Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Why is American Mobility Declining?

Timothy Taylor discusses new data from the US Census that describes the decline in mobility across regions in the United States. It is evident that Americans are less likely to move to new metropolitan areas than at any point since WWII. There are strong economic implications associated with this as households staying put may lose out on employment, wage and productivity opportunities that can only be realized by moving. Here are Taylor's thoughts on why people are moving less (he is citing a paper by Molloy, Smith and Wozniak): 
Molloy, Smith, and Wozniak consider possible long-term explanations for a declining rate of mobility, like the possibility that an aging population less likely to move. As they put it: "However, these differences across groups are not useful in explaining why migration has fallen in recent decades. The decrease in migration does not seem to be driven by demographic or socioeconomic trends, because migration rates have fallen for nearly every subpopulation ..."

They freely admit that there is not yet an answer in the economic research as to why geographic mobility has been declining, but they offer some hypotheses.
For example, one argument is that migration was high in the post WWII years as part of a significant population shift to the South, a shift which has been diminishing every since. But this factor doesn't seem to be significant enough, given the observed data on interregional migration.
Another hypothesis is that there are more two-earner families, and so when one person loses a job the household may be more reluctant to relocate. But this argument faces the problem that "the percentage of households with two earners has been quite stable over the last 30 years."
Yet another possibility "is that technological advances have allowed for an expansion of telecommuting and flexible work schedules, reducing the need for workers to move for a job." However, the data on telecommuting doesn't show that it is a large enough factor to explain the decline in mobility.

And yet another possibility "is that locations have become less specialized in the types of goods and services produced, making the types of available jobs more similar across space. ... A related idea is that the distribution of amenities has become more homogeneous across locations, making residence in any particular city less attractive." This explanation may have some truth in it, but it's proven difficult to gather data that would allow it to be tested in any definitive way.
Finally, it may just be that many Americans are shifting their preferences away from being willing to move. Molloy, Smith and Wozniak present evidence that "the secular decline in geographic mobility appears to be specific to the U.S. experience, since internal mobility has neither fallen in most other European economies nor in Canada—with the United Kingdom as a notable exception."
Whatever the reason behind the decline in geographic mobility, there are implications for the economy if the workforce becomes less flexible and less willing to move from areas where the economy is weaker to where it is stronger. In addition, lower mobility has broad implications for what its like to live in America. People find it harder to envision their lives as involving a big move. Social networks are reshaped. When mobility drops, we become a country where you are less likely to end up living and working with people from other states, other counties, or even other parts of your own county.
I largely agree with these thoughts, and certainly agree that declining national mobility is problematic and is likely a causal factor in the current sluggish economy. The metropolitan regions that will thrive in the future are the ones that will attract immigrants, whether those immigrants are from around the country or around the world.

Declining mobility has been recognized in scholarship as a problem, and there are creative policy interventions proposed. One that I like is from Jens Ludwig and Steven Raphael at the Brookings Institute's Hamilton Project. They argue for a mobility bank to help pay for residential moves. Here is a link to their paper, and here is their abstract:
This paper proposes the creation of a “mobility bank” at a government cost of less than $1 billion per year to help finance the residential moves of U.S. workers relocating either to take offered jobs or to search for work, and to help them learn more about the employment options available in other parts of the country. Whereas those with college degrees and savings are much more likely to move in response to job loss and to improve their job market outcomes, those with less skills and no savings may have difficulty financing such transitions. The government should target mobility bank loans toward displaced, unemployed, and underemployed people in depressed areas of the country and should help to insure people against job-outcome uncertainty by making repayment terms contingent on the borrower’s post-move employment and income. This proposal extends government support for work-related moves that already are included in the U.S. tax code but that primarily benefit higher-income households. Calculations suggest that the benefits compare favorably with the costs from alternative federal efforts. Perhaps more importantly, our proposal helps address a persistent market failure that limits the ability of low-income families to borrow against future earnings to “invest” in job-promoting residential moves.
If it proves true that residential mobility is crucial to economic performance, then we need to consider policies that encourage mobility. What is described nationally by the Census and potentially solved by a mobility bank is an extension of the jobs-housing matching problems that planners deal with all the time.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Burritos, Travel Substitution and Air Drones

Technological change happens all the time, and affects how we travel. Some technological change allows us to move faster or improves accessibility, and other technological change allows for substitution of personal travel for other travel. An example of travel substitution is food trucks, where trucks bring the food to people who would otherwise have had to travel for similar consumption. Online shopping is another well-known example of substitution. In many cases travel substitution is welfare enhancing and can spur productivity gains. Again, in the case of food trucks, before the recent boom in trucks no one knew people everywhere really wanted Korean food on tortillas topped with salsa and cheese. Let's assume this innovation makes us all better off.

Food trucks developed from the LA taco trucks (delightfully called roach coaches), and I hope Mexican food is the key to the future of food delivery because just like with the taco trucks, the truly great ideas are all about burrito delivery.

Here is the evidence:

(These have been around awhile)
-The Burrito Tunnel (I've written about this before)
-The Taco Copter

(And because three data points are irrefutable)
-The Burrito Drone

So I predict that the next hot trend for street food will involves commercial uses for air drones, and the cuisine of choice for truly innovative travel substitution is Mexican. In support of this prediction, here is a story from this week's New Scientist magazine titled "Welcome to the personal drone revolution." And here is a self-explanatory company. This may be a bigger deal than finally being able to get a decent burrito in Morningside Heights.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Problem with the ACS

This neat interactive graphic by WYNC "shows" where people are moving when they come to New York.  However, be sure to look at the +/- for the total number of movers for each tract. For instance, Morningside Heights, where I live, had 211 movers reported by the Census +/- 231 movers. So we know at the 90% confidence interval that somewhere between -20 and 442 people moved to (from) Morningside Heights during the reported period. This uncertainty is fine for descriptive uses like the WNYC piece, though they should make clear that these are not precise numbers. For robust analyses that rely on point estimates, such as any type of regression analysis, these margins or error are unacceptable.

These large margins of error is why the American Community Survey cannot be used for most tract level analysis. The ACS replaced the decennial Census long form, which could be used for most tract level analysis, but much of the social science work that relied on long form data simply cannot be replicated or extended using the ACS. It's a problem.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Which Urban Myth Will the Roger Rabbit Sequel Exploit?

Fortunately there is a sequel to "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" in the works. Since the first movie used Bradford Snell's false and damaging argument that there was a grand conspiracy by General Motors to destroy transit in the United States as a main plot point, let's speculate on better urban frauds the new movie can incorporate into the story.

Perhaps the new movie can have a villain who claims that streetcars cause economic growth, leading to hundreds of millions of dollars of federal subsidies funneled to the villain's business holdings.  Here is a link to some top secret test footage of an early draft.

Here is the key scene from the first movie where the dastardly plan is described:

Bridge Collapse Causes Train Wreck

A train derailed in New Jersey after the bridge it was crossing collapsed. Here is a CNN story. At this point no one knows if the bridge collapse was the cause of the derailment (or was there something with the train that caused the collapse), but will this event serve as a reminder that we tolerate catastrophic failures of our infrastructure far more commonly than most people think? I am not confident that knowledge of potential failure will spur action, nor am I very confident that actual failure will change priorities to fix our infrastructure first. It seems most likely that we will continue to tolerate occasional failure even though everybody knows this is the wrong  way to go about things. Collective action problems are hard.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Matt Kahn on Project Evaluation

In the above video Matt Kahn explains why many projects that do not pass muster in a benefit cost test still move forward. This NY Times article provides somereal world examples of the politics of rail investment in Los Angeles, especially how rail investment is not equitably spread around. From the Times story, Mayor Villaraigosa explains his support for a new rail line that doesn't stop in an African-American neighborhood:
But Mr. Villaraigosa also emphasized the benefits that the rail network — including a recently constructed light-rail line that carries passengers through the northern parts of South Los Angeles — would offer the area even if a Leimert Park stop was not built. He also noted his efforts to expand the Crenshaw line, which was originally designed as a bus line with a fraction of the money it now has.
“All of that happened because I drove it,” he said. “This was a busway before I made it into a light rail.”
The story does not make clear what the benefits of the rail line are expected to be, but I'm pretty sure that Leimert Park is better off with a busway that stops in the neighborhood than with a light rail line that does not. USC's Lisa Schweitzer explains why the residents of Leimert Park are upset:
“It comes out of this history in which the answer is always no,” she said. “When it comes to requests from South L.A., the answer is always no, we can’t afford it. And, conversely, when it comes to the West Side, the answer is always yes, because they’re so politically empowered and so wealthy.”
Too many transit projects are failures on economic and equity bases. For those of us who support transit, we need to be much more reflective about the investment choices we have made.

The Relative Size of Transit Systems

Twin Cities Metro Transit just celebrated its three billionth rider. Here is a Star Tribune article about this feat. That sounds like a lot of riders, except Metro Transit started counting upon its creation in 1967 1972.* At that time the Twin Cities had about 1.8 million residents. There are now over 3.1 million people.

As a point of contrast (but without making any larger point), three billion riders are about 15 months worth of subway and bus ridership in New York City, not including commuter rail.

*I wrote the wrong year originally. Metro Transit was created in 1967 but started current operations in 1972. It took 12 years for the first billion riders, 15 years for the second billion, and now 13 years for the third billion.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Road Deaths Are Up Thanks to the TSA

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is a well-meaning but terrible bother for travel. It isn't much more than security theater and is generally an example of lousy governance. See here for a run down of many complaints. There are many more. The TSA is supposed to save lives by making flying safer. But Charles Kenny argues that the TSA is killing more people than it potentially saves since many travelers avoid safe but inconvenient air travel for driving, which is far riskier. He also explains what a waste the program is. About the road deaths:
There is lethal collateral damage associated with all this spending on airline security—namely, the inconvenience of air travel is pushing more people onto the roads. Compare the dangers of air travel to those of driving. To make flying as dangerous as using a car, a four-plane disaster on the scale of 9/11 would have to occur every month, according to analysis published in the American Scientist. Researchers at Cornell University suggest that people switching from air to road transportation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks led to an increase of 242 driving fatalities per month—which means that a lot more people died on the roads as an indirect result of 9/11 than died from being on the planes that terrible day. They also suggest that enhanced domestic baggage screening alone reduced passenger volume by about 5 percent in the five years after 9/11, and the substitution of driving for flying by those seeking to avoid security hassles over that period resulted in more than 100 road fatalities.
Just more reason to get rid of the TSA and develop smarter air security.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Let's Make a Deal: Give Poor Households Cars So Rich Households Can Take Transit

The Republican candidates for president this past cycle were widely criticized for taking the stance during the primary debates that no tax increase was acceptable. They all demurred at the offer of a $1 increase in taxes for a $10 decrease in spending. So I want to propose a similar idea to transit advocates. Is a small increase in driving by certain groups worth a large decrease in driving for other groups? Specifically, what if we subsidized car ownership and usage for low income people so that public transit would no longer have any social welfare component? I know this is provocative and I do not advocate for it, but am curious if maximizing the environmental benefits of transit are worth eliminating or dramatically reducing the social welfare benefits of transit. If poor people without cars get cars, based on current land uses, they will be better off in most cases. If we can then focus new transit investment on likely or potential riders who currently drive a lot, we may be able to reduce overall auto usage and reduce transport emissions.

Who will make this deal?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Are Roads Public Goods?

For many "surface" roads, in rural areas, there is no congestion, or at least none unless you get behind a tractor or school bus. And the cost of collecting fees would be prohibitive, particularly in the era before transponders when you would have need a toll booth at the end of every driveway or building entrance to measure when a car gets on and when it gets off. So, roads in that kind of setting are pretty close to public goods. Further, we can charge an excise tax on gasoline, which is close to being a linear fee on intensity of use. Heavier cars, and trucks, use more gas and so pay higher fees, and even smaller cars use twice as much gas to travel twice as far. So weight and distance travelled determine how much you pay in fees (gas taxes). Let's say rural roads look like they could be public goods.
Rural interstate, or limited access, highways are a closer call. The limited access part means that there are relatively few on/off ramps, and the development of transponders and licese plate cameras with computerized billing reduces the costs of collecting fees. Still, the use of the highway is generally not subject to congestion in rural areas. When Chateau, Angus, and I (once with Fred Flintstone) drove across Kansas (to get to the other side, so we could go skiing in Colorado), we spent long stretches of the night watching headlights coming from far away. Not many other cars out there on I-40 in January at 3 a.m. So, even though it is possible to collect fees, the marginal cost of road use (once the gasoline is taken out, and already taxed) is very close to zero. Probably still a public good, though you could argue the point.
But urban, limited access highways? Please, chile, get out my face. That's NOT a public good, not even close. Urban highways are notoriously subject to extreme crowding. Consequently, the marginal cost of being on the highway is positive. And it is cheap now to use electronic means to detect and collect road use fees. These fees can have different levels for different times of day generally, and even be "live," with different charges for different traffic conditions.
Lots of people have discussed these distinctions elsewhere, but the public/private distinction is often misused where whether or not the roads are publicly or privately supplied often confuses people as to whether the road is a public or private goods. I'll add that is some cases roads can and should be considered club goods or common goods.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Holly Solomon Found the Vote That (Would Have) Mattered

It is extremely unlikely that your vote swayed the outcome of the US presidential election. See Andrew Gelman for details. Holly Solomon believes she found the decisive vote, however, and did something about it: after identifying her husband as the one guy who didn't vote she ran him over! Since Obama was re-elected, Holly thought her family was going to face hardships. She was right! Her family will now face the hardship of her going to jail.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Can Social Impact Bonds Be a Model for Transport Finance?

The Canadian government just announced social impact bonds to supply public services. From the Toronto Star:

OTTAWA—The Harper government is introducing a controversial new approach to funding social services called “social impact bonds” that can turn a profit for private investors. 
“Social finance is about mobilizing private capital to achieve social goals, creating opportunities for investors to finance projects that benefit Canadians and realize financial gains,” the government said in a statement announcing the financing mechanism.
Human Resources Minister Diane Finley commented, “The government recognizes that we must take steps to enable communities to tackle local challenges. 
“By harnessing private sector capital and business practices, we can better respond to social challenges such as homelessness, unemployment and poverty,” she said in a speech in Toronto explaining the initiative. 
The bonds, which were mentioned in the March 29 federal budget, are a complex mechanism to increase funding for social objectives.
The government contracts with a non-profit organization or a private, for-profit business to supply a service, such as building affordable housing, counseling ex-convicts or working with at-risk youth. Funds are raised from investors or charities to finance the project and, if the goals of the project are reached, the investors are repaid their original investment plus a profitable return.
“The government will partner with organizations, businesses, and not-for-profit organizations to build further momentum in Canada around social innovation and social finance tools,” the Human Resources department said in a background document.
The bonds, pioneered in Britain, have been widely questioned by critics. They say the bonds are a way of getting governments and the public off the hook for paying for needed social programs and question how success or failure of the projects can be accurately measured.

A key question associated with these types of bonds is whether the public should provide direct investment in places and things that should positively affect citizens, or should the public invest in people and leave other businesses and agencies to worry about supplying things.

I think we should try more people based policies, and transportation is ripe for such efforts. I have argued for mobility credits as a way to improve transport finance and improve social equity (see here or here). You can find a bit more background on mobility credits at the Transport Economics wikibook (links available at the site):

Tradable mobility creditsA more acceptable policy on automobile travel restrictions, proposed by transport economists[25] to avoid inequality and revenue allocation issues, is to implement a rationingof peak period travel but through revenue-neutral credit-based congestion pricing. This concept is similar to the existing system of emissions trading of carbon credits, proposed by the Kyoto Protocol to curb greenhouse emissions. Metropolitan area or city residents, or the taxpayers, will have the option to use the local government-issued mobility rights or congestion credits for themselves, or to trade or sell them to anyone willing to continue traveling by automobile beyond the personal quota. This trading system will allow direct benefits to be accrued by those users shifting to public transportation or by those reducing their peak-hour travel rather than the government.[26][27]
In short, social bonds should be encouraged as a way to increase competition and accountability while ensuring desired services. Such bonds are great opportunities for policy experimentation and improvement.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Transit Referendums Have Always Been Popular

Source: The Onion

There were lots of transit and transport related referendums on ballots this year, and about 80 % of them passed. This is essentially par for the course for these types of measures, and nothing to get excited about as some type of shift in priorities or sentiment by the public. The past few years have seen similar rates of passage for transit and transport projects (see here), and these measures generally have broad support across the electorate. See this recent report from NRDC for a snapshot of current support across party lines, which has been fairly steady over time, and see The Onion piece above for a 12 year old joke about how popular transit is. While many vote to support transit, most vote to support transit for someone else.

Where officials seem to be cannier in their approach is they realized that bond measures are more popular than tax measures. Here is the abstract from a paper by Dixit, et al.,:
Transit is an integral part of a sustainable transportation system in any
region. Proposals for transit initiatives that are brought to referenda
include a funding vehicle, either tax based or bond based. A tax-funded
proposal imposes the cost on the present generation of residents, whereas
a bond-funded proposal delays the burden to future generations. The aim
is to investigate whether the success of proposals in referenda is related
to the use of taxes or bonds for funding. This question is investigated
with the use of data from 111 transit referenda held in the United States
from 1999 to 2007. It was found that proposals that use taxes for funding
are less likely to pass than those that use bonds.
In broad terms, transit ballot measures are popular because other people using transit will help make driving easier--e.g. people support transit as a form of congestion reduction as they expect their personal harm from congestion will decline after other people switch modes--and future generations will pay for the improvements. Such a deal.

Pushing costs onto future generations is nothing new. For instance, New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority has long pursued a bond strategy driven largely by public demand for services now and repayment later. See this paper by James Cohen for details or this working paper of mine here.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Role of Parking in Successful Urban Centers: New Report from London

London Council commissioned a report on the role parking plays in ongoing success of urban centers. Here is a link to the report. Here are the findings:

The review of the academic literature and other reports showed that there was relatively little research carried out into the link between parking and urban centre success. Where there was research, it was often not backed up by survey data or other robust evidence.
However, where there was research, the main findings were as follows:
1) More parking does not necessarily mean greater commercial success. A well managed parking scheme, where spaces ‘turn over’ frequently can help to increase the number of visitors coming to a town centre and thereby help business.
2) There is no such thing as ‘free’ parking. The costs of developing and maintaining parking
spaces and then enforcing proper use to ensure good traffic flow have to be borne by
somebody. In the case of local authority operated parking (on street or off street) any costs
that are not covered by parking revenue falls to local Council Tax payers.
3) Shopkeepers consistently overestimate the share of their customers coming by car. In
some cases, this is by a factor of as much as 400%. In London, as well as other cities, the
share of those accessing urban centres on foot or by public transport is much greater. Walking
is the most important mode for accessing local town centres; public transport is the most
important mode for travel to international centres, such as Oxford Street.
4) Car drivers spend more on a single trip; walkers and bus users spend more over a
week or a month. In 2011, in London town centres, walkers spent £147 more per month than
those travelling by car. Compared with 2004, spending by public transport users and walkers
has risen; spending by car users and cyclists has decreased.
5) A good mix of shops and services and a quality environment are some of the most
important factors in attracting visitors to town centres. If both these are poor, then
changes to parking or accessibility are very unlikely to make a town centre more attractive.
6) There is very little evidence of the impacts of parking on the night time economy. This is
an area that needs more research.
7) Boroughs collect a lot of data on parking but there is less information available on town
centre economic factors. Finding ways to coordinate data collection across departments
could be helpful to monitor the impacts of parking policies.
I haven't read the whole thing closely but it looks like a nice review of the state of the literature with some new survey data to support their assertions.

More on Credible Commitment and Transit Investment

I recently highlighted credible commitment as a factor that influences political support and coalitions for transit investment. In Los Angeles Measure J failed by a small margin in part because groups who should be natural allies of the MTA did not find the agency a credible recipient of dedicated sales tax revenue through 2069. Independent of the merits of any investment priorities, transport agencies need to be much more aware of how trustworthy they are in the public view in large part because of the changing structure of transport finance.

Federal funding is declining as a share of overall transport investment. As a response, local, regional and state actors have to take a larger role in taxing and spending for transport, as well as assessing priorities for investment. Voters are not likely to support new taxes, road fees, transit fares and other revenues if they think their money will be spent foolishly or dishonestly. For instance, in the New York region the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey damaged it's reputation after raising tolls on their Hudson River crossings in 2011. The dramatic increase in tolls was widely perceived to be needed for reconstruction of the World Trade Center site, and AAA filed a lawsuit on these grounds. Here is more from the Wall Street Journal with some details that the WTC site is diverting money away from existing infrastructure. Overall, the actions of the Port Authority will make it more difficult to raise revenues for required maintenance and new investment in the future regardless of the merit of the WTC project. Also in New York, the MTA is still negatively affected by the myth that they used to keep two sets of books. There never was a second set, but the MTA is less credible because of the perception and has trouble gaining political support at the state capital. I wrote about credible commitment and the MTA last year here and also highlighted distrust toward the Twin Cities Metropolitan Council because of investment choices the agency made.

So when I read stories such as this one from San Antonio, where the transit agency is swapping money with the highway department to avoid a lawsuit about improper use of sales tax revenues, I worry that the agencies involved are causing long term harm for short term gains. From the San Antonio story:
In a funding swap, $92 million in state money previously set aside to add nontoll lanes on U.S. 281 and Loop 1604 would replace local money reserved for the streetcar project.
In turn, the local money assigned to streetcars would go to adding the nontoll lanes.
The local money comes from the Advanced Transportation District, funded by a 1/4-cent sales tax approved by voters. The state money is from the Texas Mobility Fund.
The Texas Transportation Commission, which governs the Department of Transportation, is expected to vote Nov. 15 on shifting the state money.
Whether the new funding plan will crush any potential court challenge to streetcars remains to be seen.
Jeff Judson, a staunch opponent of rail and the use of ATD funds for streetcars, questioned the legality of spending TMF funds instead.
“I just don't think TxDOT should be accommodating the expenditure on transit, when it's just not their role, and transit will do nothing to reduce congestion,” said Judson, director of the Heartland Institute, a free-market advocacy group.
TxDOT Executive Director Phil Wilson said the agency's proposal to assist with the streetcar funding reflects its increased focus on partnerships.
“We want to find the best opportunity to take dollars and extend them as far as we possibly can,” Wilson said, adding that TMF money is among “the most flexible of funding sources the state has.”
Bexar County, VIA and the city voted last fall to fund the 5-mile streetcar system along with park-and-ride and transit centers.
But the streetcars — the centerpiece of the plan — generated the most controversy.
ATD money was just one of the funding sources, but streetcar opponents, including several Republican elected officials, said it could not be spent for streetcars because voters were promised it wouldn't go to light rail when they approved the sales tax in 2004. Streetcars and light rail, opponents contend, are the same thing.
Longtime rail advocate Judge Nelson Wolff disputes the similarity and believes officials were in the right to use the ATD money. But he didn't want to risk a lawsuit that could delay streetcar construction.
Again, my point is not about the relative merits of streetcars or light rail or roads or park and rides. Rather, the convoluted process of swapping money to achieve a desired result is problematic. In this case, streetcar investment. I will note that the most likely reason that the voters were not asked about streetcars on the 2004 ballot is that at that time the federal government didn't provide funding for streetcars. A change in how projects are evaluated put in place during the Obama administration opened the door for lots of streetcar projects. Cities had no idea what they were missing until the feds starting picking up the tab. Back to my point, as transit agencies become more responsible for raising money and prioritizing investments they have to become more accountable for those decisions, and they must act is ways that enhance credibility rather than reduce it.  Money swaps, poor investment decisions and other actions are problematic for good long term governance of transport investment.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Are Transit Agencies Credible?

Transportation finance is politically challenging in the best of times. These are not those times. In the New York region, the New York MTA has responded admirably to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy. Will their efforts and effectiveness in restoring most service in the aftermath help the credibility of the authority with the public and elected officials? We'll see. What about New Jersey Transit, which is also working hard but has not had the same success restoring service?

Credibility matters for agencies more than generally thought. Mike Manville and I wrote a paper about credible commitment as a barrier to congestion pricing, where we argue that agencies that are not viewed as credible have particular challenges with politically difficult policies. In Los Angeles, credible commitment is a major issue facing the ballot Measure J to extend a dedicated sales tax 30 years to pay for transit improvements. Specifically, LA bus riders, who are the overwhelming majority of transit users, don't think the new revenue will be spent on improving bus service. Rather, they think that the LA MTA will spend the new money on expensive rail projects. From the LA Weekly story:
"The potentially devastating impacts of Measure J -- combined with the MTA's record of shamelessly ignoring the needs and concerns of working class Latinos and blacks as it advances a corporate-driven agenda -- has moved leaders of major churches to speak out," said the Bus Riders Union in a press release.
The Measure's supporters don't understand the opposition:
Denny Zane, a leading advocate for the 2008 countywide sales tax hike approved by voters -- and a key force behind this proposed 30-year extension of that tax hike just four years later, finds the Bus Riders Union's position galling.
Zane says that both Measure R from 2008 and the proposed Measure J on the November 6, 2012 ballot send 20 percent of the tax hike into the bus system.
"All around the country, bus systems had major dramatic cutbacks," Zane says. 
 To which the Bus Rider's Union responds:
But Measure J opponents point out that to the millions of bus riders, 20 percent of this latest tax hike is chicken feed.The vast majority of the millions of mass transit users in Los Angeles and its suburbs use the bus -- not the subways and light rail. But, they note, under Measure J, the subways and rail get the lion's share of this proposed sales tax hike to 2069.
There are good reasons to be skeptical of the LA plan. Here is a overview of service and investment since the sales tax measure first passed in 2008:
Since 2009 the MTA has added eight miles of train service, at a capital cost of about $2 billion. These new trains, the Expo Line and an extension of the east-county Gold Line, carry a total of about 39,000 people a day.

In the meantime, the cash-strapped authority radically reduced bus service twice: It cut bus lines by 4 percent in 2010 and 12 percent in 2011. These cuts were made even though buses move more than four times as many Angelenos as trains do.
 Bus riders in Los Angeles have a long history of feeling like they are not a priority. They have genuine reasons to oppose Measure J. The MTA also needs to recognize that they have credibility problems that they have to address. Is the MTA credible enough to trust with dedicated sales tax revenue until 2069? That's a lot of required trust. Damien Goodmon of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition has an answer:
"Can you trust these guys with that much money?" asks Damien Goodmon of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. "Hell, no!"
And he likes transit spending:
Goodmon favors transit spending but hates the way Metro has gone about it. He's pissed off about the gobs of money being lavished on the Purple Line Westside Extension, which will run under Wilshire Boulevard.
The $6.3 billion to $9 billion Westside Extension will suck up a hefty chunk of the sales tax collected from consumers countywide, yet it falls miles short of the "subway to the sea" once promised, and it won't be completed until 2035.
Meanwhile, the planned Crenshaw Line in South L.A., serving mostly black and Latino riders, will be built on the cheap, at ground level. Goodmon has pleaded with Metro to address safety concerns at points where the line will intersect with streets.
Other black leaders were outraged when Metro's board chose not to build a Crenshaw Line transit stop at Leimert Park, which, in the eyes of many, is the business and shopping heart of black Los Angeles.
Goodmon says the Metro board's unfairly tilted votes on where to spend Measure R taxes amount to "basic economics: We're getting jacked."
Getting jacked, indeed. It is possible and reasonable to support transit investment and oppose Measure J (or any other similar measure). The agencies responsible for collecting and spending the money must be credible. It is not clear that this is the case in LA.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Streetcars as Economic Development Tool in Milwaukee

The Mayor of Milwaukee wants to build a $65 million two-mile streetcar system according to this LA Times article. From the story:

Mayor Tom Barrett is the prime mover behind Milwaukee's plan to build a brand-new streetcar system. Bright, modern vehicles would traverse a two-mile route through the city's east side, downtown and historic Third Ward, a former warehouse area now popular for its shops and restaurants.
Barrett, who believes flashy streetcars can revitalize Milwaukee's city front, points to the popularity of the 10-year-old system in Portland, Ore. Today's streetcars, Barrett says, are more about attracting attention than providing transportation.
"I look at this as an economic development tool," Barrett said. "Look at Portland. That system has aided in spurring development and growth, which is what all communities are looking for now."
This attitude is the wrong way to think about transport investment. Transport investment should be about moving people and things, not indirect attempts at industrial, labor or development policy. Contrary to the Mayor's claims, there isn't any evidence that streetcars boost local economies, including in Portland. There may be some redistributive effects as certain types of firms spatially sort and other go out of business during construction, but overall the effect is pretty much zero. Milwaukee has wide roads and lots of parking. Lack of transport access isn't the main problem for economic development there.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

New Jersey Rationed Gas So No One Can Buy Any

From the NYTimes Hurricane Sandy feed is a story about New Jersey rationing gas by license plate numbers:

The order reads: “If your vehicle’s license plate ends in a letter (A,B,C…), you are only permitted to fuel the vehicle on odd-numbered days.” Numbers are allowed on even-numbered days.
The problem: All license plates in New Jersey end in letters, except for vanity plates. So on Saturday, most everyone in the state could buy gas. On Sunday, no one can. Or so it seems.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Will Hurricane Sandy Change the Political Calculus of Adaptation?

The Huffington Post asked me about the future of the NY region transit system is the wake of the hurricane. The article is here. I am skeptical that this tragic event will change investment priorities. Here is what made it into the story:

“MTA can barely get the funding they need for existing capital projects and to avoid cuts in service,” King said. “Can you imagine what would happen, what would be said if these guys said, ‘OK we also need money to seal the tunnels in case of a storm. That won’t make anybody’s life better most days, but we need it.’ That’s just impossible.”
King is unsure that Hurricane Sandy will serve as a catalyst for that kind of forward thinking. Devastation and casualties have not always been enough to change the current of spending.
“When the [Interstate] 35 W Bridge collapsed in Minnesota, that was supposed to be a watershed moment that made us understand that we need to start investing in bridges and other parts of our crumbling and aged infrastructure," he said. "That didn’t happen.”
We know that frogs will not actually sit in a heated pot of water until it boils. The frogs will jump out once they sense danger (unless their brains have been removed). Humans may not be so quick to react to a perceived threat. Rather than investing wisely in future cities (which may involve letting some cities decline), we will likely continue our current investment strategy and priorities. Mayor Bloomberg has already reasserted his support for lots of new housing development in areas that were devastated by the storm, and the Governor is thinking about giant storm locks in the harbor.

The shift to adaptation discussions in policy circles is also new, so these things take time. From a Capital New York piece a couple of days ago:
"I would say three or four years ago there was—and this a general statement, not specific to New York—the emphasis was on mitigation; in other words, reducing our contribution to climate change," said David Bragdon, then the head of the city's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability. "It's only more recently that policy makers are acknowledging what scientists have known, which is that even if we magically stop emissions tomorrow—if we were successful in all these mitigation efforts, there's still effects that are happening already."
And from the same article, Rich Barone of the RPA said:

The less-dreamy alternative is even more difficult, politically: to discourage residential development in the city's low-lying coastal areas.
"The perfect use of the Rockaways is the way it used to be used, for summer and seasonal housing, what Jones Beach is used for," said Barone. "It's a barrier island. That's what it is. it's the first natural line of defense for storms."
Pirani said the city should consider "buying people out" who live in particularly flood-prone areas, as New Jersey does with its Blue Acre program.
"I think all these things need to be laid out and considered in light of the damage that we suffered over the last couple of days," said Barone.
New Jersey does  have a program for moving people called Blue Acres. Here are some details.

Overall, we just don't know what the politics of climate change will be. Mitigation is a loser politically. Can adaptation be a political winner? My guess is eventually as people will respond to threats they experience. No one experiences the future, so mitigation is hard. Present threats can gain political support, but the winning solutions may not be optimal.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Revisiting the Introduction of the Second Regional Plan of New York Process Papers

The Regional Plan Association has produced three regional plans for the New York region. (Website here, wikipedia here.) The famous first one was introduced in 1929. The second was in 1968 and the third in 1996. Here is the introduction to the a supporting document about the planning process for the Second Regional Plan written in 1967:

Footloose describes our era.                                
The factory is freed from its sources of raw materials, from rivers and railroads. The worker need not be within walking distance of his job as a century ago nor even within walking distance of subway, railroad or street railway as sixty years ago. Recreation areas for day-long trips can be anywhere in the metropolitan region-and most will be crowded on nice days wherever they are.                                                
Fast-changing also describes our era.                      
The bulldozer can turn a slum into a desert in a few days. Landscapists can turn it into a park shortly after-or construction workers into houses or offices. Nor does it take long for residents to turn a nice neighborhood into a slum.                                     
Fantastically productive also describes it.   
Our economy now produces three times as much as in the booming years of the '20's (measured by the same dollar), and production of goods and services per capita leaps by about one-fourth each decade.                       
The planner, accordingly, is increasingly freer of economic and transportation limitations. Many locations are about equally efficient for production and distribution of goods and services-and with our increasing wealth, other values more often than before challenge efficient production and distribution as important criteria.                                            
With basic economic necessities of diminishing importance in regional planning, issues more related to personal taste come to the fore, and planners have become sensitive to the possibility that the choices they would make for a metropolitan area may not be the same as others would make.   
This describes a very different approach to cities and regions than we have today. We have (hopefully) learned a lot about  cities, for instance certain industries favor proximity and agglomeration more than is suggested above. In addition, it is clear that transportation limitations continue and remain critical to address. However, this is a more optimistic introduction than I would expect from a planning report today. Maybe what we write these days will also seem optimistic to those who read it in 45 years.

Ultimately, the notion that transportation policy is largely guided by heterogeneous preferences and quality of life issues hasn't quite come to pass, though I'll argue there is more evidence of personal tastes influencing policy on a large scale nowadays than was the case in the 1960s.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Gizmodo Reviews Amazon Lockers is trying a new service where they install lockers in retail stores (grocery or drugstore type) that customers can use to have packages delivered. You order through Amazon, then the goods are shipped to a locker. Once delivered you receive a number code that you use to open the locker and get your stuff. It's a neat idea and a concept that is extremely important in places like New York (which is where they are trying it). Online retail is now well over 10% of all shopping, and all of those goods still account for travel. The travel is now done by the freight rather than the person, but it is still travel and congests streets, dirties the air and demands parking. Lockers are a way to allow shipping companies to deliver once rather than make multiple attempts, which is pretty typical in non-doorman buildings in New York. The volume of goods delivered to residential buildings also makes up a non-trivial amount of total travel on city streets, and goods movement is going to be a much bigger deal for planners in the future than it has been. For instance, the Solaire in Battery Park Manhattan receives about 18,000 packages annually. That's a lot of deliveries for a residential building! Most multifamily buildings are not built to accommodate that volume of commerce. Hence the need for Lockers.

Here is the review. Here is the conclusion:

Should You Buy It?
Yes. The lockers are stupidly simple. You can even have your locker code texted to you when your order arrives. It doesn't cost anything—standard, one-, and two-day shipping is available for free if you're on Prime. If you have the need for a surrogate mailbox, using Lockers is pretty much a no-brainer.
There are some grocery delivery companies looking at similar concepts but with refrigeration.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Red Means Go

Jalopnik lists ten ways that "city planners" screw up traffic lights. Link here. City planners are getting unfairly blamed here, but we'll go with it.

I didn't know that in 1966 China almost switched the colors of traffic lights as part of the cultural revolution. Red meant go and green meant stop. Details here. Red, the color of the revolution, should not be associated with stopping. Red means go associates the color with progress! And, if enacted, lots of crashes. However, it is not obvious that the color of the lights makes a difference in many cases:

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Explain This Traffic Light

xkcd: "There is an intersection I drive through sometimes that has a green arrow, a red light and a 'no turns' sign all on one pole. I honestly have no idea what it is telling me to do."


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Peppa Pig is Wrong. There is a Car on the Moon

My four year old son likes the TV show Peppa Pig. It's a fine enough show, as these shows go, but is factually wrong about certain aspects of science. A character in the show stated that there are not any cars on the moon. This is not right as three lunar rovers are sitting there waiting for Elon Musk to come and take a spin. Perhaps it will be the Tesla X.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

On Taxing Cars or Horses in 1912

Should taxes be used to discourage behavior? The Daily Mirror thought so 100 years ago as they argued horses should be taxed instead of cars:

The Despised Horse
“The London Daily Mirror published a trenchant editorial on the foolish- ness of taxing automobiles for the use of city streets: ‘The horse is a danger and a nuisance in the streets of a large city. We hear a lot of motor-car street taxes, but it is the horse which should be taxed, not the motor car. The horse is unhygienic, erratic and occupies too much space. Tax the horse as you would dogs, and leave the motor cars alone!’ ”
Source (gated).

Friday, September 21, 2012

The 2012 Ig Nobel Prizes: Walking with Coffee

The 2012 Ig Nobel prizes were announced last night. Last year the Mayor of Vilnius won the peace prize for crushing illegally parked cars with a tank. This year there was only one transport winner, though in the field of fluid dynamics:

FLUID DYNAMICS PRIZE: Rouslan Krechetnikov [USA, RUSSIA, CANADA] and Hans Mayer [USA] for studying the dynamics of liquid-sloshing, to learn what happens when a person walks while carrying a cup of coffee.
REFERENCE: "Walking With Coffee: Why Does It Spill?" Hans C. Mayer and Rouslan Krechetnikov, Physical Review E, vol. 85, 2012.
ATTENDING THE CEREMONY: Rouslan Krechetnikov
Walking with coffee is an important planning goal.

The literature prize is truly deserved:

LITERATURE PRIZE: The US Government General Accountability Office, for issuing a report about reports about reports that recommends the preparation of a report about the report about reports about reports.
REFERENCE: "Actions Needed to Evaluate the Impact of Efforts to Estimate Costs of Reports and Studies," US Government General Accountability Office report GAO-12-480R, May 10, 2012.
Check the site here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

In The Future No One Will Know How To Drive

The above video is of a New Scientist reporter experiencing a "road train." From the story:
The most alarming thing about taking your hands off the steering wheel when hurtling along the road at 90 kilometres an hour is just how quickly you get used it. There is a brief moment of initial uncertainty, but then you quickly stop worrying about who is control and just sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.
Welcome to the brave new world of semi-autonomous cars. I say "semi" because this car is not entirely driving itself. Volvo calls it a platoon: a convoy of moving cars that are wirelessly coupled together, one behind the other, into a road train, all under the control of a single professional lead driver.
I do expect that people will get used to not driving pretty quickly, though the road train technology doesn't seem as likely to take off as fully autonomous vehicles. Here is another story about autonomous cars that explains that cars communicate around corners and substantially reduce collisions. And here is a CNN/Wired piece that suggests no one will need a drivers license by 2040.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Should Transit Policy Be Housing and Development Policy?

The LA Times reports on protests against the development policies of Los Angeles Metro. From the story:

More than 200 protesters marched through Union Station on Thursday afternoon, banging drums as they passed train platforms, loudly demanding more community say in how the region's transit agency manages and develops property along its rapidly expanding rail network.
The demonstration, which did not affect transit services, was held as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority continues its plan to aggressively pursue several new rail lines in various areas of Los Angeles County, as well as housing and other developments around them.
Speaking at the rally, Sunyoung Yang of the Bus Riders Union said Boyle Heights, east of downtown, has been particularly affected by Metro development. "Over the years there has been a net loss in affordable housing," she said. "People have been displaced."
The article provides some details about affordable housing that has been built, including  1,222 affordable units near rail transit stops. While affordable housing is a absolutely a good thing--people need quality places to live--a larger question is whether the regional transit provider is the proper agency to supply it.

Most transit agencies have some type of development arm that assists, promotes or spearheads development. This is good in that it helps integrate transportation and land use planning and investment. However, it also moves transit agencies away from their core mission, which is transit provision. If we want affordable housing as a significant feature of transit provision, might it be better to have Housing and Urban Development (HUD) manage transit policy instead of transit agencies managing housing?

The protesters also are upset about big-box retail and gentrification:

Still, protesters, whose march wound from a park near Union Station to Metro headquarters and then on to Boyle Heights, accused Metro of seeking to bring big-box chain stores into neighborhoods, a change they contend speeds up gentrification and pushes out local merchants.
Roger Moliere, chief of property development for Metro, said the agency is not likely to partner with big-box stores because they don't fit with his agency's mission of transit-oriented development, partly because those types of stores rely more on customers arriving by car.
There are a couple of issues to unpack here. First, there are clear benefits to big-box stores that must be considered against the costs. In general their prices are much lower than independent stores, which is good for consumers and especially for low income consumers, and they tend to employ more people at higher wages than independent stores. (See Richard Green's post for a quick summary and links that help support these statements.) Second, big-box stores can thrive without everyone driving to them if other options for travel exist. Fixed route transit, however, is not a viable option for many big-box store visits. Taxis, jitneys, car share and other transit modes that fall between auto ownership and fixed route transit are critical for the economic and social well being of communities, in particular communities that are low income or have a penchant for low rates of auto ownership. In New York a few big-box centers have opened in the past few years, all with generous amounts of parking spaces that are almost always empty. Instead, liveries and for-hire vehicles line up at the stores. Rides are $8 plus $1 per mile. Considering the cost savings on goods, this is a net benefit for the communities. Here is a photo of the sign outside of Target in Harlem:

And here is a shot of the parking spaces (these photos were taken on a Saturday afternoon):

Getting back to which agency should address housing policy, Metro has a particular transit technology--rail--that they are using to shape housing and development policy. Would the outcomes be any different if housing and development policy was addressed by HUD or a local agency, then that agency focused on a variety of available transportation technologies or policies to serve the needs of their constituents? . Perhaps, like in NYC, non-transit agencies would simply require lots of parking. This is plausible if not likely. But maybe they would consider multiple transportation options such as taxis, cycle facilities or walking. Part of how people think about these issues is what their goals and preferences are. Transit advocates will likely want more transit and argue that development should follow that investment. (Transit leads development.) Housing advocates may argue that housing and jobs should come first and then affordable transportation options should be provided. (Development leads transportation.)  Monopoly issues, investment incentives and biases, financing constraints and other institutional factors complicate these situations. It is not obvious to me that either approach is optimal or clearly superior.

Dollar Vans in the Wall Street Journal

The Wall Street Journal has a nice piece on the dollar vans that operate in Brooklyn and Queens. Link here. I am quoted, and the quoted rider supports our (with Eric Goldwyn) research that the vans act as a premium transit service because of faster speeds:

David King, an assistant professor of Urban Planning at Columbia University, has been studying dollar vans for a couple of years. He estimated that there are 300 legal vans and 400 to 500 illegal ones in the city. Mr. King estimates that 100,000 to 120,000 riders a day take the vans in Queens and Brooklyn, which would make it the 20th largest bus system in the country.
"They're an important part of the transit system, and it's not exactly clear where they're a complement to it or where they're a substitute," he added. "Why aren't the people relying on the vans using conventional MTA service? What is it that is not being served?"
The curious part is that while dollar vans sometimes serve communities where public transit routes don't exist—like the routes between Chinatowns—in other cases, like on Flatbush, they exist side-by-side with MTA buses. And while when they were just $1 there was a significant cost difference, when they raised prices to $2, the difference became somewhat negligible.
So why do people take them?
"It's faster and you get a seat all the time," says Juan Perez, 33, who says the trip from his Bedford-Stuyvesant home to Kings Plaza would take more than an hour and a transfer if he took the bus. On the dollar van, it's 30 minutes.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

We Need to Import More Lemons from Mexico

There is only one conclusion you can reach from looking at the above graph. The more lemons the US imports from Mexico the lower the highway fatality rate. In fact, lemon imports explain almost all of the variance in the fatality rate. Clearly traffic safety advocates need to focus more effort on increasing lemon imports.

Here is a source for this insightful research.

Keep in mind that the difference between laughable correlations and serious research is sometimes no greater than researcher bias. There's a fine line between stupid and clever.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Is Demand for Student Housing Driven By Light Rail or Something Else?

There is new student housing development happening in Minneapolis next to the University of Minnesota and near the soon to open light rail line. The StarTribune says the housing demand is because of the light rail. Here is the headline:
Light rail attracts more student housing on the U of M campus
Here is the story:
More new student housing is headed to the University of Minnesota's East Bank campus. OpusDevelopment Corporatio said this morning that The Station on Washington will be a six-story building with 11,200 square feet of retail space on the ground-level and five floors of apartments with 97 units and a total of 156 bedrooms. The company closed on the land this week and plans to start building this week with completion slated for August 2013.

The project is at the corner of Washington Avenue and Walnut Street across from a new rail station and will replace Mercil's Campus Auto Repair.

Rental housing development on and around campus has been more than robust over the past year, with hundreds of new apartments aimed at student renters. Opus, for example,recently completed Stadium Village Flats, which is just down the street from the The Station on Washington and is now fully leased with a CVS pharmacy, Noodles & Co. and Dino's Gyro. Dave Menke, senior vice president and general manager at Opus, said that the goal of the project is to offer convenience of campus-living with easy access to the light rail transit.
Over the past decade very few apartments were built in Minneapolis, so with the housing market still recovering and household growth expected, developers are planning to build thousands of new rental apartments in Minneapolis. Most of that activity is happening in the North Loop, Uptown and Stadium Village/Dinkytown neighborhoods.

In the grand scheme of things my money is on the presence of the University of Minnesota driving demand for student housing rather than light rail transit.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

More Hidden Auto Biases: Street Assessment Edition

Last week the Minneapolis StarTribune reported on Edina, Minnesota's new street assessment policy. The assessment
"requires property owners to pay the entire cost of road reconstruction.
Starting with projects that got underway this year, homeowners will get 15 years instead of 10 to pay for projects in their property taxes. Interest rates charged by the city will be cut in half, and the payment formula will be standardized so homeowners pay the same principal amount each year.
Together, those changes approved Monday by the City Council would save someone with a $10,000 street assessment about $730. Annual payments would drop from $1,375 over 10 years to $868 over 15 years."
So far, so good. But here is what Edina did to placate homeowners:
"The city also will assume the costs of sidewalks, trails and lighting associated with projects, paying for those improvements with new franchise fees paid by utilities. Depending on the project, that could save residents money."
 The problem here is what value do sidewalks and streets have for homeowners and the city? I think Edina is getting the association wrong, and the homeowners should pay to maintain the sidewalks and the city should have responsibility for the streets. New York requires property owners to maintain sidewalks because of threats of lawsuits. Many cities are being sued under the ADA because sidewalks are impassable. The city has little incentive to maintain sidewalks, and in many cases cities will fail to do so. Here is a paper by Donald Shoup that suggests one way to maintain sidewalks.

Beyond maintenance, requiring homeowners to maintain streets over sidewalks is a bias toward cars over pedestrians (and cyclists and kids and other who might use these suburban sidewalks).

Joe Urban makes related points over at here.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"The Great Parking Spot Switcheroo" Should Be Encouraged

Transportation Alternatives has a brief news item in their new Reclaim magazine highlighting what they call "the great parking spot switcheroo." Here is a link to the latest issue and the news item (scroll down). Here is what they say:
Local business owners, Transportation Alternatives volunteers and the City DOT have been working to convert car parking spots into bike parking spaces at select sites around the city. Thanks to an innovative program called “Street Racks,” motor vehicle parking spaces in front of particularly popular cycling destinations are being transformed into bike parking facilities capable of storing upwards of eight two-wheelers. You can try out these new bike parking places in front of Mud Coffee in the East Village and Gorilla Coffee in Park Slope. More are coming to Kinfolk Studios in Williamsburg, the corner of Court and Pacific in Cobble Hill and, if a group of neighborhood activists and the owners of Queens Kickshaw have their way, the corner of Steinway and Broadway in Astoria too.
Here is a link to the city's webpage that explains the program. The way it works is a partner (usually a business but this is not clear) petitions to convert a car parking space into a bike parking space. This is good! The partner is responsible for clearing snow and trash, and can add planters if they wish. While I think this is progress, I have two points:
1) the city should maintain the bike spaces just as they do all auto spaces. Placing the onus on partners to clean spaces just because they are bike spaces shows clear favor toward autos. Why should bikes be held to a greater standard of private responsibility?
2) New York City is admirably allowing businesses to take over curb parking for non-auto uses. Here is a report from 2011 that explains the effects of restaurant seating in curb spaces. The competition for curb spaces in parts of the city suggests that planners and business need to be thinking more broadly about what curb spaces are worth. Their value as spaces for cars is low, but parking spaces are extremely valuable for goods movement, food trucks, bicycle parking (which is a major headache in many parts of the city), emergency services, restaurant seating, etc. Perhaps one way to manage the conflicts that arise is to let businesses and residents manage all of the parking spaces locally. Even the latest RFQ from the city to enter a contract for management of all of the city's parking meters only considers that one company will run the whole show. Why not let curb parking be a flexible (or "programmable" in planner's lingo) land use that is controlled by the building or block? Dense urban areas need these types of flexible spaces more than they need cheap parking for cars, not to mention dudes like this guy. You can't make the argument that cities have been managing curbs spaces successfully under centralized control. Very local control may prove a better option. It is at least worth considering.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Taxi Links August 14, 2012

What do taxicabs say about a city? Witold Rybczynski suggests that the quality of taxis is indicative of a city's success and proposes a "taxi index" for ranking cities. Robinson Meyer at the Atlantic Cities makes a similar point and argues cities should have distinct taxis. While there are advantages for individual cities to brand themselves with distinct taxis, I think there are also benefits for travelers when they recognize similar services in multiple cities. For instance, yellow is a popular color for taxis in all US cities (though there are other colors) and people recognize yellow cars as taxis. This is an advantage for taxi service even though yellow taxis are just copying New York's color scheme.

The "Data Evangelist" for Uber compares neighborhoods the company serves in this piece.*

This was a couple weeks ago, but Jalopniik had a great Q&A with a New York cabbie.

Marketplace has a story about smart phone apps that help hail taxis. More here and here. ZapKab seems to have a good publicist. These apps mostly focus on the NYC market, but I suspect they will be more useful in other markets and in the boroughs of NYC other than Manhattan.

Samsung has filed a patent on a service that lets passengers put out an SOS call to alert police when their driver in dangerous.** Perhaps Apple already is working on this.

*I hate the title "Data Evangelist." If you are evangelical you do not need data, and you certainly don't conduct robust research because being an evangelist suggests you want to convert other people to your view, nevermind the evidence. Just call yourself the Director of Research or something.

**This is a stupid patent. Good idea, dumb patent.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Protect Florida from Driverless Cars and Toll Roads, Says the Committee to Protect Florida

Jeff Brandes is a Republican running for state senator in Florida. He also wants to use driverless cars to kill old people using walkers and supports road tolls to pay for infrastructure. I learned this from the attack ad below that highlights some of Brandes' work as a state Representative.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Call for Papers: Spatial and Land Use Implications of Taxis, Jitneys, Paratransit and Flexible Transportation

The Journal of Transportation and Land Use (JTLU) has issued a Call for Papers on the Spatial and Land Use Implications of Taxis, Jitneys, Paratransit and Flexible Transportation. I will be serving as volume editor for the issue and encourage those doing research in these areas to submit a paper. JTLU is an open access, peer reviewed journal.
Here is the link, and here is more information:

Call for Papers: Call for Papers: Spatial and Land Use Implications of Taxis, Jitneys, Paratransit and Flexible Transportation

JTLU Call for Papers: Spatial and Land Use Implications of Taxis, Jitneys, Paratransit and Flexible Transportation
Volume Editor: David King ( dk2475 AT ; Columbia University)

The Journal of Transportation and Land Use seeks original research papers that explore issues associated with taxi service, jitneys and other flexible or informal transit systems in cities throughout the world. Ideal papers for this special issue will explore how these transport services influence existing transport networks and urban form, affect travel behavior or negotiate contested urban spaces.
Taxicabs, jitneys, low-cost bus services and other paratransit services represent unique, flexible transit services in cities throughout the world, and recent scholarship has explored regulatory, economic and labor characteristics of these services. Areas that have received less attention include how these services influence travel behavior, complement or compete with conventional transit, and the role of land uses for service provision. GPS and consumer data also provides new opportunities for spatial analysis of driver and passenger trip characteristics at a level of detail previously impossible.

Researchers working in any area of taxicabs, jitneys, flexible or informal transit, both intracity and intercity, are encouraged to consider submitting a paper.

Specific Areas of Interest Include:
• Competition among for-hire vehicles at the curb, including taxis, jitneys, intercity buses and jitneys
• The effect for-hire vehicles have on demand for parking
• Paratransit operations and opportunities
• For-hire vehicles as feeder systems for fixed route transit
• Locational issues with taxi garages, dispatch sites and other facilities
• Land use considerations with for-hire services (stadia, airports, theater districts, etc.)
• Spatial dispersion of taxi, jitney and other services
• Models and simulation of taxi, jitney and other services
• Case studies of novel policies involving for-hire vehicle services, such as use of taxis as paratransit
• Travel behavior and mode choice research
• Social equity issues with regard to service areas
• Urban design characteristics of for-hire vehicle services
• GPS and consumer data used for planning and regulatory purposes
• Spatial analysis of taxicab, jitney or flexible transit services

Monday, July 16, 2012

How Many are a Flock? Evidence from Los Angeles

The Los Angeles Daily News reports that San Fernando Valley residents are "flocking" to the new Expo rail line. Here is the story. (LA Observed picked up the story here.) Here is the opening paragraph:
The dozen riders aboard the Expo Line train car early Wednesday morning used the quiet morning commute in different ways: fiddling with phones, playing video games, or reading a book. All were strangers, but a handful on the train were neighbors, of sorts.
Are a dozen riders a "flock"?  The Daily News thinks so. Here is the third paragraph:
Turns out, San Fernando Valley commuters are flocking to the new Expo Line.
Here is a photo of the flock:
 Not to pick on the Daily News, but that is a photo of one dude on an empty train. That's not exactly photographic evidence that the service is popular with anyone, yet alone Valley residents.

Here is the photo from the LA Observed story:
I know that lots of people ride transit in Los Angeles, even if some trains might underperform a bit. I don't think transit in LA is done any favors by featuring pictures of empty stations and trains as part of stories that LA transit is really popular. Where are the people?

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Today's Taxi News: July 12, 2012

The New York Daily News picked up on some new research by Matt Daus, Jon Peters and me where we looked at NYC yellow cabs taking fares in New Jersey. Here is the story. From the article:

Yellow cab drivers make hundreds of thousands of pickups and dropoffs in the Garden State each year — even though though their services are needed in the five boroughs — an analysis of GPS data revealed.
The numbers crunching by a team of experts found that yellow cabs annually make more than 360,000 trips that start in New Jersey. And nearly 160,000 trips begin and end in Hudson County alone, the researchers told the Daily News.
“New York City taxis are doing a better job serving the needs of Hudson County than Staten Island, or southeast Brooklyn or eastern Queens,” said Jonathan Peters, a finance professor at the College of Staten Island.
Peters, former city Taxi and Limousine Commission Chairman Matthew Daus and David King, an assistant professor at Columbia University, analyzed GPS data for 3 million randomly selected taxi trips. They used it to figure out how much business hacks were doing on the other side of the Hudson in one’s year time.
James Fallows rounds up the reporting on Uber's successful regulatory challenge in Washington, D.C. at this link.

The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission voted to raise taxi fares by 17 percent starting in September. This should be good for drivers. Not only will they get higher wages and tips, but six cents from each taxi ride will go into a healthcare fund for drivers. Hopefully we can estimate the elasticity of demand for certain types of rides from this natural experiment.

In Vancouver, TransLink announced that it will maintain a taxi voucher program for disabled people. From the story:

Admitting that TransLink failed to fully understand how disabled people use its services, the agency’s board chair announced Wednesday it is reversing a decision to eliminate a program that provided taxi discount coupons for them.
“I regret any angst we have caused for people. That was never the intent,” said Nancy Olewiler. The board chair formally announced the TaxiSaver program would continue for people who can’t use the region’s regular transit system or its specialized HandyDart buses for all rides.
“But even some of the folks employed in the program didn’t understand all the ways it was used.”
I will add that we know very little about how users use taxis and other for-hire services. Taxis are a great opportunity to improve access and mobility for many who now rely on paratransit services, many of which are poor quality (due to scheduling problems) and most of which are unnecessarily expensive.

CNN reports on the Parisian taxi market and the potential to expand the fleet to create jobs:
Back in 1937, Paris capped the number of taxi permits at 14,000. Now, 75 years later, a bigger and vastly richer Paris receives some 27 million tourist visits per year -- and the number of cabs has edged up less than 14%, to 15,900. Result: In wind and rain and baking sun, Parisians must stand in long lines at taxi stands for cabs that never come.

In 2007, the new government of Nicolas Sarkozy proposed to supplement the existing fleet. It would license 6,500 new cars in Paris, 23,500 in the rest of France. The proposal triggered a strike that shut down the city for a day -- and frightened Sarkozy into surrender.
Five years later, it's as difficult to find a cab in Paris as ever. (Paris has about 2,000 more cab licenses than New York, which has a much bigger population, but New York has a vast fleet of cars for hire to supplement medallion cabs -- and except for the luxury market, car services are illegal in Paris.)
On the list of world problems, the difficulties of Paris taxi riders may seem to rank low.
Think again.
Almost 3 million French people are now out of work, the severest unemployment in 12 years. Millions more have quit the workforce altogether, subsisting on disability pensions or other social benefits.
Prolonged mass unemployment in Europe has triggered a global debate about the euro currency, and rightly so. Yet it's also true that every day, people in Europe are denied work by dumb laws that prevent willing customers from hiring them.
Adding 30,000 new taxi licenses in France would mean more than 90,000 daily taxi shifts: In other words, upwards of 90,000 new jobs.