San Jose Mercury News: Elon Musk Unveils Plans for the Hyperloop, a Futuristic Transportation System

Posted by the San Jose Mercury News Aug. 12, 2013.

By Dana Hull

Coming from almost anyone else, a proposal to move people from San Francisco to Los Angeles through a tube in half an hour would have been dismissed as a crackpot idea.

But after tweeting that he “pulled an all-nighter,” Tesla Motors(TSLA) CEO Elon Musk on Monday unveiled much-anticipated details of his proposed Hyperloop, and transit experts were among those intrigued.

While the concept has not been proved, Rod Diridon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and a longtime champion of high-speed rail, praised Musk for his vision.

“Elon Musk has great credibility,” Diridon said. “He’s done things that seem impossible, and we need the impossible to get off of petroleum. We all have to pray for his success.”

The futuristic transit system would consist of low-pressure steel tubes with aluminum capsules or pods supported on a cushion of air, and capable of speeds more than 700 miles per hour. The tubes, which would be outfitted with solar panels to power the system, would be built on elevated tracks alongside Interstate 5.

Taking direct aim at the state’s plan for a $69 billion high-speed train, Musk said the Hyperloop would cost merely $6 billion and move people between San Francisco and Los Angeles in about a half-hour rather than three hours.

“How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) — doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars — would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?” he wrote in a 57-page manifesto titled “Hyperloop Alpha.”

“Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone

please do this), the only option for superfast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment.”

Musk, who has a bachelor’s degree in physics, is the CEO of both electric-vehicle maker Tesla Motors and SpaceX, which is developing rockets and spacecraft for missions to the International Space Station and other planets. He lives in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles and regularly commutes to Tesla’s Palo Alto headquarters by private plane. He has been thinking about the Hyperloop for almost two years, inspired by his dismay at the state’s plans for high-speed rail.

During Tesla’s earnings call last week, Musk said he’d wished he’d never mentioned the Hyperloop, given his demanding responsibilities at SpaceX and Tesla. But on Monday he said he may build a prototype and is willing to invest money and form a company to do it. He also welcomed others to help flesh out his idea and improve it.

“I’m tempted to make a demonstration prototype, but not immediately,” Musk said in a conference call with journalists. “Maybe I could do the beginning bit, then hand it over to someone else.”

Musk, whose net worth is estimated to be roughly $7 billion, said he would invest some of his personal wealth into the project. Roughly a dozen engineers from the aerodynamics teams at Tesla and SpaceX already have worked on the Hyperloop idea, he said.

Musk sees Hyperloop as a fifth and new form of transportation after planes, trains, cars and boats. James E. Moore, director of transportation engineering at the University of Southern California, said Musk’s idea is not far-fetched.

“This isn’t new technology, and from a technology point of view it’s very credible,” Moore said. “We’re talking about taking a vessel, putting it on a fluid (air), and putting it on a closed circuit.”

But Moore cautioned that Musk may be underestimating cost, as well as supply-chain questions and the willingness of capital markets to invest.

“Let’s assume you build it,” he said. “Where do you get parts for the Hyperloop? Who would regulate it? The world is full of good ideas, and most of them will not be realized.”

But Diridon noted that the idea of magnetic levitation in transit has been around for decades. Lockheed Martin studied the idea of high-speed “maglev”corridors in Southern California a decade ago.

“Musk has to develop a conceptual model and then a demonstration system that proves that it will safely operate carrying people, and that will prove how much it costs per mile,” Diridon said. “If we could jump to a new technology, I’d be the first to say ‘Let’s scrap high speed rail.’ But to do that, he’s got to prove it. Right now it’s a concept paper.”

California’s proposed high-speed rail system would connect the Bay Area with Los Angeles in about three hours at speeds of 200 mph. The first track scheduled to be built is a 29-mile section from Merced to Fresno, and nonstop service from the Bay Area to Los Angeles would not begin until 2029 at the earliest. The total cost for the project is estimated at $69 billion, to be funded by state bonds, federal support, cap-and-trade funds and private investments.

“New technology ideas are always worth consideration,” said Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. “The more green options Californians have for safe and speedy travel in the future, the better. If and when Mr. Musk pursues his Hyperloop technology, we’ll be happy to share our experience about what it really takes to build a project in California, across seismic zones, minimizing impacts on farms, businesses and communities and protecting sensitive environmental areas and species.”

Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.

For more information, go to www.teslamotors.com/blog/hyperloop. Feedback is welcome athyperloop@teslamotors.com.

hi-hyperloop

The Hyperloop: Realistic?

How Realistic is the Hyperloop?

Two SJSU experts — a mechanical engineering professor and a transportation expert — comment on Elon Musk’s latest transportation venture (image courtesy of Tesla Motors).

Posted July 19 by the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

By Preeti Upadhyaya

All week, the buzz around the proposed Hyperloop transport system has been growing steadily as the world tries to figure out just how commuters are supposed to get between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 30 minutes.

In typical Elon Musk build-the-suspense fashion, the Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO will make us wait until Aug. 12 to reveal plans for his ultra-fast transport system. That leaves us plenty of time to speculate about the feasibility of this potentially transformational idea.

So far, most experts theorize that Musk will employ a pneumatic tube system to make the Hyperloop a reality, though he has denied this on Twitter. Think of the plastic cylindrical container you use to transport documents at a drive up bank teller and you’ve got the basic idea.

This isn’t exactly a new concept, said Phil Kesten, a physics professor at Santa Clara University.

“You’d have trains, kind of like bullets, shooting up and down a tube,” said Kesten, who explained that friction would be minimized through a magnetic levitation system keeping the sides of the train from hitting the tube.

After some quick number crunching, Kesten calculated that a Hyperloop train would have to accelerate at a rate of 0.3 Gs for at least 15 minutes to live up to Musk’s promise of a SF to LA commute of 30 minutes. To put that into perspective, when a regular commercial airplane takes off, passengers experience 0.2 G, but for a very short period of time.

“After 15 minutes at 0.3 G, I suspect most of us wouldn’t be very happy,” Kesten said.

Kesten estimated that to make the Hyperloop work, the train would have to move at a peak speed of 5,000 miles an hour. That’s about 10 times the speed of a commercial jet.

While it may be physically uncomfortable, the Hyperloop is not theoretically impossible, said Burford Furman, a professor in the department of mechanical and aerospace engineering at San Jose State University.

“There’s nothing here that violates fundamental physics,” said Furman, who is an expert in the area of automated transit networks.

Furman explained that if you use automated transit technology as a model for how the Hyperloop would unfold, the issue of cost will inevitably pose a big roadblock.

“The big costs are in the guideway, the thing that supports and guides the trains. And the larger the structure, the more it costs,” he said.

Until we learn more from Musk himself, it will be difficult to reconcile this issue with his statement that the Hyperloop could be built at one-tenth the cost of California’s proposed high-speed rail system.

The cost would be “at least on the order of what it would take for high-speed rail,” said Furman. “It would probably go beyond that because this technology hasn’t been proven yet. High-speed rail and that technology exists already all over the world.”

High-speed rail in California itself is an embattled project, facing severe scrutiny and criticism for its cost, environmental impact and a host of other factors.

But at least the ball is rolling for that effort, said Rod Dirdon, executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute, a San Jose-based research institute focusing on intermodal surface transportation issues.

Diridon said that Musk and his Hyperloop face an uphill battle in terms of securing project clearance.

That would have to come after extensive engineering studies and tests. Diridon said Musk must create a complete concept, build a test track, build a demonstration track to work out the kinks and acquire federal safety certifications as well as environmental clearance.

Only after that is complete can the project move forward with public hearings and obtaining land use rights from cities.

Diridon paints a dizzying picture of the red tape and bureaucracy that has mired the high-speed rail project in California.

The initial efforts to get environmental clearance started in 1996 and took until 2008 to approve only the route, station locations and mode of transport. Even then, the bullet train only has project clearance for the portion of the Central Valley, Diridon said.

Elon Musk would be building his Hyperloop from scratch with no prior models to draw on at the scale he is envisioning. Diridon suggested the time frame for the Hyperloop would be at least that of the high-speed rail project, and that’s being extremely generous.

While the challenges facing Hyperloop may be discouraging, Diridon stressed that he is supporting Musk’s efforts and anyone else who is looking at solutions beyond our current transport system.

“I’d do anything in the world to help this get beyond the institutional barriers in the way,” Diridon said. “But it will take a whole lot of effort to make it to primetime.”

Passengers boarding VTA light rail.

Rep. Lofgren Applauds $3.5 Million Federal Transit Grant

Passengers boarding VTA light rail.

The SJSU-led consortium will serve the public transportation industry through research, education and workforce development, and technology transfer activities.

CONTACT: Stacey Leavandosky,  202-225-3072

Washington, D.C. – The U.S. Department of Transportation has awarded $3.49 million to a San Jose State University-led consortium to develop and advance public transportation research and education. The consortium members represent a diverse group of universities, including Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ; Howard University in Washington, DC; University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit, MI; Grand Valley State University in Allendale, MI; Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH; University of Toledo in Toledo, OH; University of Nevada, Las Vegas in Las Vegas, NV; and Pennsylvania State University in State College, PA.

Congresswoman Lofgren led an effort, in collaboration with San Jose State University’s Mineta Transportation Institute, to secure the funding.

The SJSU-led consortium will serve the public transportation industry through research, education and workforce development, and technology transfer activities. Areas of expertise include alternative fuels, safety and security, public policy, finance, workforce development, livable communities, environmental sustainability, economic competitiveness, new modes, and many other critical factors essential to sustainable mobility.

Rep. Lofgren stated, “I want to congratulate San Jose State, as well as the other consortium universities, on receiving this grant funding. Transit options are critical to communities like ours in San Jose, and this investment will lead to important research to keep our public transportation systems running smoothly and safely for all.”

“The Mineta Transportation Institute’s selection by the Secretary of Transportation to lead a nine-university national transit research consortium validates the quality of MTI’s research and education programs. We look forward to helping to create a more sustainable national transportation system for America,” said Rod Diridon, Executive Director Mineta Transportation Institute.

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren is serving her ninth term in Congress representing most of the City of San Jose and Santa Clara County. Congresswoman Lofgren is Chair of the California Democratic Congressional Delegation consisting of 34 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives from California.

SJSU in the News: Mineta Transportation Institute Investigates How Best to Increase Taxes Amid Revenue Drop Linked to Better Fuel Efficieny

Mineta Transportation Institute Survey: Will Americans Support Federal Transportation Tax Options?

Gasoline taxes, other transportation funding examined in public opinion poll.

Originally posted by PR Newswire June 23, 2011.

SAN JOSE, Calif., June 23, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) has released the final results and full analysis of a national phone survey about tax options for funding transportation. What Do Americans Think about Federal Transportation Tax Options? Results from Year 2 of a National Survey was authored by Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D., and Hilary Nixon, Ph.D. The research reveals that support for higher gas taxes or a new mileage tax can be significantly increased if certain conditions are met. According to the report, attitudes have not changed much since the first survey was conducted a year ago. The report can be downloaded at transweb.sjsu.edu/project/1031.html.

Research results show that 62 percent of respondents would support a gas tax increase of 10 cents per gallon to improve road maintenance. However, support levels dropped to just 24 percent if the revenues were to be used more generally to maintain and improve the transportation system. For tax options where the revenues were to be spent for undefined transportation purposes, support levels varied considerably by what kind of tax would be imposed, with a sales tax much more popular than either a gas tax increase or a new mileage tax.

“We also found that the very low support levels for a one-time gas tax increase or a new mileage tax can be raised by modifying how the tax is structured and the way it is described,” said Dr. Agrawal. “Dedicating the revenue to purposes popular with the public, spreading out the increase over several years, and providing information about how much the increase will cost drivers annually are all options for improving support levels.”

Linking a transportation tax to environmental benefits can strongly increase support, the survey revealed. For example, support for the mileage tax rose significantly when the flat-rate tax was converted to a tax with a rate that varied according to the vehicle’s pollution level.

New Revenue Sources Are Critically Needed

The survey was conducted because policy makers are investigating possible methods for raising new revenues for transportation. Revenues currently available from state and federal gas taxes have fallen significantly over the past decades, especially in terms of inflation-adjusted dollars per mile traveled.

“Taxes are levied on a per-gallon basis rather than per dollar spent,” said Dr. Nixon. “With more fuel-efficient vehicles, less revenue is generated per gallon. At the same time, the U.S. transportation system requires critical and expensive system upgrades. We wanted to explore what funding options Americans might support in a time when new taxes are generally unpopular.”

The poll also asked respondents about their priorities for government spending on transportation in their states. Close to two-thirds of respondents felt that governments should make it a high priority to maintain streets, roads, and highways, and more than half said the same about reducing accidents and improving safety. Also, almost half of respondents placed a high priority on reducing traffic congestion and expanding public transit service.

The survey compared public support for alternative versions of the mileage and gas taxes. The “base” cases tested against alternatives were a flat-rate mileage tax of one cent per mile and a 10-cents per gallon gas tax increase with no additional information given. All variants of these base cases increased the level of support significantly. For example, varying the mileage tax by the vehicle’s pollution level increased support by 14 percentage points. For the gas tax, dedicating the tax proceeds to maintaining streets, roads, and highways increased support by 38 percentage points over support for the base case version.

This follow-up to a similar survey that MTI conducted in 2010 suggests that Americans are just as willing to support tax increases for transportation this year as last, or even slightly more so.

The Survey and Policy Research Institute at San Jose State University conducted this national, random-digit-dial telephone survey of 1,519 adults from March 1 to April 6, 2011, on behalf of MTI’s National Transportation Finance Center. Interviews were conducted in either English or Spanish, and respondents were reached on both land-line and cell phone numbers.

The final report is available for free download from the Mineta Transportation Institute at transweb.sjsu.edu/project/1031.html.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dr. Asha Weinstein Agrawal is Director of the MTI National Transportation Finance Center and an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at San Jose State University. Her research and teaching interests in transportation policy and planning include transportation finance, pedestrian planning, and urban street design. She also works in planning and transportation history. She has a B.A. from Harvard University in Folklore and Mythology, an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Urban and Regional Planning, and a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in City and Regional Planning. For a complete listing of her publications, see www.sjsu.edu/faculty/weinstein.agrawal/.

Dr. Hilary Nixon is an Associate Professor of Urban and Regional Planning at San Jose State University. Her research and teaching interests in environmental planning and policy focus on the relationship between environmental attitudes and behavior, particularly with respect to waste management and linkages between transportation and the environment. She has a B.A. from the University of Rochester in Environmental Management and a Ph.D. in Planning, Policy, and Design from the University of California, Irvine.

ABOUT THE MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE

The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) was established by Congress in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and was reauthorized under TEA-21 and again under SAFETEA-LU. The institute is funded by Congress through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration, by the California Legislature through the Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and by other public and private grants and donations, including grants from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. DOT selected MTI as a National Center of Excellence following competitions in 2002 and 2006. The internationally respected members of the MTI Board of Trustees represent all major surface transportation modes. MTI’s focus on policy and management resulted from the Board’s assessment of the transportation industry’s unmet needs. That led directly to choosing the San José State University College of Business as the Institute’s home. MTI conducts research, education, and information and technology transfer, focusing on multimodal surface transportation policy and management issues. Visit www.transweb.sjsu.edu.

Contact: Donna Maurillo
MTI Communications Director
831-234-4009
donna.maurillo@sjsu.edu

SJSU in the News: Researchers Study Why People Don’t Drive Sustainable Vehicles

Mineta Transportation Institute Study: What Constrains People from Choosing Sustainable Vehicles?

Originally published by PR Newswire March 28, 2011.

SAN JOSE, Calif., March 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) has just released its Research Report 10-08, An Investigation into Constraints to Sustainable Vehicle Ownership: A Focus Group Study. The research goal was to address three questions: To what extent do people perceive that their vehicle ownership reflects their environmental attitudes? What barriers and constraints do people perceive to aligning their environmental attitudes with their vehicle ownership choices? And what changes in personal circumstances and travel options would permit them to bring their vehicle ownership more closely in line with their environmental attitudes?

The report, available for free download at http://www.transweb.sjsu.edu/project/2903.html, is a collaboration between Bradley Flamm, Ph.D. and Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D.

“Though most Americans hold pro-environmental attitudes, their behavior toward vehicle ownership doesn’t always reflect that,” said Dr. Flamm. “Significant constraints appear to prevent them from buying smaller, more fuel-efficient, less-polluting vehicles. But researchers have only a simplistic understanding of what those constraints are and how individuals describe and react to them.”

This study explored these barriers (what psychologists describe as an “attitudes-behavior gap”) in depth through a series of focus group discussions with 36 residents of the Sacramento, Calif., metropolitan region who held pro-environmental attitudes.

Analysis of those discussions revealed that the features of vehicles currently on the market, family and work responsibilities, residential choices, and routines and preferences all constrained participants’ vehicle purchase choices to ones which poorly reflect their environmental attitudes. The discussions also revealed serious misunderstandings about the environmental impacts of owning and using vehicles that make it difficult for many to accurately assess sustainability of the different vehicles they are choosing among. 

The key conclusions of the study are that pro-environmental concerns were only rarely important when people bought a new or used vehicle, many people perceived significant constraints to buying fuel efficient, low emissions vehicles, and there was mixed evidence on the potential for environmental attitudes to significantly influence vehicle purchase and use patterns. For some participants, the relationship between vehicles and the natural environment was unlikely to be a high priority under any circumstances because other factors had taken precedence, such as safety, comfort, and reliability.

Nevertheless, the study results suggest that providing more accurate information to buyers about the environmental impacts of vehicles during the purchasing process could have influenced some participants’ choices and, in the future, would be a useful strategy for linking environmental attitudes and vehicle ownership decisions more closely. Manufacturers’ efforts to design and market vehicles that retain the features and functionality consumers want while using energy more efficiently and polluting less are important to making sustainable vehicle purchases easier. Planners and policy-makers can facilitate this by making it cheaper and more convenient for vehicle buyers to own vehicles with smaller environmental impacts.

Further research is needed to test whether the results from this qualitative research project hold true for larger populations. The complete report is available for free download from the Mineta Transportation Institute at www.transweb.sjsu.edu/project/2903.html.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Bradley Flamm, Ph.D., is assistant professor in the Department of Community and Regional Planning at Temple University. He teaches transportation planning, planning methods, and sustainable development courses. His research interests are focused on the environmental and energy impacts of transportation systems and on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change action planning at the municipal level. He chairs the Transportation Sub-Committee of Temple University’s Sustainability Task Force and is co-chair of the Ambler Campus Sustainability Council. He has a BA from the University of California Berkeley in Political Science, a Master of Regional Planning from Cornell University, and a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of California Berkeley.

Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D., is associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at San José State University, and also director of MTI’s National Transportation Finance Center. Her research interests in transportation policy and planning include transportation finance, pedestrian planning, and urban street design. She also works in planning and transportation history. She has a BA from Harvard University, an MURP from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. For a complete listing of her publications, see http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/weinstein.agrawal/. 

ABOUT THE MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE

The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) was established by Congress in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and was reauthorized under TEA-21 and again under SAFETEA-LU. The institute is funded by Congress through the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration, by the California Legislature through the Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and by other public and private grants and donations, including grants from the US Department of Homeland Security. DOT selected MTI as a National Center of Excellence following competitions in 2002 and 2006. The internationally respected members of the MTI Board of Trustees represent all major surface transportation modes. MTI’s focus on policy and management resulted from the Board’s assessment of the transportation industry’s unmet needs. That led directly to choosing the San José State University College of Business as the Institute’s home. MTI conducts research, education, and information and technology transfer, focusing on multimodal surface transportation policy and management issues. Visit www.transweb.sjsu.edu.

Contact: Donna Maurillo
MTI Communications Director
831-234-4009
donna.maurillo@sjsu.edu

SJSU in the News: Researchers Study Why People Don't Drive Sustainable Vehicles

Mineta Transportation Institute Study: What Constrains People from Choosing Sustainable Vehicles?

Originally published by PR Newswire March 28, 2011.

SAN JOSE, Calif., March 28, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) has just released its Research Report 10-08, An Investigation into Constraints to Sustainable Vehicle Ownership: A Focus Group Study. The research goal was to address three questions: To what extent do people perceive that their vehicle ownership reflects their environmental attitudes? What barriers and constraints do people perceive to aligning their environmental attitudes with their vehicle ownership choices? And what changes in personal circumstances and travel options would permit them to bring their vehicle ownership more closely in line with their environmental attitudes?

The report, available for free download at http://www.transweb.sjsu.edu/project/2903.html, is a collaboration between Bradley Flamm, Ph.D. and Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D.

“Though most Americans hold pro-environmental attitudes, their behavior toward vehicle ownership doesn’t always reflect that,” said Dr. Flamm. “Significant constraints appear to prevent them from buying smaller, more fuel-efficient, less-polluting vehicles. But researchers have only a simplistic understanding of what those constraints are and how individuals describe and react to them.”

This study explored these barriers (what psychologists describe as an “attitudes-behavior gap”) in depth through a series of focus group discussions with 36 residents of the Sacramento, Calif., metropolitan region who held pro-environmental attitudes.

Analysis of those discussions revealed that the features of vehicles currently on the market, family and work responsibilities, residential choices, and routines and preferences all constrained participants’ vehicle purchase choices to ones which poorly reflect their environmental attitudes. The discussions also revealed serious misunderstandings about the environmental impacts of owning and using vehicles that make it difficult for many to accurately assess sustainability of the different vehicles they are choosing among. 

The key conclusions of the study are that pro-environmental concerns were only rarely important when people bought a new or used vehicle, many people perceived significant constraints to buying fuel efficient, low emissions vehicles, and there was mixed evidence on the potential for environmental attitudes to significantly influence vehicle purchase and use patterns. For some participants, the relationship between vehicles and the natural environment was unlikely to be a high priority under any circumstances because other factors had taken precedence, such as safety, comfort, and reliability.

Nevertheless, the study results suggest that providing more accurate information to buyers about the environmental impacts of vehicles during the purchasing process could have influenced some participants’ choices and, in the future, would be a useful strategy for linking environmental attitudes and vehicle ownership decisions more closely. Manufacturers’ efforts to design and market vehicles that retain the features and functionality consumers want while using energy more efficiently and polluting less are important to making sustainable vehicle purchases easier. Planners and policy-makers can facilitate this by making it cheaper and more convenient for vehicle buyers to own vehicles with smaller environmental impacts.

Further research is needed to test whether the results from this qualitative research project hold true for larger populations. The complete report is available for free download from the Mineta Transportation Institute at www.transweb.sjsu.edu/project/2903.html.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Bradley Flamm, Ph.D., is assistant professor in the Department of Community and Regional Planning at Temple University. He teaches transportation planning, planning methods, and sustainable development courses. His research interests are focused on the environmental and energy impacts of transportation systems and on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate change action planning at the municipal level. He chairs the Transportation Sub-Committee of Temple University’s Sustainability Task Force and is co-chair of the Ambler Campus Sustainability Council. He has a BA from the University of California Berkeley in Political Science, a Master of Regional Planning from Cornell University, and a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning from the University of California Berkeley.

Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D., is associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at San José State University, and also director of MTI’s National Transportation Finance Center. Her research interests in transportation policy and planning include transportation finance, pedestrian planning, and urban street design. She also works in planning and transportation history. She has a BA from Harvard University, an MURP from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. For a complete listing of her publications, see http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/weinstein.agrawal/. 

ABOUT THE MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE

The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) was established by Congress in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and was reauthorized under TEA-21 and again under SAFETEA-LU. The institute is funded by Congress through the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration, by the California Legislature through the Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and by other public and private grants and donations, including grants from the US Department of Homeland Security. DOT selected MTI as a National Center of Excellence following competitions in 2002 and 2006. The internationally respected members of the MTI Board of Trustees represent all major surface transportation modes. MTI’s focus on policy and management resulted from the Board’s assessment of the transportation industry’s unmet needs. That led directly to choosing the San José State University College of Business as the Institute’s home. MTI conducts research, education, and information and technology transfer, focusing on multimodal surface transportation policy and management issues. Visit www.transweb.sjsu.edu.

Contact: Donna Maurillo
MTI Communications Director
831-234-4009
donna.maurillo@sjsu.edu

SJSU in the News: Researchers Find Rising Transportation Costs Cause Stress, Anxiety, Reduced Spending on Food by the Poor

Mineta Transportation Institute Study: ‘How Do Low-Income People Get Around Town?’

Originally posted on American Banking & Market News on Feb. 21, 2011

SAN JOSE, Calif., Feb. 21, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) has just released its Research Report 10-02, Getting Around When You’re Just Getting By: The Travel Behavior and Transportation Expenditures of Low-Income Adults. Principal investigator Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D., asked how people with limited resources pay for cars, public transit, and other means of travel,  and how their transportation behavior changes during periods of falling employment and rising fuel prices. She and her research team conducted in-depth interviews with 73 adults to examine how rising transportation costs impact low-income families.

“The interviews examine four general areas,” said Dr. Agrawal. “These include travel behavior and transportation spending patterns; the costs and benefits of alternative travel modes; cost management strategies; and opinions about the effect of changing transportation prices on travel behavior.”

Several findings emerged. First, most low-income households are concerned about transportation costs, even if they don’t own cars. Low-income individuals who receive transportation subsidies (such as free transit passes) have the fewest concerns, but they still report anxiety about maintaining their subsidies. Also, low-income individuals actively and strategically manage household resources to survive on very limited means and to respond to changes in income or transportation costs.

Further, in making mode-choice decisions, low-income travelers – like higher-income travelers – carefully evaluate the costs of travel (time and out-of-pocket expenses) against the benefits of each mode. Some low-income individuals in the sample also were willing to endure higher transportation expenditures – such as the costs of auto ownership or congestion tolls – if they believed that they currently benefit or would potentially benefit from these increased expenses.

And last, low-income households find ways to cover their transportation expenditures. However, many of these strategies had negative effects on lifestyles, such as greater stress and anxiety, reduced expenditures on necessities such as food, inability to participate in discretionary activities, and spatial entrapment in the neighborhood around their homes.

Fundamentally, the best way to address this transportation burden is through poverty-alleviation programs, the report noted, but many of these programs – such as broad income transfers – are expensive and politically unpopular. Therefore, the researchers concluded, it is also important to support transportation-related policies that help low-income households ease their transportation expenditure burden.

“On the basis of our findings,” said Dr. Agrawal, “we generated three transportation-related recommendations. First, transportation policies can mitigate the hardships of poverty and the high costs of transportation. In general, low-income families would benefit from policies that reduce their transportation cost burden without also limiting their mobility.”

Second, she said, research on transportation expenditures by poor people is underdeveloped, primarily because of inadequate data. Better data are needed to determine accurately the transportation expenditures and incomes of low-income households, and the data should be linked to residential neighborhood location. The expenditure data also must be disaggregated into more detailed expenditure categories that are potentially relevant to transportation policy.

She concluded by noting, “Evaluations of low-income transportation burdens cannot focus solely on costs. Complete analyses should consider the time and money costs of transportation, as well as the benefits from different types of travel. Existing research tends to emphasize the costs without integrating an assessment of the variable benefits of accessibility.”

The full report can be downloaded at no charge from http://www.transweb.sjsu.edu/project/2806.html

ABOUT THE PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D., is Director of the MTI National Transportation Finance Center and also Associate Professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at San Jose State University. Her research interests in transportation policy and planning include transportation finance, pedestrian planning, and planning and transportation history. She has a BA from Harvard University, an MURP from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and a Ph.D. from the University of California at Berkeley. For a complete listing of her publications, see  www.sjsu.edu/faculty/weinstein.agrawal/

ABOUT THE RESEARCH TEAM

Evelyn Blumenberg, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Urban Planning in the School of Public Affairs at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Sarah Abel is a graduate student earning her Master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning at San Jose State University.

Gregory Pierce is a Masters student in the Department of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Chuck Darrah, Ph.D., is Chair and Professor in the Department of Anthropology at San Jose State University.

ABOUT THE MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE

The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) was established by Congress in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) and was reauthorized under TEA-21 and again under SAFETEA-LU. The institute is funded by Congress through the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration, by the California Legislature through the Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and by other public and private grants and donations, including grants from the US Department of Homeland Security. DOT selected MTI as a National Center of Excellence following competitions in 2002 and 2006. The internationally respected members of the MTI Board of Trustees represent all major surface transportation modes. MTI’s focus on policy and management resulted from the Board’s assessment of the transportation industry’s unmet needs. That led directly to choosing the San Jose State University College of Business as the Institute’s home. MTI conducts research, education, and information and technology transfer, focusing on multimodal surface transportation policy and management issues. Visit www.transweb.sjsu.edu

CONTACT: Donna Maurillo, +1-831-234-4009, donna.maurillo@sjsu.edu

(Press release provided by QuoteMedia)