Travel

India fact of the day

by on October 14, 2014 at 2:38 pm in Current Affairs, Travel | Permalink

$74 million: That’s the amount India spent on its Mars program. Modi described it best when he said the Sandra Bullock-starrer Gravity cost more to make than India’s Mars mission. NASA’s Maven mission, admittedly more complex, cost $671 million in comparison. European Space Agency’s 2003 Mars Express Orbiter mission cost $386 million. Japan’s failed mars mission cost $189 million.

Rs 7 per kilometre: That is how much the journey to mars cost India. That is cheaper than an auto ride in Delhi, which will cost you, if you are lucky, Rs8 per km.

From Saptarishi Dutta, there is more here.

I Quant NY reports:

…there on the map lies the farthest residential building from a subway entrance in Manhattan according to my analysis: 10 Gracie Square, located at the end of 84th street at the FDR Drive.  It is 0.7 miles from the subway station as the crow flies, or 0.8 miles using the grid.  My favorite part about the finding is that the Penthouse, which I guess is literally the farthest place you can live from the subway due to the longer ride down in the elevator, is currently on the market for $18.9 million, down from $23 million last year. That’s right, you can pay $18.9 million dollars to have the longest walk to the subway in all of Manhattan!  But fear not power walkers, there is also a two bedroom with a the same walk but a slightly shorter elevator ride… for $3.75 million.

For the pointer I thank Craig Richardson.

David wrote:

the point about unnecessarily fancy infrastructure with weak maintenance is endemic to all the corrupt east asian economies, really

if you want to quickly assess a city’s transport infrastructure, look to see if all the roads have good sidewalks and all the streetlights have a number. the head honcho is only driven past, he doesn’t walk on the pavement – if the project exists only to impress him, then the pavement will be subpar and cracking. if the streetlights are not numbered, then nobody is tracking failures and replacing parts.

Tyler [not this Tyler] wrote:

A week in China often leaves Westerners impressed. So shiny! So new! So big!

Live there a year and you yearn for the Newark Airport…

Douglas Levene wrote:

I live and work in Shenzhen and can add a few observations. First, the food in Shenzhen is generally not very good, and does not compare to Hong Kong or Taipei. Second, a lot of the infrastructure (the subway, the parks) is new and shiny (and there is excellent cell service on the subway), but construction quality being what it is on the mainland, you can expect much of it to look terrible in a short time. Third, although Shenzhen is much cleaner than it was four years ago, it’s still very dirty compared to Hong Kong and Taipei. Fourth, you can’t get decent internet service to foreign (English) language websites anywhere in Shenzhen, even with a VPN. This is probably due to the Great Chinese Firewall. Fifth, it’s very hard to find housing built to Western standards of comfort, size, and cleanliness. Sixth, western style toilets are still a rarity in Shenzhen. That all said, Shenzhen remains the beating heart of the capitalist South and is the best hope for China.

Google’s driverless car may still be a work in progress, but the potential for semiautonomous vehicles on American roads is no longer the stuff of science fiction.

By the end of the decade, a growing number of automakers aim to offer some form of hands-off-the-wheel, feet-off-the-pedals highway driving where a driver can sit back and let the car take control.

The very nature of driving, experts say, will be radically reshaped — and the biggest players in the auto industry are now vying to capture a slice of the revolutionary market they see coming within a matter of years.

From Aaron M. Kessler, there is more here.

Tokyo and the Bullet Train

by on October 3, 2014 at 11:50 am in Travel | Permalink

Lots of interesting material in this piece on Japan’s bullet trains and how they have shaped the economic geography of Japan:

Meanwhile, the bullet train has sucked the country’s workforce into Tokyo, rendering an increasingly huge part of the country little more than a bedroom community for the capital. One reason for this is a quirk of Japan’s famously paternalistic corporations: namely, employers pay their workers’ commuting costs. Tax authorities don’t consider it income if it’s less than ¥100,000 a month – so Shinkansen commutes of up to two hours don’t sound so bad. New housing subdivisions filled with Tokyo salarymen subsequently sprang up along the Nagano Shinkansen route and established Shinkansen lines, bringing more people from further away into the capital.

The Shinkansen’s focus on Tokyo, and the subsequent emphasis on profitability over service, has also accelerated flight from the countryside. It’s often easier to get from a regional capital to Tokyo than to the nearest neighbouring city. Except for sections of the Tohoku Shinkansen, which serves northeastern Japan, local train lines don’t always accommodate Shinkansen rolling stock, so there are often no direct transfer points between local lines and Shinkansen lines. The Tokaido Shinkansen alone now operates 323 trains a day, taking 140 million fares a year, dwarfing local lines. This has had a crucial effect on the physical shape of the city. As a result of this funnelling, Tokyo is becoming even denser and more vertical – not just upward, but downward. With more Shinkansen passengers coming into the capital, JR East has to dig ever deeper under Tokyo Station to create more platforms.

Hat tip: John Welborn.

Christopher Buccafusco and Chris Sprigman report:

…we ran an experiment to measure how much people value the ability to recline compared to extra knee and laptop room.

In an online survey, we asked people to imagine that they were about to take a six-hour flight from New York to Los Angeles. We told them that the airline had created a new policy that would allow people to pay those seated in front of them to not recline their seats. We asked one group of subjects to tell us the least amount of money that they would be willing to accept to not recline during the flight. And we asked another group of subjects to tell us the most amount of money that they would pay to prevent the person in front of them from not reclining.

It turns out that Barro was right: Recliners wanted on average $41 to refrain from reclining, while reclinees were willing to pay only $18 on average. Only about 21 percent of the time would ownership of the 4 inches change hands.

But it also turns out that Barro was wrong and Marron was right. When we flipped the default—that is, when we made the rule that people did not have an automatic right to recline, but would have to negotiate to get it—then people’s values suddenly reversed. Now, recliners were only willing to pay about $12 to recline while reclinees were unwilling to sell their knee room for less than $39. Recliners would have ended up purchasing the right to recline only about 28 percent of the time—the same right that they valued so highly in the other condition.

Wait … what? How is it possible that people’s valuation of reclining vs. not being reclined upon depended so completely on which party (recliner or reclinee) held initial ownership of the property right? Shouldn’t the right to recline be worth the same to you whether you initially have it or not?

It is fair to call this an endowment effect, but I also view it as evidence for my earlier view that people do not want to bargain over this right.

For the pointer I thank Tim Harford.

Hong Kong bleg

by on September 27, 2014 at 6:38 am in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

You know the drill, I have been there before but not in a long time.  Your assistance is much appreciated and I thank you all in advance…

In case you don’t like Wiener Schnitzel and doner kebab:

Now Germany’s Air Food One is a subscription service that lets anyone get airline meals delivered to their home once a week.

Offered by online grocery Allyouneed.com, members can choose between two options — classic or vegetarian — just like on a real flight. The service has teamed up with LSG Sky Chefs, which provides airline food for Lufthansa, to prepare a different meal each week that matches the business class menu on airplanes. For example, this week it’s serving Arabic seafood or panserotti with porcini mushrooms. The meals are delivered every Wednesday evening and are suitable for freezing. When it comes time to cook, members can simply place the meal in the oven. The idea is that the healthy subscription meals can be ordered by busy professionals who would otherwise be ordering a takeaway. Additionally, the service lets LSG Sky Chefs get rid of the excess meals not needed by its flying customers, avoiding waste and acting as an advertisement for its food quality.

The full story is here, and for the pointer I thank Michael Rosenwald.

I believe Josh Barro started this mess of a debate.

I would emphasize the endogeneity of transaction costs.  The airlines could do a lot to encourage Coasean bargaining between fliers, but they don’t.  How about handing out little cards?: “Have a friendly haggle with the person behind you.  Last year the average price for a non-reclined seat was $16.50.”  They could print up standardized contracts, like how they distribute customs forms, including contracts for trading seat assignments or distance from the bathrooms or how you shush your child, or not.  Imagine being nudged toward a deal through the in-flight internet system, so you don’t have to turn around to face the other party in the bargain.  They could take a cue from Alvin Roth and his matching algorithms or help you set up complex multi-party deals, like how the Denver Nuggets used to construct (and then dismantle) their rosters.

Nada.

The disutility of bargaining in this environment is high relative to the value at stake.  The chance of irritation or hurt feelings is non-negligible, and perhaps people on a flight are crankier anyway.  So the airlines deliberately keep the transactions costs high, as the gains from the potential bargain are low relative to the ickiness of the process.  The airlines wish to keep a lot of people away from the process altogether, if only out of fear of having to arrest people, divert flights, and so on.

That implies the more we debate this problem, the worse it becomes.  It also gives us the true Coasean answer to what is best.  Relative to current norms, who does more to make the whole question “an issue” — the seat recliner or the purchaser of the recliner-blocker?  Clearly it is the purchaser of the blocker and thus Josh Barro is broadly in the right, the norm should continue to allow people to recline their seats as that minimizes fuss, which is more important than getting the right outcome with the seat itself.

If you don’t like that, United does sell coach seats with extra space, which makes the recline of the person in front of you less bad.

Santa Cruz notes

by on August 27, 2014 at 2:36 am in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

The town square is lovely, even though they removed the sloth for fear he would electrocute himself.  The population is friendly, the weather is perfect, and there are few sights.  Unlike in much of South America, danger is not a concern.  The small children who hang out in the central square seem to think that a full embrace of a pigeon is a good idea.

The food is excellent and yet you never hear about it.  Try El Aljibe for local specialties (peanut soup, or duck and corn risotto, with egg on top), and Jardin de Asia for Amazonian Andean Peruvian Japanese Bolivian fusion.  It is hard to find the Cochabamba version of Bolivian food that has made it over to the U.S.   The steak here is decent but not as good as Argentina or Brazil.

The taxi equilibrium is that you do not ask in advance what the fare is, because that indicates you do not know.  Be confident, and you will be surprised how little money they ask for.

If you had to pick one city to represent South America as a whole, Santa Cruz might be it.  You can feel elements of Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and yes even Bolivia here, all rolled into one.  The proportions of fair-skinned, mestizo, and indigenous people mirrors the Continent as a whole more than the Altiplano.  The secession movement here seems to have failed.  Amazonian indigenous peoples and Guarani are common here.

Arriving at the airport at 3:30 a.m. involves a nightmarish wait.  There is not much air pollution.  I didn’t meet a single person in the service sector who spoke English.  People in Santa Cruz seemed fairly happy relative to their per capita income.

You can study the economic development of China by visiting Bolivia.

My favorite things Bolivia

by on August 24, 2014 at 3:46 am in Travel | Permalink

Yes, violinist Jaime Laredo is from Cochabamba, but that does not sum up what is special about Bolivia.  I’ve been to maybe ninety countries, and often I think Bolivia is the most exotic and wild of them all.  For a simple contrast, so many aspects of Yemen have fed into streams we are familiar with, and Yemeni food is instantly recognizable, even if you have never been to the Arabian peninsula.

The main strands of Bolivian indigenous life — which I estimate to represent sixty percent of the country or more — have barely touched America or Europe.  It is all strange.  It is (mostly) deeply beautiful, like visiting another planet.  The sky is intense, and the potatoes and corn taste much stronger than what we we Americans are used to.  “I went there to eat a purple potato” is a coherent and indeed a wise sentence.  Llama jerky is a major dish.

There is a three-toed sloth in the Santa Cruz parkPink flamingos and lithium on the other side of the country.  La Paz is set in a bowl of sorts where you can look either up or down and see homes carved into mountains.  The altitude (in some parts of the country) never ceases to feel like a strain, and the Andes are the world’s largest mountain range.  Some of the indigenous politicians have run against the Western Enlightenment.  On the Altiplano I encountered some of the most miserable-looking people.  The beautiful women have an intensity and a heartiness.  The bowler hat remains in style.

Most of the hotels aren’t very good.  The country has been landlocked for some time, and has lost territory in three different wars.  There are over thirty official languages and it is the number four country in the world for number of butterfly species.  You will not find a higher percentage of expressionless, stone-faced petty merchants.

Due to hydrocarbons, the country is growing at over six percent a year.  My favorite movie set in Bolivia is Even the Rain, a Spanish production I believe.

I strongly recommend a visit to Bolivia.

But as for Santa Cruz, well…that is something altogether different.

Nine million Americans took a week off in July 1976, the peak month each year for summer travel. Yet in July 2014, just seven million did. Keeping in mind that 60 million more Americans have jobs today than in 1976, that adds up to a huge decline in the share of workers taking vacations.

Some rough calculations show, in fact, that about 80 percent of workers once took an annual weeklong vacation — and now, just 56 percent do.

That is from Evan Soltas, there is more here.  And Evan offers a bit more here.

Cochabamba bleg

by on August 16, 2014 at 1:27 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

Thank you all for the Santa Cruz tips.  I’ll also be in Cochabamba, and so I request your advice for that destination too.  Bolivia is one of the world’s most underrated travel spots, so if you haven’t already gone you should start thinking about such a trip.

Santa Cruz, Bolivia bleg

by on August 10, 2014 at 3:37 pm in Food and Drink, Travel | Permalink

I’ll be there soon enough.  Please tell me what to do, what to eat, and how to understand what I am doing.  I thank you all in advance.

This time Newport Beach, CA is the villain, or the guardian of public safety, depending on your point of view:

While demand for such thrill rides seems limitless, the supply has been curtailed by the Newport Beach City Council. Alarmed by noise complaints and safety concerns, the council approved a six-month moratorium on new jetpack businesses this summer, dashing the hopes of several would-be operators. The move has left Jetpack America as the only oceanfront flight school in town for now, cornering the market on what some see as an ever-expanding audience, thanks in large part to video clips posted online and Internet deals that lure new customers to the shores of Newport Beach, an idyllic setting less than 50 miles southeast of Los Angeles.

The devices cost $10k (formerly 100k), they push you 40 feet up, and you can go 30 mph.  You can still do it in New Jersey, Delaware, and Florida, though further regulations are coming.  How is this for a good sentence?:

The jetpack universe is small, but growing.

The full story is here, by Jennifer Medina, interesting throughout.