Category Archives: Social Issues

Real Welfare Cadillacs Have 18 Wheels

Truck freight movement gets a subsidy of between $57 and $128 billion annually in the form of uncompensated social costs, over and above what trucks pay in taxes, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

If trucking companies paid the full costs associated with moving truck freight, we’d have less road damage and congestion, fewer crashes, and more funding to pay for the transportation system.

What with all the speculation about a possible trillion dollar spending package for infrastructure, we’ve been hearing a lot about about crumbling bridges, structurally deficient roads, and the need for more highway capacity.

It’s clear that our transportation finance system is broken. To make up the deficit, politicians frequently call for increased user fees – through increased taxes on gasoline, vehicle miles traveled, or even bikes. All the while, one of the biggest users of the transportation network – the trucking industry – has been rolling down the highway fueled by billions in federal subsidies.

A 2015 report from the Congressional Budget Office estimates that truck freight causes more than $58 to $129 billion annually in damages and social costs in the form of wear and tear on the roads, crashes, congestion and pollution – an amount well above and beyond what trucking companies currently pay in taxes.

CBO doesn’t report that headline number, instead computing that the external social costs of truck freight on a “cents per ton mile basis” range between 2.62 and 5.86 cents per ton mile. For the average heavy truck, they estimate that the cost works out to about 21 to 46 cents per mile travelled.

Unfortunately, trucking companies don’t pay these costs. They are passed along to the rest of us in the form of damaged roads, crash costs, increased congestion and air pollution. Because they don’t pay the costs of these negative externalities, the firms that send goods by truck don’t have to consider them when deciding how and where to ship goods. This translates into a huge subsidy for the trucking industry of of between 21 and 46 cents per mile.

For comparison, CBO looked at the social costs associated with moving freight by rail. Railroads have much lower social costs, for two reasons: first, rail transport is much more energy efficient and less polluting per ton mile of travel; second, because railroads are built and maintained by their private owners, most of the cost of wear and tear is borne by private users, not the public. Railroad freight does produce social costs associated with pollution and crashes, but the social costs of moving freight by rail are about one-seventh that for truck movements: about 0.5 to 0.8 cents per ton mile, compared to 2.52 to 5.86 per ton mile for trucks.

There’s a clear lesson here: It may seem like we have a shortage of infrastructure, or lack the funding to pay for the transportation system, but the fact that truck freight is so heavily subsidized means that there’s a lot more demand (and congestion) on the the roads that there would be if trucks actually paid their way. On top of that, there’d be a lot more money to cover the cost of the system we already have.

So the next time someone laments the sad state of the road system, or wonders why we can’t afford more investment, you might want to point out some 18-wheelers who are now getting a one heck of a free ride, at everyone’s expense.

View the full report: “Pricing Freight Transport to Account for External Costs: Working Paper 2015-03“

The Greatest Show On Earth DIES. What a Terrible Event!

After 146 years, the curtain is coming down on “The Greatest Show on Earth.” The owner of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus told The Associated Press that the show will close forever in May.

Good Bye to a big part of America. No more Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey Circus Combined Shows

The iconic American spectacle was felled by a variety of factors, company executives say. Declining attendance combined with high operating costs, along with changing public tastes and prolonged battles with animal rights groups all contributed to its demise.

“There isn’t any one thing,” said Kenneth Feld, chairman and CEO of Feld Entertainment. “This has been a very difficult decision for me and for the entire family.”

The company broke the news to circus employees Saturday night after shows in Orlando and Miami.

Ringling Bros. has two touring circuses this season and will perform 30 shows between now and May. Major stops include Atlanta, Washington, Philadelphia, Boston and Brooklyn. The final shows will be in Providence, Rhode Island, on May 7 and in Uniondale, New York, at the Nassau County Coliseum on May 21.

The circus, with its exotic animals, flashy costumes and death-defying acrobats, has been a staple of entertainment in the United States since the mid-1800s. Phineas Taylor Barnum made a traveling spectacle of animals and human oddities popular, while the five Ringling brothers performed juggling acts and skits from their home base in Wisconsin. Eventually, they merged and the modern circus was born. The sprawling troupes traveled around America by train, wowing audiences with the sheer scale of entertainment and exotic animals.

By midcentury, the circus was routine, wholesome family entertainment. But as the 20th century went on, kids became less and less enthralled. Movies, television, video games and the internet captured young minds. The circus didn’t have savvy product merchandising tie-ins or Saturday morning cartoons to shore up its image.

“The competitor in many ways is time,” said Feld, adding that transporting the show by rail and other circus quirks — such as providing a traveling school for performers’ children— are throwbacks to another era. “It’s a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price. So you’ve got all these things working against it.”

The Feld family bought the Ringling circus in 1967. The show was just under 3 hours then. Today, the show is 2 hours and 7 minutes, with the longest segment — a tiger act — clocking in at 12 minutes.

“Try getting a 3- or 4-year-old today to sit for 12 minutes,” he said.

Feld and his daughter Juliette Feld, who is the company’s chief operating officer, acknowledged another reality that led to the closing, and it was the one thing that initially drew millions to the show: the animals. Ringling has been targeted by activists who say forcing animals to perform is cruel and unnecessary.

Attendance has been dropping for 10 years, said Juliette Feld, but when the elephants left, there was a “dramatic drop” in ticket sales. Paradoxically, while many said they didn’t want big animals to perform in circuses, many others refused to attend a circus without them.

The Felds say their existing animals — lions, tigers, camels, donkeys, alpacas, kangaroos and llamas — will go to suitable homes. Juliette Feld says the company will continue operating the Center for Elephant Conservation.

Some 500 people perform and work on both touring shows. A handful will be placed in positions with the company’s other, profitable shows — it owns Monster Jam, Disney on Ice and Marvel Live, among other things — but most will be out of a job. Juliette Feld said the company will help employees with job placement and resumes. In some cases where a circus employee lives on the tour rail car (the circus travels by train), the company will also help with housing relocation.

Kenneth Feld became visibly emotional while discussing the decision with a reporter. He said over the next four months, fans will be able to say goodbye at the remaining shows.

In recent years, Ringling Bros. tried to remain relevant, hiring its first African American ringmaster, then its first female ringmaster, and also launching an interactive app. It added elements from its other, popular shows, such as motorbike daredevils and ice skaters. But it seemingly was no match for Pokemon Go and a generation of kids who desire familiar brands and YouTube celebrities.

“We tried all these different things to see what would work, and supported it with a lot of funding as well, and we weren’t successful in finding the solution,” said Kenneth Feld.

You can still find us on the Web: https://penneyandkc.wordpress.com/circus-trains/

Uber Can’t Replace Transit — Here Are 3 Reasons Why

Transit projects from Detroit to Nashville are running up against a new argument from opponents. The latest line from anti-transit types is that ride-hailing apps like Uber and Lyft are going to make fixed-route bus or rail service obsolete.

It doesn’t hold up if you’ve given some thought to the huge amount of space cars consume compared to buses or trains. But many people don’t spend their days thinking about the spatial efficiency of transit.

1. Uber and Lyft hog too much space

Let’s say, hypothetically, that a city gives up on transit service because officials think Uber and Lyft can take care of things from now on. Imagine what happens next: Everyone who rides the LA Metro Bus system suddenly crowds onto the 405 in an Uber, every passenger on New York’s L train has to hail a ride over the Williamsburg Bridge. The result would be total gridlock.

Uber and Lyft have some advantages in certain contexts. But car services can’t overcome urban geometry.

2. Even lightly-used transit beats heavily-used ride-hailing services

Not every bus is packed, but even a mostly-empty bus can use streets more efficiently than Ubercars. A bus carrying about 10 passengers per service hour is generally considered to be “low-performing,” TransitCenter points out. But that still beats the pants off ride-hail services.

“For an Uber or Lyft driver to serve ten people per hour,” writes TransitCenter, “it would mean the driver is picking up a new passenger every six minutes, physically impossible in American cities.”

3. Demand for transit peaks at different times than demand for taxis

If you look at when Uber and Lyft are most popular, it’s during the night, when transit runs less often. Meanwhile, transit is at its fullest during the a.m. and p.m. rush. Not many people use Uber and Lyft for regular commuting.

Transit and ride-hailing services can complement each other — especially at times or in places where transit is weaker. But don’t be taken in by anyone predicting the end of transit — buses and trains aren’t going anywhere.

Elon Musk’s idea for fixing traffic suffers from one fundamental problem

Elon Musk — the restless billionaire behind Tesla, SpaceX, and SolarCity — was stuck in annoying traffic and mused that one solution would be to drill more tunnels. All he’d need, really, is a giant machine…

Everyone’s trying to figure out whether Musk is genuinely serious about starting a brand-new tunnel-boring company or not. Who knows! But tunnels are fun to think about, so why not pretend he is serious and think through how this might actually work….

One obvious hitch to Musk’s scheme is that some cities are already trying to dig new tunnels to accommodate traffic — and it’s far from easy! There’s a lot of existing infrastructure buried in the ground beneath cities, from water mains to electrical cables. And the tunnels themselves often need to be reinforced. That makes tunneling slow, difficult, and expensive work.

Seattle is a cautionary tale here: Since 2013, the city has employed a massive 57-foot-diameter boring machine named Big Bertha to drill a 2-mile highway tunnel beneath the downtown area. Yet six months after work began, Big Bertha broke down after overheating. Drilling finally resumed in late 2015 — but then had to stop again after a sinkhole opened up near construction. Perhaps Musk can improve on Big Bertha. But that brings us to an even deeper problem with his idea. Building more tunnels is just not a good way to alleviate traffic congestion. In fact, it would likely do the opposite.

The “fundamental rule” of traffic: building new roads just makes people drive more
In January 2016, during SpaceX’s Hyperloop pod design competition, Musk explained why he thought tunnels could help alleviate traffic:

It’s a really simple and obvious idea and I wish more people would do it: build more tunnels. Tunnels are great. It’s just a hole in the ground, it’s not that hard. But if you have tunnels in cities you would massively alleviate congestion and you could have tunnels at all different levels — you could probably have 30 layers of tunnels and completely fix the congestion problem in high-density cities. So I strongly recommend tunnels.

Except economists and traffic experts have been studying this issue for a long time and they’ve found the exact opposite. When cities add new roads to a congested area, it usually doesn’t alleviate congestion. Instead, it just induces more traffic, as people take advantage of the added road space to drive more.

Granted, there can still be good reasons for fast-growing cities to build new roads. They just shouldn’t necessarily expect traffic jams to disappear as a result. Los Angeles got a firsthand glimpse of this after widening its I-405 freeway, a project that cost $1 billion. “The data shows that traffic is moving slightly slower now on 405 than before the widening,”

So what does help alleviate congestion? If cities really want to erase traffic jams, many transportation economists would instead recommend that they charge people to use roads when they’re crowded — a policy known as congestion pricing that has popped up in places like London, Singapore, and Stockholm.

Early research suggests that pricing really does cut down on traffic, as people decide to move their commutes to non-peak hours, shift to mass transit, or cut down on trips overall. It’s arguably even more effective if cities use the funds to provide alternative transportation options.

The downside is that congestion charging tends to be rather unpopular, since people don’t like it when they suddenly have to pay for something that used to be free. (It’s the same reason why checked-baggage fees on airplanes have incurred such a backlash.) So urban planners tend to favor building new roads and widening existing roads — or, in Musk’s case, new tunnels — even if the research suggests again and again that it doesn’t cut down on congestion.

Now, that doesn’t mean a tunneling machine would be useless! Remember, Musk also has plans to start colonizing Mars within a decade. And humans living on Mars would probably want to spend most of their time underground to avoid the higher levels of solar radiation that hits the planet.

UBER’s Rise From SCAB To Superstar

So in case the term is new to you, what is a SCAB?

The Urban Dictionary defines it as: ” A worker, often temporary, who crosses a strikers’ picket line, going to work in place of the strikers.” An example of usage:
“The scabs had their cars egged when they arrived at the factory.”

SCABS used to be looked down on in America.

Well, this is how UBER arrived on the business scene in 2008.

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What happened? First of all, UBER started using a computer “APP” to order a taxi (or whatever you call it in UBERese).

Uber had some financial problems like trying to break into China. But some smart financial persons solved their money problems by modifying their business plan. Now they are in the “self driving car” business.

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Now they are in the “tech elite” of America!

No word about “scab labor” anymore.

They even got invited to Donald Trump’s “tech conference”. This is the same Donald Trump who counts on support of organized labor embracing a “scab company”.

California could not handle testing of self-driving cars, so they relocated to Arizona

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The Network of Networks: You Mean THE CLOUD

Today I spent on a project from 2013: Supply Chain Control Towers

Far greater minds than mine have defined Supply Chain Control Towers? There are many definitions but Capgemini offers a good, broad definition that many would agree with: “A supply chain control tower is a central hub with the required technology, organization, and processes to capture and use supply chain data to provide enhanced visibility for short and long term decision making that is aligned with strategic objectives.”

Yes, I wrote about Supply Chain Control Towers and Transportation Control Towers

First thing today I get a message from India. Company wants to know more about Supply Chain Control Towers. Then I read mail (uuuggghhh). Get a blog from Lora Cecere, The Supply Chain Shaman.. She knows more about Supply Chains than I ever will. But she is allied with ALL the vendors in the industry. I trust them as far as I can throw them.

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But she has a great idea: A Netword of Networks

I simplify that to “THE CLOUD”

Back the Control Towers. She and I agree on a lot. Difference simply is I want EDI to be the main communications tool (other than voice-to-voice). She wants to also introduce many existing communications tools from her great vendor community. I feel EDI is proven and can communicate ANYTHING. She wants to introduce things like HADOOP, SPARK, BLOCK CHAIN to the process. ADOBE may be her great friend. All I know about them is their opening remark if I contact them. “What is your credit card number?” Still confident in the international banking system to think BLOCKCHAIN is a lot of B..S We use BNP Paribas and know it’s capabilities.

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I am sure Lora and I will work out our differences. So confident that I have signed up for her Webinar in January.

This is a guest blog from my boss, Ken Kinlock. He is “The Man” about Control Towers

A look inside: GE’s new office at The Banks has no offices

DOWNTOWN – Walking through General Electric Co.’s new office space at the Banks is akin to having a front-row seat to corporate transformation.

GE’s office building, ironically, is office-free. There are dozens of different types of workspaces available from partitioned desks to huddle rooms and multipurpose spaces with telepresence capabilities to a rocking chair in front of a window that overlooks Smale Riverfront Park and the Ohio River.

Floor-to-ceiling windows on each floor are standard. A grab-and-go cafe, game rooms, fitness center, building-wide WiFi and a landscaped outdoor seating and dining area are amenities more commonly at startup offices than those for a 124-year-old corporate giant.

Yet the new building offers GE the chance to reinvent its image in the eyes of workers, many of whom are new to the company. Only 20 percent of GE’s workers in Downtown Cincinnati are internal transfers. At the same time, the company’s global operations division wants to reshape how GE does business around the world.

GE Global Operations was established in 2011 to streamline the company’s operations and accelerate innovation. The Cincinnati center joins three others currently operating in China, Hungary and Mexico.

Standardizing functions in finance, human resources, information technology, supply chain management, legal and sales operations and also co-locating people who work in those roles could help GE become more nimble, company officials said. On a third-floor wall of the building, passers-by can see GE’s goal of being the world’s foremost digital industrial company.

Big Changes Ahead For The Muhammad Ali Hyperlink

Yes, our vision remains the same : provide fast and reliable transportation between Chicago and Louisville. However there are two important changes to our environment: (1) Cincinnati, Ohio has a Hyperloop project now; and (2) Hyperloop now feels that cargo has more priority than passengers.
Hyperloop One raised $50 million and hired former Uber CFO Brent Callinicos. The new round, led by DP World Groups in Dubai, brings the company’s total funding to $160 million.
Hyperloop UC, the University of Cincinnati’s interdisciplinary team, will unveil their entry for the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition on Monday, Oct. 17. The pod will be used during the next phase of the international Hyperloop competition to be held at a test track next to SpaceX in Hawthorne, California, in January 2017.
After months of preparation, a team of University of Cincinnati students will pull the curtain back on their Hyperloop pod, a prototype they think could reshape high-speed transportation as part of the competition dreamed up by Tesla founder Elon Musk. As CEO of the aerospace firm SpaceX, Musk has challenged the world to submit ideas — and now prototypes — for a tube-based passenger system that would allow for travel between cities at the speed of sound.
More than 60 students from Hyperloop UC — engineers, designers and marketers — have been busy finalizing designs, manufacturing parts and synthesizing segments into a seamless prototype for the January 27-29 competition when they will insert their pod for takeoff in a mile-long test track.
UC’s group is one of just 30 that has advanced to the test round of the Hyperloop competition out of more than 1,200 teams worldwide. If successful, the venture could completely shift the way commuters travel. Cincinnati to Chicago, for example, could be travelled in a half hour — all while passengers relax in a capsule that levitates through the tube at more than 700 mph.
“We are very proud of the design we have created,” says Dhaval Shiyani, Hyperloop UC President and aerospace engineering graduate student in UC’s College of Engineering and Applied Science (CEAS). “It hits all the marks with respect to performance, safety and scalability. Our education at UC has taught us well, and we are confident that we will be a force to reckon with come January.”
UC’s team was among 120 teams invited to Texas A&M University in January of 2016 to present their ideas, where they were then selected to be among just 30 who are moving on to the final round of competition. UC is also the only group representing Ohio universities.

Very recently Hyperloop One, (the Elon Musk organization), announced that « cargo will be implemented before passengers ».

We anticipated this with the selection of Gary, Indiana (at the international airport) as our Northern Terminal. Of course passengers will still transfer to the South Shore commuter line operated by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District. But operating on the same right-of-way is the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad. It provides freight service between Chicago and South Bend.It has important connections to the Indiana Harbor Railroad, Norfolk Southern, CSX Corporation. It is also connected to the in-formation Great Lakes Basin Transportation. It proposes to construct a new railroad line around the metropolitan Chicago area. The purpose of the new railroad is to expedite freight movements across the nation and to provide additional capacity for growing railroad traffic.

MTA gears up for systemwide subway cleanup

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) next month will launch a multipronged plan to clean up trash on New York City subway tracks.

Dubbed “Operation Track Sweep,” the initiative is aimed at improving the station environment and reducing track fires and delays caused by garbage and debris on the track, according to an MTA press release.

As part of the plan, MTA on Sept. 12 will kick off a two-week track cleaning “blitz” at all 469 stations. The cleanup on underground stations will be performed at night, when ridership is the lowest, MTA officials said. During the day, workers will clean tracks at outdoor and elevated stations.

In addition, MTA is working with two manufacturers to develop a portable track vacuum system that can be deployed quickly, operated from platforms and easily moved from one station to the next. Vacuum prototypes are slated to arrive in November or December, MTA officials said.

The agency also has ordered three new track vacuum trains, with the first two trains arriving in 2017. The vacuum trains can remove up to 14 cubic yards of trash each day, according to the MTA.

Moreover, the agency will purchase 27 new refuse cars to support the expanded cleaning effort. The units are equipped with special railings to secure and transport wheeled garbage containers that are collected at subway stations.

Here’s what Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer said that really made me angry

These recent comments by Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer are the epitome of Silicon Valley arrogance, says Basecamp programmer Dan Kim.
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This commentary originally appeared on the Signal v. Noise blog.

Recently, I read this article about Marissa Mayer . This quote infuriated me (emphasis mine):

My husband [the venture capital investor Zachary Bogue] runs a co-working office in San Francisco…And if you go in on a Saturday afternoon, I can tell you which start-ups will succeed, without even knowing what they do. Being there on the weekend is a huge indicator of success, mostly because these companies just don’t happen. They happen because of really hard work.

I read my fair share about the tech world. I haven’t encountered statements this utterly arrogant and silly in a while.

Let’s break down that quote. She’s saying…

Weekend work is a leading indicator of being a successful company
She can predict success based on the people who are physically in the office on a weekend
She can predict success without knowing anything about a company’s business

What in the actual f—?

This idea that someone could “tell you which start-ups will succeed, without even knowing what they do” is so comically arrogant, I honestly can’t tell if she was being serious.

I guess this kind of thinking from Mayer shouldn’t be all that surprising.

After all she’s the CEO who banned remote working. To her, working together in person, in the office, is the only way to do great work.

As a refresher, here’s a snippet of the leaked memo Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO) sent to its employees:

To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo!, and that starts with physically being together.

Because let’s not forget — being physically present means you are doing your best work! Speed and quality can only happen in person! Never mind that many other companies have been successful with remote teams.

So maybe that helps explain why Mayer believes she can walk into an office on a Saturday, survey who’s there in person, and can declare the winners.

Because to her, if you’re not there physically, you’ve already failed.

In the same article, Mayer talks about her experience at Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL):

The other piece that gets overlooked in the Google story is the value of hard work….The actual experience was more like, “Could you work 130 hours in a week?” The answer is yes, if you’re strategic about when you sleep, when you shower, and how often you go to the bathroom…For my first five years, I did at least one all-nighter a week, except when I was on vacation — and the vacations were few and far between.

While that might sound crazy to most of us, I don’t really have a problem with it.

She was making a decision for herself. She decided to work long hours, pull all nighters, and eschew vacations. That’s her call. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

But it’s not OK to imply that kind of work/life imbalance is a key to success for others.

Hey, if someone wants to work themselves into the ground, that’s up to them.

But spreading the message that hard work and success can only be achieved through long hours and weekend work — that’s not OK. It’s patently false, and it’s already far too pervasive in our industry.

Look, I get it — by every objective measure of Ha Ha! Business Success™(financial, title, industry stature), Mayer is insanely successful. She has achieved far more in her professional career than I ever will.

But I also don’t work weekends. I don’t work 130 hours a week. I don’t commute to an office.

My measures of success are way different. I goof off with my kids a lot. I read. I watch movies. I eat donuts and pizza. I occasionally travel. I sleep 8 hours a night. I’m rarely stressed. I revel in being boring and old.

And I do that all while genuinely enjoying my job and the people I work with (who I rarely see in person).

In Mayer’s world, I could never be a success.

I’ve never been so f—-g happy to be a failure.

On weekdays, for about 40 hours a week, I help build Basecamp 3 and its companion Android app. And we somehow managed to build it 100% remotely.

Follow Dan Kim on Twitter @dankim.