Buses reduce fuel consumption (over private autos) because they allow ride-sharing; that they are more efficient than private autos and planes is no surprise but again, not relevant to passenger rail.

Emil, it would have been delicious to see you "do a number" on them.

Emil, it would have been delicious to see you "do a number" on them.

For what it's worth, here's an energy-efficiency comparison for different types of transport, taken from Jeffrey S. Deffeyes' 2010 book When Oil Peaked.

The thing that makes this list interesting is the measure: the number of miles a ton of payload is carried by a ton of fuel.

In this context, "payload" specifically excludes the fuel burned by the vehicle to move itself:

Concorde SST: 467 miles

Learjet business jet: 3,400

18-wheel tractor-trailer: 18,500

Freight-train: 63,000

Canal or river barge: 160,000

Oil tanker @ 16 knots: 1,000,000

Container vessel: @ 13 kts: 1,300,000

Inasmuch as these figures come from various sources, they are no doubt averages.

Obviously, it takes a lot of fuel to make heavy things fly, because one is fighting gravity as well as (air) friction.

A freight train is more efficient than an 18-wheeler because there is less friction using up the fuel-energy (which means that more fuel-energy is available to be used to produce motion):

"A turning steel wheel in contact with a steel rail reduces by 85-99% the amount of rolling friction that a rolling rubber truck tire has in contact with an asphalt or concrete pavement."


River or canal barges are more energy efficient than freight trains because friction is reduced still more by buoyancy and by the fact that a liquid medium offers less resistance than a solid one.

As for why oil tankers and container ships are more efficient still, I would imagine that it takes more energy to get a heavy ship going but once it is going it tends to coast on its own momentum more and less energy is needed to keep it going: this is because, unlike on land where friction increases proportionally to weight, in water friction increases slower than momentum with an increase in weight, at least, up to a point which these types of vessels don't reach. They are also designed to weigh as little as possible themselves for the payloads they are designed to carry (unlike, say, aircraft carriers).

Obviously an intercity passenger train (same principle, different payload) is going to be more efficient than an intercity bus (compare to 18-wheeler).

P.S. The "Steel Wheels or Rubber Tires?" Web page linked to above contains a goodly amount of additional information explaining why trains are more efficient than road vehicles.

Also, some of its imbedded links are worth looking into for those interested in the details. This link contains a table showing the coefficient of rolling friction for various types of wheels (car, truck, train):


Also from the Steel Wheels website:

The relatively modest energy required to electrify and expand the railroads, the 20 to 1 improvement in energy efficiency and the long life of the infrastructure gives some truly astounding energy saved on energy invested (ESoEI) numbers. Some rough calculations show ESoEI can approach 1,000 to 1.

As the supply of energy becomes a growing problem, getting close to a 1,000 to 1 payback, or even a 50 or 20 to 1 return, will become essential economic strategies. By comparison, boiling tar out of sand has about a 4 to 1 energy returned on energy invested (ERoEI) and corn ethanol has less than 2 to 1 ERoEI return.


Ask warren buffet

I agree, Emil would have been deliciously piquant.

Great ERoEI data, Emil.

I ate a piquant once. Surprisingly, the green ones are hotter than the red ones.

However did you realize that, eating only one, once?


Can we talk about global warming so that I can warm up?

I came across a second, also informative site about rail, which included some information about the energy efficiency of rail vs. road vehicles, but also differentiated between freight and passenger trains.

The author agrees that freight trains are several times more energy efficient than trucks (numerous reasons given).

Regarding passenger trains, the author writes that "streamlined passenger trains operating on the surface (and not underground where aerodynamic drag is higher) at moderate speeds with fewer stops can be much more energy efficient than the auto", citing especially the higher energy efficiency of some European passenger trains.

However, he notes that "long distance passenger trains tend to weigh much more per seat than the auto, since they provide each passenger more space".

He also writes that "autos use waste heat from the engine for heating while passenger trains often use inefficient electric heat" and that "the percentage of seats occupied on trains is less than many people think, often under 50%".

He adds that "commuter trains taking people to work have more seats and thus weigh less per seat but waste energy by making frequent stops."

Averaging all of this, he concludes that in the United States (as opposed to Europe) at present, passenger trains are "only somewhat more energy efficient than the automobile", though "during WW II diesel passenger trains got about 100 passenger-miles per gallon".

See Section 8.2:


Apparently, simply increasing the percentage of filled seats can make passenger trains more energy efficient. (Why?) It would be interesting to know the magnitude of this factor in efficiency calculations, since this is not intrinsic to the mode of transportation itself. To the extent that this applies to cars the prevalance of single-occupancy driving should also be noted.

Of course, automobiles stop and start a lot, but stopping and starting a heavy object like a train is not especially energy efficient whatever the advantages once they are moving at constant or near-constant speed.

The consensus opinion thus far seems to be that freight trains are far more energy efficient than trucking, and that passenger trains range from "somewhat more energy efficient" to "much more energy efficient" than automobiles depending on design and circumstances.

Question about something I see on a regular basis:

What is the energy efficiency of a twenty ton city bus with ONE PASSENGER?

Or a double trailer bus with no Passengers. I see these regularly.
Why not more small buses? And who owns the bus companies.

Where does one see double-trailer buses with no passengers, except perhaps the garage?

They need more double-length buses, on high occupancy routes. Try riding a single-length Route 27 bus in Phoenix in late afternoon or early evening, if you can. It's packed like sardines from Camelback (or earlier) north to the transit center at Metro Center; standing room only and often precious little of that.

As for who owns the bus companies, that would depend on which bus service: charter, line, city (and if so which city), etc..

The way to perform a proper energy efficiency comparison between modes of transportation is to stick to intrinsic factors. Extrinsic factors such as the average percentage of filled seats are going to be determined by such things as route design and frequency, hub placement, fare structures, and so forth -- all important, but not relevant to the question of whether trains or buses are more efficient than private automobiles.

By contrast, the number of seats filled in the average private automobile IS relevant, because that is not something that can be influenced by rational policy decisions but only by individual car owners on a case by case basis.

If the bus or train has a seated capacity of N then how many private autos of average size and average occupancy does it take to transport the same number of passengers the same distance? Once you know that, you compare the energy used by the train or bus with that used by the equivalent number of private cars.

Obviously, one can and should do nuanced comparisons beyond this, but only as a secondary issue relevant to such things as ride-sharing in private vehicles. If average private auto ridership was higher, how would this affect energy efficiency comparisons? Similarly, if mass transit ridership is below what rational transit policies would produce, how much energy is being wasted and what can be done to improve ridership?

I am for buses, efficiently routed.
I have been riding buses since 54.
As a cop I rode the bus to work at the police building at 7th avenue and Washington from 31st avenue and Thunderbird most every day
When I was president of the police union in 75 I asked for free bus passes for all city of Phoenix employees. The city at the time decided to give passes to Cops, fire fighters and federal postal employees. I havent checked lately but I believe city employees are entitled to discounted rides on buses.

Re ownership, I guess I am just not clear enough. Research who owns bus companies and we may find where Jimmy Hoffa was buried.

"And for fun one can read, "I
hear you paint houses" by Charles Brandt

It is my understanding that each city in metro Phoenix owns the buses and Veolia Transportation (headquartered in Paris, France; North American division is in Illinois) operates them. I didn't know Veolia was a French company until I was in France last year and saw the company logo on some light rail train operators(in Lyon).

Hoffa sleeps with the fishes

Veolia, follow the money.

PS when I didnt ride the bus, I rode my Honda 90 or my bicycle until they gave me a take home car

Veolia will be divesting ≈ €5bn in certain segments of the transport business (Veolia Transport, which is their North American division). European regulations are often more stringent than here in the U.S.

I'm not sure there is anything juicy to follow...maybe you have the scoop Cal?

"The French Connection" you probably didnt see the movie. dont bother its about like the Mad Max, but I liked it.

phxsunfan, a few minutes and you can find a start. I suggest you at least read the introduction to the first link below. Veolia is not just a transportation company but water, waste management and environmental corp with a corrupt start under a different name in France and is consider by some to be complicit in war crimes.






Thanks for the info Cal. I know about Vivendi and instances when EU regulators came down pretty hard on them for their accounting practices and for virtually having a monopoly in certain markets. Before the EU had any real regulatory powers there were many European firms (especially Italian and Spanish) guilty of shady practices and corruption (it is harder for them to get away with it now).

It looks like the reputation remained with Veolia for some time. Thanks for the additional background on their history.

I am always weary about private companies taking over for governments when it comes to public services. It is beneficial to the city that the light rail isn't operated by Veolia. Metro Light Rail was able to quickly resolve employee disputes whereas the Veolia negotiations were not. Private companies are only interested in profit making and have no qualms about reducing services; not a good combination for public services.

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