Accelerated Nation

I’m Back

Posted in Pacific Northwest, policy, politics by Ashley on 2010/01/15

images Just a quick post to say “I’m Back”.  It’s a new year, product launches are behind me and I’ll be posting again soon.  Happy MLK Day everyone – it’s the official start to the end of winter!


Weekend Politics: UPA and INC Win 2009 Indian General Election

Posted in Data, elections, India, innovation, policy, politics by Ashley on 2009/05/16

With more than 250 constituencies (out of 543)  either won or leaning United Progressive Alliance (UPA)/Indian National Congress (INC), the Hindu  nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), led by Lai Krishna Advani, has conceded defeat in India’s 2009 general election.  800px-Flag_of_India_svg

The UPA/INC, led by incumbent Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, is the first Indian leader since Nehru to win re-election after serving a full, five-year term.

Held in five stages, India’s general election polled an estimated 714 million voters in 28 states and 7 Union territories. The INC has won or is leading in 206 constituencies, a gain of 60 over 2004.  The BJP has won or is leading in 106, down 22 from 2004.

The Indian Lok Sabha is the second-largest parliamentary body in the world, after the UK House of Commons.

Live results can be found here

A bit of trivia: India uses electronic voting machines (EVMs) in nearly every constituency.  The maximum number of candidates the machine can support is 64, and if there are more than 64 candidates a ballot paper is used.  In 1996, in the Tamil Nadu state assembly constituency of Modaurichi, 1033 candidates contested the seat.  The ballot was a booklet.

Transit Thursday: Should We Privatize Public Transit?

Posted in Data, innovation, policy, transit by Ashley on 2009/05/14

Ever since humans decided they’d rather not walk, we’ve been debating transit.Potsdamer Platz S-Bahn Station, Berlin   How much cash to spend, where the trains/buses should go, and when to build the system frame most of these conversations.  But public ownership of transit systems is rarely questioned—and I’m not sure why.

I’ve gone back and analyzed NYC Transit subway fares from 1904, when the system opened, through 2008, the last year data is available.  Thanks to the nice folks at Measuring Worth, I was able to determine the current cost of NYC Subway Faresthese fares using the CPI (Consumer Price Index).  CPI enables comparisons of historical prices over time—in other words, how much money you would need in today’s dollars to buy a good in any given year.The cost of a NYC subway ticket (in 2008 US dollars) is shown in the graph on the right.  

But around the same time that New Yorkers took their first ride on the A train, they were also able to buy their first mass-marketed automobile—the Ford Model T.  The first Tin Lizzie rolled off the assembly line on September 27, 1908 and was, in the words of Henry Ford, “a car for the great multitude.”  With an initial sticker price of about $900 in 1908, by the mid-1920’s the Model T was rolling out of showrooms for an astounding $290.  That’s only about $3,562 in today’s dollars.

Public transit doesn’t operate in a vacuum—it must compete with alternate, privately-funded forms of transportation.  Very few people take the subway because they love the grime, the sweltering heat, the packed trains, and the shared misery.  They take it because it works for them—on affordability and convenience.  Unfortunately for transit enthusiasts, for most Americans the car works better.

Looking at our subway graph, the real cost of a NYC subway ticket in 2008 was about 5x what it was in 1948.  The cost of a Ford Focus today ($15,520) is only about 4x the cost of a Model T in 1925.  And the “value” is vastly different.  A 1904 New Yorker would find today’s subway remarkably familiar—the stations are about the same, the tiles are exactly what she would have seen 105 years ago, and the ceiling still leaks.  Only the cars and escalators give away 2009.

A Ford Focus, however, would strike a 1925 car shopper as a completely alien construction.  She would probably recognize it as a car, but A/C, cruise control, seat belts, an ignition, speeds over 35 mph, power windows and locks, quiet interiors, anti-lock brakes, air bags, and the sheer weight of the thing would shock (but the gas mileage wouldn’t—the Model T got 13-21 mpg).

The private companies that ran the NYC subway were bought by the city in 1940.  Shortly thereafter, the falling real fares that characterized the period from 1904-1948 were quickly replaced by sharp real fare increases.  And few would argue that these increases have been accompanied by significant improvements in service delivery.

Almost every other form of transportation that is subject to competition delivers superior service. Pan American Word Airway began regularly scheduled New York-UK air service in 1939.  The fare was $375 ($5,813 in 2008 dollars).  Today, British Airways will take you there on one week’s notice in a significantly safer jet for $964.  That’s an 81% drop in 70 years. 

We question neither the wisdom of privatized air travel nor a competitive auto industry.  We’re even comfortable with private space travel.  And Tata will deliver a $2,000 Nano beginning in July.  Because of high fuel prices and a struggling economy, transit is seeing renewed popularity.  But despite this success, it still appeals to only a fraction of the population.  To succeed in moving more Americans around, transit needs rapid expansion and service upgrades.  And it must match automobile innovation in terms of cost, comfort and speed.

Innovative cities, like innovative companies, put every option on the table.