Maturity of Bike Share Systems

Bike Sharing Takes Off by Statista
Bike Sharing Takes Off by Statista

I recently saw the above info graphic with an article in US News: The Exploding Growth of Bike Sharing

But if you look at the number of systems, the rate of growth is actually slowing

Cumulative Number Added


































This is a good thing in many respects. At some point we need to stop adding systems and start making them bigger, inter-connecting and inter-operating, and even merging them. Ideally I should have one subscription that can be used on any system in the world (I have said similar for transit passes, see Club Transit), and bikes could be borrowed and deposited anywhere. Very few people will of course take a bikeshare bike from Minneapolis to Chicago, but Minneapolitans should automatically be able to use the Chicago system (and vice versa). And like the electric inter-urban users of yore (one could take an electric inter-urban (trolley) from Elkhart Lake Wisconsin to Oneonta, New York, it was said), one should be able to bike share between major places, even if transferring bikes periodically. So while the chart does not represent what it purports to represent, the number of bike share users (and bike share bicycles) may still be growing at an increasing rate, i.e. we may still be on the left side of the S-Curve for the technology, even if the number of systems, like the number of cities (and railroads and airports) is not growing as much or at all.

Charts of the Day |

Over at I have three charts of the day on Journey-to-Work Mode Share in Minnesota, the Greater Minneapolis-St. Paul region, and the City of Minneapolis from the Census American Community Survey 2012 data. Nothing terribly surprising to me, but it is good to document these things. It is worth noting that walk share > bike share and walk + bike ~ transit, though expenditures do not reflect that. (And for non-work trips walk is even more important).

Minneapolis Journey-to-Work Mode Share from 2012 ACS
Minneapolis Journey-to-Work Mode Share from 2012 ACS

Lord Gordon-Gordon |

Cross-posted from Lord Gordon-Gordon.

Lord Gordon-Gordon (a.k.a. Lord Glencairn, Hon. Mr. Herbert Hamilton, George Herbert Gordon, George Gordon, George Hubert Smith, and John Herbert Charles Gordon) migrated from Britain to North America in 1870. He was not a Lord, as many Americans and Canadians later learned, merely impersonating a Scottish peer to borrow money to buy land. He landed in Minnesota in 1871, and deposited £20,000 in a local bank, establishing legitimacy. He promised to invest $5 million to help resettle 100 Scottish families on land managed for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Col. Loomis, the land commissioner for the Northern Pacific spent $45,000 touring with Lord Gordon-Gordon through rural Minnesota.

Lord Gordon-Gordon

“He who sells what isn’t his’n, must buy it back or go to pris’n.” – Daniel Drew (attributed)

Beginning with the New York & Harlem Railroad, Cornelius Vanderbilt started accumulating a network to connect New York with Chicago, which by 1870 comprised the New York Central & Hudson Railroad, then valued at $100,000,000, the most successful of the Northeast lines, which was able to pay dividends through the Panic of 1873. His methods were harsh. He cut off feeder traffic to force a downstream company into his control. He cornered the market in stocks to punish short-selling public officials.

Short-selling is selling stocks you don’t own with the hope of buying them back later at a lower price, and is in contrast with going long on a stock, or buying it with the expectation it will rise in price. Clearly if the price does not fall, a short-seller will lose money. If someone can acquire a majority of the outstanding stock, and an insufficient amount of stock is available for short-sellers to purchase, their losses can be astronomical. In one of his few failures, Vanderbilt got into a bidding war over the Erie Railroad.

The “Erie War” brought together a cast of some of America’s most important financiers and railroad men in a battle over a second-tier railroad.

Daniel Drew (1797-1879) was once Vanderbilt’s partner. He became a stock-broker in 1844, and joined the Board of the Erie RR in 1857. He shorted the stock of New York & Harlem RR, and lost a fortune in 1864. After the Erie War with Vanderbilt, in 1870 Fisk and Gould then played Drew, causing him to lose $1.5 million. The Panic of 1873 was no aid, and Drew filed for bankruptcy and died penniless.

James (Diamond Jim) Fisk (1835-1872) made his first fortune dealing in Army contracts in the US Civil War. While he lost this wealth in speculation, after the War he worked for Daniel Drew’s brokerage. The famous Black Friday of 1869 resulted from Fisk and Gould’s failed attempt to corner the Gold Market. After the Erie War, Fisk had a scandalous affair with showgirl Josie Mansfield which ultimately broke off when Mansfield took up with Fisk associate Edward Stokes, who then attempted to blackmail Fisk for his illegal doings. Fisk had no part of that, and Stokes killed Fisk in 1872 (and went to prison for 4 years). Fisk was remembered as a populist loathed by high society.

Jay Gould (1836-1892), about the same age as Fisk, but much younger than Drew, was a surveyor and historian, and then formed a tanning business. It was the Panic of 1857 which moved him to high finance, when he bought out his partners’ properties for himself. As with any good, on-the-edge capitalist, this led to some violent kerfuffles, but Gould profited, and soon used his profits to invest in the Rutland & Washington Railroad. He acquired a reputation of being able to move markets by cornering the market in Gold in 1869, culminating in Black Friday, when the price of Gold collapsed. After the Erie War, and then being forced out of that railroad, he acquired the Missouri Pacific, Union Pacific, and Western Union, and transit routes in New York City. among other properties. At one time he held 15% of all US rail mileage. When crushing the 1886 Great Southwest Railroad Strike, he is reported to have said “I can hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.”

These three: Daniel Drew, one-time partner of Cornelius Vanderbilt, James Fisk, and Jay Gould illegally issued “watered-down” stock in the Erie Railroad, much of which was purchased by Cornelius Vanderbilt who was aiming to get control. Watered-down stock entails the issuing of additional stock in a company, increasing the company’s par value. Suppose a company had issued 10,000 shares of stock initially in exchange for $10,000 of capital. The stock would be watered if the company acquired say $1,000 of additional real assets in exchange for $2,000 in stock. The value of the other stock would in reality be worth less (since the total company assets were now $11,000 but there were 12,000 shares outstanding, each share was only worth $0.91 instead of $1.00. This procedure is no longer done (as such) since par value is now nominal on companies, and the last court case involving watered stock was in 1956.

The more control Vanderbilt wanted, the more stock Drew, Fisk, and Gould issued, costing Vanderbilt $7 million between 1866 and 1868. While much of that was repaid to Vanderbilt, Gould himself could not retain the Erie. This was due to a strange immigrant.

Lord Gordon Gordon

Lord Gordon-Gordon (a.k.a. Lord Glencairn, Hon. Mr. Herbert Hamilton, George Herbert Gordon, George Gordon, George Hubert Smith, and John Herbert Charles Gordon) migrated from Britain to North America in 1870. He was not a Lord, as many Americans and Canadians later learned, merely impersonating a Scottish peer to borrow money to buy land. He landed in Minnesota in 1871, and deposited £20,000 in a local bank, establishing legitimacy. He promised to invest $5 million to help resettle 100 Scottish families on land managed for the Northern Pacific Railroad. Col. Loomis, the land commissioner for the Northern Pacific spent $45,000 touring with Lord Gordon-Gordon through rural Minnesota.

While still leading Minnesota on, Lord Gordon-Gordon, using letters of introduction from Col. Loomis, soon moved to New York. On the train ride east, he befriended the wife of James Fisk. In 1872, he convinced Gould that he and his European friends already owned some 60,000 shares of the Erie RR and he could help Gould acquire control of the Board of Directors of the Erie Railroad, in exchange for $1 million in stock as part of a “pooling of interest.” Upon receiving the stock, Gordon-Gordon promptly sold it, worsening Gould’s position. Gould sued, and Gould’s friends in New York City Hall (then under the reign of their ally and Erie RR fellow Board member, Boss Tweed) had Gordon-Gordon arrested. But Gordon-Gordon made bail based on the reputation of his purported European friends, and promptly fled to Manitoba, before such information could be confirmed, and before his history caught up with him.

“600 shares of Erie, some 1,900 of corporations affiliated with Erie, and 4,722 of the Oil Creek and Allegheny Valley Railroad, twenty-one thousand dollar bonds of the Nyack and Northern Railroad, and $160,000 in currency. The careful recipient of these securities and cash presently found an error of forty thousand dollars in the footing of Gould’s memorandum and sent word of the shortage. Gould did not think there was such an error, but under the circumstances he would not dispute the point and came back with an additional forty thousand dollars in cash. To a modest request for a memorandum receipt, his lordship replied with exceeding dignity that his word of honor ought to be receipt enough, and handed the bundle back to Gould. Gould took it, went as far as the door, returned, laid it down, and departed in faith that his property was in safe hands. It must have been sheer sport in playing a fish which had taken his hook so greedily that led Gordon to demand that Gould separate himself from the old directorate. On March 9 Gould delivered to him his resignation as director and president of the Erie Railroad Company, to take effect upon the appointment of his successor. The great covenant was complete.” (Folwell 1921)

Gordon-Gordon offered to buy large parts of Manitoba from the government, which appealed to locals there, but soon his American enemies found out and sent a posse of bounty-hunters to bring him back to the US. This posse included 2 future Governors of Minnesota and 3 future members of Congress. They successfully kidnapped Gordon-Gordon but were stopped by the Mounties in Winnipeg and put in prison themselves. The Governor of Minnesota put the state militia on alert and President Grant authorized sending an army into Manitoba, and a major international incident between Canada and the US was threatened. To avoid conflict, Canada released the posse, but Gordon-Gordon was already freed. Then his European enemies asked for his extradition on similar charges of swindling a jeweler of £25,000, and Canada agreed. Making his escape again, he was again arrested, and again released on bail. But before his extradition in 1874, he held a party, gave gifts to his local friends, and then shot himself.

Gould’s loss of $1 million in stock may have been sufficient to cost him the Erie Railroad.


Folwell, W. (1921). History of Minnesota, Volume 2. Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Johnston, J. (1950-51). Lord Gordon Gordon. Transactions of the Manitoba Historical Society Series 3.

Adapted from Garrison, W and Levinson, D (2014) The Transportation Experience: Second Edition. Oxford University Press.


Mount Transit, Mount Auto, Mount Next

US Transportation Trends
Comment: The graph shows both linked and unlinked transit trips, as the way transit trips are counted has changed, and there is no continuous series of both over the entire period

In the US, we have seen a great struggle play out in the twentieth century between what David Jones calls Mass Motorization and Mass Transit . The conflict between the modes continues to this day, and has become a morality play in the culture wars. While they mostly serve different markets, they compete for users, and roadspace, and funding, and the hearts and minds of travelers. They are competing on old turf though, as the graph shows, both modes appear to be in decline, transit for decades, the decline of the auto-highway-system is just beginning.

To develop a metaphor Kevin Krizek and I used in Planning for Place and Plexus, the US spent from the late 1880s through the early 1920s climbing Mount Transit. Transit was the most important mode of travel (after walking) in large and medium-sized US cities. The rise of transit was enabled by the electric streetcar, itself a product of electricity, harnessed by Edison and others, and the modern railroad, developed beginning in 1825 with the Stephenson’s steam-powered Stockton and Darlington Railway. Transit peaked in the US in the 1920s, but for a spike during World War II when oil and rubber were rationed, crimping the US of the automobile. From the end of the War forward, it began a steady decline from which it has not really recovered. Despite the so-called resurgence of transit, and receiving about a quarter of federal surface transportation expenditures, transit trips per capita remain below 1990 levels.

The US spent almost the entire twentieth century climbing Mount Auto. From the 1920s onward, the automobile was the dominant mode of travel for Americans, accumulating more miles per capita than other modes. While the Great Depression slowed the auto’s growth, it did not result in decline. There was a brief downturn during World War II, and a couple of hiccups in the steady rise of mileage due to oil shocks in the  1970s and early 1980s (Yom Kippur War through the Iranian Revolution, before oil deregulation), early 1990s (Gulf War), and early 2000s (9/11). But the later 2000s and 2010s have seen a sharp downturn in auto use per capita. This drop is greater than the drop during World War II in absolute terms (though the War saw a drop of 23% off the pre-war peak, and the 2012 drop is 7% below 2005). It is complemented by an apparent downturn in total miles of paved roads.

In The Transportation Experience, William Garrison and I trace the policy, planning, and deployment of transportation technologies across time. Both the auto and transit follow the classic lifecycle model or S-curve of birth, growth, maturity, and decline. (One hesitates to say “death”, since so few technologies actually disappear, fixed route streetcars are still with us for instance. Kevin Kelly has found that no technologies actually vanish, though obviously they diminish in importance). The S-curve allows us to mathematically approximate the process of growth and decline of technologies. It is in many ways natural (if we start with 0 vehicle kilometers traveled by car per capita in 1900, surely the number has to go through 5000 VKT before it reaches 10000 VKT, and 10000 before 15000. One million people must own a car before two million can. Similarly, technologies don’t disappear overnight (although transit really came pretty close). These are long gradual processes, and the occur over many technologies which see growth and decline. Transportation is among the slowest of these technologies, as fixed infrastructure is expensive to build and long-lasting.

The End of Traffic and the Future of Access: A Roadmap to the New Transport Landscape. By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.
The End of Traffic and the Future of Access: A Roadmap to the New Transport Landscape. By David M. Levinson and Kevin J. Krizek.

The growth curves reasonably fit the data for total system size or total system use for a number of technologies in retrospect. A collection of such curves, and descriptions of the development of the associated technologies can be found at the Transportation Deployment Casebook, which is the result of student projects for a few years in my Transportation Policy course.

The difficulty is to use such curves in prediction. There are some observations though, the left and right sides of the curve (from the inflection point, where the rate of growth changes from increasing to decreasing) are approximately the same amount of time. (So it takes about as long to go from 10 to 50% of the final market size as it does to go from 50 to 90% of final market size.)

A key issue is the determination of how large will the system get at its maximum? It depends on the system. For instance if we are modeling the number of US states that will adopt some policy, the maximum is 50 (unless the US adds states). If we are modeling the percentage of cars that will have some advanced technology, and we believe it will become universal, then we can say 100%. But if we are modeling a continuous number, rather than a share, it is harder. What is the maximum number of kilometers people will travel in a year? What is the maximum number of trips? We can make guesses; we can even make informed guesses, but we can never know for sure until after the fact. However, if the rate of growth has slowed (we are on the right half of the S-curve), we can make a much better guess than if growth is increasing at an increasing rate (the left half of the S-curve).

Is the decline in auto permanent, like what happened to fixed route transit services in the US (which is well below one-fifth of its previous importance), or just a brief digression from the steady march of increasing per capita vehicle travel that has been following the same drum almost continuously from 1910 to 2000? History will tell us for sure, but the evidence for “Peak Travel” has been mounting. This does not mean there will never be a year in which auto travel again rises. The economy and gas prices still fluctuate, and a boom year with low gas prices following a recession with high gas prices might very well temporarily bump traffic upward, but that is really short-term noise. In the absence of external events (technological shifts, demographic shifts, social shifts), the curve appears to have peaked. But over the longer term, a significant technological shift could profoundly change how people use the automobile. If there were only one possible significant technological or social shift, this might be predictable, but there are numerous technological and social shifts in play.

There are many reasons people are not driving more, but “saturation” satisfies Occam’s Razor. There is only so much time in the day. For a worker who spends at least 8 hours at the office and 8 hours asleep, how much time is reasonable to actually spend traveling as opposed to the other things that comprise life. Each additional minute traveling is one less minute doing something else. The literature on the travel time budget is rich, and while people do want some separation between their home and work lives, most people do not want to spend too much time (say more than 90 minutes per day) traveling on a regular basis. The travel speeds of current technologies limit distance.

Similarly, there are a variety of complementary hypotheses as to why people are driving shorter distances, some of the important ones include:

  • Price of fuel – higher energy costs diminish travel
  • Size of the workforce – fewer people working leads to fewer work trips (due to both unemployment and labor force participation)
  • Telework – people working at home for the day leads to fewer work trips (but more non work trips)
  • Online shopping – buying over the internet at home decreases shop trips
  • Virtual connectivity – connecting with friends at home can substitute for visiting

Obviously different demographic sectors do these things in different amounts. Just as your grandparents may still receive a physical issue of the newspaper while you read online, young people are more likely to be early adopters than their parents and grand-parents. And the habits formed while young may very well persist over time.

These last three reasons for traveling less by auto (and overall) are due to information and communications technologies substituting for travel. But these are all non-transportation reasons.

There are active transportation modes, like walking and biking, which work well for short trips, and certainly have niches they can grow into if land development intensifies and people reorganize their lives to enable them (for instance, I am one of the 7% of Minneapolitans who walk to work, the numbers are much lower outside core cities, and nationally (3%)).

There are a slew of “new mobility options” which use information technologies to allow travel without owning an automobile, but are not yet visible in the transportation statistics. These include peer-to-peer taxi and ridesharing services, dynamic real-time rental cars, and the like. While these are useful in their niches, they are not cost-effective to be the main transportation mode for the vast majority of the population with the given technology. But they are supplements when the main mode doesn’t solve the job to be done.

Technologies allow people to do more of the same, and they allow people to do new things. It is easier to predict more of the same than new things.

I believe the more important technological changes over the next few decades are those associated with autonomous vehicles. Cars that drive themselves change how people use them. First in “the more of the same” category, we might see more travel.

Generally as the cost of travel declines, travel increases. Since fully driverless cars make it easier to drive (by reducing the cognitive burden on the driver) the initial effect would be that people would travel farther, to places they are less familiar with, and move to places farther from their place of work, to get more real estate for the dollar. Today’s commuter rail passengers travel farther (and longer) than auto users, and autonomous vehicles, where the passenger can do something else while traveling are more like commuter rails than are today’s cars

Such cars also can deposit drivers in front of buildings and park themselves, reducing the amount of time that drivers spend parking and accessing and egressing their cars, which would naturally lead to longer distances.

Third, such vehicles are likely to be safe at higher speeds, since humans won’t be driving, which will also lead to longer distances in the same travel time.

Further such vehicles expand mobility for those who are now restricted (the young, the disabled, and so on).

However such cars also make the so-called new mobility options much more useful in cities. Instead of owning a car, renting on demand becomes much more viable. The right-sized car can in principle be summoned at any time. And if a driver is paying by the minute when the car is used, instead of paying for a car loan or lease by the month (whether or not she uses it), the incentive structure the driver faces changes. Travel will be less frequent and more thoughtful. The daily pattern of transit for routine trips and a “nextcar” for special trips becomes feasible. The lack of nextcar options now pushes people to owning vehicles, and once they own a vehicle, they are going to use it. This lifestyle model works in cities, where transit can be a mainstay transportation mode, and nextcars are conveniently located.

It works less well in the suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas, where the baseline transportation mode cannot be as expensive on a per-trip basis as the nextcar’s rental model requires, but the density is not high enough to support fixed route transit on most corridors.

Obtaining better capital utilization out of our surface transportation fleet (like the airlines have achieved with planes that are in motion as much as possible) through nextcar like vehicles will reduce the lifespan of cars by using fewer vehicles more intensively, and wearing them out sooner. Thus nextcars will on average be newer than today’s fleet. As technology continues to advance with greater rapidity, this becomes increasingly important. The difference between a 2030 and 2020 model likely will be far greater than the difference between a 1970 and 1960 model car.

These are gradual processes. The rapid change in information technology can inform us of the direction of changes in transportation, but the pace cannot be replicated. The technologies are different. Building roads or rails have socio-spatial implications that laying fiber optic cables or constructing cell phone towers do not. The lifespan of a car (15-20 years) far exceeds that of a smart phone (about 3 years), so the technology people possess lags far behind the technology that is possible.

The mountain analogy implies society cannot climb to the peak of the next technology in the same market niche (for instance, serving daily transportation needs) until it climbs down the first. One can imagine a technological helicopter or zip line, or leaping off the peak (abandoning existing function technology, rather than just depreciating it over time) to accelerate transformation, but such sudden changes are rarely wise and even less politically acceptable, with entrenched interests having accumulated power desirous of maintaining (or expanding) the status quo.

If the Future of Transportation does not involve more information technology and more automation, I will be both disappointed and surprised. But the exact shape of what comes next is hard to say. In the 1980s, we had a vision of a future of telecommunications and information that was something like what the internet came to be, all the world’s information at your fingertips. But few foresaw that it would be supported by online advertising. The idea that a collaboratively built online encyclopedia would displace Britannica, and be of the world’s biggest websites, or that an online bookstore (a bookstore!) would be on a trajectory to become the world’s largest retailer were all unpredicted and unpredictable. So it is with transportation in 2014.

Call for Host 2017 World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research

The World Society for Transport and Land Use Research (WSTLUR) invites all interested parties to propose hosting the 2017 World Symposium on Transport and Land Use Research. WSLTUR is an international professional organization that promotes the understanding and analysis of the interdisciplinary interactions of transport and land use, offers a forum for debate, and provides a mechanism for the dissemination of information. The main vehicle for this promotion is the triennial symposium, which aims to bring together the leading researchers in the field to present scholarly papers on the broad set of topics falling within this enterprise. The Journal of Transport and Land Use (JTLU) is the official journal of WSTLUR and will publish select papers from the symposium. More information about WSLTUR and past and current symposia can be found at

The second symposium in this triennial series will be held on June 22-27, 2014 in Delft, the Netherlands, hosted by Delft University of Technology and the University of Twente. We are planning for approximately 140 attendees and 100 paper presentations This follows the inaugural conference held in Whistler, British Columbia, Canada in July of 2013, which was a great success – with 80 participants and 60 paper submissions. For the 2017 symposium, we expect the numbers of attendees and presentations to grow at a modest pace from the 2014 conference.

Entities interested in hosting the conference should submit a full application including the following information:

  1. Name of the city (or town) where the conference will be held. The symposium can be held in remote areas, but a clear transport plan will be needed, regarding how participants will arrive at the conference location.
  2. A brief description about the suggested venue (stating what makes the venue (and/or its near surroundings) an interesting place to visit, seen from the perspective of transport and land use research).
  3. The strengths and profile of the host institution(s) in terms of research within land use and transport field.
  4. A detailed budget, including:
    • Total expected budget for the entire conference,
    • Expected registration fees, and
    • Number of meals included in the registration fees.
  5. Details of tours that the local host can accommodate in the conference city or nearby venues.
  6. Special agreements with local hotels in providing group rates for conference attendees.

WSLTUR will be responsible of all printable materials, conference proceedings, and gifts to attendees. All proposals should be received by email to Ahmed El Geneidy before May 1, 2014, and an announcement will be made regarding the host location during the conference in Delft in June. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

— Kelly Clifton and Ahmed El Geneidy

WSTLUR Registration

WSTLUR Registration is now open.

The World Symposium on Transportation and Land Use Research (WSTLUR)  will take place in Delft, The Netherlands from June 24th to 27th, 2014. We are glad to welcome you.

During your stay, you will be attending and participating in four days of presentations, workshops, technical tours, and networking events. You will be meeting over 100 colleagues, working in the field of land use and transport.

The symposium is hosted by Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. The organization has blocked rooms in 3 hotels in Delft with a 10% discount for WSTLUR delegates; the rooms are available on a first come first serve basis. The registration fees include membership to the World Society on Transportation and Land Use Research. In addition to light breakfast, coffee breaks, lunches, one conference dinner, programme book, and participation in one of the technical tours. Moreover, an optional pre-conference tour on own expense is organized on Monday June 23.

If you have any questions on the contents of the symposium, contact Kees Maat, or one of the other members of the organizing committee. For questions on issues like registration, hotels, and payments, contact Eveline Vogels of the Congress Office,

We look forward to seeing you in Delft!



On behalf WSTLUR organizing committee

Kelly Clifton, Ahmed El-Geneidy, Karst Geurs, David Levinson, and Kees Maat

Imagine: A World Where Nobody Owns Their Own Car – Eric Jaffe – The Atlantic Cities

Eric Jaffe at Atlantic Cities writes: Imagine: A World Where Nobody Owns Their Own Car :

“Skeptics have also charged that autonomous cars will disrupt any city-based travel models, since people freed from the need to drive will move even farther away from the core. That might be true for people who own their autonomous cars, says University of Minnesota transport scholar David Levinson, but a strong sharing system could promote the opposite movement. “If you’re paying for the car by the minute, then you’re not going to want to move farther out,” says Levinson. “You’re going to want to move closer in.”

Levinson says SAV service that offers convenient on-demand trips gives people a much greater incentive to rely on that system — and a much smaller incentive to take the unnecessary trips often made by private cars. It’s a recipe for the type of multi-modal lifestyle change only possible right now in places like Manhattan. Transit for essential daily trips, cabs (or other alternatives based on the type of trip) for the rest.”

The big market question is when this world will begin to emerge. Levinson subscribes to a timeline in which autonomous cars enter the luxury market in 2020, the technology trickles down into the affordable mid-level range over the next several years, and by 2030 every [edit: NEW] car on the road is driverless. (Other cars would be banned a decade later.) Since car- and ride-sharing operations tend to rely on smaller cars, that would peg SAV networks closer to 2030 — about 16 years from now.

“It’s not that far away anymore,” says Levinson. “But 16 years ago was 1998, and Google hadn’t been invented. So it’s a short time and it’s a long time.”

Emissions, Equilibrium, and the $10 Bill

On February 1 (at 6:05 am) I found a BART card with $1.35 of money still on it on Sacramento Avenue near the North Berkeley BART station. I picked it up and used it. In economics there is the parable that you never find $10 bills on the ground, because someone would have picked it up already. And that of course is true in a steady state where no one ever drops another $10 bill. Eventually they will all be picked up. But if someone does drop a bill, it is on the ground until someone picks it up.

The most charitable view of emissions, and it doesn’t matter which pollutant (e.g. the EPA criteria NOx, SOx, VOC, CO, PM10, PM2.5, or even CO2, among others), is that nature has not yet adapted to take advantage of the changed environment. If we increase nitrogen in the air slightly, we expect life will evolve over time to be slightly more nitrogen-phillic somehow. Those gene-lines that manage this evolution survive, those that don’t die off. The problem of course for big slow species like large mammals, or trees, is that it takes a long time (many generations, hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands of years) to evolve in a way that is well-adapted to the new environment. So after a sudden change or shock, a species may find its way to a new equilibrium, assuming there are no other shocks or external changes to the system, or be beaten to its appropriate niche by some other species, and go extinct.

But life itself is a disequilibrating process. Humans (and a few other species) for instance invent “technologies” (from using sticks for digging, or rocks for breaking things, to fire or iPhones). These technologies change the environment for humans and other species. If we did that and stopped, an equilibrium could possibly be found. But we continue to invent.

Further, the earth itself is not a closed system. We are being continuously showered by radiation from the sun (you know, light and heat and all), (which we adapt to, assuming it is roughly constant). The earth is also periodically showered by the detritus of the universe (meteors and asteroids). These add to the disequilibrium we face, and are reputed to have done in the dinosaurs.

So it is one thing to say life will adapt to the changes in the environment humans create, undoubtedly some life will do better than others unless we manage to extinguish it all. The question is how long it takes to come to a steady state ( without any external shocks).

Should we privilege the “steady state” ante-Industrial Revolution vs some current or future “steady state”. That seems to me an entirely arbitrary preference. By restoring life to some elysian past we are condemning those species that evolved faster and co-evolved with our technology (from chickens and cows to pigeons and squirrels, among the larger life forms). To say this is the perfect end-state now diminishes possibilities yet to be.

What is our objective? Preservation of the existing mix of species, restoration of some past mixture, maximization of total biomass, maximization of human biomass? Unless people can agree on what it is we want to achieve, the means (pollute, don’t pollute) will remain unsolved. To say “Save the environment” begs the question of which “environment” we are trying to save.

However, if we think of this in property rights terms, we can either define the commons as unowned (which quickly degenerates to a bad outcome), or define it as owned by everyone, as if we are all shareholders in the commons, and the proxy is held by the government (or governments) (1).

In that case, individuals (and firms) have no inherent right to pollute (which we might define as measurably changing the chemical composition of the air (water, land) at some fixed distance, say 10m, at any rate some distance such that breathing does not count as pollution, but tailpipe emissions do). Instead of trying to geo-engineer an ideal world, which is beyond our abilities anyway, even if we could agree upon on it, we would regulate the inputs to that future world in the form of regulating pollution. Nature will then evolve to whatever it evolves to, with a minimal additional influence from humans. We might hope it turns out ok.

The transition from the present “environment as an unowned commons” into which we can dump anything to an “environment as communally owned property” into which we can dump nothing without permission or penalty will obviously be a difficult one. Many processes that were efficient in the absence of pollution prohibitions and penalties are inefficient in their presence. But crisis creates opportunity, and for every old-style industry and behavior the new regime obliterates, a new technology and way of operating arises.

This is the logical outcome of the <a href=””>enclosure movement</a>, which has been steadily assigning ownership to the unowned over the course of human history.

(1) We could have an alternative, where the environment is somehow owned by selected individuals instead of as a commons or by nobody, but carving up the air is much harder than carving up the land, since air moves much faster than earth.

Peak Shopping and the Decline of Traditional Retail

Cross posted at the OUP Blog

Shopping trips now comprise fewer than 9% of all trips, down from 12.5% in 2000, according to our analysis of the Twin Cities Travel Behavior Inventories. They are down by about one-third in a decade.


When we want to eat at home but not prepare the food, urban dwellers have options. Some restaurants offer Delivery as well as Take-Away, others offer Take-Away but don’t Deliver, and some specialize in Delivery and avoid the storefront. For the customer who is not out and about, Delivery is more convenient. For the customer who is passing by the restaurant anyway. Ordering ahead and doing Take-Away makes a lot of sense, since there is no waiting for the delivery, the additional distance is small to nil, and tipping charges (or delivery surcharges) are avoided. Drive-thru is Take-Away for fast food (though you can still go into the establishment and take-away as well), which avoids the pre-ordering step, arguably at the cost of food quality.

When we want to consume non-food items, we also have options. There is of course the store.

The block I live on mostly single family homes with some duplexes and apartments, in a quiet Minneapolis neighborhood once had two small grocery stores, founded before the days of cheap at home refrigeration and before larger grocery chains took off. One is now housing, the other a small restaurant.

If we did not have easy access to the store, or its storage capacity limited in the number of goods, we could order from a catalog. The Sears Wish Book being one of many, and delivery, especially enabled by Rural Free Delivery, was as fast as the supply chain of the time (which is to say, as fast they could, but nothing like today). Door-to-door sales was also common in this period, as there would be more likely to be someone at home to sell to.

Catalogs were replaced by the Internet, and Sears by Amazon. Not only can we do the same thing differently, we can do many more things with the technology of the world wide web. Amazon is now nearing twenty years old, so we cannot really consider this new anymore.

The early dot com boom had a number of firms attempting same day if not same hour delivery. That didn’t work out as well as hoped, but like video conferencing and automated (if not flying) cars, it is an inevitable part of the future. There are lots of models out there: lockers, peer-to-peer delivery services (friends will pick up goods for you), and so on, but we already have 3 national networks doing delivery which are cost effective for many types of goods (USPS, UPS, FedEx), as well as specialists (local stores that deliver their own products (furniture, appliances, grocers, newspapers, milk), though one can certainly imagine some others emerging. Amazon is trying to patent pre-cognition, sending you what you are going to order before you order it.

What goods will you have delivered? Anything that is standardized, commodified, and whose delivery is easily automated. Amazon entered the market with books, and decimated the big box book sellers like Borders and Barnes and Noble (who had earlier acquired and then put-down many mall-based neighborhood bookstores (Walden, B-Dalton), which had themselves pushed out the independent neighborhood bookstores). For the book reader, we now have access to many more books than we did 20 years ago. For the nostalgic, we obviously lost something as well. Such is progress. Books were relatively easy kindling for this revolution, the ISBN code had been around for a long time. There is a long-tail of desired, but still standard items. There are economies of scale. They are easy to ship (and even easier to ship in electronic versions).

Music is seemingly similar. Once there was the neighborhood record shop, then the national (mall-centric) chain, then big boxes started to get in on the act. The technology of music changed faster than the book, moving from vinyl to tape to CD. In contrast with books, customers digitized and shared their music before the music industry could get their act together. Ultimately Apple’s iTunes brought prices down enough that listening to music is again more legal than illegal, and then new distribution mechanism (internet radio) changes the market again. Music is standardized, commodified, and the sequence in which you listen is automatically customizable using services like Pandora and iTunes Radio, among many others. While there is copyright-violating sharing of eBooks, it is not of the same order of magnitude as music. (Just search for your favorite book followed by PDF, you might be surprised to find it on a non-US website). Is downloading my own book illegal?

And then we get other items, all commodified though not digitized, that are amenable to the new distribution system: from clothing to lightbulbs, from batteries to baked goods, from Kindles to kites, which can all be ordered and delivered within 48 hours (if not sooner). Even custom goods get sold on places like Etsy. While used (and new) items both standard and non-standard are offered on Ebay.

All of these deliveries reduce my travel to the store, while increasing travel in the logistics supply chain, but generally reduce travel overall.

The decline of shopping travel is one aspect of the decline of personal travel overall, and has many knock-on effects. We need fewer roads. We need less parking. We need fewer stores and shopping centers. We inventory more at home (delivery might entail different economies of scale than fetching from the store). We might engage in other out-of-home activities to substitute for shopping as “entertainment”, but it won’t fully substitute.

Eventually we may have replicators, or pneumatic tubes, or good 3-D printers, and delivery as we think of it now will also decline. Or we may decide to consume less overall. But we can fairly safely extrapolate that, for a while, our 20th century retail infrastructure and supporting transportation system of roads and parking is overbuilt for the 21st century last-mile delivery problems in an era with growing internet shopping.