More on Transportation

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We didn’t move willingly out to the suburbs. We were pushed out of New York City by the need for good neighborhood schools and the mosquito-like annoyances of being poor in the city — alternative side of the street parking, inconvenient laundry, four flights of stairs, a heating system that might conk out in the middle of winter for two days, cockroaches in the kitchen. There wasn’t one particular issue, but when all those problems swarmed around you constantly, nipping at your ankles, city life became draining.

Still, in the back of our heads, we planned to move back when the kids finished school. Since Ian will be in the system until he’s 21, we thought we had another six years before getting a two bedroom on the A Train line.

But I’m not so sure about that anymore. My family and friends who live in New York City,  DIE-HARD city-types, are miserable. The subway system is falling apart. The cars are more crowded than ever. Crammed into cars trying to grasp a handrail isn’t a fun way to start the day. And the trains keep breaking down. Repairs means that trains are rerouted, so it might take three trains to get to work, instead of one.

Everybody knows that the subway system, which still uses 120-year old parts, is falling apart. While corruption and union rules have made repairs prohibitively expensive, the real solution is to rip it all out and start over again. Which is impossible. Nobody could get to work or school for five years.

And then getting around the city by car has also been a nightmare. We drove into the city to go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this week. In ten degree weather, the line to get into the museum curled around the front fountains. (Insider tip — the parking lot entrance to the museum was empty, so we zipped right in.) There are tons and tons of tourists in New York City these days.

After the museum, we went to our favorite dive Chinese restaurant in Chelsea. We drove down Fifth Avenue. It was bumper to bumper Uber cars all the way downtown. Uber cars have made traffic so much worse.

So, that’s just my commuter gossip for the day.

Dr. Manhattan sent me two links to transportation articles that he likes. I’m still reading them: James Q. Wilson piece from 20 years ago writes there’s no way in hell the car could be invented today.  Charles C.W. Cooke piece on the politics of self-driving cars.

The Times has had several excellent articles on the transportation issues: How Politics and Bad Decisions Starved New York’s Subways and Your Uber Car Creates Congestion.

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35 thoughts on “More on Transportation

  1. Think in addition about the Singapore/London experience with a charge to enter the center city. With Uber we need to update it to include a charge for staying there! The NYTimes article about how costly the most recent subway was – and why – was eye opening. We really have a collision between unions and the public interest which seems to me certain to come to multiple crises in years to come, and not very far into the future, either.

  2. Well, I don’t have any advice on traffic or cars, since we don’t own one, and the Eighth Avenue line isn’t in that bad condition, so I don’t have any thoughts on subways, but I do have a thought on museums. The place that I noticed that didn’t have a line on New Year’s Day was the Historical Society, which has a very interesting albeit idiosyncratic art collection, including a number of the paintings that are often reproduced in history (though perhaps not art history) books. Two that come to mind are George Broughton’s “Puritans Going to Church” and William Beard’s “Bulls and Bears.”

  3. While corruption and union rules have made repairs prohibitively expensive, the real solution is to rip it all out and start over again.

    Honestly? Things were great in the nineties and early 2000s, and there hasn’t been any fundamental change in unions or corruption since then, Cuomo’s just been using the MTA budget as a cookie jar. If we go back to maintaining the system properly, there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with it. And while I agree that it’s in much worse shape now than it was in the last few decades, it’s still doing a lot better than it was in the seventies and eighties, and the city pulled itself out of that just fine.

  4. I think what you’re reporting for NYC is something lots of big hip cities are experiencing — booming in a way that cuts out the middle, upper middle, and even upper SES. I recently heard a stat on private K-12, in which someone said a good rule of thumb for paying for private school is families are comfortable paying 10% of their income for private education. With the elite schools in NYC going to 45K and even in my neck of the kids at 30K, that’s $450,000 or $300,000 in income, starting to drift past the capacity of even two-earner 5%’s or single earner 1% to pay. You left NYC originally because it was hard to be poor or middle class, and I think that level has crept up to people in are even further into the 1+%.

    I’m worried about what this means for our collective communities, though as with all my worries, I don’t know how new it is.

    Transportation is only one part of the larger issue.

    I appreciate the addition of the topical Apt 11D photos.

  5. This post and the previous one are the perfect posts to read after I’ve watched the Dark Knight Trilogy in three subsequent days. 😉 The way you talk about transportation in the city sounds like a dystopian present is very close if not yet here. 😛

    1. For real? Dystopia? NYC is a freaking playground these days. The subway has deteriorated to almost as annoying as it was in the late eighties, but that’s about it.

      You think NYC is like a Batman movie? I mean, that’d be neat, I guess, but it really, really isn’t at all.

  6. I really should get to New York again some day, just to see how it is holding up. I haven’t been since 2003. I’ve been to Gotham more recently if you count that my commuting involves walking past the courthouse from “The Dark Knight Rises”.

  7. One way to solve the congestion problem *and* the regulatory-hacking Uber problem in one fell swoop would be to implement a congestion charge for Manhattan. You could make it cheap for commuters by (for instance) having having a network of transponders/cameras that charge, say, $2 per crossing with a cap of once per hour. Medallion holding cab drivers and commercial trucks would be exempt. Then commuters and day-trippers would get nailed for $4/day but the Ubers would be crushed and, ultimately, disappear.

    1. I don’t think you could ever enforce the once per hour thing. How do you justify that for someone who has to go into the city and drop something off? Will you really insist that they must take medallion holding cab? That is incredibly authoritarian.

      Without that, Uber would just charge it to the passenger. Just as medallion holding cabs (why is everyone so insistent on keeping that system? It cements inequality, individual cabbies are never going to be able to buy a medallion.) charge passengers for airport pick up fees etc.

      I love Uber and hate cabs. Uber shows up on time and is polite. I can get an suv or van easily when I have a group. Even when I have ordered cabs in advance, they are not on time and frequently rude, sexist assholes. And, forget about getting a van.

      1. With Uber, I worry that either wages will be squeezed down to the point where it is exploiting the drivers or it will become too expensive once somebody decides they need to profit. But my experience with taxis here is that they won’t show up except to take somebody to the airport. That made them basically useless to me* and Uber will come get me for shorter trips.

        * There is a bus to the airport that I take unless I’m horribly burdened with luggage and the taxi cost enough that it’s cheaper to drive and park for trips of less than a week.

    2. What regulatory hacking problem? In New York City at least, Uber operates entirely within and consistent with the existing taxi and livery car regulations. The only ‘problem’ is that the taxi industry can no longer count on regulatory capture to protect it from competition.

      1. I should add, the Uber guys seem like a bunch of epic @$$holes. Even so, most of the time they crush the taxi industry in the PR fights over regulation because the taxi industry is by and large as bad or worse.

      2. MichaelB says:

        “I should add, the Uber guys seem like a bunch of epic @$$holes. Even so, most of the time they crush the taxi industry in the PR fights over regulation because the taxi industry is by and large as bad or worse.”

        Yes, the average person who has used both knows that Uber offers a much better customer experience. Uber is also a lot better at dealing with surges in demand.

        In most cities, taxi companies really do not do a good job of serving the customer or taking advantage of current technology.

        Again, we recently had excellent taxi experiences in Seattle–but the average level of taxi service in the US is abyssmal if you’re ordering a cab by phone and not going to the airport. A few years back pre-Uber, I waited somewhere between 90-120 minutes to get a taxi to pick me up at home in the middle of the night to go to ER (it wasn’t an ambulance type situation but I didn’t trust myself to drive and didn’t want to wake up the whole family). As long as we have Uber in town, I’m never going to call a taxi again, even if the Uber rates were to double.

      3. The obvious problem (probably leaving aside NYC) is that if Uber runs the taxis out of business, I expect that the rate increase won’t limited to doubling the current fares. Investors dumping tons of money over several years into a business with huge losses only do that to kill competitors and get monopoly rents.

      4. There’s Lyft too, though. And the concept exists now, so the only way anyone could create a monopoly situation again would be through lobbying politicians.

        I don’t detect any desire in our local politicians to reduce congestion. There’s a desire to tax anything that moves, which leads to a desire for more traffic.

      5. MH said,

        “The obvious problem (probably leaving aside NYC) is that if Uber runs the taxis out of business, I expect that the rate increase won’t limited to doubling the current fares. Investors dumping tons of money over several years into a business with huge losses only do that to kill competitors and get monopoly rents.”

        How hard would it be to start up a new taxi company under those circumstances?

        The last time I checked, our local Yellow Cab had five (5.0) taxis total. And we’re a decent-sized city.

      6. Cranberry said:

        “There’s Lyft too, though. And the concept exists now, so the only way anyone could create a monopoly situation again would be through lobbying politicians.”

        Right.

  8. Anecdotally, the Lyft drivers I’ve taken rides from have said Lyft treats them better than Uber.
    I have had much better experiences with Lyft than cabs in general.
    The SF Bay Area also is struggling with its public transit. BART is overwhelmed by the increase in ridership and traffic is worse than ever.

    1. For that reason, I always take Lyft instead of Uber when I can. The problem is that Lyft doesn’t seem to have as many drivers and this leaves no coverage at odd hours. Very often I could not get Lyft, but I could always get Uber. And once Lyft refused to take me downtown. The driver accepted the ride and then called me saying he would only go to the airport and he asked me cancel. I probably should have made him cancel, but I think he just accepted without paying attention to the destination I requested. He was very clearly too far away to make any money driving me six miles.

      1. “The driver accepted the ride and then called me saying he would only go to the airport and he asked me cancel. I probably should have made him cancel, but I think he just accepted without paying attention to the destination I requested. He was very clearly too far away to make any money driving me six miles.”

        Husband once had an Uber driver accidentally accept his itinerary–which was a two hour airport drive. Oops!

        But we’ve only had that happen once. My only other gripe is that I’ve had two different Uber rides from guys driving huge pickups with lift kits, which was aggravating when I was attempting to get around with a 4-year-old and her booster seat–probably not quite as likely a problem in Pittsburgh.

      2. I’m lucky as I’m in a central urban location so plenty of Lyft’s. I’ve also noticed that some drivers work for both Lyft and Uber.

    2. Lyft also sent me a breezy email with a bunch of summary statistics about the rides I took with them in 2017. They noted January was a month I took a lot of rides, but from their tone appear not to have noticed all of those rides either started or ended at a nursing home.

    1. I’m sure there’s been a fair bit of over-promising and hype, but the self-driving cars have been going around the streets of Pittsburgh for a couple of years now. Uber stole a whole CMU department to make it work.

      1. That would be illegal. They say they aren’t touching the wheel. Since they actually got ran into, I tend to think they are honest on that. And, in a different company, a local man died when his Tesla drove him under the trailer of a semi. He was watching a movie.

      2. I bet way more fatalities would happen if people watched Harry Potter at highway speeds without the Tesla autopilot.

      3. Doug said,

        “Maybe vaporware would be safer.”

        Bear in mind that there are more and more old people behind the wheel. There are 76 million Baby Boomers right now.

      4. Don’t worry about the old people. Worry about the young people.

        Look at the chart, “Passenger vehicle drivers involved in fatal crashes per 100,000 people by age group, 1975-2016” http://www.iihs.org/iihs/topics/t/teenagers/fatalityfacts/teenagers

        Of course the worst drivers at older ages tend to be persuaded to stop driving. I’m not convinced, though, that people who are bad drivers at younger ages know that they’re bad drivers.

      5. I’m wasn’t convinced by that statistic because you’re comparing teen to drivers who are 70+. Seventy didn’t really seem “old” for this, having watched the decline a few times. I looked a bit more and found something to confirm my suspicion, that, like in most things, young people are horrible but old people are worse The involvement in fatal accident rate for drivers 80 to 84 was nearly as high as for teens and the 85+ rate was through the roof*. I’m also a bit cheered to see that the statistics confirm my person impressions as to who is most likely to run over a pedestrian. I would bet that the drop from late middle-age to early old-age is because they aren’t around schools and such as often.

        * Partially, that’s because an 85 year-old who gets in a wreck is more likely to die in a wreck that would leave a younger person living.

  9. MH said:

    “I’m wasn’t convinced by that statistic because you’re comparing teen to drivers who are 70+. Seventy didn’t really seem “old” for this, having watched the decline a few times.”

    Yeah. In my family, the 70-year-olds are still the “young people.”

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