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Readers Split on Missouri Hyperloop

October 24, 2018 Featured, Missouri, Transportation Comments Off on Readers Split on Missouri Hyperloop

My grandfathers saw many new things during their lifetimes. Both were born in the 19th century, 1886 & 1899. Transportation changed dramatically during their lifetimes. With that in mind, I’d like to think the hyperloop concept can become a reality in my lifetime.

A Hyperloop is a proposed mode of passenger and/or freight transportation, first used to describe an open-source vactrain design released by a joint team from Tesla and SpaceX. Drawing heavily from Robert Goddard’s vactrain, a hyperloop is a sealed tube or system of tubes through which a pod may travel free of air resistance or friction conveying people or objects at high speed while being very efficient.

Elon Musk’s version of the concept, first publicly mentioned in 2012, incorporates reduced-pressure tubes in which pressurized capsules ride on air bearings driven by linear induction motors and axial compressors. (Wikipedia)

Being among the first in the world to have a hyperloop, St. Louis to Kansas City, is great for the imagination. We spent 2 nights last weekend in Kansas City, I drove all but about 45 minutes of the round trip. The idea of getting there in a half hour rather than nearly four hours is incredibly appealing. The boost to both regions, and to Columbia MO at the halfway point, would be huge.

The skeptic in me, however, takes over my brain — kicking aside the dreamer who’d go to KC just for lunch. The season 4 episode of The Simpsons called Marge Vs The Monorail keeps coming to mind.

The tube would utilize the existing I-70 right-of-way

Driving the route for hours helped me see lots of potential problems. The engineers that say, for nearly $10 billion, a St. Louis to Kansas City hyperloop is feasible likely figured a lot of this into the costs.

The median in many places is narrow, and is designed to drain water. Guard rail would need to be used on both sides to prevent cars from slamming into new center supports.
Other areas a very wide
The most common issue is bridges & power lines over the highway. Presumably the tube would go up & over these bridges, power lines would be raised clear the top of the tube.

Despite the numerous obstacles, I do think it’s worth keeping tabs on to see if it develops into a viable transportation option. It was in the recent news:

Saudi Arabia has pulled a planned deal with Virgin Hyperloop One after Sir Richard Branson said he would freeze ties with the kingdom until more details are known about the disappearance of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, according to people briefed on talks between the parties. The two sides were planning to sign a deal for a new feasibility study at a ceremony during the upcoming Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, the people familiar with the situation added. The deal would have focused on manufacturing, knowledge transfer and route alignments for the futuristic transport system. (Financial Times)

Another source says Virgin HyperLoop One says the project has not been cancelled. Undisputed is the fact that billionaire Sir Richard Branson resigned as chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One.

In the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll readers were split:

Q: Agree or disagree: Missouri can’t afford a “HyperLoop” between St. Louis and Kansas City.

  • Strongly agree: 6 [25%]
  • Agree: 3 [12.5%]
  • Somewhat agree: 2 [8.33%]
  • Neither agree or disagree: 1 [4.17%]
  • Somewhat disagree: 2 [8.33%]
  • Disagree: 4 [16.67%]
  • Strongly disagree: 4 [16.67%]
  • Unsure/No Answer: 2 [8.33%]

The agree group totaled 45.83% while the disagree group totaled slightly less at 41.67%. Again, these are non-scientific.

If hyperloop becomes viable, being among the first in the world would bring positive attention and money to Missouri. In the meantime hopefully voters will approve Proposition D on November 6th.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Sunday Poll: Can Missouri Afford A Hyperloop Between St. Louis & Kansas City?

October 21, 2018 Featured, Missouri, Sunday Poll, Transportation Comments Off on Sunday Poll: Can Missouri Afford A Hyperloop Between St. Louis & Kansas City?
Please vote below

Today’s poll involves a rather technical new idea, so it makes sense to look at what it is first:

A Hyperloop is a proposed mode of passenger and/or freight transportation, first used to describe an open-source vactrain design released by a joint team from Tesla and SpaceX.[1] Drawing heavily from Robert Goddard’s vactrain, a hyperloop is a sealed tube or system of tubes through which a pod may travel free of air resistance or friction conveying people or objects at high speed while being very efficient.

Elon Musk’s version of the concept, first publicly mentioned in 2012,[2] incorporates reduced-pressure tubes in which pressurized capsules ride on air bearings driven by linear induction motors and axial compressors.[3]

The Hyperloop Alpha concept was first published in August 2013, proposing and examining a route running from the Los Angeles region to the San Francisco Bay Area, roughly following the Interstate 5 corridor. The paper conceived of a hyperloop system that would propel passengers along the 350-mile (560 km) route at a speed of 760 mph (1,200 km/h), allowing for a travel time of 35 minutes, which is considerably faster than current rail or air travel times. Preliminary cost estimates for this LA–SF suggested route were included in the white paper—US$6 billion for a passenger-only version, and US$7.5 billion for a somewhat larger-diameter version transporting passengers and vehicles[1]—although transportation analysts had doubts that the system could be constructed on that budget; some analysts claimed that the Hyperloop would be several billion dollars overbudget, taking into consideration construction, development, and operation costs.[4][5][6]

The Hyperloop concept has been explicitly “open-sourced” by Musk and SpaceX, and others have been encouraged to take the ideas and further develop them.

To that end, a few companies have been formed, and several interdisciplinary student-led teams are working to advance the technology.[7] SpaceX built an approximately 1-mile-long (1.6 km) subscale track for its pod design competition at its headquarters in Hawthorne, California.[8]

Some experts are skeptical, saying that the proposals ignore the expenses and risks of developing the technology and that the idea is “completely impractical”.[9] Claims have also been made that the Hyperloop is too susceptible to disruption from a power outage or terror attacks to be considered safe.[9] (Wikipedia)

Last week Missouri received lots of national press because one group is saying a Hyperloop between St. Louis and Kansas City, with a midway stop in Columbia, is feasible:

Virgin Hyperloop One has announced the results of a feasibility study on a planned route connecting Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis. The study, which has yet to be published in full, purports that the route between the three cities is commercially viable. Researchers at Black & Veatch examined the engineering, viability and economic challenges of a proposed line running parallel to I-70.

The release doesn’t go into specifics, but Hyperloop One must feel justified in saying that the route is worth the effort. It claims that the number of people traveling between the three cities would increase by 80 percent, from 16,000 to 51,000. In addition, the local economy is said to be $410 million better off, thanks to reduced journey times, with an extra $91 million coming in savings from a less congested I-70.

Virgin Hyperloop One has doubled down on its claim that journey times between Kansas City and St. Louis could be cut to under half an hour. The release suggests that the trip would now last 28 minutes, with the time to Columbia — roughly equidistant between the two — being cut to 15 minutes. (Engaget)

From the press release:

The news follows on an historic congressional testimony of September 2018 by Virgin Hyperloop One before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on the necessity of a new regulatory framework for hyperloop systems.

Two other states are currently studying hyperloop through in-depth feasibility studies—Ohio and Colorado. In addition, Ohio is also participating in the first U.S. Environmental Impact Studies (EIS) of a hyperloop system and Texas has announced its intent to start the process.

Kansas City KS engineering firm Black & Veatch had no Hyperloop study press release on their site.

Here’s more specifics on the user experience:

Travelers would go to what’s called a portal, which will likely be first in transit hubs of major cities before spreading outward to smaller ones. There, they will enter a large tube and board a pod inside of it with 15 to 30 others. The tubes can be built on elevated pylons, underground, through the ocean or at ground-level, and the pod will be roughly the size of a subway car; the tube would be the diameter of a subway tunnel. The door will close behind them, along with the entrance to the tunnel.

The air from the tube will be pulled out so the environment is as close to a vacuum as possible. Airline pilots soar at 30,000 feet in part because it allows them to conserve fuel with low air resistance, and the hyperloop can do that inside the tube. Instead of moving on wheels like a train, the hyperloop will levitate magnetically, allowing it to avoid more resistance. The pod will be accelerated by using electric power and piloted by a computer, zooming forth like a gigantic, passenger-bearing air hockey puck. As it accelerates, floating in the near-airless tube, the pod will be able to coast long distances without losing momentum — like a bike downhill — and the computer will generate bursts of power as needed to maintain extremely high speed. (CNBC)

See articles from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Kansas City Star. Total project cost would be $7.5 billion to $10 billion — from private & public sources. A round-trip ticket would be about the same as gas, about $60.

Sounds great, right? Many say, “not so fast.”

If the Hyperloop’s purpose is to address large-scale urban mobility, then there are many other options already deserving of public funding and attention—ones that do not require a hard rebooting of the entire urban world to be realized. We could increase funding for Amtrak. We could make our existing subways run on time, safely. We could fix our bridges. If boredom is already setting in, recall the fate of the Concorde. We once lived in a world that boasted a supersonic airliner, capable of whisking passengers from New York to London in three and a half hours—but this was a very qualified use of the word “we.” Who exactly could book a ticket on the Concorde was determined entirely by wealth, and, as such, that now lost transatlantic wormhole never felt particularly futuristic. Certainly, it failed to revolutionize international transportation for the masses. Today, it’s as if this feat of aeronautical engineering never existed. (The New Yorker)

More criticism from MIT’s Technology Review. Hopefully that’s enough background, here’s today’s poll:

This poll will automatically close at 8pm tonight.

My husband and I are in Kansas City for the weekend. We usually take Amtrak, but we drove this time because we needed a car to visit a museum that’s inaccessible to public transit. Wednesday I’ll share my thoughts on the St. Louis to Kansas City drive, train ride, and proposed Hyperloop.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Sunday Poll: How Will You Vote On Missouri’s 3 Medical Marijuana Measures?

September 30, 2018 Drug Policy, Featured, Missouri, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Sunday Poll: How Will You Vote On Missouri’s 3 Medical Marijuana Measures?
Please vote below

In just over five weeks Missouri voters will decide if the state joins the majority of states that have already legalized marijuana for medical use.

Thirty states and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalizing marijuana in some form.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have adopted the most expansive laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use. Most recently, sales of recreational-use marijuana in California kicked off on Jan. 1. In Massachusetts, retail sales of cannabis are expected to start later this year in July. Voters in Maine similarly approved a ballot measure legalizing marijuana in 2016. The state, however, has not yet adopted rules for licensed marijuana growers or retailers, nor has it begun accepting licenses. Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a bill that would have established a legal framework for sales of the drug.

The vast majority of states allow for limited use of medical marijuana under certain circumstances. Some medical marijuana laws are broader than others, with types of medical conditions that allow for treatment varying from state to state. Louisiana, West Virginia and a few other states allow only for cannabis-infused products, such as oils or pills. Other states have passed narrow laws allowing residents to possess cannabis only if they suffer from select rare medical illnesses. (Governing)

Our neighbor to the East, Illinois, has had a test medical marijuana program for a couple of years. Arkansas, to the South, approved it in 2016 and the program should begin in 2019. For Missouri voters it isn’t a simple ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote:

Missouri voters will find not one but three different proposals aiming to legalize marijuana for medical purposes when they pick up ballots Nov. 6. 

Some language is similar across all three proposals, but they are not identical. Here are some common questions and answers that explain how each would function.

What’s on the ballot?

Two constitutional amendments and one change to state law regarding medical marijuana have been proposed:

  • Amendment 2, supported by a group called New Approach Missouri
  • Amendment 3, supported by Springfield physician-attorney Brad Bradshaw
  • Proposition C, supported by a group called Missourians for Patient Care

All three would legalize growing, manufacturing, selling and consuming marijuana and marijuana products for medicinal use at the state level. (Proposition C touts an additional requirement that local community support would be required before and after its local licensing authority approves medical marijuana use.)

Proposition C would tax marijuana sales at 2 percent; proceeds would be split four ways to fund veterans health care, public safety, drug treatment programs and early childhood development initiatives.

Amendment 2 would tax marijuana sales at 4 percent, with the resulting proceeds going to fund veterans health care programs. This is the only proposition that would allow for home-growing of marijuana.

Amendment 3 would tax sales by growers to dispensaries at $9.25 per ounce for marijuana flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves and would tax sales by dispensaries to patients at 15 percent. The proceeds — projected to be by far the most of the three measures — would go toward setting up a research institute and efforts to cure currently incurable diseases, with money set aside to acquire land for the institute’s campus and to fund transportation infrastructure, medical care, public pensions and income tax refunds.

Under all three proposals, prospective patients and primary caregivers would apply to the state for identification signifying their ability to receive and prescribe medical marijuana, respectively. Those hoping to cultivate, manufacture or sell marijuana products would apply for separate licenses. (Springfield News-Leader)

Today’s poll seeks to find out how you plan to vote on the three medical marijuana measures on the ballot.

This poll will automatically close at 8pm tonight. On Wednesday I’ll discuss my thoughts on each of the three, what happens if all three are approved, etc.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Opinion: Illinois & Missouri Need To Study ‘Vehicle Miles Driven’ Tax To Replace Fuel Taxes

September 12, 2018 Featured, Missouri, Politics/Policy, Transportation Comments Off on Opinion: Illinois & Missouri Need To Study ‘Vehicle Miles Driven’ Tax To Replace Fuel Taxes
Fuel prices include taxes in the posted price

The recent non-scientific Sunday Poll on how Illinois should fund road infrastructure maintenance/improvements was because of current political commercials in their heated race for governor.

J.B. Pritzker is up with a new ad, attacking GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner and an affiliate of the Republican Governors Association over ads criticizing the Democratic governor candidate about a vehicle mileage tax.

The Rauner ad features a woman identified as “Denise Smith” warning that Pritzker “wants a car tax, which will also come along with a tracking device.” State Solutions, an RGA affiliate, accuses Pritzker in an ad of plans for a 1.5-cent-per-mile vehicle mileage tax.

Pritzker in January told the Daily Herald the idea of a vehicle mileage tax was worth “exploring” but has since said he was open to ideas on how to pay for a capital bill and wasn’t wedded to it. He did not identify a specific amount of mileage tax as the State Solutions ad alleges. (Chicago Tribune)

I used the following, from a 2016 article, to explain Illinois’ options for paying for needed roads, as outlined by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC):

GAS TAX
The MPC argues the state will need to raise $2.7 billion a year, half to spend and half to go towards bonds:

This is equivalent to a $0.30/gal increase in state motor fuel taxes and a 50 percent increase in vehicle registration fees. The tax and fees should be indexed to the consumer price index to keep pace with inflation. MPC recommends the state constitution be amended to create a transportation trust fund to protect this revenue. To acknowledge the effect of these increases on lower- and middle-income Illinoisans, the state earned income tax credit should double to 20 percent of the federal amount.

Because the state’s motor fuel tax has been unchanged for so long, Illinoisans are paying far less for road maintenance today when inflation is calculated:

The Illinois Senate has used the MPC’s estimates to draft legislation that would raise the gas tax by 30 cents, making it the highest gas tax in the nation.

Of course, not everyone is happy with that proposal. The Illinois Chamber of Commerce says Illinois needs to look into other options to fix roads. The Chamber’s recommendation includes an increased state income tax and a lower wholesale gas tax, while getting rid of some tax exemptions for goods like food and medicine.

MILEAGE TAX

Senate President John Cullerton has proposed a different way to get around a gas tax hike; a mileage tax. Illinoisans would pay 1.5 cents per mile in one of three payment options. From the Daily Herald:

Drivers could have a device that tracks the miles through geolocation technology, charging only for the miles driven on public highways and roads.

Alternatively, they could have an odometer tracker, which reports only number of miles driven, not where. The downside to this, notes Susan Martinovich of CH2M, an environmental and engineering consulting firms, is that drivers would be charged for miles driven out of state.

Finally, Illinoisans could opt out of installing any devices and pay a flat mileage tax of 1.5 cents per mile for 30,000 miles.

A mileage tax would also help the state raise revenue even as gas usage declines, thanks to better fuel efficiency and electric cars. The MPC’s plan also recommended Illinois stop raising funds tied to gas purchases eventually. It pushed for a mileage tax system by 2025. (GovTech.com)

Cullerton, a Democrat, introduced SB3267 in February 2016. It never got far in the legislative process.

I want to step back from politics and look at the big picture.

The first US state tax on fuel was introduced in February 1919 in Oregon. It was a 1¢/gal tax. In the following decade, all of the US states (48 at the time), along with the District of Columbia, introduced a gasoline tax. By 1939, an average tax of 3.8¢/gal (1¢/L) of fuel was levied by the individual states.

In the years since being created, state fuel taxes have undergone many revisions.[6] While most fuel taxes were initially levied as a fixed number of cents per gallon, as of 2016, nineteen states and District of Columbia have fuel taxes with rates that vary alongside changes in the price of fuel, the inflation rate, vehicle fuel-economy, or other factors. (Wikipedia)

The first federal fuel tax happened after all the states had fuel taxes — in 1932 during the end of the Hoover administration. The initial temporary tax became permanent.  Eventually federal fuel taxes became part of a trust fund for roads. All was good for decades, but then it began to change:

The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are regulations in the United States, first enacted by the United States Congress in 1975, after the 1973–74 Arab Oil Embargo, to improve the average fuel economy of cars and light trucks (trucks, vans and sport utility vehicles) produced for sale in the United States. (Wikipedia)

These CAFE standards have been highly effective at improving the fuel economy of vehicles. Less fuel, however, means less revenue for roads. Politicians at the state & federal levels are reluctant to increase fuel taxes. The smart solution is to look at a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) tax. Oregon, the first state with a fuel tax became the first state to begin a test of a mileage tax.

Way back in 2001, Oregon recognized the problem that many state legislatures are now staring down: gas tax revenue is falling inexorably as vehicles become more fuel-efficient, threatening transportation budgets. The state launched a task force that investigated 28 alternative funding mechanisms before selecting a mileage tax as the one that best met a wide range of criteria: fairness, efficacy, ease of implementation, public acceptance, enforceability, privacy protection, etc.

In 2006, the state recruited 299 volunteers for participation in a year-long trial of a prototype system. Because any real-world mileage tax will be phased in over a long period of time, it has to harmonize with the existing gas tax. The Oregon experiment neatly solved this problem with a pay-at-the-pump system:

* A small GPS receiver in participants’ cars tracked miles driven.
* When participants went to the gas station to fill up, a wireless scanner at the pump detected the GPS receiver and recorded the car’s current mileage, which was then sent to a central database to determine miles driven since the last payment. No specific location data was transmitted.
* The payment system at the gas station applied either the standard gas tax (for cars that didn’t have a GPS system) or the mileage tax (for participating cars). The experiment was designed to be revenue neutral, so fees were about the same in either case. (Terrapass)

Of course, a VMT tax also has drawbacks:

Poor, disadvantaged, and rural people tend to commute farther than the affluent, and drive less efficient cars. The gas tax already charges them disproportionately. A straightforward VMT would too. Any lawmakers crafting a Vehicle Miles Traveled framework would need to consider such concerns. Again, technology could come to the rescue, identifying drivers who merit discounts or subsidies. (Wired)

If the feds & states all switched to a VMT tax to replace fuel taxes we’d see much more compact development, greater use of public transit. etc. — in a few generations. Missouri & Illinois should both join Oregon & others in studying VMT:

California is conducting a pilot VMT study, and the state of Washington is expected to conduct one, as well. Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania have all applied for federal support to test how a VMT tax could work across multiple states. (Brookings)

It’s time to change how we fund road construction.

— Steve Patterson

 

Please Vote Yes on Prop B to Raise Missouri’s Minimum Wage

September 5, 2018 Economy, Featured, Missouri, Politics/Policy Comments Off on Please Vote Yes on Prop B to Raise Missouri’s Minimum Wage

A lot of people fear increasing minimum wages, but where it has increased the dire predictions have not come true.

As the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago found in a 2011 study, every dollar increase in the minimum wage corresponds with an annual increase in consumer spending per minimum wage household by $2,800. It makes sense. Elevating wages strengthens consumers’ buying power. Workers with more money in their pockets are also consumers who support local businesses, creating a virtuous cycle of growth and opportunity for our residents and our local economy.

There will always be Chicken Littles who are sure the sky is falling in the face of progress, but Chicago has proven them wrong. The city that works has clearly shown fair pay and a strong business climate can go hand-in-hand. (Crain’s Chicago Business)

When those at the bottom get a raise the money gets spent immediately. It often gets spent locally. This is true for big cities, and in rural communities. Yes, some businesses will have higher wage costs but they’ll likely see higher revenues as people have more money to spent.

Will raising the minimum wage have an effect on taxes and taxpayers?

Because people who earn minimum wage are those most likely to spend their income and spend it with local small businesses for basic necessities like food and clothing, it is estimated by the state of Missouri that state and local government tax revenue could increase by as much as $214 million dollars.

Additionally, the extra money spent by low-wage workers gets funneled back to businesses large and small that need to hire more workers to keep up with the increased demand, helping to create even more economic growth. That’s great for those small, local businesses and it’s great for Missouri taxpayers. (Raise Up Missouri FAQ)

In November Missouri voters will consider a slow graduated increase of the minimum wage, here’s the ballot language for Proposition B:

Do you want to amend Missouri law to:

  • Increase the state minimum wage to $8.60 per hour with 85 cents per hour increase each year until 2023, when the state minimum wage would be $12.00 per hour;
  • Exempt government employers from the above increase; and
  • Increase the penalty for paying employees less than the minimum wage?

State and local governments estimate no direct costs or savings from the proposal, but operating costs could increase by an unknown annual amount that could be significant. State and local government tax revenue could change by an unknown annual amount ranging from a $2.9 million decrease to a $214 million increase depending on business decisions. (Raise Up Missouri)

The full detailed language can be viewed here.

Missouri’s current minimum wage is $7.85/hour.  Three border states (Oklahoma, Kansas, & Iowa) have a lower minimum wage than Missouri — all are the same, $7.25. The three other border states (Arkansas, Nebraska, & Illinois) have higher minimum wages than Missouri. Of the three that are higher, they range from $8.25 (Illinois) to $9 (Nebraska).

Hourly workers aren’t just teens, they include all sorts — including Yale-educated actors like Geoffrey Owens:

He went on to say that he took the job at the grocery store because it allowed him the “flexibility” he needed to stay in the entertainment business.

Owens still acts and has been teaching acting classes for several years. He has a net worth of $300,000. In addition to his work on The Cosby Show over the years, Owens has appeared on episodes of Law & Order, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, That’s So Raven, Boston Legal, Las Vegas, Medium, Without a Trace, Flashforward, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and The Affair.

Owens worked at Trader Joe’s for 15 months but had to quit because of the unwanted attention, however, the company said that he is welcome to come back anytime. (Source)

Owens is the son of a former librarian turned congressman (since retired, deceased).  Hourly workers might be 17…or 57, but they’re working and their earnings will likely be spent — going back into the economy.

Here are the results of the recent non-scientific Sunday Poll:

Q: How do you plan to vote on Proposition B in the November 2018 midterm election?

  • Definitely no 4 [19.05%]
  • No 0 [0%]
  • Leaning no  0 [0%]
  • Unsure 2 [9.52%]
  • Leaning yes  4 [19.05%]
  • Yes 1 [4.76%]
  • Definitely yes 9 [42.86%]
  • I’m not a Missouri voter 1 [4.76%]

Please vote YES on Prop B on November 6th.

— Steve Patterson

 

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