September 17th, 2011

deceptive headline: transitioning between transit/public transport choices

"California’s High-Speed Rail Mistake"

So it's not like the URL isn't the headline.

Anyway, the author, Joel Epstein, says that while he has been on record as supporting the SF-LA bullet train, it is probably just as well that it got canceled because California can't afford to be doing the bullet train and all the other transit work that needs to be done and the other transit work is more important.

"I had this epiphany while riding the Bolt Bus between 911-memorial soaked New York and Philadelphia. True, the bus took two hours instead of the one it might have taken on Amtrak's Acela Express. But the $13 I paid left a much smaller hole in my pocket than the $105 the Acela would have cost."

This is a point I keep wondering about whenever I read a rail proponent arguing that developing incremental passenger rail, especially in commuter corridors, is way cheaper than building more highways. Well, _sure_ it's cheaper than building more highways. But so are a lot of other things, including, but not limited to bus service, carpooling, car sharing, paratransit (in the UK sense, not the US sense which seems to be focused so much on the old and sick) and living closer to where you have to go on a regular basis -- ideally, close enough to bike or walk at least part of the time.

One of the things I keep thinking about is the "bus" tunnel in Seattle. Seattle had plans on maybe building a subway decades ago (way longer ago than I had ever realized) and they didn't do it. Like everyone else, they unraveled their streetcar system and ended their interurbans (and they're still trying to get rid of the last of the electrified bus routes, as near as I can tell). But for all that everyone says that developers will preferentially develop around rail in a way they never will around bus routes, I don't have to resort to Curitiba to demonstrate otherwise: I just have to point to Greenwood Avenue. Those apartment buildings don't line that road for no damn reason at all, and while you could argue whether the buses run up and down that street because of the apartments vs. the apartments are there because the buses run up and down that street, that's missing the point: Seattle fostered a virtuous cycle of public transportation and denser development working together that was evident in locations like Greenwood even when I was a small child and nobody rode the bus if they could possibly help it. The argument that trickled down to ignorant young women like me when the bus tunnel was proposed was that this was a maneuver that would convince the Feds to cut loose money that wasn't otherwise accessible to the city. I don't believe that particular story any longer. I think there was some pretty careful thought that went into that tunnel in terms of how it would be used incrementally (all those arguments were presented at the time as well, but a _lot_ of people were wildly skeptical that anything would come of them).

Whenever I see an argument of the form: we don't have _time_ to do incremental development, or it will cost so much more if we do it incrementally than if we just Do it the Right Way Now, my skin itches. And since reading _Waiting on a Train_, I also think of the Florida bullet train. You know, the one that never got built -- and the incremental development that hasn't really gotten going even now, because of the delay that trying to get that done led to.

So a big congratulations to Joel Epstein for having a sensible moment.


Chicago entertaining ideas of bus rapid transit, a la Bogota.

I'm quite freaked out to learn that they privatized their parking meters some years ago and the deal involved not reducing the net spaces metered. The mind _really_ falters at making a decision _that_ short sighted. At least mine does.


When Utah's light rail system rolled out, an express bus line was deemed replaced, but not everyone who rode it agreed. Feeder buses to the light rail were added but at very low frequency and some of the former bus riders are preferring to drive all the way in.

I have no idea what the underlying reality is here: it could be a very small handful of people whining. It could be a true frequency issue. It could be that there is a medium sized group of people who got hurt -- but an equal or greater number of people prefer the new system, thus making it a good tradeoff anyway. *shrug*

One of the trickiest problems with decision making -- whether it's what-to-have-for-lunch or where-to-route-the-buses -- is assessing afterwards whether the decision was good or bad. Even if there is a clear negative event (you threw up, say, or everyone starts driving again), it can be hard to tell if that that event is worse, the same, or better than what would have happened if you made a different choice.

ETA Still More:

I feel like I should change that subject line again. Whatever. The whole post is about me looking for transit articles via google news.

Another 6 month extension for the FAA and surface transportation and their funding sources passed by massive margins after being held up by Coburn who thought that making states spend 10% of the gas tax money on something other than highways and bridges just wasn't right. They had to get _Inhofe_ to talk him down. Coburn being crazy is hardly news, I know, but in a world in which _Inhofe_ is the voice of sanity, you _know_ you're way, way, way out into some territory I hate thinking about.

other bloggers

I landed over here when I was tracking the Adoboli story:

It's an interesting post, but I always wonder about people who say companies should be smarter than they are, especially when it comes to risk management. Preventing expensive bad things from happening requires somebody's attention, and often, it is a lot more remunerative to instead pay attention to things that _make_ money than things that avoid _losing_ money. You can take this conservative (hanging on to what you have) approach too far.

So I went looking back through the blog a few days to try to get a sense of the blogger. Is this a person who thinks about costs in a nuanced way, in a way that captures several stages of consequences of multiple approaches when making a decision?

Short answer: No. This blogger is a genuinely decent human being who thinks carefully and tries hard, but is still making rookie errors. When I tried to explain it to R., he kept saying, yeah, you shouldn't insure jewelry because you'll wind up paying for it in 20 years (which is how the policies are priced). Except my point is that if you own something expensive enough and likely enough to be lost or stolen that you're tempted to buy insurance, then you're going to be paying for it in a lot less time -- more like five years -- _when_ you do lose it, in the form of increased premium costs. On _everything_. In the comments thread, the blogger is surprised at how little it takes to get dropped from an umbrella policy.

Commenters stepped in with a variety of explanations for why insuring jewelry with your homeowners is a mistake and the conversation wanders, but the blogger is still hoping for detailed rules from the insurer so he knows whether he should file a claim or not.

Which is ridiculous. There's a rule. It's simple: you never make a claim if you can possibly avoid it. Once you _do_ make a claim, you expect to be reimbursing the company for having made that claim. Forever. Which is why you never make a claim if you can possibly avoid it.

There's another theory about how insurance works (and it involves Getting Your Money's Worth Out of Premium Payments). That theory is inflationary.