Washington Policy Blog

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #22

October 22, 2009 in Blog

2003, a WSDOT study found the region could increase vanpool use up to 11,870
vans by 2030, a 600 percent increase from what currently exists today.

State Auditor reviews Commerce's fee use

October 21, 2009 in Blog

The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) held a public hearing this morning to discuss the State Auditor's performance audit of the Department of Commerce's use of fees. The performance audit found:

  • Commerce does not follow best practices to identify programs that could charge fees, which could provide the state with additional revenue.
  • Some user fees are not established in accordance with state law and others are not accounted for or used in accordance with state law.
  • Commerce could reduce general fund spending by between $2.2 million and $2.4 million or more over five years if fees were charged for four programs.

Among the audit recommendations was the need for Commerce to use best practices identified by the U.S. Government Accountability Office to determine which government activities should be funded with user fees. Those best practices are:

  • Ensure programs benefit identifiable users
  • It is administratively practical to charge a fee
  • The users have the ability to pay
  • The program is not based on need or merit
  • No other program considerations cause fees to be inappropriate

As noted by the State Auditor, all of these best practices can be used by other agencies.

Here is the video of Commerce's testimony today responding to the audit:

The new fee policy Commerce is developing in response to the performance audit could serve as a good model for other agencies. Especially against the backdrop of the current budget situation, the state should have a fee policy based on best practices in place to help determine which services can be switched from general fund support to a direct user-fee model.

In other news, the State Auditor's Office announced last week its performance audit program has passed its first peer review. Here are the details:

"The State Auditor's Office performance audit program passed its first peer review since t!
he program, authorized by Initiative 900 in November 2005, began.

The performance audit program received the highest level of assurance that an external review team can give on a system of audit quality control.

The review was conducted under the auspices of the National State Auditors Association (NSAA) in conjunction with the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers (NASACT).

The letter from the peer review team is available here."

Part III: Analysis of Vanpool Performance and Market Potential

October 21, 2009 in Blog


Here is our third report in our four-part series on Vanpools in the Puget Sound Region:
Part III: Analysis of Vanpool Performance and Market Potential

Key Findings
• Vanpools are far more flexible and require less public tax support than other, fixed route mass transit modes, like buses or rail.
• King County’s vanpool program alone carries more people than Sound Transit’s entire commuter rail, for $1 billion less.
• Regional vanpools served f!
our times more passengers for 1/7th the cost of Sound Transit’s Sounder Commuter Rail.
• Regional vanpools are 2½ times more efficient than Sound Transit’s buses.
• Between 2000 and 2007, regional vanpools spent 18 times less in capital expenses than the regional bus agencies, 12 times less than Sound Transit’s buses and 20 times less than commuter rail.
• Regional vanpools cost between three and five times less to operate than light rail, buses or commuter rail.
• Regional vanpools require much less public tax support than other inter-city transit modes because users cover two thirds of operational expenses.
• Vanpools have the potential to serve 20% percent more riders for $20 billion less than Sound Transit’s light rail expansion plan.
• Instead of spending more public money to connect cities with high speed rail, commuter rail, light rail and express bus services, policymakers should look to vanpools as the most efficie!
nt alternative.

Net Neutrality -- Will it Make You Sleep Easier at Night?

October 21, 2009 in Blog

My op-ed in the Seattle Times today takes on the very controversial Net Neutrality issue. If you want background info on Net Neutrality, see here, here or here. Essentially though, backers of Net Neutrality think the issue boils down to, "who controls the Internet?," which I actually think is a misplaced premise. However, let's indulge them on this for the time being.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #21

October 21, 2009 in Blog

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #21: Commuters traveled an average of 12.2 miles in 1999 and 12.8 miles in 2006, a
five percent increase, despite regulations to force
compact development. Between 1980 and 2000, commuters who cross county lines to
get to work increased from 10.4 percent to 16.1 percent. As commuters move
farther from employment centers transportation costs grow and demand for vanpools becomes more attractive.

Free-market innovation provides answers

October 20, 2009 in Blog

A recent post on Olympia Business Watch made note of several initiatives by Alaska Airlines that uses innovative technologies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and business costs. 

In this blog post Don Brunell, President of the Association of Washington Business, concludes that:

“Alaska and other airlines are undertaking these initiatives without the prodding of federal or state legislation or mandates.  They are doing it because it was a way to stay in business.  Saving fuel costs and being more environmentally friendly make good business sense. Market-based, free enterprise works.”

This is a great example of how the free-market, when left unfettered by government mandates, uses innovation and technology in a way that is a win-win for everyone. 

We have written before about government policies that limit innovation or pick and choose winning technologies.  Such policies assume lawmakers know which technologies are best.  However, it is extremely difficult to know what practical technologies are on the horizon and public officials are notoriously bad at predicting what will work in the future.

Successful initiatives by Alaska Airlines, and others, serve as another reminder that policymakers should engage the creativity of families and businesses and look to encourage innovation in the technology marketplace, not restrict it.

To the Seattle Weekly, "reporter" means someone who doesn't believe in fact checking

October 20, 2009 in Blog

Seattle weekly reporter Caleb Hannan blogged last week that King County Executive Candidate Susan Hutchison's environmental credentials were suspect because she contributed to the WPC's Center for the Environment.

To what do they object? They are unhappy because, they believe, we are "global warming denialists," and claim that we don't "believe in global warming." The only way they can come to this conclusion is by failing to do even a modicum of research.

In the past two years, I've written about climate change numerous times and testified by invitation in front of the legislature about the issue. Our position has been consistent for two years. In our Policy Guide, I advocated setting a carbon price to reduce CO2 emissions and cutting other taxes to offset this increase. It is a position supported by conservative economists like Reagan adviser Art Laffer,the head of President Obama's National Economic Council Larry Summers and Obama's director of the Office of Management and Budget Peter Orzag.

While we believe there is risk from climate change, we also believe that we should follow the science and that claims regarding 20 feet of sea level rise and other alarmist hyperbole are simply incorrect and untenable.

In fact, I've had two editorials published in the Seattle Times this year advocating that very position: a carbon price to reduce CO2 emissions. The Sightline Institute, a leading progressive think tank, even praised my position (even though they have faith that government can successfully pick and choose the best green technologies -- a faith I don't have).

The Seattle P-I made a similar mistake last week but when the error was brought to their attention corrected it immediately.

I've asked the Seattle Weekly editors to retract their blog post since it so obviously incorrect. They e-mailed on Sunday saying they were willing to correct errors but have not responded since then.

This is the problem with reporters whose understanding of an issue is limited by their politics and who don't feel the need to do their homework. They react reflexively rather than thoughtfully. We'll see if they follow the PI's lead and correct their error.

Update: October 21

Caleb wrote a very gracious blog entry today correcting our position on climate change. I'm sure the Weekly still would disagree with us on some elements of our position, but their correction was straightforward and sincere, and appreciated.

New Climate Documentary

October 20, 2009 in Blog

Our friends at the Cascade Policy Institute in Portland have put together a great new video on on climate policy outlining the risks of the current, government-heavy approach and the free-market alternative. Titled "Climate Chains" it interviews a number of experts on the issue...and me as well.

The video is only 22 minutes long and you can watch it at www.climatechains.com.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #20

October 20, 2009 in Blog

Vanpool fares would only need to rise about 50 percent to make vanpools self sufficient. On the other hand, Sound Transit’s bus fares would need to rise about 259 percent, and nearly 200 percent for the Sounder Commuter rail, to break even.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #19

October 19, 2009 in Blog

2002 and 2007, the public paid about $1.26 for every vanpool passenger trip
made in the Puget Sound region. In comparison, the public paid $5.13 for every
passenger trip on a Sound Transit bus and $10.66 for every passenger trip made
on the Sounder Commuter rail.

Vanpools most cost effective intercity transit mode

October 19, 2009 in Blog

This spring, WPC began studying the performance of vanpools as an effective, intercity mode of public transit. Here are the first two studies in WPC's four-part series on vanpools.

Part I: The Vanpool Solution, A faster, cheaper and easier way to commute (video)
Part II: Introduction & Background
Part III: Analysis of vanpool performance and market potential (To be released this week)
Part IV: Recommendations (To be released later this month)

Our research indicates that not only are vanpools the most cost effective intercity transit solution, but users pay most of the cost. This formula suggests vanpools should be expanded. Our last report contains a set of recommendations that will include the following:

  1. Saturate vanpool market before expanding other intercity modes
  2. Phase in 100% cost recovery in 5-10 years
  3. Standardize policies and pricing among the six agencies in the region
  4. Conduct feasibility study on governance
  5. Keep federal 5307 money earned by vanpools within the vanpool program
  6. Increase public awareness, via VMAP recommendations

Stay tuned as we continue to release further research on Vanpools in the Puget Sound Region: The case for expanding vanpool programs to move the most people for the least cost

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #18

October 18, 2009 in Blog

Taxpayers pay about 80 percent of
operating costs for light rail, buses and commuter rail, while users only cover
20 percent. In King County, vanpool passengers pay about 82 percent of
operating costs for the vanpool program, while taxpayers only have to fund the
remaining 18 percent.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #17

October 17, 2009 in Blog

accounting for ridership and distance traveled, vanpools cost between three and
five times less to operate than light rail, buses or commuter rail.

Is broadband Internet really a right or just an entitlement?

October 16, 2009 in Blog

CNet reports that earlier this week the nation of Finland made 1-megabit broadband Internet access a legal right for its 5 million citizens starting next July. The hope is to eventually increase that connection for every person to 100Mbps by 2015. They weren't the first though as earlier this year, France's Constitutional Council ruled that Internet access is a basic human right -- even though CNet reports that the French stopped short of making broadband access a legal right.

Vanpool Fact-of-the-Day #16

October 16, 2009 in Blog

are very inexpensive to operate. In between 2000 and 2007, the six regional
vanpool agencies spent $114 million to serve 837 million passenger miles. This
means operating costs were only .14 cents per mile.