Gilbert, Richard and Anthony Perl. Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Mars, James
Pub Date: 12/22/2008
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2008 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Winter, 2008 Source Volume: 17 Source Issue: 2
Topic: NamedWork: Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Gilbert, Richard; Perl, Anthony
Accession Number: 210868154
Full Text: Gilbert, Richard and Anthony Perl.

Transport Revolutions: Moving People and Freight Without Oil.

London: Earthscan, 2008.

372 pp.

ISBN: 9781844072484.

During World War II, the U.S. responded strongly to gas rationing with an initial 41% reduction in vehicle-kilometres and an increase in intercity rail share from 8% to 32%. Richard Gilbert and Anthony Perl say we need similar massive changes in transportation due to upcoming peak oil production, rapidly rising fuel costs, and concern for the environment. The authors of Transport Revolutions argue that oil production may well peak in 2012; while oil will have a long twilight, in their 2025 transportation scenario it has been replaced in part by electricity.

In the light of crude oil prices over $100 US per barrel in 2008, this book arrives with perfect timing. The rising price of oil, even if partially due to speculation, is a signal consistent with the authors' view that oil depletion and much higher oil prices are likely soon--not decades from now.

Richard Gilbert is an urban policy consultant and former Toronto city councillor; Anthony Perl is a professor of political science and Director of Urban Studies at Simon Fraser University. While they offer a detailed sketch of one solution to the problem, their greatest contribution is documenting the world's high degree of dependence on oil for increasing volumes of movement. Most of this travel uses internal combustion engines (ICE). The book is exhaustively researched and documented with 700 footnotes and 700 sources. Because of the extensive data and analysis it contains the book is not a fast read, but is generally well-written and edited. Complex issue are explained well. General readers will enjoy the histories and cases cited. Advanced undergraduate and graduate students will get lots from reading one or more chapters. Occasionally, the lack of multivariate analysis leaves questions unanswered. Be prepared, also, for a few Britishisms imposed by the publisher ("transport", "lorry", "petrol").

In Chapter 1, "Learning From Past Transportation Revolutions," they find hope in WWII rationing and in the development of modern high-speed rail systems in Japan and Europe. They also cite some cautionary changes: the rise of low-cost jet air travel and air courier services. Several contrary revolutions, such as mass-produced vehicles and the Interstate Highway System, are neglected. Each "revolution" is treated succinctly--a bit more detail on how well rationing actually worked would be useful.

The second chapter thoroughly documents recent transportation trends, covering local and long distance passenger travel and freight movement. The authors note that despite the rapid rate of increase of car ownership and use in China, per-capita ownership in 2004 was still barely above one-sixtieth of that in the U.S. Even within China conditions vary: while Beijing has encouraged motor vehicles and discouraged bicycles in recent years, Shanghai has limited car ownership through a system of auctioned entitlements not unlike that in Singapore.

Freight transport is less well-understood, yet it contributes greatly to fuel use and the increase in production of greenhouse gases (GHG). The authors give attention to the extraordinary variety and reach of today's freight movements: lobsters which fly by UPS from Nova Scotia to restaurants; the amazing growth in containerization since the first 1956 shipment from Newark to Houston; and the fact that the U.S. is already more dependent on rail for freight shipment than is Western Europe!

Chapter 3 dissects the current and future energy sources used for transportation and assesses world oil and gas production over time. They place the date of peak oil production at 2012, following work at the University of Uppsala. Ethanol and other plant-based fuels have severe constraints--many processes consume more energy than they make. Hydrogen production is very inefficient compared to just using the electricity directly--losses of 57% to 80% occur. But if we can use electricity directly in transportation--battery electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles, and grid-connected vehicles (GCVs), then their transportation revolution can be realized. This is the core of their book. Their goal is to move as much transportation as possible to battery and GCVs, although not the 100% implied in the subtitle. While the ultimate goal would be to produce all needed electricity from renewable sources, a first step would be to prevent an increase in the use of non-renewable generation as more electricity is substituted for motor fuel.

Chapter 4 looks at the environmental and social impacts of today's vehicle uses. U.S. fuel economy and emissions standard give hope that regulation will help. They argue energy availability be given first priority over reduction of climate change.

Chapter 5 outlines an alternative transportation future for 2025, explored in detail for the United States and briefly for China. The scenarios for passenger and freight transport in the two countries are based on 2025 world oil production of 26.3 billion barrels, 35% below the IEA 2006 trend scenario. They distribute more of the shortfall to developed countries, but by 2025 both groups of countries would be cutting back on fuel use.

In the U.S. the scenario is based on reducing fossil fuel use in transportation by 40 percent. ICE vehicles account for 50% of passenger travel (currently 80%), so the authors project that vehicles will consume 20% less per person-km due to innovation and increased occupancy. Battery and plug-in hybrid vehicles will carry 25% of passenger travel. Public transit will have expanded and be largely electrified. Intercity travel will still be predominantly ICE-based despite more rail travel.

To carry out this plan a high-level federal agency would be needed; highway and airport expansion would stop; fuel taxes would be raised and directed to non-ICE infrastructure; and passenger rail infrastructure would be expanded dramatically. Passenger rail would gain 25,000 km of twin track rail (on a total base of 170,000 km of rail lines, mostly single track). The cost would be 2 trillion dollars over a 15-year period. A similar amount would be needed to upgrade freight rail lines and rolling stock. Private sector rail development will be inadequate. Business-as-usual public planning and construction is not fast enough: this expansion must be "fast-tracked", so to speak--again note WWII history. The upgrade of the Northeast Corridor (NEC) in the late 1990's, which permits the Acela high-speed service, offers hope. The authors argue for infrastructure condominiums may in which ownership of land, tracks and equipment is separated.

The situation in China is very different and less information is available for this case. Continued growth in personal auto travel (both battery and ICE) is allowed. Public transport will be almost entirely electrified. Large increases in fuel prices (both through market forces and tax changes) will help pay for the improved transit systems. Supplying adequate electricity for increased use in transportation will be challenging, particularly in China during a period of continuing rapid economic development. But generating capacity in the U.S. will not have to be raised that much due to the possibilities of off-peak usage. As for the primary energy sources, the authors admit that coal will gain some increase in share, at least until coal production peaks, but that any generation which can be done renewably would be the advisable course.

Readers may dismiss the authors as biased in favour of rail and electricity, but our dependence on oil for transporting people and cargo is huge. And as the 2008 U.S. election rhetoric showed, no candidate had a coherent long-run plan for energy independence. Those involved in public policy for energy, the environment, transportation, land use, and the economy should read this book. Be prepared for a hard-nosed look at a future we all may face.

James Mars

School of Urban and Regional Planning

Ryerson University
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