Join 3,520 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"No national railway of a developed country has ever run a profit.
June 26, 2002 7:16 PM   Subscribe

"No national railway of a developed country has ever run a profit. They're not supposed to. The correlative economic and social benefits they throw off -- bringing commuters to taxpaying corporations daily, for one thing -- more than offset any net loss they suffer." [via camworld]

You don't run your home's central heating, air conditioning or plumbing at a profit, so why should a country try to run its infrastructure that way, be it rail, health service, water, ...? Is it forced on us because nationalised services always seem to become fantastically inefficient and bureaucratic?
posted by southisup (63 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
Personally, I think we need to develop a new rail system. Frankly, I'm tired of waiting 20 minutes in my car for two trains to cross paths. I'm not an employee of the companies that are shipping goods, and I don't think its fair of these companies to take chunks of my days (and other drivers around me) without my consent. Please someone agree with me.
posted by howa2396 at 9:28 PM on June 26, 2002


Tough. Find another route, already, or don't live near a place where you have to cross a railroad track. Trains are the most economically efficient form of transport for freight, and I just bet that you feel the benefits of this every day, albeit unknowingly.
posted by raysmj at 9:32 PM on June 26, 2002


Is it forced on us because nationalised services always seem to become fantastically inefficient and bureaucratic?

Yeah, that sounds about right.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:37 PM on June 26, 2002


I live in NH, and have ridden the Downeaster many times to Boston. The station's right down the street from my house. The ride is incredibly smooth and fast, the train is quiet and clean, and the leg room! Oh, the leg room!

Reservations are absolutely necessary as ridership has been extremely high. Weekend trains are always packed. It only costs about $30 round trip, and if you factor in gas and parking in Boston, that's cheap. Not to mention the stress (on you and your car) of driving there. The train doesn't have a very convenient schedule, though (the last one leaves Boston at 11pm - North Station won't let Amtrak store trains there, so they have to get back to Portland.)

But I don't drive, so the train has been a real blessing for me, and I know I'm not the only one. Yet here we are looking at the dissolusion of Amtrak! This really frustrates me. I don't really understand why such an obviously popular and very useful mode of transportation is under such heavy attack. How much government money goes into subsidizing highways? How much more money is the airline industry going to demand? Are Americans really that attached to their cars?

Everybody in this area complains about how traffic has been getting steadily worse just over the past few years -- and it's only going to worsen. At the same itme, everybody who has ridden the train says how great it is. The solution seems fairly clear to me, but hey, I'm not a politician ;)
posted by fizgig at 9:44 PM on June 26, 2002


Are Americans really that attached to their cars?

I flip flop a lot on that issue, personally. Having never lived in a city that had valid public transport until recently, I always thought of it as a nice idea, but something i wouldn't want to do too badly. Now that I take the light rail to work, i'm slowly falling in love with it and dreading any moments i have to spend in my car. If there were good trains running around the midwest (I.E. austin--> dallas--> OKC --> Tulsa -->KC --> St Louis) I'd sure as hell use them. The BritRail system is extremely effective, from my experience, and the benefits are pretty numerous. Probably a good system to model one in the Mid West after.
posted by Ufez Jones at 9:51 PM on June 26, 2002


Rail systems are no good for decentralized populations. They would be completely insolvent except for in the major cities, I think.
posted by insomnyuk at 9:54 PM on June 26, 2002


The original post is quite smart. Being a die-hard capitalist, I'd never looked at things that way.

But then again, look at the roads. We do not pay every single time we want to drive someplace (sure, there's gas, but road tolls are on very few roads).

The government does not make a profit from the road system, and it is all provided and managed by the state and a bunch of authorized contractors. It is provided for the good of the country, and not to make a profit.

Perhaps railways, airlines, and other 'essential' forms of transportation should be subject to the same sort of methodology. It doesn't fit in with capitalism too well, but hey.. we have a road system, and it works. Adopt the same methodology elsewhere!
posted by wackybrit at 10:01 PM on June 26, 2002


The government does not make a profit from the road system

Politicians benefit enormously from going along with the desires of automotive and petroleum industry lobbyists, which tends to skew things significantly. I'm neither a capitalist nor a socialist. What do you call it when you want most things to operate in a market economy, but essential services to be efficiently state run and owned - an idealist?
posted by southisup at 10:13 PM on June 26, 2002


The solution seems fairly clear to me, but hey, I'm not a politician ;)

Dayton has still kept its trolley system. Here's another interesting article on the system, written in 1970.

Only in the last 30 years has the system needed to be subsidized (a result of rising costs, most possibly linked to increased costs due to the goverment supported union). It's kind of a vicious circle. The government deliberately makes an industry unprofitable (like rail), and then takes it over through subsidy. It's a clever trick, and it succeeded in this case. The other contribution was from the alliance between G.M. and Standard Oil. The government broke up the power industrie's monopoly that let trolleycars stay cheap, but didn't treat G.M. and Standard Oil the same way (at the time).

we have a road system, and it works.

Yeah, just barely. There are so many poorly, dangerously designed roads that kill people every year, that it should be a crime. If the government did not own the roads, you could sue or jail whoever was responsible (say a private company), but its really difficult to make change in say, your state's Department of Transportation.

I would be willing to bet that if government did not subsidize the road system or give so many special brakes to automanufacturers, there would be much greater interest in alternative forms of transportation. But as long as Congress has the power to screw with transportation, the Oil and Auto lobbies will work very hard to maintain the status quo. In a real free market they might well fall flat on their faces.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:14 PM on June 26, 2002


by brakes I meant breaks, and by Dayton I meant Dayton, OH, home of flight, the cash register, the pop top tab, and many other fabulous inventions.
not to mention being my home, perhaps its greatest claim to fame, if not now, perhaps sometime in the future
posted by insomnyuk at 10:17 PM on June 26, 2002


There is the argument, of course, that since roads are free, they are accessible by everyone, including those who cannot afford rail or flight. Subsidized highways allow for even the poor to commute. If we privatized this form of transportation, the barrier of entry to even drive would be more than the poor could afford. Of course, there are those who believe that everything should be run by the "invisible hand". I call those people fools. Adam Smith was not a God; he merely invented modern capitalism.
posted by BlueTrain at 10:21 PM on June 26, 2002


BlueTrain: you forget that those poor people have to somehow pay for cars to get on the roads. I know its just a minor obstacle, buying a car.... but still...

And subsidies are not free, everyone bears the cost of taxation, directly or indirectly.
posted by insomnyuk at 10:30 PM on June 26, 2002


BlueTrain: you forget that those poor people have to somehow pay for cars to get on the roads. I know its just a minor obstacle, buying a car....

My friend and her boyfriend just saved up for a car. It cost $500. Take a guess as to why truckers avoid toll roads, or why when the price of diesel even jumps a nickel, suddenly they're worrying about job security. It's not as cut and dry as privatization. It never has been. But what do I know...my chair is rather uncomfortable.
posted by BlueTrain at 10:42 PM on June 26, 2002


Southisup: What do you call it when you want most things to operate in a market economy, but essential services to be efficiently state run and owned - an idealist?

I'd call it 'rational'. :-)

Ash.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 10:45 PM on June 26, 2002


People who drive spend huge amounts of time and money getting to and from work. The system is out of balance. Have commuters spend just half the money, but on public transport that gets them there faster and in equal comfort.

Let mass transport be the main arteries and provate transport (cars, bicycles, walking) be the capillaries. Instead of adding further lanes in which commuters will idle their engines, cities need to convert existing lanes to fast bus, trolley, and train lines. Build parking outside the cities, at the interchanges, so drivers will park where formerly they got on the main highway going into the city. Charge high road tolls during rush hour and double the rates for downtown parking, and put the extra money into running trains and buses.

And transport systems need to offer two- or three-tiered travel on the trains and buses, either in separate compartments or in separate vehicles, so people who insist on high-end travel (breakfast, access to your morning e-mail, personal entertainment systems, etc.) will get it, and people who need a cheap stand-up ride to a low-paying job in the city will get it. Maybe let private operators run bus systems as long as they don't use them to get around the law (like having one guy per bus, which is really the guy's limo).

There are plenty of people who would take public transport as it operates now but they are afraid of other passengers, so put guards on the subways and wherever else they can be used. Insist that all police officers take public transport to and from work.
posted by pracowity at 11:22 PM on June 26, 2002


The numbers I saw recently on some blog claimed $32B/year for highway subsidies, and $13B/year for air travel.

I think Amtrak wanted $1.2B/year, the Bush administration proposed giving it half that. OMB had a study that said modernizing the system would cost twice what Amtrak was asking.

Let's say we spend $4B/year to fund a ten year project to build a better train system in the US.

Federal budget is currently about $2,000B.

180 mph trains, please.
posted by dglynn at 11:42 PM on June 26, 2002


"No national railway of a developed country has ever run a profit."

As someone who has been trying for weeks to make any progress at "Railroad Tycoon II", I can't tell you how relieved I am to hear that.
posted by ttrendel at 12:02 AM on June 27, 2002


This is an excellent post.

Some of the discussion here points out one of the fundamental problems with capitalism. I'm not sure this is actually a problem with textbook capitalism, but think about it...

Why is there a huge automobile industry lobby pressuring politicians to maintain a federal/state road system through the US at great cost to the taxpayer? Because they can make a lot of money selling cars.

Why is there not an equivalent Rail Industry breathing down Dubya's neck for billions of our dollars? Because it's simply not as profitable an industry. Why? Too efficient. Where's the planned obsolescence in building a comprehensive state rail system? Where are the accessories and fuel for consumers to pay retail pricing for? When every damn consumer has to buy his/her own damn car, there's a lot more money flowing through the system than there would be if everyone took the train and ticket prices were sold at the lowest supportable price.

It's actually more profitable sometimes to do things the least efficient way. The more friction there is in the system, the more points at which people need to pay to grease the gears. This makes profits, which motivate the Big Rich Important People in the World to wake up in the morning and provide the rest of us Helpless, Stupid Masses with basics like transportation, food, etc (according to hardcore capitalists like Ayn Rand).

But if capitalism had any goal besides keeping us all slaving away from here to eternity, wouldn't we already be enjoying 20-hour work weeks? It's hilarious to me that only now is Marx's argument totally obvious, decades after we dismissed him. Our society's level of scientific advancement should allow us to enjoy a high standard of living with minimal effort. But instead, thanks to capitalism, whole generations of kids are enjoying the 2-working-parent model of "modern life." This is because capitalism's primary natural resource is the consumer him/herself. When the consumers step off the treadmill, the entire model collapses. As long at the good life is perpetually just out of reach, the masses will keep slaving.

Capitalism is not about providing services to the population in the most efficient way possible. It's about rewarding investors and shareholders for starting successful businesses. Serve your customer too well, too cheaply, and you pass up opportunities to fleece them. It really burns me that people like Ayn Rand think that the Industrialsts are reaping these enormous profits because they're so smart, so innovative. Look at Bill Gates for chrissakes. These assholes have the biggest lobby. That's all. What this country needs is a non-profit sector full of manufacturing companies.

So sad. But hey, that's America for you.

If you, too, are willing to slave your youth away, betray your partners, steal from your competition, jack your customers, present sub-standard products to the marketplace, and get sued in a Federal court for it all, you too may someday rise to the lofty level of Mr. Bill.

And that's what it's all about.

What a country! God Bless America!
posted by scarabic at 12:07 AM on June 27, 2002


today i took the amtrak acela from new york penn station to baltimore. it took 2 hours and 20 minutes and cost $140. i sat there stretching my legs and relaxing while listening to mp3's on my laptop while eating a snack and drinking a soda.

the amtrak line between washington, DC and boston is almost as perfect as transportation gets. i can get to the station 5 minutes before departure if i want to, i can cancel and reserve tickets at any time w/no penalty and when amtrak makes a mistake or the train is late they give you a partial refund. what else can you ask for? for business travel it beats the hell out of flying where there is an hour flight to boston but i have to get to the airport 1-2 hours early, there aren't as many flight times, the seats are cramped and it's a lot more expensive. driving to boston or new york isn't even a reasonable option.

i really really like amtrak. there are things i wish were changed like i wish the acela was faster(due to regulations it can't reach maximum speed and the condition of the tracks) b/c it only saves you a marginal amount of time but overall you can't beat it. if they shut down amtrak i'm screwed. i'm not going to fly to my business appointments and i'm not driving there so i guess customers will have to settle for conference calls.
posted by suprfli at 12:20 AM on June 27, 2002


The fallacy of perpetual growth, ain't it great. To be even more idealistic, a bicycle transit network could be built for a fraction of the cost of just one new highway.
posted by southisup at 12:36 AM on June 27, 2002


As one who has been cavorting around Europe for the past four months, I have to say that things I realize now, more than ever, that things are SERIOUSLY out of whack in the U.S. Pardon me if I take a slightly different tack here...

I have driven in a car only three times in those four months. Once in a taxi and twice in friend's cars. The rest of the time, I have taken trams, buses, subways, or trains. It's been the most pleasant trasnportation experience of my life (aside from Rome's metro which smelled like concetrated B.O. and where people were packed as tight as molecules at zero Kelvin. My hand was even pressed up agains an old lady's ass and I couldn't move it. She didn't seem to even notice. Grrrr.)

Many people I have met here in Europe don't even own cars. It's not that they couldn't afford them but instead couldn't imagine needing one.

I've traversed Cologne, Milan, Rome, Belgrade, Sarajevo, Budapest, Dubrovnik and many points in between and never have I had to pay more than the equivalent of US$1 for city transport or US$50 for intercity transport. My train from Split, Croatia to Budapest, Hungary cost all of $20 for a distance of about 800km!

If Europe can manage this with the added complication of intercountry travel, why can America not do the same?

The answer of course is that the goverment has a great deal of incentive to encourage only enough public transportation to make it look like it's being ecologically responsible. There's too much money in personal transportation despite the stupid conflicts it draws us into internationally.
posted by fooljay at 1:04 AM on June 27, 2002


The answer of course is that the government has a great deal of incentive to encourage only enough public transportation to make it look like it's being ecologically responsible. There's too much money in personal transportation despite the stupid conflicts it draws us into internationally.

fooljay, that's a very simplistic approach to a much more complicated situation. Take a look at this pdf (30k). One, of the many, reasons that Europe has such an efficient mass transit system is based on the fact that gasoline costs four times as much over there. I'll let you read for yourself.
posted by BlueTrain at 1:17 AM on June 27, 2002


> Many people I have met here in Europe don't even own
> cars. It's not that they couldn't afford them but instead
> couldn't imagine needing one.

But it's changing and it's a shame. They want to be Americans. They see the ads and they, too, want to zoom zoom zoom in their little boxes o' metal. By the time they know the realities of traffic jams and parking and insurance and maintenance and repairs and monthly payments and gas prices and so on, it's too late, they've invested in a car and moved too far away from the bus and tram lines to do anything but drive.

Meanwhile, I travel on a monthly pass that costs less than 25 USD and is good for every bus and tram every day to anywhere in the city. Less than a dollar a day (less than 50 cents if you're a student) for unlimited travel in the city, and, as fooljay mentioned, very low prices for public transport away from the city.

> One, of the many, reasons that Europe has such an
> efficient mass transit system is based on the fact that
> gasoline costs four times as much over there.

That's good government.
posted by pracowity at 1:35 AM on June 27, 2002


insomnyuk: Rail systems are no good for decentralized populations. They would be completely insolvent except for in the major cities, I think.

On the contrary, Los Angeles has got to be one of the most sprawled-out cities on the planet, and that's exactly why a bigger mass transit system would do us a world of good here. There's a huge population that spends several hours of every day in their cars, driving in traffic from one part of the city to another to another. The east half of the city is poor, and many of those poor work on the west side. Extending the subway so it goes to Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Westwood, Venice, etc. would do wonders for both pollution and the relative sanity of the populace.
posted by bingo at 1:53 AM on June 27, 2002


The government does not make a profit from the road system, and it is all provided and managed by the state and a bunch of authorized contractors. It is provided for the good of the country, and not to make a profit.

Wackybrit - I'm assuming you're talking here about the British road system. If so, are you aware that the Government takes £60m a year from road tax alone, yet spends only £12m on roads and road transport related activities. Then there is the tax on fuel, the highest in the developed world, ostensibly levied as a 'green' tax, yet none of the revenue raised is spent on environmental projects, reasearch into cleaner fuels or to improve the road system itself. A paltry £500,000 was spent last year on research into alternative forms of transport leaving £47.5m (before adding in the revenue from fuel tax) being paid by British motorists to the treasury for the 'pleasure' of using the road system which has been diverted out of the road infrastructure.
All these figures come from government published literature, unfortunately not published on the internet but available from HMSO.

Pracowity - in the UK there is precious little alternative to the metal box in most cases, I would be happy to take the train to work since I live 50 miles from the town I work, however the fare for doing so would be over £100 (whis is what now, $150) for Monday to Friday. I would still have to have a car since I live 5 miles from the station, buses don't run until 9am and stop running at 4pm and although I love to cycle, I am not allowed to take my bike on the train. Added to which, a car is the only way I can travel in any direction but East, since the trains do not serve my local town, the lines were torn up in the 1950's.
I don't think we British would be so attached to our cars if most of us had a viable alternative, unfortunately decades of cost-cutting by successive governments has left this country with a very poor and expensive public transport system.
posted by Markb at 1:57 AM on June 27, 2002


Awesome, stirring post scarabic!
posted by crasspastor at 2:07 AM on June 27, 2002


Japan isn't a developed country?
posted by mlinksva at 2:38 AM on June 27, 2002


> I would be happy to take the train to work since I live
> 50 miles from the town I work, however...

Yes, ineffective government management is partly to blame, but also, as I said earlier:

> they've invested in a car and moved too far away from
> the bus and tram lines to do anything but drive.

People can't complain about not having good public transportation if they continually move away from it, and they'll never have good schedules and low fares until people use the system in numbers that make cheap, frequent service possible.

Because of this -- because people will always wait for the other guy to go first -- governments have to make the deciding move. They need to build a solid downtown infrastructure that favors buses and trains, solidly discourage cars from coming downtown in the morning and taking up parking space all day, and spread good commuter rail spurs and bus service out where the highways now bring too many cars in from the country.

If you insist on living in a treehouse, you will still have to swing on a vine or drive or walk or bicycle or Ginger part of the way to work, but if you were able to hop on a quick, cheap, comfortable train or bus for at least the last half of the trip into the city, things would be better for everyone in the city (which includes you for half of your waking hours).
posted by pracowity at 2:41 AM on June 27, 2002


I have lived where I live for the last 15 years or so. When I first started commuting, I took the train, I'd cycle to the station, get on the train with my bike, get off at the other end and cycle into the office.
Then they took away the guards van (where the bikes went traditionally) since they didn't want to pay a guard and a driver. So I had to take my bike onto the carriage with me.
Then the government privatised the railways.
Then they stopped me taking the bike on the train unless I bought it a ticket, which was too expensive so my girlfriend dropped me off at the station (in her car) and I got a bus the other end.
Then the government privatised the buses.
The route to where I work wasn't profitable, so I had to take a bus to the last profitable stop and walk the last mile and a half.
Now the fare for the train is so high I can no longer afford to travel by train, which in some ways is a blessing since the trains run half as frequently as they did and are twice as full.

It's OK to discourage people to use their cars if you provide them with the means to travel where they need to be, but the problem appears to be, even in the SE of England, where traffic crawls from 7am to 10am and 4pm to 7pm, where fuel is £5 a gallon, where parking fees are extortionate, people would rather be in their cars than public transport.
How bad will it have to get on the roads before people will use trains and buses?
Maybe the qquestion is how long will it take before public transport is of sufficient standard to carry the required number of passengers, in an efficient manner to persuade people out of their cars.

If ou only wield the stick without offering a carrot too you'd better have a mighty big stick and be prepared for a long wait.

The infrastucture (or at least a decently large part of it) has to come first.
posted by Markb at 3:01 AM on June 27, 2002


Amtrak is great if you happen to live on one of the East Coast routes with a daily train schedule. However here in Indiana getting to Chicago requires catching the train at three in the morning every other day to arrive at around 9:00 in Chicago which makes the rail a losing proposition for both commuters and weekend trippers. Greyhound for all of its flaws offers more frequent service and better service. In fact frequently the best way to get to where you want to go by Amtrak from here is to take the Greyhound past the train station to Chicago or St. Louis.

Amtrak also offers a bunch of "can't get there from here" situations. At least with an airplane going from Indianapolis to Denver by way of New Jersey (don't laugh, it is how one of my co-workers managed to get the cheapest flight to a conference) will only add a few hours onto your round-trip while Amtrak frequently requires a 24-hour layover while you wait for the southbound train to catch up with eastbound train.

Now granted, I am a big fan of public transportation. But with Amtrak being more expensive than air travel, requiring more travel time than a bus, I don't have the luxury of putting down that much extra cash to support a charity. Amtrak's problems require major infrastructure changes that Congress is just not willing to pay for right now.

A major problem with the economics of automobiles is the fact that most of the costs are deferred and not paid per trip or per mile. I suspect that if I ever lived in a city where the transportation runs on Sundays and later than 8 o'clock at night that I would probably give up my car altogether. With the money I save by only spending $50 a month on transit I could buy a heck of a lot of plane tickets or even rent a car when I want to drive in the country.

Because of this -- because people will always wait for the other guy to go first -- governments have to make the deciding move. They need to build a solid downtown infrastructure that favors buses and trains, solidly discourage cars from coming downtown in the morning and taking up parking space all day, and spread good commuter rail spurs and bus service out where the highways now bring too many cars in from the country.

Actually, one of the best solutions for changing this is to remove the burden of paying for the road infrastructure from property taxes and income taxes and place it on to wheel and gas taxes. Currently the bulk of the cost for road maintenance and improvements is not coming out of your pocket at the gas pump or when you buy your license plates, but when you pay your mortgage, your rent, or your groceries (the cost of maintaining "free parking" is passed on to the consumer a nickel and a dime at a time). At least most of the public transportation systems that I've ridden on are already offering their services at pretty close to the actual cost of transporting groups of people from place to place. The trouble is that people to ride buses and trains pay their cost per mile upfront, while people who drive automobiles end up paying even more over the course of a year.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:08 AM on June 27, 2002


But it's changing and it's a shame. They want to be Americans.

Not entirely, I'm about to turn 30 and I've yet to learn to drive. We already know the reality of traffic jams. In the UK we have about a population about a fifth the size of yours in an area about the size of Alabama plus a bit of a neighbouring state. Lots of cars in lots of small areas. And me walking in between them.

Nice one Scarabic, I enjoyed reading that.
posted by vbfg at 3:35 AM on June 27, 2002


I just moved to Boston and didn't bring a car because of the train. It is tremendous to not be making car payments, insurance payments, and monthly parking. If Amtrak shuts down I'll have to go back to all of these.
posted by McBain at 3:53 AM on June 27, 2002


Here in the UK we seem to be stuck between the idea of US car use & continental public transport. The big change came when Thatcher & co., kneeling before the money-god Freidman, decided that privetely owned transport was a good thing and public transport was for losers. ('Anyone who is 29 and still uses the bus should consider themselves a faliure').

Minor problem which is now becoming more apparent; we don't have the space. It's about density people...
[To get an idea of the numbers involved: The area of the UK is about the same as Oregon. Now move the populations of California AND Texas into Oregon. And float Oregon in off into the sea.]

Markb's story is all too familiar to many over here.

I'm 34 & have never owned a car. I used to drive for a living & part of the reason I gave it up was because I could see the roads getting ever more crowded and my job getting ever more miserable. Since I left home aged 18, I've always made a point of living where transport is easy. I currently live a 10 minute walk from work & a 5 minute walk from the train station. If I ever need a vehicle I'll hire one. It's fun driving once in a while but if I had to go back to doing it every day I'd go mad.

I live in Brighton which, in spite of a relatively decent bus service, is absolutley chock full of cars. Parking is a major problem. The streets are narrow too so any badly-parked car or delivery vehicle can cause gridlock. [Sad git that I am, I have pictures...I'm going to blog about it..!] But still the cars keep coming.

The problem in the UK is that we now have a generation who have grown up with out-of-town shopping, crap public transport & essential car-ownership. The Dutch (with an even higher pop. density) have addressed this problem. In fact, most of continental Europe has. Decent, integrated transport. I don't give a monkeys about the politics of nationalized or private ownership but I do know that in the UK, the privatized bus & rail networks are crap, over-priced (the highest in Europe) and have very little integration. They just don't work.

I see big trouble ahead for the UK and to be honest, we've only got ourselves to blame. I'm off to the Med ;-)

KirkJobSluder: I've ridden that route - all the way from NYC at an average speed of 40 mph! Nice big trains & seats but what a crawl...top speed of 15mph for long stretches because the track was so knackered. Cost about $200 almost 5 years ago to the day.
posted by i_cola at 3:58 AM on June 27, 2002


...and maybe I should check the Thesaurus for alternatives to 'problem' ;-)
posted by i_cola at 4:08 AM on June 27, 2002


> In the UK we have about a population about a
> fifth the size of yours

Theirs. I live a time zone east of you, out past the Iron Curtain Rod, where anyone who can afford a car will buy one (and sleep in it during rush hour).

> I just moved to Boston...

Where the T is great. They should have spent the Big Dig budget on mass transit, not on more ways to get cars into Boston.
posted by pracowity at 4:09 AM on June 27, 2002


I maintain that the one thing the T in Boston is missing is a circular beltway style train. Having to ride all the way into downtown to switch lines sucks ass.
posted by McBain at 4:44 AM on June 27, 2002


scarabic: a very good post. Very emotional and right to the point "why should we use capitalism if it sux ?"

We shouldn't, because quite frankly as you pointed out it fuels itself from friction and need. Nobody can argue that it delivers a lot of goods, but that doesn't happen because of capitalism itself but because of technological innovation.
That's an argument I've used more then one time at University and it really offsets a number of "professors"

The problem is that technology innovation, being often a complex and expensive problem that requires noticeable investment, requires capital. Let's start from the researcher:

IF it's safe to assume that:
1) technology is made by man and by the work , even if more mental then physcial, of man
2) man has fundamental needs, like food, house, some entertaiment, a good health and a so on

THEN a researcher wage should be good enough to keep him at least not afraid of his/her next electricty bill. In other words, giving then thinking and experimenting is usually a process that requires a LOT of time, any interruption to this process effectively slows down any technological progress. If the man worries about the bill, then he'll look for better paying job.

Now about the equipement needed when researching:

IF it's safe to assume that
a) tools, information, raw materials are needed to make experiments and are somehow expensive, or at least they do cost more then 0$ or more then 0 hours of man work

b) more tools,info,materials etc dedicated to research gives more chances of obtaining some good results after a lot of work

THEN we should consider that a researcher needs all of above, not necessarily huge amounts of above, but if we want to have as many researcher as possible working on problems, we need to give them all the resources they need for work : otherwise they'll have to hunt for resources and given they're expensive they'll first need capital.

So far we have to elements in the equation:

a) money or resources to keep researcher researching
b) money or resources to let the researcher do experiments

let's add more factors

c) money or resources to coordinate researcher work
d) money or resource to evaluate researcher work and
motivate him with equation "you give results, you get more resources or money allocated to you"

.....

at the end we see that research & developement is probably expensive. And I agree that it's the best expense possible because the returns COULD be huge or outstanding when compared to costs or when you consider the effects a new technology can have on mankind.

Now for the shake of simplicity let's go directly to the issue with R&D. It's NOT money or resources, they can be found and are often readily avaiable.

_THE_ problem is the human nature. Let's see why:

a) both farmer and huge billionarie want to be happy
b) happines for farmer is not necessarily equal to happines
for billionarie, so it's safe to assume that money isn't necessarily equal to happiness otherwise that would mean
that the billionarie is _often_ more happy then the farmer and that's not always true.
c) both want to get anything that will make them more happy and if we remove "happines that comes from social achievement or human relation" for a minute we could assume happiness = more satisfaction FROM goods.

So you need better AND / OR more goods.

NO PROBLEM so far... ? Nay. Remember the resources thing ? We should ask both the farmer and the billionarie to give resources/money for research.

a) chances are the billionarie can give more then farmer because in today economy money = more resources avaiable
b) the billionarie is not willing to give up his money=resources for free. Same for the farmer.

Somehow we manage to have contribution from both of them, the process is started, the research is done and a new product is discovered. That is easy IF they both understand research=goooooooood thing.

Who owns the new technology ? Both the farmer and the billionarie. BUT the billionarie argues " I gave more, then I should own a fraction proportional to my investments because I gave up some of my resources ". The farmer can't argue but that it owns the other fraction.

It's TIME to MASS PRODUCE and lower cost. Who should make decisions ? The farmer or the billionarie ? The latter will argue " I own more of it, then I should decide".

Here is _the problem_ ! GREED, FEAR, LACK OF TRUST, LACK OF LONG TERM VISION, ENVY and other miserable sides of human nature.

Right now the only solution to problem seems to be that once a technology is discovered it should be given to the world for FREE and not only AFTER the r&d process it's done..each and every step of it must avaiable for everybody to improve it , like open-source.

The only good argument I've heard against my idea, so far , is that technology is double edged. Want a terrorist to know how to easily produce weapons of mass destruction ?

___AT THE VERY END___ it boils down to the MISERABLE human nature, a self destroying attitude that ruins everything. It's the real obstacle to progress. And I don't know how to remove it, maybe by preaching the goods that come from peace and r&d.
posted by elpapacito at 5:06 AM on June 27, 2002


I feel quite strongly about this issue --

The entire point of having a government is to provide the things that we can't provide for ourselves. We pay taxes so that the roads will be built, maintained, clean and efficient. We pay taxes for libraries, mail, public hospitals and the like. And we should be happy about it.

I agree with scarabic that we must operate these services at a loss. If we don't, what's the point of having them? If they only had post offices in cities and towns were they could be operated efficiently, then we'd have a heck-uv-a-lot less post offices. The mail system is an infrastructure that enables commerce, not a commercial system in and of itself. Same with transportation infrastructure, and, as today's headlines (as well as yesterday's) show, communication infrastructure, and energy infrastructure. Those services are things that its very hard to make money at. But they're necessary for our quality of life. And for commerce.

I don't know how to solve this problem, but I think that our attitudes here in the US are slowly coming around.

great post. oh, and I lived in Boston and Chicago and loved public transport, as well as loved and used Acela. Now I live in Atlanta, and I cry tears of agony on the roadways of our great state
posted by zpousman at 5:33 AM on June 27, 2002


Because of my schooling, I have had the good fortune of living in Boston, San Francisco and New York City for extended periods of time, while going to school in Cincinnati. Of the four cities I have lived in, Boston and New York were the most enjoyable. I don't own a car [can't afford one] and so getting around midwestern cities is hard. San Francisco is a nice town, but Muni sucks ass - for anyone who doesn't know Muni, here is the deal. Muni operates a fleet of busses, light rail and the Cable Cars. There is only 2 [or 3 - can't remember] light rail line, but those went to the outer burbs, and all I could use was buses and the Cable Car [California - less tourists]. The buses would get blocked by daily traffic [not to mention what happens on the last Friday of every month] and the buses generally are slow. In SF - the dominant form was busses, all other systems [even taxis] weren't integrated enough.

In Boston, I was able to take the Red and Green lines right to work. I could go [relatively] anywhere I anted to go. There were some parts of the city I never got to because the T didn't go there, but I am satisfied. As said before, the key was integration: buses, trolley and subways combined with a metro service that served the outer burbs.

NYC - well, I walked everywhere and the subway was excellent.

Cincinnati, on the other hand, is car city. I live in the old inner city. I can walk places, but mostly I would have take the horrible bus service. One time I was working late at work, and I thought "Hey, the main line bus service should be still running [this was 7:00] so I can take the bus. Well, of course the bus service out of downtown ends at 6:30 - when the last white people leave - I kid you not. On preview, elpapacito has it right: human nature is a bitch. There has been several light rail proposals, many have been shot down because the white people who encircle Cincinnati like a noose are afraid of black folk riding their train - coming' for them - again I kid you not.

They key is integration - politics and corporations building monopolies [car companies buying up trolley lines and then shutting them down, come to mind] has taken the integrated system we had before the war, and skewed it to the auto. Take a look at US funding by sector and you can see the problem. A quote:

Purchasing power for federal highway programs doubled (increased 110%) from 1982 to 2002. It tripled (increased 234%) for aviation, but passenger rail decreased 59%
posted by plemeljr at 5:34 AM on June 27, 2002


If our passenger railroads were funded equally to the airlines, we would have the greatest high speed train network in the world.
posted by LinemanBear at 5:37 AM on June 27, 2002


you forget that those poor people have to somehow pay for cars to get on the roads. I know its just a minor obstacle, buying a car.... but still...

Not much of an obstacle. The state buys cars for people on welfare in PA all the time. Of course we live in a relatively rural area without public transportation.
posted by revbrian at 5:41 AM on June 27, 2002


Government spending on trains is called subsidy.
Government spending on roads is called investment.
posted by normy at 6:43 AM on June 27, 2002


They should have spent the Big Dig budget on mass transit, not on more ways to get cars into Boston.

Truer words have not been spoken. The big dig is a horrible waste of money/time manpower, everything about it is a waste.

This is an excellent post.

I will chime in and offer kudos to scarabic for his post as well.

I live in central Massachusetts(due to housing costs and affordability) and drive 45 miles to work. No other options for me there. When I go to Boston, I drive about the same distance, to a train station and take the train into the city. NEVER EVER would I drive into that city.

I grew up in New York (LI) and used the MTA to go into NYC quite a lot. Later in life I used it to get to work in NYC, combined with the subway. NY's subway system is nice, but London's tube has it beat in my opinion. Boston's T is ok, but doesn't cover enough of the city(thank you big dumb dig).

The saddest part of this is that areas that could really benefit from more public transit (Boston) just don't get it, instead we wind up with really bad plans like the big dig ;-(
posted by a3matrix at 6:50 AM on June 27, 2002


fooljay, that's a very simplistic approach to a much more complicated situation. Take a look at this pdf (30k). One, of the many, reasons that Europe has such an efficient mass transit system is based on the fact that gasoline costs four times as much over there. I'll let you read for yourself.

I glanced at it, but to be honest, I didn't read it because 1) I'm short on time (which may be reflected in the post, and if so, my apologies) and 2) it seems far more focused on what the situation currently is (which most of us agree is fucked up) as opposed to why the situation is that way and how to fix it. If I'm wrong, let me know.

First of all, gasoline costs a hell of a lot more in Europe than it does here because our government subsidizes it and stabilizes prices by using the Federal Oil Reserves.

The big question is why did/does the U.S. subsidize the voracious American appetite for fuel? They did/do it because they had/have a vested interest (read: revenues) in encouraging personal transportation.

The big divergence in transportation development between Europe and America happened shortly after World War II.

After WWII, the U.S. was an amazingly powerful economic powerhouse but it was a war-time economy. In order to keep the momentum going, they needed something to keep the country producing, working and spending.

This need (which incidentally played no small part in the "creation" of the Cold War) was filled in part by the birth of the National Highway system and the development of the Automotive Age in America. A Ford in every pot, some might say. Many rails were torn up in lieu of newly-built highways. Producers of war machine parts retrofitted to produced automotive parts. Ford and General Motors churn out even greater profits and the flow of oil stays constant! (And actually goes up up and up)

The American government made a choice, some say to America make stronger. There's really no way to tell, but I do think that the choice now has shown its drastic effects.

What's worse, the choice of the automobile over mass transportation created a decentralization of population. It created the suburb and the suburb has in turn created a continuing reliance on personal transportation.

It's a vicious cycle and really sad now that I've seen how things work on the other side of the fence.

What should be done? Well, I think for one, we should shift the burden of personal transportation to the people. Gradually make oil prices reflect their true values, keeping reserves to smooth out the peaks and valleys of price fluctuation. Someone above mentioned "wheel taxes". You want to drive on the highway? You should pay more taxes when you buy your car or better when you fuel it up.

That relieves the budget strains on the federal, state and local governments in street and highway maintainence. Use that newfound money to encourage mass transportation.

Yes, all of this is simplistic and could be (and has been) detailed much more accurately by someone else (read: someone with a clue).
posted by fooljay at 7:01 AM on June 27, 2002


"But if capitalism had any goal besides keeping us all slaving away from here to eternity, wouldn't we already be enjoying 20-hour work weeks? It's hilarious to me that only now is Marx's argument totally obvious, decades after we dismissed him. Our society's level of scientific advancement should allow us to enjoy a high standard of living with minimal effort. But instead, thanks to capitalism, whole generations of kids are enjoying the 2-working-parent model of 'modern life.'"

Replace capitalism with 'government' and your statement makes a lot more sense. Thanks to government, people lose 40% of their incomes and have to have 2 parents working so they can buy all the things the market tells them are so necessary to have. You would prefer to control the market, I would prefer to eliminate income and payroll taxes. But thats just me. I don't really understand your illogical comments about capitalism, Marx, and 20 hour work weeks.

"Take a guess as to why truckers avoid toll roads, or why when the price of diesel even jumps a nickel, suddenly they're worrying about job security. It's not as cut and dry as privatization. It never has been. But what do I know...my chair is rather uncomfortable."

First of all, truckers avoid toll roads because their businesses already pay the taxes which help fund private roads. The reason gas prices are such a problem is in part because of the government taxes on that good. I agree that its not cut in dry, the problem is systemic, there is government interference in every part of the market. Also, what the fuck does the comfort of your chair have to do with anything?

"On the contrary, Los Angeles has got to be one of the most sprawled-out cities on the planet, and that's exactly why a bigger mass transit system would do us a world of good here."

I was referring to real decentralized populations, the kind you find in rural locations, like many parts of Ohio.

"They should have spent the Big Dig budget on mass transit, not on more ways to get cars into Boston."

"Truer words have not been spoken. The big dig is a horrible waste of money/time manpower, everything about it is a waste.
"

Anything the government would have spent money on would have resulted in an insane amount of waste, simply because the program involved giving local shop owners who were being displaced ridiculous sums of cash. It was supposed to cost $2 billion I think, and the cost is already in the 10 billion range.... gotta love Ted Kennedy, porkbarrel king of Massachusetts.

There has been several light rail proposals, many have been shot down because the white people who encircle Cincinnati like a noose are afraid of black folk riding their train - coming' for them - again I kid you not.

Obviously its because us Midwesterners are racist, fearful bigots, that we oppose these programs. Maybe the Cincinnatians did not want to spend more tax dollars on a mode of transportation when they have already spent money on cars? Your assumption is a particularly nasty, but typical view of ordinary 'white' middle class, suburban people. I have never met a white person opposed to public transportation on the grounds that it will give black people more mobility. What a crock of shit.

"Why is there a huge automobile industry lobby pressuring politicians to maintain a federal/state road system through the US at great cost to the taxpayer? Because they can make a lot of money selling cars."

The problem is not with the market, the problem is with the system of government. It seems fairly paradoxical, but many big businesses are anti-capitalist in that they use lobbyists to gain a legal advantage and stifle competition. The market is merely responding to the incentives put in place by the Congress (which is really just a service that can be bought or sold), namely that it is easier to gain a competitive advantage through lobbyists than through innovation and hard work.

What we have in America is not capitalism but a quasi-socialist oligarchy controlled by lobbyists.
posted by insomnyuk at 7:33 AM on June 27, 2002


the pbs news hour had a nice amtrak discussion the other day! some exerpts :)

"There's not even a domestic transportation system that doesn't rely heavily on government investment. We have the air traffic control system paid for by the government. We have an aviation trust fund. We have an airport development program. Those are in effect subsidies to the aviation industry. We have a $30 billion plus highway trust fund. Those are subsidies to passengers in their cars."

"With Amtrak, any infrastructure it owns and needs to maintain, we put the money into an operating company. We don't ask trucking companies and bus lines to build a highway and we don't ask the airlines to build the airports and the air traffic control system."

basically it seems there's a push to let the states take care of the infrastructure and amtrack to run the trains. there's also a mandate for 'long-haul' routes that amtrak wants to change because they're expensive and not a lot of demand for. so like they want to concentrate on 'regional corridors' where it makes more sense.

They should have spent the Big Dig budget on mass transit, not on more ways to get cars into Boston.

that's what portland is doing! MAX :)

To be even more idealistic, a bicycle transit network could be built for a fraction of the cost of just one new highway.

i was just thinking chicago would be a GREAT place for this! like chicago is an awesome biking city (v.flat :) i don't see why more people don't bike around there.

oh and i'd just like to add: maglev, which if it doesn't work out NASA could buy on the cheap and use to launch stuff (and people :) into space!
posted by kliuless at 7:49 AM on June 27, 2002


insomnyuk: don't forget that the market doesn't exist in reality, or in other words it is made by the people that say "let's exchange goods". It's artificial and not natural, so that if you can control people that "make" a market you can control it as well.

For example, let's imagine that all the Metafilterians agree that each line of typing is worth $1. After a while a majority of them decides that $1 isn't enough for their need and want to sell it a $1.1..that obviously raises the market average price. The other decide to start a price war and remain at $1 or drop at $0.9. Meanwhile the Kuroshin and Slashdot market are looking and a majority of them decide to follow to $1.1 , later all the markets set to $1.1

Was there a change in in value of the lines ? No, there was a change of price, not necessarily of cost. So profit is now higher. WHY ? Because it happened and there is no technical reason for it. PEOPLE do prices , market is made also by prices so people affect market.

Would you say that "the market" is something immaterial, making autonomous decisions ? I hope not because it's pure nonsense, it is clear that with lobbying or complete/incomplete information any market can and will be influenced. The theory of the perfectly competitive market is just a theory, works only on paper.

If you follow the theory that market should have absolutely no laws, but only the laws of market like
supply and demand .. or in other words no external interference, you're assuming market should be something distinct from people. If people != market, then people is either a different system or a subsystem of the market system.

If people = subsystem, then it's either partially or totally part of the the market and is likely to influence the way it works.

If people = distinct system , then it still can influence market from outside, if market is responsive to the actions made by people. If it isn't influenced, it may still have an influence on the actions of people-distinct-system.

And if it has got some influence on people-system, people system is likely to react if the influence is negative, but if people system can't affect the market then people system will succumb to market if it gives negative influence.

And the end, if the two systems are completely separated and can't influence each other, then why should we care about market ?
posted by elpapacito at 8:34 AM on June 27, 2002


there's also a mandate for 'long-haul' routes that amtrak wants to change because they're expensive and not a lot of demand for.

Oh man is that ever wrong. Try and get a seat on a long distance train on short notice and see how much demand there really is.
posted by @homer at 8:48 AM on June 27, 2002


Let's build a monorail!
posted by NortonDC at 9:01 AM on June 27, 2002


Your assumption is a particularly nasty, but typical view of ordinary 'white' middle class, suburban people. I have never met a white person opposed to public transportation on the grounds that it will give black people more mobility. What a crock of shit.

Or they could spend $1 billion US on 2 stadiums that bring dubious revenue to the city, while letting the urban core rot. People have told me about their fear of the "crime" element coming into their neighborhoods. It is a cloak of bigotry - bring the unwanted element into the neighborhood and our property values will fall. People have said, point blank, "I don't want those people in my neighborhood.

Obviously its because us Midwesterners are racist, fearful bigots, that we oppose these programs.

I didn't say that. Please don't put words in my mouth. I expressly said people in Cincinnati. Did you know we had a riot here, last year? Nowhere is the line between have and Have-Nots more clearly drawn in Cincinnati. That is why there is a special irony that we just broke ground on the Underground Railroad Freedom Center last week. I think, in general, Midwesterners are level-headed and pragmatic. But that doesn't mean that they cannot be bigots. Come to Cincinnati, and visit Over-The-Rhine, where the average yearly income is just over $6,000. Then we will see a disparagy.

What a crock of shit.

Thanks, here's a spoon.
posted by plemeljr at 9:19 AM on June 27, 2002


I agree with @homer on the packed long-haul lines. Also, there's a rail lobbying group that's convinced that Amtrak's long-haul passenger lines are the profitable ones, not those in commuter corridors. (Granted, I don't agree with their platform advocating the partial dismantlement the high-speed lines out east, but thought it would be worth pointing out.)
posted by mrbula at 9:37 AM on June 27, 2002


Most people know that cars aren't a good investment -- they depreciate in value very quickly. Also, without transportation choices and with sprawl, families spend an increasing proportion of their income on owning and maintaining a car. But just how much, you ask? Well, someone has done the math. The Surface Transportation Policy Project used US Dept. of Labor and US Dept. of Transportation statistics to find out how much: "Transportation costs are rising, according to the report. Between 1990 and 1998, the portion of household budgets going to transportation in the metro areas in the report grew by an average of 8 percent. In several metro areas, transportation has become the single most expensive item in the family budget, surpassing shelter..."There is a big difference for American households between buying a car and watching savings go down, and buying a house and watching wealth go up," said Bernstein. "Every $10,000 invested in a home can reap $4,370 in equity over 10 years, while every $10,000 spent on automobiles will yield just $910." If you'd like to see the stats on average family spending for your US city, click here.
posted by lisatmh at 10:42 AM on June 27, 2002


If you follow the theory that market should have absolutely no laws

Except laws against fraud, contract violation, and violation of the property rights of others. The market of course is not an invisible non-entity, it is a term used to describe the exchange of goods and services between people (or businesses) interested in the same products. Thus the gold market describes buyers, sellers, and producers of gold. Your explanation for how prices fluctuate is fairly incomplete and not particularly relevant, anyway:

plemeljr: I'm sorry if I put words in your mouth. I live in Dayton, and am well aware of the riots in Cincinnati. I'm not really sure what the justification for them was, but I can understand how people could develop an irrational fear of public transit connecting their community to the Over-the-Rhine area (which was named for its initial German influence) probably more because of the riots rather than the race of the neighborhood. Besides, I thought that area had really improved in the last decade, am I wrong?
posted by insomnyuk at 10:50 AM on June 27, 2002


First of all, gasoline costs a hell of a lot more in Europe than it does here because our government subsidizes it and stabilizes prices by using the Federal Oil Reserves.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was only created in the 1970s. To what do you attribute the low price of gasoline before that? Furthermore, it has only been used once in peacetime, by Clinton in a cynical vote gaining ploy, in 2000.
Even that was mostly a symbolic gesture that had no effect on prices, because the 30 million barrels he released for sale was equivalent to the amount of crude oil refined in the U.S. over about 2 days and most of that ended up being sold to Europe.

The only thing the federal government does to influence gas prices is regulations and taxes, which raise the price artificially high, not keep it artificially low.

This need (which incidentally played no small part in the "creation" of the Cold War)

Funny, I thought the Soviet invasion and occupation of half of Europe is what created the Cold War.

was filled in part by the birth of the National Highway system

The national highway system was created for military reasons, actually. The domestic use is a side benefit, but Eisenhower's principal reason for creating the National Interstate, originally known as the Defense Highways, was to provide a modern highway system capable of allowing modern military movement, should it be needed.

What's worse, the choice of the automobile over mass transportation created a decentralization of population.

The American population has always been highly decentralized. Urbanization is a mostly 20th century phenomenon.

It created the suburb and the suburb has in turn created a continuing reliance on personal transportation.

The decline of the quality of life in urban areas is what created the suburb. The automobile made the flight to the suburbs possible, but it did not create the desire to abandon the city centers.

You should pay more taxes when you buy your car or better when you fuel it up.

Obviously you haven't filled a car up recently. Taxes account for between 1/4 and 1/3 of the price at the pump.
posted by ljromanoff at 12:03 PM on June 27, 2002


insomnyuk: I was referring to real decentralized populations, the kind you find in rural locations, like many parts of Ohio.

Okay, but wasn't the original coal-powered rail system set up to serve such populations? And didn't it work? That's setting aside a dispute of your use of the word "real."
posted by bingo at 12:09 PM on June 27, 2002


insomnyuk: it's good to see you know about price analysis, you saw the systems part too ? Just below it :) , anyway:

Except laws against fraud, contract violation, and violation of the property rights of others

Very interesting: all these laws are supposed to stop some of the negative influence of interaction between market and humans. A proof that market system and people system interact. Imho, they're the same.

So it's about people and market. Market is part of the problem, it doesn't work as efficiently as we'd like. Part of the blame is to corrupt government officials, part of the so called "enterpreneurs" that are more then happy to pay money politicians with the right hand and then give "free market theory" phamplets with the left one, meanwhile crying taxation is too high, talking about common good and benefits from technology they don't want to invest into, scamming people in Enron sized frauds, making promises they don't even THINK to honour, looking at immediate profits because, heck they're going to die and want money now.

You'd like 0 income and payroll tax. Why ?
posted by elpapacito at 12:31 PM on June 27, 2002


hmm, this thread may have the best signal/noise ratio I've seen all year.
posted by Hackworth at 12:37 PM on June 27, 2002


The Strategic Petroleum Reserve was only created in the 1970s. To what do you attribute the low price of gasoline before that?

Before 1950, the U.S. was a net exporter of oil. We had more than enough to handle the demand from the burgeoning automotive industry.

Between then and 1970, Middle East production exploded upwards. Overseas oil was dirt cheap and killed a lot of domestic competition. The U.S. enacted protectionist trade measures and the domestic price of oil was nearly three times the int'l price (illustrating that the international prices were not always more expensive), but much of the damage was done.

OPEC was formed in the 60s and started to control prices. The final nail in the coffin, of course, was the fall of many of the Western-propped governments in the Middle East during the Islamic Revolution (and hence many of the international oil contracts). After that, OPEC controlled the ball.

The Strategic Petroleum Reserves were created in 1974 in response to the Egypt-Israel War, during which an embargo sent prices skyward. Kind of validates what I'm saying, no?

This detailed history of OPEC is very engaging if you're really interested.

Furthermore, it has only been used once in peacetime, by Clinton in a cynical vote gaining ploy, in 2000.

I'm no economist, so I can't really say anything about this, but I have to assume that have 30 million barrels of oil laying around doing nothing affects the price simply by it's existence. Perhaps not. Still, it doesn't invalidate my point because..... (see next section)

The only thing the federal government does to influence gas prices is regulations and taxes, which raise the price artificially high, not keep it artificially low.

Okay, what about the roads? Federal highway funds? Let's not kid around. The U.S. absolutely does subsidize personal transportation in a very big way. Can you tell me where exactly higways and road subsidies lie on the budgetary expediture list? I believe that aside from defense, you will find it to be one of the largest line items.

Funny, I thought the Soviet invasion and occupation of half of Europe is what created the Cold War.

Heh. Jesus, I wish I had more time to respond to this. The Domino Effect of Communism was not trumpeted from every parapet until representatives realized that there was a hell of a lot of money to be made for their states by continuing a war-time economy during a time of peace... I can't find them right now, but there are actually interviews with Senators at the time who said that they hadn't though about it much until they realized that this was the key to keeping America's economy growing after the end of the war.

The national highway system was created for military reasons, actually. The domestic use is a side benefit, but Eisenhower's principal reason for creating the National Interstate, originally known as the Defense Highways, was to provide a modern highway system capable of allowing modern military movement, should it be needed.

Absolutely (officially) true. But they were simultaneous developments. Draw whatever conclusions you wish. Los Angeles is enough evidence I think...

The American population has always been highly decentralized. Urbanization is a mostly 20th century phenomenon.

Decentralized only by virtue of the size of the country in relation to Europe. It consolidated in the Indutrial Revlotuion and the spread back out (although not to its rignal concentration) starting in the 50s for the reasons I stated.

It created the suburb and the suburb has in turn created a continuing reliance on personal transportation.

The decline of the quality of life in urban areas is what created the suburb. The automobile made the flight to the suburbs possible, but it did not create the desire to abandon the city centers.


I have no dispute here, but it also doesn't really change anything in my point. No car, no suburbs.

Obviously you haven't filled a car up recently. Taxes account for between 1/4 and 1/3 of the price at the pump.

Woo-hoo! Filled up your car in Europe yet? Hell, throw some of that Amtrak's way...
posted by fooljay at 1:27 PM on June 27, 2002


I'd like to clear up some historical misunderstandings in this thread, meaning misunderstandings about historical details, not misunderstandings which are historic in proportion.

"The American population has always been highly decentralized. Urbanization is a mostly 20th century phenomenon."

Actually, urbanization in America took off in the 19th century, especially the 1880s and 1890s. Urbanization is not by definition growth of cities, but percentage change of the total population living in rural land versus urban land. Around 1800, 5% of the population was urban, by 1900 it was 40%, driven not only by European immigrants, but by a mass exodus of young people from rural America into the cities, seeking better jobs and the excitement of the city life.

ljromanoff is right in the sense that before the 20th century, in spite of urbanization, the majority of Americans still lived in rural settings.

"Okay, but wasn't the original coal-powered rail system set up to serve such populations? And didn't it work? That's setting aside a dispute of your use of the word 'real.'"

Poor use of the word 'real' on my part. I mean areas with low population density, specifically.

Sure, by the mid 19th century there were railroads criscrossing the United States, but these were not the light rail, metropolitan transports we are discussing. These were used for expensive long distance trips and the transportation of goods. People in cities and the countryside used horses as their primary mode(by far and away) of transportation, which just happened to cover city streets with horse dung, creating all sorts of health problems. The air quality of a turn of the century American city was worse than it is today. (scroll down to Example: Air quality improving long before Earth Day)
posted by insomnyuk at 1:39 PM on June 27, 2002


The Strategic Petroleum Reserves were created in 1974 in response to the Egypt-Israel War, during which an embargo sent prices skyward. Kind of validates what I'm saying, no?

Not in the least. The Strategic Petroleum Reserves exist to service the military need for oil during wartime. It is not used for peacetime (Clinton's tactics excepted) and it certainly not used on any sort of regular basis to control prices. There isn't enough of it to effect the price in any meaningful way.

I'm no economist, so I can't really say anything about this, but I have to assume that have 30 million barrels of oil laying around doing nothing affects the price simply by it's existence. Perhaps not.

30 million barrels could be produced over a weekend. That's hardly enough to make a big difference on the international petroleum markets.

Besides, the SPRO is unrefined and stored - it has nothing to do with the oil being bought and sold on the market. The US government could dump the entire reserve into the oil market and it might cause a temporary drop in the price of gas by maybe 5 cents.

Okay, what about the roads? Federal highway funds? Let's not kid around. The U.S. absolutely does subsidize personal transportation in a very big way.

The Highway Trust Fund is paid for entirely by gas and excise taxes, it is hardly a subsidy. The people who use the roads pay for the roads. Furthermore, some of those funds are diverted to mass transit, so the people who use the roads also subsidize those who don't.

The Domino Effect of Communism was not trumpeted from every parapet until representatives realized that there was a hell of a lot of money to be made for their states by continuing a war-time economy during a time of peace

So you're suggesting that the spread of Communism was a fiction creating by the U.S. government in order to keep defense spending up? Were all the people who died in China, Cuba, Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union just pawns in these representatives "money game"?

I have no dispute here, but it also doesn't really change anything in my point. No car, no suburbs.

"No car, no suburbs" is not the same argument as "the car created the suburbs."

Woo-hoo! Filled up your car in Europe yet?

Thankfully no. This is one of the many reasons I prefer living in the United States to living in Europe. I'd rather have the U.S. government taking 1/4 pound of flesh than the European governments taking 3 or 4 pounds.
posted by ljromanoff at 1:54 PM on June 27, 2002


ljromanoff - 'So you're suggesting that the spread of Communism...'

some might say it was the 'threat' of communism which was 'a fiction creat(ed) by the U.S. government in order to keep defense spending up'.
posted by asok at 6:39 PM on June 27, 2002


ljromanoff - 'So you're suggesting that the spread of Communism...'

some might say it was the 'threat' of communism which was 'a fiction creat(ed) by the U.S. government in order to keep defense spending up'.


Some said the same about Nazism.
posted by ljromanoff at 6:43 PM on June 27, 2002


In the film How to Get Ahead in Advertising the main character points out that Trains will never receive the attention they deserve because cars need to be replaced far more often, and require much more consumerism. Basically, cars fit with our current economic model of creating things that only work for us in the short term, and then need to be replaced.

As for my personal experience with trains... It's far easier to get from downtown Milwaukee to downtown Chicago by train than it is by car, as the train has no concern for traffic conditions.
posted by drezdn at 12:54 AM on June 28, 2002


« Older Is this really a problem?...  |  Do you fear a cyber-attack by ... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments