Letters 9/25/08

Sept. 25, 2008
The masses on mass transit

I object to your editorial on masstransit (“Mass-transit myths,” July 28). I read your magazine because I want to learn about trends, products, and services related to the design of machinery. This is more than just my job. It is my passion, my obsession. The editorial was not even tangentially related to the design of machines. Additionally, I object to the gross oversimplification of the masstransit industry, civil engineering, and urban planning. Do you really mean to suggest you have an expert opinion in these fields and that the complexity of the issues they address can be distilled to a few quips?

Bryan Whitsel

The editorial pertains to the engineering of transportation systems which do, of course, involve several different kinds of machines and technologies. You might say my underlying message is that engineers who design anything without considering the underlying demographics of their target customers are doomed to design unsuccessful products. That has been the case with several expensive and underused mass-transit schemes. I don’t claim to have an expert opinion about transportation systems but I can certainly understand reports written by researchers who do.

I read with interest your editorial, and I agree that most masstransit schemes are not practical for the U.S. Americans just don’t want to give up their cars. And I cringe every time I hear a politician talk about a Cleveland-Columbus- Cincinnati high-speed rail line. My wife and I visit Columbus from time to time because we used to live there. But we wouldn’t take a high-speed train to get there because we’d have to rent a car to get where we wanted to go.

Alan Hitchock

When you discuss transit and resources, don’t forget to consider time. Economics is the study of allocation of scarce resources. In the market, people purchase free time by choosing fast food over slow food, automatic car washes over do it yourself in the driveway, and automobiles over mass transit.

Mr. Teschler correctly points out that population and job density are important to viable mass transit. In part, this is because without a nearly universal destination, travel times on mass transit greatly exceeds those of cars. This, in addition to the time lost waiting for the next departure and connections raises the cost in time to such a level that even using a gas-guzzling SUV is less expensive to the individual and society. Lost time is lost productivity. How many people do you know who spend more per hour on transportation than they earn per hour?

It might be less expensive to drive a Prius than a Hummer, but both are more efficient in total resources than mass transit for most Americans. (By the way, if you search online, you will find a study that found Hummers are lower in resource consumption over total vehicle life than a Prius. The Prius needs lots of energy and resources to manufacture, and requires many more resources to maintain over it’s shorter expected life. Things are not always as simple as they seem.)

Viewed in this manner, it is obvious why the Chinese are buying cars. As wages rise, the opportunity cost of mass-transit travel time makes automobiles less expensive. If you want everyone to use mass transit, what you really want is everyone to be poor (so their time is less valuable) or live in cities like New York. I. R. Smuse

Gadget guesses
At first, I thought it was an old food automat case. Then, I thought it resembled a turnstile stop from the subway.

Angela M.

A 1950s mechanical robotic proctologist.

John A.

That’s easy, it’s one of those tortilla warmers you see in Mexican restaurants.

Steve C.

The gadget appears to be a magnetic data-storage drum from the late 1960s or early 1970s.

Stephen B.

The “gadget” is obviously a Mechanical Engineer, with the characteristic male pattern baldness. Unfortunately, these are now only made for export to India and Asia.

Mike F.

The August 7 issue of MACHINE DESIGN listed the incorrect URL for Banner Engineering in the Sensor Sense column. The correct Web address is: bannerengineering. com

The Concentric Maxi Torque connection system uses a single screw to both connect and disconnect the component from the shaft, not two screws, as shown in the Aug. 21 issue.

Clarification: In our Aug. 21, 2008 feature titled, “Invention Mythology 101,” the article authorship was a bit hard to discern. For the record, the authors are patent attorney Gerald R. Black and patent agent George Morgan. You can reach Black and Morgan, respectively, at [email protected] and [email protected]

has been the hot button in our Letters section and on our Web site. Posters admit it is not widely popular outside of densely populated U.S. cities, but some would continue taxpayer subsidies to keep the systems operating. The costs of energy, infrastructure, and time make some conclude it’s a poor use of resources, at least so far.

Name that gadget
Be the first to identify this device from a past issue of MACHINE DESIGN and win a fabulous prize, along with the honor of seeing your name in an upcoming issue. E-mail entries to [email protected] and put “Gadget” in the subject line.

We thought it would take longer, but within a week of publication, John Pfeiffer correctly identified the gadget as a vertical mixer for adding liquids to dry bulk materials.It was built by Sprout-Waldron & Co. Inc., in Muncy, Ind., in 1967. That company appears to have been bought by Andritz AG, an equipment supplier for the chemical, industrial, plastics, food, and feed/grainprocessing markets.

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