Main

February 26, 2016

Metrolinx to Toronto YYZ

On many measures, the Toronto YYZ $456-million Union Pearson Express (UPX) is a success. It has excellent on-time performance, generates good customer feedback and offers a welcome antidote to traffic. The black spot is ridership, which is lagging well below expected levels.

The fares - set deliberately high enough to avoid crowding on the train, according to a senior figure in transit planning - appear to be doing that job too well.

The train was the brainchild of David Collenette, federal transportation minister from 1997 to 2003. His original concept was for the private sector to build and run the service for a profit, with no subsidy from taxpayers. For this to be possible, however, the train would need a steep fare.

In late 2003, two years after issuing a request for proposals, Transport Canada chose a subsidiary of SNC-Lavalin to finance, build and operate the line. The train was to start running by the end of last decade and cost $20 each way.

But the project was more difficult than SNC expected. For one, some residents along the route, particularly in Weston, objected to having local streets shut down at level crossings and demanded changes, such as tunnels and more stops.

For another, SNC couldn't find the financing it needed.

"Its lenders did not feel that they had sufficient protection from 'no market' risk (that is, from a situation where, despite all reasonable efforts to attract riders, the service does not generate enough revenues to be a viable business)," Ontario's Auditor-General wrote in a 2012 report. "The group proposed that the province assume the lenders' risk by purchasing [air-rail link] assets if the 'no market' scenario arose. The province rejected this proposal, so the group walked away from the project."

Continue reading "Metrolinx to Toronto YYZ" »

August 15, 2015

Benefits of silence are off the books

An airport lounge once felt rich with possibilities for spontaneous encounters. Even if we did not converse, our attention was free to alight upon one another and linger, or not. We encountered another person, even if in silence. Such encounters are always ambiguous, and their need for interpretation gives rise to a train of imaginings, often erotic. This is what makes cities exciting.

The benefits of silence are off the books. They are not measured in the gross domestic product, yet the availability of silence surely contributes to creativity and innovation. They do not show up explicitly in social statistics such as level of educational achievement, yet one consumes a great deal of silence in the course of becoming educated.

-- The cost of paying attention by Matthew Crawford.

Continue reading "Benefits of silence are off the books" »

January 22, 2015

Train to Planes, Cuomo to Laguardia LGA JFK NYC

For: van shnookenraggen.

Against: the transport politic

LGA-subwaymap.jpg

September 21, 2014

Boutique hotels in NYC, better than brand name

Chic boutique hotels like MAve, Flatiron, Verite and Tribeca Blu
can be nice and efficient for day trippers and power shoppers.

February 27, 2013

Fly like Turkey


When flight attendants first rode aboard Turkish Airlines in the late 1940s they wore cotton blouses under blue suits tailored to accentuate "the contours of the body," as a fashion history of the airline puts it. In the '60s and '70s the trend continued with fashions straight off the Paris runway, designed to show Turkey's European flair on its flagship airline.


ISLAM-or Turkey.jpg

Others slammed the new look as too conservative, a transparent effort to please the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party headed by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The party's decade-long run in power has wrought changes in the traditionally secular culture, like the acceptance of Islamic head scarves in public and on college campuses and restrictions on alcohol in certain places.

"It is a reaction against imposing a certain lifestyle to all institutions in Turkey," said Ayse Saktanber, a sociologist at the Middle East Technical University in Ankara. "Turkey is a pragmatic society which doesn't like to fall behind the world. These new costumes came with the alcohol ban on planes."


Continue reading "Fly like Turkey" »

January 27, 2013

Brad Newman's Reviewer Card


Brad Newman also told me about the time he was among numerous people waiting for a table at a busy Chicago restaurant. He flashed his ReviewerCard and jumped to the head of the line.

Wasn't that unfair to everyone else?

"That's one way of looking at it," Newman said. "I see it as letting the restaurant know that they should treat me good because I'm going to be writing a review."

I asked if he discloses in his reviews that he seeks and receives special treatment from the businesses he writes about.

"No," Newman acknowledged. "But that doesn't change things. If the hotel is close to the train station or has a comfy bed, that's why it's getting a good review."

This is, of course, wrong on many levels and is an example of how the culture of amateurism that was once one of the Internet's more endearing qualities has become a free-for-all unburdened by any thought of ethics or moral integrity.

But it's apparently legal, lawyers tell me. As long as a reviewer isn't making explicit threats to harm a business, the implied shakedown of presenting a ReviewerCard probably won't get anyone in trouble with authorities.

Newman hopes his ReviewerCard will become as influential as the American Express black card -- a totem of the bearer's clout and achievement.

I can only hope that businesses see it for what it is: a shameless bid to extract personal favors under threat of Internet ruin. I can only hope they politely inform ReviewerCard holders that they're entitled to the same treatment as all other customers.

August 19, 2012

travel: the heroic: a quest for communion and self-knowledge


The planet's size hasn't changed, of course, but our outsize egos have shrunk it dramatically. We might feel we know our own neighborhood, our own city, our own country, yet we still know so little about other individuals, what distinguishes them from us, how they make their habitat into home.

This lack of awareness is even more pronounced when it comes to different cultures. The media bombards us with images from far-away places, making distant people seem less foreign, more relatable to us, less threatening. It's a mirage, obviously. The kind of travel to which we aspire should tolerate uncertainty and discomfort. It isn't about pain or excessive strain -- travel doesn't need to be an extreme sport -- but we need to permit ourselves to be clumsy, inexpert and even a bit lonely. We might never understand travel as our ancestors did: our world is too open, relativistic, secular, demystified. But we will need to reclaim some notion of the heroic: a quest for communion and, ultimately, self-knowledge.

-- Ilan Stavans, professor of literature at Amherst College and Joshua Ellison, editor of the literary journal Habitus.

August 5, 2012

Fighting forest fires from airplanes


According to the RAND report, a quick, pre-emptive attack on an emerging fire could save $3.3 million, on average. Thus, it said, spending more on firefighting planes could save money over all.

FIRE-planes.jpg

Edward G. Keating, an economist who was the study's lead author, said some government agencies leased the scooper planes for $1.5 million to $2.5 million per season; depending on estimates of the destructiveness of fires and the effectiveness of air tankers, it might save money to use up to 55 of them, the study said.

But the Forest Service, which relies on older tanker planes that must land at an airport and be refilled by pumper trucks and which uses only a handful of scoopers, said the RAND study was wrong. The skimmer planes mostly drop water or foam, when often what is needed is fire retardant, said Thomas L. Tidwell, the chief of the Forest Service. And, he said, "they're underestimating the cost of scoopers and overestimating the cost of tankers."

Congress is considering a plan submitted by the Forest Service this year to buy C-130J air tankers, a variant of the Pentagon's cargo plane, but those could cost $85 million to $90 million each once refitted to carry fire retardant, government officials say.

The new study and the Forest Service's response highlight fundamental disagreements about how to fight fires. The study, for example, noted a "dearth of statistical evidence" about the effectiveness of using air tanker drops on already large fires. It used a term sometimes used by firefighters, who refer to "CNN drops," high-visibility efforts that give the impression of a strong government response.

The study also acknowledged uncertainties about the relative value of water, which is cheap and widely available, and retardant. Some of the water will blow off target or evaporate on the way down, and it will not last long on the ground, so dumping it in the path of a fire may not be effective. (Aircraft do not usually put out fires; they slow them down so workers on the ground can extinguish them or establish a firebreak around them.)

"Often when we're having these large fires, the relative humidity is in the single digits," Mr. Tidwell said, and what reaches the ground may be "just a real light sprinkling."

The retardant, which is denser and does not evaporate, can penetrate the canopy of leaves if the fire is in a wooded area, experts say, and can be dropped from a higher altitude, reducing risks.

Mr. Keating, the study's lead author, said such operations would be dangerous even with newer equipment. "There are extremely irregular wind currents because of the heat coming off the fire," he said. "You're at high elevation and low altitude in irregular terrain," close to the ground in mountainous areas, "and, oh, by the way, it's on fire." In some crashes, pilots may have become lost in the smoke.

But the RAND study argues that more frequent drops of water may be more effective. A scooper plane, which flies about 100 miles an hour over a river or lake and lowers a small scoop to skim off hundreds of gallons in a few seconds, can manage 60 loads a day if the water is convenient. That may be 10 times the capability of a plane dropping retardant. Two-thirds of the fires fought by the Forest Service are within 10 miles of a suitable body of water, the study said, and fires near towns are even more likely to be near water.

Another goal is to spot emerging fires that can be stopped by dropping water or retardant and focus on those, a challenge that the study called "dispatch prescience." Some firefighting assets, including helicopters, move so slowly that positioning them in places where they are most likely to be needed is an important step.

Firefighting strategy has other complications. Some environmental experts worry that scooper planes, or helicopters that lower buckets to collect water, could spread exotic mussels that contaminate rivers or lakes. And in some places, planes dump saltwater on the soil.

The Forest Service contracts for a variety of aircraft, mostly converted antisubmarine warplanes from the middle of the last century. At times it has used the Bombardier 415, a Canadian plane designed to fight fires. The plane can land on water, but refills its tanks, totaling 1,600 gallons, by skimming water off the surface in a fast pass.

A California company, International Emergency Services, has been trying to market a Russian plane that holds 3,000 gallons. This year, the company flew two Forest Service engineers to Russia to evaluate the plane, the BE-200. David Baskett, the president of International Emergency Services, offered to bring the plane to the United States for a "flyoff," but, he said, the Forest Service has not responded.

Continue reading "Fighting forest fires from airplanes" »

July 7, 2012

Flying today: private lounges are more crowded, the priority check-in lines longer.


These days, though, the advantages of being an elite frequent flier are harder to gauge. The private lounges are more crowded, the priority check-in lines longer. And on some flights there are so many elites that it's become almost a joke: "Never go to check-in at the elite line; it's way too long," said Randy Petersen, the founder of frequent flier Web sites like FlyerTalk.com and MilePoint.com.

Continue reading "Flying today: private lounges are more crowded, the priority check-in lines longer. " »

May 8, 2012

Wipe down the telephone, night stand, remote control and bathroom with disinfectant. Disinfect the handle on the minibar fridge, and relax.


AT THE HOTEL Dr. Philip M. Tierno, a microbiologist at the New York University School of Medicine, recommends laying the bedspread aside, because it is washed rarely, and making sure the sheets are crisp and clean; if they are not, request another room. Check the mattress for bed bugs. Wipe down the telephone, night stand, remote control and bathroom with disinfectant. Disinfect the handle on the minibar fridge, and relax.

OUT AND ABOUT Americans traveling to less developed nations should pay special attention to the water, according to Dr. David Schlossberg, a professor of medicine at Temple University who contributed to and edited the book "Infections of Leisure." He recommends drinking only bottled water with a sealed cap, to make sure you're not swallowing dressed-up tap water. Carbonated water is best. Do not use ice (frozen tap water), do not eat salad (washed in tap water) or fruit you can't peel yourself. Use bottled water to brush your teeth. At restaurants, he cautions against eating anything that is room temperature or seems undercooked. "For all the advances in medicine, infectious disease remains the No. 1 killer on the planet," he said.

April 11, 2012

Search by voice


Nuance, meanwhile, has similarly ambitious plans for its health care business. In collaboration with I.B.M., the company is developing analytics to scour the medical notes that doctors dictate after they see patients. The idea is to search the text for common red flags -- like medicines that interact dangerously -- and automatically alert doctors, hopefully reducing problems and health care costs.

US Airways introduced Wally last summer, as part of a relocation of its offshore customer service call-in operations back to the United States. Nuance designed the system to anticipate callers' requests. Wally, for example, can automatically tell frequent-flier members their seat assignments or report whether they have received upgrades. It also converts people's speech to text, so that, should customers ask to speak a live operator, they don't have to repeat their original requests.

the lack of disclosure bothers Sherry Turkle, a professor of the social studies of science and technology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. As voice-enabled systems become more sophisticated, she says, they create the illusion that we are interacting with other people, rather than with machines. In the long term, she says, the systems' sleekness and ease of use could end up diminishing the value of slower, messier, real human connections. Reminding users that they are talking to a machine can make them more conscious of the superficiality of the exchange.

"We need to make a cultural decision," Professor Turkle says. "Either we want to alert people when they are talking to a machine, or we don't."

Soon, Mr. Sejnoha predicts, many other devices, not just televisions, will be taking voiced commands, and talking back. In Germany, people can already ask a Nuance-powered coffee maker -- marketed as "the first fully automatic machine that obeys" speech -- to make cappuccino. The machine, called the Jura Impressa Z7 One Touch Voice, speaks both English and German.

See also: Goldman, backing Nuance, smashed Dragon.

Continue reading "Search by voice" »

April 12, 2011

Why can't American airports have public transport like this?


Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo-Narita and Shanghai are among other spots in Asia with similar railway links. And this is where it gets depressing. Why can't American airports have public transport like this? Even our most expensive efforts are half-assed by comparison. Compare the best of Asia with, for example, my hometown airport, Boston-Logan. My commute to the airport by public transportation takes almost an hour and requires two changes, including a ride on the Silver Line bus, which, in addition to being at the mercy of automobile traffic, requires, at one point, that the driver step out and manually switch power sources to the bus.

Or how about JFK, where for hundreds of millions of dollars they finally got the AirTrain completed -- an inter-terminal rail loop that can't take you beyond the Queens subway. Heck, it can take 45 minutes, up and down a byzantine array of escalators, elevators and passageways, just to get from one terminal to another, let alone all the way to Manhattan. The distance from Shanghai airport to the city is about 20 miles -- roughly the mileage from JFK to midtown. Shanghai's bullet train covers this distance in seven minutes.

Continue reading "Why can't American airports have public transport like this?" »

April 6, 2011

Boeing outsources 787 Dreamliner, thinking


Boeing's 787 Dreamliner goal, it seems, was to convert its storied aircraft factory near Seattle to a mere assembly plant, bolting together modules designed and produced elsewhere as though from kits.

The drawbacks of this approach emerged early. Some of the pieces manufactured by far-flung suppliers didn't fit together. Some subcontractors couldn't meet their output quotas...

Rather than follow its old model of providing parts subcontractors with detailed blueprints created at home, Boeing gave suppliers less detailed specifications and required them to create their own blueprints.

Some then farmed out their engineering to their own subcontractors. At least one major supplier didn't even have an engineering department when it won its contract.

Among the least profitable jobs in aircraft manufacturing, he pointed out, is final assembly -- the job Boeing proposed to retain. But its subcontractors would benefit from free technical assistance from Boeing if they ran into problems, and would hang on to the highly profitable business of producing spare parts over the decades-long life of the aircraft. Their work would be almost risk-free, Hart-Smith observed, because if they ran into really insuperable problems they would simply be bought out by Boeing.

What do you know? In 2009, Boeing spent about $1 billion in cash and credit to take over the underperforming fuselage manufacturing plant of Vought Aircraft Industries, which had contributed to the years of delays.

Continue reading "Boeing outsources 787 Dreamliner, thinking" »

February 28, 2011

Air BnB has Rooms


AirBnB has rooms for rent (short stay)

Example


October 14, 2009

Ireland and Iceland for holidays: Bargains, now !

The reason why tour prices have virtually collapsed to Ireland and Iceland? Economic. The banking systems, the currency, the incomes, and assets of the populations, have plummeted, impoverishing large numbers of people. Since these local residents can no longer afford to travel, their national airlines have hit hard times and are responding with unprecedented low prices.

Most round-trip airfares to Iceland from either New York or Boston are currently as little as $324. From November 1 to March 31, air-and-land packages to Reykjavik are easily had for $469 (round-trip air and two nights with breakfast at good three-star hotels) per person. Low exchange rates for the Icelandic currency mean ultra-low costs for sightseeing, thermal bathing, nightlife. Go to www.icelandair.us for details.

Ireland does even better. Go to the Aer Lingus Vacation Store (www.aerlingusvacationstore.com) and you'll find air-and-land packages to Dublin or Shannon, consisting of round-trip air and a car for one week with unlimited mileage, selling in November through March 10 for $399 per person from either New York or Boston, $449 from Chicago, $699 from San Francisco. Prices go up by only $70 in April, but remain at $699 from San Francisco.

-- Arthur Frommer

Continue reading "Ireland and Iceland for holidays: Bargains, now !" »

December 7, 2008

Build it ready or not

we will create millions of jobs by making the single largest new investment in our national infrastructure since the creation of the federal highway system in the 1950s. We'll invest your precious tax dollars in new and smarter ways, and we'll set a simple rule - use it or lose it. If a state doesn't act quickly to invest in roads and bridges in their communities, they'll lose the money.

-- Obama's Key Parts of the Jobs Plan, 2008 December 6

Would spending on planning, consultants, policy, publicity, media relations, public relations folks create more middle class jobs, before the actual construction began ?

Interestingly, there's nary any talk of building prisons to releive overcrowding.

On airport expansion, Coruscation presents the sorry case of SFO's parallel runway for frequent flyiers.

SFO shelved the runway project in June after $75 million worth of
studies. Airport Director John Martin cited a lack of political will
in pushing the controversial project and the shakiness of the
airport's finances.

64% of County residents support runway expansion, poll reports
Tuesday, December 16, 2003, in the San Mateo County Times



San Francisco International Airport's $75 million effort to expand
its runways focused too heavily on marketing the idea, spent too
lavishly on consultants and failed to give equal weight to
alternatives to paving San Francisco Bay, according to a highly
critical audit of the project released Wednesday.

While the airport was evaluating the controversial -- and now dead --
plan to build new runways in the bay, consultants were billing for
$4,000 flights to the East Coast, $500 hotel rooms and $16,000
computer work stations, according to a sampling of expenses examined
by Harvey Rose, budget analyst for the San Francisco supervisors.

The airport spent money on services that had little to do with
studying the environmental impacts of expanding the airfield, and
items such as public relations and lobbying were sometimes hidden in
contracts for engineering or environmental work, according to the
audit.

Audit criticizes S.F. Airport on runway plan
Lavish spending on consultants cited in report to supervisors

Thursday, May 22, 2003, in the San Jose Mercury News



San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin said he was simply taking away the airport's blank check. In
the past few years, SFO spent about $70 million on the proposed
expansion, including more than $1 million on politically connected
consultants.

"If you want to study the runways, study them with science, not with
politics," Peskin said.

The consultants have included Attorney Karen Skelton, a former deputy
in the Clinton-Gore administration; Brown's campaign strategist Barry
Wyatt; and Jon Rubin, Brown's appointee to the Metropolitan
Transportation Commission. SFO hired Rubin's firm, Bay Relations.

Supervisors gut SFO runway expansion study
$5 million yanked, put into reserve

Tuesday, June 25, 2002, in the San Francisco Chronicle


Specifically, the airport director suspended environmental studies
looking into the viability of a proposal to extend the airport's
runways into San Francisco Bay -- a review that already has taken
four years, cost $75 million and is 80% complete.
...
Executives also have had to contend with a recent audit of the
airport's books that alleged airport officials mismanaged $75
million spent to study the runway extension plan.

The finding prompted San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin, who
requested the report last year, to call airfield development efforts
a boondoggle. The city's Board of Supervisors oversees the airport
and the city treasury receives a portion of revenues each year.

"This [expansion] project had a lot more to do with studying a
political notion than what the impacts of the project would be,"
Peskin said. "The intellectually dishonest way they went about
running the entire effort was going to doom the project to great
legal and political vulnerabilities."

The audit, drafted by city budget analyst Harvey M. Rose, raised
questions about runaway spending by consultants and found that the
Airfield Development Bureau, formed to direct the runway extension
project, kept shoddy records and didn't follow city regulations.

Rose, who relied in part on a random sample of invoices, found that
consultants billed the bureau for unusually high airfare, lodging,
equipment and telephone costs. These included round-trip airfares to
Washington for $4,252, a $799 dinner at the Bacchanal restaurant in
South San Francisco and a $4,686 phone bill for an airport
contractor for one month. Consultants also billed the bureau an
average of $16,646 each for three Dell computer workstations with no
explanation for the high cost, Rose said.

Future Cloudy for San Francisco Airport
Declining passenger traffic and a setback in a project to extend its
runways leave executives with more questions than answers.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003, in the Los Angeles Times

Continue reading "Build it ready or not" »