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No, Andrew Cuomo, we should be more cynical than ever

Why you should feel cynical about government projects, part umpteen thousand.

New York State’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, proudly tweeted this today:

“Right now, there is a lot of cynicism and skepticism about our projects. We’re going to restore credibility. #2ndAveSubway will open Jan 1.”

Andrew Cuomo's Cynical Tweet About Cynicism

He is referring, of course, to the imminent opening of a small segment of New York City’s long planned Second Avenue Subway.

Let us recall that planning for the Second Avenue subway began in 1919. That’s quite literally just short of a century ago.

Let us recall that construction began in 1972. That’s 44 years ago.

Let us recall that what is opening on January 1 is not even remotely a full Second Avenue subway. It is just three stations, at 96th, 86th and 72nd streets.

Let us recall that to get just these three stations, and just since the latest phase of work resumed in 2007, $4.5 billion, that’s billion-with-a-b, have been spent. That’s $1.5 billion per station. That’s $3.75 billion per mile for the 1.5 miles built to date, by far the world’s most expensive subway line.

The line has about 13 other stations to construct according to current maps, so completing this single subway line would cost about another $20 billion dollars. If we judge on the basis of the per-mile cost of Phase 1, the seven miles still remaining would cost another $26 billion. However, for projects like this, costs generally go up with time, not down, so the price may even be far worse.

No, Andrew Cuomo, this minor expansion of the transportation network, which is not yet remotely complete after a century of work, which has cost an astonishing sum and will cost vastly more if it is to ever be complete, has only reinforced cynicism, and has done nothing to restore credibility in government projects whatsoever.

The New York City subway system was mostly built privately, until the government forcibly took it over. Since the takeover, the system has stagnated, leaving a major metropolis with a public transportation network that has barely been improved since the First World War.

The system is grotesquely filthy, so noisy that scientific studies say routine users suffer hearing loss, is slow, is unreliable, is vastly overcrowded, often reeks of human excrement, is a sweat-box throughout the summer months, and yet, in spite of huge numbers of passengers, loses money year after year.

So what would I do to fix it? That should be obvious.

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25 comments to No, Andrew Cuomo, we should be more cynical than ever

  • You forgot to mention that the fares keep increasing. Far above the rate of inflation (or so I believe.)

    Merde

  • Shlomo Maistre

    I generally agree with this post. Well put.

    It’s worth noting that though NYC will certainly put the 2nd avenue line to good use, the borough that actually most needs expanded access (read: new lines) is Queens. Astoria/Ditmars station ought to go under the river and connect to Cypress Avenue. A line ought to connect to LGA.

  • Stonyground

    Southern Rail seems to be the UK equivalent, a little pocket of the nineteen-seventies that has somehow survived.

  • Mr Ed

    Mr Cuomo did not commit to Jan 1 2017 I note, ever the slippery politician.

  • Mr Ed

    Picking up on Stonyground’s post, I found this BBC documentary, with no narration, the clips tell the story, of train services out of Charing Cross, London in 1993, a year before ‘privatisation’ started, but with the stench of the 1970s all around, and echoes of an unfunny Passport to Pimlico, with driver rosters kept small presumably to ensure Union power and voluntary overtime. The whole thing reeked of a lack of investment, but no lack of costs, botching along and no one really being responsible for anything.

    And a death on the line at 33’ 30” ‘Have we certified the body dead yet?’ ‘Yeah, well, it’s got no head’ ‘Oh, lovely’.

    And I like the commuter chap at 14’ 59″.

  • Perry Metzger (New York, USA)

    Mr. Ed: In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, Governor Cuomo vowed to get to the bottom of mismanagement at the Long Island Power Authority. He failed to mention that he, as governor, appoints the entire board of the Long Island Power Authority.

    He also failed to mention that the Long Island Power Authority was created by the state takeover of the Long Island Lighting Company, which was pushed through by his father, Mario Cuomo, when he was governor. This state takeover was promised to reduce costs and improve reliability. Care to guess whether it reduced costs or improved reliability?

    However, all that is in the past, and remember, merely because every other government run enterprise in New York State has broken down is no reason to presume that history will repeat itself endlessly. Andrew Cuomo would, after all, call that “cynicism and skepticism”.

  • bobby b

    ” . . . merely because every other government run enterprise in New York State has broken down is no reason to presume that history will repeat itself endlessly.”

    Mr. Bharara might suggest reasons why history won’t repeat itself endlessly.

    To Mr. Cuomo’s chagrin, one hopes.

  • Runcie Balspune

    Southern Rail seems to be the UK equivalent, a little pocket of the nineteen-seventies that has somehow survived.

    Even the driver only trains that their ASLEF colleagues are happy to drive without concern of safety are out of date. As will the shiny new HS2 when it finally gets started.

    Why do we need drivers? If the government wants to throw money at a rail network then make all the trains driverless, then we get instant 24/7 all year round with no sickness, strikes or pay increases, and be able run smaller trains more often for optimum efficiency (and lower carbon emissions), you could overhaul transport at a stroke and make significant inroads into energy savings. Anyone who is thinking of creating a new railway and includes drivers in the plan must need their head examined (or be in the pay of RMT/ASLEF).

  • llamas

    The name of the union – Amalgamated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen – tells you all uou need to know. The last steam train, requiring a fireman, ran on Southern Region in 1962, IIRC – and Southern Region ran (literally) at the bottom of our garden so I think IRC.

    Last year, I took a turn as fireman on the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge, up from Durango to (guess what) Silverton and back. I had to pay for the privilege to do so. Only a British railway union could still actively connect itself to those times.

    llater,

    llamas

  • bobby b

    “Why do we need drivers?”

    A while back, I found this interesting graphic on the NPR site that maps out, by USA state, what the most common job is. The graphic advances from 1978 to 2014.

    The fascinating point, to me, was the illustration of something I would not have guessed:

    The most common job, across almost all states, is, and has been for some time, that of “driver.”

    The graphic centers on “truck drivers”, but the pertinent point here is that, when one messes with “drivers”, at least here in the US, one is messing with the biggest source of employment for all nonprofessional peoples.

    This is an issue that comes up often when discussing the driverless-vehicle topic. It may look like an efficient trade-off, but what is it worth to put such a huge number of employed people out of work in such a short time span?

    This is going to have a much larger effect than McDonalds building kiosks.

  • AndrewZ

    @llamas

    British trade unionists cling to the past because for them it really was the good old days. The unions had far greater memberships, far more power and much less accountability. They were the spearhead of a mass movement striding confidently towards the great socialist utopia of the future. Now they are just an unpopular special interest group, besieged on all sides by the forces of technological, social and economic change. Marx wrote that religion is the opium of the masses but today nostalgia is the opium of the Marxists.

  • . It may look like an efficient trade-off, but what is it worth to put such a huge number of employed people out of work in such a short time span?

    It won’t be a short time span. It’s feasible to run driverless trains now, but driverless trucks are years away. Driverless cars are still in their infancy and the software will need to be perfect before we cede control of such large and dangerous vehicles to autonomous software. We have just had a terrible reminder of how dangerous these vehicles can be.

  • Watchman

    If driverless vehicles are replacing people, then presumably that means less work is required. You know this is a good thing right? That people having to work hard is not actually an ideal situation, and that people with leisure can do things they want (which might include running their own business, but might be something else entirely – its up to them).

    Yes, people might lose income, but as I have repeatedly pointed out, every technological revolution since someone worked out some stones are sharp and started putting the guys who sharpened wood with their teeth (look, it’s prehistory – speculation is reasonble…) out of business has not led to mass unemployment (unless the state has helpfully intervened…) but to people doing new jobs. Quite why people think this won’t apply with automation (which is actually only the latest form of automation – my grandad once lost his job to a new printing press, although he then got re-employed to supervise the new press with less physcial labour involved (so the fact he could play football with me when I was little might be because he had a less physical job…)) is beyond me. It shows exactly the same lack of vision that cripples our ability to effectively build new subways…

  • Mr Ed

    Amalgamated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen

    I wonder if there are still factions in it from the unions that amalgamated into ASLEF. They never forgive a ‘scab’.

  • Grumpy

    The system is grotesquely filthy, so noisy that scientific studies say routine users suffer hearing loss, is slow, is unreliable, is vastly overcrowded, often reeks of human excrement, is a sweat-box throughout the summer months,

    And compared to places with poor transit, or no transit at all, the system is exceptionally efficient and a joy to utilize.

  • staghounds

    Compared to every other way to get around in New York City, the system is exceptionally efficient and a joy to utilize.

    FIFY.

  • Paul Marks

    Very good post.

    And, of course, Governor Cuomo (a favorite of the Economist magazine and the “financial industry” – i.e. the Credit Bubble welfare dependents in 1000 Dollar suits) is part of the problem – as was his father.

    By November 2018 (the next election for Governor) it will be obvious that the Federal Reserve Credit Bubble economy (which supports both the “financial industry” and the wild spending of all levels of government) will have failed.

    But “Donald Trump” will be blamed – so there will be no real reform.

    Indeed I expect the statists to get even stronger in 2018 and 2020.

    There is no hope – none at all.

  • Mr Ed

    There is no hope – none at all.

    Who needs hope when you have Schadenfreude?

  • Watchman

    Who needs hope when you have Schadenfreude?

    That has to be engraved in stone somewhere – anyone for raising an army and conquering a medium-sized provincial town (I suspect we have our limits – Koortrijk in Belgium is quite nice, or Schaffenhausen in Switzerland perhaps; Northampton if we must though), building a commemorative archway and engraving that on it? Seems a sensible purpose in life…

  • bobby b

    “It’s feasible to run driverless trains now, but driverless trucks are years away.”

    Driverless trucks will be here soon, even before cars. Rolling out in 2020. Here’s why.

    “Yes, people might lose income, but as I have repeatedly pointed out, every technological revolution . . . has not led to mass unemployment . . . “

    Yes, I understand what you’re saying, but buggy whip manufacturers never comprised the most common job across all of our continent. Tech disruption is good. Tech disruption is progress. Eggs and omelettes and all that. But this is one tech disruption that’s going to happen very suddenly, and is going to disrupt more eggs all at once than have ever been disrupted in any previous disruption.

    I’m not saying we should stop driverless vehicles. I’m saying we’d better have in mind what sort of disruption we’re talking about, and be prepared for it.

  • Compared to every other way to get around in New York City, the system is exceptionally efficient and a joy to utilize.

    I bet that but for government protectionism, Uber and Lyft would stomp on the subway system in both efficiency and joyous usage.

  • Watchman

    bobby b,

    I doubt buggy whip manufacturers were the only people relying on horse-drawn power for their income though – what happened to all those drivers, stablehands, teamsters etc? It seems comparable. I am also slightly doubtful we are replacing all the drivers – even if we get rid of a lot of the humans for vehicles on set routes and even taxis (although that I have my doubts on) who is going to deliver my Amazon parcel to my door (if it’s a drone, that needs a driver) or my supermarket shopping (the flight of steps and parked car might be an obstacle to robots). Plus just because we can use driverless does not mean consumers will use driverless – choice is made on more than price remember.

    Still I agree this is a disruption. Just not a sudden one, any more than the advent of trains and then automobiles caused a sudden demise in the demand for buggy whips – which are still manufactured (I was going to check that, then realised that I was on a work computer and may not like what came up) I assume since people still drive buggies. Gradual disruption is necessary (those that argue against it tend to be the guilds or unions, and their political allies, who somehow want to change society but keep the economy the same…) as without it we stabilise.

  • Runcie Balspune

    It may look like an efficient trade-off,

    The trade off goes much deeper than you think. The main problem with any public service is you end up with soviet style solutions of big vehicles that are massively inefficient and don’t run when you need them, this is mainly due to the requirement of an (expensive) driver, big vehicles means less vehicles means less drivers means less costs. Removing the driver removes not only the cost but opens up the option of larger numbers of smaller and more effective and more efficient vehicles, the entire design strategy changes. The problem with big vehicles (12 coach trains, double-deckers, bendy buses, etc) is they have to run empty on the return journey when no-one wants them, the problem with few vehicles is they cram all transport into a limited time during the day (the “rush hour”), also consider the major impact of when one breaks down or the crew decides not to get out of bed that morning because of “concern for passenger safety”.

    The socialist/environmentalist dream of having a public transport network that is so notoriously efficient that no-one will ever want a car can only be done by getting rid of drivers, and the 24/7 city idea currently being promoted by our dear leftist theocrat mayor in London will also fall flat unless he finds a way of getting rid of drivers, otherwise finding the money to fund thousands more of them to drive empty trains will eventually soak his budget up and turn people to cheaper forms of transport (Uber self drive anyone?).

    If you just consider London railways, the tube and main lines, probably around 5,000 drivers? Lidl have announced they’ll be creating that amount of jobs in the next three years in London alone, and with a more efficient 24 hour transport system there will be demand for even more jobs up town by other companies.

  • Mr Ed

    Around the Millennium, I did imagine a more drastic way to mark it, which could have had an interesting (and thought-provoking) but rather statist impact on British life and transport efficiency. The plan was to move the international date line to the Greenwich meridian, but allocate individual counties, boroughs and cities in the UK to either side of it, thus melding the (typical) 5-day week into a more fluid situation where adjacent streets might have different days and workplaces might in effect run 6 days a week yet everyone has a 5 day week. The not-so-devout could move over an appropriate municipal border to avoid, say, the dullness of the Sabbath or the truly devout could go for 2 holy days in a row, finances and obligations permitting. And with 6 working days in a row, a one-day weekend, half-Saturday/half Sunday, and a diluted Monday rush hour, public transport could be less crowded and jobshares would be easier.

    The only problem would be the hellish concentration involved in knowing what day it was for anyone you dealt with and the transient chaos. If the State can determine the time and time zone, (albeit technically it is really the law that does that, not the State), then why not go the whole hog and make life more interesting?

  • Julie near Chicago

    Well, Mr Ed, while we here all hate the biannual changeover from “Standard” Time to “Daylight Savings [!!!]” Time (or the reverse, but I’m a Standard Time diehard as I like dusk and night best), you ought to hear those poor schlubs who happen to live in one of the states where part of the state observes the “time change” and part doesn’t, or where (as in Indiana) part of the state is on Central Time and part on Eastern time, with and without changeover I believe. Neither the residents of said states nor those who wish to communicate or do business with them from elsewhere in the country are happy with this system. I speak as one who lived in Indiana for around 5 years. ;>)

    .

    http://www.worldtimezone.com/time-indiana12.php

    For a rather small map of the U.S. that does (apparently) show all the states that have split time zones, see

    http://www.worldtimezone.com/time-usa12.php