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Well, for example the government could have a series of incentives to build or retrofit houses to have much less energy use. There was a solar power credit in the US for a number of years, but the technology wasn't developed enough at the time for the program to do much.

There could be efforts to have local wind generators for small communities, rather than only focusing on wind farms. (I don't consider personal windmills practical in most cases.) Communities were happy enough to erect mobile phone towers all over the landscape even when opposed by people who disliked the aesthetic impact, so when there is a will there is a way.

Car pooling could be encouraged via meaningful subsidies. For example a person could get a multi-seat van (say 7-9 passengers) for little or no money and then act as a small scale quasi-public commuting service.

On the demand side certain behaviors could be discouraged. For example the bottled water fad is totally senseless. This should be stopped. Aside from those who want water as an individual drink in preference to some carbonated alternative there is no reason for people with municipal water systems to be buying water for the home. Actually the entire soft drink industry is a bad idea. People survived on plain water from a tap for a long time before Coca Cola. How about encouraging this with a program to install public water fountains?

I've always envisioned a commuter vehicle smaller than the Smart Car that would be driven to the local rail station and then onto a special flatbed car. One would  stay in one's vehicle while the train went into the downtown and then drive off to go the last mile.

Bringing back pushcart vendors (except this time with trucks) that drive into an exurban neighborhood several times a week with perishables like milk, butter, eggs and bread would cut down on trips to the supermarket.    The same could be done for vegetables. The popularity of farmer's markets shows that there is a demand.

The cost of disposal of recyclable items should be built into the original price. This might be refunded when the item is brought in for recycling or just used to finance the operation. I know that the EU is working on some ideas in this direction, but mostly for electronics and autos.

Packaging could be redesigned. Only one chain in the US (Costco) doesn't provide shopping bags for groceries. People can bring their own or use the empty boxes that the store received merchandise in.

Much packaging is meant for shelf appeal and gets discarded immediately upon opening the item. Why not one display item and then the take home copies are in a simpler package like a plastic or paper bag (or nothing in the case of things which are already packaged like toothpaste).

If we held a contest to come up with ideas like these I'm sure we would get many suggestions. People know what makes sense they just haven't been asked for their input.  

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 01:38:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
...are sensible suggestions and I agree that there are countless many more. A short reply to some of them:

  • Car pooling: For the Netherlands, having one of the most densely mobile populations in the world, numerous initiatives were launched and they all failed. People simply adhered to their own individual car. I'm not saying that car-pooling is a flawed concept, but that push-pull factors need to be really good. And a higher gas price might not cut it - the Dutch gas is one of the highest (if not the highest) taxed.

  • I'm undecided about personal wind generators; I'm still supportive of the idea. It makes sense to create some scale enlargement to some extent - anything to create a certain Energy Aawareness that what comes out of the socket is part your own responsibility and investment.

I'm afraid, though, that many of your suggestions (packaging, the bottled water industry) are dependent on the whims of government and regulation. And that seems a long, long process...

BTW, if you have some links on the EU scheme for recycling, I'd welcome that. It sounds intersting.

by Nomad on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 05:53:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just a thought.  I am, if nothing else, a carpooling expert having carpooled for 30 years from the Washington suburbs to 4 different areas in and around Washington, and could probably count on two hands the number of times I had to drive my car alone.
It can work, just needs the right combination of incentives and resources applied.

Ride sharing (aka sluging), an off-shoot of carpooling, is also a great way to commute and it was invented spontaneously and largely maintained by commuters even though occasionally opposed by local governments until they realized the benefits.  Thousands of Northern Virginia residents currently share rides with complete strangers to and from work every day.

Ironically, this marvelous method of commuting may now be threatened by Virginia's decision to turn  high occupancy vehicle lanes (HOV), formerly restricted to carpools and buses, into toll lanes where anyone can drive their single passenger car by paying a toll. Needless to say, the non-hov lanes are hopelessly clogged with single passenger vehicles already.

 

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Tue Oct 31st, 2006 at 11:06:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What about a new kind of public transport, a kind of blend of taxi and mini-bus? The idea is that customers would call (or register via internet) their intended trip with all details, such as number of passengers and time interval. A central dispatcher center would route its mini-busses to pick up the passengers and bring them to their destinations. The routining problem is logically difficult, of course... but now might be precisely the right time to try out this idea. Thanks to mobile telephones and the internet, customers can communicate their trip requests most conveniently and in sufficient detail. Routing problems of similiar kind were encountered with the recent development of the same cellphone technology, and with postal currier services (privatised rather recently in EU).

Gosh, I have a real buisiness plan. You start in a city (like Paris) with offering transfer services to various middle-sized companies: you would bring their employees from home to work and back, you would bring their clients around, and you would serve them in buisiness trip across the city. That might be an attractive service: the client companies would need less cars to buy and maintain; worry less about gasoline prices; and, in our age of squeezing more efficientcy from workers for (frequently) less pay, they could offer their employees "raise" in the form of a convenient transportation. Effectively, overal transportation costs will be cut by you by moving many client travellers at the same time, and at optimized routes. Hence, there will be plenty room for adjusting service price and your profits.

The second stage would be to offer transfer services to  middle class individuals and their families: they would have a fast and convenient means to travel around the city, for their kids as well (to school and back, etc). The bottom line is to target people and families actually using cars (because the public transport is depictable for them, say), but which would be glad to avoid frequent driving in traffic jams, parking problems and excessive petrol costs.

At these two stages, a basic space-time frame of most frequent routes will be established for you, and you could allow full force of occasional travelers to join. Travelling in your minibus would be a quite cousy experience, with few irritating stops and companion changes. The travel-to-work routine might be made pretty enjoyable: paseengers could watch a flat TV screen behind you back; a wireless internet connection might be available. For the buisiness types which need to call or negotiate while travelling, a comfortable "first-class" half-cabin might be established, etc.

This might be a good way to grow an economically vibrant buisiness of "half-public" transportation. (Hey, can partnerships be made here?!) The service might be very valuable for public good as well: Since the initial target groups are car-using companies and individuals, the service would effectively reduce car traffic in the city, with positive consequences regarding traffic jams and pollution. This means that local politicians should be interested to support you.

by das monde on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 03:15:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I've always envisioned a commuter vehicle smaller than the Smart Car that would be driven to the local rail station and then onto a special flatbed car. One would  stay in one's vehicle while the train went into the downtown and then drive off to go the last mile.

Yeah, it's called a bicycle. Or, for those unwilling or unable to pedal, a moped/scooter.

As for "the last mile", it's a 15 minute walk so why not walk it? And if we're talking about the last 5 miles, buses should be fine. After all, we're assuming people are commuting by rail into a high-density urban area.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Nov 1st, 2006 at 04:08:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]

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