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November 18, 2007

That wonderful Bush plan to “speed up” holiday air travel?
Posted by Patrick at 07:31 AM *

You’ll be amazed to hear that it’s total bullshit. I know, I know, personal initiative of George W. Bush, who could possibly have guessed? James Fallows has the details.

Comments on That wonderful Bush plan to "speed up" holiday air travel?:
#1 ::: Avedon ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 08:49 AM:

Relax, when it comes to helpful announcements from the Bush administration, this is a best-case scenario - that it does no harm and amounts to advertising water as fat-free.

Because ordinarily when they announce they are doing something nice for us, they are actually doing something really destructive to us.

So, happy holidays! Enjoy!

#2 ::: Kip Manley ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:05 AM:

I thought you were talking about the plan to "speed up" TSA searches by making everyone take every single electronic item they've got out of their carry-ons and pockets and put 'em in little plastic dishes.

Currently being tested in Cincinnati.

#3 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:12 AM:

I'm a terrible proofreader because I always subconsciously correct what I see to what would make sense. Case in point: when I saw the news stories about Bush's plan, I thought he was opening up the military airfields, for extra landing strips. I thought "Wow, that creates some security issues. And do they have the baggage handling capacity?" Than I realized what the story actually said.

#4 ::: John Chu ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:28 AM:

So Bush is making a big deal out of something that happens anyway, and is unlikely to make a difference in any case? Why? He's about as unpopular as he's ever been. I don't think this will help with that at all.

#2: Wow, they can't explain how it will let them screen passengers faster. They just want us all to decide that this is a normal, and sensible thing to do anyway. Every once in a while, I wonder if there is a power trip happening somewhere. ("If they really want to fly, then they'll bunny hop to the metal detector...")

#5 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:34 AM:

I for one welcome our evil airport-security-inventing overlords...

#6 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:39 AM:

I notice that Fallows (and Brown, linked from Fallows) leaves out the solution the rest of the world is trying: fewer flights with larger planes (cf the A380). This isn't perfect -- I suspect it would be a while before we get enough heavies in the air that they don't disrupt queues with wake turbulence -- but it's a step. There's also pricing by space eaten rather than by weight; from the figures I've seen, private planes still aren't charged nearly enough at most airports. (This is also an issue for service to smaller populations -- the hub-and-spoke model means there are also too many small commercial planes feeding the hubs in place of larger direct flights to smaller sites -- but AFAIK nobody but Southwest has even \tried/ to model alternatives.)

I'm also figuring Brown has some connection to the truth because his hard numbers compute (and match what I learned when I was working on an instrument license) -- unlike his political claim about Cheney moving to Wyoming for Constitutional purposes.

#7 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 10:16 AM:

So George W. Shrub is channelling Prince Grigori Potemkin.

#8 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 11:36 AM:

The real point is that ShrubCo gets to take credit for graciously "letting people get home for the holidays" -- despite everything they've done for the past few years to hinder and discourage air travel in the US.

#9 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 12:10 PM:

They just want us all to decide that this is a normal, and sensible thing to do anyway.

Exactly. This is exactly what is going on.

("If they really want to fly, then they'll bunny hop to the metal detector...")

And maybe the hokey-pokey through the metal detectors, since that is what it is all about, after all.

#10 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 12:11 PM:

The problem is not number of passengers, it's number of planes.

The problem is not number of runways, it's number of planes.

The problem is not airspace restrictions, it's number of planes.

Why is the number of planes a problem? Because airlines have been increasing the number of flights. How do they do this without flying half empty planes? By flying smaller planes.

Thus, the *real* problem with airspace. Regional jets. The most delayed airports, this year, in order. ORD, JFK, ATL, LGA, EWR. In all five, the percent of RJ traffic is 40% or higher -- this is stunning when you consider that the number three and number one *international* airports in the US are 1 & 2, and you don't fly RJs across the oceans.

In O'Hare's case, 53% of the traffic in the last quarter was RJs. Those planes carried 12% of the passengers that passed through ORD.

Back when they used turboprops, this wasn't a problem. Turboprops need much less runway -- ORD would stick them off in a corner. They flight at different altitudes that jets. You could easily add 10-20 turboprop arrivals to almost any airport.

But now, we have RJs. They fly just like bigger jets, they need long runways, they're too fast to fly at the turboprop levels. So, they have to be treated as just another narrowbody -- doesn't matter that they're carrying 45 pax, not 145, they'll need the exact same spacing that the MD-80 or 737 did.

The fix is *simple.* Penalize airlines for flying three 40 seat RJs when they could fly one 140 seat narrowbody.

The airlines tell us that we want frequency. More flights is nice -- but they need to be more flights *on time.* Packing 11 ORD-STL flight into 14 hours isn't useful when 7 of them are late. Forcing people into three hour layovers to make sure that they'll catch that 777 to London isn't useful.

Drop JFK to 40, and ORD to 80, arrivals per hour, and they'll be on time 90% of the time and close the rest. Right now, we expect 55 arrivals per hour into JFK, and 100 into ORD, and unless the weather is perfect, they can't handle the load without delays.

Now, more runways can help -- esp. at ORD, which deals with everyone runway but one crossing another runway (and that one might as well cross another.) But just building more runways won't help if the airlines then pull 15 narrow body flights and replace them with 45 RJs.

Of course, this will all be moot in five years, given Jet-A fuel costs.

#11 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 12:21 PM:

Fewer flights with larger planes isn't the answer, because it isn't Boeing's answer. Boeing gave up trying to compete with the A380, on the story that nobody wants larger planes, everyone wants more, smaller planes, so they came up with the "Dreamliner" (wonderful name). So US-vs-EU strategy means small is beautiful, and blame the delays on the airports. Common sense doesn't apply.

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 12:33 PM:

The solution is Gerry Anderson's Fireflash. Sure it's atomic-powered and people keep crashing it, but, hey, it looks cool.

#13 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 12:56 PM:

One could expect better from the nation's first supersonic-fighter-flying President.

#14 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 01:04 PM:

Would, I wonder, fixing the rail lines and making them much faster help?

#15 ::: Dave Bell ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 01:13 PM:

With modern check-in delays, just how far does a plane have to fly before it's able to beat a TGV?

Paris-London is a couple of hours by rail, with much less time needed to travel from St Pancras than from Heathrow.

#16 ::: Madeline F ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 01:19 PM:

I got to fly in a large-sized meant-for-passengers propeller plane 15 years ago in Alaska (as opposed to the little puddle hoppers, which were also awesome). It was really, really neat. I could look through bolt holes in the floor to the ground. I felt like I was in Indiana Jones... Shoulda been wearing a cloche.

What is the reason that there don't seem to be any commercial propeller planes flying in the US anymore?

#17 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 02:04 PM:

#14 Randolph Fritz: From ShrubCo's point of view, Amtrak is a Bad Thing -- not only does it cut down on oil revenues, but there's way too many stations scattered around for them to lock down and control.

Remember, the background agenda of the "air-travel security push" is to discourage long-distance travel -- especially in or out of the Homeland, but also within it. After all, it's much harder to control people if they can go somewhere else....

#18 ::: Connie H. ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 02:19 PM:

You know, it strikes me that if I were a terrorist, I would want to hit major airports during the height of a holiday season, for maximum emotional impact as well as the richest target environment. So relaxing security during that time -- not so great an idea?

Except of course, if it's really Security Theatre that you've been practicing during the last 6 or so years and now you can make a show of relaxing some of the restrictions that were bogus anyway....

#19 ::: Bill Humphries ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 02:31 PM:

Will they be serving an complimentary ration of Victory Gin on those Thanksgiving week flights?

#20 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 03:05 PM:

High speed rail does appear to beat out intermediate-haul jet airline service when it's given a decent shake of the stick. The Spanish TGV network is currently exploding, and on some routes air travel has dropped 80% due to competition from trains -- trains that travel at over 180 miles per hour and refund your ticket if they're more than five minutes late, and turn a profit.

It wouldn't work for the US coast-to-coast routes, but given the current 2-hour checkin/security clearance lead time and the hour it takes to get your bags and get into town at the other end, modern high speed rail should be competitive with jet airliners for any distance up to about a thousand miles.

(I went on a Shinkansen Nozomi 500 last summer, in Japan. It's the latest generation of bullet train, with enough acceleration to push you back into your seat as it leaves the platform. Cruise speed is comparable to a slow turboprop, except we bought our tickets fifteen minutes before it left, and if we'd known our way around the station we could have cut it finer: and it took us right into the centre of our destination. As it is, it worked out about two hours faster than taking a 737 over the same 380 mile distance. This stuff isn't rocket science; it's just the incremental development of a technology the USA gave up on about 60 years ago. Mutter, grumble, why don't we have trains like that here in the UK?)

#21 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 03:08 PM:

#18: Shhhh ...

#19: Is that to go with the newly raised 20-gram chocolate ration?

#22 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 03:11 PM:

I went on a Shinkansen Nozomi 500 last summer, in Japan. It's the latest generation of bullet train

... Sorry, brain fart: it's the last generation. The new Nozomi 700 is supposed to be faster, point to point.

For real railroad porn, here's what a performance-tuned TGV can do.

#23 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 03:15 PM:

We'd love a high speed rail system in California. Well, most of us would. Chevron, Exxon... not so much.

#24 ::: Emma Bull ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 03:21 PM:

Wow. In the same week, President Bush vetos a bill that would increase funding for diabetes treatment and announces that he'll help us all get to Thanksgiving dinner on time. If this plan would work, I'd have to say this is an administration that really has my best interests at heart.

#26 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 04:41 PM:

Kip: they've been doing airline-style screening on bags at left-luggage offices in UK railway stations since before 9/11 -- think IRA. Since 7/7 they've also done random spot searches on travellers in London's main railway stations. But it's a PR exercise, much like parking tanks outside Heathrow.

There were 57 billion passenger movements by rail in the UK last year, and the figure's rising, with significant annual growth (petrol is at US $9 for a US gallon). They want to search passengers at 250 stations? There are 128 stations with names beginning with 'A' alone, and that's without adding in the London Underground and other light rail systems. Also, the stations were mostly built between 1830 and 1900. The SRA is having horrible trouble just retrofitting them all with ticket barriers, never mind trying to segregate travellers from the non-travelling public.

Upshot: all they can do is the usual security theatre song-and-dance routine, and maybe pin down the end-points of the major inter-city routes when they've got a call out for suspects on the run.

#27 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 04:46 PM:

"Today's Republican Party: Working to Kill Emma Bull." It's a slogan.

#28 ::: Josh Jasper ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 05:08 PM:

High speed interstate rail plus more local rail and bus options, please.

#29 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 05:39 PM:

Uhh, people, highway engineer speaking here. Forget high speed rail travel; if you thought building the interstate system was expensive, just wait until you see the cost for a high speed rail system!

First off, Amtrak is a dinosaur; it is slow, doesn't go where people want to go, delays are constant, and it's not that flexible. The lines it runs on can't exceed 60mph in most locations, and upgrading them for higher speeds means new alignments. Building a brand new, high speed network of rail lines would cost BILLIONS and there's no guarantee it would be used any better than Amtrak currently is.

With the delays in plane queues and security inspections, the radius where driving or taking the train over flying is getting larger, but it's not more than a couple of hundred miles. Figure two hours in the airport and even a one hour flight time (distance from Raleigh to Atlanta, for example), and you STILL beat driving or taking a train that same distance. Even three hours in the airport isn't faster than driving or taking the train; this country is just too big for anything but regional HSR lines, mostly commuter rail stuff that doesn't have to be high speed.

#30 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:13 PM:

John L

For some reason, Amtrak isn't supposed to be subsidized by government, although highways and air travel is. This is part of the reason why Amtrak doesn't serve much of the country any more. I doubt that rail would otherwise be more expensive than those multi-billion-dollar air travel system and the multi-billion-dollar interstate highway system.

#31 ::: Constance Ash ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:26 PM:

I live where Amtrak runs, and I love it.

I wish it were all over the country.

I hate flying and I driving too.

Love, C.

#32 ::: datamuse ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 06:30 PM:

When I went to college in New England and visited family in D.C., I nearly always took Amtrak. The nearest airport to the town where I lived was almost an hour away by bus, plus check-in and security time (both much shorter then, and even today Bradley Field is not a large airport), and time at the other end...nearly added up to six hours transit time, only two of which were in the air. Six hours was about how long it took to get from rural Massachusetts to Washington via Amtrak, even when they stopped at every single New Jersey station. I only started flying regularly when I moved to the west coast.

My personal record for air travel is 36 hours, but that included a ten-hour layover in Taipei, which ranks as the most boring airport I've ever been in.

#33 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 07:06 PM:

Erik V. Olson @10 -

You have it exactly right. An airport can have only so many operations (takeoffs & landings) in an hour. But Delta and Continental and United all think that you can cram more into that time period somehow.

If I lived in the Northeast, I would drive everywhere I could, take the train, or fly out of airports outside of the chokepoints.

#34 ::: Emma Bull ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 08:32 PM:

Re #27: Hah hah! I shall elude them yet, and TRIUMPH CREEPILY! Bwah-hah-hah.

Oh, and that Fox News clip? That can't have been real. That had to have been made for The Daily Show.


That was real?

I feel kinda sorry for them. Kinda.

#35 ::: Erik V. Olson ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:11 PM:

Brining up the A380, or for that matter, the 747-400 here, is missing the point. The vast majority of US airports never see a 747 land, the vast majority of those that do see a couple a day.

The problem is US Airspace is transactions. An independent runway can land about 45 planes an hour. If you replace half your 737s with RJs, you can still land about 45 planes an hour -- but you've cut your passenger capacity by a third. Replace all of them, and it's two thirds.

If you fly a schedule that demands that ORD land 120 aircraft an hour, twenty of them will be delayed, because ORD in perfect weather can only land 100 of them in that hour. If the runways get wet? The max drops to 80. If they're slick, or the winds are strong, 68 or less.

The problem with the NY Metro airports? The exact same thing. You cannot land 70 aircraft at JFK in one hour except under perfect weather. You *cannot* land 50 aircraft at LaGuardia in one hour, period -- but the airlines keep trying to.

That's the problem. We don't need 747s or A380s to fix this. We need 737s, MD-80s, A320s. Replace two 40-50 seat RJs with one 737, and the problem stops.

#36 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 09:38 PM:

PJ Evans @30:

That may be the original intent, but Amtrak has been subsidized by the government for as long as I can remember. It routinely loses money, and while it is nice to ride a train instead of having to drive the same distance, it only takes one set of delays, or a derailment, to sour many people into not trying it again.

#37 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 10:10 PM:

#36, John L: Repeating the observation that Amtrak "routinely loses money" isn't actually responsive to P J Evans's #30. Exactly how much money does the interstate highway system make? Answer: none, it's an ongoing cost center. It's just that we've made a political decision to spend lots of money on highways and relatively little on trains. And yet people rarely say "Darn those interstates, they never make a profit!"

#38 ::: Earl Cooley III ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 10:40 PM:

The answer to that is punitive road use taxes against businesses. They can pay for it by slightly trimming their bribery budgets and reducing executive salaries and benefits.

#39 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 11:20 PM:

I (half-)remember a complaint from a fellow who did quite a lot of work for the FAA on improving the Atlanta air-traffic-control procedures, so as to significantly increase the number of on-time arrivals going through the airport.

The airlines immediately responded by scheduling 20% (or some such) more flights through Atlanta, with the result that the delays were back where they were.

Despite all the finger-pointing at regional jets and the like, I suspect this is fundamentally not a problem that has a technological solution.

(Want to solve it? Find a way to make the airlines actually care if their flights are late. Right now, where's the incentive?)

#40 ::: Seth Breidbart ::: (view all by) ::: November 18, 2007, 11:53 PM:

Part of the reason that Amtrak "loses money" is that the government has arbitrarily allocated some costs to it (e.g. full salaries for ex-employees). This results in things like sold-out trains appearing to lose money (due to bogus cost allocations) and being canceled, resulting in no savings (since Amtrak has to continue paying salaries for now non-workers) and more bogus expenses allocated to the remaining trains.

#41 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:14 AM:

Emma Bull @ 24

More like they don't have any (good) interest in your heart.

#42 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:18 AM:

So how will BushCo look if there's a major airline gridlock this weekend? Say, if there's just enough of a storm to delay everything east of the Mississippi by an hour and a half, and incoming flights get stacked up 3 deep waiting for gates?

#43 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:31 AM:

Happy airline story. I flew to San Diego from Oakland CA last weekend. Sitting in the plane, loaded and ready to leave the gate, the captain says, "Sorry, folks, we're having a mechanical problem. Everyone off, we're going to find you a new plane." Did I mention the airline? Southwest. We all de-planed, walked down three gates, stood in line, they found us a new plane. We boarded. It took about an hour and a half to find us a new plane, check it out, and transfer us and our luggage. It was all very orderly, very polite, and remarkably easy.

#44 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 02:11 AM:

Bruce, no matter how bad it happens to be, it will be better than it would have been. Thank goodness they came up with this plan!!!

#45 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 04:29 AM:

California could really benefit from a high-speed rail system. Yes, it's expensive, but running from San Diego (or even further, say... close to the Tijuana Border...) to Napa Valley, through San Francisco, with a fork off to Vegas from the appropriate point... you're talking good times for everybody! Los Angelinos can grab a train to Tijuana, get stinking drunk (and violently ill) and hop a train back to LA; what a weekend!

Oh god... what it would do for Disneyland is outrageous. (But then again, maybe DLand makes all of its money on outrageous parking prices and would block the construction?)

LAX to San Diego Convention-center, without trying to park in downtown SD during ComicCon weekend? THANKS MOM!

Would these benefits actually make it popular? I have no clue! But then again, the Bay Area can't run light rail on time, it's not like building high-speed trains will magically turn the rail companies into the Japan-Rail group...

#46 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 05:54 AM:
California could really benefit from a high-speed rail system. Yes, it's expensive, but running from San Diego (or even further, say... close to the Tijuana Border...) to Napa Valley, through San Francisco, with a fork off to Vegas from the appropriate point... you're talking good times for everybody! Los Angelinos can grab a train to Tijuana, get stinking drunk (and violently ill) and hop a train back to LA; what a weekend!
Are you familiar with the project?
The California High-Speed Rail project is a proposed high-speed rail system in the state of California. The system is being planned by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which will design, build, and operate the system.

It is currently in the Environment Impact Report (EIR) and route selection stages, with the second of two Draft Environmental Statements released to the public on July 20, 2007. An implementation plan approved in August 2005 estimated that it would take 8 to 11 years to "develop and begin operation of an initial segment of the California high-speed train."[2]

If built, high-speed trains will be able to travel across California at speeds of up to 220 mph (354.1 km/h), potentially linking San Francisco to Los Angeles in under two and a half hours.

#47 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 05:55 AM:

Apologies, that should say "California High-Speed Rail project".

#48 ::: John L ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 07:46 AM:

Patrick @37:

The initial premise of Amtrak was that it would "pay for itself", however. I would also point out that the interstate system most definitely HAS paid for itself, through more efficient movement of both goods and people all over this nation. There's a very good reason why businesses set up and relocate to areas served by interstates; it makes good economic sense.

The problem with the interstate system is that no one ever thought ahead to what happens after it was finished; the funding was set up to build it, but maintenance was left up to the states. Everyone just thought it would remain 'as is' without further need for upgrades or repairs. Now, more than 50 years after it was begun, the need for those upgrades and repairs are staggering, and the states can't afford the costs by themselves.

#49 ::: Simon ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 08:18 AM:

You're comparing oranges with apples here.

You say that the interstates have paid for themselves through the additional economic growth they creates, however rail does exactly the same thing.

If you subtracted the secondary economic benefits of rail from the direct governmental costs, it could very well be paying for itself.

#50 ::: John Stanning ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 09:44 AM:

Lizzy L #43 : nice to have a happy airline story. But it's rare for an airline to have a spare plane lying around (I guess Southwest might be an exception - just go out to the yard and grab another 737). Usually they utilise their assets too intensively. That's the only problem (well, one of the only problems) with great big things like 747 and A380: when some little doohickey fails that's on the minimum equipment list, you can't fly it and there won't be another $300 million plane sitting idle just in case.

#51 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:14 AM:

Gag Halfrunt @ 46

I went to a marketing-fest for 3D modelling and animation software last week, and the first presenter was a local architectural visualization firm that showed footage of the CA High Speed Rail project that they'd done. Apparently all the route plans include upgrading the road crossings between SD and SF with either tunnels, open below-grade underpasses, or overpasses. That's going to cost a middle-aged fortune.

#52 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:27 AM:

Oh god do I love the Japanese rail system.

I lived in Tokyo for nearly a year, and I've had two pan-Japan exploration trips. Using a combination of rail, bus, and occasionally bike there is nowhere you can't get in Japan.

Just a few notes: without the eminently affordable, foreigner-only Japan Rail Pass, the shinkansen can be quite expensive... Tokyo to Sendai or Osaka can run up to $300 - one way. That's a little more than I'm used to paying for roundtrip airfare from D.C. to either Florida or New York ($140 - 270 round trip). However, the JR DOES, currently, 'pay for itself' I believe.

The other problem is that, once you GET where you're going, you need to get that last 20-30-80 miles to your final destination by some other means.

Japan has an excellent local rail system, and quite good (if slightly confusing) small-town buses. The problem with American rail travel is not just that it's insufficient... it's that it's insufficiently interconnected, and insufficiently supported by local lines.

This isn't true in all of the US, but the performance is spotty in the areas where I've traveled extensively by rail and bus. NYC and D.C. are huge commuter towns, so the buses and subway and rail are all nicely interconnected (though I still believe NYC subways are designed to trick non-locals). However Philly is not a rail commuter town... it's much more driveable than either NYC or D.C., but the public transportation tends to be dirty, creepy, and confusing when compared to D.C. or NYC. (D.C.'s metro website is really... a technological marvel. You can select any bus stop or train station in its network and get a route - with travel times and arrival/departure times, to any other train station or bus stop).

The other side of the Japanese Rail system coin is that highways in Japan ARE heavily tolled and taxed, especially for long distance use of freeways. It makes me wonder if well-used, state of the art high speed trains and free-use highways are an either/or proposition.

This is all rather disconnected. I guess I'm saying that there is a rail experience in the US, at least in the northeast. It's pretty good in a lot of places because it has to be, but in places where it doesn't have to be it's shameful compared to anywhere in Japan. I'd put in some tax bucks to make it better, and to encourage co-ordination... is there some REASON that there's no way for me to get from the greyhound bus terminal to the local rail station without taking a taxi 30 miles? Is there a way to make the signage in the NYC subway as transparent as the signage in the Tokyo subway? Would the U.S. be able to make the system efficient enough that round trip tickets from NYC to DC aren't $600?

#53 ::: Gag Halfrunt ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:11 PM:
Apparently all the route plans include upgrading the road crossings between SD and SF with either tunnels, open below-grade underpasses, or overpasses. That's going to cost a middle-aged fortune.
But it won't be as expensive as building an entirely new line, which is what the French would do.
#54 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 01:22 PM:

Leah Miller @ 52

When I was growing up in Philly in the 1950s it had a decent, though not really great, public transit system, and had reasonable ridership on the suburban-to-city rail systems. The economic crash in the 70's, which was the result of white flight from the city, ended that. Up until that time the city had failed in building the high-speed roads to meet the demand; they simply couldn't keep up. I haven't been back there since 1970, so I don't have direct knowledge of the situation since, but I've been told that a good part of the city is still underpopulated, so the transportation is largely aimed at moving people between downtown and the 2nd ring suburbs.

#55 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 06:15 PM:

My first thought on hearing this was "At least he makes the trains run on time?" ::shudder::

#56 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 06:40 PM:

All this makes me doubly appreciate my situation, whenever I need to go into the office. I walk across the street from my apartment, jump on the city bus that goes directly to the New Haven train station, take Metro-North into Grand Central, then it's two stops on the subway and a half-block later I'm at work. 'Tis a thing of beauty, and everyone in America should have public transport as readily accessible to them.

That said, I am stuck having to travel through all 5 of the most-delayed airports in the US several times each year. It's all well and good to say that reducing flights and rearranging capacity on planes will help the delays, but the truth is that the airlines are constantly going to be figuring out how to open up more seats to fill. One advantage of a steady stream of smaller flights is (theoretically, at least) a steadier stream of people moving through this week's version of TSA Security Theater. Bunching up the same number of passengers that would be traveling on, say 12 flights over the course of 12 hours onto, say, six flights over the course of 12 hours will just lead to unbelievable queues at checkin and security in bunches. Wouldn't be long before people would find themselves showing up at the airport 5 hours early just to make sure they had enough time to get to their gate, so where's the benefit from a time-saving standpoint?

And speaking of TSA Security Theater, WTF is *this* about?!?

#57 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: November 19, 2007, 11:58 PM:

Tania @ 55

Ack! I didn't think of that. But it gives me a new name for him: Il Doofus.

#58 ::: Lizzy L ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 12:06 AM:

John at 50, believe me, I know how unusual my story is. I have no idea why and how SWA happened to have an empty plane waiting around. But it was well handled. A rare event, that.

Meredith at 56, those Clear guys have been around for at least a year, maybe more.

#59 ::: Dawno ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 01:13 AM:

If there were a high speed train to LA (and parts south) I'd be on it every weekend. I wonder how many other transplanted Southern California folk up here in Northern California would do the same (and vice versa)? It would also be great for folk who would prefer a day trip for business but end up spending the night to avoid trying to get to LAX (to say nothing of through it) in the afternoon/evening.

I think I shall write some letters to my state rep and the Governor.

#60 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 02:22 AM:

Tania, you just made me flee, screaming, from my computer.

#61 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 02:47 AM:

John L: (and apologies if my skipping ahead means this has been covered)

Amtrak suffers from the Gov't not owning the rails on which it runs. I like Amtrak. I use it whenever it's feasible. Took it to Seattle; cost less and was far more pleasant a trip (going first class) than it would have cost to travel coach by air; for two people).

But the rules are such that it's late; always. Why? Because the railroads (who own the rights of way) make it late. Amtrak is last in priority. The railroads get to add cars (we had a six hour delay at Jack London because UP wanted to add a coach for two of it's employees).

The NE Corridor (and the Surfliner, from SD to Paso Robles) make money. Extend the same level of certainty to SD to SF (or all the way to Seattle) and there would be at least break even (and there is no reason Amtrak has to make money. Break even is better than I demand). I'll add two-days to my trip (and it's less than that with the extra time I have to budget to clear the security theater at the airport these days. I was flying to Scotland and I almost missed my 1100 flight, arriving at the airport at 0530) for travel in comfort.

The benefits you ascribe to the highway system, apply to rail. Hell, if we didn't pay tens of millions to the rail companies to get access to the rails, there'd be a lot less red-ink on Amtrak. And the savings in petroleum aren't counted in the ledger either. The goods and the like you are crediting to the roads don't mean much to the federal budget (yes you can credit taxes, but everything which moves goods/people generates taxes).

Rail is better, cheaper and more pleasant than air travel.

That's worth a lot.

#62 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 03:39 AM:

BC (STM) - Il Doofus, eh? I like it.

ethan, I'm sorry. I rather like you, and wouldn't want to cause you any grief, considering what you've already had to deal with this year. How about you sit down, have a nice cup of tea laced with brandy, and remember we're getting closer to the end of Il Doofus' regime.
::grins cheekily, pats ethan on the the hand::

#63 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 04:24 AM:

@Greg #46-
No, I was not aware of that, not even a little bit. I'm glad to hear of it now.

@Greg #46 & Leah #52 combined-
Last-mile connection is very important, and is part of why I brought up places like Disneyland, Las Vegas and Tijuana. They are already the last-mile, assuming the Vegas train station is in walking distance of The Strip. (Disneyland has a history of hauling it's visitors to the park (the Disneyland Hotel monorail, etc), I'm sure they'd be happy if people were dumped out of the train station in Downtown-Disney, and then had to walk up to the theme-park...) San Francisco by street-car, BART, and Bus already gets a variety of carless tourists where they're going, so I imagine they'd be fine.

The problem would be people who live elsewhere but want to visit LA, or are visiting the Southern-Cali homestead. On the other hand, if there were tons of carless people getting dumped off at Los Angeles Union Station, there would be a real reason to make bus & subway lines that go where people want to. (The subway already goes from Union to Hollywood, and Universal Studios)

@Leah #52
The fun thing about the high-priced toll-roads in Japan is that you really can get where you're going rather quickly (by Japanese car standards). High Tolls convince a lot of people that they'd rather slog through the slow and narrow highway routes, so the toll-ways aren't overused. I wonder if the long stretches between metro-areas pay for themselves, or if money from heavily traveled suburb->city-center stretches flows out to them (I certainly don't know).

The GREAT thing about the toll roads for a solo-traveler, is you can take a bus on them for about the same price as the toll. The prices are fairly reasonable, once you're adjusted to paying too much for everything *eyeroll*

#64 ::: Scott ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 04:30 AM:

@Leah #52
I knew I forgot something...
Tokyo to Osaka should cost around $120 unless you're traveling in first class, and then it's $160 or so (each way, at 114Y/$ not that I've checked exchange rates in the last several weeks).
It is generally more expensive than air travel between major cities. But I've never seen prices like $300 one-way Tokyo<-->Osaka

#65 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 09:27 AM:

I just wish my small town had a *bus* system, rather than useless little shuttles between shopping areas. Without a car, I either depend on my husband for transportation or occasionally get rides from a neighbor. Though the local politicos are debating a "tri-city" system with actual buses, god knows if or when they'll come through with anything.

At least I have a nice view from the aerie, here at home.

#66 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 10:06 AM:

Scott @ 64

Doh! You are, of course, completely correct. One way tickets from Tokyo to Osaka seem to average between $120ish and $140ish.

I think I may have misremembered a time when I was buying tickets for two... bad brain, bad!

#67 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 10:15 AM:

Thanks for the tea, Tania.

...hey, what's in this? I'm feeling woozy...

#68 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 10:40 AM:

Scott 2 63

I suspect Disney has a shuttle running from the Anaheim train station (which is at Angels Stadium).

#69 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 11:44 AM:

ethan: Be careful, Tania is probably Fred from Muncie. :)

#70 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 12:35 PM:

How is the weather in Muncie, anyway?

#71 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 01:08 PM:

ethan: Cold; but I have silk longjohns.

#72 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:00 PM:

ethan: Drat, you caught me. To cross thread comments, Serge has my home address too, but I don't know if that makes me any more or less real.

The tea was a nice herbal mix my grandma gave me, involving the lovely plant known as belladonna. She swears it's the best and helps her deal with her troubles. I was only trying to help!

#73 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:07 PM:

Tania @ 72... Serge has my home address too

That's OK. I do know that with great power comes great responsibility. Bawhahahah!!!

#74 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:09 PM:

Tania* @72:
Elderberry wine go out of fashion?

* Your surname isn't Brewster, is it? Mortimer's daughter?

#75 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:37 PM:

abi, I'm pretty sure Tania is Patty Hearst.

#76 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:45 PM:

I have heard the burst of a Thompson gun, but it's still on layaway.

#77 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:49 PM:

ethan... What? I thought Tania was you.

#78 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 05:53 PM:

Serge, Maybe I'm Patty Hearst. You just don't know.

#79 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 06:00 PM:

ethan... I thought you were Abi.

#80 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 06:06 PM:

What? I thought ethan was Xopher. Now I'm going to have to go back and reread Making Light from the start.

#81 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 06:13 PM:

eek. I feel like we're headed here with who is who is not who.
Me, I'm Clyde from Pierre.

#82 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 06:18 PM:

I thought Fragano was abi!

#83 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 06:31 PM:

I confess. I really am Teresa.

#84 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 06:41 PM:

Tania is Spartacus!

#85 ::: Tania ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 06:45 PM:

I'd rather be Van Gogh.

#86 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 06:48 PM:

But I'm Van Gogh!

#87 ::: Ruth Temple ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 06:57 PM:

We had the chance to take the TGV in France this summer. A cheap 10-minute ride to the edge of town by bus to the station, 2:40 from Avignon to Paris' Gare de l'Est, across the river from the Jardin des plantes; walking distance to our hotel with our handy luggage from REI with the stowaway/pull-out backpack straps, or two stops and two blocks on the metro. It was all above-grade, and/or with high enough walls to keep cows from straying onto the tracks, while also giving a nice view. Incredible. Delightful.

I'd love to ride rail like that in CA.

My comfort level for choosing to drive rather than fly has gotten to be about 13-15 hours from the Bay Area; That's Tucson southward or Portland northward from here, generally in a day-and-a-half rather than the one long day push.

--not abi, Xopher, Tania, nor Fromme the land of Squeak.

#88 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 07:54 PM:

P J Evans #82: I thought everyone realised I was really Xopher....

#89 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 09:25 PM:

Madeleine@16: I have read airline statements that passengers don't like the sight or noise of propellers. I can understand preferring not to see moving parts on the hull, and RJs can be quieter (pusher jet engines are common, pusher props are not); but I don't know how true this is.

meredith@56: I do not think your description of bunching caused by fewer larger planes computes. With centralized security, having to pass (e.g.) 8050 people in some hours and 7950 in others would not make a big difference; plus, current airlines (unlike the late Ansett & TAA) can ]counterprogram[ to fit into each others' void spaces, leveling the load.

#90 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 10:34 PM:

Fragano @ 88... I thought everyone realised I was really Xopher....

You mean that Xopher is Jamaican?

#91 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: November 20, 2007, 11:34 PM:

Fragano @ 88

Well, I have to admit, the mail doesn't always stop when it goes by my box. (Especially the one at work!)

Are you sure you're not Teresa?

#93 ::: Michael R. Bernstein ::: (view all by) ::: November 21, 2007, 07:57 PM:

Scott @ #63: For Las Vegas, the station would only have to be near the monorail, rather than the strip itself.

#94 ::: Richard Brandt ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 03:49 PM:

Unless things have changed in Vegas since I've been there, the monorail route pretty much is the strip.

#95 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: November 22, 2007, 03:54 PM:

Serge #90: That would be telling.

P.J. Evans #91: That would also be telling.

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