Watching the morning news shows today and it has been mentioned several times that the best run and largest supplier of vehicles in the world, Toyota, has not made a profit on the Prius! And of course many who are anti-green are chomping at the bit to mention this news, as hybrids and fuel efficient cars have been heralded by Schumer, Obama and others as the way out of the red abyss for the Big 3. So hold this thought a moment while a throw something else out there. I also heard in my morning fog before coffee saturated synapses began to fire that electric cars like the Volt will be the solution to our economic and environmental problems. Now hold on to these two sentiments as I throw one more at you. The Big Government spending plan coming in 2009 can’t get more than 100 Billion spent in the first year, and so many morning financial folks were favoring tax breaks as opposed to spending as stimulus, but the real issue in terms of stimulus is this, infrastructure. Infrastructure is being touted as the way for the Big Government to get its economy back ie tax revenues. But by infrastructure what they say is a means of adding value is to expand roads, highways, and bridges. There will likely be money for repairs, and likely money for sidewalks and transit. But what the proponents mean is spending projects on 20th Century infrastructure! Okay, so lets surmise here: fuel efficient cars are still not profitable and have other external costs to the environment such as the caustic process by which the batteries are made,and since we tax per gallon fuel, these cars pay less into the infrastructure pot; and of what infrastructure we we plan for it will be more of the same- roads, bridges and highways.
Might I humbly suggest that:
1. Big Government should use its purchasing power (government fleet vehicles) to demand the kind of vehicles it says we should have to improve the profitability and economy of scale for the Big 3.
2. Currently GM is a big player in Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), we could be truly innovative in improving the transportation infrastructure from static and dumb to dynamic and smarter infrastructure that can improve traffic management, safety, and level of service (LOS).
3. Tax the sale of less fuel efficient cars/trucks to compensate for the external costs that are hard to capture through other means such as gas taxes.
4. Recoup much revenue by only allowing gas taxes to go into the Federal Highway Fund, rather than being a way to subsidize other government programs and agencies.
5. Automobiles (independent mobility) are not the only way to get people and goods around, the government could look to lead innovation in how we get people and goods around the country and be a model for states, we can work with he Big 3 and other manufacturers to accomplish this. Things to consider might be having high speed regional rail service, Personal Rapid Transit (PRT),and Rapid buses– all which requires technology and manufacturing and we could capitalize on our nation’s strengths while meeting transportation challenges.
One last thought, maybe we should plan our way out of the need for so many automobiles? Don’t get me wrong, I love my 69 Beetle and my Jeep, but I also hate commuting by car, enjoy walking and riding my bike. Anecdotaly I’ve noticed for myself (having grown up in Houston, lived in Phoenix, LA, and DFW) and others that once exposed to a lifestyle not completely dependent on automobiles (SF and Berkeley, although parts of Houston and DFW may qualify) that there are many advantages. The focus on innovation should be how to maximize the infrastructure we have (not to mention fix what is broke or breaking, would you add another room to your house if the foundation was cracked?), how to develop in a way that does not induce the demand for more of the same old infrastructure, American’s value choice and freedom, I have come to value the modal choice and freedom that came with living in places that allowed me to choose my mode of transport whether it was walking, biking, subway, bus, train, or my car. There is a value to having choice and an opportunity for entrepreneurs to innovate. But transportation can not be viewed as a separate system, but must be viewed as a part of a larger whole that also includes land use, environment, the economy, etc. Obama says he will bring change, so far it seems a little too much BAU.
It occurs to me that some might not get the reference to the right turn at Albuquerque, this is a Bugs Bunny reference for when he chases the Matador but loses sight of him and he thinks he’s gone the wrong way (he went right instead of left, no political connection is intended, implied or even applicable)