1. Austin Contrarian comes out in favor of a Republican proposal to lower bus drivers’ wages. I wish more liberal urbanists (i.e., urbanists) would comment on issues like these. I don’t see (m)any of them vociferously defending transit labor unions, but I also don’t see them criticizing them for making transit more costly and inefficient.
2. While NYC has a program that opens farmers markets in rich neighborhoods, regulations make it too difficult for private citizens to start their own markets, without government assistance, in parks and other open spaces in neighborhoods that could actually use them.
3. LA considers devolving some control over parking policy to neighborhood groups. Most of the powers that they’d give them appear to be liberalizing (reduce minimums, allow off-site parking to count), but it’d also give them the power to raise parking minimums. Can anyone who knows a bit more about LA tell me if this is, on net, a good idea? My gut says no – at least in my experience, the more local the power, the more likely people are to use it to stop dense development.
4. Apparently New York City maintains a dog run in Tribeca. Should the city really be subsidizing the laziness of incredibly wealthy dog owners in lower Manhattan? Regular parks at least increase land values nearby (well, at least in theory), but given that this one appears to be made of concrete and is covered in dog poop, I have a feeling that most of the neighbors wouldn’t miss it.
5. Lydia DePillis has a profile of DC-area real estate consultant/VIP Stephen Fuller.
6. Cap’n Transit on how regulation aimed at making buses safer could end up making us less safe.
Alon Levy saysApril 15, 2011 at 5:04 am
Repeating my comment on the Austin Contrarian, and similar comments I’ve made on Second Avenue Sagas: the problem is more staffing than salaries. At New York City Transit, salaries are the same as at Toei – a little more than $100,000 in total compensation per employee. (No data for Tokyo Metro, alas.) The difference is that NYCT has 47,000 employees and Toei 6,400, a factor-of-7 difference, even though NYCT only carries twice as many passengers, and provides only four times as many train revenue-hours and stations. A train driver on Toei spends 700 hours a year driving a revenue train, versus about 450 in New York. And Toei isn’t even the most efficient agency: Tokyo Metro is three times as big as Toei but has only 8,400 employees.
Republican outfits advocating pay cuts likely do not know anything about staffing levels. I’ve never seen the Manhattan Institute, which is arguing for union-busting and pay cuts in New York, say a single thing about staffing levels. On the contrary, Nicole Gelinas gleefully points out that if wages were lower, staffing levels could be maintained or increased – in other words, making New York more like a third-world city and less like a first-world city. It’s not a serious efficiency measure – it’s ideological opposition to unions, justified post hoc on financial grounds.
Stephen saysApril 15, 2011 at 7:50 am
I know a lot less about transportation economics than I should – what’s approximate breakdown in spending between labor and capital by transit authorities in the US and Japan? Also – I realize there must be a lot of unions rules holding productive back, but what are they exactly? I remember reading that intercity railroads wages were paid based on distance, not time, so faster trains cost a lot more to run, but I don’t really know much about modern American public transit authorities.
And regarding Republican outfits, I know you’re talking about thinktanks, but this might be a hopeful sign: Wasn’t Scott Walker’s union showdown actually about management and not wages? As I understand it (and I may be wrong), they agreed on salary negotiating procedures/rights/whatever, but it was the non-salary decisions, which would presumably mean hiring, firing, and staffing levels, that the union didn’t want to give up.
Alon Levy saysApril 16, 2011 at 8:49 am
I wasn’t all that involved in the Walker budget issue, but from what I read, the main bones of contention were benefits (i.e. wages by another name), and workers’ right to unionize in the future. The layoffs only began after the showdown dragged, and were aimed not at removing people who were unnecessary but at intimidating the unions into accepting the deal.
I don’t know all the union issues that cause overstaffing, but I know they exist, and here are some examples:
1. At BART, there’s a mandatory 10-minute rest period at the end of each line. The union demanded that this include even short back-and-forth shuttles, dooming the plans for an SFO-Millbrae shuttle. As a result, service between SFO and the Peninsula is worse than it was before the BART to SFO extension opened. (BART also has very high wages, but that’s another issue.)
2. Public works construction in New York must obey union rules about wages and staffing. The staffing is reportedly twice as high as for the exact same construction procedures abroad, independently of such issues as quality of contractors, wages, mafia involvement, and the difficulty of trucking materials from Jersey.
3. When SEPTA tried to reform itself in the 1980s by treating regional rail as rapid transit, the unionized labor force rebelled. It wasn’t just a union issue – the reforming managers had background in urban transit, and the old-timers viewed them as not real railroaders – but the power of the union made it more difficult for reforms to go through.