National News

Here comes yet another increase in transit fares

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 02:43

Drivers getting out of town on this Fourth of July weekend will pay the highest gas prices since 2008, but transit riders are also feeling the sting of new rate increases in major cities like Boston, St. Louis, and Washington D.C.

But even with semi-regular fare hikes, transit systems still lose money. Revenue from fares isn’t enough to cover rising costs, like labor, fuel, expanded services, and infrastructure maintenance, even though ridership in 2013 was the highest it's been in nearly six decades. 

“The actual fare rider could be paying half of the rider cost, sometimes two thirds of it,” says Mitchell Moss, director of the NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

Nationally, fare revenues covered only 33 percent of the operating cost of all transit systems in 2012, according to the National Transit Database.

But raising fares is tricky.

“When you increase fairs, it tends to discourage ridership,” says Steve Schlickman is with the Urban Transportation Center at University of Illinois at Chicago. “If you increase fares too much, you discourage so much ridership that you really don’t have an increase in revenue.”

It falls to cities and states make their transit systems’ deficits. But the Department of Transportation is warning that without intervention from Congress, a critical source federal funds for many transit and highway projects will run out of money later this summer. 

Here's a look at which cities bring in the most revenue from transit fares per rider, and which cities are planning to hike their fares this summer:

North Dakota oil wells drain energy and money

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

A defining sight in the booming oil fields of North Dakota is flames flaring from the top of wells -- burning off natural gas that escapes during pumping.

Today oil wells in the state burn about a third of the natural gas that comes when fracking for oil. North Dakota officials estimate that’s like burning about $50 million dollars a month.

The problem is drillers have rushed to extract oil and ignored building pipelines to capture natural gas needed to ship to market. Basically, economist Philip Verleger says ,it’s cheaper to burn money than build pipelines.

“The economics of constructing a pipeline to every one of these large number of wells becomes prohibitive,” he says.

After getting input from industry, this week state officials said that by the fall, wells must capture 76 percent of natural gas or be forced to cut oil production.

Western Environmental Law Center Senior Policy Advisor Thomas Singer says state leaders and industry officials know the current level of flaring is unsustainable.

“They recognize that a gold rush in the Wild West where everybody goes out and starts poking holes is really a very wasteful way to develop these resources,” he says.

Singer says the test now is to see if the state enforces its own rules. 

With credit card debt, not all states are equal

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

The average American has more than $3,600 in credit card debt, but that number is falling.

“Not a huge decline overall -- about $27 dollars this year compared to last, but it’s still an improvement,” says Gerri Detweiler, director of consumer education at Credit.com. “It’s a good thing for consumers to carry less credit card debt. It’s good for their credit score and it’s good for their wallets.”

So why do some states owe more than others?

Alan Ikemura, senior product manager at Experian, says people have bigger credit card debt in states that have higher costs of living and where the employment picture hasn’t improved.

“The economy hasn’t picked up as well in certain areas and so there might actually be an immediate need for the utilization of credit," Ikemura says. "On the flip side, [people in states] that have recovered really well, [are] more confident overall in the economy, so they’re just spending more.”

Ikemura says the fact that American’s are paying down their credit card debt is a sign the overall economy is improving. 

Experian Decision Analytics released a list of average credit card debt by state for Q1 of 2014. So which states have the highest average debt?

1. Alaska -- $4,472

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

2. New Jersey -- $4,431

Craig Barritt/Getty Images

3. Connecticut -- $4,351

Elsa/Getty Images

4. Maryland -- $4,214

  Patrick Smith/Getty Images

5. Georgia -- $4,192

 RAYMOND ROIG/AFP/Getty Images

6. Delaware -- $4,165

 Hulton Archive/Getty Images

7. Washington, D.C. -- $4,115

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/GettyImages

8. Virginia -- $4,068

 Grant Halverson/Getty Images for Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

9. Rhode Island -- $4,056

 Stacy Revere/Getty Images

10. Texas -- $4,047

   Harry How/Getty Images

Silicon Tally: Independence and surveillance

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2014-07-04 02:00

It's time for Silicon Tally. How well have you kept up with the week in tech news? This week we're joined by Julia Angwin, author of "Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance." var _polldaddy = [] || _polldaddy; _polldaddy.push( { type: "iframe", auto: "1", domain: "marketplaceapm.polldaddy.com/s/", id: "silicon-tally-independence-surveillance", placeholder: "pd_1404443731" } ); (function(d,c,j){if(!document.getElementById(j)){var pd=d.createElement(c),s;pd.id=j;pd.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol)?'https://polldaddy.com/survey.js':'http://i0.poll.fm/survey.js';s=document.getElementsByTagName(c)[0];s.parentNode.insertBefore(pd,s);}}(document,'script','pd-embed'));

Dance Of Human Evolution Was Herky-Jerky, Fossils Suggest

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-03 23:36

Maybe it was messier than we thought, some scientists now say. Big brains, long legs and long childhoods may have evolved piecemeal in different spots, in response to frequent swings in climate.

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Damming The Mekong River: Economic Boon Or Environmental Mistake?

NPR News - Thu, 2014-07-03 23:33

Laos' government says it needs the money the two dams will generate. But environmentalists and downstream neighbors say the dams are a major threat to fish migration and agriculture.

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