How do you solve a problem like Edifice Complex?

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  1. Avatar LeeEsq
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    One problem is that most of the rest of America is car-oriented so it really doesn’t occur to them why they should their tax money go to transit users in the big city. Since there are all sorts of cultural politics revolving around transit use in the United States that really do not seem to exist in other countries, additional difficulties are added to the problem.

    Most infrastructure isn’t really doing that well. Highways, streets, bridges, and rail systems through out the United States are in desperate need of maintenance. Our infrastructure is failing and failing fast. Since repairing this will require taxes and taxing people or things is difficult right now, nothing gets done even if it is essential.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to LeeEsq
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      So Americans don’t even want to pay for the infrastructure that they are using on a daily basis? This is probably true. Though the Bay Bridge got a recent span replacement. The Tappan Zee really does need to be fixed up because it was originally meant to last for fifty years.

      What is rather interesting to note is how American society has changed in those past fifty years. Seemingly back then it was uncontroversial to design a bridge with a 50 year lifespan because it was assumed “Of course, people will pay to maintain and/or replace when the time comes” but that changed.

      I wonder if we are going to have a story about a very big accident like a bridge collapse or a subway derailment before the funding is put in place.

      Or we can just start war with Iran…..Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Saul Degraw
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        I’m currently paying a lot of taxes for my state’s transportation fund….which is habitually raided to cover the deficit from the general fund and isn’t re-payed. That’s why I’m unwilling to support higher taxes when it comes to this type of thing. If the money had been left in the fund, there wouldn’t be a problem.

        Additionally, our local ‘crats can’t even seem to manage to administer many of these mass transit organizations in the state with any level of competences. It’s been in the news frequently about all kinds of problems. When the money that’s been taken is put back and used to maintain the roads/bridges, and some incompetent folks are fired, then we can talk about the proper funding of the fund and whether an adjustment is needed.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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        Given the limited resources made available by elected politicians and tax payers, I’d argue that our civil servants are doing a fine job administrating our mass transit systems all things considered. People complain about the MTA all the time but I find that they do their best to maintain the system in the least intrusive way possible for subway and train riders by doing the repairs very late at night when usage is low or at worst, on weekends when inconvenient is less so than if service was suspended on a weekday. The MTA also provides alternative transport when they do need to close a section of track for maintenance and repair work.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Saul Degraw
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        Given the limited resources made available by elected politicians and tax payers, I’d argue that our civil servants are doing a fine job administrating our mass transit systems all things considered.

        What does this mean? Resources are almost always limited; that is what makes them resources.

        Are you saying that civil servants ought to be getting unlimited resources to do their jobs?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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        Jr, what I meant was that given the amount of funding they get in the budget from elected politicians, the MTA is not doing a bad job. I think that New York state probably does have the resources to fund more of the MTA from tax revenue.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Saul Degraw
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        @leeesq
        Interesting piece here (PDF) about NY state revenues and expenditures by area from a few years ago. NYC and the five counties closest in — for a city that size, I suppose those are “inner ring suburbs” — subsidize the rest of the state to a substantial degree. Looks to me like about $10B per year. The suburbs more, but NYC is definitely a donor. They almost certainly have the votes to stop the subsidy if they want.Report

      • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Saul Degraw
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        ” the Bay Bridge got a recent span replacement. ”

        It’s interesting that you bring this up, because that project took three times as long and cost four times as much as it was supposed to, and they couldn’t even do it right. Failures in supply-chain management led to the wrong steel being used to make a lot of the bolts, and they snapped like toothpicks when installed; and the people responsible for getting the bridge sections fabricated believed the exaggerated quality claims of Chinese manufacturers and now we’ve got bare metal with a lick of house paint sitting in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.Report

  2. Avatar j r
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    Saul, you left out a pretty important part of the story. MTA’s Capital Plan is underfunded to the tune of about $15 billion. If Cuomo wanted to support it, he would have to figure out a way to close that gap either by raising taxes, raising revenues from somewhere else (imposing tolls on all the East River crossings for instance), or cutting spending from somewhere else. In other words, it would involve doing some very heavy political work.

    And the sense that I get from Cuomo is that he’s not so much interested in governing New York as he is in keeping relatively unencumbered and putting himself in a position to jump on a national ticket if the chance arises. The upside of the LaGuardia connection is that it would be relatively cheap to build and, yes, he’d get to stand in front of something new and shiny with a shovel in hand.Report

  3. Avatar Burt Likko
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    How much would subway fare actually be if it were entirely user-supported? Is there any way to know?Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko
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      The budget shows $15.046 billion in cash operating expenses for 2013. A press release indicates that total ridership in 2013 was 1.708 billion. I can divide those, and get a fraction of a cent smaller than $8.81 per ride. Which is more than three times the publicly-posted regular fare of $2.75 a ride.

      But I don’t know if I’m missing something when I reach those figures.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Burt Likko
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        @burt-likko

        That number sounds right. The New York Times article estimated that the MTA receives 40 percent of its operational budget from fares.

        What you need to figure in is that the MTA covers more than subways. They also do buses, Long Island Rail Road, and Metronorth which goes to the Northern suburbs of NY and Connecticut.

        Wikipedia tells me that the MTA was founded in the 1960s by the New York government in order to purchase and save the privately operated Long Island Rail Road. Wikipedia further tells me that the LIRR was unprofitable more often than profitable and basically survived because Pennsylvania Railroad had a controlling interest and subsidized the lines.

        What I would be interested in finding out is how many people live and work in Long Island as compared to living on Long Island and working in NYC. Penn Station is always packed during rush hour and trains have always seemed pretty packed to the gills to me. Even non-rush hour trains can get pretty filled up.

        There are a lot of places where commuter rail is kept to rush hours only but this is because the commuter trains lease line space from freight services. LIRR and Metro North have their own dedicated lines. There is probably also enough demand of people going to and from NYC to justify trains during non-rush hours. I’ve taken plenty of non rush-hour trains to and from NYC and they always packed enough to justify service and this is not just in the evening for people going to concerts, events, and other nightlife in the city. This can be at 2 PM to the suburbs.

        I don’t think NYC could handle the amount of parking if people from the suburbs needed to drive and park in the city for work and play.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko
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        Manhattan is still the center of business, entertainment, and shopping for the New York region. Parking is also expensive and rare, especially in the areas that people in the burb will want to go when visiting the city like Madison Square Garden for a Knicks game or a concert, Broadway for a show, or Fifth Avenue or SOHO for shopping. Taking an LIRR train or Metro North train into the city is a lot less stressful than driving for many people.Report

    • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Burt Likko
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      According to this farebox recovery is under 50% for the entire MTA enterprise. (there are older dead link sources that show the subway itself at around 67%). (typically, subways have the highest recovery ratios in combined systems, buses the lowest) So anywhere from a 50% to a 100% increase gets close (for the subway alone), but one would have to add the drop in customers from the increased price.

      Otoh, New York City subways at 2.75 a pop are on the low side for the nation, (BART and WMATA are far more) and goes a lot further than anywhere else. Plus, the NYC subway system is a unique (in the US) captive market just due to the sheer size and density of Manhattan – i.e. you’re less likely to seek alternate arrangements there for a too high priced, too poorly serviced mass transit line, than you are anywhere else. (e.g. DC which has been hemorrhaging subways riders in the middle of a modest nationwide mass transit boom).Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe
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        Even when the New York subway system was built, owned and operated by two private companies, it was well understood that it would have to operate on a flat fare system rather than charging by distance. The IRT and BMT realized that the less well off residents would move to to the outer edges of Manhattan and the five boroughs because of the subway but would still need to travel to Manhattan for work while the rich would remain in Manhattan. This would mean that the people who needed the subway the most would have to pay for higher ticket prices if you charge based on distance. Therefore, it was decided that a flat fare was a necessity for a viable subway in New York City.

        I also don’t understand why people hate the DC metro so much. I used it for four years in college and still use it when I have to travel to DC for work. It really isn’t bad.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kolohe
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        As someone who lived in DC area from 197x until around Bush-Clinton Uno, then moved back in the past few years, trust me the system has gone way downhill. Even the GreaterGreaterWashington transit nerds advocates acknowledge this, as everyone agrees the system rested on its laurels (and spent no money on maintaining capital stock) for the 5 to 6 years on either side of the turn of the century. In any case, it’s ridiculous that some lines now have 12 minute headways during rush hour because of a complete failure in foresight and management.

        On charging for distance, it wasn’t until the time Bart and the DC metro were built that the electronic farecards were available with the tech level of society that made distance charging practical. The only other way to do it is to have conductors like the full blown (commuter and long haul) railroads do. Otherwise, it was far more practical to treat the system like one big huge general admission theater. (or mosh pit) . It has nothing to do with where the rich and poor people live in and around NYC, which has shifted dramatically (and sometimes there and back again) over the past 100 years.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Kolohe
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        I also don’t understand why people hate the DC metro so much. I used it for four years in college and still use it when I have to travel to DC for work. It really isn’t bad.

        Yeah, WMATA ain’t that bad. They haven’t even killed anyone this ye…

        Never mind: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/trafficandcommuting/1-dead-dozens-hurt-on-metro-car-filled-with-smoke/2015/01/12/e832c0f0-9aa8-11e4-a7ee-526210d665b4_story.htmlReport

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe
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        Kolohe, in Europe and Japan distance charging was the norm for decades before BART and the DC metro were built on metro systems. I don’t know how they did this in Europe before electronic fair cards but in Japan they do it by having the ticket vending machines issue different tickets based on the price.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kolohe
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        jr, yes I’m aware that a series of accidents occured on the DC metro.Report

      • Avatar Mo in reply to Kolohe
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        That’s more due to the other aspects of the MTA. The subway is closer to 75%.

        http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/17622/does-metro-ask-riders-to-pay-too-much/Report

    • Avatar Chris in reply to Burt Likko
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      The pie charts (ugh!) on page II-1 of this MTA financial plan (from February, 2013) can give you an idea. Fares and tolls make up 53% of the $13.5 billion in revenue for the 2013 budget, or close to $7.1 billion. Fares alone make up 41%, or almost $5.5 billion. Using these numbers (I assume they’ve all gone up a bit, but the percentages may be the same or similar), you’d have to just about double toll and fare revenue to get you the full budget. So assuming you increase them both equally, double the fares and double the tolls to fund the MTA.

      This is actually not bad. A lot of smaller cities (and by smaller I mean Austin or San Antonio-sized, maybe even Dallas-sized, and smaller, so pretty much every city) rely primarily on taxes and subsidies, with fares producing a much smaller portion of their transit revenue. If Austin were to pay for its bus and train system by fares alone, it would have to raise them by many times, not just double them. Of course, riding the bus is much cheaper here than in New York.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        This assumes, of course, that you won’t lose a substantial number of rides when you increase the fare, which of course you will. You’d probably have to raise fares by more than double to make up for the loss of ridership, which won’t reduce costs as much as it will reduce revenue (since the buses and trains are running regardless of how many riders are on them). If you just increased them by the amount needed to make up the 2013 budget deficit from eliminating non-fare/toll revenue using 2013 numbers, but today’s fares, and assuming the same ridership (an obviously false assumption), you’d have about $5.25 for a one-way bus/subway ride, $12.40 for an express bus ride, and $550 for a monthly LIR ticket.

        I assume that would push commuting from Long Island via the rail road out of the reach of many if not most working class families.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chris
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        @chris

        http://web.mta.info/lirr/about/TicketInfo/Fares03-22-15.htm

        Montly LIRR train passes are done via zones and distance. The big terminal stations are in Zone 1. The far end of Suffolk County is Zone 14. Monthly passes to and from Zone 1 range from 184 dollars to 485 dollars. I don’t know how many people get subsidies via work or use monthly passes instead of one-way tickets. A trip from Penn Station to Zone 14 is about 2 or 2.5 hours one way. I lived in Zone 4 and the trip was about 30-35 minutes one way. Living in Zone 4 is much more expensive than living in Zone 14 of course. Zone 14 probably gets a lot of traffic during the summers when people head to the Hamptons over the weekend.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Chris
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        Yeah, sorry. I should have noted that I used Massapequa to Penn Station to get that number. For many of the working class residents of Suffolk County, the monthly ticket would be at least that (when R. lived on Long Island and worked in Manhattan, she was in Fare Zone 10, which would be even more expensive, around $720 for a monthly ticket, using those numbers).Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Chris
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        Ah okay.

        720 a month would be too much for many people but this does not necessarily mean that it would be easier to bring many jobs to the people.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Burt Likko
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      Are you including initial capital expenditures being amortized and maintenance and operating costs or just M&O?Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Damon
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        I divided operating expenses before debt servicing (which seems to diminish net outlays by way of some public entity accounting magic I cannot comprehend) by ridership.Report

      • Avatar Damon in reply to Damon
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        @burt-likko
        I don’t think that’s correct. Frankly, I’m not sure how public sector transport is handled, but if it was private, you’d have to include the debt service (initial capital expenditure) and the O&M by the ridership.

        Frankly, the cost of non ridership is irrelevant, @zic, for determine the true cost of the mass transit since they aren’t riders. Nor would the “shifting them to autos” scenario be relevant as what you’re trying to do is determine the minimum fares that the existing ridership would need to pay for the system to operate successfully. Factoring the impact of drivers switching would be relevant IF you were considering ending the mass transit.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Burt Likko
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      The calculation is far more complex, @burt-likko and would have to include the cost of those people not being on the subway; the big factor here would be shifting them to automobiles.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to zic
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        That point makes me think that if you covered all MTA costs with fares and tolls, you’d essentially be building a wall around Manhattan.Report

      • Avatar Snake Plissken in reply to zic
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        @chris – Sounds familiar.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to zic
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        Only this time, Long Island and Connecticut would be the prisons, and Manhattan would be full of rich people.

        I would much rather be in prison in Manhattan than Connecticut. Just sayin’.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
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        I’d take northwestern CT any day, if I had to be in prison.

        Farms are very healing to the convicted mind, I’ve read. Repeatedly.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to zic
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        @chris

        I was wondering in your situation how much it would break Manhattan.

        Groceries, cabs, and other transport will make it into Manhattan without a problem. The issue comes with the people who can afford to live in Brooklyn but work in Manhattan and this includes everyone from the very poor to the very well off. The middle and upper-middle classes will be able to take the extra charges but what about the support staff, service workers, etc.Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
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        @chris I’ve had planners tell me that the best pubic transit system is free; removes the most cars from the street and eliminating the most traffic congestion; I’d suspect there’s some optimization point of fare that maximizes ridership.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to zic
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        @zic

        I don’t think there is a free transit system except on New Years Eve when people are going out drunk (SF Muni and I think Bart are free then) and 24 hours of service as well. The only other free buses I know of are done more in a “Please don’t drive drunk” kind of way.

        You also have to combine with amazingly hard driving tests. Countries don’t cut down on driving by having good public transportation, they cut down on driving by making it very hard to get a driver’s license. At least much harder than the United States does.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to zic
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        “The middle and upper-middle classes will be able to take the extra charges but what about the support staff, service workers, etc.”

        maybe you got to pay them more to get them to work for you? Or is it only Walmart that gets blamed for relying on public assistance to underpay their workers?Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to zic
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        @saul-degraw we have one here. Small busses that are free. In the summer, they run in Bar Harbor and Arcadia National Park, in the winter they run here between the village I live in and a ski area six miles away. (Next to Arcadia, we’re the second-largest bed base in the state.)

        It’s financed by local businesses and towns; and it helps our town maintain a ‘small town’ feel, decreasing the traffic that congests a lot of ski towns in the winter. It also provides transport for workers at the mountain; my kid worked at a pizza place for a while this winter (they were short handed, he helped out,) and used it; he also uses it when he goes up to ride his snowboard.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to zic
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        Zic, Austin tried free buses for a while (and still tosses the idea around now and then), and ultimately abandoned it because it didn’t make much of an impact on traffic, if any, and filled the buses with homeless people riding for hours to avoid the elements, which Cap Metro, our transit authority, did not like. Even when they tried free only on Ozone Action Days, it increased ridership on those days largely through the homeless.

        And recall the transportation conversation we had a while back, about anti-bus bias. Cap Metro has seen an increase in ridership mostly on its most expensive lines: the train and the two BRT-esque lines, increases produced by enticing middle class car owners to park and ride.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to zic
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        @kolohe

        Maybe they will but I don’t think you will ever have a form of transport (including cars) that is not government subsidized in some way, shape, or form. For trains and subways, the best you can hope for is maybe Japan where the privately run trains are done as loss-leaders.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to zic
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        We’ve got free transit here, in a small band around downtown, which includes some subway stops across the Allegheny river to the Northside. Steelers are currently paying for it (partially) but I think the parking garages are going to pay for it in the new year.

        Homeless around here are tough, though, and we’re working pretty industriously to get ’em in out of the cold (or the ER).Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko
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      It seems important to note that NYC has a residency-based income tax. The tax is paid by everyone who lives in NYC and earns income, regardless of where they work. If you work in the city and live elsewhere, you don’t pay the tax (though a bit of sleuthing tells me city employees hired after 1979 who live outside the city also owe the tax). I wonder if any of that money goes towards the mass transit system. If it does, than it serves as a subsidy paid by city dwellers for commuters. At the same time, most (if not all) of intracity transit is flat rate; traveling into the city is not only more expensive but increasingly so depending on how far one is coming from. So maybe it all balances out.

      Regardless, NYC has some interesting little wrinkles.

      For a while, Bloomberg pushed hard for ‘congestion pricing’, basically charging additional fees to enter ‘midtown’ Manhattan during busy times of day. It never got very far, but there was a lot of dialogue about it at the time. More info here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congestion_pricing_in_New_York_CityReport

  4. Avatar Saul Degraw
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    While the subthread on train subsidies is interesting, it doesn’t solve the problem of Edifice Complex. The LaGaurdia Air Train is a horrible and horribly expensive idea.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Saul Degraw
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      The solution to the edifice complex is that it’s allowed to either break or reach a critical point where the people monitoring it say “we have to shut it down or peeps is gonna die” at which point rebuilding/repairing it becomes pretty much the same priority and visability as building something new. This is highly inefficient since proper maintenance and prevention is massively more effective and inexpensive then triage repair- but it’s how people seem to want to get it done.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to North
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        I wonder how much of this is people taking a gamble and that they will be retired in Florida instead of on a bridge when it comes crashing down?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to North
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        Humans are immediate creatures, beings of the present, they have a high opinion of their immediate interests and are blind to future threats. See global warming, HOA reserve funding, and edifice complexes.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Saul Degraw
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      The LaGuardia Air Train doesn’t sound like a particularly wise use of resources, but here’s what it has going for it from Cuomo’s perspective:

      1. It’s expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as filling the $15 billion gap in the MTA’s Capital Plan.

      2. It has some shot in hell of making demonstrable progress before Cuomo has to face his next election.

      Perhaps your Edifice Complex is really an Ambitious Politician Complex.Report

    • Avatar Notme in reply to Saul Degraw
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      Saul

      Try changing human nature first and them i’m sure you’ll be able to solve the edifice problem, not to mention most other human problems.Report

  5. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
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    I’d deal with the Edifice complex by ending the practice of naming anything after any public servant, hired or elected, until after they are long dead & buried (like, at least 20 years post-mortem). I figure, if people still think highly enough of you 20 years after you are gone, you can get a building named after you.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
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      I think this is good especially if you have a broad definition of public servant that goes beyond “elected official”.

      Now can you solve it for privately funded things like university and arts building capital campaigns 🙂Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist
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      That really doesn’t solve the edifice complex. Most new buildings and projects aren’t named for their sponsoring politicians. You have to get rid of the photo op opportunities to reduce the edifice complex and the electoral draw of saying I’ve built something new rather than maintaining the shop.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to LeeEsq
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        If you’re in the photo op, you are publicly accepting liability for incidents & cost over-runs?

        Bet you’ll have no one holding a shovel at the ground breaking.

        But in all seriousness, it’s a PR/marketing problem (i.e. so not my field…). Find a way for current ego-monsters to photo-op themselves into a ceremony for the upgrade commencement, one the public is excited about, & they’ll do it.Report

  6. Avatar Francis
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    When I was peripherally involved in Orange County (California) politics a few years back, there was a particular politician so desperate for publicity that it was said that he/she “would go to the opening of an envelope.”

    O&M is boring. (needs more emphasis — boooooring.) Nothing happens. You can’t get federal share dollars. You can’t get photo ops. Good O&M requires competent career civil servants to get have a major say in state / regional / local budget decisions, and their needs get to take precedence over stuff that’s fun! Good O&M requires competent legislative staff to review the budgets of public agencies and look for featherbedding, gold plating and other waste. That’s an arcane specialty!

    Smart infrastructure spending, in other words, requires hard work from career public servants and politicians who are willing not to grandstand. And THAT, my colleagues, is a commodity in very short supply these days.

    I wonder. Is there any think tank around that does need-based federal/state/local budgets? i.e., look at the laws in place and infrastructure demands and pension obligations and all the rest and try to figure out the tax burden needed to pay for what’s (theoretically) required?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Francis
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      Yeah this is probably the problem. The work with O&M is boring, unsexy, unglamorous, and requires dedicated workers willing to stay in the background.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Francis
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      European and Asian civil servants are usually more politically powerful than their American counterparts. The politicians seem less prone to grandstanding as well. That might explain why O&M is handled better in Europe and Asian countries.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq
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        Asia – there is famously not quite but sort of still autocratic Singapore, still relatively low cost of labor South Korea, and large industrial democracy Japan. So basically, Japan. Everybody else is either not a democracy, or still in the ‘developing’ level of economic, for lack a of better word, maturity, and thus are not comparable to the US cost of doing business.

        Europe does seem to do better than the US on these things – or at least, problems don’t make the English language press.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq
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        You forgot Taiwan, a small but prosperous island republic that is very densely populated. Its basically the population of Texas in a place the size of Maryland.Report

      • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to LeeEsq
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        “Asia – there is famously not quite but sort of still autocratic Singapore, still relatively low cost of labor South Korea, and large industrial democracy Japan. So basically, Japan.”

        I don’t know if this is precisely what you’re doing, but there’s a tendency to wave away the idea that there are lessons to be learned from how we do things in Asia. Singapore, S. Korea, Japan, plus Taiwan have a combined population of more than 200 million, or two-thirds that of the US. Each of those countries has cities (or is a city) comparable in size to NYC-metro, and in Tokyo and Seoul’s case, far larger. No, they’re not perfectly comparable to the US, but, come on.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to LeeEsq
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        I said Japan was worthy of comparison. And I did forget Taiwan – in fairness so does official US diplomatic posture.

        But both ROK and (esp) Singapore are sufficiently sui generis and sufficiently different from a continent spanning 300m+ mutiethnic nation to make most comparisons moot. But heck, I think most cross country comparisons are suspect – I additionally think NYC itself is sufficiently exceptional to make lessons on works there (and lessons on what works everywhere else) to be not often applicableReport

  7. Avatar zic
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    I think we just get used to having things shabby, and don’t want to fix it until it’s broken.

    Redefine broken in terms of what the system is supposed to be able to accomplish; can it do that job efficiently? Then it’s broken. But if it’s just shabby? Why bother? It’s part of our whole depressed/shopping/hoarder/landfill complex.Report

    • Avatar krogerfoot in reply to zic
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      says:

      I think this is exactly it. In the US at least, we’re heading to a near future where people will argue that bridge collapses are just one of the risks you take when you get in your car.Report

  8. Avatar Kazzy
    Ignored
    says:

    “Why is it that we are so adverse to the unsexy worlds of upkeep and just want to build new things.”

    Why do people prefer sexy to unsexy? Really? How much do you spend on shirts? Or shoes? Why not donate that to struggling theater troupes?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      I think the analogy is “Why are you buying new shoes when your pants are so worn-out that your junk shows through?”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        @mike-schilling

        I disagree. The question, at its simplest, is, “Why do people spend money on the things they do?” With a hint of, “…instead of the things I wish they’d spend money on?” implied. Given that Saul is on record as enjoying ‘sexy’, expensive clothing (and bully for him for indulging in what makes him happy!), I don’t think it is unreasonable to ask him why even he doesn’t focus all his funds on what he wishes others would spend funds on, instead electing to splurge on stuff that makes him feel good and happy.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        So if, say, a school district stops paying for counselors and resource teachers, and uses the savings to build a state of the art computer lab, your only response would be “Whatever, that’s want they wanted to buy.”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        @mike-schilling

        The question of “What to do about this?” is an interesting one.

        The question of “Why do people spend their money that way?” is not only uninteresting (to me) but the way in which Saul posits it is ripe with all sorts of value judgements about what certain people do with their money.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that people responsible for spending other people’s money should spend it responsibly. That applies both to businesses and to government.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        @mike-schilling

        I don’t disagree. But that still gets at the question of, “What do we do about it?”

        Saul asked no less than three times in the OP “why” people tend toward this way of thinking, as if only certain people are prone towards so called edifice complex. If we think of the people who do this as some sort of uniquely flawed brand of humans, it is going to be much harder to come up with an effective solution. Calling it “edifice complex” instead of “human nature” takes us further from a solution.

        If Saul were able to consider what might cause him to change his spending habits, it is possible he could extrapolate from there to think about how we can get others to change theirs. But if we point fingers and say, “Well, those people have some sort of complex,” we’re like to view them and thus treat them differently.

        What was one of Hanley’s ‘rules’? Don’t think about the desired outcome, think about the incentives you create for people? Something like that?Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Mike Schilling
        Ignored
        says:

        Is that a NORMAL wear pattern for pants?Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      “Why is it that we are so adverse to the unsexy worlds of upkeep and just want to build new things.”

      Isn’t that the problem lots of folks have with American culture? “Shiny thing? Getoutamyway!!! Shiny works really well for certain types of markets (like ipods and talking watches) but not so well for the bland stuff that makes shiny markets possible. Like roads and bridges and subways and stuff.

      On the other hand, cutting taxes and privatization is shinin right up.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Stillwater
        Ignored
        says:

        @stillwater

        Isn’t this just really part of the human tendency to prefer tangible over intangible, concrete over abstract? Developmental psychology tells us it takes a reasonably long time for young children to even gain a true understanding of the intangible, the abstract and that it is possible that some people (most people?) — even into adulthood — never really solidify this conceptually. And, even when we do, there is still a natural tendency towards the tangible, the concrete.

        Concrete, tangible outcomes simply resonate with our brain differently than abstract, intangible ones.

        Are there ways we could structure decision-making processes to account for this tendency? Probably. But we’re dealing with some pretty powerful forces that are inherent to humanity (and maybe other species… I really don’t know).Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Kazzy
      Ignored
      says:

      @kazzy is right. What’s the point of raising the questions if you are only going to answer them with, “cause Americans” or as below, “cause Republicans?”Report

  9. Avatar A Compromised Immune System
    Ignored
    says:

    Suburbs are predominantly inhabited by Republicans. Suburban Republicans tend to want to have all the benefits of a large metropolitan area without paying in the taxes for it.

    This is a well observed phenomenon in large cities across the USA, just look at Detroit. An edifice in which a generally poorer 0.7 million people were paying the taxes for the major infrastructure used by 3.7 million and in which most of the 3 million external to the metroplex were the wealthier whites who’d managed to move into segregated suburbs during the era of redlining. It was doomed to failure no matter how economically well run it could have been.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to A Compromised Immune System
      Ignored
      says:

      This isn’t true in a lot of blue state metropolitan areas. I doubt that San Francisco’s suburbs have that many Republicans. Same with New York or Boston’s suburbs but to a lesser extent. You still have the same issues that Detroit has though.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        By and large, suburbs in blue states are blue and suburbs in red states are red. That’s what makes them red states and blue states.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        I think it also depends on how we define suburban. The town I grew up in (Teaneck, NJ… 10 mins from Manhattan, approx. 40k population, several commercial districts, etc.) is considered a suburb there but would be considered urban by much of the country.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        Most New York City suburbs would be urban by the standards of most the country. Some of the suburbs are actual cities like Hoboken or Jersey City. Most have at least some urban features like retail relatively near residential and walkabilityReport

      • Avatar Alan Scott in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        Dude, most places have residential near retail and some areas of walkability. I think a city has to be reasonably large before its suburbs can be specialized enough to lack those features.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        I live in an unmistakable suburb and I have lots of shopping within easy walking distance.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        @alan-scott

        That still implies a relative definition of suburb. In the NYC metro area, my hometown was undoubtedly a suburb. But plop it down in North Dakota, and it is arguably a moderately-sized city.

        I mean, Bethesda, MD is a suburb of DC. But plop it down next to Fargo, ND and it likely becomes a ‘twin city’ of sorts.

        I think it is reasonable to have a relative definition most of the time. But if we want to talk, on a national scale, about what does or doesn’t happen in “suburbs”, we need a more uniform definition.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        @alan-scott, the average suburb of a city in the North East is a lot denser and more built up than most suburbs elsewhere in the country.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq
        Ignored
        says:

        The quick-and-dirty way to distinguish for the sake of this sort of thing* is looking at county density. If there are more than 1000 (or 1500) people per square mile, and over 700k people, it counts as urban. Less than that, it counts as suburban (if attached to a city)

        Since Teaneck is in a county with Hackinsack, for the purposes of this it is urban. As is Hackinsack, even though most would consider it a suburb.

        It’s not always accurate, but it gives you an idea of what Lee and I are talking about with regard to suburban voting patterns. (Doing it by county helps because, apart from state, that’s where we have the best subnational voting data.)

        Once you get away from major cities, you look more at county populations and you get “small city” voting patterns, which start mattering if you have a lot of them and/or a lack of major cities (Idaho vs Maine). ACIS’s comment aside, it’s often said that the Republicans are the “rural party” but they actually have far larger numbers in suburbs and cities. Except where they don’t have the suburbs… and then they lose (because not only are there usually not enough rural voters, but voters in the sticks don’t vote as monolithically as voters in urban cores.

        * – On the other hand, if you’re looking strictly at metro areas and trying to distinguish between urban and rural parts of it, county-level is too imprecise to be very useful.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        This makes a lot of big cities giant suburbs or at least a collection of suburbs under one government but I think that a place should have a population density of at least 4000 people per square mile to be urban. Anything else really feels to spread out to count as urban.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq
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        says:

        Lee, depends on what you’re looking at. If you’re talking about comparing the numbers of people who live in urban and rural areas, I think there’s something to that. That’s what I was trying to get at with the asterisk. However, we tend to look at voting data on a county level, so for the sake of this discussion it makes the most sense to look at counties as being urban or rural, and judging based on relatively loose density requirements.Report

    • Avatar Mo in reply to A Compromised Immune System
      Ignored
      says:

      It’s not like the suburbs lack this problem. Driving around Westchester you will find the roads pockmarked with potholes so deep you can see the white underneath them. The solution is to just bandage it up with some fill in that will last until December of the next winter. Wash, rinse, repeat.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mo
        Ignored
        says:

        When I lived in Mount Kisco, we would occasionally go to the Danbury Mall in Connecticut and we’d joke about the difference of the roads. You could tell within about 20 seconds that you’d crossed the border.Report

    • Avatar Notme in reply to A Compromised Immune System
      Ignored
      says:

      ACIS

      Get real, it was a string of crooked Dems that ran Detroit into the ground. Then after running it down they went hat in hand to the state and fed government begging to be bailed out.Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to A Compromised Immune System
      Ignored
      says:

      It actually depends upon WHERE the suburbs are. I’ve lived in a nominally republican county inside one of the most reliably democratic states in the union and the repubs there were, shall we say, very similar in their political viewpoints to the liberals living in the rest of the state. This applied to various hot button topics like gun control, abortion, etc.Report

    • Assorted thoughts…

      The Denver light rail system is being funded in large part by the surrounding suburbs. As is the scientific and cultural district (funds the Denver performing arts center and other venues). As was the Rockies’ ballpark and the Broncos’ stadium. Denver might be an exception in terms of the suburbs paying for the amenities they want — the regional council of governments goes back to the 1950s. Although my suspicion is that “the suburbs are willing to pay” applies fairly broadly in the part of the country from 100&deg W to the Pacific.

      These things are not static. My suburban Colorado county’s voting has shifted about seven percentage points more Democratic since I moved here 27 years ago. This is part of the reason that Colorado is a purple-leaning-blue state these days, rather than the red state it was when I got here.

      By Will’s rule of thumb, there are no urban counties in Colorado, as none of them reach 700k population. By that rule, there are very few urban counties in the West: four or five in California, and one in Oregon (barely), and I think that’s it.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        @michael-cain

        Why wouldn’t Denver’s county be considered urban? Or King County (Seattle) in Oregon?

        What are the urban counties? SF, LA, Multnomah (Portland), San Diego?Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        Denver and “Denver County” are coterminus. The suburbs of Denver are in different counties. (Really, really small “towns” (or whatever they are) like Lakeside, Glendale, or Edgwater might be exceptions….I’ve never really understood what those were.)Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        @saul-degraw
        I said “by Will’s rule of thumb”: >700k population, >1500/sq mi density. Denver (City and) County fails on total population. King County fails on density. Multnomah County (Portland) makes it. In California, San Francisco, Orange (bet that pisses them off), Los Angeles, and Alameda. Sacramento comes close. All the rest fail on density. Much of the problem is large western counties. Maricopa County in Arizona, population almost four million, still comes in at only 415 per square mile.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        @michael-cain That should have been “or” and not “and”… (I mean, using “and” then Washington DC isn’t urban.) I was specifically thinking of Seattle, in fact, when I added the population option. (Also, those numbers were spitballing examples. Cases can be made and would be heard to reduce or increase thresholds.)

        But outside of Denver, Colorado mostly has entities in the “Small Cities” category.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        @gabriel-conroy
        The tiny towns are artifacts from the evolution of Colorado’s constitution and laws on annexation, and some special situations. Edgewater was, and Lakeside still is, controlled largely by amusement park owners who didn’t/don’t want to be part of Denver. Glendale was a hotbed of night clubs at one time — on the order of one liquor license per 100 residents — that also wanted to avoid Denver control. For the most part, Denver’s suburbs follow the standard western model — few in number and relatively large.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        I sometimes ponder how things might be different if we hadn’t gerrymandered our cities as much as we have. It’s not difficult to imagine Republicans having more of an urban policy if they actually had a stake in urban governance. Right now, of course, they’d be minimally competitive, but they’re not remotely competitive in some cities where they are competitive at the county level, and it would likely lead to a coalition that would have more of an urban component. In other countries, the conservative parties have some significant mayorships that they utterly lack here. It’s hard not to look at the partitioning of cities as a reason as to why that is the case.

        (On the one hand, liberals would like this because a lot of the partition is based on suburban desires to tax-and-spend on their own and a desire to shield themselves from the city. On the other hand, cities would not politically be quite the liberal playground that they are presently.)Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        It isn’t exactly liberals who geryymandered the cities. Distrust of cities in the United States stretches back to Jefferson. Social conservatives hated cities in the 1920s too when they were more white-ethnic (but not Protestant). Al Smith was the urban candidate of his day and Hoover was able to bash him as such. The next urban President was J.F.K. (maybe!) but I would argue President Obama is really our first urban President in a long time. He might be our first real urban President.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        @will-truman
        I think I prefer it with “and”, although reducing the population requirement somewhat might be appropriate. For example, Colorado has two counties that satisfy the rule when you use “or”: Denver and Broomfield both meet the density requirement. Denver’s population is 650,000 and parts of it are definitely urban (although there are large swaths that are indistinguishable from the neighboring suburbs). Broomfield’s population is 55,000 and there is absolutely no question that Broomfield County is purely suburban. Problems also for other western states. Consider Maricopa County, AZ. Yes, there’s downtown Phoenix that’s urban. But most of the people live (and most of them work) in the large surrounding suburbs.

        I recently read Carl Abbott’s The Metropolitan Frontier: Cities in the Modern American West, and have been rereading Joel Garreau’s Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. Both of them describe the common western phenomenon: metro areas with multiple cores. Generally, at most one of those fits the traditional “urban core” model of both high density and large population. In the rest, the “core” is more likely to be sprawling corporate campuses, the assumed local transportation model is the car, etc. Often, political boundaries are of lesser importance, with a single “edge city” spread across multiple jurisdictions, possibly including county lines.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        Saul, I never said it was liberals who gerrymandered cities. This is an area where I think my views are more in-line with liberals than conservatives (and libertarians). I mentioned that last bit just to say that it wouldn’t be “cost free” for them. Liberals sometimes – only sometimes! – would do away with the suburbs more generally, and by keeping people in core cities believe that they would be more liberal. Under that, there wouldn’t be costs. If it were true. But with what I’m talking about, which is mildly more feasible – though still unlikely – it would mostly be a matter of redrawing city lines, which would have some negatives along with the positives to go with it, from a liberal perspective.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        @michael-cain I’d need to look at the edge cases to know where the numbers should be. I was mostly wanting to err on the side of inclusiveness (I was initially going to make it 500k or 1000ppl/mi2, though I decided not to be that inclusive).

        It’s difficult with counties because they can really run a gamut in terms of size. The problem with any “And” is that it wouldn’t include San Bernardino County, which was one of the things I was keeping an eye on, and I think should count as “urban” for the sake of this. Or, at least, shouldnt not count on the basis of being in a huge county.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        Are we deliberately avoiding the phrase “white flight” or is that incidental?Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        @will-truman
        Certainly the SW corner of San Bernardino County is urban in Garreau’s Edge City sense of the term. At the risk of being presumptuous, I would guess that there’s nothing in the county that Saul would consider urban. My natural tendency would be to go with the Census Bureau’s 381 MSAs, whether they have a traditional urban core or not (that corner of San Bernardino falls in the Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario MSA, which crosses at least one county boundary). For doing maps, the MSA outlines aren’t as readily available as outlines for counties — another thing for the to-do list…Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        Yeah, but I don’t find that definition particularly useful in the context of the original discussion, and my own take, which involve voting patterns. Even if we had a metro area map, it would be less than useful because metro areas almost definitionally cover both urban and suburban areas. If we were to isolate the truly urban-urban places within cities, and thus eliminated cities and metro areas with millions of people that don’t even have them, we are eliminating too much of the population to be useful or we’ve reduced “urban” to an abstraction.

        It’s not accurate to put an entire host county under the “urban” mantra, but looking at the surrounding counties at least can be useful to get a feel for voting patterns. Not as useful as voting locations within a city, of course, but at least a general idea of my pet issue, which is the difference between how suburbanites vote in Seattle vs Houston, Philadelphia vs Atlanta.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        @will-truman
        Point. More than one, actually. Still, better classification isn’t that much harder. All of the data to do a rough weighted average by municipality is in Wikipedia, it’s just not organized or labeled in a consistent fashion. That sort of calculation would almost certainly classify San Bernardino as urban. Probably Maricopa as well.

        Have I mentioned the need for minions graduate students volunteers with a slavish desire to do data organization for me lately?Report

  10. Avatar Mike Schilling
    Ignored
    says:

    What a dreadful pun.Report

  11. Avatar krogerfoot
    Ignored
    says:

    “Building an Airtrain requires hiring engineers, inspectors, construction companies, and other things which leads to jobs, jobs, jobs, and helping your donors. Buying new trains and tracks, requires placing orders with companies that are already in existence and jobs and projects already in existence.”

    Come on. The argument that infrastructure spending will help the economy and create jobs is an obvious one that advocates never fail to make. Do you really believe this second sentence is true, or that anyone thinks it is?Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to krogerfoot
      Ignored
      says:

      @krogerfoot

      I was more trying to get into the head of someone who does the edifice complex. I think it is partially right. I doubt that any politician is seriously supported by a company that builds subway trains (most of which I think are located abroad and not in the States). There are plenty of local construction companies and firms that can benefit from building a AirTrain line though or endless improvements to the L.I.E.Report

  12. Avatar krogerfoot
    Ignored
    says:

    And also: Gov. Cuomo is not fond? LaGaurdia? A Noble Prize? We are adverse to the unsexy?

    The problem with careless writing is that it’s hard to tell when you’ve made a typo and when you’re talking about something you know nothing about. It’s hardly a crime to be a sloppy writer, especially if you’ve got the stylistic or journalistic chops to pay the bills. For the rest of us, it’s worth it to check your goddamn work.Report

  13. Avatar Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    New definition of bipartisanship: an infrastructure maintenance program that makes the bridges to last long enough so that Rep Peter King has his choice when he jumps off one after Senator Cruz gets the GOP nomination.Report

  14. Avatar Jaybird
    Ignored
    says:

    Part of the problem is that the downtime requirements for a bridge are significantly different than downtime requirements for a server.

    If you’re upgrading a server you can, presumably, build it at leisure in another part of the building, get it just right, restore the data from a current backup from the present server, and then, at worst, have a mere hiccup of downtime as you fail over. (And if you’re dealing with virtual boxes, have even less than a hiccup. A gut rumble of downtime.)

    There’s no way to do that with a bridge or roadway or the like. You’ve got to come up with detours, or widen the road before you narrow it again, or do all sorts of obnoxious crap that will slow a driver down and turn his 92 minute commute into a 108 minute commute.

    A new bridge? A new bridge is just sexy.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      Do many people run non-replicated servers? Because if your servers are replicated and you do a rolling upgrade, you’ve got (N-1)/N of your capacity up and running at all times.

      Impossible to do with bridge. Less than 100% is always a nightmare because auto traffic expands to fill whatever the road capacity is, and then refuses to contract.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Jaybird
      Ignored
      says:

      @jaybird

      The solution in the Bay Area seems to be to pick a weekend, shut down the bridge, and work around the clock so it can be open for business quickly. This can often be a three day weekend. I’ve seen it done to the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge during my time here.

      And servers seem to go down all the time for upgrades. I’ve received a lot of e-mails along the lines of “we are shutting down the server for maintenance between hours X and Y”Report

  15. Avatar Kolohe
    Ignored
    says:

    It’s curious that the Airtrain for LaGuardia is considered a boondoggle, but the DC Metro extension to Dulles is considered the most important thing the system has done since the initial buildout – and that one will only save about ten minutes from core to airport. (the current time per the wmata transit app, using a combo of train and buses, is 1 hour 3 minutes. And the new station at the airport will be slightly (1/4 mile iirc) further away than where the bus currently drops you off)Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      @kolohe

      Right or not, some people just prefer busses/trains to busses. These tend to be the people with more money, more power, and more influence. So rather than saying, “Hey, that only saves me 10 minutes,” they say, “Now I can finally get to the airport via public transportation.” I found this true in both NYC and DC. If you told people you could take the bus to LGA, they’d look at you like you were crazy.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        *nods* we’re not even talking the 30 miles out of the city that’s Pittsburgh’s airport…
        So, cost-benefit should be done based on “how many more people are going to be NOT storing cars at the airport” among other things.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        It’s worth pointing out that people preferences can be tricky. It’s not uncontroversial to frame it in these terms, but it’s been my impression that back home the drive towards rail has had something to do with giving well-to-do a method of public transportation that includes a minimum of poor people. And perhaps more importantly, avoids the perception of “poor people transportation.”

        You can say “Well, if that’s what gets people to use public transportation, we have no choice but to roll with it”… and that may be true, to an extent. But it also plays a game of hide-the-ball, where you if you start getting the transportation to the people who need it most, you run the risk that it will start being avoided by the others. (Though that itself could have a “The rich suckers thought the train would be theirs but who cares if they go because now we have transportation for poor people” advantage… but only if the ropes are taken down.)Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        Right, but this is a rare case, in my experience, where transit advocates/new urbanists are *against* a train, saying ‘the bus is good enough’. Like I said, it’s curious. (and that’s not to say they’re wrong or inconsistent – the article strongly implies that they would be fine with a train with a more direct routing from a different spur line).Report

      • Avatar Gabriel Conroy in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        Right or not, some people just prefer busses/trains to busses.

        I’d prefer a good buss to a train any day.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        @will-truman

        Haven’t I written about this before? 😉

        Transit advocates seem to love buses more than trains. They are in fact in love with the idea of rapid bus transit.

        I think ordinary commuters like trains and light rail for the reasons that trains and light rail are hated by transit advocates and city planners. Once you build a light rail or train stop, it is hard to take said light rail or train stop away. A bus route is easily changeable.

        The problem with rapid bus transit is that wonks don’t realize how easy it is for the system to go on the cheap. You take about dedicated bus lanes but then one day a politician says that High Occupancy Vehicles should also be allowed to use the Rapid Bus lanes. And sooner than you know, it is just a regular old traffic lane.

        Lee has pointed that the problem with buses is that they have been seen as more of a social service than a transit service for decades. This is true for the proponents and opponents of buses. L.A. has or had a group called the Bus Riders Union which basically became an advocacy group for the poor and like many left-wing groups managed to alienate themselves and loose support by being unable to keep on track with issues. They ended up demanding action on things that were really beyond the scope and control of Los Angeles government.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        Saul,
        Cite some sources. 30 years and we’re getting more BRT not less. And the police do use the FULL ROADS we have here, not just single lanes that toolish fourists get in.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        That last paragraph is more or less what I’m talking about.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        Funny, I think the BRU has been pretty successful over the years.

        What have they demanded that was/is “beyond the scope and control of the Los Angeles government”?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        Most of our transportation infrastructure got messed up because it got mired in Americsn racial and social justice politics from both liberals and conservatives. Transportation infrastructure should be about moving people and goods. That’s it.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        Most of our transportation infrastructure got messed up because it got mired in Americsn racial and social justice politics

        Huh?Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        @chris

        Successful in other countries but I think the U.S. can find ways to fuck it up. IIRC BRT took off in places with no money and buses were the cheapest possible option.

        http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/9600/brt-creep-makes-bus-rapid-transit-inferior-to-rail/Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        “Transit advocates seem to love buses more than trains. They are in fact in love with the idea of rapid bus transit.”

        You read different transit advocates than I do. Which is weird, because you just linked to GGW, who are my go to people for reading the party lions on transit advocacy, who made the point right there – and everywhere else on their site – that they like trains (& light rail, and streetcars) better than bus rapid transit.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        K,
        And I read the logistics guys who want gondolas.
        Even pipedreams have a use in politics…Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        That’s GGW also. (though even they realize that a Roslyn Georgetown one may be a solution in search of a problem)Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        BRU, not BRT (recall you brought them up, and I quoted your comment about them).

        Since you bring it up now, the U.S. is getting better at BRT. There are only a few proper BRT systems in the U.S., in Eugene, Vegas, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh (and the Eugene system is pretty limited, but it’s not really that big of a city). However, cities are implementing BRT-like systems at a high rate, because they’re much, much cheaper than rail. They’re still pretty expensive in the U.S., though, which is why (ironically), you see the best systems in the world in countries like Colombia, Peru, China, Brazil, and Guatemala: it’s just cheaper to build stuff in there. Plus in those countries the lines are being built in cities that are developing rapidly, so they have the opportunity to build dedicated lanes and the rather elaborate stops that make BRT more efficient without having to deal with all of the regulations and pissed off stakeholders that transportation projects have to deal with in the U.S.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        Looks like I was wrong, ITDP has given Seattle’s BRT system a bronze rating since I last looked:

        https://www.itdp.org/library/standards-and-guides/the-bus-rapid-transit-standard/

        All things being equal, transit advocates tend to prefer trains, because they have all sorts of benefits that buses don’t. However, I’ve yet to meet a transit advocate who didn’t advocate for BRT in lieu of trains when BRT was more appropriate, which it frequently is, particularly in poorly planned American cities like, well, almost all of them. You see arguments now and then about whether BRT or trains are more appropriate for a particular corridor, but that’s to be expected, because it’s not always obvious.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        @kolohe

        I’m just talking about where the push for the Air Train is likely emanating from. If you ask New Yorkers how to get to LGA, most of them will insist you have to take a cab; public transportation doesn’t go there. Because, as far as most of them are concerned, it doesn’t: public transportation = trains of one form or another.

        Plus, I’m pretty sure the bus from Manhattan leaves from East 110th or East 125th… good luck getting people weary of the bus to begin with to hop on a bus there.

        I don’t AGREE with this mindset… I regularly took the bus around Manhattan much to the chagrin of people I knew. I’m just pointing out that saying, “Hey, the bus runs there,” is going to fall on deaf ears for a good number of people.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        Chris, a lot of public transportation initatives from after World War II to the present were defeated out of racist beliefs that public transportation were for “those” type of people that live in the cities and that “those” people will use public transportation to come to the suburbs and commit crimes.* You can guess who “those” people are. Car based transportation was seen as one weapon racists could use to effectively maintain de facto segregation after de jure segregation ended. It was the transportation extension of white flight.

        On the left, at least some public transportation advocacy became about social justice for those too poor to own a car. This is all well and true but it doesn’t help sell the need for better public transportation to the general electorate. It makes the general electorate see public transportation as a social service rather than part of the transportation infrastructure like highways and airports. For public transportation to be funded, it needs to be supported by most of the electorate and this is easier if it is seen as an infrastructure rather than social justice issue.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        The GGW article makes a good point about BRT, but I don’t think it makes rail superior to BRT, since rail has its own analogous issues.

        Their anti-BRT point is that it’s too easy to remove or simply not build features, which is exactly what happened here in Austin: the city built a system that was supposed to have dedicated lanes, signal-priority, covered, more efficient stops with real-time arrival-time updates, and limited stops. What they ended up producing is a system with about 14 blocks of dedicated bus lanes (on 9+-mile routes), no real signal priorty (Cap Metro swears they have it, but have provided no evidence that they use it, and the city has denied them access through the busiest parts of the two routes), partially covered but otherwise ordinary stops that are frequently shared with non-BRT buses, and on top of that they’re about to increase stops because they fished up by reducing local service and instead of increasing that again, they’ve decided to make the BRT more local and less rapid. It does have free wifi, though, sometimes.

        Anyway, this is less an argument against BRT instead of rail than it is an argument for real BRT. It’s hard for me to imagine that a city that’s unwilling to go all-in on BRT is going to spend the hundreds of millions of extra dollars to build rail lines. And here again, Austin is a great example: instead of building a rail line where it was needed, they went cheap and built a line on existing freight rail from a place where it wasn’t needed to downtown and back.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        Lee, do you have evidence for those assertions? I ask because they’re assertions I frequently hear, but I’ve never seen the data.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        Lee,
        and somewhere, in the cold cockles of my heart,
        there’s a grim sort of laughter, heedless of, well, everything.
        how the worm turns, ashes to ashes and dust to dust.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        “Car based transportation was seen as one weapon racists could use to effectively maintain de facto segregation after de jure segregation ended. ”

        Car based transportation is also how the Montgomery bus boycotters were able to do their thing.

        You’re not entirely wrong, but you’re being overbroad. The end of WW2 and the (re-)kickstart of automobile travel and suburbanization found the legacy, mostly privately owned mass-transit systems hemorrhaging money. So, during the 50s & 60s, they either consolidated, were bought out by other industries, went completely out of business, or were turned over to government control – often a little of each. (this is among other things, how we eventually got PATH and the World Trade Center)

        It wasn’t until the 60s (after a lot of systems had been dismantled and repurposed) where the idea of federal contribution to mass transit systems – or building new ones entirely -became an idea. But that was still competing at the time with the limited access highways uber alles thinking typified by Robert Moses. Whose ideas weren’t racist, it’s just that the people that could successfully organize opposition to a freeway were going to be of a certain type of people, and those who could not, were going to be of another type. Likewise with mass transit stops, but some of the opposition has turned out to be urban legend (e.g. why there is no Georgetown metro stop – it’s the geography, not the community)

        Then, cheap ass gas for 2 decades and a diffuse settlement pattern (and no one caring about externalities) made mass transit systems a hard sell for cost benefit analysis.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        Also, what is the notional mental model of gentrification? Mass transit line comes in, younger, whiter people move into the neighborhood, older, less whiter people eventually move out. It’s nothing to do with cars, or their absence.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        @kazzy

        There is also a matter of convenience of having one bus that goes to the airport. It makes no sense if you live in Brooklyn or lower Manhattan to travel all the way up to Harlem, just to get a bus to get to an airport.Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        I see BRT as a great way to test for light rail viability, since implementing it is relatively easy. If you do BRT right & give it a few years to gather data, you can get an idea if light rail would be justified.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        @saul-degraw

        I’m not sure if that was the only bus that went to LGA, but I’m pretty sure it was the only or main bus from Manhattan. People from Brooklyn shouldn’t have to cross the river only to cross back again. But people form lower Manhattan need to head north anyway to get to LGA, so why not transfer via East Harlem? I mean, LGA is roughly due east of East Harlem. It isn’t out of anyone in Manhattan’s way to go through what is likely the closest point to the airport.

        FWIW, I’ve used LGA quite a bit and mostly drove. One time I took a cab. I’ve used JFK far less frequently and always drove. I’ve used Newark a bunch and mostly drove and sometimes took NJT trains.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
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        says:

        I see BRT as a great way to test for light rail viability, since implementing it is relatively easy. If you do BRT right & give it a few years to gather data, you can get an idea if light rail would be justified.

        This is the wrong way to look at it for a few reasons:

        (1) Most importantly, if BRT is successful in a corridor, you won’t need rail at all, as it will function as well or so close to as well as rail that you can’t possibly get a good ROI on the extra hundreds of millions you’d need to build rail;

        (2) Rail and BRT have different strengths and weaknesses, so that, in order to best utilize each, you need them in different areas. This doesn’t mean you won’t have areas where both would be successful (really straight-line corridors with a lot of residential areas on one end and big employment centers on the other, no major water-crossings, etc.), but in such cases, see (1).

        (3) Planners who treat BRT as a stepping stone to rail will likely cut corners on BRT, because they aren’t planning on keeping it around (this is the GGW argument for just going with rail to start with, in Saul’s link), thereby making BRT less effective (which, if we run with this, would mean it would provide less evidence for the potential effectiveness of rail).

        Using Austin as an example once again, the city’s original rail plan, going back to the 80s, was for the busiest bus corridor (generally referred to by transit folks as Guadalamar). Rail initiatives for that corridor failed more than once, so the city put its first BRT-like route on the Guadalamar, in the hopes that its success would make people more supportive of rail there. But sine they saw BRT as a stepping stone, they cut a lot of corners (see my comment above), and the result was a pretty shitty system that’s basically a really long regular bus with higher frequency and fewer stops. It’s not only not going to make anyone more supportive of rail there (except, perhaps, by ultimately failing in its current form, but certainly they weren’t playing that sort of 11-dimensional chess, right?), just less supportive of Cap Metro overall.

        Good BRT is valuable in its own right, and if done well in the right places, as valuable as rail. What it’s done in parts of Bogota and a few cities in Brazil is simply amazing, and I can’t imagine they could have done any better with rail. When you add in the fact that the maintenance of rail is much, much more expensive (as are, generally, the fares), BRT is frequently the better option.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        Jaime Lerner, who helped pioneer BRT, said that the reason it was created because he and his staff were trying to combat autocentric development with no budget. They had to use busses rather than trains out of simple economic necessity. He thought that cities in the developed world would simply float a bond or receive funding from their national governments to build an actual rail system.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        Austin’s first two “BRT” lines cost around $50 million to build (all new stops, new buses, and a new GPS system that will later be extended to all buses), almost entirely from federal grants. the most recent rail proposal, which failed (in a corridor which will likely now get a new “BRT” line also likely funded with federal and state grant money), would have cost upwards of $1.2 billion. That’s for 9 miles of rail covering two residential areas and two major employment centers. It would have been so deep into the city, on both ends, that park and ride wouldn’t have really made sense. In other words, even a pretty unambitious line that wouldn’t have affected traffic in the city core or the outskirts at all was going to cost over a billion, half of which would have been on the city’s residents. If BRT is an equally effective option, why the hell would you build rail there?Report

      • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy
        Ignored
        says:

        @chris

        Well, I would not use BRT solely as a viability tester; as you say, it has it’s place all on it’s own.

        Still, I can see your point about how it won’t be effective unless it’s done right, and if it’s done right, it could potentially be effective enough that the cost of rail would not be worth it.Report

    • Avatar j r in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      I see this as a bit of an apples to oranges comparison. LaGuardia’s problem is that it is in the city, but in a part of the city where not much else is; therefore existing transit links are minimal. Dulles is, for all intents and purposes for most DC area residents, in the middle of nowhere.

      The problem with the LaGuardia Airtrain isn’t so much that it is being considered, but that the route being considered does not appear to make a whole lot of sense. You’d have to take the 7 train well past where the airport is and then take the Airtrain back.

      Also, when you have bags and you’re on a timeline, being able to take one train all the way there is a lot different than taking a combination of trains and buses.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq in reply to j r
        Ignored
        says:

        The 7 train route might have been selected because it would be the easiest and cheapest to build even it makes no sense. The most sensible conenction to LaGuardia would be a short connections to the N, Q, R lines via Astoria. This would give LaGuardia a more direct connection to Manhattan than the selected 7 train route but it would probably be much more costly to build because of the street pattern.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to j r
        Ignored
        says:

        That’s likely exactly why Cuomo supports it.Report

    • Avatar Jim Heffman in reply to Kolohe
      Ignored
      says:

      The point is not saving time, the point is saving a mode change (or at least a system change). If I can take the train the whole way to the airport, then I’m more likely to want to do that. And maybe I change lines in the middle of my trip and then take the Airtrain at the very end, but that’s different from having to leave the train station, walk down the street to the bus stop, figure out what bus I want to take, and sit through the surface traffic that I took the train because I wanted to avoid.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jim Heffman
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        says:

        This is a great point, @jim-heffman . Transferring is annoying to begin with. Transferring between systems that probably don’t even attempt to align their time tables can be infuriating.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jim Heffman
        Ignored
        says:

        Transferring to systems that run frequently (e.g, when I used to take a bus to BART) is not an issue. Transferring to systems that run infrequently (the return trip, when a delayed BART train meant waiting an hour for the next bus) can be a deal-breaker. [1] Conclusion: if two systems both run frequently enough, transfers between them are not a problem.

        1. I’ve been binge-watching 30 Rock, and it doesn’t matter how often it insists that Tina Fey is unattractive, it’s still nonsense.Report

      • Avatar j r in reply to Jim Heffman
        Ignored
        says:

        I don’t know. If we start from the position that, other than having someone drive you up to the terminal, there is no good way to get to the airport, then having to change systems can be a problem.

        I’ve flown out of Dulles a bunch of times, leaving from downtown DC. The existing system is not pleasant. It’s not unpleasant enough to get me paying $60 for a cab, but the Silver line straight there is likely to be a noticeable improvement.

        And the frequency thing sort of begs the question of what makes changing systems so annoying. If this is a trip that you make frequently, it’s not such a problem. But if you don’t know how the systems work, then you have no idea whether you can trust the schedule or not.Report

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