The Port of New Orleans Should Find Its Own Money

This gentleman, the Executive Director of the Port of New Orleans, thinks that you should keep paying to keep the silt from building up on the Mississippi River bottom:

“All that water is bringing a whole lot of sediment,” LaGrange says. “When it starts falling, the sediment will drop out.” He says the Lower Mississippi has a design channel depth of 45 feet. “The last five years, the cost of dredging the Lower Mississippi River is $104 million. On an average, Congress and the Administration have appropriated $55 million to $65 million.” He explains that previously, when it ran out of funds in September, the Corps would “reprogram” funds from districts that had a surplus, and they would make their depth. “We received an announcement that this year they would no longer reprogram funds. Now, with the higher rivers, the shipping industry has projected that that shortfall will be $95 million.”
He leaned forward in his chair. “Every foot in lost depth costs the economy $1 million per ship call,” says LaGrange, because ships have to carry lighter loads. Less cargo equals less production. “We have 12,000 ship calls per year.”
That’s $12 billion per annum. “And we need $95 million.” He thinks the government should find the money.

I won’t spend time questioning his claim of economic loss.
Rather, there is a very straight forward mechanism for getting the $95 million/year. One that places the cost of dredging more closely to where it belongs.
Lagrange claims 12,000 ship calls per year. Assessing each ship call $8000 will generate $96 million.
Very straightforward and helps reduce the deficit. Lagrange should find the money. By his numbers his operation will get a rather large return.
I suspect the only ones who would oppose this are the Corp of Engineers and the folks getting subsidized.

Towards Solving the Traffic Tragedy

In Distracting Miss Daisy John Staddon makes a strong argument for changes in the way traffic control is managed in the United States:

A more systematic effort to train drivers to ignore road conditions can hardly be imagined. By training drivers to drive according to the signs rather than their judgment in great conditions, the American system also subtly encourages them to rely on the signs rather than judgment in poor conditions, when merely following the signs would be dangerous.
When you’ve trained people to drive according to the signs, you need to keep adding more signs to tell them exactly when and in what fashion they need to adjust their behavior. Otherwise, drivers may see no reason why they should slow down on a curve in the rain.

Read the article for some excellent recommendations.
John makes an interesting analogy to the tragedy of the commons meme:

Economists and ecologists sometimes speak of the “tragedy of the commons”—the way rational individual actions can collectively reduce the common good when resources are limited. How this applies to traffic safety may not be obvious. It’s easy to understand that although it pays the selfish herdsman to add one more sheep to common grazing land, the result may be overgrazing, and less for everyone. But what is the limited resource, the commons, in the case of driving? It’s attention. Attending to a sign competes with attending to the road.

Attention is a key element when discussing traffic fatalities and injuries and I think John’s suggestions may, if implemented, make a large contribution toward reducing these consequences of a failed national and local traffic policy: 40,000 deaths per year and no outrage?
However from a commons perspective attention does not exactly fit the meme.
John, apparently, drives on lonely country roads and in quiet neighborhoods.
Many of the rest of us spend a fair amount of time crawling along the real tragedy of the traffic commons:

Picture via

Via The Perfectly Rational Dog.

Good Commuter; Bad Commuter

Here are a couple commuting statistics from this longer list:

4.5: Percentage of Americans who use public transit to get to work.
88: Percentage of Americans who drive to work alone.

Most days I am a “good commuter” as I join the 4.5 % that use public transit.
Today, though, I am a “bad commuter”; part of the 88 % who drove to work alone.
Am I really good when I ride public transit? Well, I certainly do appreciate the near 80% subsidy I get when riding the bus. It strikes me that a better definition of “good commuter” would one who rides public transportation and pays
the full tab.
Do the folks working in the construction, auto and oil industries consider me bad when I use their services more intensely by driving to work alone?
Probably not.

Good and bad are clearly a reflection of the lenses you are looking through.

NB: I fully support eliminating subsidies for both types of commuters.

w Continues Support for Transportation Status Quo

w’s latest hyping of his energy plan appears to assume that cars are and should be our preferred mode of transportation:

President Bush, seeking to rev up support for his energy plan, praised domestic automakers Monday for building more “flexible fuel” vehicles capable of running on ethanol and biodiesel blends.
“That’s a major technological breakthrough for the country,” Bush said. “If you want to reduce gasoline usage like I believe we need to do so for national security reasons as well as for environmental concerns, the consumer has got to be in a position to make a rational choice.”

If you really want to reduce the use of oil, etc., a good place for w and the rest of us to start will be eliminating the ongoing federal and state subsidization of the automobile industry and, yes, any other transportation sector. Make sure the cost, including ongoing maintenance, of every new road, etc., is borne locally and most appropriately by the users.
One effect should be fewer roads built.
Another could be decisions to close roads.
For example, the latter is something that every city should be doing in its core right now. Even if it is as little as close one city block a year per city to automobile traffic the cumulative effect in terms of reduced miles driven can be huge. Over time the benefit in terms of increased human interaction and the possible development of profitable mass transit will be even greater than the ongoing reduction in noxious emissions.

Remember, too, that the ongoing subsidization of the automobile industry includes more than 40,000 deaths per year!

Trains, Planes, Roads and Ships

Kip calls senator lautenberg to task for calling for more subsidies for Amtrak:

How much more remedial can one make it: Amtrak loses money because people don’t use it. People don’t use it because people neither need nor want to use it. People are — gasp! — relying entirely on airplanes and roads.


So when Lautenberg says, “We cannot depend entirely on airplanes and roads,” what he really means is “I get a warm fuzzy feeling from the thought of having Amtrak, and that’s more important than any other use that you might have for your tax dollars.”

Amtrak, roads, planes (airports), public transit and shipping are all heavily subsidized at the federal, state and local levels. Non-Amtrak trains have been historically heavily subsidized.

I don’t pretend to know which mode(s) of transport would win out without tax subsidies but it is time to find out. Let’s eliminate all the tax subsidies and put the mechanisms in place to assure that the folks using a particular transportation service are paying the full cost per use.

It will take time but I suspect that we will see dramatically different answers rise up than we have seen with the centralized planning of the last 150 years.

An Amtrak like service may or may not be one of the answers.