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A Day in the Life:

So here's a summary of my 24 hours, beginning this past Sunday morning. I was going from my home in DC to New York, where I was meeting some friends and going out to the soccer game (U.S. v. Argentina) that evening at the Meadlowlands. The following morning, I had to take the train to Windsor Locks CT -- my car was parked at Bradley Airport outside of Hartford, and I was going to pick it up.

The Acela from DC to NYC arrived 45 minutes late -- due in at 348 PM, it arrived around 430. My friends and I were driving to the game -- there is some public transportation to the Meadowlands, but it's limited to a bus from Port Authority terminal in New York, and we've heard too many horror stories of people stranded for hours after events, waiting for the bus, to want to risk it. Traffic to and from the stadium is a complete nightmare -- everyone is diverted into a large 4-story parking garage, and we sit in traffic for around 45 minutes or so, creeping along at 2-5 mph. [Wasting insane amounts of gasoline in the aggregate, needless to say]. Having left the Upper West Side at 6 PM, we get to the traffic knot at around 6:20 or so, but we don't make it to our seats until 7:35, precisely at kickoff.

Getting out, as you might guess, was even worse -- we sat, literally motionless, for over an hour on one of the garage ramps. And my train to Windsor Locks the next morning? Again, an hour or so behind schedule. Not to mention the utter bleakness of the built environment through which you pass; there are some lovely spots along the way, but the stations in Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford, and the landscapes around them, are about as ugly as anything you'd see in Moldova or Indonesia -- not quite "third world," but surely not top drawer.

This country is starting to feel second-rate to me, and it's not a pleasant feeling. The worst part of this entire experience was that nobody really seems to give a damn, or be in the least surprised, about complete breakdowns like these. There's nothing in the newspaper the next day: "Thousands Stranded at Stadium -- Meadowlands Operators Apologize for 'Appalling Inefficiency.'" Why would there be? It happens like this all the time. It's just the way it is. Folks sitting in their cars, listening to the radio, and the guys with the flashlights who are supposedly guiding the traffic just standing around, doing absolutely nothing. If you want to go to an event in the Meadowlands, just plan on wasting a minimum of 3 or 4 hours sitting in your car. What can you do? The Windsor Locks train (the "Vermonter") arrives on schedule, according to Amtrak's own figures, about 20% of the time. Think about that for a second -- running a train that keeps to its schedule 1 day out of every 5. [And I strongly suspect that Amtrak's definition of "on time" is something like (within 1/2 hour of the schedule). Well, what can you do? It's just the way it is.

Really, our public infrastructure -- our public life -- is in the process of deteriorating, and we don't seem to be able to summon up the energy required to do anything about it. Maybe I'm wrong about that. I work in Philadelphia, probably the world capital of "what can you do? it's just the way it is" -- the public transportation system in Philadelphia is a grotesque monstrosity, filthy, noisy, and monumentally unpleasant, and the general feeling seems to be that it would be a miracle if we could find some way just to keep it from getting any worse -- so maybe I'm oversensitive to the problem. But if I had had a guest with me from overseas on this trip, I would have been appalled and embarrassed by the state of decay into which we, collectively, have allowed things to fall.

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that we were playing Argentina -- Argentines, after all, understand all too well how first-rate countries can become second-rate countries, in the blink of an eye. In 1920, Argentina was the sixth- or seventh-richest country in the world; by the end of the century, it was far, far down the list. .

guest (mail):
You're assuming that Government is the proper provider of such transport. Why not privatize and allow some competition in there. I'm pretty sure service will get way better for all Meadowlands patrons.
6.12.2008 10:14am
Zathras (mail):
This is a bipartisan problem, as both sides of the aisle are to blame.

The left are more concerned with maintaining the public sector employees' jobs than actual services, and the right doesn't bother since they think anything government does in this regard does not have any worth.
6.12.2008 10:15am
Tracy Johnson (www):
I oddly sounds like the beginning of Atlas Shrugged to me. Then it would be my guess that all the "efficient" people have all moved to a secret location in Colorado hidden by a temperature inversion in a valley. Next thing would be that Osama Ragnar bin Danneskjöld will start raiding the open seas. Copper mines in South America will then start to fail (people are already stealing copper, heck why not)? ...
6.12.2008 10:16am
Aultimer:
The infrstructure is so bad that you can live in DC and work in Philly 150 miles away (in a job that presumes some level of promptness and pays less than BigLaw partner wages)? Tres horrible!
6.12.2008 10:16am
Raised in the West:
I think that it may be Philidelphia, and possibly the Northeast in general. People have been voting with their feet for years now, moving South and West, for a reason. I have no first-hand experience of Philly, but it may be that some critical mass of the ambitious have already left.
6.12.2008 10:20am
Adam J:
guest - yeah, let's privatize it so we can get marvelous kind of service we get from monopolies like Time Warner Cable.
6.12.2008 10:20am
GSC:
In a very slight defense of the Meadowland, the Giants and Jets are in the process of building a new stadium. Fans have been told for football games that parking is a disaster with the new stadium going up in the parking lot of the current one. I imagine that when the new stadium opens in 2 years, it will be better although still a mess.
6.12.2008 10:34am
Philly Escapee:
I lived in Philly for a while and now, three years later, the thought of SEPTA still makes me cringe.

As for train service, it seems that the arrival of mega and bolt bus will at least provide an alternative for some in the northeast to being held captive by amtrak.
6.12.2008 10:36am
byomtov (mail):
Funny. You can get from Manhattan to Yankee Stadium and back quickly, cheaply, and easily on the subway.

As for privatizing, what's stopping a bus company from providing transportation to the Meadowlands as it is?
6.12.2008 10:36am
Former NYC (mail):
I agree that this is a symptom of NYC and the Northeast and not the U.S. in general. I grew up in Manhattan and Long Island and have lived in the South since law school. There is simply no comparison in terms of the infrastructure and quality of life. Even if you have money in New York, as I did growing up, you suffer daily inconveniences and indignities that middle class southerners would be appalled at.
6.12.2008 10:37am
alkali (mail):
This country has spent massive sums over the past four decades building out infrastructure to support commute-by-car exurbs, small cities, and rural areas. In retrospect, this may not have been a good plan.
6.12.2008 10:44am
dew:
Really, our public infrastructure – our public life – is in the process of deteriorating, and we don’t seem to be able to summon up the energy required to do anything about it. Maybe I’m wrong about that.

Was Amtrak or the Meadowlands any better 10 or 20 or 30 years ago (or for that matter, Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven, and Hartford)? I used Amtrak occasionally 15-20 years ago, and timing was pretty random back then (though much cheaper than a plane, which is less true now). A friend drove me down to the Medowlands for a couple of games around 15 years ago; he took it as a given that you arrived very early and tailgated, and either left early or planned to wait a long time to get out - and that was before the current mess. And big parts of the cities you mentioned have been dumps for several decades (Stamford is arguably much nicer than in the 60s/70s).

So maybe I can see your complaint about "is this first world?", but I just don't see any evidence that anything you list is actually deteriorating.
6.12.2008 10:44am
Paul Milligan (mail):
"This country is starting to feel second-rate to me, and it’s not a pleasant feeling"

With all due respect - if you don't have anything worthwhile to blof about in this forum, then restrain yourself until you do.

Your post on this topic is a complete waste of time and space, inappropriate, and not worthy of the forum. Eugene should remove it, and give you guidlines as to what to blog about here.
6.12.2008 10:54am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Think about it. It's a third-world phenomenon. Huge numbers of people who ought to have something either more productive or less stressful to do willingly endure the expense, the inconvenience, and spend the time to see a soccer game.
And who worries about convenience for lemmings?
Hell. Start your own soccer league and look in the paper for the FIFA results.
Better all around.
6.12.2008 10:56am
L.A. Brave:
Paul Milligan:
What the hell are you talking about? It is their blog, and EV has clearly invited Prof. Post to blog about what interests him. It is an interesting point. All the Conspirators make posts like this all the time. Ignore it if it doesn't interest you and move on.
6.12.2008 11:04am
dearieme:
London is like that too. Tending third worldish, I mean.
6.12.2008 11:05am
Latinist:
The bus to the Meadowlands isn't that bad (or at least, it wasn't before they were doing construction). There is the risk that you miss the last bus going back, and have to wait for them to make a whole round trip before they get you, but that's never actually happened to me (I have heard about it secondhand).
And yes, Philly is a mess. But I wouldn't have said this applies to the Northeast in general. NYC's public transportation is very convenient. And though Amtrak stinks, train companies like MetroNorth, NJTransit, and even SEPTA's Regional Rail are much cheaper and more reliable (though they don't go to DC). By contrast, when I lived in Kentucky, I found it was basically impossible to take public transportation anywhere, and everybody just drove. Is this atypical of the South/West?
6.12.2008 11:06am
b.:
Re: AMTRAK Delays

I often take the Adirondack train which generally runs "on-time" (71% "on-time") from Penn through Schenectady, but then seems to run consistently later the further north it goes.

The station agent in Saratoga told me that delays north of Schenectady are more common because AMTRAK only leases use of a single track for the northern half of its Montreal-bound route--which track it's required to share with freight trains as well.

I'm not certain how reliable this info is; but it strikes me as reasonable. Moreover, I'd expect the same to be true for much of the Vermonter's route as well.
6.12.2008 11:13am
lpdbw:
You know, I grew up in a small Midwestern town.

Every big-city experience I've had (and I've had several, including New York, Chicago, Seattle, LA) has aspects in common with what you've described.

And I'm always happy to get away from those urban areas; to get home.

Of course, there will always be city folk who want my taxes to pay for their infrastructure. For what? So you can show your foreign visitors a good time, and not be embarrassed?

Vote with your feet; find a good place to live that makes you proud, or at least neutral.
6.12.2008 11:14am
Bama 1L:
I guess the question is why Amtrak can't get you anywhere on time whereas other national rail systems--SNCF, Deutsche Bahn, even National Rail, etc.--can. When they don't, it's a big deal. Delays in the French rail system make the news.

The answer is that no one cares about Amtrak, whereas the rail systems of European countries are national priorities. In this country we prioritize and--make no mistake--subsidize highway and air travel. I think Amtrak service has always been bad and always will be bad. We need either to put a lot of money into it or pull the plug. Letting it limp along with the idea that somehow it will lead to the reemergence of for-profit passenger rail lines is nutty.

With gas prices and airfares increasing, I think it's no question we'd be better off with a viable passenger rail system. But that's not where we are, and it would be very hard to get there quickly.
6.12.2008 11:15am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
I drive around the NY/NJ area all the time. I contract for an entity that is a significant player in the transportation infrastructure of the region.

Advice: Don't go to the Meadowlands. They will have a rail connection in a year or two.

You must know how long it takes to get anything approved around here.

Advice: Don't take Amtrak.

Why didn't you just drive instead of leaving your car at BDL? I don't know how you can to get there but Philly to Hartford to DC to NY is best done by car especially if you carefully dodge I-95 by using the I-84 I-81 combo to head South or I-295 and then 30 in Delaware to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to dodge the worst of the NJ Turnpike and I-95 corridor to DC.

We drove to Durango, CO last August from NYC. Once we got into Pennsylvania, the roads were great all the way and not crowded. PA on I-80 is attractive. Ohio isn't but Indiana is interesting and the part of IL on I-80 isn't bad then you're in the real America as soon as you jump the Mississippi river.

Parts of the Northeast are run down and if you don't carefully select your routes. The NY/NJ area is crowded. NJ is the most urbanized state and has the most vehicles registered per mile of road but I doubt if it or Stamford, CT are down to 3rd world standards. There's more trash here than in the rest of the country but less than lots of the 3rd world. Detroit and Chicago are more run down than here.

I find driving in Manhattan to be easier than driving in Central London (even before the congestion charge). Wider streets.

Route selection is important though. If you tell the computer you want to drive from the Holland Tunnel to Orlando Florida it will send you down the Turnpike and I-95 all the way. If you force it to go out I-78 to I-81 swinging back to the coast only in South Carolina it will tell you that the trip will take 1.5 hours longer. Since I-95 guarantees a longer delay that that -- take the much more scenic western route.

One more suggestion -- visit America more often. America is defined as any place where one of these is located.

In the NY/NJ area, America starts just outside the I-287 ring road or North and East of Fairfield County CT.
6.12.2008 11:20am
Alex84:
Vote with your feet-

I'm a born and bred country boy and am repulsed by the city life. Live in a place where you don't have to depend on public transit = problem solved. I'm not saying you should live out in the bush somewhere, but there are many mid-sized cities across America that are drivable, livable, and walkable. I expect the BS you described when I am in large cities, and I take a sigh of relief when I get back to the "good ol' country"

By the way, I currently live in DC.
6.12.2008 11:28am
Adam J:
lpdbw- I don't know what you're talking about with city folk wanting country folk to pay for infrastructure. It invariably happens in the opposite direction- state taxes raised from cities pays for the rest of the state's infrastructure. And at the federal level its worse, with less populated states having disproportionate representation, they invariably receive greater tax dollars per capita (have you ever driven over the interstate in West Virginia- I've never seen a better maintained highway).
6.12.2008 11:31am
Adam J:
lpdbw- I'll give ya stadiums though...
6.12.2008 11:33am
Former NYC (mail):
MetroNorth/LIRR are by no means convenient. The amount of time it takes to get into the city and then to the office, unless you work by Grand Central, from the best suburbs in NY, NJ and CT is horrendous compared to McLean, Buckhead, Park Cities, Belle Meade, etc. For a S&C partner who lives in New Canaan, CT, just to pick an example, you are looking at 70 minutes on the train, then 25 on the subway. Greenwich is maybe 25 minutes less, Rye, Manhasset the same. Don't even get me started on Brookville, Bedford or Oyster Bay.
6.12.2008 11:34am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I have lived in a small town for more than thirty years, after having grown up in a near 'burb of a very large city.
I love it. If I want to take the time, it's an hour and a bit to touring companies--of big time shows--in a first-rate theater. Slightly more to a world-class symphony. Or fifteen minutes to a nearly world-class symphony. I guess I can see, if I wanted to, pop music or country music more quickly, the favored venues being closer.
I saw Les Miz some years ago when some of the biggest names which performed in it were touring.
We have a musical group in our town which is strictly amateur. They got up costumes, got a narrator, and did the songs. They were better. The little girl in the touring company was too chubby and middle-class clothing ad model cute to be in the position of a near-slave maid. Ours had somewhat leaner bone structure, and, having been extracted from soccer practice a bit early, learned her song perfectly and looked far more appropriate. Some years later, she was an exquisite Guinevere in a heart-stopping performance of Camelot the high school put on. Fortunately, the musical did not conflict with soccer.
The choral music at the high school is terrific.
When I go to games, I see my friends, their kids and grand kids, the level of play is more than sufficient to be enormously interesting, and the admission is $3. I could walk if I wanted to take twenty minutes, which I do sometimes.

I did see Sweden and Brazil in the semis some years ago. Remind me to say something next time somebody wants to do something nice for Brazil.
Boring game, crowded stands, lousy parking, three hours on the road. And what difference does it make?
Hell with it.

Having said that, I was embarrassed to greet some Mexican friends at Detroit Metro airport a while ago. But that terminal is closed and the new facility is better.
6.12.2008 11:35am
alkali (mail):
lpdbw writes:

Of course, there will always be city folk who want my taxes to pay for their infrastructure.

Respectfully, I think you are mistaken about which way the tax money is flowing. The Tax Foundation does a state-by-state analysis of federal taxes paid versus federal spending received, and the states with big urban centers generally do very poorly -- getting back eighty cents on the dollar or thereabouts.

More generally, mass transit and passenger rail projects get a fraction of the federal subsidies given to highway, road and air projects.
6.12.2008 11:54am
hattio1:
Duncan Frissell,
Huh, and I always thought the entire State of Alaska was in America. Guess not. It seems to fit most of your other criteria; driveable (unfortunately not walkable in most cities) livable etc., but there are no Cracker Barrels
6.12.2008 12:03pm
Francis (mail):
This country is starting to feel second-rate to me, and it’s not a pleasant feeling.

Then vote in favor of infrastructure bonds. The Northeast especially has been terrible in making the necessary ongoing investments in public infrastructure.
6.12.2008 12:12pm
ChrisIowa (mail):

One more suggestion -- visit America more often. America is defined as any place where one of these is located.


Why eat at one of those when you can eat at one of these or here?

But wait a couple days, I80 east of Iowa City is about to be closed due to flooding. (Cedar River)
6.12.2008 12:15pm
Javert:

yeah, let's privatize it so we can get marvelous kind of service we get from monopolies like Time Warner Cable.

"Privatize" means governments -- including local municipalities -- out of the market, not a government-granted franchise/monopoly, such as is the case with cable companies. If the cable market were free, then other cable companies could compete with TWC is the same markets.
6.12.2008 12:26pm
VincentPaul (mail):
Welcome to the world that Chicagoland commuters have been experiencing for the last five decades.
6.12.2008 12:35pm
Adam J:
Javert- what do you think you would get if you privatized Amtrak? There are no competing rail services- nor do most people want them when it would result in wasteful redundancy. And that redundancy would be at many landowners expense, since eminent domain would be necessary to create competing railroads.
6.12.2008 12:37pm
Sigivald (mail):
Bama1L: What does a "viable" rail system look like in the US?

A huge part of rail's viability in Europe is population density - something the majority of the US doesn't have, at least anything like European density.

Most of the US simply can't have a viable (profitable) rail system, at anything like the status quo in terms of density and fuel costs. (And wishing for both to increase to make rail viable, as I've seen some people do at various times in my life, strikes me as getting it exactly backwards.)

I also want to echo to Prof. Post the oft-stated point that the problem here seems to mostly be the Northeast, not America.

Hell, here in Portland, the light rail system is prompt and efficient*, and infrastructure is pretty well maintained But that's perhaps because it isn't run by the Federal government, and the local government is one of the least corrupt in the country, by all accounts.

* Efficient at being a light rail system. At being worth the money, well, Tri-Met isn't exactly open about how much they lose per fare. The public transit system isn't even attempting to make a profit; it's full of naked subsidy.

On the other hand, the openness of the subsidy makes it sting a lot less - they aren't trying to fool anyone.
6.12.2008 12:55pm
byomtov (mail):
Privatization is no miracle cure for railroads. I doubt it's even a cure.

I was in college before Amtrak existed and used to take trains between home and school, about 200 miles, fairly often. These were private railroads - L&N and Southern, who competed with each other, at least on the route I took.

Service was awful. Being several hours late was common; being on time was rare. The train stopped randomly for all sorts of mysterious reasons. The only good thing about it was you could buy beer underage in the club car.

Today I often take the Acela between Boston and NYC. My experience has been execellent. Yes, it's a few minutes late sometimes, but it's usually right on time. The ride is comfortable and pleasant. And I can still buy beer.
6.12.2008 1:18pm
Townleybomb (mail) (www):
the public transportation system in Philadelphia is a grotesque monstrosity, filthy, noisy, and monumentally unpleasant

I'm certainly open to the Conspirators arguing for increased public spending on transit (which I assume was the purpose of this post), but is it too much to ask that your posts be based on something more than this kind of content-free histrionics?

At any rate, this is a pretty bad example of incipient decline-- I've been riding SEPTA for close to two decades and while it's by no means posh, it's improved noticably in that time (apart from the current lack of ticket machines). It may not offer the kind of white-gloved service you seem to expect, but Regional Rail is reliably on-time and reasonably pleasant, and the subways are pretty decent for the century-old white elephants that they are. And assuming that gasoline is going to remain permanently high, things are only going to improve, since ridership is going to continue to increase, bringing more revenue and a bigger constituency for a well-funded and well-run service.
6.12.2008 1:19pm
alkali (mail):
Sigivald writes:

Most of the US simply can't have a viable (profitable) rail system, at anything like the status quo in terms of density and fuel costs.

It's true that wishing can't make it so. At the same time, it cannot be overlooked that we have the status quo that we have at least in part because we have spent hundreds of billions of tax dollars in subsidizing long commutes by car.
6.12.2008 1:54pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
Sorry, Duncan, but Cracker Barrel ((R) (TM) ) (or as it's known on the Nasdaq "CBRL") is at this point no more a bona fide expression of true "down-home" Red-State, non-urban America's view of life than Starbucks is the honest outlet for expression of the views of urban bohemians. Both are large corporate operations which provide a seamless simulacrum of attitude and world-view in a fashion pioneered by Disney decades ago; it's essentially contrived and scripted "food-ertainment" Your barrista at Starbucks may like Charlie Daniels, and your waitress at Cracker Barrel may deeply admire Miles Davis, but they're not going to let you know that; it'd be inconsistent with the script.
6.12.2008 2:13pm
Kazinski:
It appears the Meadowlands is going to join that select group of places that are so crowded that nobody goes there anymore.
6.12.2008 2:30pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Gould-Saltman.
It matters not that the thing is bogus from the providers' end.
What matters is a canny corporate decision that this would attract enough people to make it possible. They got their demographics right.
That's the point. There are a LOT of people who buy into the Starbucks schtick for part of their lives and attitude, and a LOT people who buy into the country thing.

Went into a decent restaurant in Bardstown some years ago. All country. Plus a bunch of unfamiliar beer cans around the walls. The story was--and two waitresses joined to tell us the story during a slow time--there were several military lifers from the area who had made it a practice to send the restaurant beer cans from every country they'd been in. Now that I think about it, maybe it should have been classified. "They were THERE?" The waitresses liked the story and presumed the trade would, too. I did.
Think a Starbucks barrista would be allowed to cheerfully discuss their relationship to a bunch of locals who are traveling the world, meeting exotic people, and killing them?

I'll say it again. They got the demographics right enough to continue to make money.
6.12.2008 2:37pm
Stephen Stanton (mail):
Yes, public infrastructure is in decline. Yes, people feel helpless to address it.

They usually vote to give government the control over infrastructure. Governmnent has no incentive to improve anything.

People vote to require environmental studies, licenses, permits, administrative reviews/inspections, sign-offs, paperwork... More time and money is spent on paperwork and waiting than on the actual infrastructure itself.

This regulatory gridlock and "compliance mindset" was not there in America's most productive times... When the highways were built, when the nation mobilized its production in WW2, when the world's best businesses were first built (Dell, Microsoft, WalMart), when the ragtag Colonies managed to fight off the British and build what would become the most successful nation in history...

There was a bias for action. There was no tolerance for people that got in the way. Problems cried out for solutions and hard work, not committees and regulation.

There is no guarantee that the pendulum will EVER swing back. We can only hope that another Reagan, Thatcher, or Adams will come along and remind the public just what is possible when we decide to take responsibility for our own destiny and create something better for ourselves.

Instead, it's too easy to give a government monopoly to Amtrak, the Meadowlands Authority, Port Authority of NY and NJ, etc.

We put our infrastructure in the hands of clock punchers that get paid to push paper. They get no benefit from accomplishing anything. Milton Friedman would not be surprised at your story. I am surprised that you expected any different.
6.12.2008 2:39pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
ref the "authority" form of government entity:
How many steps are there between a voter and the "authority"?
6.12.2008 2:55pm
Adam J:
Stanton- Dude- the government is precisely what mobilized the nation for WWII. And we're in bad shape if dell, microsoft and walmart are the worlds best businesses. I think the free market doesn't get enough credit these days, but a cure-all it is not, the market has many failures.
6.12.2008 3:12pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
Well, the US upgraded its rail transit infrastructure, based almost entirely on government initiative, during WWII. The highway system upgrade started during the war, but continued on into the 1960's.

The Japanese upgraded their rail transit infrastructure, AFTER the end of WWII, because, well, their old transit infrastructure was sort of melted. They did it with a government monopoly, which went hugely into debt, and was ultimately, in the 80's, privatized. By then, the bulk of the infrastructure rebuild was long done. The government monopoly allowed JNR to get thousands of acres of grade-separated nearly-straight-line passenger rail right-of-way, onto which they put thousands of miles of new welded-rail track.

Compared with anything in the US, JR is a miracle of clockwork efficiency and neatness. Absent earthquake or major power problems, the elite passenger trains mostly leave and arrive within seconds of when they're scheduled.

Could a bunch of separate private companies have made this happen at the end of WWII? Given the difference in the degree of social conformity in Japan and the US, could a group of private companies ever make such a thing happen again in the US?
6.12.2008 4:56pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Somebody could confirm, but David P's experience sounds just like a trip to Dodger Stadium -- with one road in and out, many fans get in their seats after the first three innings, and leave after the sixth to beat the rush.

In contrast, leaving a big city ballpark like Wrigley or ATT is a breeze -- parking is distributed thoughout the nearby areas, and frequent light rail moves most people in and out. Most impressive was how the crowd of over 100K people at Michigan Stadium melted away after the game.

The on-time performance of heavy passenger rail has sucked since the 1950s, as revenue-producing freight traffic was prioritized over it. Rail is falling out of favor even in Europe, as budget airlines are cost-competitive and save a lot of time.
6.12.2008 4:59pm
Carolina:
I've never seen an event at the Meadowlands, and I've never lived in Philly, but I do have experience with Amtrak. I totally agree - it's dreadful.

But I do find it a bit strange to see someone on a libertarian blog complaining that the government run, monopoly train service performs poorly.
6.12.2008 5:13pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
It's Philadelphia. I evacuated from there in 2001 to move out West and I have never looked back. The city is finished, and it kills me to say it, because I was born and raised in South Philly when it was still a decent place to live.

The thing I never understood is that Philly has been totally controlled by Democrats since 1930 and yet they still blame everything on Bush and Republicans and the people there buy it hook, line, and sinker. Mayor Street was a criminal, like Rendell and Goode before him, and Mayor Nutter is no different.

Be grateful for this: you didn't take SEPTA. I took the Broad Street Subway to school for 5 years in the 1980's and it sucked.
6.12.2008 5:24pm
Randy R. (mail):
You should go to China. They ar currently building a high speed train that will link all the major coastal cities. the trains will go to an intermodal point, and from there you can take the subway, taxi, car, bus, or bike to most any point within the city. So you will be able to travel downtown from Shanghai to Beijing downtown without ever having to enter an automobile.

"Most of the US simply can't have a viable (profitable) rail system, at anything like the status quo in terms of density and fuel costs. (And wishing for both to increase to make rail viable, as I've seen some people do at various times in my life, strikes me as getting it exactly backwards.)"

And yet, when the population was much smaller, we DID in fact have a very profitable rail system. What went wrong?

Part of it is the stupid Congress's insistence that Amtrak must be profitable or at least self sustaining. Yet Congress never asks that of the trucking industry, the airline industry, the shipping industry or the automobile highway industry. Why is rail picked on?

there are plenty of places were high speed rail would make sense -- between the three major cities of Ohio, between several major cities in Texas, and Florida and California. The entire Northwest corridor. It would get people off the roads (a good thing,right?) and out of the airports. It would provide options in case there is another terrorist attack, or a natural calamity.
6.12.2008 5:33pm
Randy R. (mail):
Richard Aubrey is right on. We used to have walkable communities with streetcars that enabled people to get everywhere within a city without a car. In Buffalo, where I grew up, there was a beltline railroad that circled the city and a train came every 15 minutes. You would get off at any station, and transfer to a streetcar which would take you down all major roads and avenues.

Am I nostalgic? Sure. We won't ever give up cars. But we need alternatives.

People often say that cars are freedom. but they aren't, they are a prison. If you depend on a car, and then break your legs, you can't go anywhere. You are dependent upon another person to drive you. Elderly people who can't drive a stuck in a suburban house, dependant upon others to get prescriptions, milk, run errands. What sort of insane culture do we have that you can't get basic necessities without a car? If you are too young or too old, you can't drive a car, or if you are even slightly disabled. A blind person can negotiate a city better than I can, but can't drive a car. Crazy.
6.12.2008 5:38pm
Karl Stucky (mail):
Paul Milligan is a dork

I just got back from Hartford and NYC and must echo the author's comments. Taxes, regulations and bureaucracies all combine with various other factors (large minority populations, etc.) to give us that second world feel.

Move to Dubai, baby.
6.12.2008 5:52pm
Thomass (mail):
I just spent some time in Texas and everything was nice and new (I immediately noticed the difference between it and my state, California… where things are not really bad yet, btw, just not ‘nice and new’).

Anyway, so I’m not sure it’s a national thing. States with bloated payrolls and programs are probably hiding the red ink by not spending on infrastructure / capital projects. States with less of that… are not… and are building roads, bridges, and really nice schools (those public schools I noticed there were very nice)…
6.12.2008 5:54pm
Milton Stanley (mail) (www):
Townleybomb is right: SEPTA Regional Rail in and around Philly gets the job done, usually on-time, at a reasonable price.
6.12.2008 5:54pm
jim (mail):
Does the voting with our feet phenomenon cause this? For the average person, moving solves the problem much faster than government action.

I'm very familiar with DC/Northern Virginia infrastructure. Traffic can be just horrible. Everyone demands something be done, but the more dense areas tend to fight any new road projects. They believe any infrastructure improvements will encourage more people to come. I think they want people to move south and west and are playing a game of chicken -- who will cave first and move to Raleigh or Orlando or Phoenix?

And there's no shortage of medium sized cities with tons of room for growth.

The refusal to invest in better and wider road networks in the Northeast is one of the primary drivers of their loss of political and cultural clout. They effectively are saying we don't want anymore people.
6.12.2008 5:57pm
bobby b (mail):
"This country has spent massive sums over the past four decades building out infrastructure to support commute-by-car exurbs, small cities, and rural areas. In retrospect, this may not have been a good plan."

Dissent.

/s/

smiling commuting-by-car exurbanite
6.12.2008 6:02pm
TheProudDuck (www):
Must be an East Coast thing. I ride the Metrolink heavy-rail commuter train the 35 miles from Santa Ana to LA for court appearances (avoiding a two-hour-minimum rush-hour odyssey), and that outfit's time-keeping would make Mussolini proud. Seriously -- with one exception in three years, it has always arrived literally within 90 seconds of the scheduled arrival. (The one exception was a 15-minute delay; fortunately, the judge was late that day, too.)

Unfortunately, I have to ride Amtrak back (since Metrolink doesn't have a mid-morning southbound), and I'm happy to arrive within twenty minutes of schedule. I suspect Amtrak is just thoroughly dysfunctional, whereas Metrolink (which, incidentally, contracts out its actual train-running operation to a private company) is new enough that some people still give a damn.
6.12.2008 6:10pm
Chub (mail):
You're assuming that Government is the proper provider of such transport. Why not privatize and allow some competition in there.

Yeah, when the road is thoroughly clogged privatized transport is going to get through much quicker than public transport...
6.12.2008 6:22pm
BishopMVP (mail):
I went down from Boston Saturday night - took the subway to South Station that was on time, from there a bus that left on time and arrived earlier than expected. Took a subway to my friends apartment near NYU, and on Sunday we left for the game early (3:30), getting there by 4 to tailgate because we knew the situation would be terrible. Stayed an hour or so after the game grilling the last of our food and the traffic wasn't bad at all driving back up to Boston.

Doesn't really affect your larger point (although the parts of the MBTA I use up here in Boston and out in Amherst work reliably and on time) but I think you could have planned it a little better, especially regarding the Meadowlands.

Fantastic game by the way, and the ending 10-15 minutes was surreal with the lightning in the backround. If only Bob Bradley would either be fired or begin starting Freddy Adu.
6.12.2008 7:10pm
Javert:

Javert- what do you think you would get if you privatized Amtrak?

The railroad equivalent of Federal Express.


There are no competing rail services- nor do most people want them when it would result in wasteful redundancy.

You could have said the same thing prior to Fed Ex.
6.12.2008 7:16pm
Tantor (mail) (www):
Back in the 1990s, I lived in the Dallas-Ft Worth metroplex and got a ringside seat at the Comparative City Governments Show.

Dallas was run by your typical noisy but useless government types. I remember one city council session where the black and female council members got into a heated argument about who was the greater victims of society. Not surprisingly, services were terrible. There was a Kill-Or-Be-Killed McDonald's downtown where gang members hung out, scaring away local office workers. The gangbangers fanned out across the city at COB to mug people. They carjacked one stockbroker, stuffed his corpse in his trunk, and then drove around calling their friends on his cell phone until they got caught. A homeless man shot a cop with his own gun across the street from McD's while the crowd chanted "SHOOT HIM! SHOOT HIM!" Traffic on the freeways around the Big D was one big parking lot punctuated by the occassional gunshots of road rage.

Meanwhile, over in Fort Worth, the city was run by a clique of good old boy businessmen, including the Bass Brothers. Long before there were any traffic jams from increased traffic, the city widened the freeways, eliminating a particularly annoying bottleneck caused by a local bakery downtown. The downtown was methodically rehabilitated, building restaurants, bars, movies, an opera house, etc in Sundance Square. People flocked to downtown Ft Worth at night while they fled downtown Dallas.

The Fort Worth police complained that the Bass Brothers security was better equipped than them. Over in Dallas, they hosted race riots during the Superbowl victory parades. Outside the Sundance Square area in Ft Worth, thugs clobbered tourists from behind with pool cues to mug them. But in Sundance Square, young kids roller skated on the sidewalks through the Saturday night crowds. It was that safe.

It looks like most big city politicians are more interesting in increasing their empire than providing service to citizens. While I'm not entirely in love with businessmen running the show, at least they have some notion of delivering value.
6.12.2008 7:31pm
Charlie (Colorado) (mail):
And yet, when the population was much smaller, we DID in fact have a very profitable rail system. What went wrong?

The Wright Brothers. It took a little while to catch on, but consider, say, flying from Denver to New York City versus the train. If I live in Denver, I can easily get from one to the other without ever entering a car using either the train or an airliner. The big difference is, if I use a plane, it costs me a half day and about $300. If I use a train it takes me two days and about $400.

I love trains and I can't justify it except as an excursion in itself; for business it means thousands of dollars in lost time.

To compete, the trains would need to pay me about $1500.
6.12.2008 7:47pm
Boyd (mail):
"we don’t seem to be able to summon up the energy required to do anything about it."

Seems to me it is more a money problem that motivation. And it is hard to see how there will ever be the money to rebuild infrastructure as long as Davis Bacon exists. I contract railings, and public works projects are just plain contractor heaven. The insane wages drives everything on these jobs up. Since I am a family business I don't have to (and don't) pay prevailing wage. Since I normally compete against larger companies who do, I NEVER lose a bid. And I make far more than on any other type of work I contract. There just isn't enough money to pay for all the work needed when your paying people 40 and 50 dollars an hour.
6.12.2008 7:56pm
BrucknerPacific:
I live in NJ and it isn't as bad as you make out. The Meadowlands is currently undergoing a major change, as a new Giants/Jets Stadium is going up while the existing one is still in place, and a huge jumbomall called Xanadu is being built. The parking has been severely affected (a similar thing is happening at Shea Stadium, but no mall). Now parking at the Meadowlands has always been awful, but it is the only 75,000+ seat stadium in the NY Metro Area.

You also aren't telling the full story and didn't do your research. On Sunday, temperatures were in excess of 95 degrees. By the end of the scoreless match, it was raining. Who should be surprised that traffic moved slowly. Also, why did you park in the parking garage? You should have parked at one of the nearby hotels and made your way over to the stadium. You also probably drove like a sheep onto Route 3 or the Turnpike, instead of taking local roads to make your way out. You have to take some of the blame.

I agree with you about Amtrak in the NE. It is atrocious. NJTransit riders know all too well about how many problems Amtrak causes. They should get rid of it and replace it with a multistate compact (VA to MA) to run the thing. I've ridden Amtrak from Van Nuys to Santa Barbara and the thing ran exactly on time. I almost missed my train because of it.
6.12.2008 8:11pm
Steve2:

Vote with your feet-

I'm a born and bred country boy and am repulsed by the city life. Live in a place where you don't have to depend on public transit = problem solved. I'm not saying you should live out in the bush somewhere, but there are many mid-sized cities across America that are drivable, livable, and walkable. I expect the BS you described when I am in large cities, and I take a sigh of relief when I get back to the "good ol' country"

By the way, I currently live in DC.


Funny how people have different perspectives. I mean, as soon as I can arrange a transfer at work, I'm planning on "voting with my feet": back to the downtown of a real city, not this disgusting suburban morass of Virginia Beach. In my mind, a mid-sized city (somewhere like Nashville or Richmond) is just barely tolerable. I'm not a farmer or a lumberjack - what need do I have to be bored out of my mind somewhere drivable where there's nothing to do, nowhere to go, and nobody to do it with?. Get me back to Minneapolis, that was like paradise for me. So I'm pretty much the opposite of you.

R Gould-Saltman, my understanding of the Japanese commuter train industry is that the private train companies are allowed under Japanese law to engage in land development around their station areas, so part of their profit is that their business model is more "providing train service to people who live in the houses we built where our trains go" than just "providing train service" generally. I imagine a good comparison would be if U.S. transit agencies (other than MARTA, which did it for years) owned and developed the land around their station areas.
6.12.2008 8:13pm
Chester White (mail):

"What can I do about it?"

How about move away from/stop working in Philadelphia to start with?

Don't patronize businesses that SUCK, whether government- or privately-run. Just don't.

Contact the soccer team and tell them why you won't be attending any more.

Easy. We just have to all do it.

I know you Northeasterners get the shakes when you consider the possibility of living in the Midwest, or, GOD FORBID, the SOUTH, but you should try it sometime.
6.12.2008 8:22pm
bobby b (mail):
"what need do I have to be bored out of my mind somewhere drivable where there's nothing to do, nowhere to go, and nobody to do it with?"

Let's remember that we're speaking of personal preference. I hear people complain about a lack of entertainment facilities or bars or restaurants or . . whatever it is that makes big-city life mandatory for them . . . and my first thought is that my parents eventually did make me leave Disneyworld with them at the end of the day. Even though it had so many things grabbing at my attention that I was spinning in circles, you don't NEED to live there, and you CAN survive - very nicely - without requiring paid, artificial stimulation.

I can go reside in Bumpuck, West Dakota, surrounded by miles and miles of miles and miles, and find plenty of stimulus to keep my mind occupied, plenty of entertainment to keep me and friends entertained, plenty of food possibilities, . . .

It's an expectations problem. If you expect to be entertained 24/7, few places will satisfy. But, that's not my problem, and the priority of FedBux to make your already-dense infrastructure denser and prettier and newer, plus transportation so you don't have to feel any inconvenience getting there through all the crowded infrastructure they've built for you, are going to fall somewhere between "re-chrome the Statue of Liberty" and "cowbells for all."

Now, please excuse me. There are cows waiting to be tipped.
6.12.2008 8:34pm
lawhawk (mail) (www):
I'm a regular commuter on NJ Transit, and frequently complain to customer service because of inconveniences such as trains running 1-2 cars short consistently and delays that go unmentioned by the train crew until it's too late to change your routing.

However, much of NJ Transit rail is at the mercy of Amtrak since they own the NE Corridor on which many of the NJ Transit lines run. We're dealing with a 25% cut in rail availability because they have to do tie replacement because the batch they recently installed was defective over a span of 26 miles. Delays that would be absorbed into the old schedule can now turn into a half hour or longer.

Amtrak's infrastructure is absolutely archaic. NJ Transit's spending priorities are wholly out of touch with reality. They spent nearly $1 billion on the Secaucus Transfer, linking 11 of 12 rail lines operated by NJ Transit.

It was supposed to cost $50 million.

Taxpayers are footing that bill.

If we were going to spend $1 billion, it would have been far better to use that $1 billion to build an additional rail tunnel into Penn Station in NYC, because the 2 existing century old tunnels are maxed out in capacity.

In the alternative, they could have upgrade the entire run of NE Corridor in NJ to handle higher speed rail than the current limits (in part due to the overhead lines incapable of handling higher speeds, realigning curves, etc.).

NJ Transit also throws serious money into building park and rides in places that no one wants, while places that are seriously in need of parking can't get it (including Secaucus - which is only now getting a park and ride - at an additional cost, I might add).
6.12.2008 8:41pm
Steve2:
Bobby, the emphasis really is on the "nobody", rather than the other items. I'll take "people and people and people" over "miles and miles". Granted, Bumpuck's an ok place to visit... but I'd rather live 20 people an acre than 20 acres a person. Basically, boils down to Sturgeon's Law. People are no exception, and 5% of a throng's a lot more people worth knowing than 5% of sparsity.
6.12.2008 8:43pm
Paul Karl Lukacs (mail) (www):
Then vote in favor of infrastructure bonds. The Northeast especially has been terrible in making the necessary ongoing investments in public infrastructure.


I'll do that as soon as the unions "invest" by agreeing to reduce their wages and benefits.
6.12.2008 10:00pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
However, much of NJ Transit rail is at the mercy of Amtrak since they own the NE Corridor on which many of the NJ Transit lines run.
While you're right about the current construction, it's not Amtrak which is the problem; NJT and Amtrak coordinate pretty well. It's Conrail that's the problem. They get priority over passenger trains, and they don't bother to coordinate so as not to cause delays.

Amtrak's infrastructure is absolutely archaic. NJ Transit's spending priorities are wholly out of touch with reality. They spent nearly $1 billion on the Secaucus Transfer, linking 11 of 12 rail lines operated by NJ Transit.
Hey, that's the Frank Lautenberg Secaucus Station to you, bud. (And yes, that was incredibly bad planning. It's an almost unused station.)
6.12.2008 10:05pm
Stacy (mail):
With respect to those criticizing government ineffectiveness, I find a lot of private vendors alarmingly blase as well. Customer service is pretty awful most places (predictably, worse with monopolies like stadium concessions) but manufactured products have also gone downhill in quality, reliability and repairability from what I remember in the old days. And I'm 33 so my old days weren't that long ago.
6.12.2008 10:25pm
The Chad (mail):
Who is John Galt?
6.12.2008 11:05pm
AJ Lynch (mail) (www):
My arithmetic says that we taxpayers shell out about $55 for every passenger who steps onto an Amtrak train. Yes 26 million riders a year and the federal subsidy is almost $1.4 Billion. Is that a good investment? Probably not - we could buy how many cars for travelers to share with $1.4 Billion a year? Flip side of the argument is Amtrak provides 19,000 jobs. But yes it is inefficient _ if we gave its riders a choice of let's say $40 or the Amtrak ride - which would they choose?

As to lack of infrastructure "investment" by govt- what have they been doing with gasoline taxes,etc for the last 40 years? As the population grew and expanded, we drove more and paid more and more gas taxes. So to say "investment" has been lacking is very questionable argument.

Lastly, I love to hear Dems like Bill Clinton and Fat Eddie Rendell talk about government investments! What a joke, it is our money and taxes they are spending. You have to be dumb to accept their BS that they are investing for us. They are nothing more than spendthrifts who are addicted to tax money.
6.12.2008 11:17pm
Randy R. (mail):
"The refusal to invest in better and wider road networks in the Northeast is one of the primary drivers of their loss of political and cultural clout. They effectively are saying we don't want anymore people."

Baloney. There are many rust belt cities that have miles of roads that are hardly used anymore. On the other hand, the Washington metro region is one of the fastest growing and wealthy regions in the country, and yet the roads are among the worst the country.

Whatever the causes of the decline of once- vibrant cities, and rise of new ones, can hardly be attributed to the existance of good roads.
6.13.2008 1:30am
Duncan Frissell (mail):
Cracker Barrel ((R) (TM) ) (or as it's known on the Nasdaq "CBRL") is at this point no more a bona fide expression of true "down-home" Red-State, non-urban America's view of life than Starbucks is the honest outlet for expression of the views of urban bohemians.

But it is a right wing soulless corporation from Tennessee. Sure it's fake but I use it as a signifier because they tend to build away from the "big town".
6.13.2008 6:14am
Paul A'Barge (mail):
1) you took the train
2) you live in the Northeast

Life is just not like this in Fly-over country. Heck, it's not really like this in California either.

Move.
6.13.2008 7:12am
Dennis H (mail):
Many years ago I was published (a full page article) on the editorial page of the American Waterworks Association Journal. At the time I was the manager of a small town water utility in Ohio. Also at that time, water system managers nationwide, but especially those from the larger cities were crying about their deteriorating infrastructure, and whining for the federal government to bail them out.

My editorial point then and now, is get off your dead butts, do a decent professional study on the true cost of the service you provide, including the capital cost of replacing your infrastructure as it wears out, and CHARGE A REAL WORLD RATE JUST AS ANY DECENTLY RUN PRIVATE BUSINESS WOULD DO!!!

Federal, state and local subsidies hide the true cost of services, and foster the unrealistic expectation of quality service at bargain prices. Privatize services like AMTRAK, build performance and maintenance standards into the contract leasing or selling the infrastructure, then let them sink or swim. You might also have to pass right-to-work laws and get the crooked, lazy, public employee unions out of the picture. Given a free hand, I could guarantee results.

Or you can continue to believe big government can do ANYTHING right, and live with the crappy result.
6.13.2008 11:16am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Dennis.
How was your article received? Was "Dennis" your name then?

Unfortunately, you have mentioned a great many stakeholders, such as public employees unions, citizens who think government money is "free", and disfunctional and unaccountable administration.
6.13.2008 11:33am
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
Charlie (Colorado):

I can get from, say, San Francisco to Los Angeles by air in 50 minutes, BUT there's an hour-plus added for mucking around at the airport at the departure end,taxing time, and fog can crimp it up for an hour or two more, plus there's time used getting to/from the airport.

That means there's a lot to be said for doing the same run on a grade-separated high speed rail line, which as JR shows, can run at 200+ mph, which makes the trip 2 hours.

Even better argument for real h.s. passenger rail for the Eastern seaboard, instead of running Amtrak on roadbed mostly laid down between 1930 and 1945. Think of the hours/$$$/oil we'd save..
6.13.2008 2:02pm