Oil and the future - the commuter shift to public transport

Crikey has a series of articles on "oil, the future and you", with the first installment featuring Adam Grubb of Energy Bulletin (which has the full text for non-Crikey subscribers).

The high price of petrol today is causing discomfort among motorists. So much so that our federal politicians have spent almost a week haggling over whose scheme is best suited to knocking a few cents per litre from the pump price.

But in a world where oil is increasingly scarce, where the security of supply remains a problem, and where the environmental cost of using fossil fuels to power your car is soon to be factored into the pump price, is that the right response? What are the long terms solutions to our oil dependence? And is this the beginning of a new era of high-priced oil?

Crikey asked a panel of experts to answer questions on the good old days of cheap oil, what the politicians should really be arguing about, and how our economy will look when petrol costs many dollars per litre.

Today, Adam Grubb, the Australian editor of Energy Bulletin, answers Crikey’s questions.

Have we entered a new energy era of high-priced oil? Are the days of $1/litre petrol gone for good?

Yes, the fundamentals would suggest so. We appear to have reached the peak in oil production. Global conventional oil production peaked in May 2005. Australia as a net importing nation is particularly vulnerable. Our internal oil production peaked in 2000.

Australian oil production

Most of the major countries we depend on for imports are themselves past their own peaks of production: Vietnam, PNG, Malaysia, New Zealand and Indonesia. Internal affluence and oil consumption is increasing in most of these countries such that exports are falling far more rapidly than actual oil production. Of the major countries we depend on, only the UAE has not been decreasing exports in recent years. (See this article on The Oil Drum.)

This is a trend we are seeing globally. Competition for increasingly scarce oil exports will make procuring replacement oil an expensive exercise, perhaps one sometimes resulting in conflict. Only a fairly severe global recession is likely to make oil a less scarce commodity, and then only temporarily. ...

Sketch a picture of the Australian economy when petrol is $5/litre and rising, considering things like food, infrastructure, the family budget and inflation?

The McMansion suburbs are likely to fall into disrepair as the price of commuting and mortgage repayments cause many houses to be completely abandoned and stripped for copper wiring and other resources. Many formally middle class people who have lost their homes will be living out of their cars, perhaps even in gated car camps as are already being set up in the US. Many adult children won’t be able to afford moving out of home, and many households may take in boarders and relatives, creating larger households.

Repair and reuse industries will flourish, many based in garages and sheds. Urban and peri-urban food production will increase and vacant lots will be turned into food gardens. The streets will be more lively, with ad-hoc markets in used goods and home produce.

Use of foot transport, bicycles and public transport will increase. Street crime will not necessarily increase in direct proportion to economic hardships, as greater social use of the streets, due to less cars and the presence of walkers may provide a level of surveillance.

Some infrastructure and centralised social services may be slowly beginning to break down. Important phone lines will be left unanswered more often, unfilled potholes will be more prevalent. Many services of the welfare state may be withdrawn, depending on the political climate.

Restaurants, tourism, recreation, personal services and electronics are likely to be some of hardest hit industries. The cheap airline industry will collapse.

There may be food rationing of basic items.

Despite rapidly rising input prices, farmers, where the season is kind, will once again be making fair returns on their efforts, and will be able to employ some of those moving from the cities.

Those with strong community or family bonds will fare better than new immigrants and the otherwise socially isolated. Adaptability and resilience will be key personal strategies. Those too institutionalised by schooling and wage work, and those who consider high consumption lifestyles a birthright and the alternatives unthinkable will have a psychological struggle to adapt. Ecologically inspired strategies such as permaculture design will move from being an environmentalist hobby to a core economic strategy.

Those who are looking for solutions which simultaneously tackle environmental impacts, build social bonds, save money and increase health and wellbeing, will find ideal solutions in local food production and a network of manufacture and repair microindustries.

At the SMH, the front page (and the business section) was filled with energy news, with the biggest splash (featuring ASPO Australia's Garry Glazebrook) reporting on the surge of commuters onto public transport.

SOME rail passengers are being left behind on platforms and bus commuters are enduring long queues as motorists baulk at the soaring price of petrol and switch to public transport.

Morning peak-hour numbers on CityRail vastly exceed the State Government's "high-growth" predictions, and bus corridors are suffering a commuter crush. There has even been a surge in demand for inter-city Greyhound coach services.

The rush for public transport comes as motorists begin to ration their petrol use. Sales of unleaded petrol fell by 4.4 per cent in the first three months of the year.

Garry Glazebrook, urban planning lecturer at the University of Technology, Sydney, said traffic growth was beginning to slow because fewer people could afford petrol. "In Sydney, the price of petrol and the tolls combine with interest rates and inflation, and there is less room in the budget," he said. "Something has to give."

It is possible that a huge proportion are shifting to rail. In the 12 months to February, there were almost 1.2 million new passengers on the Bankstown line, a growth rate of 8.4 per cent.

In 2001, the Government's Transport Data Centre predicted a worst-case scenario in which the network was hit by 2 per cent yearly growth to 2021. In the year to February, that figure was more than 4.7 per cent. Patronage climbed 7.4 per cent on the Inner West Line, 6.3 per cent on the Western Line and 6.2 per cent on the East Hills Line. Trains are so full on the Bankstown and Western lines that some morning commuters are being left behind.

Meanwhile, patronage on the Hillsbus morning peak service to the city soared from 170,000-odd passengers in September 2005 to almost 300,000 in August 2007. "We had about 65 buses in 2005 operating on the M2. It is now closer to 140 buses coming out every morning," said Hillsbus's chief executive, Owen Eckford. "We have reason to believe that growth is likely to continue."

I love this issue. No matter what one says about it on one side, someone comes up with an opinion to the contrary. Believe me, in the US the average Joe doesn't believe there is an oil shortage. In addition, the traffic in our $4.00 a gallon part of the nation is just as bad (or worse, as I found out today) as ever. I keep hearing reports of driving being down, but the evidence just isn't visible.

For another opinion against peak oil (its all market manipulation, in this opinion), see: http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article20011.htm

The issue will never mature in the US, and no fundamental truth will be agreed upon, even if we are reduced to divvying out gasoline with eyedropopers...basically because it has become an ideological issue in this ideologically driven nation. We'll always be at loggerheads.

That DOT press release just slays me. How do you suppose they measure the miles driven by 200 or so million drivers? By taking a poll?

Look at the gasoline sales numbers for the truth, down 0.04% for april. Within margin of error, I'm sure, so basically no change.

Note at end of press release they shout, "Saved a 9 billion tons of carbon!" I suspect that is what that Ministry of Truth is all about.

I think this writer paints a fairly accurate picture of what will happen. This scenario was already happening with the housing collapse. $4-$5 gas just adds to it.

Across the U.S. we have a very uneven picture of the suffering because it exists in somewhat isolated pockets. Think what this does to millions with upsidedown mortgages. The US gov doesn't really count the unemployed anymore as they have found six ways to Sunday to fix the numbers. Around 20% are self employed and they are never counted since they pay for, but aren't eligible for unemployment comp. Some experts say the real number is well over 10%.

With the price of fuel nearly doubling, most local governments will exhaust their fuel budgets by mid year and have no choice to raise taxes at a time tax revenues are falling due to foreclosures. Fewer homeowners now have to pay more on top of everything else. Then the next prezident will raise taxes dramatically. We've already got local governments filing bankruptcy and there will be many more.

Analysts are predicting a coming wave of bank failures -- no surprise to anyone watching the financial scene. Only the Fed is keeping the big banks alive. Meanwhile the stock market does fine because the Fed keeps pumping money into that professional poker game. And despite all evidence the media says we're in recovery. IN RECOVERY !! From what, reality withdrawal? Where is the Red Queen when you need her?

I think one needs to differentiate between commute miles versus discretionary miles.

I have not noticed much relief on my commute here in Silicon Valley. However, the almost nightly drag racing on the strip behind my house ceased about three months ago.

I'm quite pleased that many high schoolers are being priced out of the cruising scene regardless of how much I enjoyed it when I was their age.

Meanwhile, gas prices in California continue to rise a few pennies a day. Of course, I know that oil traded as late last Tuesday won't begin to be delivered until Sunday. And much of that 135 oil was on the July contract, and barring a collapse, pump prices should continue to rise for a while.

Like many of you, I was pissed to see the US CPI data saying oil import prices were down in April, but I went back to the charts which confirmed that oil was indeed much lower mid Feb when the April contract was closing.

Maybe I will see the Interstate Bicycle System in my lifetime after all!

The transit system here in Denver is up against a situation that many other transit systems also face.

1) Fuel prices are up, even with long term contracts, the price continues to rise.

2) The rider ship is up, extra buses are required to fill the required routes.

3) About 70% of our income comes from a district wide sales tax. With the economy in poorer shape, sales revenue is down.

As a result they want to cut off some low rider ship routes. This is not a very popular idea with the board of directors, since they each have a district they represent; they don’t want to cut any routes from their district. To me the logical thing to do is raise fares, more money from the fare box.

It will be interesting to see how this works out. One thing is for sure, there will be a shortage of transit equipment for a long time to come.

How about adding more taxes on gasoline and diesel and funnelling the money to the transit system?

In my opinion, fares should be zero as they hit the poor very hard, require substantial effort to collect and enforce, and discourage people from using transit.

I live in NYC, and for many people the $1.70 or so a ride is no small change. We've also got enormous amount of wealth in this city, and the city could easily raise the money from other sources if it wasn't so corrupt and in-bed with the rich.

I live in an area where the transit system is fairly decent. Over the past 6 months I've seen a small increase in bus ridership in my area, but nothing too big. If I had to guess I would put the increase at around 2-6%.

I commute down a 2 mile bike lane in Cambridge, MA that has always had some traffic in the morning, but this month the traffic has grown to a downright peloton.

3 days ago I saw a lady biking her 10 year old daughter to school, Dutch style. And there are now two stores selling bakfiets in town.

Peloton. Personally I like a lot of room while cycling.

Here in Queensland you still get that but you do have to put up with the occasional abuse from car owners.

"The cheap airline industry will collapse."

Yes, I've been thinking that the airlines would move back towards the model of the 1960s, with much less mass tourism, but still servicing demand from diplomats, businesspeople, rich jetsetters, etc. (Those were the days when the "Economy" seats in a Qantas 707 were only a couple of rows down the back.)

But oh dear, it seems like the *expensive* airline industry is collapsing first...

I was listening to the CEO of Southwest saying they were hedged in the 60s through 2011. The guys asking the questions suggested he park those pesky planes and change the company into a hedge fund.

Probably not a bad idea.

On another note, one would think at least a hint of an explanation would be proffered explaining how the price keeps going up with 4.3% less driving. We all know the answer, but I'd like to see the squirming on Bubblevision.

I'd also like to hear a talking head explanation as to why we need more refineries if usage is down 4.3% Seems we should be mothballing a few. Could you imagine the outrage towards XOM Rex if he shut a refinery until demand picked up?

It just seems to me the media could come up with more convincing arguments explaining the situation. Something really perverse like saying in the new economy prices rise when demand falls. Therefore, the only way to lower gas prices would be for every "real" American to go buy a nice big Suburban before the "terrorists" win.

I guess that's enough useless rambling from Sheeple #217,038,991

Have you heard the one about a frog and a pot of water? Drop the frog into boiling water and it will immediately leap out. But put the frog in cool water and turn on a low flame. The frog will acclimate as the temperature rises.. until it is cooked.

The next dollar in price for a gallon of gas is always expected to be the tipping point. I met a man who was agitating for bike trails in the sixties in Ohio. He told me he was sure US$1 per gallon gasoline would make people see the light. Now some say US$5 per gallon will make the difference.

I really think Americans will just pay for the gas, no matter the cost. That's the nature of addiction, right. Can't get enough from Texas, get it from the middle east. Not enough there, divert your food supply to feed the habit. What next?

I think it will continue like that until we're cooked.

I think we will see a lot of used cars driving slow and parked. New fuel efficient vehicles will be too expensive for most.

Driving parked... That's what freeways are for, right? =)

Good news! The frogs eventually jump out...

Are we smarter than frogs? :)

Americans drive on parkways and park on driveways.

Just rename the paved surfaces to driveways and you're all set!

What sort of policies should Australia be developing to cope with high-priced oil?

We need to radically increase investment in renewable energy technology; implement a Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) system for allocating personal carbon allowances; adopt the Oil Depletion Protocol on top of the Kyoto Protocol

We do?!

The political reality is we'll be extremely lucky if the emissions trading scheme includes the transport sector. We have zero chance of more radical measures such as TEQs and Heinberg's protocol thing being implemented. I don't think it serves the Peak Oil community well to push such controversial measures, which basically amount to rationing. I think its far better to push for a gradual introduction of 'green taxes' compensated by income tax cuts and increased welfare.

There has to be some 'carrot' it can't be all 'stick'.

I pretty much agree. Our political leaders took a week of Parliament time to come to no conclusion on 5c a litre fuel tax. How can they come to grips with an emissions trading scheme? Which by the way I believe should be up and running in 18 months. TEQs and depletion protocols aren't even on the political radar. I think Big Oil, Big Coal and Big Metals agree with carrot and stick so long as the carrots are large and the sticks are small.

If the ETS doesn't get up or is pathetic perhaps Kev should consider resigning for failing to keep his promises.

Personally I'm very much against the idea of TEQs and I'm totally unenthused about the ODP.

How ever neither will ever happen so there is no point flogging either dead horse - though seem British MPs seem determined to try.


I agree that we should go carbon taxes (compensated for with income tax cuts) and start increasing funding for public transport and the MRET target - in all cases ratcheting them up as each year passes.

With regards to the interview with Adam, has anyone got a pointer to a "gated car park" (with people living in cars).

This seems kind of out there, but the sheer weirdness of it has a certain appeal...

Here you are Gav,

...Gee, The Future is never as good as it was!

Thanks - what a terrible story.

2 things spring to mind:

1. Why doesn't she move to a cheaper city.
2. Given that there are so many unoccupied houses in the US, how do things get to the point where there are so many homeless. Surely a functioning housing market adjusts prices so that supply meets demand ?

There are unoccupied houses, but even in the crashed market a single mother can't afford to buy one, she has to rent.

Health and safety regulations mean that if you lease a place to someone, you must keep it in good repair. Given that many of these houses are being stripped of their copper and so on, it's actually more expensive to lease a place out to someone and keep it in repair than just to not lease it out and let it rot. Tax laws about depreciation and so on favour boarding it up.

The US does not have a functioning housing market, overall. For example, many foreclosed houses are sold... with the unpaid debt. The bank doesn't just sell the house for as much as it can get and write off the bad debt, it tries to sell the debt with it. Amazingly, people already getting into debt to buy a house don't want the extra old one, too.

Banks want to sell the old debt because the debts they're owed they count as an "asset." In the crazy financial system we have, a rotting house and its unpaid debt attached to it is an "asset" worth more than simply selling the house.

They're allowed to lend money of so many multiples of their "assets", so that they have an incentive to maximise them. They lend out money, generating more "assets" which lets them lend out more, and so on.

Simply writing a heap of these bad debts off would make the whole house of cards collapse. Which is why the US Federal Reserve now accepts all these bad debts from the banks as "assets". They'll accept anything except an IOU on a beer coaster.

Wow - that is bizarre (bundling remaining debt with the house purchase).

I was wondering why people could buy houses in outer Atlanta for $10,000 - I read an article at Mish Shedlock's site talking about property taxes (based on old values) making people reluctant to spend much (as well as loans being hard to come by) - but if you also have the shortfall left by the last owner then it makes a lot more sense...

I'm surprised they won't "pay" you to take on some houses that really got over-inflated prices during the boom :-)

The other aspect is taxes.

If you can't make the mortgage payments and the market is down, the bank may go for what in the US they call a "short sale" - where the selling price is less than what's owed on the mortgage. This is meant to be better than a foreclosure because you don't have the nasty smear on your credit record. However, the amount short is forgiven debt, and the IRS counts forgiven debt as "income" and wants to charge you tax on it. So you get out of mortgage debt, are now homeless, and owe the IRS money... awesome.

So instead people just let the bank foreclose on them as the market crashes. And despite the crashing market the bank doesn't want to lose money. Which means yes, the place is offered for $10,000 - but plus $100,000 for the debt.

Now this is where else the taxes come in. We've got property taxes, what here Down Under we call council rates. And those are in proportion to the council-assessed value of your property. So while the market says the place is worth $10,000, the council claims it's worth $100,000... and keeps charging rates to the abandoned property, if you want to move in you have to pay them.

And of course if the place has been abandoned for a year, it's been trashed and looted, walls torn open for the copper... So now as well as the property taxes and a possible old debt you've got the cost of fixing the damn thing up. And there are few neighbours around, and those squatters and drug dealers.

The sane thing to do would be to write off all the bad debts, wipe the slate clean and start again. But that'll never happen. Only billionaires get that kind of help :)

I like taking the bus. However I am in Poland where this system from the Communist days is still basically intact. In the cities that is. But when I am in the US it is nearly impossible to rely on the bus.

Milwaukee, as an example, used to have a great bus system in the 60's. However the people were quickly weened off of it under the slogan that the city was not efficient in providing this service (compared to what is spent on the war in Iraq the costs must seem insignificant). Now they have a bare bones skeleton of that which it was before. I would say useless.

In Louisville KY, USA, the move to mass transit so far has been a public relations nightmare for the bus transit authority (TARC (Transit Authority of River City).

The truth is, the bus had long been considered "turf" by the gangs and toughs. The new crowd of naive middle class has been easy prey for the longtime riders of the system. There have been repeated incidence of robbery and petty assault, and several widely publicized cases of very serious crimes, including a recent murder by gunfire and the sexual assualt of a high school boy.

The fact is that unless a person is willing to carry a gun and use it, they do not belong on many of the public transit systems of the U.S., period. The fear of city and intercity buses is much more than myth in the U.S. Americans will pay whatever price it takes to stay away from them if they can do it. Personal safety is more important than money, and even a two cylinder car that can do 40 miles per hour is considered a better option than buses. For intown uses, a good electric car would be considered heaven compared to riding the dangerous and unreliable bus. They will never catch on in the U.S. for most people. The poor, desperate and dangerous are already on them, and that will keep the rest of the population off of them.


Doesn't sound too good.

I'm surprised middle class commuters catching buses from middle class neighbourhoods for work hour commutes would face these sorts of issues though. I'd imagine some bus routes here would be a little scary / dangerous too - but your average middle class suburbanite who gets squeezed into using public transport would never get on one of these routes.

According to this public transport usage in the US is showing a surge too :


Problems of crime on public transport are nothing new. In the 1980s, the New York City subway was notorious for crime. Arguably it was the 1990s zero-tolerance policing which solved the problem. In London, England, there is a worsening problem with knife attacks. The authorities have installed CCTV on the buses to help reduce crime, and police are conducting random searches for knives and other weapons.

Public transport riders will always be at greater risk of crime than private car drivers. However some cities are more dangerous than others so we need to learn from the best practices. From my travels in South America, I remember seeing armed police officers at every major bus stop. Perhaps we simply need more police officers? Or longer sentences for people who commit crimes on public transport? (although prisons are already overcrowded).

Some people think that as increasing numbers of respectable people are forced onto public transport, behaviour should improve. However this is the same logic that inspired "busing" so I'm not confident about this solution.

Public transport riders will always be at greater risk of crime than private car drivers.

Crime, maybe yes. But actual injury or death? After all, once you're over the initial trauma of someone wanting to hurt you, what matters is the actual injury or death.

Cars are more deadly and dangerous than being out on the streets or on public transport.

Australia, 2007 -
Deaths by violence or accident on public transport: 0
Deaths by accident or violence involving private vehicles: 1,611 (though to be fair, about a quarter of those are where a private vehicle struck a pedestrian)

Injuries by violence or accident public transport and the streets: ~500 (separate figures for PT and street violence are not available)
Injuries by accident or violence involving private vehicles: ~22,000

81% of all trips are taken by private vehicle, and 10% by public transport. So we see that you're likely to never be killed by violence or accident on Australian public transport, and only one-quarter as likely to be injured by accident or violence (and that's when you roll all the street violence into public transport, remember).

Perhaps the US is intolerably more violent than Australia on public transport, making this more dangerous than driving. But since the US has about 42,000 road deaths and about 16,000 homicides, and 2.5 million road injuries as against 1.5 million victims of violent crime (remember that most "victims of violent crime" were not actually injured, as for example in people who have a shotgun pointed at them in a robbery), this seems unlikely.

Therefore, while it may be true that public transport users are at more risk of crime than car users - it may be true, but a glance at how most assaults, rapes and homicides are by someone known to you makes this seem unlikely - it is not true that you are at most risk of actual injury or death on public transport than in cars. And actual injury or death is what really matters.

Cars are more deadly and dangerous than being out on the streets or on public transport.

After all, once you're over the initial trauma of someone wanting to hurt you, what matters is the actual injury or death.

You're ignoring people's psychological trauma from being robbed, threatened with robbery or physical harm, bullied or otherwise harassed.  These are actual injuries even if not physical.

Hanging transit thugs from the lamp posts next to bus stops would perhaps be a bit extreme, but could not but encourage ridership and direct the efforts of the criminal class elsewhere.

You're ignoring people's psychological trauma from being robbed, threatened with robbery or physical harm, bullied or otherwise harassed. These are actual injuries even if not physical.

Likewise, there is stress and trauma from driving, near misses, road rage and so on.

The violent crime rate in the US is about 20 per 1,000 - that's murder, grevious bodily harm, common assault, armed robbery, rape, aggravated burglary, everything. That's 6,000,000 violent crimes altogether.

There are six million car crashes in the US annually.

However, two-thirds of all murder victims are closely known to the murderer. 80% of all sexual assault victims are a family member or friend of their attacker. Two-thirds of female, and half of male common assault victims are closely known by the offender. Armed robberies and aggravated burglaries are of course most commonly done by strangers, but psychological trauma tends to be less when attacked in any way by a stranger than by someone close to you.

So we can see that of the most serious violent crimes, you're most at risk from someone close to you, and at relatively little risk in a public place. Psychological trauma is most likely to come from attacks by those closer to you than strangers, and those closer to you are more likely to attack you, so that in the end we can say that of the psychological injury from crime, it comes overwhelmingly from people you know, not some random psycho or drug addict on a train.

Overall, you are at far less risk of death or physical or psychological injury on public transport or in a public place than in your car or at home.

According to the FBI, from 1990-95 in the US, the serious violent crime rate 6%. But at the same time, network tv coverage of crime rose 240%. [source:-Media Monitor, Vol XI Number 3: July/August 1997]

According to one article [source:- Setting the Public Fear Agenda: A Longitudinal Analysis of Network TV Crime Reporting, Public Perceptions of Crime, and FBI Crime Statistics, Journal of Communication 53, Dennis T. Lowry, Tarn Ching Josephine Nio, Dennis W. Leitner]

Based upon data from 1978 through 1998, results suggest that the 1994 "big scare" was more a network TV news scare than a scare based upon the real world of crime. The television news variables alone accounted for almost four times more variance in public perceptions of crime as the MIP [most important problem] than did actual crime rates.

Study after study finds this, that the perception of the levels of crime or other dangers bears little or no relation to the actual scale of the dangers, but to how much it's talked about in the media.

So that not only is the perception of public transport as a dangerous place wrong, but the perception of society as more violent than it has been is wrong, too.

Public transport is relatively safe. Driving cars is several times more dangerous to physical and mental health, only accounting for direct and obvious trauma.

Factor in indirect things like fossil fuel depletion, climate change, vast sums spent on roads instead of more productive uses, and driving looks very bad indeed.

Like the article's picture says: take the bus.

Thanks for clearing that up Kiashu, there are reams of data to show crime has been steadily declining in the West, and it is only the reporting of it that has been rising. Solution. Turn off the TV. Crime stories are sexy, and good for business if you are in security services, but the reality does not match the publics perception.

The violent crime rate in the US is about 20 per 1,000.... That's 6,000,000 violent crimes altogether.

There are six million car crashes in the US annually.

Thank you for that object lesson in how to lie with statistics.

Compared to being the victim of a violent crime, motor vehicle accidents are impersonal and the vehicles themselves are physically protective.  Total US fatalities to motor-vehicle occupants in 2006 numbered 32,092, about one-half of one percent of the 6 million violent crimes you mention.  My personal risk is much lower than average because I am not a teenager, drive a car with many safety features, etc.

However, two-thirds of all murder victims are closely known to the murderer.

I believe you are lying.  Per the Uniform Crime Report, total homicides for 2006 included 23% by "acquaintances", 13% by strangers and a whopping 45% by "unknown relationship".  By contrast, total murders by family (what people usually mean by "closely known") are just 12%.

Riding the bus along with people of violent tendencies is a good way to get acquainted with people you would rather not.  I would favor measures to increase safety by barring violent persons from using transit, but all I see from you is finger-pointing at people who would rather not be victims.  I expect you'll be throwing around the R-word next.  (The Newspeak definition of "racist" is a person arguing against Political Correctness and winning.)

80% of all sexual assault victims are a family member or friend of their attacker.

Do people riding in private vehicles get groped much?

Armed robberies and aggravated burglaries are of course most commonly done by strangers, but psychological trauma tends to be less when attacked in any way by a stranger than by someone close to you.

Speak for yourself.  One can move to get away from someone close to you, but thugs can be anywhere.

So we can see that of the most serious violent crimes, you're most at risk from someone close to you,

Shown to be false above for homicide.

and at relatively little risk in a public place.

This is like the statistic that most fatal traffic accidents occur within 10 miles of home, and concluding that one should stay away from home to be safe!

You should try developing a closer relationship with reality.

My personal risk is much lower than average because I am not a teenager, drive a car with many safety features, etc.

Your personal risk on the roads depends not only on your behaviour, but that of others. After all, here in Australia about one-quarter of people killed on roads are pedestrians or cyclists. So we can't really say they died because they were bad drivers.

Total US fatalities to motor-vehicle occupants in 2006 numbered 32,092, about one-half of one percent of the 6 million violent crimes you mention.

So we're going to compare all road deaths with all crimes? Why not like with like? Why not road deaths with homicides? Are we to compare the lung cancer rate with all the people who get pneumonia and live?

The figures you quoted in the Uniform Crime Report show,

6,335 victims had a relationship with the offender
1,905 were strangers
6,750, their relationship was unknown

"unknown" means they don't know who the offender was, it could have been their dad, the postman, nobody knows for sure. The cops usually have their suspicions but not enough evidence for a court case or statistics.

So, to speak more precisely, of the homicides where the victim and offender's identities are known, 77% were known to one another, and only 23% were strangers.

Further, we see here that most murders are not committed in association with some other felony. That is, you're not likely to be killed while being robbed, etc, but in an argument.

Looking at Australia, we see that over a four year period, only 28 of 1,267 homicides occurred on public transport or in a car. Over half the homicides were at someone's house, and most of them by someone the victim knew. Over the same period about 7,000 people died on the roads by accidents.

Thus, if murdered, you're likely to be killed by someone who knows you, in some argument. You are not likely to be killed by some stranger in the street or on public transport. You are much more likely to be killed on the roads.

Riding the bus along with people of violent tendencies is a good way to get acquainted with people you would rather not.

The trouble is that most violence comes from people you know. You may be more afraid of random psychos - and having by assaulted by random pyschos, I can understand this - but in fact you are much more likely to suffer violence from people you know.

Do people riding in private vehicles get groped much?

Not while they're driving, no. But they do at home, and by people they know. On the train, rather less.

You should try developing a closer relationship with reality.

And you should learn to address a person's arguments, rather than your perception of the person's character. Otherwise you may as well just replace all your posts with "me smart, you poopyhead."

Your personal risk on the roads depends not only on your behaviour, but that of others. After all, here in Australia about one-quarter of people killed on roads are pedestrians or cyclists. So we can't really say they died because they were bad drivers.

Without taking part in, or even commenting on the broader dispute here, this part of your argument appears flawed.
The whole concept of offering people who have not had recent accidents cheaper insurance relies on the idea that, on average, they are safer despite the risk from other drivers remaining constant.
OK, on occasion something happens that is unavoidable, such as a truck swerving into you, but good driving minimises most risks, and even where mechanical failure happens those who get their car regularly serviced are much less likely to come unstuck.

Pedestrians similarly fall into different risk bands, with the very old and the very young, together with teens fooling around, constituting by far the majority of casualties - in effect they are 'bad walkers', if not bad drivers.

Just watch some of the idiots riding cycles to get an idea of the risk factors, although to be sure even good cyclists are perhaps unique in their relatively even distribution of risk, being at all times in close proximity to cars.

Anyways, just a comment from a guy who used to be in insurance, and so couldn't resist!

Oh, of course if people have shown an ability to avoid accidents, they're more likely to do so in future. Nonetheless,

"Your personal risk on the roads depends not only on your behaviour, but that of others."

I didn't say other people's behaviour was the only thing that mattered, I simply said that your own personal behaviour was not the only thing that mattered.

If only your personal behaviour affected your road safety, then the insurance premiums for people who'd avoided accidents for (say) ten years would be... $1? Very very low, anyway.

The truth is, the bus had long been considered "turf" by the gangs and toughs.

The solution to that is to slap ankle bracelets on the gang members and put detectors on the bus doors (and maybe at the bus stops).  Reserve transit for the law-abiding, make the criminals walk.

According to this article, the australians are a very special kind op persons.

They like their cars so much that their rather keep driving them and loose their houses than trade them in for smaller vehicles.

It seems to me that australians just never can think of them selves sitting in a small car, or cycling to the store.

Never mind that 400m europeans have already traded in their large gas-guzzlers 40 years ago. Australians are special, you know. They just don't cycle. It's un-australian.

The fact is: Smaller cars are available. an ordinary ICE car which does 50 mpg you can buy today for less than 10.000 US$. To proove to you that this is true, here is a picture:

This is not new technology.

Here is an example of the same technology, designed in the 1930's. I admit, it is not very fancy, but it works remarkably well.

There will be many problems. But affordability of oil will not be one of them. Neither will driving to work.

Well - I cycle to work every day and I'm not the only one.

And I don't think Europeans ever hard large gas guzzlers to trade in, so that part of your story doesn't work.

But yes - even people in far flung outer suburbia will have to learn to either move closer to their jobs, drive smaller cars or use public transport - those are the choices (based on our current infrastructure) that are available.

Once electric vehicles become the norm a larger car and a longish commute from the outer suburbs may become a viable option once again.

Regarding taking public transport and moving closer in to the city. Where I live it is not much of a problem but I suspect the purposeful apartheid system in America regarding the races(design of interstates/cars and suburbia designed to help white flight from growing black south to north immigration for factory jobs post WWII??) has resulted in the lack of willingness of most suburbanites to use public transport or move back in to the urban areas. So it is not just a matter of technical change(smaller flat inurban area as attractive cheap alternative lifestyle,etc.) but one of fear of "the black man" much as in Nazi war progpaganda poster I saw in a text book showing a black French soldier over the horizon of a map of France. The message was obvious. Until the racial problem in America is solved the urban/suburban dilemma will remain as long as blacks and/or latinos remain a large percentage of urban poor intinsically feared by many whites middle class types. The suburbs are becoming now poverty traps for all and there are nice black suburbs and gentrificiation of some previously blighted urban areas so too much sterotyping is wrong but class/race divide make simple logistical PO solutions as suggested on TOD difficult to implement in the real world. USA is not Japan/Germany where such solutions could be implented and consensus decisons would be much easier. I think that 1/3 of Americans would not now vote Obama just because he is black and maybe 1/3 hate Hillary Clinton or think a woman is not up to the job. This sort of thing weakens the democratic party considerably. Then the republicans have a very old man as candidate. A multicultural country is probably harder to govern, like say belgium,in its permanent chaos. Ilike Obama and think his experience is a personal strength to help unite Americans of different backgrounds. He is not black and not white althouhg in America he is automattically classified as a black man, probably even if he had a great-great-great-great-grandfather who was black. This is the heart of the racist system. This attitude will likely remain regardless of a massove die-off and/or cultural change in America. Genetic basis of the population with underlying attitudes will remain barring massive genocide of one group on another (anything possible under extremest circumstances, but we should hope for the best).

This is a very good reason for not being in USA, permanent unresolved racial tension and an impermanent culture based on constant population(genetic) churning (endless immigration of new groups and moving from one geographic area to another). Stable permanent solutions to cultural problems (eating and transport and manufacturing culture based on traditons passed on over generations from father to son, mother to daughter) with long-term investment can hardly be expected by people who are just passing through, without roots of any sort, beyond perhaps their own experience or that of one or two generations before them, but easily and quickly discarded.

Anyway this is somewhat off topic and not really a rant but somewhat relevant to my own experince where each genration moved on from Europe to East Coast Canada then to Alaska and I am in Germany and can hardly know where my kids may end up and each generation married to someone from a differnt cultural circle. Enriching for me personally (or say Barack Obama) but hardly rooted and stable basis for a whole civilization (USA, Australia) much less if parts of that civlization is a permanent underclass, like in USA or South Africa.

Anyway, I bike to work 7 KM each way and live in a 5 astory red brick apartment block with many German and lots of various other immigrant nationalities who would be termed white in USA but not understood in that way here but rather as foreigners (Chinese, Afghanistan, Turkish) along with 1/6 of population in Hamburg also being foreign . Bus and train are ok, safe, everybody uses it without fear or discomfort. I understand in some parts of Europe, perhaps southern France it is not so safe, but I just pick up occasional stories from press so cannot say from experience.

I would find the argument for public transportation in the US more compelling if Europe used it more with their high fuel prices. Europe's public transit is much touted but somewhere on the order of 85% to 90% of all passenger miles in Europe are by car. This is true in spite of the fact that Europe has a much higher population density than the US and it has higher fuel taxes and more subsidies for public transit.

It's all relative, and what's important is not only percentages but total distance travelled. After all, there's a difference in fossil fuel consumption between someone who travels 800km by car and 200km by bus, and someone else who travels 5,000km by car and 5,000km by bus; the second guy can say, "You travel 80% by car and me only 50%!" but the second guy is burning more stuff to get around.

As you can see from this book,

km/person for,
car 17,032
bus 681
train 38
or 96% of the distance by cars

and France (I chose them because they had the highest distance driven in cars, just to make Europe look the worst possible for public transport)
car 11,311
bus 736
rail 1,017
or 87% of the distance by car

So France's high fuel taxes in combination with a deliberate effort towards walkable and bikable neighbourhoods and investment in public transport gives them overall less distance travelled, with public transport being 13% of all distance travelled as against the USA's 4%, and the absolute distance travelled by public transport being 244% that of the USA's.

Lest you want to argue that it's all because the US has a low population density, on the linked book note that Sweden with a lower population density than the USA has a higher proportion by public transport - 17%. They also have higher fuel taxes than both France and the USA.

Lest you want to argue that it's because the USA is physically large, we can look at Australia where we average 14,700km by car, and about 1,500km by public transport - 9%. We have higher fuel taxes than the USA.

Thus as a back-of-envelope-in-the-bar sort of conclusion we can say that high fuel taxes ("high taxes" being more than half of fuel cost - it's about a third in Australia) and high investment in walking, biking and public transport gives you a one-third reduction in total distance travelled and triples your public transport use, compared to low fuel taxes and little investment in non-private vehicle transport.

High fuel taxes and high investment in non-private vehicle infrastructure. It really does work in lowering distance travelled, and thus fuel used and emissions caused. It's not immediate nor is it everything we need, but it does work.

It's possibly also part of the reason that the US uses about 25bbl of crude per person annually, Australia 15, and most of Europe around 10. Denmark's 7. If the USA used as much oil per person as Denmark does, they'd be a net exporter still.

If the USA used as much oil per person as Denmark does, they'd be a net exporter still.

That is such a great stat.

You should bring it out every time some doomer starts babbling away about the collapse of civilisation being imminent.

30 years after Hubbert's peak in the US, the country could still be a net oil exporter if it adopted a Danish standard of living (which, I might add, is pretty high based on my experiences in the country - the beer is a bit expensive but the quality is good).

That's my mental calculation. Let's check it with some stats, got from the first links which pop up in Google.

US oil consumption (2004): 20.73 million bbl/day, 7,566 Mbbl/year
YS oil production (2005): 7.61 Mbbl/day, 2,778 Mbbl/year
US population: 300 million
Annual per capita oil consumption/production: 25/9.3 bbl

Denmark oil consumption (2006): 171,00bbl/day, 62.4 Mbbl/yr
Denmark oil production (2006): 342,000bbl/day, 125 Mbbl/yr
Denmark population (2007): 5,468,000
Annual per capita oil consumption/production: 11.4/22.9 bbl

So what I said was wrong, the mental unchecked figures I had for Danish oil consumption were about 7.5bbl each annually. So the US if it reduced to Danish level of oil consumption could be almost self-sufficient in oil, getting 80% domestically instead of only 35% or so.

But we can look at other countries.

Germany consumes 2.65Mbbl/day for 82.4 million people, or 11.8 bbl each. France consumes 1.97Mbbl/day for 61.5 million people or 11.9bbl each. Italy 1.88Mbbl/day for 58 million people, or 11.8bbl.

Seems pretty consistent.

Then we look at former Eastern bloc countries, like Slovenia with 0.053Mbbl/day and 2 million people 9.7bbl each, or Croatia 0.093Mbbl/day and 4.49 million people at 7.6 bbl each. I get similar results with most of Eastern Europe.

So the USA's domestic oil production wouldn't allow them to live exactly as Denmark, Germany or France, but if they did they'd vastly decrease their oil imports; but their domestic production would allow them to live like Croatia, Hungary and the like.

My original statement, then, was wrong - but fairly close. We can say that the US could halve its oil consumption and live like Danes, Germans or French. That is, 10Mbbl/day could disappear and they still live very well.

We can also say that if the US imported no oil, it could live like the Croats or Hungarians. A less impressive statement, I know - but quite a contrast to the Mad Maxian fantasies many people have.

Danes, Germans and French can certainly reduce their oil use without suffering. The Danes themselves tell us that where their fossil fuel use increase, this was mostly due to more driving and flying. That their GDP increased by more than 30% 1990-2004 presumably affects how much they fly. So it seems fair to say they could lose a barrel or three each and still live as well as they do. I don't think any Danes will be committing suicide if they have to take a train to their holiday in the Swiss Alps instead of flying.

Unfortunately it is not going to be a pretty transition.

Driving a Hummer is every 'murican's non-negotiable right, after all.

on the linked book note that Sweden with a lower population density than the USA has a higher proportion by public transport - 17%.

Not comparable.

Sweden also has a population distribution which is 84% urban and thus just 16% rural (probably arranged mostly in old, walkable cities) while the USA was 24.8% rural as of 1990 and has an enormous fraction of the population in suburban areas which may not even have pedestrian crosswalks on arterial roads.  The urban fraction of Australia is also very high, for all its vast outback.

There are no quick fixes.

the USA was 24.8% rural as of 1990 and has an enormous fraction of the population in suburban areas which may not even have pedestrian crosswalks on arterial roads.

I think the rural fraction will be smaller today. And anyway Germany has a high rural fraction and drives less than the US. Nonetheless, the rest ties in with what I was saying. I said,

"high fuel taxes in combination with a deliberate effort towards walkable and bikable neighbourhoods and investment in public transport"

It's no use just raising fuel taxes and expecting people to drive less. They have to have options to change to. Those options include but are not limited to public transport. They also include making walkable and bikable neighbourhoods.

The rest is the usual excuses which we hear every time. We hear them in Australia, too. I've a mate who drives to the train station each day - it's a 15 minute walk. "But I get sweaty on the way, I can't be sweaty in the office."
1. "Then take off your tie while walking."
2. "If you get sweaty with a 15 minute walk, you need to walk."

The next week he told me his doctor had said he needed to lose weight and exercise more. Amazing, that.

But no, he needed to drive. It was unavoidable, impossible to live any other way! So, an extra 600km a year for him on the speedo.

As I describe here, we find that apart from the US, the kilometres travelled per owned car are quite consistent around the world, 14,000-15,000km. If you own a car, you use it a certain amount, an amount which bears little or no relationship to the size of the country, population density, urban/rural ratios, etc. The availability of options like public transport, biking and walking helps you decide whether to own a car, but if you do own one, you use it - for about 14,000-15,000km of driving a year.

Public transit can not be credited with allowing people to travel fewer miles total. People travel fewer miles total by living closer to work and in urban areas where stores are closer to homes.

I've taken to walking to many stores and even to work. Public transit does not help me at all to drive fewer miles. Again, public transit is not walking. Public transit is not shorter driving trips. Living closer to places reduces total miles traveled.

Also, E-P is correct: The US has a lower population density and is less urban. We can't shift to European style living without absolutely huge movements of people and huge building projects to put people closer together.

Sweden has 17% travel by public transit. Doesn't that tell you that public transit isn't the solution for most people for most miles traveled?

What Sweden shows is that at prices of around twice what the US pays for petrol, and even with a good public transport system, many people who are relatively well off and live in a post-peak economy will choose to drive most places.
It doesn't tell us a great deal about what they would or could do if put to their shifts, in a post peak world.
If it is anything like the UK, I suspect that most could manage fine, although somewhat inconveniently.
The relative costs of country living would climb though, as people like plumbers would need to use cars at high cost, when they could manage with bikes in town.

Great work big Gav some really interesting comments here, thanks again :) Many years ago now my sister wanted a new car, I convinced here to buy a three cylinder Daewoo, she was not happy about this, but I said it will be the last car you own, in ten years time or 120,0000 kms, it will die and then you will walk or catch the bus, For five years I coped flack about that, now, they see the value of my plan :) She will now drive this car into the ground and then thats it. no more cars, I gave up driving 6 years ago, It is a dirty filthy habit, and with the money I saved I took up smoking, :) But sadly I will have to give this up too as i also must walk more because getting rides from friends is getting to be to much of an issue. I will learn to love the big blue Mercedes starting today :)