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Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability [Paperback]

Daniel Sperling , Deborah Gordon
2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

22 July 2010
Today there are over a billion vehicles in the world, and within twenty years, the number will double, largely a consequence of China's and India's explosive growth. Given that greenhouse gases are already creating havoc with our climate and that violent conflict in unstable oil-rich nations is on the rise, will matters only get worse? Or are there hopeful signs that effective, realistic solutions can be found?
Blending a concise history of cars and their impact on the world, leading transportation experts Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon explain how we arrived at this state, and what we can do about it. Sperling and Gordon assign blame squarely where it belongs-on the auto-industry, short-sighted government policies, and consumers. They explore such solutions as getting beyond the gas-guzzler monoculture, re-inventing cars, searching for low-carbon fuels, and more. Promising advances in both transportation technology and fuel efficiency together with shifts in traveller behaviour, they suggest, offer us a way out of our predicament.
The authors conclude that the two places that have the most troublesome emissions problems—California and China—are the most likely to become world leaders on these issues. Arnold Schwarzenegger's enlightened embrace of eco-friendly fuel policies, which he discusses in the foreword, and China's forthright recognition that it needs far-reaching environmental and energy policies, suggest that if they can tackle the issue effectively and honestly, then there really is reason for hope. Updated with a new afterword that sheds light on the profound changes in the global economy in the last year, Two Billion Cars makes the case for why and how we need to transform transportation now more than ever.



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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: OUP USA (22 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199737231
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199737239
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 15 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,143,423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

It's well researched and readable. (Geoff Ward, Western Daily Press)

Interesting and engaging. (The Big Issue)

About the Author

is Professor of Engineering and Environmental Science & Policy at the University of California, Davis, and Founding Director of UC-Davis's Institute of Transportation Studies. He also serves on the California Air Resources Board.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Promoting electric cars 5 Aug 2010
Format:Hardcover
When the authors started the book by saying the "car will always be with us". I smelt a rat.
If you are happy to see cars continue to dominate our lives with all the attendant problems of road fatalities, obesity, community disintegration, environmental degradation, energy and resource depletion, but believe plugging cars into a different fuel such as elctricity is a sane solution then buy this book. Its written to promote the electric car industry. The purpose being to keep us buying cars and consuming as before. A much better book is After the Car. It isn't written on behalf of the car industry.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
By Emc2
Format:Hardcover
Written by highly reputed scholars, the authors accomplished the feat to produce a book accessible to the general public but also useful for students and practitioners. Even technical jargon such as "price elasticity" and "marginal cost" appears just a couple of times. Well researched, the book is intended for readers of all countries, though the authors at some points inadvertently take a very American-centric view. Their account on how modern society got into the unsustainable car-centric society predicament is both concise and comprehensive.

The chapters recounting the evolution of automobiles, and the behind the scenes doings of Detroit Big Three and Big Oil are not only very interesting but specially revealing regarding the magnitude of their influence within the American political decision making process, and also very helpful to understand why the US was left behind by Europe and other countries in terms of transport sustainability and more efficient and clean vehicle technology. A very enlightening complement to these chapters is the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, which investigated another huge blunder by one of Detroit's automakers.

Chapter 2 presents a very comprehensive analysis of all the dimensions that explain why the car-centric American model is unsustainable, for the US and the rest of the world. The authors briefly go into each of them, from the dangers and consequences of oil dependence to the inefficiencies and negative impacts of ever increasing auto use and urban sprawl, as land use has a large effect on vehicle use, and of course, climate change is the chief concern and the main focus of the book.
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Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  47 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Blue or Gray? Which will we choose ? 12 Nov 2008
By Anne - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I grew up in L.A. and I didn't know that the blue sky in picture books was a real thing! I am genuinely serious about this. When I was 18 years old, I traveled to Oregon, got off the plane, and saw that the sky was actually blue--I had thought that it was a myth.

This book is really about the reason for those gray L.A. skies I grew up with. It is one of those books that everyone "should" read. It's important and it matters because it explains a huge issue we are going to have to deal with in the near future and beyond. I was fascinated by the interesting details that the authors included about the car industry and the development of different types of engines.

But, this book is so packed with information that you need to press on and wade into the deep end of it and then keep on swimming. It is a textbook. I assumed that it would be much lighter because of Schwarzenegger's contribution, but he only wrote the forward. As a textbook, I give it a very high recommendation. It is a very, very readable textbook. An easy, light read, this book is not.

As opposed to the other readers, I don't feel that the authors focused too much on California. The chapter that discusses California's situation and the actions that its state government has taken was very appropriate to the overall discussion of the book. One thing was not acknowledged in this chapter, though, and that was the horrible lack of public transporation and mass transit in California. I wish that there had been more of a discussion of mass transit in the book.

This book is definitely worth reading. The best comparison I can think of is that if you enjoy reading the magazine the Economist, then this book should be right up your alley.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Is this book dated even before its release? 15 Nov 2008
By tomh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Authors Daniel Sperling and Deborah Gordon have written a book describing their proposals for how we must deal with the energy and climate implications of personal transportation. The title is based on the projection of the number of cars we would expect to see in the coming years, as a number of countries develop their economies, notably India and China. With personal transportation accounting for 30% of US carbon emissions, and some very large percentage of our crude oil consumption, it is clear that the transportation picture must change. In the end, the authors make a case for a number of general solutions, many based on their efforts in California.

The book will be published soon, but its timing is a bit unfortunate; frequently there are sections that refer to the pre-financial-crisis state of the world: high gasoline and oil prices, a regressive Bush administration in place, and a resonable set of assumptions about the availability of capital, car companies that were in bad shape but not near-death, and so on. So much has changed in the last few months that even before being published, in some ways the book seems dated. Of course this is mainly a superficial problem, as the policy proposals and observations in most ways transcend the presumably temporal problems the world economy is undergoing, and the new political landscape in a more enlightened Obama administration. Still, it is hard to read parts of the book only because it is clear that so much that is relevant to the problem has changed.

The book is organized in 9 chapters. The first 6 chapters present the history and current state of what the authors call the automobile monoculture: a world where most forms of transportation have been squeezed out to make room for one form of transit: the car. The 7th chapter describes the policies that have been put into place in California, many through the efforts of the authors. The next chapter describes how the car monoculture of the US is rapidly spreading to China as well as India. The final chapter presents the authors' proposals in this context.

I may be at the edge of the intended audience for the book -- while the forward (written by California governor Arnold Schwartzeneger) describes the book as accessible, I found it a bit dense and perhaps a little less cohesive than I would have preferred. Several times I felt as though a more ruthless editing would have made the content more readable, and more effective at making the point. I also found that the positions on certain policies were unclear, if not directly contradictory. For example, the authors go to some length to detail why cap and trade carbon policies are not a good solution for the problem of controlling automobile usage, yet in the end seem to include that as one of their proposals. In another example, they describe why technology-specific legislation (e.g. corn ethanol incentives) tend to fail compared to legislation that mandates objectives (e.g. carbon emissions), yet then propose how to regulate some specific energy sources, such as tar sands. Again, perhaps my relative lack of expertise in this area prevented me from grasping certain nuances. However, at some level, I think the book could have been far more effective with another round or two of editing.

I do think the authors eventually present a cogent, well-reasoned and broad solution for the problem the book addresses: 2 billion cars. In particular, they describe how future systems of integrated transportation systems could help us move away from the one-size-fits-all solution that personal automobiles have created. For example, we might have on-demand electric vehicles that can be summoned from our smart phone and which take us to a suitable location to pick up a bus or train. Still, this "Futurama III" scenario they describe seems very distant, and a bit dischordant with the specific, far more pragmatic proposals they present. In the end, I was left with a number of questions about how all of these pieces would come together.

My final criticism of the book is that it is presented in a bit of a vacuum, not particularly addressing how transportation solutions fit with equally important policies relating to other energy and climate problems such as heating and cooling of buildings, eletrical grid use (except as it relates to plug-in cars), agriculture, food, and water. These issues are inextricably bound; policies that address one without consideting others have consistently proven to be counter-productive (consider, for example corn ethanol programs; they help with oil independence at several much greater costs). I fully recognize that such a book must necessarily focus on solutions to the specific problem domain, yet almost no mention was made of how these solutions fit into the larger web of highly-related problems (and solutions). It seems that we often try to fix one problem without considering its impact on others (indeed the book itself makes this point).

As a conclusion, I think this book is best as an example of solutions that have worked in California ... and often under less-than-favorable political and policy conditions. Are these solutions relevant in this post-election, intra-financial world?
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Insightful Discussion on Transporation and the Environment 13 July 2009
By Glenn Gallagher - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Two Billion Cars is a very informative book on transportation and sustainability issues. The premise of the book is that currently we have one billion cars, but in twenty years, the planet will have about two billion cars. If there are no changes, this growth in cars will be disastrous in terms of energy usage, congestion, and global warming. The first two chapters are fairly dry, but the book gets more interesting in chapter 3, "Breaking Detroit's Hold on Energy and Climate Policy", which is a terrific short history on how America got to be so car-centric.

The book will appeal most to people interested in sustainability issues as they relate to transportation and climate change.

Points made in the book:
1. Almost all the growth in vehicles will come from India and China, with annual growth rates in vehicles about 7-8 percent annually. The United States has a current growth rate in vehicles of less than 1 percent annually, so we are less affected by local pollution and congestion, although global warming issues would still be a concern. Whatever India and China do (or fail to do) will have the biggest effect on greenhouse gas emissions.

2. Nothing will get people out of their cars and using mass-transit in the foreseeable future, not even much higher fuel prices. Therefore, making the personal passenger vehicle more environmentally-friendly is the key.

3. We are nowhere near peak oil. The amount of unconventional oil such as tar sands is quite large.

4. The best way to promote energy independence and reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to impose very high fuel mileage standards. Government should never "bet on a technology winner", but should instead make performance-based goals the only measure of success, both for fuel mileage standards, and greenhouse gas tailpipe standards (both standards are linked).

5. Ethanol from corn probably is less environmentally beneficial than just using imported oil.

6. California is in a unique position to influence national policy on sustainable transportation, and therefore can influence policy globally.

7. American car manufacturers used perverse incentives to create gas-guzzling vehicles (be sure to read about how the "chicken tax" and truck-exemption for fuel mileage led to the dominance of the truck, mini-van, and SUV in American car sales). The only way to end these perverse incentives is to remove the negative incentive and pass fuel efficiency rules.

8. One of the best hopes to increase fuel efficiency is to use plug-in hybrids. Hydrogen-powered fuel cells remain an elusive dream.

Quotes from last chapter of book "Driving Towards Sustainability":

"The world is still in denial about the staggering challenges it faces and the radical transformation it must undertake. Achieving a 50 to 80 percent net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions isn't something that businesses, consumers, and politicians can fully imagine."

"Policymakers must overcome the temptation to prescribe and mandate any one particular solution. Similarly, they must the temptation to pick winners. There's an unfortunate tendency for technological experts and politicians alike to embrace "silver bullets" and pick winners. Innovation and technological changes are too dynamic and too difficult to predict."

"The most effective and least costly way to reduce transportation oil use and greenhouse gas emissions is to improve the energy efficiency of vehicles."
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars What will a world with 2 Billion Cars look like? 17 April 2009
By G. Stephen Goode - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I live in Asia and particularly in Bangkok, a city that has struggled with traffic since I arrived in 1980. The Thai Government has limited the number of cars being purchased through a luxury tax of 100-400%. Even at that, we have spent the equivalent of 11 years in traffic in this incredible city. It is only in the last few years that the traffic has improved due to new infrastructure projects, Sky train, subway being completed.

Reading 2 Billion cars, I cannot imagine what that would look like in countries like India and China. As this is written, the Nano is being manufactured in India which will make more cars accessible to the general population. Without major construction of infrastructure projects worldwide ---I cannot imagine millions of people living in almost permanent gridlock literally with loss of work, plus the environmental challenges of adding another billion cars to the roads, particularly in Asia -- Daunting, challenging and who is giving attention to these kinds of issues are questions that come to mind in reading this book.

In the first portion of 2 Billion -- focus is given on electric cars, hybrid cars and fuel cells that will only be available in limited fashion by 2015. Fuel cells were first built in 1843 but nothing was done until the 1950's. I remember the Energy crisis in the mid 1970's and we did nothing basically and saw the price of oil skyrocket in the first decade of 2000. There seems to have been no public will to do anything. At least this book is bringing this to the attention of the public one more time.

2 Billion continues on how do we become less car-dependent in this generation? Alternatives like smart paratransit - convenient transport without fixed routes -- Again I live in Asia and this a serious dream - Buses, vans, trains, taxis with radios are already in operation and pretty much full. Sky trains, subways are working but have limited routing and Light rails are just coming into being. The construction of these major infrastructure projects are 4-5 years and cause quite a bit of gridlock in the meantime.

The challenge of this transformation is understanding the tension of private desires and public interest and recognizing that no longer can the public benefits of efficient and sustainable transportation be ignored. I picked this book up before the current economic crisis effecting the car industry occurred which will be interesting to see where we end up. However, this could be an opportunity to put people to work on major infrastructural projects around the world to get people moving in a sustainable fashion.

The authors of 2 Billion spend quite a bit of time looking at the history of Detroit and its dominance until recently in the worldwide car market. It also looks at a post-petroleum society before it looks at innovations that have been occurring in California and in China.. In 1849 California was nearly empty land until the gold rush and had 100,000 mostly Native Americans and no cities of more than 2,000 residents. However by 1930, there were two million cars or a vehicle for every 3 people in California. Leadership and innovation are needed to move us forward.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has been providing that leadership even when the US government has failed to take strong action. This is a story about what he is doing and mistakes that he has made along the way. In 2007 China surpassed the USA as the single largest contributor of greenhouses gases into the atmosphere. Also China could by itself add another billion cars by itself in the 21st century if they follow America's car-centric model. China is now the third largest economy in the world and requires incredible amounts of energy now. Pollution is now a serious downside. The national government is grappling with a sustainable future and beginning to impose more aggressive emission standards on vehicles. The Chinese are committed to motorization but the question is which model will they use as they move forward.

2 Billion authors end the book with a strategy for driving toward sustainability. On page 260, " The road to surviving and thriving is paved with low-carbon fuels and electric drive vehicles, new mobility options, and smarter governance. Enlightened consumers, innovative policymakers, and entrepreneurial businesses worldwide can drive us to a sustainable future. "

We shall see.....
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A book you must read to begin preparing for the hard choices we'll have to make by voting with our wallets and on the ballot 28 Feb 2009
By Emc2 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Written by highly reputed scholars, the authors accomplished the feat to produce a book accessible to the general public but also useful for students and practitioners. Even technical jargon such as "price elasticity" and "marginal cost" appears just a couple of times. Well researched, the book is intended for readers of all countries, though the authors at some points inadvertently take a very American-centric view. Their account on how modern society got into the unsustainable car-centric society predicament is both concise and comprehensive.

The chapters recounting the evolution of automobiles, and the behind the scenes doings of Detroit Big Three and Big Oil are not only very interesting but specially revealing regarding the magnitude of their influence within the American political decision making process, and also very helpful to understand why the US was left behind by Europe and other countries in terms of transport sustainability and more efficient and clean vehicle technology. A very enlightening complement to these chapters is the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?, which investigated another huge blunder by one of Detroit's automakers.

Chapter 2 presents a very comprehensive analysis of all the dimensions that explain why the car-centric American model is unsustainable, for the US and the rest of the world. The authors briefly go into each of them, from the dangers and consequences of oil dependence to the inefficiencies and negative impacts of ever increasing auto use and urban sprawl, as land use has a large effect on vehicle use, and of course, climate change is the chief concern and the main focus of the book. As a result, most of the following chapters are devoted to the analysis and expectations regarding conventional oil, low-carbon fuels and alternative fuel vehicles, particularly hybrids, electric and fuel cell vehicles using hydrogen, this one, considered the Holy Grail by automakers, some politicians, academics, and environmental groups.

Unfortunately, the discussion regarding how to curb urban transport demand and how to stop urban sprawl disappears from the book only to reappear briefly at the end, as part of the authors recommendations regarding consumer choices and government behavior. In total, only six pages in Chapter 2, a couple in Chapter 6, and seven pages in Chapter 9, out of 260, were devoted to these critical issues. The light treatment of such key issues is regrettable and the book's main shortcoming. This part of the solution equation is probably the most difficult to accomplish in a reasonable time, and as the authors recognize, the biggest hurdle to reach "Futurama III" by 2050, the authors' dream low-carbon transport system.

Back to the book's main focus, I think there is a missing piece in the comprehensive discussion of alternative fuels is biofuels. The authors summarily dismiss biofuels as a sustainable option, particularly American corn ethanol, explaining the rationale in just a couple of pages. Nonetheless, they present in a nutshell a comprehensive account of the successful Brazilian experience with sugarcane ethanol and flex-fuel vehicles, and call it a policy model and the most successful alternative fuel to day, yet they consider Brazil just as an outlier case not replicable elsewhere. So, biofuels were left out of the book. Another regrettable omission is the absence of a discussion regarding the array of policies implemented in various Nordic countries in order to reduce their carbon footprint from transport, particularly the Swedish case, not even mentioned once in the book despite being another biofuel leader.

Although I agree that the US does not have the conditions to replicate the Brazilian bioethanol model, I don't think Brazil is such Black Swan, as several tropical countries in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa have the right conditions, and actually a few are already moving in that direction. They have the right climate and experience with sugarcane farming, Brazil is already transferring its advanced agricultural technology for free, and automotive fuel demand in most of those countries is relatively small enough, as to not have to dedicate too much arable land for cane bioethanol production. Particularly for poor Africa there is quite an opportunity in adopting the Brazilian model.

In regard to the chapters devoted to California I was disappointed. I was looking forward to learn about the innovative policies that have been implemented lately, such as how they are curbing urban sprawl. Unfortunately it seems the authors wrote this chapter with the heart and put more detail in the politics and decision making process, some of which they were personally involved. The chapter of China is probably the weakest. There is too much speculation, wishful thinking and even a small dose of the patronizing. Guys, did you forget the political system that is in place at China? Because this chapter seems to assume that the Chinese internal market will behave like a regular democratic western country.

I think they could have use a good part of the chapters on California and China rather to discuss more deeply the necessary changes regarding available alternatives to increase public transit use, and policies to reduce auto demand and limiting urban sprawl. For a complementary book covering these key and painful subjects I recommend Robert Cervero's The Transit Metropolis: A Global Inquiry. This book presents the inner workings of the policies not discussed in Two Billion Cars, illustrated with a dozen cases of islands of excellence that were able to achieve harmony and sustainability between their urban transport system and land use. Though published some 10 years ago, the book is not outdated yet, and it is only missing the new congestion pricing schemes that went into force in London, Stockholm, and Milan, and also the global embrace of Curitiba's transit model (BRT), now implemented in several countries, including the US and China. Another very comprehensive book covering both the land use and transportation issues is Anthony Downs' 2004 Still Stuck in Traffic: Coping with Peak-Hour Traffic Congestion (Revised) (James A. Johnson Metro).

The recommendations presented in the final chapters make quite a contribution to the sustainable transport debate. I particularly liked the proposal of establishing a variable gasoline tax with a price floor to compensate for the market failures of oil supply. If Americans could afford $4 a gallon, this tax will guarantee that prices stay at the selected level when world market prices are below the floor, like right now. But if market prices go above the floor then the tax will shrink. Revenues could go to R&D to develop low-carbon, alternative fuels, and innovative mobility options. At the same time it will reduce uncertainties for investing on these new fuels, and it avoids the windfall to go to petro-dictators. I agree with the authors this mechanism is much better than trade-and-cap. Also the recommended general strategy of establishing performance the goals to be met by any technology is much better and efficient that the government picking the winners, as happened with corn ethanol.

Despite my criticism, I believe the book does a significant contribution to the discussion about the future of the urban transportation system. Highly recommended. Even if you do not have the patience to read the whole thing, at least borrow it from a friend and read Chapters 2 and 9, you are not going to regret it. Or peek a bit with Amazon's Look Inside tool. Only if all citizens get a basic understanding of the concepts behind the ongoing discussion and the real magnitude of the sacrifices required, the world is going to move to a more sustainable transport and energy systems. And we better start preparing now to make the choices wisely and voting with our wallets and on the ballot, without exaggerations, apocalyptic prophesies or radical positions whether from environmentalists or from or ultra-conservatives, because all of us are going to pay the price and the consequences for doing nothing.

And finally, the book is written under the assumption that climate change is already happening and the science is settled. All the language used in the book is consistent with this premise. Considering all the other reasons presented in the book to abandon the car-centric model, I think the authors unnecessarily scared away the "skeptical" readers. It is a shame because changes in consumer choices and behavior must also include the non-believers. The automobile-dependent model is not sustainable whether global warming is manmade or not. Pandemic traffic congestion will gridlock many cities in the world in a few decades; air pollution from auto emissions is already a serious health problem in many places, to the point that several Latin American big cities already have been rationing road space for several years through restricting entrance by plate number; and because most countries need to quit from oil addiction for all the well known reasons.

Further readings recommended. If you want to know what lies ahead beyond transport, and particularly clean energy, read Thomas Friedman's Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution--and How It Can Renew America, or just to get more details on hybrids. plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles read Plug-in Hybrids: The Cars that will Recharge America. For a no nonsense critic on the economics behind the mitigation measures proposed for climate change read Lawson's An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming. If you want to know more about American corn ethanol read Sustainable Ethanol: Biofuels, Biorefineries, Cellulosic Biomass, Flex-fuel Vehicles, and Sustainable Farming for Energy Independence. In order to take a wise decision we have to hear all points of view. Furthermore, most scientists, engineers, and economists that have and will develop the technologies and policy solutions usually lack social and political sensibility. On the other hand, most politicians are more sensible but their chief concern is to stay in office.

Sorry for the long review and thank you if you bear with me this long. I just regret I did not get the book for free as most of the fellow reviewers below did. Just kidding, this book is worth every penny I paid for, that is why I got so carried away with the review.

PS: for a follow-up see also Plug-In Electric Vehicles: What Role for Washington?, High Voltage: The Fast Track to Plug In the Auto Industry, and Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy

PS(2): There is now a 2010 paperback edition (Two Billion Cars: Driving Toward Sustainability) with a new chapter (16pp) entitled "Afterword: Transforming Transportation - After the Fall" which deals with a review of the issues discussed in the book in light of the 2008 Financial Crisis. Unfortunately it seems to have been written hastily and it does not present much value added, reflecting a very pessimistic view of the near future (Is there a deception with the Obama Administration?)
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