Archive for February, 2009

Show me the money, Jerry Maguire!

February 27, 2009

The federal economic stimulus package is like a fat, bloody guy who tips over in his canoe in the Amazon: It’s been swarmed over by every Tom, Dick & Harry org, biz, and state or local government with even the most remote justification for taking a nip out of the thrashing cash cow.

Thing is, of course, that creates a whole lotta bottlenecking, impatience and speculation about who’ll get a piece of the pie.

The CTA’s newest young-gun honcho and agency manager jack-of-all-trades, Richard Rodriguez—who’s facing a daunting budget deficit and service-upgrade challenges even as his boss makes a mad dash for the 2016 Olympics—must be crossing his fingers so hard for a stimulus windfall that his knuckles are turning purple. He may get help from Springfield if the freebie rides for seniors that Gov. Nim-Rod proffered during his bread-and-circus reign get yanked.

Even the mayor of Obama’s home town can’t read the tea leaves. His wish list covers about as much ground as the President’s in this video of a press conference recitation earlier this week that’s posted on Mayor Daley’s brand-new YouTube channel. (That’s right: City Hall has finally taken a cue from the Obama internet-savvy playbook, minus slick web-design bells and whistles and an overarching effort to create government transparency.)

Give us this day our Daley bread.

We wish Rodriguez well. Seriously. We look forward to working with him and the CTA on promoting the new Chicago Card Plus/I-GO Card program. And we hope there’s a piece of mutton left over from the stimulus gorging for our non-profit car-sharing agenda and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, I-GO’s parent org. We’re both part of a better green tomorrow that includes an expanded, synergistic public transportation system.

Because it’s gonna take a whole lotta green to go green, folks. But it’s the right thing to do.

Windy City, wind-powered cars?

February 25, 2009

Listening last night to President Obama reiterate solar, wind, biofuel, etc., among the renewable energy sources he wants to see as cornerstones of a new green industrial complex in the U.S., one wonders how they’d be incorporated into a smart grid that benefits both consumers and business. The answers to that question are multitudinous and mind-blowing.

But here’s one possible synergistic scenario I just read about on Green Tech: a smart-grid project on an island off the coast of Denmark—supported by both the Danish government and IBM—in which energy created by wind turbines is being used to generate electricity for plug-in electric hybrid cars.

It’s not the technology R&D that’s the hold-up, though. It’s the usual red tape:

The article quotes Allan Schurr, the vice president of strategy and development at IBM’s Global Energy and Utilities practice, who spells it out:

In an interview on Tuesday, Schurr said that he planned to tell members of Congress that smart-grid technologies are already available and can deliver substantial improvements in efficiency. What’s holding back large-scale adoption isn’t technology but regulations and “institutional inertia,” according to the text of his testimony.

Gets pretty damn windy in Chicago, doesn’t it? The most obvious place to create a wind-turbine corridor is through the Great Plains states, which skirt Illinois, but northern Illinois certainly packs enough wind power to feed off such a grid. ComEd and local engineering wunderkinds at some of our universities (I’m looking at you, IIT) have plug-in fever and are seriously interested in pursuing that future agenda.

Imagine wind turbines off-shore in Lake Michigan. Possible?

Maybe all we need to get a head start in this new game is a strong wind at our backs.

How economically stimulating: An I-GO Car Sharing discount

February 24, 2009

I-GO is offering its own admittedly small-scale economic stimulus package this week: a sweet discount on membership sign-up.

We can’t pay your mortgage or cut your taxes, but car sharing can help balance your budget by drastically reducing (in some cases, by thousands of dollars) the expenses that come with owning a car.

Approved applicants from Mon., Feb. 23, to Mon., March 2, can take advantage of the deal. Just use the promo code “IGOSTIMULUS” on the application form and we’ll deduct $25 from the sign-up fee, PLUS toss in $25 in free driving credit. (Credits must be used by March 31.)

Ladies and gentlemen, start your budget-cutting engines.

Keepin’ it rail in the Midwest

February 23, 2009

Seems our previous blog post on high-speed rail’s future prospects was a bit prescient. Check out this AP piece in the Chicago Tribune today on how Chicago, as a hub, stands to score more high-speed-rail funds thanks to early support from Obama and other Illinois pols in his cabinet (notably Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood).

Looks like Nevada and California—which want a high-speed line connecting Las Vegas and Anaheim—might be the caboose in this scenario.

Excerpted from the article:

Howard Learner, president of the Chicago-based Environmental Law and Policy Center, a group promoting a Midwest high-speed rail network, said his area is in excellent position to capture a good chunk of that money. The Federal Railroad Administration, he said, has recognized the Midwest initiative connecting Chicago and 11 metropolitan areas within 400 miles as the system most ready to go.

He and others brushed aside claims that the $8 billion was set aside for Reid’s favorite. Obama, who expressed strong interest in high-speed rail investment during the campaign, and his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, are both from Chicago. Obama’s transportation secretary, Ray Lahood, also is from Illinois. So is the Senate’s no. 2 Democrat, Richard Durbin.

A WPA-type high-speed-rail project in the Land of Lincoln, the original rail splitter? Somehow apropos, isn’t it?

Then again, we’re talking years and years of construction and development.

Meantime, why don’t we all take a cue from the bike- and hike-friendly Rails to Trails Conservancy, and try to drive some funds their way as well? Those repurposed dilapidated tracks, like Chicago’s imminent Bloomingdale Trail, could be fixed up a whole lot quicker.

(Above photo, of Obama-Biden whistle-stop tour during their election campaign, from Time Inc.)

Vehicle Relocations

February 22, 2009

We are relocating 2 I-GO vehicles in the coming week. Don’t worry- they aren’t going far!

Car #4511: Blue Toyota Prius (currently at 2154 W Wabansia) will be moved just a few blocks on Monday, March 2nd to 2020 W Evergreen (see map below).

High-speed trains: The cure for what rails us?

February 19, 2009

The ginormous economic stimulus package signed, sealed and about to be delivered by President Obama and a grudgingly bipartisan congress dedicates serious greenbacks to science and technology. That includes, of course, alternative energy research and sustainable mass transit. Most of the talk is about cars, given that the Big Three are currently on a life-support system with a near-flatlining EKG.

Something that doesn’t talked about much is high-speed rail. Lack of investment in rail, reports Jamble, an online magazine covering green travel, has left the U.S. decades behind Europe and Japan in modern rail infrastructure. Jamble wonders whether the funds going to improve our rail system will go to mod futuristic projects like the “Texas T-Bone” or a magnetic-levitation train from Las Vegas to Anaheim that claims potential speeds of 300mph (resulting in an 86-minute journey between the cities) or to, more realistically, improving Amtrak.

Americans like their cars, they like to fly, but not many of us bother with Amtrak, which isn’t that much cheaper than flying, a sloth compared to high-speed rail, has a lousy track record in terms of accidents (like the train that recently plowed into a garbage truck outside St. Louis) caused by poor maintenance and human error, and doesn’t boast an extensive enough network of lines and connections to make it a convenient option.

Otherwise known as the National Railroad Passenger Corporation, Amtrak is hardly a source of national pride. Which is a shame, really. It promises lower emissions, further independence from foreign oil, faster travel times than cars offer, business investment and tourism revenue, and a nostalgic way of reconnecting with the American landscape—something we’ve utterly lost in the evolution from horse-and-buggy to 727s and expressways. Toss in the modern equivalent of a Pullman car, the glamour of the old streamliners like the Super Chief, and we’ll book a berth tomorrow.

Morgan Stanley leans on Chicago parking meters

February 12, 2009

When few Chicago residents were paying attention, back on Dec. 4 City Council aldermen voted 40 to 5 in favor of a deal that gives Morgan Stanley a 75-year lease on Chicago parking meter revenue. Get ready for a shock: Rate hikes go into effect, appropriately enough, on Friday the 13th and will be phased in at more than 36,000 meters in the next few weeks.

Yes, that Morgan Stanley. The same Wall Street investment banking firm getting hauled in front of Rep. Barney Frank & Co. along with other Wall Street titans blamed for the subprime mortgage and credit clusterf*&k that led to the bank bailout that led to extra bonuses for Gotham’s greediest.

The Trib reported the news in a straightforward way, but didn’t cite Morgan Stanley by name, instead referring to our new Parking Czar as “a new private operator.”

A blogger in the Huffington Post got it right.

The Loop gets hit first on Friday.

From the Trib piece:

The increases are part of a 75-year lease that city leaders recently approved with a new private operator. Under the agreement, the city receives an up-front payment of $1.15 billion from the company that will now collect payments from the meters.

The lease allows the private operator to raise rates in the coming years. The timetable for the initial increases:

*Loop: $3.50 an hour starting Friday.
*Near North, Near West and Near South: $2 an hour starting Saturday.
*Lincoln Park: $1 an hour Feb. 18-19.
*North Side: $1 an hour Feb. 20-28.
*West Side: $1 an hour March 1-2.
*South Side: $1 an hour March 5-9.

The $1-an-hour charges will mean a quadrupling of the cost to park at two-thirds of the meters in the city, where the current rate of 25 cents an hour has not changed in decades.

Although the meters have generated almost $20 million a year in net income for the city, Daley has hailed the privatization payout and similar leases of public assets as innovative thinking that will allow the city to continue to invest in vital public works projects today.

In the statement announcing the implementation of the rate hikes, Daley chief of staff Paul Volpe said the lease “is another part of the mayor’s ongoing commitment to protect taxpayers from a tax increase.”

Someone ID’d as “Chicago Bred” responded with this comment on the Trib website:

Now is the time to utilize and expand carsharing-IGO comes to mind. It’s scary to think about 75 years of more money to a private company for an upfront payout which is probably already spent.

And the comments get a lot more incendiary than that:

How obscene is it that Morgan Stanley now rakes in our inflated meter rates? This is one of the banks that gouged and took advantage of homebuyers that led to the financial crisis and then received big bucks from the bailout. How did this agreement ever come together in the first place? I haven’t seen much scrutiny of the details of this. And now while we’re digging deep into our pockets just to pick up some milk at the corner store, it’s those small struggling business people (who will never receive a govt. bailout) who will suffer from the loss of business. Patrick Fitzgerald, are looking at this one?

Sold the streets/parking meters to a private company with less three days notice to the alderman to review it for 1.1 billion. I’m not a math wiz but amortization should bring that to well over 6 billion dollars for the new owners.

What’s interesting is that I went to city hall the day that Daley was announcing his proposal for budget cuts and he said that one way to save money was to stop going through contractors and private companies for certain city services, like security. It doesn’t make sense to lease something for 75 years to someone else when the city can pocket the money. Who knows with inflation if the deal will even be worth it in 75 years?

As a resident of the loop, these meter hikes affect me directly. Up until now, the meters around my building did not need to be fed on evenings, Sundays, and holidays. Friends and family loved to visit me because they could find parking on these off-hours. This, of course, is no longer the case. Time for me to move to a different neighborhood.

Why Chicago needed to sell the streets (75 year lease to me spells “sold”) to get extra money is beyond me. Seems like they should have been able to find a way to increase the rates themselves. What drove Chicago to SELLING and handing over control and how did the council win the vote on this?!?!?

Are we seriously supposed to scrounge around for change to feed the meter on Christmas Day and Thanksgiving??? Have they no decency?

Guys, the best way to describe the privatization is that we’re taking a mortgage on our parking meters. Daily knows he can make more money for the city in the long run by raising rates and keeping the control in the city’s hands. But he also knows that he has a huge ($20million) budget shortfall this year and he can’t keep the machine running without taking out a loan! He’s brining the extra money forward with the privatization.

Wow.

First the ubiquitous cameras recording our license plates, now this. Who do our streets belong to anyway? Apparently, not the citizens of Chicago.

Car sharing can be part of the solution. But while I-GO does maintain reserved parking spaces that its members don’t pay for, we (and Zipcar, for that matter, too) can’t do anything about our hijacked and pawned-off parking meters.

Better start stocking up on those quarters. Although I’m feeling more drawn and quartered right now.

Shredded Tweet, Good to Eat?

February 12, 2009

Just created a Twitter profile for I-GO recently: Check it out at http://twitter.com/igocarsharing if you’re so inclined. Wondering if it’s worth our while, though… I mean, does anyone really care what’s going through my head every five minutes? And is it possible to convey all the facets of sustainable, alternative transportation in fragmentary bursts of electronic text? Me thinks ’tis folly, but I have been able to respond to a few folks interested in I-GO, both from a business and customer POV.

Trick or Tweet? I dunno. You tell me. But feel free to chirp away at us on our Twitter feed: igocarsharing.

Above image from Twitter.com

CTA & I-GO make good train-ing partners

February 9, 2009


Anyone else notice this graphic lately? It’s featured prominently in a ton of print ads that have been on CTA trains and buses since early January. The tagline that accompanies it: “One card, three ways to go.” And here’s the copy: “A seamless way to travel through the city using just one card. Bus, train, and now 200 I-GO cars.”

I’ve been on the lookout for the ads, and I-GO also has its own smaller ad on the CTA. Judging from our web traffic stats, looks like folks are seeing the ads and checking us out.

So what is it exactly? It’s the brand-new Chicago Card Plus/I-GO joint smart card. A card with two micro chips that gives you access to all CTA trains and buses, Pace buses, and I-GO’s citywide fleet of car-sharing vehicles. The idea: to promote a more unified, expansive and sustainable public transportation network.

Throw your bike into the equation (many of I-GO’s cars have racks or are parked near racks, and we’d like to make that more pervasive – check out our Cars & Locations page), and, hell, you may never need to own a car. Now if we could just continue this current warming trend…

Ideal Bite locks lips with I-GO

February 6, 2009

Today’s Ideal Bite—a great site that cuts the mystique out of environmental buzz words and advises consumers on practical, affordable ways to live green—gives a shout-out to I-GO and car sharing for its Chicago “Bite” tip. Thanks, Ideal Bite!

BTW, that’s our own Lauren Hugel in that Toyota Prius in the photo they posted—although you can just barely get a glimpse of Lauren, who works in I-GO’s fleet management department.

Also, BTW, did you know that about half our fleet is made up of low-emission vehicles? I-GO’s got Priuses out the wazoo (whatever a “wazoo” is—I’ve never understood the term…paging William Safire…).