Sunday, March 26, 2017

Electric Cars Are Getting Cheaper

A portion of the Ioniq EV's profile on fueleconomy.gov

136 miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe).  That's the combined fuel economy rating of the 2017 Hyundai Ioniq EV (electric vehicle), the most efficient car rated by the EPA on fueleconomy.gov.  Needless to say, that fuel economy rating is off the charts, making my 2015 Prius (48 MPG) look like a Hummer by comparison.  Although, to be fair, the Prius clobbers the average US light-duty vehicle fuel economy of 21.4 MPG.

Even more impressive are two basic facts: 1) the Ioniq EV has a manufacturer's suggested retail price (MSRP) of $30,000, before tax credits, and 2) it isn't alone.  Several other extreme achievers on fuel economy have MSRPs under thirty grand, meaning they are in the financial reach of a wide range of consumers.  These vehicles include the 2016 Chevy Spark EV (119 MPGe, $25,120+), the 2017 Volkswagen e-Golf (119 MPGe, $28,995+), the 2017 Nissan Leaf (114 MPGe, $29,010) and more.  No need to wait for a cheap Tesla.  Relatively affordable electric cars are on the market today.

I'm really happy about this, even though I'm an urbanist, and I want people to rely on cars less, extremely efficient or not.  The reasons are simple.  More efficient cars and electric drive in particular have the potential to slash air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, particularly in states like California that have aggressive renewable portfolio standards for our electricity generation (minimum 50% by 2030).  This is great news for anyone who lives in a place like Greater Los Angeles and has been breathing sub-optimal air for a long time, and for anyone who cares about having a stable climate for generations to come.

That said, even with lower prices, there are significant barriers to using an electric car.  You'll be hard-pressed to find a charging station unless you own your home (no easy task in many cities) and can charge where you park.  The initial cost is still higher than that of a comparable gasoline vehicle.  The affordable EVs available are limited to small and mid-sized cars (and hence not SUVs and trucks, which are very popular).  There are many plug-in hybrids that are starting to address these issues at affordable prices today, with slightly less stratospheric, but still extremely respectable fuel economy.

We need all solutions on deck.  Extremely efficient cars will only enhance cities that should still strive to be more friendly to people walking, biking and using transit, transportation modes that have been outperforming the efficiency of all cars since the dawn of the automobile.

¿Son justas las tarifas de Metro LA?

Tomámonos unos minutos para pensar en la estructura de tarifas de Metro, el proveedor más grande de transporte público del Condado de Los Ángeles.  Hay cuatro juegos de precios: 1) el precio regular de adultos, y tarifas reducidas para 2) los ancianos, de edad 62 o mayor, los discapacitados y gente usando Medicare 3) estudiantes de estudios superiores y 4) estudiantes hasta las escuelas secundarias.  Además, hay unos descuentos basados en ingresos y geografía a través de los programas Alivio de Pasajeros, Necesidades Inmediatas, Subsidio de Transporte Publico del Condado de LA, y unos programas locales.

Quiero enfocar en las tarifas regulares, ya que estas tarifas son los mismos para mí con mi coche y mi trabajo de clase media, y para los que son pobres, no pueden comprar un coche y usan transporte público mucho más que yo.  Para gente "regular" como nosotros, el precio de un viaje es $1.75, que incluye dos horas de transbordos gratis en otras líneas del sistema.  El precio de un boleto ("mensual") de 30 días es $100.  Haciendo un poco de matemáticas, el boleto mensual sería un ahorro de dinero si usarías el transporte público en tal manera que habrías usado por lo menos 58 boletos de ida durante ese tiempo, un promedio de 1.9 boletos de ida cada día.

¿Para quién es el boleto mensual una buena inversión?  Para los que usan transporte público mucho.  Personas que van a trabajar cada día en transporte público y lo usan en sus días libres.  Aun con una ida y vuelta cada día ahorrarías solo $5 cada mes con el boleto mensual.

Según las investigaciones de Metro, el usuario promedio del sistema in 2015 tuvo un ingreso mucho más bajo que el ingreso promedio de un hogar en el Condado de LA ($14,876 para usuarios de autobuses y $19,374 para usuarios de trenes, en comparación con un promedio de $55,909).  En otras palabras, usuarios de transporte público, y en particular los autobuses, típicamente son pobres.

Esto me regresa a la idea de que no parece justo que mi tarifa como alguien con más dinero y que usa el sistema a veces es básicamente lo mismo que alguien que usa el sistema todos los días y compra un boleto mensual.  ¿Pues, que es la solución?  Digo que debemos dar los usuarios principales de transporte público un alivio por hacer sus boletos mensuales más baratos, y para pagarlo, subir el costo de una tarifa de ida.  Pues, la gente como yo ayudan a los pobres que necesitan ayuda.  Esto sugiere un tópico interesante.  ¿Qué es el propósito principal del transporte público?  ¿Es reduir el tráfico por intentar atraer a gente como yo de nuestros coches, o ofrecer transporte de alta calidad y precios bajos a los que no pueden comprar coches?  Es una pregunta importante, ya que la respuesta de Metro LA parece ser que el problema de tráfico es más importante.  Así se venden las subidas de impuestos por lo menos.  La meta de reducir el tráfico es porque invierten en servicios más rápidos como líneas de ferrocarril, y aparcamientos, y no han tenido temor de subir los precios a veces (para tener dinero para servicio bueno).  Pero quizás el transporte público debe ser principalmente un servicio para ayudar a los pobres.  Con la dependencia de coches obstinadamente alto, a pesar de décadas de inversión en nuevas líneas de ferrocarril, es posible que debemos pensar de nuevo en nuestra estrategia de transporte público.  El uso del sistema ha bajado recientemente, y mientras que esto sin dida es un fenómeno complejo, con muchas causas, una causa puede ser que los pobres necesitan ayuda financiera, particularmente con el costo altíssimo de alojamiento.  Si los pobres no pueden pagar la renta en el Condado de LA, y los pobres son los usuarios principales de transporte público, el uso del sistema debe surfrir como resultado.

Por permitir la subida en tarifas de ida para touristas y los menos pobres funcionar como subsidio para los boletos mensuales, quizás podemos reducir la pobreza y la bajada en uso de transporte público.  Si queremos tomar el próximo paso, podemos parar la inversión de miles de millones de dólares en proyectos de ensanchar carreteras que principalmente son un beneficio para los más adinerados y que compiten con el transporte público (y contribuyen a la contaminación del aire y el calentamiento global), y usar el dinero ahorrado para tarifas más bajas para los usuarios de transporte público.  También es importante que construyamos mucho más alojamiento, asequible y con precios del mercado, cerca de transporte público, para que los pobres tienen una oportunidad de vivir aquí y usar el transporte público en el futuro.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Are LA Metro's Fares Fair?

Let's take a few minutes to think about the fare structure on Metro, Los Angeles County's largest public transportation provider.  There are four sets of prices: 1) the regular adult fare, and reduced fares for 2) seniors aged 62 and up, the disabled and people on Medicare 3) college students and 4) K-12 students.  In addition, there are some special income and geography-based discounts available through the Rider Relief Program, the Immediate Needs Program, the LA County Transit Subsidy Program and some city-specific transit subsidy programs.  While these special programs seem good, they can only help you if you know that they exist.

I'd like to focus on the regular fares, since these fares are the same for myself, with my car and middle-class job, and for people who are poor, can't afford a car and rely on transit much more than I do.  For "regular" people like all of us, the price of a one-way ride is $1.75, which includes two hours of free transfers to other lines in the system.  The price of a 30-day ("monthly") pass is $100.  Doing some math, the monthly pass would save you money if you rode transit in such a way that you would have racked up 58 or more one-way fares during that time, an average of 1.9 one-way fares per day.

Who does the monthly pass make sense for then?  People who ride transit a lot.  People who commute to work every day on transit and ride transit on their days off.  Even if you did one round trip every single day on transit, you'd only save $5 per month with the monthly pass.

According to Metro's own research, the average user of its system in 2015 had a household income well below LA County's median household income ($14,876 for bus riders and $19,374 for rail riders compared to a median household income of $55,909).  In other words, transit riders, particularly bus riders, tend to be poor.

Which brings me back to the idea that it doesn't seem fair that my fare as a relatively well off occasional rider is essentially the same as for someone who rides transit every day and buys a monthly pass.  So, what's the solution?  I say let's give the core riders of transit a break by making their monthly passes cheaper, and to pay for it, let's up the cost of the one-way fare.  Thus, people like me subsidize people who are poor and could use a break on their transit fares.  This gets at an interesting issue.  What is the core purpose of public transit?  Is it to reduce traffic by trying to get people like me out of our cars, or is it to provide high-quality affordable mobility for people who cannot afford cars?  It's not a trivial question, because LA Metro's answer appears to be that traffic reduction is more important.  That's how the sales tax increases are always sold anyway.  The goal of traffic reduction is why they invest in faster services like rail lines, and park and ride lots, and haven't been afraid to raise fares from time to time (to raise money for more convenient service).  But perhaps transit should be primarily about helping the poor.  With car dependency in LA County still stubbornly high, despite decades of investment in new rail lines, it may be time to rethink our transit strategy.  Ridership has fallen recently, and while this is undoubtedly a complex phenomenon with many causes, one cause may be that poor people need a break financially, particularly in light of our soaring housing costs.  If poor people are being priced out of LA County, and poor people disproportionately ride transit, our transit ridership should suffer as a result.

Allowing higher one-way fares for tourists and the relatively well off to subsidize cheaper monthly passes for the poor might be a good first step towards alleviating poverty and reversing the fall in ridership.  If we really wanted to take it a step further, we'd stop spending billions on freeway expansions that primarily benefit wealthier people and compete with transit (and contribute to air pollution, and global warming), and pour the savings into cheaper fares for transit riders.  It is also critical to build a hell of a lot more housing, both affordable and market rate, in proximity to transit, so that poor people actually have a chance to live here and use transit into the future.

El nuevo Jim Crow

Recientemente terminé The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness [El nuevo Jim Crow: encarcelamiento masivo en la edad daltónica] por Michelle Alexander.  Es uno de los libros mejores que he leido en años.  La autora tiene credenciales muy buenas y ha hecho investigaciones extensivas, que están citadas en el libro.  La idea básica es que la guerra contra las drogas ha sido usada como sistema de opresión en contra de gente de color, en particular, los afroamericanos.  Aunque los afroamericanos usan drogas en tasas parecidas a los blancos o la sociedad en general, es mucho más probable que sean arrestados y obtengan récords criminales como resultado de su uso de drogas.  Esto ha conducido a una explosión en la población encarcelada en EE.UU. desde los años setenta.  También ha separado familias, y hecho más difícil para los con atecedentes criminales rejuntarse con la sociedad.  Un récord criminal abre la puerta a muchas formas de discriminación legal, desde negar el empleo, el derecho de votar, la ayuda públca, y el derecho de hacer el servicio de jurado.  Recuerda, esta negación de derechos tiene como blanco los afroamericanos.

Alexander, pone este sistema de opresión racial en su contexto histórico con los otros dos sistemas principales de opresión racial en contra de afroamericanos en la historia estadounidense: la esclavitud, y Jim Crow (la segregación legalizada).  Enfrenta nuestra tendencia de pensar que estamos más allá de la raza y que vivimos en una sociedad daltónica.  Aunque hemos quitado la legitimiadad del racismo manifiesto (gracias al Movimiento de Derechos Civiles de los años cincuenta y sesenta) y afroamericanos individuales han subido a nuevas alturas (por ejemplo Presidente Obama), esto no significa que vivimos en una sociedad sin racismo.  Todavía hay disparidades masivas en nuestra sociedad en cuanto a quien es pobre, quien está encarcelado, y quien no tiene acceso a la buena vida, que tienen enlaces claras a la raza, si tenemos la voluntad de mirar.

Uno de los mensajes más poderosos en el libro es que debemes ser conscientes de la raza, conscientes de nuestra historia, conscientes de las disparidades que todavía existen y listos preocuparse por el apuro de los afroamericanos capturados en la guerra contra las drogas.  Necesitamos dinero para empleos, cuidado médico, alojamiento y educación, no para encarcelar a usuarios de drogas que solo dañan ellos mismos.  Además, necesitamos esas cosas con una conciencia plena de que nuestro sistema de juicio criminal se ha dirigido a la gente por su color, basado en prejuicios conscientes e inconscientes.  Nesecitamos desmantelar este sistema de control racial con una consciencia plena de que SÍ esto se trata de la raza.  De otra manera, estaremos vulnerables a otro sistema de opresión racial que no podemos prever.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

The New Jim Crow

I recently finished The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander.  It's one of the best books I've read in years.  The author has impeccable credentials and has done extensive research, which is fully cited in the book.  The basic idea is that the War on Drugs has been used as a system of oppression against people of color, particularly African Americans.  Although African Americans use drugs at similar rates to whites or society at large, they are much more likely to be arrested and get criminal records as a result of their drug use.  This has led to an explosion in the US prison population since the 1970s.  It has also broken up families, and made it much harder for people with records to re-integrate into mainstream society.  A criminal record opens the door to all kinds of legal discrimination, from denying people employment to denying them voting rights, to denying them public assistance, to denying them the right to serve on juries.  Remember, this denial of rights is targeted at African Americans.

Alexander puts this system of racial oppression in historical context with the other two major systems of racial oppression against African Americans in American history: slavery and Jim Crow (legalized segregation).  She tackles our tendency to think of ourselves as beyond race and as living in a colorblind society.  Although we have de-legitimized overt racism (thanks to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s) and individual black people have risen to new heights (e.g. President Obama), this doesn't mean we live in a post-racial society.  There are still massive disparities in our society in terms of who is poor, who is locked up, and who is locked out of the good life that have clear ties to race, if only we are willing to look.

One of the most powerful messages in the book is we need to be conscious of race, conscious of our history, conscious of the disparities that still exist and willing to care deeply about the plight of African Americans who are caught up in the War on Drugs.  We need money for jobs, health care, housing and education, not for incarcerating drug users who are only harming themselves.  Furthermore, we need these things with a full consciousness that our criminal justice system has targeted people based on race, based on conscious and unconscious biases.  We need to dismantle this system of racial oppression with a full awareness of the fact that this IS about race.  Otherwise, we leave ourselves vulnerable to a new system of racial oppression that we cannot foresee.

Medida H, y las próximas elecciones

El condado de Los Ángeles tuvo una elección Martes 7 de Marzo de 2017 y parece que la Medida H ganó.  Estoy muy a favor de esta medida, que pagará subsidios de alojameinto y servicios para los antes desamparados.  El ensayito original que escribí en inglés fue escrito antes de la elección, pero no tuve la oportunidad de escribir la traducción hasta ahora (bebé).

Sin embargo, si puedes y si no eres, debes inscribirse ahora como votante antes de la próxima elección.  Típicamente hay muchas elecciones que pasan cada año, y a veces no reciben mucha atención en la prensa.  Puede examinar el horario aquí (Condado de Los Ángeles) y aquí (California).

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Yes On Measure H

Los Angeles County is holding an election on Tuesday, March 7th, 2017.  As always, you need to be registered to vote in order to vote.  So, if you can register, and you haven't yet, get it done so your voice can be heard.

Based on the part of LA County I live in, the only thing on my ballot was Measure H (I already mailed in my "yes" vote).  Measure H would add a 0.25% sales tax for 10 years to pay for housing subsidies and support services for formerly homeless people.  I say it should be permanent, but 10 years is better than nothing.  According to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority's 2016 homeless count, nearly 47,000 people are homeless in LA County, an increase of 5.7% from the previous year.  That's a lot of people, but the statistics don't really make it hit home.  If you've ever walked around Downtown Los Angeles, and increasingly many other parts of the County, you know that the devastation of people living on the street is a moral crisis that we should not continue to turn away from.  Many people who are homeless are struggling with addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, or just good old fashioned poverty.  The housing market in these parts is getting more and more unforgiving by the day.  Our mild climate is a draw for homeless people who would more easily succumb to the elements in other parts of the country.

There is so much you could say to argue for this, but I will defer to the Book of Matthew:

"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me . . . Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me."