Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Friday, February 28, 2014

The e-book ripoff: ebooks: Man, Are We Being Had, Daily Kos, February 26, 2014

The Fairfax County Public Library (FCPL) administration has envisioned in its Board-approved strategic plan the large-scale conversion of the county's libraries to the use of e-books largely on the argument that they will improve "planned organizational efficiencies" (a county euphemism for budget cuts), that is, reduce costs.  As this blog post by Susan from 29 on the Daily Kos points out, they are hugely costly.  Moreover, the license one buys allows only a limited number of reads--more than one person might need, but probably far less than a public library system as large as Fairfax County would need. So, yes, the County would probably need to license popular books over and over again.  So much for "organizational efficiencies."

Here is how Susan's blog begins:
First, the terms of service for ebooks make it clear that regardless of price, we don't own the ebooks we purchase. Instead, we own a "license" to read them.
Second, five publishers conspired with Apple to create and maintain an artificially high price for ebooks. Apple has once again appealed the decision of US District Court Judge Denise Cote.
And finally, according to the New Republic, publishers only make a 41% profit on a hardback book. On an ebook, their profit soars to 75%. And the lower prices of ebooks (lower than hardback) do not result in a hardship for publishers. A $27.99 hardback book produces $5.67 in profit. The same book offered in digital format sells for $14.99 and yields a profit of $7.87.
I have problems with this. Not least is the fact that $14.99 is an outrageous price to pay for a license to read a book. But also, why is the publisher making a 75% profit instead of the writer? . . .
Click here to read the rest of this blog post.   And click on the links in her article to get an even better understanding of the e-book ripoff. 

E-mail to Rep. Gerry Connolly calls for Silver Line construction fines to help pay off DTR users share of construction cost.

The following is the text of an e-mail sent by Terry Maynard to Congressman Gerry Connolly this afternoon calling for any Silver Line construction fines to go to pay down toll road users' share of construction costs. 

Dear Congressman Connolly,


As a Restonian and fellow advocate of the Silver Line, I would like to ask you—as a leader in advancing the Silver Line’s completion—to pursue further financial assistance in alleviating the terrible toll increase burden Dulles Toll Road users are paying for its construction.  It appears that an opening is available:  If, as reported by the Washington Post, Dulles Transit Partners (DTP) faces substantial fines for further delays in completing the line, I believe that every last cent of those fines should go to stabilizing DTR tolls.  Although the projected sums of the fines are not large compared with the multi-billion dollar price tag of Phase 1 of the line’s construction, we are at the point where every dollar counts.


My greatest fear is that fines paid to MWAA will not be used in a manner that advances the Silver Line, much less eases the financial burden on DTR users.  I also do not think that the “funding partners” allocation of these funds is an equitable or fair way to handle any forthcoming fine revenue.  As you know well, DTR users are now stuck with about half of the cost of Phase 1 of the Silver Line under the “funding partners” agreement—and most of them won't be able to use the Silver Line to get to their destinations.  Assuring that any fine revenue is directed at easing their growing toll burden would be one small step toward correcting this inequitable arrangement.


I hope that you can make sure that the $30 million or so in fines that the Post suggests may be forthcoming will be directly applied to the share of the construction cost borne by DTR users.

In the meantime, thank you for all that you have done to advance the Silver Line’s construction.  I certainly hope that its completion is near at hand and we can begin riding the rails soon.


Sincerely,

Terry Maynard

Board of Directors, Reston Citizen Association

Co-Chair, RCA Reston 2020 Committee

CC:
Honorable Frank Wolf, US House of Representatives
Honorable Jim Moran, US House of Representatives
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors
Loudoun County Board of Supervisors
Patty Nicoson, Executive Director, Dulles Corridor Rail Association
Ken Kneuven, President, Reston Association Board of Directors
Cate Fulkerson, Executive Director, Reston Association
Jerry Volloy, President, Association of Reston Clusters & Homeowners
Honorable Janet Howell, Virginia Senate
Honorable Ken Plum, Virginia House of Delegates
Jack Potter, Chief Executive Officer, MWAA
Andy Rountree, Chief Financial Officer, MWAA

BCC:
RCA Board of Directors
RCA Reston 2020 Committee Steering Committee

Nobody Wanting to Drive in Megacities Signals Vehicle Peak: Cars, Washington Post, February 24, 2014

discuss the factors that may be leading to a peak in the use of cars on a global basis in this WaPo/Bloomberg Business article.  The article covers a numbers of causes and constraints on this possible peak.  A good read to begin to understand the issue--which could affect transportation in Reston's station areas.

Here's how it begins:

In the globe’s growing megacities, pollution and gridlock are putting a damper on driving. In India, some commuters are leaving their cars at home to avoid traffic snarls and long prowls for parking. More young Americans are forgoing the dream of auto ownership for public transport, bikes and vehicle- sharing. Cars on the road are lasting longer than ever.
All of that may herald a new era for an auto industry weaned on a century of global growth. The world will reach “Peak Car” -- a point at which annual global sales growth will top out -- in the next decade, several auto-industry analysts predict. Researcher IHS Automotive, for one, sees annual sales cresting at 100 million within that time.
Peak Car is at odds with the ambitious expansion plans of global automakers, which IHS says are gearing up to produce more than 120 million vehicles by 2016 -- almost 50 percent more than last year’s worldwide sales mark of 82 million. The dynamic also threatens the business plans of parts producers, suppliers of raw material and oil companies.
Driving this upheaval is a rapidly emerging reality: The vehicle that ushered in an unparalleled era of personal mobility in the last century is, in many cases, no longer the most convenient conveyance, particularly as more of the world’s population migrates to big cities. . . .
Click here to read the rest of this article.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Are Beltway express lanes victims of another grossly inflated traffic & revenue forecast?

Martin Di Caro, WAMU's exceptional transportation reporter, files a report on the low use and even lower revenues from the public-private partnership (PPP) express lanes on the Beltway.  Here is how it begins:

Beltway Express Lanes Aren't Attracting Drivers Or Money

The 495 Express Lanes in Northern Virginia are bleeding money.
Since opening on Nov. 17, 2012 the EZ Pass-only toll lanes running 14 miles along the Beltway between the I-95/I-395 interchange and Dulles Toll Road have struggled to attract motorists. And although the number of drivers using the lanes and toll revenues show steady growth, both figures continue to fall below the projections of the private sector firm that mostly paid for and built the highway: Transurban, the Australia-based construction conglomerate.
$51 million in losses
In a conference call with investors earlier this month, Transurban CEO Scott Charlton defended the firm’s $1.4 billion investment in the $1.9 billion road, according to a report in theNewspaper.com, an online journal about driving. The 495 Express Lanes lost $51 million in 2013. Charlton is quoted telling investors, “We think there is long term value here, recognizing that this is a 75-year concession period."
Transurban makes up the private piece of the public-private partnership that saw Virginia contribute only $400 million to the highway’s total cost. Transurban will receive the bulk of the toll revenue for the next seven decades as a return on its larger investment. So far the investment is not working out. . . .
Click here for the full transcript or listen to Di Caro's full report.

Almost certainly, another faulty traffic & revenue (T&R) forecast is behind this $51 million shortfall.  As we detailed in our report on Wilbur Smith Associates (now CDMSmith), one of America's leading T&R forecasters, these forecasts routinely over-estimate traffic and revenue by more than 100% in the first five years, and often much longer. 

Aside from higher tolls (further driving down use) on these express lanes, it is possible the project will go bankrupt (as many others have) and the state will be forced to assume responsibility for paying off the debt.  This has already happened in Virginia on the Pocahontas Parkway--another TransUrban boondoggle sold to state leaders now being paid for largely by Virginia's taxpayers.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Welcoming RCA's New Board Members, Colin Mills, Februrary 26, 2014

By RCA President Colin Mills
 
Remember a few weeks ago, when I mentioned that RCA planned to fill open seats on the Board?  I am happy to report that we received applications from some highly qualified and impressive candidates.  At Monday’s Board meeting, we reviewed the applications we received, and interviewed the candidates that applied.
 
I came away with the same feeling I have when I’m reviewing nominations for Citizen of the Year: I’m really proud of the dedicated and hard-working citizens we have in Reston.  I wish we had enough open slots to seat everyone who applied; each candidate has a lot to offer Reston and RCA.  But we had only three seats available, and as with Citizen of the Year, we had to make a difficult decision. 
 
But we did make a decision, and we welcomed three new members – Nick Georgas, Yavuz Inanli, and Annmarie Swope – to the Board.  I’d like to introduce them here, so you can get to know the people who will be working on your behalf at RCA.
 
Nick Georgas first learned about Reston when he studied it in college.  He was fascinated by what he learned, and he wanted to be part of it himself.  When he found the opportunity to live here, he gladly took it.  I’ve heard some version of this story from many folks who decided to live in Reston.  When you combine that with the number of Reston natives (like me) who choose to stay, it’s a testament to the strength of Bob Simon’s vision and what a fascinating and well-planned community we have built together.
 
Nick is a landscape architect and planner, and he has observed the Fairfax County planning and development process up close.  He followed the discussion over the revised Comprehensive Plan with interest.  Like us at RCA, he thought that several parts of the plan could be better from a citizen perspective, most notably the open space that will be provided in the station areas. 
 
RCA has been very involved in land use and planning discussions over the last several years, and Nick allows us to strengthen a strength.  We have brilliant analysts like Terry Maynard and Dick Rogers, and plenty of experience on the citizen’s side of the planning process.  What we ‘ve lacked is engineering expertise and an insider’s view of the process, and Nick helps us out in both areas.  I’m really excited to have Nick on board.
 
Yavuz Inanli has believed in community service throughout his life.  He grew up in Cincinnati, where in addition to being a student leader in his high school, he participated in a community coalition that developed award-winning anti-drug workshops.  His commitment to service continued in college at Fairleigh Dickinson, where he led an effort to reignite interest and participation in student government.
 
Yavuz has only lived in Reston for a little over two years, but he’s already developed an attachment to the community and a desire to get involved.  He has particular interest in transportation, especially public transit.  A daily transit user himself, Yavuz has been following the discussions of Bikeshare and Silver Line-related bus service changes with great interest.  He hopes to help Reston remain a place for people of all incomes, offer a multi-modal transit network, and provide a place for young professionals to start their lives and for families to raise their kids.
 
One reason Yavuz wants Reston to remain a magnet for young professionals is that he is one.  While reviewing the applications, I appreciated how many young people, including both Nick and Yavuz, decided to apply.  I’ve talked a lot about the importance of getting young people involved in Reston’s civic activities, and I couldn’t be prouder to see those efforts paying off.
 
It’s become cliché to say that young people are too busy to get involved in civic activities, or that the young are more interested in saving the world than getting involved in their own backyard.  But people like Yavuz and Nick show that’s not true.  Plenty of young people are just as dedicated and civic-minded as the pioneer generation of Restonians who built this community.  I’m delighted that these two impressive young men decided to get involved with RCA.
 
Annmarie Swope has lived in Reston for 12 years, and she’s already very active in the community.  She is deeply involved with the PTA at Aldrin Elementary, where she has served as co-chair of the Health and Wellness Committee and the After School Program Committee, and where she founded the Business Partnership Committee.  She is also a Reston Little League coach.
 
Annmarie first became interested in RCA during the discussions over the RCC rec center proposal last spring.  We’ve been wanting to get her involved with RCA for months, but with all her other activities, she’s had to consider her priorities carefully.  I’m happy to say that she has decided to step up and get involved in RCA!
 
Annmarie is a longtime marketing and communications professional, and I look forward to her helping RCA communicate more effectively with the community.  She is also very interested in Reston’s future development, and she wants Reston’s citizens to have a strong voice in implementing smart long-term change in the community.  She is passionate about education, and is currently involved in the discussion over Fairfax County school funding.  Her energy and expertise in this area should be a boon to our Education Task Force.

RCA and Reston are blessed to have these three smart, hard-working, and forward-thinking people putting their talents to work for the community.  Annmarie, Yavuz, and Nick bring a variety of skills, interests, and life experiences to the RCA Board.  I’m very excited to work with them to help RCA become an even stronger voice for our citizens and our community.

Silver Line contractor could face millions in fines if work is not done by early April, Washington Post, Februrary 25, 2014

WaPo transportation report Lori Aratani follows up on the recent revelations about DTP's inept construction of Phase 1 of the SIlver Line with some important information on who pays for the work that needs to be (re)done.
The contractor building the Silver Line Metro extension faces millions of dollars in fines if it fails to complete the project by an April deadline. . .
Under its contract, DTP could face tough penalties if the delays extend seven months past the previously agreed upon deadline of Sept. 9, 2013. That means, if the project is not deemed complete by MWAA by April 9, DTP could face financial consequences.
According provisions in the 129-page contract between Dulles Transit Partners and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, DTP has until April 9 to complete work on the first phase of the project. If DTP fails to finish the work, it will have to pay $25,000 per day until the work is completed. That $25,000 a day fine increases significantly the longer the delay.
If DTP is more than three months late finishing its work, it would owe MWAA nearly $2.8 million in addition to a fine of $75,000 per day. Ultimately, if the project is delayed more than six months from that April date, DTP could be required to pay more than $9 million. Under the terms of the contract, such payments are capped at $60 million.
DTP would have reaped financial rewards of up to $10 million if work had been completed before the initial deadline. . . .
For the rest of this article, click here.

The natural follow-on question is, if DTP pays fines, where do those revenues go?  Will MWAA simply stash away the collected fines for its general operating purposes or, for once, will Dulles Toll Road users see the money applied to relief on increasing toll rates?

We guess we'll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Best explanation yet of continuing Silver Line construction delays

In a story entitled Reliability Concerns, Not Safety, Behind Silver Line Delay, WAMU's Martin DiCaro provides the best explanation of the continuing delays in the operation of Phase 1 of the Silver Line.  His article begins:
The lead contractor that is building and overseeing the construction of Phase I of the Silver Line Metrorail project has yet to submit a timeline for rectifying several significant problems delaying the opening of the rail system from D.C. through Tysons Corner to Reston, Va.
One reason why the Silver Line is not ready to be handed to Metro for final testing is that the lead contractor Bechtel and subcontractor Alstom Signaling have yet to fix reliability problems with the signaling system — specifically, wayside computer units that communicate with Metro central control. Officials at the agency in charge of the project, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA), say the computers, known as remote terminal units (RTUs), are failing too often. The failures do not endanger passengers but would slow the operation of the trains.
"All of the remaining problems with the train control system at this point in time are reliability issues as opposed to safety issues," said Pat Nowakowski, the Silver Line project director at MWAA. . . .
And maybe the most important news in the article comes from Rep. Gerry Connolly:  "I share everybody's frustration, but we want to get it right, and the good news here is that Bechtel, as the contractor, has to bear the extra cost. So whatever the time delay and the cost associated with it, it is not a cost born by the project. It is a liability cost born by the contractor." 

Well, that's almost good enough.  I'm sure Bechtel and Alsthom will look for reasons that they should not have to bear the added cost.  There was new tasking, a change order, different standards, etc.  Anyone who has ever dealt with a major contract knows these kinds of arguments can shift the burden of cost responsibility--and further delay completion of the contract. 

Click on the link above for Martin's full story.

Fairfax County proposes another cut in the Public Library budget.

County budget documents released today show that the County Executive is proposing another 4.3% reduction in the budget of the Fairfax County Public Library for FY 2015.  Currently, the library's budget is $28.9 million in FY 2014 while the advertised budget for FY 2015 is $1.2 million less at $27.7 million.  There are no proposed cuts in overall library staffing although some departmental shifts. 

Here's the top line:




Here's the FCPL section of the FY 2015 advertised budget:



Apparently the County Executive is tone deaf to the serious damage the County continues to do to its public library system.