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17 May 2007 @ 06:48 pm
Sorry I haven't updated lately. I've been doing more reading than writing, in the last few days. Some of that has been work. The Washington Mutual bust sent everyone a-flutter, and I've been spending countless hours on the phone with various customers, assuring them that, yes, we're still afloat, no, we don't have the same exposures that did in Washington Mutual, yes, the Fed is still guaranteeing liquidity. Fortunately, I'm not slated to switch off to the overnight shift until a week and a half from now. That's really going to do a number on my schedule.

So, I keep thinking about what a great team effort the WWO.org project is. People from around the world are coming together, and coming up with real solutions to the problems of scarce oil, and sharing those solutions with each other. It's huge. The things we're doing, promoting local food, alternative transportation, and community organization, are absolutely vital steps to getting through the crisis. We wouldn't get through without the contributions of each of you.

But will it be enough?

Sometimes, I can't help thinking of China during Mao's Great Leap Forward. Mao wanted to industrialize China, but saw the established ways of industrialization as too Western or too capitalistic. He wanted his own way, and the method he came up with was having all the collectivised peasants making steel in backyard iron smelters.

Now, to gloss over a perfect storm of massive failures, China didn't meaningfully industrialize for another 30 years afterwards (after Mao and his meddlesome nature were safely dead), and the diversion of labor away from agriculture resulted in famine. Lots of good effort went to waste.

Coming back to WWO.org, while we all need to pitch in with individual actions in our local communities, and that this work is absolutely necessary, at some point we're going to have to think bigger.

The federal government is too busy imploding to do anything. But state and local governments, and corporations, have every incentive to do what they can to keep things going and avoid collapse. Despite what anybody tells you, nobody profits from the End of the World. But relatively few of them have been able to take real steps in helping people, so far.

I'm guessing that very few, more likely none of us, is a governor, mayor, or CEO. We can't say "jump" and have lots of people do what we say. But not many people turn down free help, especially small local governments who are stretched thin in the best of times. And companies, large and small, look favorably on employees who can say "do this and we'll save $n-thousand per year in energy costs."

So here's my challenge to you. We all live somewhere, most of us still work somewhere. That gives each of us one, likely two ways to help start bringing large amounts of power to bear on the problems that we're already facing as a community.

Go out, when you can, and take a look around your neighborhood, and come up with plans to help your town council provide services to you and your neighbors. Figure out routes for an ad hoc bus system. Which streets can be closed to cars and reserved for bicycles and pedestrians? Where to put increased bike parking? What critical points need police present, or nearby, and for what purpose? (Theft deterrence? Crowd control? Direction giving? Make sure it's clear.) What underused bits of public land can become community gardens?

Look around your workplace, and note what can be done to keep employees (and customers, where applicable) able to get there. Are any old incandescent bulbs still burning that can be replaced by compact fluorescents? If you work in an area that offers it, look into programs like TransitChek that allow your employer to use pre-tax dollars to buy your transit pass. How can you reconfigure your parking lot to accommodate bicycles? If you're too far from a rail or bus line, can a connecting shuttle be run? Can the outer edges of your parking lot be used as a park-and-ride, either as satellite parking for a rail station (that shuttle doesn't have to return empty), or for an adjacent bus stop, or just for a slug line?

There are many steps that governments and companies can take. Steps that they *will* take, because they're in their own interests. Just go out and point the way. And let us know about the highlights.
Current Music: Tom Smith - Plugged - Rocket Ride
I suppose I should tell you what life is like here, in what we would all rather wasn't the fourth largest city in America. (Sorry, Houston, we'd much rather have beaten you squarely, and with trends going the way they have, we'd have done it, too.) There I go again, getting caught up in events, and avoiding talking about life. I'm not very good at this, and never have been. Sorry.

Every morning, I'm up before 4:00 AM. I strip the sheets off the bed, fold them up, and stick them in the closet, from whence I retrieve my bunkmate Josh's sheets and slip them on the bed. I shower, dress, eat a light breakfast, and am out of the house around 5:30 AM. At that hour, the bustle of the morning rush is just getting started; I catch a 34 trolley on Baltimore Ave., and I'm usually in one of the last available seats. It's hit or miss, at this hour, whether the trolley will be one of the last "overnight" trolleys running the diversion route to 40th and Market, or one of the first "morning" trolleys running into the subway to City Hall. If I'm lucky, it's the former; I change to the subway and get whisked to Center City; if not, the crowds get uncomfortable at 36th Street, and it's a slog.

When I get to the office, I start work by chatting with the night shift crew, who brief me on overnight developments. Come 7:00 AM, they'll be headed home with the 2/3 full reverse rush trains while the inbounds are crush load. The rest of what's now the day shift gets in between 6:30 and 10:00; the evening shift will stagger in similarly. There are no longer people crashing in the office; where would they not be disturbed by people working? Those who sleep in Center City and go home on weekends (or more rarely) are now all in the company-subsidised block of hotel rooms. The cots we had set up are now there, overloading the rooms, but the hotels are getting paid sufficiently to not care about that. We still have the cubicles rearranged, but now it's so that we can have a bike rack near the elevator. (I'm proud of the bike rack; I helped lug the PVC pipe from the Home Depot at Pier 70 to the Broad Street Subway, then on the train up to the office.) We're not directly worried about security (there's a checkpoint at the bottom of the elevator, and a camera pointed at the rack).

Every once in a while, the power will go out. This has happened twice while I've been at work, albeit both before residential electricity was rationed. Each time, the power was off for about 30 minutes. This is just long enough to turn the place uncomfortably warm before the A/C kicks back in. When it's happened, I left my computer off another 15 minutes, to make sure that I didn't overload the circuits, or if I did, I let the building cool off again first. Oh, I should have mentioned that the dress code is now "Cool Biz", a way to save on A/C costs we stole shamelessly from the Japanese.

I leave work at around 3:30 PM, nine and a half hours after getting in. Again, rush hour is just spinning up, but since the evening rush is so much less cramped than the morning, I don't go directly home. Instead, I go shopping for the household. I generally stop at Trader Joe's at 22nd and Market, but occasionally I stop by Asia Supermarket at 11th and Race. I pick up what I can, then walk to the Juniper St. trolley station, so I can get a seat on my way home. Dinner is usually around 5:30, with whoever's home then. Josh is a couple hours into his evening shift at CSX's offices at Commerce Square when I'm falling over into bed at 7:30, after watching the BBC News. Seven of us are sleeping nights and working days, and four of us are hot-bunking with the evening or night-shift residents. Power rations is sufficient for two air conditioners, and several more fans.

Eight and a half hours later, I'm up to do it all again. And I can only hope that the world has gotten better while I slept. It rarely has.
Current Location: 19143
Current Music: Chicago - Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
14 May 2007 @ 06:00 am

Just a reply to the Week 14 summary (why isn't there a comment section on these pages, or alternately, why isn't the weekly summary reposted on the worldwithoutoil community?).

inky_jewel states under the heading "We need trains": "Where do we get trains? From Europe and Japan, mostly! We don't even make them here anymore." This is false. While no American companies make passenger railcars anymore, most passenger trains in the US are at least assembled in domestic factories. Locomotives and freight equipment are also made in America, often by US-owned companies, like General Electric's locomotive division, based in Erie, PA. A list of the major passenger manufacturers:

  • ALSTOM, a French company, has its American factory on the site of former Erie Railroad shops in Hornell, NY.
  • Bombardier, a Canadian company, has a factory in Plattsburgh, NY and Barre, VT (which was mothballed but reactivated when Bombardier transportation went into overdrive back in mid-May). Both of these are just across the border from Québec, where Bombardier's main factory is (in La Pocatière, east of Québec City.)
  • Kawasaki Heavy Industries, a Japanese company, has facilities in Yonkers, NY and Lincoln, NE.
  • Rotem, a Korean company (part of the Hyundai chaebol) is spinning up its new factory at the Philadelphia Navy Yard as fast as it can.

All of these are working full-time; Bombardier in particular is churning out as many of its signature BiLevel coaches as it can, building an inventory for instant sale to whichever authority or government decides to spend money on fleet expansion. With a price tag at millions of dollars per car, well, if that's not confidence in the market, I don't know what is. Needless to say, they're all getting preferential treatment from their upstream inputs to keep their factories working three shifts continuously. Everybody wants more trains out there.

13 May 2007 @ 04:41 am
Well, that's that, folks. Rationing. That little heist down in Tennessee means that critical fuel deliveries, whether that's coal or diesel, get state police or National Guard riding shotgun, at least in Pennsylvania, and with that comes the state and the oil companies "co-operating" to identify who goes to the front of the line. Our Mayor Eddie's gotten fed up with the feds and pulled the trigger himself. New York, New Jersey, and Delaware are probably going to do the same, but who knows when the rest of the country will follow suit. I'm praying that it all holds up in court (which you know is where it's going), and part of me is hoping Gov. Rendell will have the stones to say "screw you" to the Supreme Court if they strike it down.

In any event, the state is now rationing gasoline and electricity for home use, and that means it's time for me to bug out by bugging in. I'm going to find a sublet for my apartment, and am moving in with friends in West Philly. We're going to be about 10-12 people, all told, in a 5 bedroom house, but we will be able to pool our our energy rations, and keep cool. I'll now be taking one of the subway-surface trolleys in to work. We haven't quite worked out furniture, but it seems likely that I'll be hot-bunking at least part of the time, at least until we figure out something more viable.

There's a guy in the office, who lives in exurban Chester County. I know for a fact that its been two weeks since he's seen his wife and daughter, since he's been sleeping in the city every night (you can tell who took a hotel billet the previous night because they come into the office with their hair still wet.) I'm going to talk to him about moving himself and his family to my apartment. It's going to be miserably cramped with only one bedroom, but at least he'll see his family every night.
This article excerpt is from today's Inky; this feels like dirty pool, or at least bad karma. OTOH, it's absolutely the right priorities to be setting.

Inquirer articleCollapse )
11 May 2007 @ 04:00 pm
SEPTA to retrain workers

Transit agency facing labor shortage;

SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney announced in a press conference yesterday that the transit agency would be hiring more bus drivers and train crew, and retraining present employees to fill needed positions, as the transit agency struggles to add yet more trains, trolleys, and buses to its schedule.

"Our limiting factors at this point are qualified Regional Rail engineers and trolley operators. We have the vehicles, but without the people to run them, we can't start earlier in the morning or go later at night. And the fastest way to get more is to shepherd conductors and bus drivers through the qualification process."

The announcement came two days after Mayor Street angrily denounced Amtrak for hiring away SEPTA engineers as rising fuel costs and railroad traffic drove an acute nationwide shortage in skilled labor.

The Mayor exploded during a meeting with Amtrak President Alexander Kummant, saying, "SEPTA can't keep our city going, because when they got a good man, you take him away with the promise of money. It's blood money. It's choking our city."

Mayor Street's comments were quickly denounced by Governors Ed Rendell and Jon Corzine, as well as New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg.

"Now is not the time to be levelling trumped-up accusations at each other while we're trying to work together to solve our mobility crisis", said Corzine.

Maloney would not be pinned down on how many SEPTA employees had left for Amtrak, but high-level sources inside 1234 Market Street said that the current schedule was dependent on the cancellation of leaves and vacations, and that the overnight Regional Rail service promised for July 1 would not be implemented for another 2-3 weeks.

Maloney did say that overnight ridership on the Route 100, which saw service begin last month, was very high.

"We are very happy with the new Owl services on the Market-Frankford El and the 100, and look forward to having more services in the late night hours."
MLK Drive closed to cars

Move comes as Schuylkill River Trail jamming

Philadelphia's Fairmount Park Commission has indefinitely closed Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive to motor vehicle traffic. Drivers are instructed to try alternate routes, including the Schuylkill Expressway.

"Traffic is the best it's ever been on the Expressway, while every morning we have accidents related to crowding on the bike path. We needed to open more capacity to bicycles."

Road crews will be out posting signs overnight tonight, in preparation for tomorrow's extended rush hour.

The Schuylkill River Trail runs from Boathouse Row to Valley Forge, on the east bank of the river. MLK Drive, formerly the West River Drive, runs from the Art Museum to City Ave. along the opposite bank. The Fairmount Park Commission has indicated that they will review the efficacy of the change in six and twelve months.
10 May 2007 @ 10:37 pm
PHL Bans Flights to New York, Harrisburg

Continental to pull out of airport

Officials at Philadelphia International Airport announced yesterday that they are grounding all departures to four airports, effectively severing air service to New York City and Harrisburg, in what they said was an effort to prioritize use of aviation fuel.

The affected airports are John F. Kennedy International Airport and LaGuardia Airport in New York, Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey, and Harrisburg International Airport.

US Airways and Delta, the two affected airlines, protested that they had not been consulted in the decision, but promptly cancelled the flights into the indefinite future and began rebooking passengers.

Travel industry and energy sector analysts applauded the move, citing the skyrocketing cost of fuel, especially given the short length of the flights.

"PHL is trying to protect its international flights, which given recent waves of cancellations, are in danger of consolidation with routes into New York or Washington. One of the best ways they can do that is to safeguard the availability of jet fuel, which is cheaper in Philadelphia due to the presence of local refineries. Cutting these short-haul flights is a step that the airlines were about to take anyway, de facto. Annulling the flights entirely allows the airport to free up scarce runway and gate slots."

An airport spokesman said that airport officials are looking into extending the ban to other Mid-Atlantic airports, naming White Plains, Stewart Airport in Newburgh, NY, and Baltimore/Washington International as possible candidates.

Gov. Ed Rendell gave cautious praise to the cancellations, and pledged that the commonwealth would continue to fund Philadelphia-Harrisburg Amtrak service, including the construction of a new station at Harrisburg Airport. He went on to suggest that Philadelphia and Harrisburg Airports coordinate route consolidation with the airlines to ensure that both cities retain adequate air service.

In a related development, Continental Airlines announced that it was halting its service from Philadelphia International Airport, and rerouting all Philadelphia passengers via 30th Street Station and Newark.

Continental served PHL nonstop from its hubs in Cleveland and Houston.

A Continental press release stated "Passengers to or from Philadelphia International Airport will be rerouted via Continental's Newark hub, or via other SkyTeam airlines. Connections at Newark will be made through Continental's code share partner Amtrak."

The national rail carrier is already carrying passengers in record numbers, but said it would handle the increase in Philadelphia-New York traffic, although some questioned where the seats would come from.

"Amtrak is already selling out between New York and Philadelphia in peak hours. Amtrak doesn't have the seats available to shoulder Continental, especially if they want to pick up market share from stranded US Airways passengers."

Other analysts weren't so quick to count Amtrak out.

"Since gasoline prices began to rise in late April, Amtrak's revenues have been going up, and they've been plowing as many of those extra dollars as they can spare into repairing their fleet and getting extra seats available for sale, especially on the Northeast Corridor, where they don't have to pay for diesel.

"They probably have enough slack to cover the air-rail market Harrisburg-Philadelphia and just enough for Philadelphia-New York, but Continental will be paying top dollar to fill those last seats with its passengers.

"The indubitable signal this sends, though, is that flying people short distances is no longer a profitable business."
Sorry I haven't updated in a while; I've been running the ragged edge at work. It's been interesting, as some of the people have gone in and split hotel rooms and are switching off so they don't have to drive or take SEPTA home to the suburbs to get a shower and a decent night's (or day's) sleep. Center City hotel rooms have been cheap lately, with all signs that most of the usual Fourth of July tourist hordes are staying home.

I've gotten together with two friends, and we're rotating sleeping spaces so we're all in one place, coming back to our own apartments every third weeknight. We're doing this to save on air conditioning bills, which are headed up with everything else; it's insanely more efficient to cool one apartment with three people instead of three apartments with one each. So tonight I'm writing in from my friend Chris's place in Manayunk. Tomorrow it's Aaron's in West Philly, then back to my place in Clifton Heights.

We'll be celebrating Canada Day in the city with a SEPTA fare increase. The fare hike has been coming for months now, although we're getting the mildest increase of the four on the table (Plan 'A', without simplification). I'll go into the details later, but I'll note that it's not cutting demand; monthly passes are still selling like hotcakes. I've been strictly going by the 102 trolley, and off-hours, at that, because the crowds are just too bad.

The National Guard moved into Philadelphia the day before yesterday. They're a welcome sight, because, as should surprise nobody, Mayor Street's been screwing up royally. The crime rate hasn't risen above pre-crisis levels (on average; night-by-night it's been all over the place), but since those numbers were highest-in-the-nation disgraceful, the crisis provides Gov. Rendell with a good excuse to put guys in green on streetcorners in North Philly and stop the bleeding in the neighborhoods. First order of business has been establishing "safe walking corridors" to get to the subway or bus stops without getting hassled or shot. Of course, they've also been in South Philly patrolling the refineries and tank farms down there, keeping people away from the trucks making deliveries. However, there's no love lost between Rendell and his former handpicked man Street, and America's Mayor (no, it's not that poseur Giuliani) has been repeatedly expressing frustration with how his successor has been running his city into the ground. I say it's about time the state intervened, because John Street is a certifiable idiot, who couldn't govern his way out of a paper bag without the paper company getting investigated for corruption.

I'm going to be posting news stories this week from the Philadelphia Inquirer about the various things that have been happening out here, but the real thing to know about what's been going on here in Philadelphia, is that we've been an island of relative calm, in comparison to the stories of craziness in other parts of the country (and the world, for that matter.) There's been violence, but the people shooting each other over gas have been, for the most part, the kids who were shooting each other over drugs or imagined slights three months ago. Tragic, but not the End of Western Civilization story one is hearing elsewhere.
Current Music: Petula Clark - Downtown
02 May 2007 @ 09:24 pm
We interrupt the series on railroads to bring you this important announcement:

Flexcar is moving into the Philadelphia area, and is having a special promotion waiving the application and annual fees. This lasts through 30th June.

Alternately, you can sign up for the fee-free local carsharing incumbent, PhillyCarShare, which is non-profit and has more locations, including two pods in the suburbs (one at Bryn Mawr College, one at Widener University in Chester), and pods in the neighborhoods outside Center City.

If you've been looking for a way to ditch your car, carsharing is a great way to do that.