Monday, June 30, 2008

Another spoke sorely needed in this transportation hub

Greensboro is a major transportation and logistics hub that features a large, modern airport, rail links, several interstate highways, and even an inland port. The city and region are especially proud of their airport, Piedmont Triad International (PTI), which is a focus of economic development but is also struggling to maintain airlines and passengers.

Given the region's many transportation strengths but also PTI's vulnerability, it is surprising that the airport is so poorly served by public transportation and, in particular, that it lacks direct bus service to downtown Greensboro (or Winston-Salem or High Point).

A passenger arriving at PTI who wants to get to downtown Greensboro--a short 12 miles away--in something other than a private or rented automobile faces the following transportation choices:

  1. take a taxi, run by the airport's monopoly transportation service, at a fixed cost of $21.70,

  2. take a shuttle, run by the same service, at a fixed cost of $18.05, or

  3. if the passenger happens to arrive during work hours on a weekday, take the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation (PART) shuttle to the PART hub and then catch the "express" bus to the downtown bus and train depot at a cost of $2.00.
In other words, there is no bus service to the airport on weekends or late in the evening, and the existing weekday service by PART includes an inconvenient stop and transfer at a hub outside of town. Note that the PART hub does allow you to connect to buses to Winston-Salem, High Point, and Durham. Nevertheless, it's incredible that there is no direct service from the airport to any of these locations.

A modest suggestion to PTI, PART, and the Greensboro Transportation Authority (GTA) is to initiate a direct bus line that connects PTI with the train and bus depot.

Not only is the depot located downtown, but it also serves AMTRAK, several bus companies, and GTA's own buses. A direct route between the depot would thus be convenient to downtown visitors and encourage air/train and air/bus connections.

The route from the depot to the airport could easily be tweaked to pass by the courthouse complex, Greensboro College, UNCG, and the Friendly Shopping Center. This would increase the usefulness to residents, students, and visitors. Ridership by residents and students would also take pressure off the parking lots at the airport, which tend to be oversubscribed around holidays and school breaks.

Finally, given the growing employment at new businesses near the airport, especially the new Fed-Ex facility, public transportation would be useful for daily commuters.

A great feature of bus links is that they have relatively low start-up and adjustment costs. The road network to get to and from the airport is already in place as are bus/shuttle stops. The main start-up cost would be the buses themselves. Thus, it's easy to experiment with new routes and easy to drop routes if demand doesn't materialize.

Even better, the route to the airport could be classified as a special service and priced differently than other routes. For example, riders could be restricted to either using an existing bus pass or purchasing a one-day unlimited pass. This would be helpful to most commuters who would use existing bus passes but would effectively raise the price of one-way service for PTI passengers to the daily unlimited bus fare ($3.25 vs. $1.20).

A bus link seems like a low-risk way to take advantage of and cross-promote the region's transportation capabilities. Importantly, it is a way to make PTI more competitive, and to the extent that it substitutes for cars and taxis, it may even help the environment.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Missing George Carlin

George Carlin was a fantastic observational comedian, equally adept at pointing out the absurdities and truths in life.

One of my favorite bits was when he explained "that anyone driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster is maniac." This summed up his comic philosophy perfectly. We laugh first at his jabs at everyone else's driving. We then laugh as we realize that we've also been skewered for our own short fuses.

He was an equal opportunity comic, and we were all equal opportunity targets.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Trip to London, expensive; embarrassing your children while you're there, priceless

After more than a decade and a half of parenting, my wife and I have become experts at embarrassing our two children (actually, given that both of the children are teenagers, life with us right now is more or less a constant embarrassment, but some times are definitely more mortifying than others). Vacations are our time to shine, and the trip to London has provided some excellent opportunities.

Embarrassing moment number one was finding out that the paper thin walls between the living area and the bathroom in our flat allowed every bodily noise to be heard loud and clear. Note, this was more embarrassing to the older teenager; the younger one saw this as a great opportunity to practice sound effects when he was in the bathroom and to offer commentary when anyone else was there.

Embarrasing moment number two was getting the boys to pose for pictures in different settings. The picture at right from the Tower of London with Cathy and the boys posing next to a giant beefeater bear is a good case in point. The looks on the boy's faces really say it all. If you look closely, you can see them each saying "thanks Dad" or something along those lines.

Almost as embarrassing was making the boys share a dessert at a restaurant. Getting a double portion of a dessert instead of two separate desserts saved us about two pounds--a nice savings given the exchange rates. It's times like this where they really hate having an economist for a father.

However, the piece de resistance embarrassment-wise was running out of toilet paper and having to ask the front desk for more. Apparently, there is a toilet paper shortage in the U.K. The hotel doesn't stock the rooms with any extra rolls when you check in and only provides additional rolls upon request. Fortunately, the clerk saw my two boys with their heads buried in their hands and gave me an extra package. A perfect end to a perfect Father's Day.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Getting while the getting's good

We've left Greensboro for a conference and vacation in London. The temperature today in Greensboro is right around 90 degrees, and smoke from the big fire in the eastern part of North Carolina has brought the air quality down.

In contrast, London is a cool and breezy 66 degrees this afternoon.

The boys are enjoying the wealth of Cadbury selections. Their mom and dad are enjoying the beer. And all of us are getting caught up in the European Cup.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Free Hugs Campaign

Economists' standard consumer choice model predicts that if something of value is offered for free, there will be infinite demand ...

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Verbal rape

In his interview last night with Scott McClellan about McClellan's new book, What Happened, Bill O'Reilly accused McClellan of "playing into the hands" of "every Bush-hater." Haranguing McClellan about his interviews with rivals, such as Keith Olbermann, O'Reilly spewed, "You sat there while these people at NBC and some at CNN just raped the president verbally."

O'Reilly is seldom given over to introspection. Nevertheless, given his own sordid experience, you would think that he would be more careful with terms like "verbal rape."

Monday, June 2, 2008

A Very Inconvenient Truth

NASA's Office of Inspector General has just released a report into actions by political appointees in the agency to hush up climate change science and especially one of its scientists, Dr. James Hansen. The report says

  • that during the fall of 2004 through early 2006, the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs managed the topic of climate change in a manner that reduced, marginalized, or mischaracterized climate change science made available to the general public,

  • that the Office's actions were inconsistent with the mandate and intent of NASA’s controlling legislation,

  • that relations between NASA’s climate change science community and the NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs had somehow deteriorated into acrimony, non-transparency, and fear that science was being politicized—attributes that are wholly inconsistent with effective and efficient Government, and

  • that at least one climate change news release, “Aura Sheds New Light on Pollution,” was intentionally delayed by NASA Headquarters Office of Public Affairs until after the election.

Good public decision-making depends on the best available information, however inconvenient. Instead, time after time, the Bush administration has run its permanent campaign in which all information must either be spun to suit the administration's policies or be suppressed. It's a shameful record of deceit.