Populist movements don't build themselves ...

... It doesn't matter what the "horse race" outcome of the campaign is, if we fight the campaign. Fighting it, we learn how to fight. Learning how to fight political battles, we become citizens again. Becoming citizens again, we reclaim the Republic that lies dormant beneath the bread and circuses of modern American society.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunday Train: Why the CEI is Intrinsically Broken and How to Fix It

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

What is the CEI? It is the "Cost Effectiveness Index", used to evaluate applications for capital improvements in transit. As described by Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic:
In reviewing transit capital projects to fund with New Starts grant money, the Federal Transit Administration evaluates proposals from a variety of perspectives. Since 2005, it has placed an overwhelming focus on one criterion, requiring a medium “cost-effectiveness” rating, which values predicted overall travel time saved by commuters likely to use the new service.

And indeed, it is a puzzle from The Transport Politic which brings this issue back to the fore: a little while back, Yonah described how the CEI was forcing an inferior light rail alignment choice, in Minneapolis, while in the article linked to above, he is arguing against a proposal by two Congressmen to overturn the policy.

The thing is: the Cost Effectiveness Index is not simply a badly put together formula. Rather, it represents a fundamentally flawed assumption under which there is no way to put together an appropriate formula. However, setting that assumption aside would allow a framework to be established that would overcome the limitations of the CEI.

The Specific Problem with the CEI

The Specific Critique of the CEI is presented quite well by Yonah Freemark back in August:
One, the cost-benefit analysis is heavily biased towards the number of annual hours commuters will save by using the new transit system. This means that people who already have longer commutes are seen as more valuable for the FTA than those who choose to live in in-town locations with shorter distances between their residences and workplaces. As a result, transit networks are encouraged to extend out into the suburbs, rather than be densified and reinforced downtown. This policy encourages sprawl; though more suburbanites may find themselves taking transit to work, they won’t be using it to go shopping or out on the weekend. European policies, which generally encourage densification of transit networks in dense, inner-city locations, have produced transit systems that are far better-used per mile compared to American lines.

Two, similarly, the FTA likes speed. As a result, the slightly shorter 3A route is better for commuters in the far-out suburbs hoping to get to jobs downtown. The tunnel planned for route 3C, which ramps up costs exponentially, is only necessary because a surface route would be too slow and make the commutes of people from Eden Prairie slightly longer. Note that a 3C route without the tunnel would have a significantly lower construction cost, but it still wouldn’t meet FTA cost-effectiveness criteria because fewer outer-suburban people would ride it because their trip would be longer.

Three, the formula used by the FTA prefers new riders to old ones. In other words, a person moving from a car to a train is considered more important than a person moving from a bus to a train. This means that people already using transit are disadvantaged and are unlikely to receive upgrades to their transit service. Circuitously, the fact that fewer people use transit in the areas along route 3A (because of their wealth, car-dependence, and sprawling neighborhoods) means that they’re more likely to be considered for funding by the federal government.

Well, so fix it! The problem is, when you start digging into it, each modification has a strong counter-argument. Indeed, is it wrong to give credit to a line for better speed? Is it wrong to give extra credit to a line for attracting new riders? Indeed, it is wrong to give credit to a line for saving more hours to commuters rather than saving fewer hours?

If you step back and look at each of those in isolation, they are quite defensible. The central question is: how can you give weight to those factors while still allowing a local alignment to be designed that best meets local needs, where those generally good things may not be as high a priority as running the alignment through an attractive non-commute destination to provide stronger off-peak ridership.

The General Problem With the Cost Effectiveness Index

Its easy to so got lost in the details of the debate over the details of what is in the CEI that we lose sight of a more basic question: is any single index number going to be right for identifying all of the most worthwhile projects?

And the answer to the basic question is: of course not. A new transit project is an addition to an existing transport system, which is a structured collection of component parts. And that transport system is a subsystem in the local economic system.

There is no conceivable way to formulate any index that will pick the best new transit project for every different transport system in every different local economy in the country. If it picks the best alignment for Minneapolis, it will go awry somewhere else. The actual weight of the different facets of new transport infrastructure depends on the system in which it is to be placed.

But why would anybody imagine that there is a single index number that can pick out "the" right projects? Well, its not a surprising assumption in mainstream economics, which relies upon the fiction of "utility" based decision making, because it allows us to quite accurate in our predictions of what would happen in an entirely different universe where the people in the economy were not human beings.

But its a silly thing to just assume that such a surprising thing is possible in this case. So unless and until someone does present the formula which is accepted by all observers as picking out the very best projects in each of the various big cities, small cities, suburbs and rural areas of this country, there's no reason to believe there is any one index number that gets it right more often than not.

A Particular Solution to Fixing It

The reason that some bureaucrat was told, "make up an index number" was an effort to provide a means for selecting projects that was not entirely based on political clout. But when we accept that no one number can be all things to all people, that does not mean we have to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Say that we want to encourage construction of systems that save energy. And we want to encourage construction of systems that reduce emissions of CO2. And we want to encourage construction of systems that provide alternatives to suburban automotive commutes. And we want to encourage construction of systems that attract people to make a large number of rides. And we want to encourage construction of systems that promote economic development in disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Once we abandon the effort to build a single index number, we actually simplify the formula making process. For energy efficiency, use energy saved per dollar. For reducing CO2 emissions, tons of CO2 emissions saved per dollar. For suburban commutes, peak-hour passenger miles per dollar. For attracting a large number of ride, rides per dollar. There could be six to eight different "good things".

Then, instead of putting all these quite distinctive goals into some arbitrary index, rank the applicants against each goal. For each goal, provide a certain pot of money to distribute and a maximum percentage of the system cost it can contribute. For example, energy saving can contribute 30%, CO2 emissions reduction 30%, suburban commutes 20%, ridership 20%, supporting economic development in (some already Federally designated) disadvantage neighborhood 20%.

Each system can obtain up to 80% of its cost - depending on how it ranks on a range of measures. However, unlike the existing CEI formula or any alternative CEI index, which is biased toward some particular type of system which is most useful to some particular type of local economy ... local communities can look at the range of goals being funded, and design a system that does an excellent job in serving some of those goals.

And ranking applications on each goal is a self-balancing system. If some goals are being less well served ... there is an extra incentive to try to do a better job of serving that goal, in order to win that slice of funding.

So, that fixes it, does it?

Of course, this is just one part of the problem. The bigger task might seem to be getting an adequate amount of money allocated to these projects in the first place.

Still, first things first. The system of ranking against distinct goals and allocating funding "slices" is one where it is far easier to ensure a wider range of communities will benefit from access to a larger pool of money. And that is critical to making sure that the benefits both cross urban/rural divides, but, sometimes even more critically, are seen to cross urban/rural divides.

If we are going to get the level of investment in sustainable transport that our nation will be needing in the two decades ahead - it cannot be seen as a "cities only" issue.

And so its an important innovation if we can break the funding regime free of the shackles of the "one size fits all" Cost Effectiveness Index.

And now, the headline act, Midnight Oil, with Dreamworld

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sunday Train: Doctor Dan prescribes High Speed Rail for Kentucky

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Doctor Dan Mongiardo, Kentucky's Lieutenant Governor, has announced that he is running for the Democratic nomination for the Kentucky Senate race, to take on whoever wins the Republican nomination to challenge for the seat that Senator Bunning (R-Big$$$) has announced he is giving up.

Lots of politics to unwrap in that paragraph, which I'll leave to the political wise-guys. The Sunday Train today is about Dr. Dan's Rail Plan.

As far as I can tell, Dr. Dan's Rail Plan has four main parts, and regular readers of the Sunday Train will recognize much from each of the four parts:
  • Support for expanding Kentucky's existing and potential Amtrak routes into 110mph Emerging Higher Speed Rail corridors
  • Support for regional rail services to complete the above state rail map
  • "Hybrid Light Rail" to provide cross-metropolitan local rail services, principally to Louisville
  • Heavy investment in complementary local transit, including bus rapid transit and a high frequency driverless monotrain system for Kentucky.

Dr. Dan's Prescription

The YouTube plays the powerpoint slideshow that accompanied the speech where Dr. Dan announced his Rail Plan.

Dr. Dan lays heavy weight (speech) on the fact that Kentucky gets under 30% of its gas taxes to the Transit Fund back, while getting over 90% of its Highway Fund gas taxes back, so his proposal to fund the bulk of the local transit is basically, "get our Transit Money back".

What makes this encouraging for those of us outside Kentucky is that he lays part of the blame on the Bush-era Dept. of Transport practice of underfunding the 80:20 Federal match, which he claims discriminates against cities without an established system. And its likely to do, but there was a political shell game in getting there.

The political shell game was to persuade rural and suburban Congressmen that there was little in transit funding "for them". That discouraged them from voting to fund at reasonable levels. That made competition among applications was brutal, so matches dropped from 80:20 to sometime 40% or less Federal, 60% local. And that was a game that few rural and suburban counties could play at, without substantial help from their state government.

Dr. Dan also looks at the economic benefits of rail and transit, lays out his plan with lots of maps (which pass by too quickly on the YouTube, so its necessary to hit pause frequently, which interrupts the jazz ensemble backing track). And on this point, I believe he has a very handy frame to put around the dry policy wonk arguments on economic benefits:
Per capita income for counties served by Interstate highways is nearly THREE times that of counties that do not have access to good four-lane highways.

It is obvious that continuing to maintain, improve and expand our existing highway and bridge infrastructure in Kentucky is critical. What may not be obvious to some, however, is my belief that if Kentucky is left out of a federal high speed rail network - a network that is - as I said earlier -- in the infancy of its planning stages - I fear the economic consequences to our Commonwealth will be like those communities left out of the Federal Interstate Highway system 53 years ago. We will only fall farther behind in our efforts to expand economic opportunities and increase personal incomes.

The next Senator from Kentucky must be a fierce advocate for Kentucky when it comes to not only highways, bridges, locks and dams but also a fierce advocate for mass public transportation.

Have I Seen This Somewhere Before

For three of the treatments prescribed by Dr. Dan's Rail Plan, all I can say is, "I resemble that remark!". I would, however, extend his plan in one important area.

In his speech, he says regarding the Higher Speed Rail component:
The high speed rail grid that I envision would connect northern cities like Minneapolis, Chicago, Indianapolis, Columbus and Cleveland to cities in the south like Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, New Orleans and Miami, we would connect not only Louisville and Cincinnati into a national high speed rail system ... we would connect Lexington and potentially Bowling Green, Elizabethtown and London.

By connecting Washington D.C. to the West Coast in a transcontinental high speed rail line that bisects our nation and a passenger rail connecting our smaller cities in Kentucky with our urban centers - something that I will address in a moment -- we could potentially enable the majority of Kentuckians to easily access most major cities around the country.

If by "transcontinental HSR", we are to understand passenger High Speed Rail corridor, it does not make much sense - since "Higher" Speed Rail is primarily for trips of 100miles to 300miles, and very "High" Speed Rail for trips of 200miles to 500miles.

But if "transcontinental HSR" refers to electrifying one of the main east/west STRACNET corridors and upgrading it to allow 100mph single stack container freight - well, that is a vital national priority, and as a side-benefit that corridor would also effectively permit 110mph tilt-train passenger rail services. So under the definitions the DoT uses, that's a "transcontinental HSR".

And with one bridging section added to the existing STRACNET, there really could be a transcontinental corridor that passes through Kentucky:
  • From the Shenandoah Valley through Charleston WV, Cincinnati, and Louisville;
  • Upgrading the corridor through southern Indiana to Vincennes IN, where it connects to the existing STRACNET again
  • West to St. Louis and Kansas City, and from there either:
    • West to Colorado, Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno via the northern route, Sacramento and the Bay; or
    • Southwest to Amarillo, Albuquerque, Tuscon and the LA Basin

Of course, as previously discussed in the Appalachian Hub series on the Sunday Train, the Steel Interstate approach also supports Louisville / Nashville. And Dr. Dan proposes (as would I) a link from Lexington to Knoxville which would then connect through Chattanooga to either Atlanta or Birmingham and the existing proposed Gulf and Southeast HSR corridors.

The Steel Interstate provides a second solid answer to the question, "what does a Senator have to do with transit?", since the Steel Interstate is chock full of National Government responsibilities, including Defense, International Trade and, of course, Employment and Economic Stability.

Did You Say Monorail?

I will not go into the full plan - you can get an overview from either the speech or the youtube or both - but I will not the Monorail Question.

There are certain circumstances wherea 55mph Monorail offers a compelling case. If distances are too long for 35mph to be fast enough, short enough so 55mph is fast enough, there are too many obstacles to get a right of way on the ground, and there are places to put the large number of pylons required by the monorail, it could be the answer to that question.

Dr. Dan seems to undermine that case for Monorail in Louisville when he stresses how many rail corridors run through Louisville and how he hopes to be able to gain the cooperation of the Right of Way owners in most or all of them for Hybrid Light Rail. If a Hybrid Light Rail system criss-crosses the city, then either a Bus Rapid Transit, Aerobus, or Rapid Streetcar or mix of two or three might be a better match.

On the other hand - Dr. Dan is running for the Senate. So what is important is how he proposes to go about supporting the monorail. If the support consists of technology neutral preferences for systems that can offer high frequency and can be operated effectively in service of late night shifts, then its up to the city putting together the application to find the approach that is the right fit.

So there is that caveat: as long as the discussion of the driverless Monorail is pointing to the need to support those kind of features in a city like Louisville, where there needs to be support for all shifts, and not just a 9am-5pm office commute ... I'd hope that Louisville would do a wide canvass of all technologies to place that role in the integrated system.


Writing on Dr. Dan's Rail Plan at TheTransportPolitic, Yonah Freemark says:
The candidate’s proposals reflect that he is a novice in matters of transportation, but there’s a larger point here.

What’s most interesting about Mr. Mongiardo’s proposed transit links is that a senator in the U.S. Congress has very little direct influence on the decision-making of local authorities when it comes to transit, nor on the choices made by the state government on intercity rail. Nevertheless, he seems to have concluded that a specific vision of where new transit might go is more palpable to voters than a simple promise of more federal money. Unfortunately, the latter is the one thing a senator actually can produce.

In fact, Mr. Mongiardo makes the very good point that his state contributes around four times as much to the mass transit trust fund as it gets back — the federal government should fund more non-automobile transportation there.

I would disagree on one specific point. U.S. Senators have an unfortunately large amount of influence on the decision-making of local authorities when it comes to transit and the decision-making of state government on intercity rail. Indeed, Yonah Freemark himself made the point about Minneapolis likely choosing a second-best light rail alignment because that's what "scored well" on the Department of Transport formula.

Getting those formulas so that they deliver better outcomes is a problem local transport planners areas know about, but can't do anything about. Senators, on the other hand, can do something about it - the enabling legislation that the formula rests on passes through the Senate - but generally see a lot other areas as more exciting things to grandstand on.

Which is one of the biggest reasons that, in this month of bad news for progressives, I find Dr. Dan's Rail Plan something to get a little bit excited about.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Sunday Train: Hey, Joe, I still want sustainable electric HSRail for Christmas

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Left Orange Station a little after 7pm Eastern

Last year, I told VP Joe Biden about the Sustainable Electric High(er) Speed Rail I wanted for Christmas (cf. links below). It involved electrifying the 30,000+ miles of STRACNET, and establishing 100mph Rapid Freight Rail paths, including support for running 110mph or 125mph long haul electric passenger services on the Rapid Freight paths.

In short, I wanted Joe Biden to take Alan Drake's plan and just fracking DO it.

I didn't get it for Christmas last year - but then, I guess he was only VP-elect last 25DEC08. The post today is to look at the progress toward the goal. The answer, surprisingly, is that we have made substantial progress. Certainly we are not halfway there, yet, but we are much further along than I expected to see.

Regional Passenger HSRail Corridors

The biggest steps forward have been in the area of Regional Passenger HSRail Corridors. The first step happened way back in February. As reported at The Transport Politic, Final Stimulus Bill Rewards HSR Massively; Falls Somewhere Between House and Senate on Transit:
The U.S. Congress Conference Committee has agreed to the final provisions of the economic stimulus bill, which now moves back to the two chambers of Congress for final passage. The most important news is the massive amount of money proposed for high-speed rail – $8 billion – and the large increase in Amtrak funding, up to $1.3 billion from $800 and $850 million in the respective House and Senate bills. This represents the largest single expenditure on rail in United States history and promises a new day for train travel. The U.S. Department of Transportation will lead the distribution of these funds; most of the money is likely to go to existing programs such as California High-Speed Rail, Midwest High-Speed Rail, and Southeast High-Speed Rail. States will get no supplementary money for rail programs. The legislation says that some of the money can be used for standard-speed rail corridors, but that the Secretary of Transportation is to give priority “to projects that support the development of intercity high speed rail service.”

According to the AP, President Obama and Senator Reid pushed for the increase personally. This fits in directly with Mr. Obama’s statement yesterday about the benefits of high-speed rail and his repeated insistence during the campaign that he would push for better train service, especially in his native Midwest. It also may be a response to Mr. Obama’s seeming ignorance about the lack of money for infrastructure that Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) described at the beginning of the month.

The applications went in last October, with California, Florida, Indiana, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Virginia applying for over $1b each, and Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio (Go Bucks!), Washington and Wisconsin each applying for between $400m and $1b.

Then in the annual appropriation, the White House asked for $1b for next year, the House appropriated $4b, a 300% increase, the Senate $1.2b, a 20% increase, and after much dithering the Senate and House recently agreed to $2.5b, a 150% increase.

Now, because HSRail and Energy Efficient Transport advocates were making a major public push for the Senate to fall in line with the House $4b, there were those who saw this as a defeat, but in reality, anytime what comes out of Congress is 150% better than what the Administration proposes, that's called a "win". Imagine where we would have been on so many fronts if the Stimulus Bill was 150% better than what the Administration proposed!

Now, admittedly, $2.5b annually is not enough if we are going to be building one or two serious Express HSR systems to prove the concept. However, for the 110mph and 125mph systems, this level of funding is enough to get systems started that will serve over half the states in the nation.

Indeed, for Express HSR advocates, that fact alone is tremendous good news. Since the Emerging (110mph) Higher Speed Rail is time-competitive with driving, and the Regional (125mph) Higher Speed Rail is perceptibly faster than driving, operation of these systems will revolutionize common public perception of "ordinary" rail service. This will ensure that those with systems will want them expanded, while many states that presently lag in developing Higher Speed Rail plans will be facing pressure to get off the stick ... and that is a strongly favorable political environment for an HSRail development bank that can provide the Express (220mph) High Speed Rail systems the funding security they need.

But What About Long Distance Rapid Freight and Passenger Rail?

The focus for Emerging (110mph) and Regional (125mph) Higher Speed Rail is providing 100mile to 300mile trips between medium-large to large metropolitan areas. The focus for Express (220mph) High Speed Rail is providing 200mile to 500mile trips between major metropolitan areas, together with tips to those areas from smaller metropolitan areas along the way.

As became clear as I mapped out why America Was Made for HSRail, those trips can be provided along some longer corridors stringing overlapping trips together. For example, at the 110mph level, Pittsburgh / Cleveland / Toledo / Chicago / Milwaukee / Madison ... and then connecting (likely via Rochester and the Mayo Clinic, but other local areas are making their own case) to Minneapolis.

Generally, however, the corridors supporting those kinds of trips do not make for a nationwide grid. However, they often do lie along the existing strategic national heavy freight grid, STRACNET, and when the do, their improvements will help pave the way for the national sustainable electric HSRail system.

There is also a second way that they help. That is, for those corridors where passenger HSRail alone will not make the case for the system, there will still be constituents thinking it would be a good thing to have the service. So, in addition to the direct investment with multiple benefits is the demonstration effect.

And if the Rapid Electric Freight rail is the basic justification for the improvement, that means that a two per day or three per day Amtrak style service could well be established with 110mph or 125mph electric tilt-trains, and the incremental capital cost is the station and its approaches and the rolling stock itself - which can provide more passenger miles per set than conventional Amtrak, simply due to the higher speed, and yet more due to being able to operate on the tighter schedules made possible by Rapid Freight Paths.

However, just recently, I saw even more encouraging news. As I discussed in Sunday Train: Supporting Rail Electrification with the Climate Bill, there are a variety of ways to help support rail electrification that can be and, in terms of addressing climate change, ought to be, included in any overall bill addressing climate change.

Of course, the overall details of the Climate Change bill were not encouraging, with too little handed back as a social dividend, too much opportunity for Wall Street monkey business, and the permits being located far to close to the final use, which is just asking for an ongoing fight against it ending up riddled with industry specific loopholes. Indeed, a permit system set too far "downstream" would seem every bit as likely to get riddled with loopholes and exceptions as any real world carbon tax.

Add on top the specter of the same thing happening to the Climate Bill as is presently happening with Health Insurance Reform, and I feared it was an idea that would get dragged down by the rest of the package. So it was with great interest that I read of Senators Cantwell and Collins propose a "bi-partisan" Climate Bill (I am presuming that the 'bi' refers to Democratic and Independent, since the vast majority of the Republican caucuses in both houses will of course do the bidding of the Oil and Coal Companies). From CQ Politics:
The Cantwell-Collins alternative would instead create what has been called a “cap and dividend” structure. The government would still cap emissions and sell carbon permits, but the polluters — such as coal producers and oil companies — could trade the credits only among themselves. There would be no outside market for trading the emissions credits.

Under the Cantwell-Collins plan, 75 percent of the revenue raised by selling emissions permits would go straight back to U.S. taxpayers in the form of monthly electronic payments made directly to their bank accounts. Cantwell’s office is expected to release a report Friday finding that under the plan, a typical family of four would receive tax-free monthly checks from the government averaging $1,100 per year, or $21,000 between 2012 and 2030.

The remaining 25 percent would be spent on projects such as clean energy technology research and development.

In the previous Sunday Train discussion of using Carbon Fees to subsidize interest costs while user and access fees covered the original capital costs of establishing Rapid Freight Electric Rail - that was based up to 20% of the 10% State Share in the current bill, which is to say up to 2% of the carbon fee revenue. So 25% devoted to clean energy technology development remains ample to getting started on the actual coast to coast rapid electric freight rail system that we need.

There is no doubting the need. We import roughly 2/3 of our petroleum products, and even the increase in rail freight caused by $4/gallon diesel pushed many trunk rail lines close to capacity. In the face of a $6/gallon diesel or, still worse, a physical interruption of supply, we will simply not be able to rely on the present road plus air freight system to keep our national industrial economy going. Indeed, this is something even the war-monger rabble ought to support, since the way that things presently stand, once the crude oil supply line from overseas is cut, the logistics supporting military deployments will come under tremendous strain as well.

So, combine, first, an alternate climate bill has been floated which addresses the three most glaring weaknesses of the Kerry bill - inadequate social dividend, permits too far downstream, and the risk of setting Derivatives Traders loose on the trading system - and the fact that is has "bipartisan" support, and that is quite promising.

The task ahead is to ensure that Transport Electrification and ActiveTransport (walking and cycling) are as well represented in the new bill as they are in the present climate bill, and the future is so bright, I'll have to wear shades (I can't actually afford sunglasses, so they'll be borrowed).

But if we do can do that in the months ahead, we will get one more step closer to getting our Sustainable Electric High Speed Rail for Christmas.

BTW, I am not sure if Joe is getting these ... someone sees him on the Acela sometime, be sure to give him the link.

All of Which is a Follow-up to last year's ...

Dear Joe, I want an Electric Train for Christmas (Pt. I)

Dear Joe, I want a High Speed Electric Train for Christmas (Pt. II).

Dear Joe, I want a Sustainable High Speed Electric Train for Christmas (Part 3)

Part 1 and Part III have the clip of Joe Biden at the National Governor's Association last year which originally inspired the title.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

LCD: The FAQ Lawyers, part N of an unending series

This is a Lazy Comment Diary, with reference to some points that have recently been discussed in various watering holes around the progressive interwebs.

I'm feeling a bit essayed out at the moment, but coming home after evening class on a day that I get up around 6am to be in school sometime 7:30am to 8am before 8:30am-12:30pm class, then come home to hang out before going to school around 5pm for the 6pm to 10pm class, I was groggy enough to be easily provoke-able, so firing up the Twitter machine and seeing someone with a link to a dKos meta controversy, I too a peak over and, yeah, I got provoked.

Especially when its a fracking rhetorical question. God rhetorical question cheese me off sometimes. Why is that? I dunno, they just do.

Daily Kos has been taken over by the other side provoked, of course, the usual fight between Administration critics and Obama loyalists, including this steaming pile of organic fertilizer (NB: note that what is contained in the blockquote is an ASSERTION that I have just insulted - any kossack that believes they are immune to the general human tendency to say bullshit now and again and are therefore insulted to learn that someone thinks something they said was bullshit is, of course, welcome to feel insulted, because they are in the very best case too naive to be allowed at in the Internets without supervision):
Actually, this website was founded under the (36+ / 0-)
NB:Recommended by: Ray Radlein, askew, burrow owl, TLS66, walthamricke49, Iberian, Urizen, jaywillie, GN1927, blueyedace2, leftynyc, SocioSam, xanthippe2, edwardssl, Triscula, happy camper, GoldnI, lordcopper, Patricia Bruner, luckylizard, A Man Called Gloom, MKSinSA, Bull Schmitt, Otherday, stegro, iRobert, nickrud, indubitably, Reetz, Jane Lew, soothsayer99, notwisconsin, I said GOOD DAY sir, randomfacts, James Robinson, wolfie1818

the distinct banner of all Democrats, whether we agree with it or not, let's not fudge the truth with your distortion. This is specifically re iterated currently as NOT a progressive site.

... and I will pull one strand of the follow-up to where I jumped in.

Uh huh (7+ / 0-)
Recommended by: Bob Love, cotterperson, conchita, corvo, Johnny Q, thethinveil, WaryLiberal
Nevermind that Kos supports primarying blue dogs and even supported progressive Republican Scozzafava.

Don't donate to the DSCC in 2010 - they'll give your money to Harry Reid. Donate to the candidates instead!
by arcticshadow on Wed Dec 09, 2009 at 09:35:25 PM EST

don't take my word for it: (19+ / 0-)
Recommended by: Ray Radlein, askew, brillo, walthamricke49, Iberian, Urizen, jaywillie, blueyedace2, xanthippe2, Patricia Bruner, beltane, Sun dog, MKSinSA, Bull Schmitt, Otherday, nickrud, I said GOOD DAY sir, randomfacts, wolfie1818
"This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog. One that recognizes that Democrats run from left to right on the ideological spectrum, and yet we're all still in this fight together. We happily embrace centrists like NDN's Simon Rosenberg and Howard Dean, conservatives like Martin Frost and Brad Carson, and liberals like John Kerry and Barack Obama. Liberal? Yeah, we're around here and we're proud. But it's not a liberal blog."

That's the first thing written in the FAQ.

There are only 2 things in life I believe about religion: There could be a God and I'm sure as heck not him.
by Irixsh on Wed Dec 09, 2009 at 09:36:51 PM EST

I don't care about a FAQ written years ago (7+ / 0-)
Recommended by: cotterperson, conchita, corvo, SlackwareGrrl, thethinveil, svboston, WaryLiberal
What Kos says goes, as it's his site.

Don't donate to the DSCC in 2010 - they'll give your money to Harry Reid. Donate to the candidates instead!
by arcticshadow on Wed Dec 09, 2009 at 09:38:02 PM EST

so, the FAQ is optional? (6+ / 0-)
Recommended by: askew, Urizen, blueyedace2, dougymi, chicago minx, Jane Lew

That's interesting, because there are a lot of the site's policies/guidelines laid out in the FAQ.

But apparently none of it matters, since it was written years ago?

Huh...who knew?

Thanks for clearing that up. I wasn't aware anyone had given you the greenlight to dismiss the FAQ.

-8.25, -6.97
by jaywillie on Wed Dec 09, 2009 at 09:46:25 PM EST

Well.. (2+ / 0-)
Recommended by: conchita, TiaRachel
You should read what Kos himself has to say today.


...Achieve access to health care for everyone in my country. This has been the political cause of my life... EMK
by SlackwareGrrl on Wed Dec 09, 2009 at 09:50:32 PM EST

okay (2+ / 0-)
Recommended by: askew, pstoller78

And what does any of that have to do with the FAQ? I don't see what you're seeing.

-8.25, -6.97
by jaywillie on Wed Dec 09, 2009 at 09:54:25 PM EST

Which was my hook, since rhetorical questions like that, as I said, really cheese me.

I think they are seeing this part: (1+ / 0-)
Obama spent all year enabling Max Baucus and Olympia Snowe, and he thinks we're supposed to get excited about whatever end result we're about to get, so much so that we're going to fork over money? Well, it might work with some of you guys, but I'm certainly not biting. In fact, this is insulting, betraying a lack of understanding of just how pissed the base is at this so-called reform. The administration may be happy to declare victory with a mandate that enriches insurance companies, yet creates little incentive to control costs or change the very business practices that have screwed so many people. But I'll pass.

Under the theory "all Democrats are equally good" with the FAQ-lawyers are peddling, this "kos" fellow is guilty of:

(1) Not even criticizing Baucus, an equally good Democrat under the "all Democrats are equally good" hypothesis, but talking about Obama enabling Baucus, which takes for granted that enabling Baucus is a bad thing.

This "kos" fellow is contradicting that reading of the FAQ by that faction of FAQ-lawyer.

Even further, the whole DNC, chock full of people who are each and every one of them a Democrat, and therefore an Equally Good Democrat under the All Democrats Are Equally Good No Matter What They Believe Or How They Behave theory, is to be denied money by this "kos" fellow, just because he thinks that the so-called health care compromise in which we pretend to get a Swiss-style not for profit health care system and instead we are more likely just left out in the cold is a horribly mangled bit of policy.

What a purist! Get Rid of Him! He Actually Presumes to Judge A Group of Equally Good Democrats by Results!

That would be at least one of the parts that was read. Having started reading the site on the front page before I ever worked out what was going on with these diaries and recent diary list and all (having gotten my feet wet in a smaller diary based blog first), I am confident we can find THOUSANDS of posts by this "kos" fellow that directly contradict the All Democrats are Equally Good reading o the FAQ.

Which either means that this "kos" fellow is violating the FAQ, or else that the All Democrats Are Equally Good mob are misreading the FAQ.

Of course, those of you opposed to the Democratic party base using Kos as a place to organize are going to lose in the end. After all, kos is just a guy that set up a blog. What made dKos special is that it was where the base gathered to organize, with all the creative energy, passion, family fights and family feuds, and everything else that came with it.

And if in the aftermath of huddling together during the Bush years, and then finding our voice as a rising opposition, and then playing a role in not one but two successive wave elections - the opposition to the Democratic base has worked out a successful formula for neutering dKos as a place for the base to gather, it will just mean that as we gather to primary the bastards that did this to the health insurance reform, we will gather somewhere else, and it will become the place that has all the creative energy, passion, family fights and families feuds and everything else that comes with it.

Of course, it continues - there was an answer that refused to tackle the content and instead went meta (meta2 as the original diary is meta) and I answered it, and so on. I know that the informal rule is that diaries are not allowed to be commented on once it drops off the recent diary or reclist, whichever is later - but one thing we are free to do is to break the informal rule and keep dKos diaries alive by reference to the longer lived presence on smaller, progressive, blogs.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Train: Frequency and Waiting on a Train

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

I've been reading James McCommon's Waiting on a Train. And in cowed deference to the FCC, I will put the disclaimer up front that, yes!, I was more likely to read it and talk about it because Chelsea Green gave me a free review copy - since I would otherwise have had to wait until both it and I was in the library at the same time ...

... {of course, making me more likely to read it and talk about it is a gamble, since I'm not going to change my view of it because its a free copy - so if you have any publisher friends, warn them that if they reckon a book is a piece of garbage, they'd be better advised not to send a review copy}

The Chapter that is inspiring today's Sunday Train is "Amtrak Cascades: it's all about frequency". "Uznanski" is Ken Uznanski, former passenger rail chief of the Washington DoT:
"Once those intermodal trains can go through Stampede Pass, it will take some traffic off the main line and free up more room for additional passenger trains," said Uznanski.

By bringing the number of trains up to eight a day between Vancouver and Portland, ridership and ticket revenue will increase significantly. Currently ticket sales - what is known as farebox - cover 43% of the Amtrak Cascades' operating expenses; the state subsidizes the remainder. Run eight trains daily, however, the farebox recovery goes up to 70%.

It's all about frequency. When trains are frequency and convenient, ridership - particularly business travel - grows dramatically, said Uznanski.

It was a mantra I was to hear from experts all across the country - frequency builds ridership and only frequency significantly builds farebox recovery. Sure its great to have trains running more than 100mph in a corridor, but if there are only a couple of trains a day, they just aren't convenient enough to move people off the highway or away from the airport.

- John McCommons, Waiting on a Train, Chelsea Green Publishing: Vermont, p. 51

Back in Sunday Train: Rescuing the Innocent Amtrak Numbers from SubsidyScope, SubsidyScope's numbers proved to be hopelessly inept to serve as any basis for evaluating capital costs of individual Amtrak routes (even though SubsidyScope adopted the pretense that they could in fact be used for that purpose). However, as note, it might be possible to use their operating cost and revenue values as a rough guide to operating cost recovery.

Going back to the "Regional Corridor" services (shorter services running outside the Northeast Corridor), I tabulated a rough estimate of the services that had above median and below median operating cost recovery based on SubsidyScope's numbers.

So I've gone to the Amtrak timetables, and have done a rough estimate of effective frequency of weekday service. By "rough estimate" and "effective frequency", I mean:
  • If the corridor seems to be served primarily by a single service, I only count that service, while most of it is served by a long distance service as well, I include the long distance train along the corridor as a service
  • If there is a partial route that covers about half the corridor, I count it as half a service
  • Service three weekdays per week counts as 0.6 of a service.

Going back to that table, there is some direct confirmation of the argument. There is a median of three (3) services per weekday for all regional corridors services, with a median of four (4) services for those with above-median farebox recovery, and a median of two (2) services for those with below-median farebox recovery.

To get a visual overview, the Regional Corridor farebox recovery table was originally formatted with above-median recovery ratios in the left hand column, and below-median recovery ratios in the right hand column. So simply breaking it into two tables - corridors with three or more services per day and those with fewer than three per day - and just having a look. It confirms that, while frequency is not the sole and solitary factor driving farebox recovery, there is a tendency for more frequent trains to be in the left hand column and less frequent trains to be in the right hand column.

Three or more services per weekday:
Corridor Route Op Ratio Corridor Route Op Ratio
Corridor Services 58%
Chicago-St. Louis IL/MO 79% Albany-Toronto NY/ONT54%
Newport News DC/VA77% Capital CA 53%
Illinois-Saluki IL 70% Empire NY48%
Hiawatha IL/WI 66% Wolverine MI/IL39%
Downeaster ME/MA 64% Springfield Shuttle MA/CT32%
San Jaoquins CA61%
Keystone PA 61%
Cascades OR/BC 61%
Pacific Surfliner CA 59%
Pere Marquette MI/IL 59%

Fewer than Three Services Per Weekday
Corridor Route Op Ratio Corridor Route Op Ratio
Corridor Services 58%
Carolinian NY/NC71% Blue Water MI/IL 55%
Heartland TX/OK67% Zephyr IL54%
Ethan Allen NY/VT65% Vermonter VT/DC 54%
Adirondock NY/Quebec 59% Piedmont NC52%
Missouri River MO45%
Pennsylvanian PA/NY43%
Hoisier State IN/IL15%

Whole Systems Thinking

There are two really substantial competitive advantages to frequency - but both require more than a high frequency schedule alone to tap that potential.

The first benefit is meeting demands for time-of-day sensitive travelers. Some travelers have wide latitude in the timing of their departure and/or arrival - others are faced with a more rigid earliest departure time or latest arrival time. The greater the frequency of the service on a rail corridor, the more travelers are within the real potential transport market for the corridor.

But of course, frequent and (even worse) extended delays - which are a regular occurance in McCommon's rail travels - will drive away precisely those people most strongly attracted by high frequency services - the time-of-day sensitive traveler. If the main origin of a corridor in one direction has three services that are well time for morning, afternoon and early evening travelers, and a low percentage of trains arriving and departing on schedule with frequent multiple-hour delays, reducing the number of services delayed, and reducing the average delay for those that experience delays is critical.

On the other hand, the main source of delay is limited system capacity and aging infrastructure and equipment - and investments that substantially improve the capacity to operate on time tend to be the same ones required to permit additional services to operate. So "frequency" is to a certain extent a stand-ing for "reliability and timeliness".

The second big advantage is the market for day trips. If there is one service each way per day, then travelers on one or both sides of the corridor are excluded from using the train for day trips. But of course, the length of the trip itself is also critical for making a day trip possible - a six hour train ride with a departure at 6am and a return departure at 6pm makes a day trip possible in one direction (but not the other) ... but it won't attract many day travelers unless that is a compelling destination from that origin.

By contrast, if there are five to eight services each way per day and it is a trip of three hours or less, that is a corridor that can be in the frame for people taking a day trip.

There is an "exception that tests the rule" in the above tables. The Pere Marquette is one service from Grand Rapids to Chicago which is effectively one of five Amtrak services per day connecting Northern Indiana and Chicago (supplemented by additional metro rail services in northwestern Indiana) ... which leaves Grand Rapids about 7:30 in the morning for an arrival before 11am, and returns from Chicago about 5:20pm for a return before 11pm. So it comes in the frame for a "day trip to Chicago", even though between Grand Rapids and New Buffalo MI it operates as a single service each way per day.

Of course, its difficult to relocate more moderate sized cities to be a convenient distances from a sequence of other moderate sized cities or a major mega-regional center like Chicago. The way to bring more origin/destination pairs within a three hour time frame is with faster average trip speeds. The first threshold is the 110mph level, which with tilt-trains over a reasonably efficient alignment is time-competitive with cars, so many car-based day trips are also rail-based day trips.

The second threshold is the 125mph level - the speed of the first generation of bullet trains - which with tilt-trains over a reasonably efficient alignment results in trips noticeably faster than most cars. That means that there are trips that are solid day-trips by rail that are not day-trips by car, which offers another step up in competitive positioning.

At this point, someone will normally chime in that there are special benefits to using a car for a day trip - but that is just a one-eyed way of saying that different transport modes have different mixes of advantage and disadvantage. A major benefit of a train for a day trip is that you can relax on the way down and the way back, rather than having to work at chauffeuring yourself.

And of course, trip speed interacts with service reliability in service of frequency in a very basic way: the sooner you can be confident that the train will be at its destination, the earlier you can schedule the same train to run back the other direction. A five hour route can get at most three day services each way from a pair of trains - and the morning departure is likely to be earlier than ideal in order to fit in three. A three hour route can get four or five.

So in reality, improved trip speed, improved reliability, and increased service frequency are a complex, and thinking in a pure analytical manner about the effect of each as independent factors is a mistake - what is critical is the leverage that is gained when all three are improved as a system.

Service Frequency Relative to the Market

That is the main point that this section of the book brought to mind as I was reading it yesterday. However, there is also a point that comes to mind when looking at some of the low-frequency services with higher farebox cost recovery ratios.

How frequent is "frequent". When doing the median test above, there is a premise that three trains per day is three trains per day, in whatever market conditions. However, stating the assumption is enough to highlight that it is a shaky assumption.

The focus above was on the share of the traveling public that are "in the frame" for considering taking a train for their trip. However, clearly, the number of those "in the frame" that then chose to take the train depends critically on what the alternatives are. In relative terms, four corridor routes per day would be an extremely low frequency on the Northeast Corridor, where in the absence of regional corridor intercity rail travel there would still by very high frequency air shuttles and intercity buses in operation as well as shorter distance metro rail services that extend out to cover the shorter intercity trips.

Indeed, those four trains per day might be viable options for making a large number of trips, but if they are competing against a wide range of much more frequent alternatives, the number of people "in the frame" will only become obvious when planes are grounded or there is a closure of a major intercity road artery.

By contrast, four trains per day from Columbus to Cleveland and from Columbus to Cincinnati would be a substantially higher frequency relative to the market, because there are no metro rail services, very few intercity bus services, and a much more limited (and, of course, more expensive per mile) choice of flights.

Time to share your thoughts

Now's the time to share your thoughts on the future of rail travel in this country. Don't fret that you haven't read the book - or even if you don't want to talk about frequency, reliability and trip speed. Just say, "On a related point" and have at it - if its on trains, it'll count as a related point.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

d-_-b A Wartime Thanksgiving d-_-b

Burning the Midnight Oil for the Arc of the Sun

I am thankful that we have not engaged in any more reckless and ill-considered invasions followed by interminable occupations than we have already done.




Midnight Oil: My Country promotional video clip

Was it just a dream, were you so confused
Was it just a giant leap of logic?
Was it the time of year, that makes a state of fear
Methods, were their motives for the action

and did i hear you say
My country right or wrong

Did you save your face
Did you breach your faith
Women, there were children at the shelter
Now who can stop the hail
When human senses fail
There was never any warning, no escape

Did I hear you say
My country right or wrong
My country oh so strong
My country going wrong
My country right or wrong

I hear you say the truth must take a beating
The flag a camouflage for your deceiving
I know we all make mistakes

This is not a case of blurred vision
It's a case of
   black holes,
      pocket holes,
         soul holes

And did I hear you say
My country right or wrong
My country oh so strong
My country going wrong
My country right or wrong

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Train: Revisiting 5 Lessons Learned from America was made for HSR

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

I return to 2007 for "America was made for HSR" (Agent Orange links retained as the other blog I was posting to at the time is no longer up)
Wow, what a ride. Sometimes on Thursday ...

Thursday 22 March 2009, that is ...
... it felt like the America was made for High Speed Rail diary was going 200 mph itself. And I kept the ride going, cross posting the diary on the Euro and Booman Tribunes. And based partly on comments here and partly on comments there, kept polishing up the map.

Like the first diary, this is only a sketch, and 200mph routes are not the be-all and end-all of passenger rail, and this isn't a silver bullet ... but damn if it isn't one silver BB that is cool as all hell.

Now, I'm going to say the lessons follow below the fold in no particular order, so that if you see an order, I can call it serendipity, and if you don't see any order ... I told you so. ...

... (and anyway, any excuse to use the word serendipity is a good excuse, it's such a lovely word ... and you'd never believe how I stumbled across it ... but that, dear readers, is another story) ...

... with some additional reflections from late 2009.

Lesson One: Give the Silver BB image. Rinse. Repeat.

I am not sure I used the the Silver BB explanation enough times, early enough or often enough. I don't know whether I coined the phrase or stole it from someone else, but its become community property, used by farmerchuck, alizard, and A Siegel, ... among others, and hopefully more to come.

When people promise a "silver bullet" solution to solve all your problems (e.g., kill the werewolf that is troubling your village) and bake you the celebration cake too, it never works out as promised. Sometimes it does something useful, but its never a silver bullet ... indeed, some of the things that we are suffering from now, like gasoline powered motorcars spreading pollution, global warming, and suburban sprawl like an inexorable plague, were the silver bullets of an earlier day.

So the idea is to find the silver BB's ... the actual, if partial, solutions to a part of a part of the problem ... pack as many into a shotgun shell as can fit, and blast away. Repeat as necessary.

High Speed Rail is a silver BB. It has been proven to work at what it does, but what it does is only a part of a part of the solution. It can get some people out of some plane trips, and after that a smaller share of car trips, and after that a little air freight, and after that it can at times be used to assist with a very few road freight tasks.

And my diary was only about one small issue involved in one silver BB (but its such a shiny silver BB that lots of people wanted to talk about it, so they forced the discussion out of the confines of that tiny little issue).

So to everyone who pointed out that this does not solve Express land freight, or local commuter travel, or cross country air travel ... yes, and yes, and yes. But for getting people out of that plane that takes off from Columbus International Airport to O'Hare in Chicago, which reaches cruising altitude, cruises ten minutes, then starts its descent ... it can do that.

Aye-yup. At the time the silver BB's of walkable Transit-Oriented Development and the Nation of Bikeways strategy for cycling on the public right of way was already in view. Since then, the Silver-BB's of the Steel Interstate, regional stopping trains, Rapid Streetcars, trolley buses have also been added - and that is just the dimension of sustainable transport. Sustainable energy production, sustainable agriculture, and sustainable shelter are also each necessary and also each insufficient on their own.

Lesson Two: Use Old Numbers and People Will Call You On It

This all started out as a back of the envelope kind of exercise that spilled out of control. My cut-off for cities to look at was 1m ... that came from a rule of thumb circulating on the European Tribune. And I used 2000 Census Urbanized Area numbers. While these are not the SMA numbers that people are used to, it is also true that many of the cities near the edge will have grown over 1m mark in the 7 years since the census.

For the (very tiny) issue raised in the diary, it doesn't matter. The issue was, if criteria are set out, and HSR is allowed to grow project by project based on local enthusiasm and local market conditions, would the result look anything like a network created under a Master Map? Because, if we get a reasonably good Map from a bottom-up approach, then we can avoid the political fight over what the map should look like, and focus on getting reasonable criteria put into place.

In the new map above, the dashed red lines between the Northeast and Southeast networks show part of what happens if precisely three cities tip over the 1m mark ... Memphis and Nashville, in the traditional urbanized area sense, and Charlotte NC as a "networked" city based on (currently ongoing) investment in local rail knitting the broader area together. There's also dashed lines for Jacksonville. Don't fret if you reckon that there are more ... it could easily take thirty years for the system to be built out, and by that time a number of cities will come into the frame.

I have yet to see any dramatic proof in any of the dramatic top-down maps offered that they offer something dramatically better than setting more or less reasonable criteria and getting started.

And this leads straight into lesson three ...

Lesson Three: What Is High Speed?

We Americans are awfully insular people. I should have said seven times that what we call "High Speed" in the US is simply not high speed. 100mph is not HSR. We were going 100mph in 1930. European and Japanese HSR had reached 150+ mph by the 1960's, and have since built routes and trains that allow effective trip speeds of 200mph ... for conventional High Speed Rail. This is not "maglev", but steel wheels on steel tracks.

Now, 100mph is a really good idea, for both passengers and freight. I would love to see a 100mph network from one side of the country to another (noth to south and east to west). I would love to see 100mph lines from New York and Boston to Albany, then through the upstate cities to Buffalo, then to Cleveland, Akron, Canton, Newark, Columbus, Dayton, Cincinatti, Louisville and on ... and Cleveland, Toledo, Detroit, west across Michigan and to Chicago. And multiply that nationwide.

In trying to find a term that allows me to convey a feeling of pretty darn quick without making America look silly and backward in Europe, I've settled on "Express" for that "1930's era HSR" kind of pace.

And bear in mind that the French are not shy about taking their TGV off the high speed corridor onto the regular train network (though not running at 150mph or 220mph). The Paris-Bordeaux service is high-speed less than half-way, from Paris to Tours. So if the high speed corridor bypasses a smaller city, that does not mean that all the services bypass that city. Some will come out of the corridor on a local Express rail network, pick up passengers, and return to the corridor further along.

Indeed, this French service has a terminus in a resort area where they do not allow overhead electric wires for the TGV, so its being towed by a diesel locomotive:

So I probably should have stressed that HSR corridors are the trunks for HSR services, but the services are not limited to the corridors. In particular, the HSR will have a station at a major hub airport if it passes in the vicinity ... and the remaining HSR stations will be selected from the three to five most important interchange stations between local commuter/shopping rail systems and interurban Express passenger rail system ... whether those systems are in place or still on the drawing board.

And then Senator Obama won the Presidency, and made Roy LaHood his Secretary of Transportation, and the entire fuzzy mess was clarified with their three tier system - true "Express HSR"; the 125mph tier of "Regional HSR", slower than Express HSR but faster than road transport; and the 110mph tier of "Emerging HSR", time-competitive with road transport, at roughly half the cost of Regional HSR and a fifth of the cost of Express HSR.

I argued at the time and still think that this is very politically adroit. It is, indeed, much of the political foundation for the present situation where the White House submits a budget figure for HSR and the political fight is whether to raise that by 20% or to quadruple it.

Indeed, I wish the administration could have been that adroit on most things - getting the argument to be on whether to be a little bit better than the White House proposed or a lot better would be a welcome sight in either the Health Insurance Reform or Climate Bill debates.

Lesson Four: Running Next to Highways

A lot of people raised the question of where we are going to get the Right of Way for these corridors ... and a lot of people suggested using Interstate Highway right of way. When I took this to the European Tribune, I discovered that the Europeans are way ahead of us here (and I owe a special thanks to DoDo at the European Tribune):

This is in the Netherlands:

This is on a Belgian/German line:

This is in Italy:

This is in France:

This is on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link, and actually answers the question, "what do you do when the expressway is too bendy for HSR?" ... "You use the non-bendy parts and provide a straighter line corridor for the bendy bits":

So, yes, it would appear that one option is to build the HSR corridor into the fringe of selected Interstate Highways. And to answer the question as it is tickling up through some of your clever brains ... yes, all of these systems have automatic sensors to detect a car falling onto the line, in addition to their structural features designed to make that as unlikely as possible.

This is still a critical lesson. Indeed, after the 110mph Midwest and Ohio Hubs have been upgraded to 125mph, when it comes time to provide an Express HSR corridor between the greater New York area and the Great Lakes, a corridor generally along the I-80 alignment through New Jersey and Pennsylvania may bear a closer look

Lesson 5: The Core Corridors

On the European Tribune, I was asked to compute the geometric mean of population for mile for the various two-city pairs, to get an idea of where things would probably get started first. So I did. The geometric mean is the two populations multiplied together, then take the square root. The reason for using it instead of the simple average is that it adjusts for the fact that a pair of 3m:3m cities will have a bigger interurban travel market than a pair of 5m:1m cities.

And that is partly encoded in the map above. There was a substantial break between 16,000 and 18,000, so all the trips from 16,000 up (the biggest is New York / Boston at 39,000 average per mile) are shown in in the widest lines, and the ones 16,000-10,000 in the next wider lines.

The core lines (those over 16,000 in bold) are ... on the East Coast:
* 39,508 New York / Boston
* 33,476 New York / Philadelphia
* 31,627 New York / Baltimore
* 27,073 New York / Providence
* 20,978 New York / Washington
* 14,335 Orlando / Tampa
* 13,777 Washington / Virginia Beach
* 12,506 Washington / Pittsburgh
* 10,901 Miami / Orlando

In the Great Lakes / Midwest:
* 21,625 Chicago / Detroit
* 18,013 Chicago / Indianapolis
* 12,625 New York / Cleveland
* 11,828 Indianapolis / Cincinatti
* 11,114 Chicago / Cleveland
* 10,333 Chicago / Minneapolis (via Milwaukee)

In ... well, let's just call it Texas:
* 15,923 Dallas / Houston
* 11,140 Houston / San Antonio

On the West Coast:
* 37,435 Los Angeles / San Diego (via Riverside)
* 14,717 Los Angeles / Phoenix (via Riverside)
* 14,285 Los Angeles / Las Vegas (via Riverside)
* 12,687 Seattle / Portland

Now, in terms of population-miles served per dollar, the Express rail system is going to give the most "bang for the buck" in a lot of the United States. However, some areas could justify HSR right now, if the funding was available ... and, the more we build out an Express Rail network, the easier it will become to justify a HSR project, because of the opportunity to run HSR trains out of the HSR corridor into the Express passenger rail network.

Remember, this is just one silver BB ... but it sure is a shiny one.

If anything, I would amplify this. A single Express HSR corridor from New York City through northwestern NJ and northern PA, northern Ohio and northern Indiana to Chicago, combined with junctions to corridors already planned for 110mph systems (which, recall, can be upgraded to electrified, 125mph corridors in a series of incremental upgrades) means:
  • NYC / Chicago via lots of country in the middle of nowhere, and
  • NYC / Cleveland / Toledo /Detroit, junctioning with the 125mph corridor in NW PA;
  • NYC / Pittsburgh, junctioning with the 125mph corridor in NW PA;
  • NYC / Columbus / Dayton / Cincinnati, junctioning with the 125mph Triple-C corridor in northern OH;
  • Chicago / Cleveland / Buffalo, junctioning with the 125mph Triple-C corridor in northern OH;
  • Chicago / Detroit / Toronto, junctioning with the Columbus/Detroit corridor in NW OH
  • Chicago / Columbus, junctioning with the Columbus/Detroit corridor in NW OH
  • Chicago / Pittsburgh, junctioning with the 125mph Triple-C corridor in northern OH;

... and of course with the northern sections of the hypothetical "Appalachian Hub" proposal, the rang of destinations expands further.

So while I argue it is essential to think through what trips it makes sense to provide with Express HSR, given the populations and distances and other factors that drive transport markets ... it continues to be a mistake to think of Express HSR corridors in isolation from the next tier down.

All Done ... well, not all done learning lessons, but these are five that I wanted to write up ... a lot of others are still percolating in my head.

... and I can only underline that - I have only just begun to learn!

Midnight Oil: Forgotten Years

Still it aches like tetanus / It reeks of politics
Signatures stained with tears
Who can remember, we've got to remember

The hardest years, the darkest years / Forsaking aching breaking years
The time 'n' tested heartbreak years
These should not be forgotten years

The blinded years, the binded years / The desperate and divided years
These should not be forgotten years

Friday, November 20, 2009

Small Teaspoon Model Victories against Rupert 'The Pirate' Murdoch and PirateCorp

Burning the Midnight Oil for Breaking the Silicon Cage

About a month ago, I asked, " Monday, October 19, 2009
Can the Teaspoon Model stand up to Bloodsucker Streaming Sites?

Now, on the occasion of the first small victory of the "Teaspoon Model" over PirateCorp (aka NewsCorp), I'm catching my breath and looking back at this process. Note that if you have tuned in just for the victories, you should scroll down to the section with "Victory" in the title.

Over the past month, its become clear that one of the biggest bases of support - not active support, but tacit complicity - lies within the NewsCorp media empire itself, on the MySpaceCDN servers owned by 20th Century Fox's "Intellectual Properties" division.

That in itself is ironic, because the whole point is that these are by and large neither creations, productions, nor licensed works of any NewsCorp enterprise. They are, rather, bootlegs being illegally copied by uploaders, and then repeatedly extra-legally copied by NewsCorp when they stream the files on request.

Killing a Creative Field by Loving their Work

Of course, these free video sites streaming hosts could not exist if they had to vet each and every upload - their revenue streams are not deep enough to pay for the army of video vetters that would be required. So the law permits these type of sites to operate on an "action on complaint" basis, where a copyright owner complains about an infringing work, and then the site either contests the claim or takes the work down.

The dilemma facing creators of collaborative works, trying to find a way to generate a stream of revenue to pay all of their collaborators, has been described by Clay Shirkey in Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable (whom I referred to in What Can Newspaper Reporting learn from Yuricon?, but I did not quote this section):
Back in 1993, the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain began investigating piracy of Dave Barry’s popular column, which was published by the Miami Herald and syndicated widely. In the course of tracking down the sources of unlicensed distribution, they found many things, including the copying of his column to alt.fan.dave_barry on usenet; a 2000-person strong mailing list also reading pirated versions; and a teenager in the Midwest who was doing some of the copying himself, because he loved Barry’s work so much he wanted everybody to be able to read it.

One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of "When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem." I think about that conversation a lot these days.

And of course, this precise dilemma is faced quite widely: this is precisely the challenge that the creators of Japanese anime are facing: what do you do when 14 year olds can blow your business model out of the model in their spare time? And motivated by a love of your work?

I have speculated on how to generate the finds to producer creative works based on small-sum crowd-financing by fans of the work. But for the creative fields that are facing financial stress, there is also the question of how to keep putting food on the tables of the creators while waiting for the future support systems to become established.

Anime is clearly an example of a creative field facing financial distress in the New Information Economy, and in the US market in particular. As I noted in the streaming anime site discussion that prompted Teaspoon Model:
The Synch-Point R1 division of Broccoli shut down in 2005. The Geneon USA division was shut down in December 3, 2007. Central Park Media filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy liquidation in April of 2009. Last month, ADV finished the re-organization it was forced into by threat of insolvency, re-organizing as AEsir/Sentai and spinning off its production arm.

That leaves Viz Media, Bandai and Funimation as the substantial surviving dubbing houses, with AnimEigo, Manga, Media Blasters, and Nozomi all adopting lower overhead niche marketing distribution strategies focused on sub-only thinpack boxset distribution

The Rise of the Bootleg Streamers

The chart on the right is the Alexa "Reach" tracking of some of the current top site in the "AnimeToplist.com" site that allows bootleg video streaming sites to list themselves and viewers to vote for their preferred sites (this is done using the comparison feature at Alexa, so only the top-ranked site shows up in the above link).

Where the reach of a site is very "spiky", this shows that a lot of the viewers are following a particular favored show, and so the sites that can link to a streaming copy of the latest episode - which includes, of course, uploading the copy onto free streaming sites themselves - gets a surge in traffic as the viewer tune in. Of course, they get pageviews - the heavy lifting of streaming the video is done by the free streaming hosts, like MySpaceCDN.

In that particular popular bootleg site there is that notable dip that hit in the middle of this year. It may be that the site generated enough traffic to attract the attention of a copyright holder, with a sweep through one or more popular series leading the viewers to head elsewhere. That suspicion is strengthened when it is compared to one of the more popular single-series sites, that focused on "Naruto Shippuden", which receives an up-tick in reach at the same time.

But what can be done? If one site is the target of a sweep, social media networks will quickly spread word of what other sites to go to, for whatever shows have been disrupted. And if a site is prominent enough to be the target of the sweep, some of its viewers have become community members, and they will respond by working to upload replacements.

And there will always be replacements available. Bootleg anime downloads are available via torrent download, where the people downloading are also, as part of the process, uploading for others, so that there is no central storage site for a copyright or other rights holder to target. Any given rights holder only has incentive to target their own works, so while some popular series may be down, there will be others that are still available, maintaining the community.

If in the extreme, a site collapses under determined attack, it will just be recreated as one or more new sites - since the sites only link to the works, and do not stream the works themselves, they can survive on very slender revenue streams.

The Evolution of Crunchyroll

There was a different streaming site model. The site "Crunchyroll", the "Youtube of Anime", is a site that did its own streaming. However, this was not without its challenges, as found in forum postings on various decisions made in the course of its evolution. This from late in 2006:
Posted Dec 28 2006, edited Jan 22 2007
A lot has happened since the 23rd of December. I will leave out the little details and just focus on one thing. Shinji announced that we are now no longer able to upload or watch licensed material. So all videos that are licensed in the United States either have been removed or will be.

What had happened is as follows. Costs for running the site were rising quickly. This month there was 4 times as much traffic as compared to the previous month, according to alexa.com (as you can see in the link under this paragraph). Shinji estimated this month's bill to be at around $9,000. He later stated that he had somehow got enough money together to pay this off. So there are two reason for why all licensed material has been removed. 1, with less videos, there will be less traffic to the site and 2, he wont have to worry about the site being taken down by some company.

Early in 2008, thanks to strong donation revenues from supporting members, Crunchyroll was able to take down the web-ads:
after a long time of trying to combat crappy advertisements, i've decided to just take them down for now. there were some issues with the ads not always being family-friendly, or some shady ads that redirected people -_-...
crunchyroll originally started as a site for fun, it was a pure site that simply wanted everyone to experience the culture and joy that is asian media, but things are always more complicated than that -_-. so this is one of my attempts to make go back to crunchyroll roots and be purely about the user experience =D i want crunchyroll to be the best awesomest site on the internet ever, so it has to look good too, right? ;P

please please PLEASE thank the all crunchyroll star supporters for making this possible!!! without them, i wouldnt be able to do this. donations still aren't able to cover all of crunchyroll's costs, so i'll still continue finding ways to keep the site running~ but they do help a lot =D for sure i can keep ads off for 2 weeks, maybe longer..

please help out by donating here: http://www.crunchyroll.com/donate

Also in 2008, Crunchyroll was successful in negotiating for the producers of work to upload directly to the site:
Hi everyone,

I've been working hard with the great folks at ADVFilms to bring you guys a really cool Anime! starting today, CR is going to start showing episodes of the series Welcome to the N.H.K. right here for free for everyone in the U.S./Canada/U.K. (we'll be putting up 2 more episodes every week!) I think anyone who's a bit Otaku like me will find it really funny ^_^

Click to watch episode 1 and episode 2!

Also, ADV is running a special promotion to purchase the DVDs at half off. So please buy it to show your support!

Finally came the big announcement that Crunchyroll was changing from streaming videos uploaded by fans to videos uploaded by the producers of the work:
I'm working with TV TOKYO to bring you the best anime titles immediately after broadcast! Starting January 8th, we'll have the newest eps of Naruto Shippuden, Shugo Chara, Skip Beat!, and many other titles on CR with english subs for ppl everywhere possible (with some exceptions like Japan).

We're now working with so many great partners like Gonzo, Toei, ADV, Media Blasters, Directions, Udon, Organic, etc...and with their help, we've been able to bring some of the coolest Asian content to you guys. We are also working with even more partners in Japan to get permission to show all the content on the site (which means you can keep enjoying it!) Now with TV TOKYO, we're going to take CR to the next level--they're the largest anime TV station in Japan, they produced Bleach, Cowboy Bebop and premiered Eva (my fav anime of all time~!!)

This isn't any normal announcement, but the beginning of something awesome for Asian entertainment! CR has been growing so much that now so many companies from Japan, Korea, and everywhere are noticing and wanting to work closely with us. We'll be getting content straight from the source, so the quality of everything will be much better, and immediately available from our partners (so we don't need to wait for user uploads!) Plus by watching on CR, we can help support the anime producers so they keep making more great content. All of us at CR have been working really hard to make it happen! I know ppl have questions, and I don't have all the details yet cause we're working them out, but check back for updates!

As the announcement notes, there were more details to follow. The biggest detail was the primary release model, with paying subscribers ("premium members", at around $7/month) having access to most Crunchyroll series an hour after Japanese broadcast, and then most series becoming available for ad-supported free streaming a week later.

So now I turn to Alexa for Crunchyroll. For context, I give DailyKos (the red plot, ironically) as well as three of the bootleg anime streaming sites. In 2008, Crunchyroll is the dominant anime streaming site - even though by that time, they have an ongoing site policy to take down any anime that was licensed for distribution in the US, while most rival bootleg streaming sites are leech sites that link to free video streaming hosts.

With the new model, much long-time content - including unlicensed bootlegs of shows never licensed for US release - was taken down, with all material to be uploaded by the rights holder and distributed under the terms specified by the rights holder. As well, many non-US members were faced with the headache of a patchwork quilt of national distribution rights: with different national laws and different preferences of different broadcasters and DVD distributers, there is little rhyme or reason as to which series a non-US viewer will be able to view on Crunchyroll.

The impact of that on Crunchyroll's reach is dramatic - but of course, had already been funded primarily by a smaller number of donating members, now formalized as premium members.

Here is a look at the same information, focusing on the last month.

Now, the uniform picture of doom and gloom that would be gleaned from a quick glance at the red trend arrows is exaggerated by the anime release schedule, since the snapshot date happens to be in a lull in the weekly schedule. However, stepping back to the last traffic peak, the last weekly peek for Crunchyroll was a reach of around 0.075%. The four bloodsucker leech sites shown appear to be at roughly 0.02%, 0.015%, and two at 0.005% - a total of 0.045%.

And there are a host of others - another three or four at 0.005% and ten or twenty at 0.001% and where Crunchyroll clearly dominated the streaming sites in 2008, the bloodsucker leeches may now be gaining ground.

The Source of the Competition

However, the reason these bloodsucker leech sites proliferate is because they directly require such a small share of the total resources that they rely upon. The major part of the bandwidth resource is not paid by their server - its paid by the free streaming sites.

Data-mining the sites for links is what revealed the heavy reliance of one site on MySpaceCDN (this was the site that gained the attention when its site administer whined about FUNimation, one of the most aggressive rights holders in copyright enforcement, sending a legal notice to its server). Extending the same data-mining tools - "wget" and "sed", plus sed and batch scripts - to more sites showed that there are three main sites that these bloodsuckers rely upon for their free streaming - some relying primarily on one, some relying heavily on two or all three:
  • Megavideo
  • Veoh
  • MySpaceCDN

There are additional sites that are important supplementary sources, but these are the three primary sites.

Which means that the "Teaspoon Model" that I originally proposed simpler to get launched than I had at first imagined:
And swatting down that cloud of bloodsucking flies would seem to be impossible but still, I wonder. After all, as I noticed when I started looking into this - being an aggregator for material available elsewhere in the Internet means pointing to where to find the material. And the reason they attract memberships (they are presently trying to raise $100 for their new and improved site design) is because its time consuming to wander around the back alleys and dank corners of the Internet trying to find places where the bootleg material is available.

So this is what I was thinking. Perhaps a small, struggling company that wanted to reduce the density of the cloud of bloodsucking flies draining the work of the artists who create this material of market value could gain leverage not by trying to find the Super-Teaspoon - but by recruiting a supporting group, each armed with ordinary teaspoons.

There'd have to be at least one person at the company actually sending out the letters to the sites streaming the bootlegs - but they would be far more effective if backed up by ten or twenty people contributing a couple of hours a week tracking down where the material is located. Indeed, the "white hats" could drop in info on where to get the material legally while at the bootleg bloodsucker streaming sites, including the proliferating opportunities for legal free streams.

At the outset, the Teaspoon Model could focus on effective strategies for bootlegs uploaded to these three hosts. It would then be up to the bootleg streaming sites to come up with countering strategies - but as their free streams keep disappearing, the alternative of the licensed free streams, with no problem of shows vanishing and having to be replaced, there is at least the prospect that some will just give up trying to stream in direct competition with licensed free streams, and instead redirect US viewers to the licensed site for material that is legally available.

Celebrating Small Victories for the Teaspoon Model

That leaves the pragmatic question of how hard is it to pursue this model?

Note that what I have been doing in exploring is not the full-fledged Teaspoon Model, where a rights holder works with a community - though in a sense, the move of Crunchyroll from illegal streaming of unlicensed shows to uploading of shows by the rights holder was a move in the same spirit.

Rather, as I have been pursuing my research on this market, I have been emailing the lists of links to various stakeholders, including both rights holders of various sorts and the free streaming hosts.

Megavideo Megavideo is the most straightforward case. Whenever they receive a cc: of a long list of bootleg anime on their servers, those animes disappear. The same was true of the big set of links I gleaned of series competing directly against licensed free streams from Crunchyroll. Of 1,700 links (some of them duplicates across the two sites), over 99% have been taken down.

Veoh Veoh has been more hit and miss. After taking down almost all links from an earlier list they received, their first receipt of the latest collection of links seemed to generate no response. However, of the two sites I was examining, one had no Veoh links at all - but a large number of links hidden behind a php server. Further investigation showed that these were backdoor links to files that Veoh used to stream videos.

However, it may be that the anime site that so cleverly went through the backdoor for files at Veoh servers shot itself in the foot. After Veoh received those links, almost all of them went down. The Veoh embedded streaming player, of course, gives viewers a path to the Veoh site - and it seems that Veoh is not so keen on passively streaming files, hidden behind the bootleg anime sites streaming player. Between that and the final phase, reported in the next session, that is a total of 943 unique Veoh links taken down.

MySpaceCDN There was, however, no evident response from MySpaceCDN. On other other hand, when looking at the drop/retention rates of the Veoh files, I saw that some series were clearly receiving attention from another party. There were not enough of my links going down for it to be coming off of the lists I had distributed - but too many to be background turnover..

Looking at the AnimeNewsNetwork, I saw that those were TV Tokyo shows. It is, of course, not surprising that I had a lot of TV Tokyo shows in my lists of links, since last week I focused on series competing head to head with Crunchyroll, and their deal with TV Tokyo was the foundation of their move to all-licensed streaming.

Still, I went looking, and found some TV Tokyo email addresses, and forwarded the links. And today, I checked my master list of MySpaceCDN and, finally, after nothing bus frustration on the MySpaceCDN front, success. 523 MySpaceCDN series taken down.

So, while there is no indication that Rupert Murdoch's MySpaceCDN servers have abandoned its tacit complicity with the bootleg anime streaming sites: when faced with a demand from a rights holder, even NewsCorp must submit.

And even, as a research project, I put more work into this than an ordinary community supporter might do - on the other hand that was over 2,500 bootleg streams coming down as a result.

Looking Ahead to the Teaspoon Model

One thing that has become clear is that the strategy of using the bootleg host streaming sites to find, organize, and present links to bootleg animes on the big free streaming sites is much more efficient than wading through those big streaming sites themselves. Finding, organizing and presenting of the links is, after all, what the bootleg streaming sites are doing.

Provided that the conduit to TV Tokyo remains open, it would only take an hour or two a week to collect new releases and a few hundred of links from back catalogs - and, of course, the links are readily collected with full series and episode information, as all the popular sites include that information in their html page title code. Another hour to vet that the links are live, and the list is ready for sending on.

Clearly, if the original rights holder cooperates, a small group of five to ten supporters of a licensed streaming site could hold a market space for a licensed streaming site to operate with only a modest contribution of time from each. The group would require one or two members with some skill in writing scripts for stream editing - which could be Perl, sed, awk, or even Forth. But other than that, all it would require is the access to the internet.