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Several streetcar assumptions wrong

Proponents of the $458 million Lake Oswego to Portland Streetcar line exaggerated benefits of the Streetcar alternative by basing their analysis on ill-founded assumptions. Consequently, the proponents' draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the Lake Oswego to Portland Transit Project is misleading.

Low ball miles/gallons used in DEIS: The Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) is the sales-weighted average fuel economy, expressed in miles/gallon, of a manufacturer's fleet of passenger cars and light trucks. The CAFE standard mandated by the U.S. federal government is 37.5 miles/gallon for the year 2016, and 54.5 miles/gallon for the year 2025. This 5 percent average annual increase in fuel economy is expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

DEIS show that the bus alternative will result in 78.75 million annual vehicle miles traveled with a corresponding 4.73 million gallons per year of petroleum consumption for the year 2035. Working backward, it is evident that 78,75 million/4.73 million i.e. low ball 16.6 miles/gallon was assumed by streetcar promoters for vehicles on the road in the year 2035.

The average age of cars and trucks on the U.S. roads is 10.2 years. So, to compute miles/gallon for vehicles on the road in the year 2035, the CAFE standard for the year 2025 should be used.

Therefore, streetcar promoters should have used 54.5 miles/gallon instead of low ball 16.6 miles/gallon to calculate petroleum consumption.

Using 54.5 miles/gallon instead of the misleading 16.6 miles/gallon will reduce petroleum consumption for the year 2035 from 4.73 million gallons/year to 1.44 million gallons/year for the bus alternative and from 4.68 million to 1.43 million gallons/year for the streetcar alternative. Thus, the streetcar alternative will save only 14,257 gallons/year rather than the 52,900 gallon/year as stated in the DEIS. Note that this 14,257 gallons/year saving is still exaggerated because it is based on low ridership in diesel bus (rather than more ridership in comfortable all-electric bus) and erroneous assumption of no growth of work from home.

Absurd investment to save fuel: To save only 14,257 gallons/year of petroleum consumption, the streetcar promoters want to spend $458 million to build streetcar (i.e. staggering $32,100 investment to save each gallon/year of petroleum). Let us put this in proper perspective: In 2006, approximately 135 million U.S. motorists consumed 75 billion gallons of petroleum. Using the same investment needed to save each gallon, it will cost $2,409 trillion.

Fortunately, there are numerous sensible alternatives. For example, if only 26 drivers change to all-electric cars, it will also save the same 14,257 gallons/year since the average drivers consume 554 gallons/year. Use of all-electric buses instead of diesel buses will also reduce dramatically the petroleum consumption.

Eventual project costs such as the streetcar always go up. If proponents magically reduce the streetcar cost, the investment will be still absurd.

Buses are greener: According to the DEIS, construction for the streetcar and bus alternative will require 11.2 million and 1.12 million gallons of petroleum respectively. This additional 10.080 million gallons required for construction of the streetcar will result in saving of only 14,257 gallons/year of petroleum. Furthermore, as fuel economy of vehicles continues to improve in the future, this exaggerated 14,257 gallons/year saving will continue to diminish. The streetcar promoters have even convinced some environmentalists that the streetcar will save fuel.

Suresh C. Paranjpe, lives just outside of Lake Oswego in Portland. He holds a doctorate in engineering.