Why Don’t We Know More About the Subway Cost Disease?

Alon Levy has a good deck based on data he collected covering 205 projects in 40 countries on why subway costs are so expensive in the United States compared to much of the rest of the world.

One of the points he makes is that a significant fraction of cost varies across countries which means “the explanation should be institutional and not geologic or geographic. This is difficult and requires qualitative research, since N is about 40.”

Costs are lower in poorer countries but Levy argues that GDP per capita is not a big factor once differences in type of subways are accounted for, I find that surprising and somewhat difficult to believe.

Levy’s major factor is simply that Americans and New Yorkers in particular don’t know much about how things are done elsewhere. In Europe, when a city builds a subway it can look to ten or twelve examples in three to four nearby countries for best practices. New Yorker’s don’t look anywhere else and say things like “New York has a more built-out commuter rail network than London,” as MTA chair Pat Foye recently claimed. In one way, this is good news because Levy argues that if Americans adopted European practices such as separating design from construction and simplifying station construction they could cut costs significantly.

Levy is to be lauded for his pioneering work on this issue yet isn’t it weird that a Patreon supported blogger has done the best work on comparative construction costs mostly using data from newspapers and trade publications? New York plans to spend billions on railway and subway expansion. If better research could cut construction costs by 1%, it would be worth spending tens of millions on that research. So why doesn’t the MTA embed accountants with every major project in the world and get to the bottom of this cost disease? (See previous point). Perhaps the greatest value of Levy’s work is in drawing attention to the issue so that the public gets mad enough about excess costs to get politicians to put pressure on agencies like the MTA.


Maybe it is as simple as opening up tenders to international firms. You don't have to know anything about how things are done elsewhere, you only have to know how much they charge. Europe has some huge firms that compete for transit tenders all over the world. Chinese firms also compete for tenders abroad.

How about people complaining about the high prices put their efforts and money where their mouths are?

After all, they are complaining that prices are too high, not that costs are too high.

They are not complaining that the fifth amendment is unconstitutional, should not exist, or does not exist. They are not complaining that the courts are wrong to block government taking away your property rights without compensation or the courts are wrong in declaring Trump can't take your property based on his pricing it at 1$.

The complaint is the price is ten times the costs in their economic world view, where your land is worth at most $1.

With profits of 50% to 90%, you would think conservatives would be rushing in to build tunnels.

Instead, when an illegal immigrant from shithole Africa passing as white puts his own wealth behind boring tunnels cheaply faster than Gary the snail, conservatives say it's impossible, he's doing it wrong, he can never succeed, he must not be allowed by government to gain access to lland 10-50 meters below the surface that is unused, because he's a leftist who believes fossil fuels are unsustainable.

Most third-world countries, esp. ex-colonies, do that. Result: the costs are really high.

This is apparent in India, where stuff that gets outsourced to Japan or the UK or past Indian projects that were so outsourced (high-speed rail, metros) is really expensive, and stuff that gets developed domestically (rail electrification, a freight tunnel) is really cheap.

The basic problem here is the the international firms are still building under local rules. So New York can have Skanska and Dragados build subways all it wants, but evidently they do so at New York costs because of local rules and constraints ("the stations should be mined," "we have no idea where the utilities are," etc.) and not at Swedish or Spanish costs.

One word: "Unions".

NY and NYC are uniquely corrupt in the US. High costs in NY can be directly attributed tot he stranglehold that the nexus of organized crime, unions, and the NY Democratic Party has held for over a century.

And you know of some subways in Rhode Island, Philadelphia or New Orleans???

You don't get $5 footlongs in Philly?

Not actually surprising. It's the same reason healthcare costs are so much higher in the US than in other countries: third-party payers. The people making the decisions and doing the work aren't footing the bill, so no one involved in the construction has any interest in controlling costs. The taxpayers paying for it all don't know what's going on and have no say in the matter.

Wouldn't this be true in essentially 40 of the 40 cases?

So, if we adopted the health care system of one of the following nations:

We would eliminate 3rd party payers?

The real question is what would happen to US healthcare costs if we used any of the countries listed as our third-party payor.

Bernie would look like a conservative?!?!

How would Bernie look like a conservative if any of the countries you listed were the third-party payer for US healthcare?

How can they be 3rd party payers when doing US health care when they aren't 3rd party payers in their home country?

The claim was 3rd party payers make costs too high, so that means the nations I listed with much lower costs must not have any 3rd party payers.

If you are arguing 3rd party payers make costs lower, I agree and argue the US must go to 100% 3rd party payers as Obamacare mandated.

Trump has worked hard to mandate 1st party payments with high deductions, not requirement for insurance, support for medical bill clubs, and the result is lots of huge medical bills and court judgement to seize property and wages of the patient.

Not just a New York problem. The Ontario provincial government just forced the local authority in Toronto (TTC) to adopt a cheaper model (used successfully in cities such as London) for construction of a new line. Said authority should be ashamed of themselves for not coming up with the idea themselves... of course they are not.

So, you believe Crossrail is complete, coming in on budget?

I like the timeline for this London subway project in wilipedia:
Crossrail timeline
Date Event
1941–48 First proposals for cross-London railway tunnels put forward by George Dow
1974 London Rail Study Report recommends a Paddington–Liverpool Street "Crossrail" tunnel
1989 Central London Rail Study proposes three Crossrail schemes, including an east–west Paddington/Marylebone–Liverpool Street route
1991 Private bill promoted by London Underground and British Rail submitted to Parliament proposing a Paddington–Liverpool Street tunnel; it is rejected in 1994
2001 Crossrail scheme promoted through Cross London Rail Links (CLRL)
2004 Senior railway managers promote an expanded regional Superlink scheme
2005 Crossrail Bill put before Parliament
2008 Crossrail Act 2008 receives royal assent
2009 Construction work begins at Canary Wharf
2015 Liverpool Street–Shenfield service transferred to TfL Rail
2017 New Crossrail trains introduced on Liverpool Street–Shenfield route
2018 Paddington–Heathrow services transferred to TfL Rail
2019 TfL Rail begin operating Paddington-Reading services
2020-2021 Central section to open under Elizabeth line name; full Elizabeth line route due to open
2026 Possible opening of new station at Old Oak Common

Reality is so different than conservatives claim it is. The Big Dig was completed faster from initial proposal/conception to final court judgement on the last of the thousands of lawsuits, than Crossrail.

The more I practiced golf, the better golfer I became. The more I read, the better reader I am. Americans aren't interested in building public transit, at least not those Americans who control such things. And why should they: they don't use transit. I'm confident that if America built transit on a wide scale, we'd get good at it. But we won't, and we aren't; indeed, the fear of those who don't want to spend money on transit is that we might become good at it. This could change if those American who control such things decided that it's in their interest to spend large sums of money on transit. How would that happen? Guess.

You only need to study NY and NYC to learn what happens when those in power spend huge sums of other people's money on mass transit.

Then, they have the 'issue' of operating revenues and expenses. Like estimated 250,000 daily bus/subway riders not paying fares; employee overtime at $1.5 billion per annum; . . .

I think Boston’s Big Dig, too.

Ok, why not look at Alabama and Virginia and how DoD and NASA projects come in years late and way over budget and then don't even work when delivered as "completed" products.

Or are Alabama and Virginia longtime leftist strongholds...

It is from Reason, but they do an annual highway spending report about how well states are spending on highways. This is a common expense that is not too terribly different between states.

The most efficient Democratic state for highway expenditures according to their metrics was Rhode Island at #19.

Lest we say that this just reflects rural geography. Idaho pegs in at #7 while Vermont hits #39 with New Hampshire and Colorado at #30 and #31 respectively. Nor is this unique; New Mexico (#24) below the most comparable Republican states of Arizona (#16) and Utah (#10). And of the 10 worst, only Alaska is Republican.

At best, we can say that having Democrats in power has done nothing to improve highway spending efficiency. More likely, it appears to be well correlated with less efficient highway spending.

Part of it, surely, is the Democrats approach to infrastructure spending -- which is too look at it as a jobs program more so than an investment. And part of it is the Republicans approach to make sure their fat cat donors make money so they also are politically willing to pay up.

Other countries have these same pressures as well, but their voters aren't as distracted by tribal culture war BS.

This is a Robin Hanson situation. Subway construction is not about subways. It’s about giving money to the people who build subways.

Again, if such rules were universal, they'd be universal in all countries studied.

The bizarre thing is that the US doesn't really "try" as noted above, but then absolves itself with this kind of "but of course, it's impossible" talk.

The bizarre thing is that the US doesn't really "try"

But 'The U.S.' is not building the absurdly expensive subways, the 'New York City Transit Authority' is doing that, and New York City has long been extremely interested in building and operating subways. There's no reason that entire country or the national government must take an interest for New York City not to screw it all up.

I'll ask it a really simple way.

How much time does the right (not just libertarians) spend asking specifically for better execution?

Versus how much time to the celebrate failure, as proof that government is the problem?

How much time does the left spend asking specifically for better execution?

It would be in their interest, one presumes, to aggressively demonstrate success and continuing improvement - potholes filled, reading ability, transit reliability, etc. - rather than just demand that more money be spent - if solving the problem or providing the services was actually the goal.

Thank you

You think this is smart, but you've set up the insolvable deadlock.

You want Democrats to fix everything, as you fight them every step of the way.

You make Democrats the party of effective governance.

So I guess I have to vote for them to get better execution, eh?

The left is in control of all the localities in the U.S. where mass transit has been implemented at scale. And they make a bad job of it pretty universally. So naturally the solution is to elect more Democrats to get more effective, efficient government services!?

You still aren't getting it. You are still asking *them* to fix things, making them the party of solutions by default.

Unless the right wants to get into the business of solutions.

Have you ever been to New York, San Francisco, LA, Chicago?

The Republican Party is DEAD in those cities. How is it their responsibility to fix problems caused in Democrat run cities.

Your argument doesn’t make sense.

What? Democrats are in control of inefficient governments in major cities, so they're the only ones you *could* ask to fix things, so therefore they're the party of efficient government and we should elect more of them? No, you right, I don't grasp your logic.

Personally, I don't expect urban Democrats to fix these problems during my lifetime or probably that of my children. They haven't done so for many, many decades, and I expect more of the same not some magical transformation. This is part of the reason I happily live well outside these places. The only voting I've done with respect to these cities is foot-voting, and it's been quite effective.

This has nothing to do with ideology or national politics whatsoever. This is not a Democrat vs Republican issue. Take the MTA:

The MTA board has 13 voting board members and a 14th vote comprised of 4 members who get one group vote.

Some are appointed by the governor, some by the mayor of NYC. There is no level of government from state to city in regard to the MTA board that is controlled by Republicans. So...they’re completely irrelevant to the outcome.

Similar to the California High Speed Rail project, this is all under unified/super majority government.

And blaming Democrats is also pointless, these are not national party failures, these are local and state level government failures due to rent seeking and corruption.

The real question is why is state and local government so inept and corrupt and what would potential solutions be.

I’ve yet to hear any solutions in the entire thread. Just partisan bickering.

On this one you are actually right. Of course it is partisan bickering, but that's also what creates this particular dysfunction. The MTA and California High Speed Rail don't face rational oversight because the two parties are mired at spending level battles. Spend more, spend less. Wait, who's minding the contracts? No time! There is a new issue to argue spend more, spend less.

But if I have to pick a side, I'll pick the one that I see as more pragmatic overall. Right now that's Democrats. Sorry.

Why? Because "government is the problem" is a self-defeating meme. Anyone who genuinely holds that belief cannot make government better, every.

Not sure I fully grok your comment.

The MTA and California High Speed Rail don't face rational oversight because the two parties are mired at spending level battles.

Neither the MTA nor California’s HSR project has anything to do with “two parties mired in” battles over spending more or less.

There’s unified supermajority one party governance in both instances.

These are both fully local and state level failures. The only lesson I see at all is about corruption, incentives, with maybe some Tullock thrown in.

Correct. The problem is NOT "partisan bickering". The problem is in the incentives baked into the monopoly nature of government. anonymous seems to think that government COULD build subways efficiently, if only Republicans would stop saying they should be privatized and instead commit to fiscally efficient government-run systems.

I'll admit that there are some "vulgar" libertarians who make relatively unsophisticated arguments along the lines of "government bad!" But the real point that libertarians are trying to make is that these services could be better provided via private markets, not via central government provision. Just because you don't think that the government should be in charge of building subways doesn't mean you necessarily hate government. Your concept of what a well-run government looks like just might mean that it's functions are more restricted, precisely because you don't think the incentive structure supports efficient operation of additional functions.

Elected officials have oversight authority, and if they choose not to use it, it is up to voters to hold them responsible. With California rail that's the State Legislature. For the NY MTA it's more complicated, but ultimately the governor and the mayor are responsible, and they in turn are responsible to voters.

The California Legislature has been trying to find a way out of the high speed rail mess.


The only way to hold them responsible is to vote for Republicans instead, which comes with a whole different set of problems.

In a two party Democratic system, where every election comes down to checking one of two boxes, there is really only ONE issue voters can hold anyone accountable to at a time. To actually hold politicians accountable for all of the stuff they are supposed to be accountable for simultaneously is impossible. The issues upon which politicans are actually held accountable are always going to be a tiny subset of all issues they have control over.

"The only way to hold them responsible is to vote for Republicans instead, which comes with a whole different set of problems."

In a two party system (and that's what we are largely stuck with in the US) the best result is probably to have the parties teeter back and forth in power. Unfortunately both parties are working hard to entrench their power where ever they can.

Has it ever occurred to you that by believing government is the solution to these problems, that you will reflexively vote/give support for whatever party promises the biggest solutions?


As far as I can tell, the left aggressively advocates that execution doesn't even matter, only spending does. As long as money gets spent, it doesn't matter if potholes actually get filled. Stimulus baby!

Yes, very much this. The left never asks if a problem was solved; they ask how much we are spending on the problem, and then says that it needs to be more. Rinse and repeat (and profit!) when the problem drags on.

So, when the right wants to cut some spending, for education or food or housing, it's because they think those are solved?


It's because spending MORE money - or less money - has absolutely no effect in either direction.

You just want to take other people's - successful one's - money because you're jealous and greedy. So there!

Either that or it means that they believe the institutions administering the cash have become so corrupted that more money will only make things worse.

Education, for instance, has a lot of funding going towards various fiefdoms that conservatives believe are not only actively detrimental to society, but also to education itself. If you increase the budget by X dollars, and 20% of that leads to more "minority studies" programs the cash is beneficial if, and only if these disfavored programs do not destroy more than 5 times their value (as measured by conservatives).

Worse, monies are competing against other valid uses (e.g. military R&D) so if 30% of the funding is gone because some "destructive" element gets a fraction of it and then causes more harm ... then any utilitarian should cut funding on education for whatever is thought to be the next best alternative.

Conversely, if you cut funding one might reasonably argue that the universities will have to cut the fat. If they end up cutting a bunch of negative marginal production departments the university may come out ahead with greater capabilities afterwards.

The left can, and does, also play this game with their boogeymen. Funding the military more would help with a lot of causes they hold dear (e.g. genocide prevention, poaching interdiction, providing career paths for minorities), yet they vote to cut funding because they believe that the budget en toto is counterproductive or at least less useful than some alternative (e.g. more healthcare spending).

So yeah, everyone cuts budgets to issues they care about, particularly if they cannot actually control the execution of expenditures.

No, it's because they believe there are other, better mechanisms besides government to solve those problems.
Republicans want to give people school vouchers so they can get private education, for instance.
In general markets are more efficient at allocating resources. Hence private provision of these services should reduce the net cost burden to society.
Democrats sometimes argue that if government doesn't supply X, consumers will still pay for X indirectly through insurance premiums for instance. But the Republican (and libertarian) position is generally that the cost of X is going to be lower in a competitive private market, so what we pay privately for X in the aggregate is going to be lower than what we pay in taxes to support government provision of X. To wit: If subways were privatized, what we paid privately for subway tickets in the aggregate would be less than what we pay in taxes to build subways.

But the Democrats don't like that because that would mean that the people who use the subway would be the ones who would pay for it via ticket prices. In other words, public funding is a means for wealth redistribution - you get the wealthy to pay for the construction of subways not the poor. Even if it on net raises the cost of subways. Which they don't care about because they just count that as "stimulus" anyway.
And that's how you get to it not mattering if potholes get filled, because wealth redistribution is THE ENTIRE POINT. It's not about providing services, it's about making sure that poor people don't have to pay for the actual cost of their subway tickets, and in parallel, while were at it, let's redistribute some money from the rich to some union boys.

But that's just a lie you tell yourselves.

For all your make-believe complaints that you should just eliminate departments, do you ever?

Or do you just create new ones, and run them badly?


Hazel Meade created the Border Patrol?

Wait, no, Hazel Meade is in charge of creating all government agencies?


Or, Hazel Meade as stand in for all libertarians murdered a 16 year old via negligence?

You jumped the shark again, amigo.

The idea that markets are more efficient at allocating resources isn't a lie, it's both theoretically sound and historically proven. The problem is that governments, by their nature, are incentivized to grow. It's the whole problem of concentrated benefits and distributed costs - there are vested interests with a stake in the continuing existance of Department X, and they care a lot more than the 300 million people that pay for it with a penny a year each. It's hard to fight the logic of that, even if you don't believe in big government. So yeah, when Republicans get in office and they are constrained by established interests from doing much to shrink the state.

Incidentally I hate Trump as I'm sure you are aware, but I don't think he's in any way an example of "anti-government" ideology. Restricting immigration and increasing tariffs are not my idea of "small government".



You’re arguing with someone who blames either you, personally, or libertarians en masse for the failures of the Border Patrol.

You’re arguing with someone who believes the utter failure of both the MTA board and the California High Speed Rail project is due to Libertarian or Republican intransigence, whereas in the real world both the MTA board, NYS, NYC and the California State government are under supermajority control by Democrats.

He’s a partisan loon. That’s the only rational conclusion.

Anytime we tell him we don’t support Trump, he buckets anyone not cheering for Warren as a MAGA hat toting literal murderer of immigrants.

It’s a Kafkaesque farcical parody of Communists blaming fascist operatives for starvation in China or the Holomodor. Internal incompetence must be blamed on the outgroup, even when the outgroup holds literally no power and all mistakes occur under The Party.

"even when the outgroup holds literally no power and all mistakes occur under The Party."

That's just what the Fascists want you to think Comrade. ;)


If you are an advocate of big government, it's in your best interest for it to be an obvious social good and critical when it's not.

I’m sorry, who are the advocates for smaller government? I’ve never seen one in power. Which is completely predictable for anyone who took Public Choice Econ.

The Democrats firmly won that battle decades ago. Both parties support massive government.

And both parties support massive and impossible deficits into perpetuity.

How much time does the right (not just libertarians) spend asking specifically for better execution?

Oh, I'd say -- a lot! The idea that government is wasteful, inefficient (and often corrupt) and should be able to do much more with less is obviously a recurring theme among republicans and libertarians. It's a theme I virtually never hear on the left, though -- those folks seem to believe that every government program everywhere is being 'starved' of funds and that any failures clearly demonstrate the need for higher taxes and spending to 'fix' the problem.

Perhaps it’s U.S.-specific political coalitions. “Why does NYC overspend on subway construction?” is a lot like “Why does Chicago overspend on public employee pensions?”

And to be fair, CA seems to overspend on trains in general.

ITT: lots of libertarians befuzzled by the fact that most other developed countries have decent government services.

Worse, they have a perverse incentive when it comes to government failures.

Wait -- are you suggesting that somehow libertarians are secretly in charge of NYC subway construction and are intentionally messing it up in order to discredit government services? Is De Blasio a crypto-libertarian?

'Is De Blasio a crypto-libertarian?'

Who cares? The mayor of NYC is not in charge of NYC's subway construction or operation.

Fine. Which of MTA board members (some of which are appointed by the mayor) do you identify as crypto-libertarian moles trying to undermine the system?

You can just quit here. The goal posts are always moved.

It's one of anonymouse's primary MOs.

You guys are writing your own fan fiction.

I'm just noting that you like to crow about failure more than you like to demand success.

"You guys are writing your own fan fiction."

No, we are not Fans.

You are cucks.

'Fine. Which of MTA board members (some of which are appointed by the mayor) do you identify as crypto-libertarian moles trying to undermine the system?'

None of them, of course. But it is interesting to see in your reply that now you are actually aware that the mayor NYC is not directly responsible for building or operating NYC's subway system.

Making the question of whether the mayor is a libertarian of any variety basically irrelevant when it comes to building or operating the NYC subway system.

Not in America though.....And that’s part of the argument. Just because Norway or Singapore proves that government can be efficient and well run doesn’t mean we will get any of that in the US.

I find it hard to believe that the Americans and New Yorkers *who build subways* don't know much about how other people build subways. The DC Metro, for instance, buys its subway cars from Europe.

They put in giant mezzanines at every station that explode costs, increase access times, and aren’t found anywhere else in the world. So there’s something that they aren’t getting.

One reason for this is that DC's metro is 100 percent wheelchair accessible (or at least is supposed to be, when the elevators are working). Try proposing to the governments doing the funding that they can cut costs in half by dropping that requirement, and with part of the money saved, fund a separate door-to-door taxi service for wheelchair users. You won't even get in the front door.

Stockholm is 100% accessible. Berlin and Madrid are about 2/3 accessible and planning to get to 100% very soon (in a few years in Berlin, sometime next decade in Madrid), at a per-station cost range that's about an order of magnitude cheaper than the same retrofits in New York, Boston, and Chicago.

You can also tell they have no idea about other parts of the world from statements like NYC having a more built out commuter rail system than London. Claims that demonstrate a complete lack of understanding from the people who run the agencies (not just politicians) are a dime a dozen.

Maybe it's just that many American governments, local, State, or national - NYC's for instance - tend to be unusually corrupt and incompetent.

That, and the fact that a high price tag is actually the GOAL. It means more money for them to steer around to friends.

It's like watching Bernie and Liz compete to spend more money on controlling the weather. "I have a $10 trillion plan!" ... "So what, I have a $20 trillion plan!"

Why did it cost $600k for San Fransisco to paint a school wall? Larry Summers identified the cause as "the promiscuous distribution of veto power." Even Bill Maher did a segment on this blaming bureaucrats, unions, and consultants. Too many points in the process where a "study" needs to be conducted.

Yes, it doesn't get a fraction of the attention it deserves. It doesn't fit well into an ideological narrative. The left would have to admit that regulation is a problem and the right would have to admit that government isn't inherently this inefficient.

This could be generalized even further. Those who are most in favor of government as the solution to our problems are the least interested in good governance.

Id be more inclined to believe "We need to spend more money on X!" if those making that claim could show that the spending we do on X now has been spent effectively and actually improves things.

Yep, that's why Trump is so incompetent.

He can't even build a border wall that he promised would cost US taxpayers nothing even by stealing money from military budgets to pay his cronies.

You have the same issue with 'low-cost public housing.' Built with government, union, and 'green' rules, simple apartments cost 2-3 times those of private contractors. Of course, the private contractor apartments lack solar panels and granite countertops, so they are 'sub-standard'.

The housing lobbies don't give 2 sh!its about housing the poor. It's all about payments and kickbacks to favored interests.

The ideological thrust of progressivism (as descended from LaFollette, FDR, LBJ and into contemporary times) has been to create bureaucracies staffed by experts which then were largely insulated from the pressures of electoral politics. Thus supposedly freeing the experts to go about their public-spirited work with minimal possible interference from outsiders.

Yet this is the very model on which the MTA and Port Authority are based. Yet although these agencies and their bureaucracies are all too well insulated from political pressures and in New York and elsewhere. And (as in the days of Robert Moses) they remain accountable to no one. And thus need not be pestered by vetoes.

Yet this classic progressive model hasn't worked so well lately (if it ever did), has it? Costs explode, schedules vaporize into mere goals and hopes and, unless someone gets killed by a cave-in or something, no one's ever held responsible for results. Or the lack thereof, as all is too often the case.

Watched WABC TV last night and the reported joy that a contract deal had been reached with the transit union. Ha! Once the system can’t rely on fares to support it, the system is mostly run for the benefit of the union. New Yorkers can’t do anything about it. They were stupid enough to elect and re-elect DeBlasio so what hope is there?

It would be interesting to do a similar analysis for airports, pipelines, dams, and other very large capital projects. I’m surprised there aren’t half a dozen US economists who specialize in this area.

Custom work is always expensive, so the re-use / standardized design, e.g. for stations, is certainly an opportunity.

I would also be curious as to whether a 24/7 work model would be cheaper. It seems common for a lot of construction to have no work on weekends.

Another engineer here. I see that the US does extremely well at some forms of public infrastructure compared with other countries that I am familiar with. Roads and intersections for instance are built at low cost in the southern states and incredibly fast. The pet chems plants and oil refineries on the Gulf coast are also built with high productivity and very fast compared with other places that I am aware off. Wells are drilled and fracked at costs other countries can only dream of. Even house construction is done cheaper in the US than almost anywhere else. It's like there are almost two sectors in the US, one with world leading productivity, the other with incredible inefficiency. What could be the difference I wonder between the two?

Those low cost chemical plants are great because no one objects to being forced to leave their homes when those cheap chemical plants blow up, catch on fire.

After all, no one in the south has any property rights when corporations are involved. It's in the US Constitution. According to conservatives, according to Trump.

Less of this please

Big money projects get all the attention but it seems that even relatively insignificant ones are infected with cost disease.

"would also be curious as to whether a 24/7 work model would be cheaper."

Nope. Not in the long run, anyway.

There are a few factors to consider here. For example, fatigue management. Working too long makes you tired and stupid, and that leads to accidents--which increase cost and schedule delays. Many construction companies are adopting fatigue management plans that limit work hours and how many days in a row you can work. You have to remember the work these folks are doing. It's physically and mentally demanding, and therefore exhausting.

Even if you do shifts, you still run into problems. The majority of errors and re-work I've seen have been when you transition from one construction manager to another, and with shifts you'd have 2-3 such shifts a day. With a 24/7 schedule you'd have to have at least 2 CMs, which means you'd have multiple transitions and multiple potential sources of error. That's assuming that the CMs get along, which doesn't happen. CMs want to be in charge, and you can't have two queens in a hive. At best you get tension and friction; at worst, fist fights or someone getting their truck run over by a scraper (that was a fun day).

Then you have to remember the people you're working with. Construction workers tend to be...how can I put this...rough. Hard, HARD workers, and I have nothing but respect for good equipment operators, but still, there is a certain lifestyle common among these folks. Drug use is common, alcohol is ubiquitous, tempers run hot. I've shut jobsites down for the day before because we'd been working together too long, and everyone was getting angry with everyone else. I've also run interference more times than I can count. The people willing to work evenings, nights, and weekends will only be worse, trust me.

You also have to consider where these folks came from. On the sites I've worked on, the construction workers weren't local. Construction isn't something you can just hire any random person from a Home Depot parking lot to do; much of it is highly technical work that requires experts in their fields. These guys will work until they can barely stand, and they will endure wind and rain and heat and snow--but eventually they want to go home to their families. And again, the people you're going to get to work evenings and weekends are going to be much worse, it's just the nature of the job--the good people neither need to nor want to work those shifts, not regularly.

All of that assumes that you're legally ALLOWED to work weekends, which isn't always the case. I know of several construction sites where there were restrictions on what work could occur on weekends, either directly or indirectly ("Only 5 haul trucks can pass through this neighborhood per day" effectively shuts down any job that involves excavation). Sometimes you can work around it, but often you have no choice.

There are, of course, ways to do it. I've done it in the past. But in the end, it never seems to work out any faster than a 5 or 6 day a week schedule.

That is parody right? I don't think 24/7 would make a huge difference but you do realize that most countries have drug and alcohol testing on private sites? People might binge drink on days off but they are sober as f^&* on work days.

" I don't think 24/7 would make a huge difference..."

Fair. What's your basis for this? Mine is professional opinion formed by ten years in the field, the last two of them spent as the site safety officer dealing specifically with these sorts of issues (among other duties). I have a pretty good handle on fatigue management because my supervisor made it his mission last year to get it through my skull. The other issues I've brought up are real-world issues that I have had to address on jobsites.

Do you have similar experience you can bring to this discussion?

"...you do realize that most countries have drug and alcohol testing on private sites?"

Sure--on paper. I've signed about a hundred scraps of paper saying "You will be subject to random drug testing." I've been tagged once--and that was a routine test prior to working on a specific site. Some companies may do random drug testing, but no one's got the resources to do it at rates that would catch most drug users. Nor do they want to; a skilled excavator operator is too valuable to lose because he occasionally smokes pot. Further, the construction workers have all sorts of ways to circumvent drug tests. Drug tests are really only effective (in my experience) during a post-incident investigation.

"People might binge drink on days off but they are sober as f^&* on work days"

Yeah, I've had that conversation. July 4 was on a Thursday, and the CM wanted folks back to work on Friday. I asked him "How many people do you think will be hung over that morning?" He responded "All of them. Oh...crap."

It's not just being drunk that's the problem. Being hung over in an environment like a construction site is insanely dangerous. On a small jobsite there are dozens of moving pieces of heavy equipment, tons of material, torches, saws, holes, trenches, electrical wires, etc. There are also underground utilities that you need to watch out for--some of which are marked, some not, some of which are properly installed, some not. Get a guy hung over in a backhoe and he's going to find every pipe and wire. Seen it. Had to write the incident report for it.

There's also hold-over effects. Ever go on a bender? When you're 21 sure, you can walk it off in a day. At 40, it takes longer. This has an affect long after the drinking stops.

But drugs aren't the only problem. Know what it takes to achieve the OSHA required lamination? It's a royal pain in even a small area with two pieces of equipment and frankly impossible on a larger scale. Then there's fatigue management. Even if you work shifts it'll take several weeks for the night crew to get used to working that schedule (speaking from personal experience here).

You've addressed one single issue (probably the one you think is easiest). I've raised a fairly large number.

Again, my point is not that these are insurmountable problems. I've worked third shift on 24/7 jobsites, so I know it can. My point is that, given the realities of this work, the benefits of pushing your people that hard are almost never worth the costs in terms of money, increased incident rates, and worker moral.

" have a pretty good handle on fatigue management because my supervisor made it his mission last year to get it through my skull. "

Yeah, there's been an across the industry crack down on fatigue issues and high voltage electrical safety for industrial work. My company has instituted a stringent policy. Technically you can work more than 16 hours, but only if the PM with the person involved gets permission directly from a VP by the 14 hour mark.

The company I work for is even more strict. Ostensibly we're restricted to 10 hour days, 12 "under exceptional circumstances". Anything over 12 needs permission from someone (PM or safety officer, depending), and anything over 14 has to get permission from the Health and Safety Manager (who's response is always "Hahaha no, what are you even thinking?!"). There are also specific provisions for heat stress, cold stress, and night work, all of which amount to your 10 hour day being reduced to about 6 hours of productive work.

Now how well people FOLLOW these rules is another question. I do what I can to enforce them, but I've seen projects where 14 hour days were the norm. The problem with rules and regs--of any sort--isn't establishing the rules, it's establishing compliance with the rules.

"would also be curious as to whether a 24/7 work model would be cheaper."

I've seen sites run 24/7 construction schedules. The things you listed can be issues, but most competent construction managers handle all that pretty well. Also, the work I'm familiar with (industrial) generally has a zero tolerance policy for fighting and alcohol. Granted, I know with residential construction, policies are far more lax.

However, I would say the major issue is something Dinwar didn't cover. Often a site will have 24/7 work but the late night work will be items that are disruptive. So you might need to load the ammonia system and that can be dangerous, so rather than clear the site during the day, you schedule it for 11 pm till 3 am in the morning. Or you need to work on the electrical substation and it will take all the power down. So again you schedule that for the middle of the night. Or the concrete needs to cure, so you can't have any movement across it for 48 hours. The concrete crew finishes the pour on Friday and everyone is off for the weekend.

That being said on a major industrial site it's quite common to have 3 shifts and to have literally every hour scheduled by area.

I agree that these issues can be overcome. I've drilled a well in the middle of a building that was actively constructing a space ship; given the right motivation a CM can overcome pretty much ANY problem. Or knows when to look the other way so that someone else can overcome it.

The issue isn't whether the issue can be overcome. The issue is whether it's cost effective to do so. Mostly the answer is that, in this case, they're not. Construction (at least in my experience) works best if you work 10 hours a day, 5 to 6 days a week. After that, the cost of mitigating the problems that come up is greater than the profits obtained by the reduced schedule.

I think part of the difference in our perspectives is that you're used to industrial stuff. Would it be safe to assume that most of your workers are local? If so, that would mitigate a lot of the issues that I've seen with long schedules. Most of the sites I've been on utilize out-of-town folks to a large extent. When folks travel it's a lot harder to work 24/7. Your per diem costs (food and hotel), incidentals, etc. triple, for one thing. Unless you're cutting your schedule by a third (and remember, you can't get as much done at night, even with acclimated folks) you're going to lose money on such a schedule.

The "disruptive" thing is no joke. People don't have a full appreciation for just how hazardous the modern world is. When you have to do something like de-energize a liquid hydrogen or vinyl chloride pipeline, you work on their schedule, full stop. Otherwise your day gets really exciting (or terminally short).

"I think part of the difference in our perspectives is that you're used to industrial stuff. Would it be safe to assume that most of your workers are local? "

No, most of the workers (at least with major projects) aren't local.

"Your per diem costs (food and hotel), incidentals, etc. triple, for one thing."

The standard is approximately $2,500 per week including travel.

"Unless you're cutting your schedule by a third (and remember, you can't get as much done at night, even with acclimated folks) you're going to lose money on such a schedule."

No, that's not true. If the facility has down time costs in the $10K per hour range (and car plants far exceed that), then the 24/7 costs are trivial.

"When you have to do something like de-energize a liquid hydrogen or vinyl chloride pipeline, you work on their schedule, full stop. "

Sure, but that's what good project management is for.

"If the facility has down time costs in the $10K per hour range (and car plants far exceed that), then the 24/7 costs are trivial."

Okay, THAT explains our difference in perspectives. I work around the schedule of the facility, or on new construction. It's almost unheard of for the facility to have downtime due to what my group is doing, and if they do it's planned in advance. We, on the other hand, have frequently had downtime due to what they were doing. As for new construction, there are costs for schedule overruns, sure, but nothing like $10k/hr! Not usually, anyway; there are exceptions (thus the "working 24/7" situations).

On the other hand, your client is likely paying significantly more to prevent such down time costs, which compensates for the price issues I mentioned. After all, one hour of down time equals four person-weeks of expenses (much less time in wages, but still more than one person-hour!); cheaper to pay for people than for lost production.

"Sure, but that's what good project management is for."

That usually gets delegated to me. Falls under the safety officer umbrella, since the reason we can't work there is due to safety concerns.

It's just a matter of perspective. At the end of the day, once you've built the plant, filled it up with machines, set up the utilities and have a trained set of operators standing around, you have a finite & very expense chunk of time to get production started.

Willful ignorance: Also, 'Why don't we know more about American public education cost disease?'

Agency problem.

There’s little to be gained by those in charge of theses functions by reducing education (or subway) costs. In fact, almost all of the gains are from increasing costs, as much as possible.

And the disfunction in education (or subways) is distributed and borne by others.

However, the cost disease problem in American higher education is seemingly identical whether the institution is private or public.

Which would pretty much demonstrate the limits of dysfunction being distributed and borne by others, at least for what is called higher education.

Instant Opinion,

Sorry, you're wrong for at least two reasons:

1) administrators at private colleges don't have to collect the money they earn. Students come to them with money in hand ... it's not the ADMINISTRATOR'S money

2) Students without cash get loans from the Federal government ( that's taxpayers like me ... maybe even you ) which goes directly to the school without the student getting to touch it.

All PUBLIC Universities get is ( an ever-smaller percentage ) of funds DIRECTLY from us taxpayers.

In neither case does the college/administrator have 'skin in the game' so they simply don't care. And if their college goes bankrupt, they move on to somewhere else without any obligation to pay for the damage they caused. Comrade Sanders wife, for example.

That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever read. "t's not the ADMINISTRATOR'S money" in all cases. And in all cases admissions officers are competing with one another. They extend offers (to bid for students) in an effort to create a student body that appeals to US News and World Report, while attempting to stay afloat financially.

So let me rewrite just the first point, and let me know whether it is equally convincing.

'Apple's management doesn't have to collect the money they earn. Customers come to them with money in hand ... it's not the MANAGEMENT'S money.'

It would certainly seem to fit into this, with just a couple of words changed - 'In neither case does the management have 'skin in the game' so they simply don't care. And if their company goes bankrupt, they move on to somewhere else without any obligation to pay for the damage they caused.'

To some degree, I would say that that's true. The golden parachute phenomenon is certainly a thing, although there are of course things like stock options or restricted stock grants which can help align the incentives of shareholders and executives. Are there any similar compensation structures in higher ed? I honestly don't know, but I'd be curious to hear the answer.

Strawman position: only government suffers from principal agent problems

Actual position: every institution suffers from principal agent problems. The difference is there’s a plausible feedback mechanism if it occurs in the private sector. It ain’t utopia, but at least there’s a limit.

Or to paraphrase Dr. Kling:

Governments fail
Markets fail also, but use markets anyways because there’s eventually a feedback mechanism that limits the insanity

In Paris, for Grand Paris Express, stations have been designed by famous architects to get people's and politician's approval. Once the project was launched, the design of stations got slashed and simplified.

Meanwhile in NYC, they spent 4 billion on Santiago Calatrava's folly =)

I don't understand why public transportation has to be ballasted by aesthetic needs. Design and build a train network to be functional and reliable. The aesthetic needs can be satiated by pretty houses , hotels, museums, or theaters.

It's both beautiful and functional. It isn't worth four billion, though.

You may be aware that the people of NYC have an large effect on the governor’s race. If they wanted a better MTA, they could choose a governor that made it a priority. Since they can’t even elect a decent mayor, that’s a bridge way too far.

'You may be aware that the people of NYC have an large effect on the governor’s race.'

So does the NRA. Not sure what their position is on NYC subways, but they definitely hate NYC's attempt to keep firearm fatalities from becoming as commonplace as they are in a place like California.

'If they wanted a better MTA, they could choose a governor that made it a priority.'

Along with a legislature. You may be aware that people outside of NYC, in much the same fashion as Washington DC, are much more interested in keeping their fingers in the pie than giving up control.

Yeah, NY (4.4 firearm deaths per 100k) should be more like California (7.9).

"The deaths don't matter, it is the principles that the NRA believes it represents are the important thing." To some degree I believe this. There are freedoms that can't be traded away for safety, because that safety is short lived. The 2nd amendment is there to protect all the others - not just a saying.

Off the top of my head:

Environmental studies
Labor rules
City/State/Fed rules
Which includes AA rules and sourcing rules.

Didn’t Obama complain he didn’t know there couldn’t be shovel-ready jobs because the process takes at least 18 months?

I already mentioned Boston’s Big Dig.

What about California’s attempt to build train lines?

This boomer remembers the $600 toilet seats the armed forces needed to spend because of tolerance requirements.

One of VP Gore’s jobs was streamlining.

They spend it because they can. Then when they can’t, they cry to their citizens for a tax increase. When that doesn’t provide sufficient great, they insist the rest of the country pay for it because.....

In the past few years, wasn’t there a state that wanted to increase highway speeds and it took a year because there had to be an environmental impact survey done?

This is what happens when a government agency overreaches.

And some here want more government because “progress.”

This also seems kind of a naive post. Our childhoods are littered with these things.

Labir and environmental rules are not unique to the United States.

"[I]sn’t it weird that a Patreon supported blogger has done the best work on comparative construction costs..."
It is indeed. There are two reasons:
1) The comparative qualities of governments is a completely underserved research area. Business schools are all about studying why some corporations succeed and others don't, but there is no comparable work on governments or governmental agencies. In Economics, the government is still mostly treated as a black box - taxes in, expenditures out.
2) Americans of all political persuasions and education levels are shockingly arrogant about the idea that the US could possibly learn something from studying other countries.

Anyone who has designed a kitchen at Ikea and at a kitchen specialist arrives at the same conclusion as the author.

(Paris costs should be factored down by the fact that the subway lines are designed to be driverless, which is more expensive upfront. The cost to automatize a subway line in Paris is €40m/km.)

Paris costs should be also factored down by the fact that some stations are specially designed to be the architectural central pieces to requalify run down urban areas (Pont de Bondy) and/or create new business centers (Pleyel,...).

Transit construction is designed to move money around, not people.

I just wonder if one should not first ask if those making the decisions view the "cost disease" as a design bug or as a design feature.

So why doesn’t the MTA embed accountants with every major project in the world and get to the bottom of this cost disease? (See previous point).

I think the answer to that question is probably that the MTA doesn't have much of an incentive to do so, as others mentioned, and that politicians probably don't have major incentives to push them in that direction, either, because a lot of the funding for major transportation projects comes from state or federal grants, not out of local government coffers, and in that case, the logic is grab as much as you can and pass it out to friendly construction workers unions or what have you.

Here's my question: why is the best work on this subject, at least in Alex's opinion, being done kind of as a hobby by an Israeli mathematician nobody's ever heard of? Why aren't there a bazillion white papers from reputable scholars at public policy think tanks like Brookings, The New America Foundation, (I'll exempt Mercatus here due to Alex's work on the subject) or all those left-leaning think tanks that have been pushing for more public transit since the domestication of the horse? What's the issue with their incentives?

It s not that New Yorkers "don't know" but that State and local government in NY is controlled by municipal unions, which prefer high costs and projects that run forever. The unions then kick back money to the politicians so they can remain in office. So why would the unions and government official want to "embed" accountants etc. ?

New York City, its own echo chamber?

Might be astounding news for New Yorkers, as for inhabitants of the DC-to-Boston echo chamber.

(Another appellation covering relevant phenomena up and down the length of the DC-to-Boston Corridor: "cosmopolitan provincialism", a term I minted independently short years before finding it in the early pages of Roger Shattuck's Banquet Years [rev. ed.].)

Thinking about organized crime in NYC, thinking about subway construction and how much concrete they use... my image of an "embedded" accountant on the hunt for cost overruns is a bit different, involving concrete, a bucket, and the East River. "Our cost accountant, L. Brasi, seems to be missing... "

During a third or less of the time frame of what I'm about to describe, Harvey put the homes of everyone in my nuclear family from 1 to four feet underwater, dogs on kayaks and the whole business, as it did about half their friends; and nearly all have recovered. Besides which their neighborhood country club had to be razed and a totally new facility on a new footprint is almost finished.

You might sometimes have to wear a jacket to dine at the golf club. You'll never have to wear one in my town. That's a cool thing about living here rather than there - and I have chosen to after all, these 30 years. The less-cool thing is how hard it is to GET A DAMN THING DONE. Take the little dilapidated snack stand at our "premier" park. The only food concession permitted on thousands of acres. Run by one family for like 60 years. Maybe some people wished for something other than sno-cones and corn dogs in a fitness- and foodie-conscious town. But at least it was something, for the kids and the grackles - and watch out what you wish for. Because finally the grandfathered-in family failed to fill out a form, and the city was able to end their tenure. Building sat empty for a couple or 3 years; no one in a town FULL of trailer food operators wanted to take a flyer on conducting an asbestos-remediating and ADA-compliant remodel of city-owned property, complete with due attention to its "historic" character as *only the second snack shop ever above the healing waters* [the first one was a fanciful windmill, and actually cooler, but I only know that from photos, because my mania happens to light on such things, and because I've been part of several iterations of fancy-consultant-facilitated, extremely protracted "citizen input" park planning processes, the results of which multiyear effort are always thrown in the air just after an item or two on the long to-do list has been completed, and then the process starts tabula rasa, with new consultants]. Anyhoo, staff concluded the city might have to budget a park amenity, for a change, and do the thing itself, sans private "partnership".

That was ~ four years ago, that the construction fencing went up awkwardly blocking pedestrian flow in the park. If any progress has been made beyond it, it's not apparent. I haven't seen a worker there in nearly two years.

Did I mention the snack shop is a building about 20x30 feet? That golf clubhouse I mentioned is 90,000 sq.ft. ...

The Drumpf regime is the regime of national treason and blood-sucking malefactors of great wealth!

New Yorker’s don’t look anywhere else and say things like “New York has a more built-out commuter rail network than London,”

I read an article that said, "Well obviously NYC costs are higher it's NYC where things are expensive." And I was like, "We're comparing it with Paris, France not Paris, Texas!"


The US has a high gdp per capita because its share of the economy left to private markets is relatively high. As soon as statist institutions gets involved, it is just another country. Certainly more corrupted and inefficient than, say, the Scandinavians or the Germans.

Has anyone interviewed construction managers or project managers on construction teams about this? Those people aren't stupid; what they are, is involved in a myriad of details that economists simply aren't going to be aware of. How many people does it take to change a lightbulb? (No joke--that one almost cost my company a million dollars a month!) Who's responsible for TCE-contaminated, F002 listed hazardous dirt? What do you do when you need to move your forklift but the union has the equipment operator contract?

Any job looks easy at the 1:1,000,000 scale and with no skin in the game. The devil's in the details, though.

Also, and this can't be stressed enough in these discussions, Americans don't WANT mass transit. It doesn't fit with our lifestyles. Many of us live in rural areas where mass transit simply isn't practical--you can't make a profit hauling people to towns of 1,8000 people. Those of us who do live in cities also don't want it, because it's not a practical replacement for what we use our vehicles for. You can't haul home a week's worth of groceries for three hungry boys in a bus. You can't haul around sheet rock or lumber on a subway. This means that transit programs are basically make-work programs, which politicians put in place so that voters feel good about voting for them next election cycle, but which no actually effort is put into. The point of these programs is to get politicians elected, not to move people; people move themselves in the USA.

Americans don't WANT mass transit

This isn't about "Americans" this is about New Yorkers, Bostonians, Chicagoins (?) places where people want mass transit and where mass transit makes sense.

Many of us live in rural areas

80% of Americans live within one hour of the coast and most of those live in metro areas. The island of Manhattan has a population larger than I think 12 states.

Something for you to think about. Just the Brooklyn section of NYC has a population (2.5 million) that is larger than 14 states.

There are only 12 states with a population larger than NYC.

"...and where mass transit makes sense."

Makes sense to whom? To the people that are supposed to use the mass transit, or to the people who want others to use it?

"80% of Americans live within one hour of the coast and most of those live in metro areas."

Estimates vary. The US Census Bureau puts it at 67%. Further, the definition is pretty loose: "A majority of the U.S. population lives in incorporated places or cities..." as they put it. Trouble is, "incorporated places" can include those like, say, Ottoville, Ohio, which has a population of less than 1,000 residents, and Sand Point Texas, with a population of 200. That's hardly a big city.

Further, "metro areas" include a lot of suburbia. Here you again run into the issues I raised: how to carry sufficient groceries and supplies home. There simply isn't room on a bus for a suburban family to carry home the stuff they need on a regular basis.

Again, the devil's in the details. Gotta read these documents pretty thoroughly to understand what they're actually saying.

But by all means, keep telling people how they should live. It hasn't worked yet, but maybe it'll work this time.

But by all means, keep telling people how they should live.

Wasn't building the interstate highway system to compete with the private railroads "telling people how to live?" You are of course aware that the railroads were one of the largest property tax payers in the US and had to compete with the non-taxed highways. It was big government driving out private industry.

Please explain your theory of how public transit is telling people how to live but highways aren't.

"Please explain your theory of how public transit is telling people how to live but highways aren't."

Humans use trails. We always have. I've dug up evidence of trails from 15,000 years ago. Highways are, essentially, trails. We can debate the validity of the government creating them (I tend to accept a certain amount as necessary, as government are supposed to protect our rights and they've got to get there to do that), but the nature of a highway is the same as that of any other trail.

I note that you ignore everything but what you think is the easiest thing to address in my comment. Typical of this blog's comments.

Humans use trails. We always have.

And the private sector provided them in the form of train and trolley lines. But then big government stepped in and decided to build a system of highways.

Just be honest and agree that you're fine with the government telling people how to live as long as it's the way you want to live and spare us your faux libertarian musings.

Either you believe the free market can only provide one solution (which we must all be compelled to accept), or you are a troll. Your historical illiteracy is obvious--roads were ubiquitous prior to and during the hayday of rail, with and without government support.

Nah, the interstates are a National Defense Highway system, it’s actually in the official name.

"But by all means, keep telling people how they should live. It hasn't worked yet, but maybe it'll work this time."

The same people complaining about the high costs of building subways without taking away the property or ability to live and work or the people are also the ones dictating people must not be allowed to living in single family homes because zoning must be changed to allow apartments which people must be forced to live in.

I know of no private sector home builder who has delivered the single family homes the vast majority of families want in areas zoned for apartments and condos.

I do not fall under that heading.

When I lived in California, there was a family that lived in the same apartment complex. First-generation Mexicans. They made some money on the side by having a taco night--home-made, fresh tacos made by the women in the family, non-alcoholic drinks, fresh fruit for dessert, all pretty cheap. The folks in the complex loved it. We'd eat tacos and chat and hang out for a few hours. The family must have made over a thousand dollars each night; I know my wife and I spent enough there.

They got shut down because some moron reported them for not having a food vender's license, and for working out of a residentially-zoned area.

That's my view of zoning commissions: busy-bodies who do nothing but disrupt communities and harm hard-working people doing what they can to support themselves. Such people are parasites.

80% of Americans live within one hour of the coast

No, they don't. I came up with roughly 110M Americans who live in states where nobody at all lives within an hour of a coast, and that doesn't include large population centers in other states that are more than an hour from the coast (Dallas, Ft Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Sacramento, Atlanta, Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Birmingham, Portland)

Portland and Sacramento are 1 hour from the coast. OK 1 hour 20 minutes for Portland. But exactly an hour from Sacramento to Vallejo. Are you this wrong about everything?

Seriously? You claimed that 80% of Americans live within an hour of the coast which -- with even a moment's thought you should have known isn't even *remotely* close to true -- and you're disputing Sacramento (which may be just within an hour if traffic is not a problem and you count San Pablo Bay as the coast).

The only way that "80% of Americans live within one hour of the coast" is true, is if you count the Great Lakes as part of "the coast".

There are over 100+ million American's living in states that don't touch a coast.

It's interesting talking to people like Dinwar who think suburbia is a natural phenomena and not something brought about by the heavy hand of government. In a free market utopia most folks would be living in an apartment along a trolley line.

"Dinwar who think suburbia is a natural phenomena." In San Diego, we have a metro population with a slice of the coast. The Raleigh-Durham phenomenon is more of a rural, country ideal. We see a lot of the Y tu mama Tambien factory in both -- the coast is gold on both ends. Democrats have began to fill in the slots.

"It's interesting talking to people like Dinwar who think suburbia is a natural phenomena and not something brought about by the heavy hand of government."

Ah, now you're a mind reader! Tell me, what number am I thinking?

In actuality I'm presenting the reason why mass transit doesn't work UNDER CURRENT CONDITIONS AS FOUND IN THE USA. We use transportation for specific things. Mass transit doesn't do them. Since that's the case, it's obvious that mass transit isn't intended to be used by the current population. It has some other reason for existing.

"In a free market utopia most folks would be living in an apartment along a trolley line."

In a free market people will make up their own damn minds. Some will live in apartments along a trolley line. Some will live out in the middle of nowhere, away from everyone.

You still have to address the issue of transporting supplies, by the way. I gave specific, common examples of things you can't do on public transit, but which many Americans do regularly. Until those problems are resolved mass transit CANNOT function in the USA at any significant scales. Ignoring that problem, insulting me, assuming nonsensical and irrelevant garbage not evidenced by my arguments, and all the other rhetorical tricks you're playing don't matter. Reality is the final arbiter, and right now Reality--in the form of individual choices in the market place--states that these are problems that need to be resolved, and have not been. Either resolve them, or admit that mass transit is little more than a make-work program.

Some will live out in the middle of nowhere, away from everyone.

If they own a helicopter. If not they would need to live near an area where a business case can be made for a rail road.

common examples of things you can't do on public transit, but which many Americans do regularly.

The free market would no doubt find a way to deal with this problem. But you don't want to let the free market work. You want a top down system of government imposed roads to replace the free market system.

Face it, you're a big ol' statist.

"Face it, you're a big ol' statist."

That you are pushing PUBLIC transit while accusing me of wanting government-imposed solutions demonstrates that you're either a troll, or have no concept what we are discussing. I just have to figure out which.

That you are pushing PUBLIC transit

Public transit was originally a private enterprise and still is in places like Hong Kong. Only someone who knows nothing about history or economics would think public transit needs to be (or historically was) a government enterprise.

This was built with the money earned providing public transit.


It's interesting talking to people like Dinwar who think suburbia is a natural phenomena and not something brought about by the heavy hand of government.

Going back at least 2000 years, people who can afford it have enjoyed suburban green space. Do you think the 'heavy hand of government' had a role in this recent purchase?

As Americans have become wealthier, the average amount of living space per person has doubled just in the last few decades, and the fraction of people living in suburbs and exurbs rather than central cities has grown. In 1950, about two thirds of the people living in the Chicago metro area were in the city itself. Now it's less than 30%.
What reason do we have to think that these changes do not reflect the preferences of people making individual housing decisions?

I subscribe to the null hypothesis for policy failures: What appears to be a failure is actually not a failure at all, but the system working exactly as intended.

If you observe that a 1% savings in cost translates into tens of millions of dollars, and yet there is so little investment into researching costs that the best work on this was done by a random guy _in his spare time, for free_, what is more likely:

1) There is some systematic failure causing New York transit projects to be mysteriously horrendously expensive, and some other different systematic failure that mysteriously prevents research into this; or

2) Someone, somewhere, is making millions of dollars off of this and doesn't want anyone to find them / stop the money

By the by: in relevant high-rise markets, what relationship might exist between lateral mass transit (subways, trains, buses) and vertical mass transit (elevators, escalators, stairs) within office towers? --in terms of cost, maintenance, transit volume, et cetera.

Why do the lower floors of commercial office towers not commonly accommodate residential housing? That way, commuters need travel in but two directions each day and never have to step outside.

Rarely in the US does the public “get mad enough about excess costs”. Government inefficiency is simply not on many people’s radar and in fact, city dwellers tend to be leftists, who have a very high tolerance for crappy public services and other failings of government. They might grumble but in the end they will suck it up.

There is something Tyler-esque about this post. I mean that in a good way. A neglected issue. Multiple insights. Tight writing.

I have direct experience on mass transit project construction. The difference in costs between government/private US/European, Japanese etc ; or mass transit/other infrastructure/private office/private residential is extremely multifaceted and complex. Some of the causes are : zero productivity gains since the 1960s in the construction sector; increasingly complex and burdensome contracts from public agencies (caused by public pressure on political bodies to create rules broadly applied on bidding,contracting, change management); public pressure during design to make every project unique and impact the character of the neighborhood as little as possible leading to non standard everything (ever bought a custom suit? they are really nice$); the separate government bureaucracies of the counties, states, federal agencies all having competing goals causes conflicts in design and implementation (the fire marshal in the US doesn't care what the standard design is, he decides what meets the fire code and can not be overridden and may never have seen a transit facility constructed); the complexity of contracts in the US has led to or been caused by (feedback loop?) increased levels of litigation, while pressure from politicians to not spend necessary monies has led to slow resolution of issues on projects which costs more money.
In short, there is no one cause that is unique to the US, but the US has more of each of the problems. And many of these affect the private sector as well.

But most of this happens because transit agencies are public agencies and have no profit motive. If, say, an environmental group demands a certain kind of investigation and threatens to sue, they simply submit to the demands, rather than file suit like a private company would

How does subway cost disease compare with military cost disease? That would help us isolate political orientation as a variable.

Who is more parsimonious than Singapore?

From 2013: "The Land Transport Authority (LTA) is wooing more foreign contractors to help local firms cope with the construction demands of the Republic's new MRT (Mass Rapid Transit) lines.

Foreign contractors from South Korea, Italy, Australia and China have been asked to bid for the clutch of MRT projects that are up for grabs over the next 10 years, which will double the MRT network to 360km by 2030."

There is literature on everything. And much of it will be by this guy, Professor Bent Flyvberg, who over decades has studied megaprojects and particularly transport projects, examining why they (nearly) always run overbudget and overtime, even when Hoftstadter's law was taken into account. Spend some money, fly him to New York and DC, and start to figure it out (btw, he's Danish, and aren't we all meant to be trying to get to Denmark).

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