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For a Better Economy, Add Commuter Rail? (citylab.com)
165 points by misnamed on Aug 13, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 150 comments



Speaking as a Providence resident: Pawtucket begins where the comfortable-walking-distance-to-the-Providence-station ends. Pawtucket and Central Falls are languishing. Providence, generally speaking, is more affordable than Boston to live in (which drives a lot of commuter traffic to Boston), but the presence of Brown is steadily driving rents up in the suburb closest to the Providence station. Pawtucket and Central Falls should be the affordable residential suburbs of Providence, but they're not (or, at least, not so much as they should be). Commuter rail to these towns would help revitalize them and ease some of Providence's present growing pains.

The thrust of commuter rail into southern Rhode Island has failed because it has not responded to the needs of residents. In Wickford, where I grew up, very few residents take advantage of the weekday commuter lines running from the new Wickford Junction Station, since very few residents there commute to Boston. There are, however, plenty of retired folk who would love to take a weekend trip to Boston via train, but are stymied by the station being closed on weekends. If weekday commuter rail is to ever succeed in southern Rhode Island, it will not be in the short term.


> Very few residents take advantage of the weekday commuter lines running from the new Wickford Junction Station.

I wanted to take MBTA commuter rail to Boston on a Wednesday afternoon to see the Red Sox play the Giants at Fenway Park. There were no trains leaving Wickford between 1:25 and 5:30 pm, so I had to park at Wickford Junction, take a bus to Providence, and walk three blocks to the Amtrak station to catch a train. What good is a beautiful station if there is a 4-hour gap between trains on a weekday?


> What good is a beautiful station if there is a 4-hour gap between trains on a weekday?

Transit begets transit. The shame in urban planning is the reactionary cycle that engages the public process of investing in efficient and multi-mode transit.

In the Bay Area, I'm continually frustrated by the lack of Caltrain service. A light rail system with the local Caltrain service density and a headway of <15m could provide the backbone of a huge number of bike commuters. In my experience, Caltrain > driving for most commutes in the SF <=> SJ corridor and having adequate last mile solutions. The challenge now is to transform the chore & appointment traffic into public transit friendly opportunities.


Some of Caltrain's biggest problems:

- funding (some municipalities' voters don't want their towns to be bedroom communities for Mountain View and SF -- these are also the towns that vote against e.g. HOV lanes on their section of the 101, and against BART running through their town)

- ground level crossings along the whole route (trains hit people and cars all the bloody time, but "grade separation" is expensive and also makes the stations harder to use -- for example, see San Bruno station)

- having to sound their loud horns along the whole route for safety reasons (anyone with train tracks in their backyard opposes increased frequency)

- people wanting electric trains before more service happens

- did I mention funding? (Caltrain used to have people selling tickets at every station -- those jobs were cut due to a lack of funding.)

I think creating a well-funded, well-managed state agency that was in charge of transit (ala Metrolinx in Ontario) could do wonders for BART and Caltrain. But the first thing that needs to happen would be to give public transit more money (which is difficult considering all the other things on municipalities' plates, like homelessness in San Francisco, and property tax rates not reflecting the rise in housing prices).


The point in this particular case is that Rhode Island has become a bedroom community for Boston, so improving transportation links between the two can make RI even more attractive to discretionary residents (who come here because they want to, not because they can't find anything better -- which is a byword for higher-income residents), who can stimulate both residential and commercial growth by their presence.

It's a reasonable suggestion. Another alternative is that RI could promote business growth to lure away some MA or CT talent. But whether they want to be a swankier, higher-income commuter suburb or a commercial-heavy exurb they really should do something.


The opposition of those two choices underscores how bizarre American regional divisions are. The Boston area covers parts of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire and all of Rhode Island. Rather than attempting to improve the entire region, the available options are zero-sum: RI would cannibalize the business or income tax base of other parts of the Boston area. This, in turn, encourages the MA and CT governments to do what they can to recover that loss. If there were one regional government, that could be avoided by focusing decisions about infrastructure, housing, services, and taxation on the actual region's health.


Who says that consolidation will lead to a better result or that it is zero-sum?

There is a reason that the world isn't run by a single person, why separate countries succeed, why most countries share authority with smaller sub-governments (state and local in the US. There's a reason why each species isn't a single superorganism, but individuals within species tend to cooperate.

"Life", evolution, or survival of the fittest -- clearly isn't a zero sum game. Over billions of years it's clear that it's positive sum. Blindingly obvious.

Adjacent governments too may well fit the bill. Too much competition can suck all the excess value out of the situation, but so can too little. The ideal form of government might be an angelic dictator, but you don't see the world full of them, do you? Healthy competition can find the optimum much better than singular good intentions. Partially because it allows experiment with real world results. With n=1 you can enact policy but you can only guess what effects it might have had because you have no control, no basis for comparison.

It's all about _healthy_ competition, and it's the basic idea that our republic was built on which can be seen everywhere in the constitution.


It's a big leap to go from proposing more regionally-appropriate subdivisions of government to a single global government. I understand what you're trying to say, but there is no meaningful competition here. Boston is the region's center of gravity, and neither Providence nor Manchester threaten that. Meaningful competition comes in at the inter-regional level (e.g., Boston vs. New York).


Bostion is not a single entity, it's an interconnected network of many types of entity's and local governments etc. Each of those local governments both compete with and help each other.


Yes, the point was that the status quo is strange. See the GP.


Why can't meaningful competition happen at every level from between nations to between neighbors?

Sure, you can propose I merge my family with the family next door as a more "regionally-appropriate subdivision", but how can you justify it (or justify against it)?

It can make a lot of sense for different sections of the same metropolis to compete for residents, businesses, etc. The dynamics of which competition is healthy and constructive and which competition is unhealthy and destructive is an interesting problem, and it isn't settled by personal opinions of "common sense".


Oh, absolutely. I don't mean to suggest that that sort of local experimentation* isn't valuable: as you say, removing the ability for variation reduces policy to guesswork. It seems to me that that's more possible in a situation with a clearer idea of success (i.e. a stronger regional economy) than is possible with states that have competing priorities.

* In re-reading, I think my bias is to call that local variation experimentation rather than competition. I'm a technocrat at heart.


You're not wrong, but this doesn't just happen in America, and it doesn't just happen at the city, county, or state level.

There are entire countries or overseas departments of countries that cannibalize tax bases of others, some in corporate taxes, some in personal taxes. There are countries that, due to low wages, low cost of living, and low worker protections, can manufacture certain goods really cheap. There are countries that can ruin their countryside extracting resources like copper, rare earth metals, or oil and sell it internationally.

Ultimately regardless of what the territorial unit, each unit looks out for their self-interest, because a 'Unified Greater Boston' may result in more growth, but it will likely come with a different allocation on wealth to the particular area that each fiefdom covers. It's really just capitalism where each entity competes with another, and some win really big, while most don't.


As an example of a better situation, London covers the cities and many smaller towns and suburbs, which each have their own local government. The local areas are responsible for schools, waste, most planning etc.

But it's all unified under the Greater London Authority, which controls transport and policing. This is what the Mayor of London controls, as head of the elected London Assembly.


Except the City Of London, which refuses to cede some 1000 year old power it extorted from some king or other.


No, it's not a uniquely American phenomenon, but that's the example at hand and the one that I'm most familiar with.


It's not "cannibalization", it's competition. We don't say that firm A "cannibalizes" the sales of firm B, they compete for customers just like states and regions compete for residents and their tax dollars.


If you can appropriate benefits whilst imposing costs on others, it's absolutely cannibalisation. It's a parasitic process which benefits one part of the whole at an overall cost to the whole. It is not wealth creation, it is liquidity extraction.

And this absolutely can apply to businesses operating in markets, as it can governments operating in regions.


> It's a parasitic process which benefits one part of the whole at an overall cost to the whole.

Surely when government compete for citizens, people benefit by living under governments more to their liking?


When business competition goes awry, government steps in to correct the market failure. Who steps in when government competition goes awry?

Governments are not perfect substitutes for each other. Packing up and moving to another city is harder than changing almost any other consumer choice.

Government officials don't compete to make their citizens as happy as possible, they compete to make their voter base as happy as possible. If they can improve the lives of the majority of their voters by hurting non-voters or those who vote for someone else, they have every incentive to do so.


>Government officials don't compete to make their citizens as happy as possible, they compete to make their voter base as happy as possible.

No, government officials compete to make their donors and patrons as happy as possible. A government functionary that stands to land a cushy 6 figure job in the private sector if he does what he is told while he is in government service usually does what he is told.


You're shifting goalposts.

It's one thing to have different systems of government. It's quite another to have arbitrarily-constructed political boundaries (and very nearly all boundaries in the US are highly arbitrary), in which the design intent is quite often to execute precisely the benefits-inclusion / cost-exclusion dynamic I've described.

Even where that's not the design intent, it's often the practical result, and systems have a strong tendency, though path dependencies, compunding factors, emergence, etc., to evolve in certain ways.

Or do we allow every political unit sited, physically or metaphorically, upriver and up-wind from its neighbors to dump raw sewage in its waters and foul the air. After all, the source community doesn't bear those burdens.

It's that analogue which, extended, is at play here.

Now: you want to find a way to improve the general state of Your Fine City and make an appeal to others elsewhere on that basis? That's quite a different discussion. It's actually what the many-and-sovereign state system of the US was meant to provide -- a laboratory, if you will for governance experiments.

But even there, I believe there's a line to be drawn on principles which, once established, cannot be continuously relitigated, or at least not without exceptionally good reason.


Maybe. It depends on the kind of competition. Having been a resident of Michigan (which has a film tax credit like nearly every state) and Washington (which generously supports Boeing in return for annual not-far-from-extortion attempts), I have seen bad competition up close and personal. On the other hand, a state offering a great school system (the UC system of yore, anyone?) is pretty hard to argue with as good competition.


That's a fairly large and optimistic assumption.


If we're going to throw around bad words, we need to get them right, and your definition isn't it. "Cannibalising" is used pretty narrowly in business to refer to when a new development in one area hurts sales in another, and the new product fails to increase the market size enough to make up for it.

What you're describing is a zero (or negative) sum game. Liquidity extraction isn't on its own a wealth generating action (although what you do with the liquidity will very often be, that's typically the motivation for extracting the liquidity), but otherwise it has no relation to what you're describing.

Interactions (whether accurately described as competition or not) between separate units (such as two different governments) can't be "cannibalisation", since neither is "eating their own". However, it certainly can be zero (or negative!) sum. I suppose you could describe certain actions of a single government as cannibalising one part of its population's well-being for the benefit of another, but that's really out of scope here.


Don't we call this 'rent-seeking'?


Not necessarily, though I'd have to think about that.

Economic rent is essentially payment for time-based access to some capability which isn't (generally) consumed in use. Agricultural rents are the nominal case, though others apply.

One characteristic of rents, as opposed to raw material inputs, is that while high material costs lead to high general price levels, that is, a supply-shock inflation, high price levels lead to high rents.

(If you're living in the San Francisco Bay Area, that check you're cutting every month is due, at least in significant part, to the high local labour pay rate. Though yes, a constrained housing supply has a great deal to do with this.)

The landlord (or rentier) can successfully extract liquidity, but she isn't imposing costs elsewhere.

There's a difference if you, say, have one part of a region which offers employment, and another which offers housing, but they're unconnected. The externalities of employment (congestion, traffic, pollution, crime, infrastructure provision) aren't borne by the housing provider. Though the employment region may also be spared other expenses, e.g., residential sewerage and education costs, though those are often much lower.

Here you've got a situation where arbitrary division lines of cost burden vs. profits accrual. This is distinct from the typical case of rent-seeking, in which a landlord's privileged position allows them to extract the benefits of increased demand.

Your question goes deep into the questions of cost, value, and price theory, and it's a very common element of much economic theory, which treats the behaviors of prices for wages, stocks, capital, rents, and goods fairly distinctly. Particularly in the 18th and 19th century discussion, but also in much 20th century literature.


Interesting definition of economic rents. Much more constrained than the generalised rents == unearned profits. It's definitely given me something to think about. However, I have to disagree with a number of your points. The assertion that rentiers and more generally, the existence of private economic rents, do not impose costs elsewhere is not correct. In a direct sense, they reduce the general wealth level around them because that is precisely what they are extracting from others.

In addition, privatised rents distort the allocation of capital and labour towards the direction of wherever that rent exists. This is bad for a number of reasons: productive inputs are not being put to their most productive use, often large proportions of a community's or country's productive capacity is being employed to enrich a relatively small rentier class, other non-rentier businesses are either hobbled or destroyed by higher input prices and if the rent is attached to an exportable commodity (e.g. iron ore, coal, oil), export facing businesses suffer due to relative appreciations of their domestic currency.

It's interesting you bring up raw materials: I assume you mean natural commodities like iron, coal, gas, oil etc. These are the classic example of rent-generating commodities that make a small number of people very rich, while severely distorting the capital structure of an economy. For example, take a look at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch_disease. Ironically the Netherlands has probably some of the world's best policy in this regard, mainly focussed on their successful oil export industry. They ameliorate the effect by a combination of high rent-recovery taxes ~%60, a significant degree of nationalised production and a very well-funded sovereign wealth fund.

And it may be true that retiers may, in some circumstances, be the main beneficiaries of increased demand. However, this could be said of many businesses. I don't think this is the primary issue. Although it sounds a bit trite, the primary issue is that rentiers enjoy unearned private profits. So when a local council builds a nice park somewhere (with public money), nearby private landholders get to privatise a significant share of the benefit economic via increased land-rents (capitalised as higher private land prices).

Although it doesn't sound 'so bad', this kind of system can fuel very damaging economic behaviours: notably it can encourage speculative investment, lead to inter-generational wealth concentration, and it can severely distort the political economy. For instance, a land developer, fortunate to inherit the lucrative family business, can suggest to one of his long-time family friends, an influential member of government, where the government should locate that new train station they're planning to build (co-incidentally near some land he has been 'banking').

He might also provide his views that the government should tighten up on zoning laws (you know, to ensure family friendly suburbs), and that the government should slow the pace of its land-release programme (you know, because there's a glut at the moment and we need to combat urban sprawl). And he'll be listened to, thanks to his family connections and inherited wealth (a portion of which he donates to various political parties).

Wow this turned in to a bit of an essay. Just one last thing: I found your last paragraph very interesting. It's an area I'd love to see given more focus by academic economists, given the mainstream view appears to have whittled things down to just two factors of production: capital and labour. Perhaps we're trying to push a number of square pegs through a number of round holes here...


As another case in point, from another HN comment and article, look at the case of plea-bargaining:

https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=12282830

One party (the prosecutor) has the option to threaten a severe penalty (high cost) to the defendant, whilst the defendant (often indigent) has little means to mount a defense. The DA's benefit is not only offsetting court costs (an interest in which the Court is complicit), but in racking up a conviction.

That is, the costs (overbearing convictions, often false convictions) are externalised, the benefits (trial costs, political advantage) are internalised.

I don't see how this can be considered "rent seeking". It's simply a strongly asymmetric power relationship and cost/benefit allocation.


That's not really relevant here. What I'm talking about is how moving residents from a Massachusetts suburb to a Rhode Island suburb will not by itself create any net-gain for the region's economy. Perhaps there are knock-on effects if living in Rhode Island makes people more productive in some way, though.

Anyway, the competition angle makes more sense when you're looking at different regions (e.g., Boston vs. New York).


When someone moves from A to B, it's usually because they can get a better deal on the tradeoff between better/cheaper housing and quality of life. In the larger picture, expanding the available mass of viable residential space for a given urban area means (on the margin) lower costs, allowing more people in a wider range of jobs to consider moving to that urban area. That's a net positive, not "cannibalising" or even competing anything.

Anecdote time: I live in London, about 40 minutes from work, in a pleasant but fairly boring area (not many big city things to do around here, a few pubs and decent but medium-low end restaurants - pretty much anything else beings and ends with a 30-40 minute journey). My wife got a new job, so we have a bit more cash between us, and have decided to move closer to the city (I'll be about 10 minutes from work, she will be 15-20), and we'd be in a very nice urban area with tons of amenities just around the corner. We will be paying a fair bit more in rent, but expect a substantial bump in quality of life. When looking at a flat, we met the outgoing couple -- they are moving to an extra-urban place (in another country, even) to get more space, be closer to family and nature (and, presumably, pay less rent). Someone else yet will move into our current flat, which has served us very well for five years, and is excellent value for money in London.

In another five years, we'll probably be ready to leave the city behind, and the shuffle will repeat.

Because of the difference in preferences (which changes over time), everyone are better off than before. This is obviously not facilitated by commuter rail, but the dynamics are the same (or, commuter rail would allow the dynamic to act across a larger spectrum of people and houses).


It's competition over lowest price. Which results in cannibalization and lower profit for all players.


And gain for the people paying these now-low prices?


>And gain for the people paying these now-low prices?

Indeed, the OP is committing the broken window fallacy, seeing only company profits, not savings on behalf of the consumer.

A move from one region to another is zero-sum? It might be, but that depends on many factors. Does the person move closer to work? That's fewer miles driven, one less car on the road, less pollution, more happiness, higher productivity. Is one local government more efficiently run than another? That's better use of tax dollars. And on and on. Competition drives these factors.


> Does the person move closer to work? > Is one local government more efficiently run than another?

These two are features, not pricing.


No, because when you compete on only prices there is no brand loyalty, no customer relationship, and no r&d spent on feature development.

For a community; businesses might move for tax breaks, which benefits them greatly, but there might be more traffic / no high quality living that increases commutes. The employees might have to pay all relocation costs, and then the business that has no loyalty moves when the next tax break becomes available.


Rhode Island will have to get in line behind New Hampshire then. A significant portion of the population there work in Massachusetts but live in New Hampshire because it has the lowest tax burden out of any state in the union. Also there is no personal income tax or sales tax. Rhode Island has its work cut out for it. For those not familiar with that part of the US, Massachusetts can be heard referred to as Taxachusetts.

I think R.I. is better trying to cultivate its own economy, Providence is home to two great schools - RISD and Brown(Ivy League.)

This has some actual numbers:

http://blog.mecep.org/2014/05/much-of-new-hampshire-is-a-bed...


That's true. A similar situation plays out in Portland (OR, with no sales tax) and Vancouver (WA, with no income tax). I recognize that moving to a regional government would likely eliminate the low-tax living/working options. At the same time, I wonder if the net-effect wouldn't be a smoothing of tax burdens, as this sort of tax-optimization effectively forces Massachusetts to tax more heavily to make up for a smaller base. After all, those New Hampshire commuters still use Massachusetts infrastructure to get to work.


Those commuters pay a toll though each way of their commute to use that infrastructure. In the morning they would pay it in New Hampshire and in the evening they would pay it to Massachusetts.

I think the net effect of a regional government would be all the current problems of local governments - pork barrel politics, inefficient bureaucracy and corruption on a larger scale. The corruption in local governments always seem to dwarf that at the federal Level, but this is maybe because more get caught.

Overall the whole local tax benefit regime is something of a shell game. There may be no local income tax but you end up paying it property tax. States make up for it in other ways. A similar phenomenon exists for business tax incentives. As soon as those provisions sunset the businesses will just pick up and move somewhere else. An example is the film industry, New Orleans offered Hollywood huge tax incentives to use New Orleans for film production. Once those ended Hollywood went elsewhere - Georgia and the cycle begins again. It does little for the local economy.


NYC is an example of why that doesn't work. 120 years of city planning have mostly boiled down to: "Not Manhattan? Screw off"

The Rhode Island situation is a good example of how postwar sprawl leads to bad governance and outcomes. The Boston region is a shitshow... Hundreds of little municipalities with duplicative services, priorities, regulations, etc.

The other problem Rhode Island has is that they are on the wane in general. Regional industrial activity has been vaporized, and remaining industries like banking are consolidating. So if you live there, and need a job, Boston's it.


>If there were one regional government, that could be avoided by focusing decisions about infrastructure, housing, services, and taxation on the actual region's health.

The problem is that the bigger an organization gets the more it is prone to waste, inefficiency, and fraud. Another problem is that accountability is inversely proportional to concentration of power. This opinion is obviously at odds with that of the pointy heads in Washington DC and Brussels, but unlike their opinion, is congruent with reality.


The states are quite wasteful, innefficient, and corrupt. Moving to a hub model would devolve power from them to smaller, more focused units.


This problem isn't unique to am America, and the problem will never really go away. Regions change and they grow. What happens when your Boston region starts to conflict with the NYC region?


There are models of urban influence based on analogues of gravitational attraction (they're actually called that, see: http://geography.about.com/library/weekly/aa031601a.htm).

For any two given urban areas, their relationship is likely to be eitheras peers, that is, one competes with another (for labour, capital, and foreign trade), or as distinct members of a regional hierarchy (e.g., commuter suburb and commercial hub). And yes, depending on how you scope out regions, they may have different comparable roles. Note too that two suburbs within a given hierarchical region, say, Silver Spring, MD, and Arlington, VA, compete amongst one another within that region (Washington MSA).

In the case of Boston and NYC, you'd almost certainly see most transport and commute patterns within either city, with the inter-city transport being considered non-commute, for the most part.

More generally, this is why transportation networks almost always have to be designed, scoped, planned, and financed at least one level above the nodes they connect. Rome centrally managed highway construction throughout the Roman Empire, rather than leaving the decisions to local colonies and cities. In France and England, the first constructed transport systems, canals, were largely overseen as matters of national policy (though with private involvement), as was the Erie Canal in the United States. Development of railroads typically evolved similarly, with buildouts within specific nations in the US and Europe. This lead to a far more integrated system in the US (and USSR) given their much larger geographical area, whilst Europe's freight rail system remains much less capable than that of the United States.


That's part of what I mean: we have these antiquated divisions (i.e. states) that have little connection with the actual economy. Why not create a system that does that?*

* In the United States we know the answer, of course: rural areas have the power, and doing so would require them to cede that. One can dream, though.


Rural areas have the power? This is news to me, unless you're trotting out the tired argument about two senators per state, regardless of population.

Rural areas are poor, their industries have been gutted, and they are experiencing demographic death, as all the young people are forced to leave for urban areas in search of non-poverty level work.


> Rural areas have the power? This is news to me, unless you're trotting out the tired argument about two senators per state, regardless of population.

It's not at all a tired argument, especially given:

1) the fact that the residents of smaller states get seriously-disproportionate presidential voting power in the Electoral College as a result of the two-senators-per-state rule --- in presidential elections, the votes of residents of any of seven small states (Delaware, South Dakota, Rhode Island, Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont, District of Columbia, and Wyoming) are weighted more than twice as much per person as the votes by residents of 13 larger states such as California, New York, Texas, Florida, etc.; [0] and

2) the fact that the Senate insists on keeping the 60-vote rules to open- or close debates, leading to frequent stonewalling of controversial matters.

[0] http://www.thegreenpapers.com/Census10/FedRep.phtml?sort=Ele...


I always read this as a feature, not a bug, of the constitution.


> I always read this as a feature, not a bug, of the constitution.

Indeed; it was part of the Great Compromise. But that's not what you argued in your GP comment: By implication, you were claiming that this feature of the Constitution supposedly did not support the GGP comment's assertion that rural areas have significant political power (which to me seems well-nigh indisputable).


Well, since this is Boston and New York we're talking about, South Boston riots, while New York doesn't notice anything happened. Windows are smashed to mighty cries of "YANKEES SUCK!"... in Boston.


There's no parts of Connecticut that are part of "the Boston area" nor is the southern part of Rhode island.


There certainly are, according to the definition of the Boston CSA.[1]

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_Boston#Combined_statis...



As it happens, I grew up in one.


The point in this particular case is that Rhode Island has become a bedroom community for Boston

Yeah. Some friends moved from Cambridge to Providence, and in Providence they're a five-minute walk from the train station. They can be at South Station in 45 – 50 minutes. They live in a nice, newly-constructed two-bedroom apartment that's a little more than half the cost of their previous, cramped Cambridge apartment.


It's convenient but there's still a tradeoff. Even once you get to South Station, unless you work right there you then have to have your secondary commute inside the city. I work in Kendall Sq so for me it'd tack on at least another 15 minutes. In contrast it normally takes me 15-25 minutes total for my commute as is. That's a big time savings.

I also have a lot more flexibility, for instance not needing to worry about catching the last train at night if I'm out with my friends or something like that.

For me, I'd rather pay more money for the proximity and flexibility but I agree that YMMV and that for others it makes a ton of sense to go to Providence. And really, I'd much rather go to Providence than a standard suburb because at least I get some of the benefits of urban life there.


This is so true. Boston transit leaves a lot to be desired. Even once you get there on commuter rail.

There are 2 commuter rail stations and they're not connected. They are trying to connect though even with the advocacy of two former govenors, but the current government is resisting (http://www.northsouthraillink.org/).

I live in Cambridge MA and commute to Boston (3.5 miles by bike). The fastest I can get to longwood Boston is about 25 minutes on a bike. Bus is 45 minutes.

Coworkers that have spaces can get from just outside 128 to Boston in slightly over an hour.

The few places with decent access to the city the prices are going through the roof.


Depending on where in Cambridge longwood isn't terrible as long as the sox aren't in town and tie schedule is flexible. I used to live in central and took the 47 to longwood with decent results minus game days.

The north south connector will never happen, the big dig fiasco saw to that. :(


Considering theres 81 home games between April and Sept, thats a lot of "terrible", during the only nice(weather-wise)months of the year there.

What did they spend on the "Big Dig"? 20 Billion dollars all said and done? "They" of course being the US tax payer who paid for it, not just Mass residents. Seems like that money might have been better spent on public transit infrastructure. So typical.


Well, yeah. Fair point :) This was also in the days before bus trackers which made life extra interesting. On game days I'd often just start walking home and would wait and see if the bus caught up with me. These days it might not be quite so bad.


That's over 2 hours of commuting each day, assuming everything is on time. Do they use the 2 hours (mostly on the commuter rail) to get work done? Could be interesting to see the trade off between 2 hours in a train versus 1 hour driving each day. You still have the freedom of doing other tasks while on the train. Also how is their social life? The commuter rail has strict hours and doesn't run at night. Probably not much to do in Providence compared to Boston/Cambridge.


The train between Boston and Providence is usually faster than driving even when there is no traffic, and Boston often has pretty bad traffic.


Providence proper is pretty nice, this restaurant, bar scene and music. Pawtucket, not as much so.


Work time on a train is something I cherish. There are no interruptions and no internet access (at least on the Metra in Chicago). That makes it ideal for writing or other endeavors that require concentration. Walking to and from a train is also a great way to wake up and get a little exertion in before a work day.

Taking a train, even when it takes 45 minutes, is a far cry from driving the same commute. It's a great gig if you can make it work.


For context: the Metra has conductors on board. It never smells like urine, people aren't blasting music on their shitty phone speakers, the seats are in pairs facing forward instead of benches facing inward (so you get a personal space bubble and no need to avoid looking straight ahead), and you can almost always find one to sit in.

Unfortunately, these are rare characteristics for urban transit systems.


> RI could promote business growth

They tried that and it was a bit of a disaster...

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/38_Studios


Total disaster. But it is possible to promote business growth without loaning $75 million out to a guy with no previous business experience (never mind technology company experience), right?


Yes, although it's similarly hard to run a program to promote growth without experience running that sort of program.


What a blessing of a problem to have a double-track high speed rail system passing through an underutilized station. For comparison to the Bay Area, the distance from Providence to Boston is about the same as the distance from Berkeley to San Jose. That route is also served by Amtrak, but on a neglected single-track, wooden-tie, local-stop service that's scheduled to take 1h33m, but almost always takes longer. Amtrak from Providence to Boston only takes 40 minutes and is generally reliable. Regional transportation in the northeast is so far beyond what we have in the Bay Area.


I was talking to a friend about this. Why does California not have a better public transportation system build? Especially in the Bay Area? I know cities like LA were designed for cars but I've gotten used to public transportation in the Northeast (DC/Philly/NYC/Boston) and its surprising how much west coast cities lack in that department.


LA was designed for mass transit - Pacific Electric was the largest trolley/interurban system in the U.S. It was dismantled in the 1950's in favor of the car-centric design that exists today (largely at the behest of the automobile industry - See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Motors_streetcar_consp...).


> Why does California not have a better public transportation system build? Especially in the Bay Area?

NIMBY.

The rich folks on the west side of the bay don't want extra train traffic through their enclaves. They like it gridlocked, thank you very much, so that the plebians have to stay out. And they have enough money to fight it.

East bay, on the other hand, has been working on it. BART is apparently almost to Milpitas.


[flagged]


Actually, bsder is correct. The reason BART was never extended from Millbrae to San Jose was that the intermediate towns, mainly Atherton, refused.

Today, meaning right now, Atherton's city attorney is engaged in a battle with High Speed Rail (HSR.)

He informed the transit planning commission that Atherton would not accept planning funds if it meant losing the legal right to sue to stop HSR.)


Intuitively and practically, I agree that public transport is worse on in the Bay Area than it is along the Northeast Corridor, but qualifying and quantifying how it's actually different is a challenge. For one, the Bay Area's primary transit backbones are BART and Caltrain [1]; there is a missing link between East Bay and San Jose; there's not enough Transbay options; Oakland is the true hub of the system but not the primary activity center.

Also, most of the activity nodes of the Bay Area are actually close to transit, which paradoxically hurts the efficiently of the system. Traditionally, you'd want each station to be its own hub from a larger catchment area that you'd serve with, say, buses or other transit. But in the Bay Area, because of the Bay and mountains hemming in the built-up areas, every interesting node is already on the One True Circum-Bay String of Pearls, and have minimal catchment areas beyond them.

This also means there is no express option to get from one end to the other, without having to traverse through all intermediate points first, regardless whether that's accomplished with an 'express service' that skips stops, or a transversal direct line.

[1] https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/0b/SF_Bay_R...


Governance and land use decisions definitely play a big role in how the Bay Area has become messy. The Bay Area doesn't have a regional transit authority empowered with the final word on routes and infrastructure, it has at least one agency per county, plus additional ones for each railway - dozens of services that have difficulty coordinating.

The anti-development climate also played a big role in how things played out. Regional planning in the midcentury wanted something more like LA - lots of freeways, cheap land and cheap development. Public backlash prevented the bay from being filled, and stopped most new freeway construction. [0] BART planning started in the same era, and it was also more ambitious than what ultimately came to pass. [1] Yet despite that, or maybe in part because of it, the jobs, and subsequently new population, continued to stream in. As a result, there's a lot of "development debt" that has been kicked down the road until now.

The governance issue and the land use issue are correlated; since authority is heavily localized across many departments, even on basics like water(SF enjoys a direct line to the good Hetch Hetchy water), every city and county tries to avoid "taking one for the team" and focuses on its immediate self-interest instead, favoring NIMBY policies, unbalanced commercial development, and services and infrastructure favoring the wealthiest demographics. Governance is also generally inefficient; SF's spending is far beyond other cities of its size. The new Bay Bridge span is an embarrassment on many levels. Politicians regularly play the liberal base for fools by using a framing of concern to avoid useful analysis, decision, or action; at the same time, they are willing to bend over backwards for the VC-backed tech club, cutting special deals and ignoring or downplaying misbehavior.

It's a highly dysfunctional place, albeit not yet melting down.

[0] http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/In-1959-the-vision-for...

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/bayarea/comments/zprpe/the_actual_o...


California informally decided to not build anything for the last 30-40 years.


This exists at several levels. For one they were at the forefront of the "tax rebellion", depriving the state and local governments of funds to do anything of substance. For another they've been very anti-development overall. Many of the municipalities along silicon valley are staunchly anti-development, and decided to remain low density bedroom/retirement communities. And LA has been a car-centric city for a while, which is difficult to overcome in a city that size.


California until quite recently was a giant real estate scam. The entire place was settled with the intent to exploit it and then dump it on the next more gullible person. Only in the last few decades has planning for long-term sustainability been widely practiced.


Source? Seems like drivel.


Yeah, not sure who can swallow that "planning for long-term sustainability [has] been widely practiced" for "the last few decades."


Citation requested.


The US doesn't really have a high-speed rail. Boston to Providence is only 50 miles.

Ok, technically we do have 18 miles of high-speed rail.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_high-speed_railway_l...


Hey, it's electric! That's radical and exotic to us in California.


Not for long! In a decade or so Caltrain and CA HSR will both be electric.

Also we have several existing electric rail systems. BART and Muni Metro, for instance. LA Metro too.


I used to commute from Great America to Oakland Coliseum on the Capitol Corridor, and it took much less than 93 minutes. Anyways BART to San Jose will help with that, but considering the tiny Warm Springs Extension is a year late don't get your hopes up for that Berryessa Bart commute.


It's an hour and 3 minutes from Richmond BART to Fremont BART, and Capitol Corridor takes an hour and 4 minutes to make the same trip. Why would BART to San Jose be any faster than Amtrak to San Jose?


Unfortunately upgrading the Capitol corridor to have regular commute service is practically impossible.


There are a few issues with getting these train stations built though:

A. The state of Rhode Island currently reimburses the MBTA for all operating expenses south of the RI/MA state line, and they just funded a commuter rail extension south of Providence to attract intra-RI commuters to take transit to Providence instead of driving. However, even providing incentives such as free parking, ridership at these stations has pretty drastically missed expectations [1], and the trains are scheduled to take the same time as the bus takes in rush hour traffic. The commuting situation/parking isn't bad enough in RI like Boston or New York to make the train obviously beneficial time/money wise, when you lose schedule flexibility of when you can go to/leave work.

B. The site of the proposed train station only has two passenger tracks and is located in a high speed (125 MPH or 150 MPH) zone. Starting service to the station is not as simple as just refinishing it and having trains stop there: Amtrak (which owns the tracks) would probably insist that the state of Rhode Island quad-track through the station so that its trains can pass a stopped commuter train.

C. It's difficult to get transit projects funded near state borders, because of the mindset of "we paid for it and they all go work in the other state!".

Providence is a pretty fast-growing city, so it's possible that in 5 to 10 years the traffic situation makes a much more compelling case for people to make use of transit, but additional commuter rail service there is a kind of hard sell.

[1] http://wpri.com/2015/05/18/south-county-rail-ridership-far-s...


You would only need to add a third track, since traffic will be predominatntly inbound in the morning and outbound in the evening. That's how Chicago does it. Express trains on the center track, locals on the outer.

That said, even adding a third track is a substantial investment.


Yeah, I guessed on that one. They may be able to use the third freight track that already passes through the station for that. The reason I said four is because there actually are just as many southbound commuter trains as northbound commuter trains at rush hour [1], since most of the trains stay overnight in Boston. The Amtrak trains are mostly southbound in the morning and northbound in the evening though.

It depends on what Amtrak's mathematicians decide, including whether electrifying the track is worth it.

[1] http://www.mbta.com/uploadedfiles/Documents/Schedules_and_Ma...


One thing I tripped over here is just what is a phototube in this context? https://cdn.theatlantic.com/assets/media/img/posts/2016/08/S... "Phototubes protrude from an abandoned building at the Conant Thread-Coats & Clark Mill Complex, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)"

My own knowledge, Google, and Wikipedia have all failed me here. My best guess is it's old slang for pneumatic transport tubes, but I can't say I've ever seen anything quite like what's shown in the picture.


Vacuum transport tubes. I seem to remember them being called photo tubes at the bank branch we went to when I was a child. That was a small part of a childhood I'm still recalling odd fragments of here and there. Thanks for prompting the recall.


Those things are still in use, believe it or not. There's a big box retailer where my parents live that has a tube to every register. When the registers have too much money the checker puts the excess into a cylinder that whooshes to the central office.


I think they were in use in hospitals for a while as well for sending notes around, pre-email.


Also pathology samples, although I believe there's now some interest in robots doing similar things.


They already have the tracks and the trains; they just need a station. This is the easy case. This isn't about building a new line.

With jobs moving back to inner cities, the radial structure of commuter rail works again.


I love rail as a user, but the cost is … a bit insane.

> In July, the feds awarded $13.1 million, just shy of the $14.5 million the state was seeking … The grant application estimates it would serve 519 riders daily, within the range of other Boston-area commuter rail stations. But most riders would be drawn from busy stations nearby, resulting in a net gain of just 89 new passengers.

Surely we could just give $73,600 to each of the 89 people to pay for cab fare, and save the other half of the money?


I suspect your calculation ignores that grant money isn't a yearly stipend, so after the $73,600/person runs out those people are back where they started.


This should help a lot. When I worked in the rail automation biz (for a 100B multinational) the internal heuristic for people transport worldwide was two heavy commuter rail lines were the equivalent of a 24-lane highway all parameters being equal (which they never are: there were tons of planning formulae brought to bear when making projections).


Wikipedia suggests 3x more passengers per track/lane at 40% of the land use based on Eurostar and the Highway Capacity Manual:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail#Automobiles_an...

Tokaido Shinkansen carries twice as many passengers so this agrees with your post end assuming that two rail lines each have two tracks each. Note that this is the most extreme example, most railways do not carry this capacity.


Lots of very intelligent critical analysis applied to these are related issues - if only some of that was applied to roads and encouraging driving. Roads are showered with money with no thought of consequences. This is not in the slightest hyperbolic. Transit projects have to claw tooth and nail for scraps.


If anyone is interested, I believe this [0] is the train station in question on Google Maps. I can't find the mentioned nearby mills though.

[0] https://goo.gl/maps/8UFfq737jgF2


Here's some street view of the mills mentioned. Each building the initial viewport is looking at is part of the mill complex, but ones behind the camera are usually not. You can back out of streetview to see where it is on the map.

[1] https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8821836,-71.3947742,3a,75y,2...

[2] https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8794315,-71.3946096,3a,75y,3...

[3] https://www.google.com/maps/@41.8832275,-71.3979953,3a,75y,1...

Also, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conant_Thread-Coats_%26_Clark_...


$40m for one new station and associated signalling? That's not much less than the cost of reopening the entire 19-mile, 8-station Ebbw Vale line in Wales [1], even though British railway projects are notoriously expensive [2].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebbw_Valley_Railway [2] http://www.transportblog.com/archives/000492.html


It's 100,000 people[1], how come they don't have a station for a rail that literally passes through? Of course they need to fix it right away.

[1] By European standards that could as well be a railway hub.


UK: Sutton Coldfield has a population just under 100K and has a manned station [1]. Pretty middle class area, no abandoned mills or anything, embedded in a larger conurbation up in the millions, fairly high density. On the Redditch to Lichfield line via Birmingham.

Smethwick: working class area with an immediate population of around 25k you get an unmanned station [2] with trains each half an hour in both directions (Walsall to Wolverhampton via Birmingham).

Both lines used for commuter traffic, and both stations built a long time ago (Lichfield line was actually early 20th Century). I suspect the economics all come down to use levels and density. What they call 'ridership'. In a lot of neighbourhoods in the West Midlands that are further away from the radial railway lines you are looking at a bus ride then train and a bus ride the other side - as I gather from the OA the present situation is in the settlements mentioned.

[1] https://www.google.co.uk/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x4870a5a8c7157...

[2] https://www.google.co.uk/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x4870bd5d2f177...


Yea, it is great for Rhode Island business to make it easy for talented people to commute to another city in another state to help their businesses grow. I bet they are thrilled their taxes fund that.


The alternative view is that without rail it would be harder for those individuals to bring their high pay checks back to Rhode Island to spend their money in the local economy.


That would be true if people moved there because of the stop. I'm not sure Pawtucket is a big draw for either families or singles. I am sure that if there is parking, people who already live in RI will use it to commute to Boston to create real wealth for Boston companies while hoping for marginal trickle-down wealth for RI.


That's the problem state income taxes are supposed to solve, isn't it?


> That's the problem state income taxes are supposed to solve, isn't it?

Silly me, I thought state taxes were meant to finance the operation of the state, not punish people for making unpopular choice.


WTF? Yes, collecting income taxes from people who live in your state is how you finance the operation of the state, and is why Rhode Island will still benefit from spending public money that makes it easier for their residents to work in another state at higher incomes. I don't know why you're talking about punishing anyone, or what unpopular choice you think is involved.


RI receives a substantial sum of taxes (income, property, sales), and the residents also support (and grow) other RI businesses. It's a pretty good deal, when the realistic alternative is that those individuals will neither live nor work in RI.


Realistically, Pawtucket will not attract many new residents while allowing some existing RI residents to improve their earnings marginally. There's nothing wrong with people making more money by commuting farther, but the increase in tax base is not likely to be large at the same time those individual increases are being heavily subsidized by existing RI businesses and citizens.


Will it pay for itself or need subsidies?

Usually in the US, passenger rail needs significant subsidies. A bit tough to think that subsidies are a good path to "a better economy".


How do you feel about roads? Most of them are 100% subsidized, capital and operations alike.


My understanding is that the roads are, were, are supposed to be, used to be, might be, etc. paid for in part or in total by gasoline taxes, maybe called the Highway Trust Fund (maybe at times dipped into for various other purposes) which seems fair enough.

Also for the 100%, there are some toll roads and bridges where the users pay for use of the roads which looks like users paying and not a subsidy.

There's likely another issue, a law about 100 years old passed in part to slow down US West water resource projects to "make the desert bloom" -- yup, can do that, but the question was, do the benefits exceed the costs?

So, the law established that a Federally funded project needs to pass cost-benefit analysis. So, add up all the costs and all the benefits "to whomsoever they accrue", and then to go ahead with the project the benefits have to be higher than the costs.

Well, maybe passenger rail can pass cost-benefit analysis in some cases and, there, justify a subsidy, but the one case I heard about was in a lecture on the Baltimore Subway. It was all built and ready to go. So, for the cost-benefit analysis, just call the construction cost $0.00 -- seems generous enough!

Then have to count the operational costs and consider the ticket revenue. Well, the ticket revenue from the estimates of what people were willing to pay and the number of such people still didn't cover even the operational costs. The lecture ended with the optimal solution -- brick up the openings and walk away.

That seemed a bit extreme: Instead why not take out the tracks and use the rest as underground parking? Warehousing?


Your understanding is a bit deficient then because the gas tax revenues do not even begin to cover road building and maintenance. In California for example the transportation budget is $17 billion per year, $14 billion of which is for roads, but the fuel tax revenue is only $6 billion and the vehicle license and registration fees are $3.2 billion. The remainder is provided from general revenues, that is to say it constitutes a subsidy.

At the federal level, Congress has been transferring money from general funds into the Highway Trust Fund every year since 2001, because the fuel tax has gone down in real terms every year since 1993.

Tolls are nice but only account for 5% of road funds in the US. To use the pejorative applied against transit projects, the "fare recovery ratio" for roads ranks below literally every transit agency in the nation.

In short, roads are highly subsidized from general revenues.


My impression is that local roads are paid for heavily local real estate taxes, state roads are paid for via state gasoline taxes, state license fees, and tolls, Federal roads and bridges are paid for via the Federal gas taxes and tolls. My impression is that the Federal Highway Trust Fund is funded by Federal gas taxes and gets used also for purposes other than Federal highways and bridges.

But I don't have good data. I want good data but don't have it.

E.g., there are a lot of roads and bridges that are not Federal, e.g., not the Interstate highway system. So, when I hear that the gas taxes don't pay for all the roads and bridges, I think, of course not -- e.g., my local roads and bridges are paid for heavily, maybe mostly, by local real estate taxes, and in my area that is fair -- everyone here needs the local roads and bridges.


The whole point of this discussion is that the benefits of rail are not mere ticket revenue. You mentioned cost-benefit three times, yet only came up with one benefit?


No, the way the benefits are to be calculated is not necessarily from ticket revenue. A benefit is something of value that "whomsoever" may get, and maybe quite different from ticket prices.


I don't see anything online about that happening to the Baltimore subway. Source?


In an effort to avoid politics as much as I can, roads tend to escape scrutiny about government subsidies because they are a baseline, bring-your-own-vehicle requirement, which doesn't smell nearly as 'subsidized' to people who then have to provide their own cars to use them.

In the 'equity' vs 'equality' debate, roads are 'equality': everyone is given the same road to succeed, but of course not everyone has a vehicle to make use of it properly.

But this debate pops up in areas when tolls, euphemistic "usage fees", or increases in fuel taxes are proposed to pay for new roads.


Yes, but the road itself always loses 100% of the money, except for toll roads. It is considered to be an external benefit to the economy that people can move around, even if they have to bring their own vehicles. Therefore it is true in the case of roads that we collectively believe subsidies lead to a better economy. It is not nonsense to extend that belief to railroads.


Perhaps it can be generalized as 'people tend to support only things that are directly and immediately beneficial to their current life circumstances, and demonstrably non-detrimental to their real or perceived future lifestyle prospects'.


Gas taxes are the user fees people pay to use the roads. In no sense is it true that roads always loose 100% of money.


The last gas tax raise was in 1993 and it's not inflation adjusted. The federal highway fund is out of money, bridges are crumbling. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/11/opinion/sunday/raise-the-g...

100% is an exaggeration, but it's not far off. Our roads aren't just failing from a lack of maintenance, they're failing in one generation, they're failing to be paid for from usage taxes before they need full replacement.



In New York, less than half of the cost of roads is borne by drivers via the gas tax. In California, drivers pay less than a quarter of the cost.

There are no states in the US where gas taxes cover more than 60% of the cost of roads.

This is another form of racism/classism. White people have no problem paying for white people transport (cars!). They object to "city" transport which often carries poor and other-colored people.


If only there was a way to charge for the privilege of driving on the road. Maybe we could stamp out steel plates to affix to vehicles. Those plates could signify that the owner has paid an annual fee for using the road.

As I understand it, cars can be fairly expensive. Maybe some kind of tax on the sale of each one could bring in a few bucks.


Here at HN, your point could convince a lot of people if you gave some solid references to original sources for your statements about costs and how they are covered.

I'm in NYS and have been for 20+ years, and what I've seen in the last time or two I renewed the license on my car was that I paid a surtax to support the commuter trains, the MTA. So, it looks like the car owners are supporting the trains whether they use the trains or not. Only once did I ever get on one of those trains. And I'm proud to say that I've never been on a NYC subway.

E.g., I live on a nice street in the suburbs. There is maintenance on the streets and snow plowing in the winters. My impression is that my local town is paying for that out of real estate taxes -- if so, then that's fair since everyone in the suburbs needs the streets, even if they shop at Amazon and get deliveries via FedEx or some such.

But passenger trains? People in the suburbs don't need passenger trains so much, and even if they do they still need the local streets to go between the trains and the doors. So, again, using real estate taxes to pay for the local streets is fair enough.

I don't have good data on what the costs are for Federal highways, bridges, trains, capex, opex, and how those costs are being covered, but my impression is that the gas taxes and tolls pay for what the cars and trucks use and that in the US it's just hopeless for the train tickets to pay for what the trains cost -- but again that's just my impression.

Since I'm not in either the car or train business, I haven't gotten the data.

But if you are for trains and want to convince people, then having the data on costs and how they are being covered would help, really, is crucial.

Uh, writing this, it occurs to me that to be fair the Federal gas taxes should need to cover only the Federally supported highways and bridges, e.g., the Interstate highways. In that case, sure, local real estate taxes and not Federal gas taxes may be the main source of funding for local streets.


If you consider that passenger trains remove other people from the road, drivers actually do benefit from their construction. It's not necessary for the train to serve you personally for it to be beneficial. It just has to remove enough people from the road that driving is easier for you.


Why is never having ridden the subway a point of pride.


[flagged]


The comment you're replying to did say "classist" as well. I'm sure you're aware of the US's unequal spread of wealth among different racial groups in its population... You are not personally being called racist.

People in the US are generally completely unaware of how subsidized their drive-everywhere, segregated-zoning lifestyles are. Land use choices have very real effects and in the vast majority of the US, you HAVE to own a car or you are completely handicapped in terms of access to jobs and services.

Public transit infrastructure proposals in the US are routinely downscaled/defeated because a lot of people think that anything other than building roads = money pit subsidies for the dumb uneducated poor people who live in the city.

If you don't agree with the egalitarian side of the argument for making cars less necessary to living in America, you should at least be able to see the hypocrisy of the general attitude towards transit given the fact that gas taxes and other car-related usage fees that fund roads don't come anywhere near making the road network "pay for itself".

I suspect that as Millennials age and gain political power, given their left-leaning politics and greater preference for urban living, this situation will change to look more like Canada does now, which is similarly car-dependent but also generally has cities with more reasonable public transit options.


You can argue roads are subsidized, but no where near 100% subsidized. Federal and state gas taxes are user fees for road use.


100%? Only if you ignore fuel taxes.


It would probably descend into corruption. Rhode Island's governance is horrible, and I doubt publics works projects will solve that.


A better idea yet, force employers to allow all employees who can, to work from home. It's bad for the environment, wasteful of resources and additional stress (illness/cancer) for commuters.

Shifts the burden from the planet and people to the company as they learn to manage employees remotely. Which is where the balance should be set at.


> force employers

This is usually where good intentions go awry. A more efficacious approach is to find ways to make it worthwhile for employers to do so.


Employers don't need any more efficacious reasons than balancing the health of the planet/people and profits.

The world doesn't have to kiss the ring of employers, and few employees have individual bargaining power as I do. I work from home. People were murdered fighting for an 8-hour workday. Look up Pinkerton. Something that by and large is still not respected to this day, we need stronger labor laws all around.

A law has to be passed to force it, because profits will always come before people otherwise. This is the history of the labor movement. It's just reality of how things work.

Another efficacious reason is as Nick Hanauer has argued, it's in the best interests of business to compromise on these matters, before the pitchforks come out.

As I was once told "every business gets the union they deserve". If you treat people right, you won't have people saying the things I do, changing the political environment.

And the final reason, it's just the right thing to do. Not much money will be made once the planet is destroyed or talented employees die early deaths.

In the shortsighted search for profits, all of these reasons are ignored, which is why we have labor laws and desperately need more.


"The worst crime against working people is a company which fails to operate at a profit." -- Samuel Gompers


Did Evonik Industries profit from its early 20th century chemical manufactures? Does that profit absolve it of all other obligations?

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evonik_Industries

Oh, the banality of profit.


Not only that, his point made no sense at all. Mandating companies to allow employees who can sensibly do their duties from home wouldn't harm profits whatsoever.

They just don't want to do it because they can't socially pressure you to stay in the office 10+ hours a day. They don't feel they're getting everything out of you that they can. A good, hard, focused 8 hours is always going to beat a sloppy 10+. Most people start sabotaging in one way or another, become passive aggressive and other bad behaviors.

People seem to have issue with my "force" comment, but we don't -force- the 8-hour workday today, and it's not obeyed. Business more often than not does not follow the law without enforcement and as a precursor, regulation.

It's good for everyone involved, but profit seeking is usually short-sighted. I'm not surprised at the downvotes from business owners and the investment class, but there's enough that employees must be downvoting as well. Which for me is confirmation-bias that the US work culture is completely upside down as much because of employees as management.


NB: your first and second paragraphs somewhat contradict one another.

The fact that this is about power plays does impact profits. However those profits are extracted (by decreased employee choice and mobility) rather than created (through ingenuity).


It increases profits. Once everyone is comfortable with remote employees (obviously, not by choice), the available employee pool opens dramatically. It's increased employee choice and mobility.

That's exactly why I said "short-sighted" profit seeking. It applies in many ways.


Counterpoint: government-imposed mandates can force commercial business out of local optima.

J. Doyne Farmer looks at this extensively in his work on innovation.


The problem is the government is generally unable to distinguish local optima from the global optimum.


Citation requested.


Denied. This is patently obvious.


I'm not in favor of forcing this on anybody but certainly a lot of people could work from home if people overcame their biases against it.




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