Now that the road network is useless, why aren’t subway system operators rich?

The other day I had to be in downtown Boston for a 9:00 am meeting. Our road network melted down circa 2005 and there is no way to know if a 20-mile trip from the suburbs will take 45 minutes, 1.5 hours or longer.

I decided to do the 15-minute drive to the Alewife parking garage, which required about 40 minutes when started at 7:30 am. As there was no way to know how long the next phase of the journey would be and I was going to fortify myself with a Dunkins coffee (sold right in the station, unlike other transit systems that try to discourage eating/drinking), it seemed a prudent time to use the restroom in the massive building (replacement cost $200 million?):

Note that at least one plumbing fixture and the only soap dispenser are missing.

This is where the trains start so I was able to get on and find a seat. At the first stop, Davis Square, enough people got on to completely fill the car:

Nobody could get on at Porter, Harvard, or Central. Only after some biotech slaves go out to stream into the new towers of Kendall Square did the train have enough room to accommodate folks waiting on the platforms. (I later learned that the pro tip for those commuting in from Porter or Harvard is to head outbound to Alewife first and then come inbound.)

I made it to my destination on time and was wrapped in an atmosphere of comparative calm:

(Of course, I criticized them for their cisgender-normative prejudice in assuming that it is only “mothers” who might want to use a room for feeding babies. See “Breastfeeding as a trans dad: ‘A baby doesn’t know what your pronouns are’” (Guardian), for example.)

As the monopoly owner of the only means of reasonably fast and reasonably reliable transport between 7 am and 7:30 pm in the Boston area, I would expect that the MBTA’s financial condition would improve every year as the roads deteriorate. Shouldn’t they be able to extract huge $$ from desperate riders? If they want to preserve the low-cost-but-can’t-get-on-the-train option they can do that at the current fare ($2.25 or $2.75 depending on how it is paid for; see But they could also run VIP trains in between that cost $10/ride.

Subjectively it seems as though the trains are packed to the point where they couldn’t get a single additional rider on. Yet, from November 2018: “T notes: Ridership, even at peak times on Red Line, continues to decline”. Maybe they are running fewer trains per hour?

Readers: How is it possible that a system that has an amazing irreplaceable paid-for-100-years-ago asset (the tunnels) can’t be profitable in an environment of ever-worsening surface traffic jams?


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New York City without Amazon

I’m just back from working with a team at an 850-lawyer firm (as an expert witness in a software and hardware patent infringement case). Despite the top pay, none of the associates were able to afford living in Manhattan. Most lived in New Jersey and would cross the Hudson River by train or bus every day. An associate who lived in Jersey City said that a PATH train on at least one line came approximately every four minutes and that he could take either line to get to work. Awesome, right? “I usually can’t get on, though,” he said. “The trains are already full when they get to Jersey City so there is at most room for 3 additional passengers.”

Given his experience of infrastructure pushed to its capacity limit, of course I couldn’t resist asking what he thought about migration and population growth. He said that he was “neutral” and had no opinion on the merits of expanded immigration.

Crosstown traffic was predictably horrific and made worse by construction. The city definitely needs an Elon Musk tunnel every five blocks.

Starbucks was packed at 9 am in Midtown, with 50+ people in line at both the Starbucks and the Starbucks across the street from the Starbucks. Maybe this is a peak hour phenomenon? Every retailer in New York could make money with a coffee robot in the corner, assuming that the quality were guaranteed consistent?

I am not sure that the packed-like-sardines public transit riders of NYC will mourn the loss of Amazon HQ2!

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