Best Practices Civil Service

I propose that transportation agencies hire people whose job is to keep abreast of global developments in the field and report on best practices.

Which agencies should do it?

Ideally, all urban ones. Very small ones should piggyback on large ones, or participate in metropolitan planning to increase the scale. National agencies could aid this by having their own larger offices, but each urban or metropolitan agency should keep a best practices expert for issues relevant to the specific local context.

How big should the team be?

Normally, only one person is required. A larger team may be necessary for language coverage. In Germany, one English-speaking person could interface with every agency in Europe – even in relatively monolingual places like Spain and Italy, enough experts speak English that it’s possible to work without learning the local language. However, East Asia is largely monolingual, and interfacing with experts in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China is harder in English. Moreover, reading local debates and contracts should be done in the local language even in multilingual countries like the Netherlands and Sweden.

So since language coverage is needed, larger agencies should keep teams of sufficient size. It’s not possible to have full coverage, but, again, English is decent in a pinch. A team of about 5 should be fine, especially if the language coverage is random enough that nearby agencies are likely to only partially overlap; for example, if Berlin’s team includes a Japanese speaker and Hamburg’s includes a Chinese speaker, they can learn secondarily.

No large internal hierarchy is required. Not counting language issues, one person could do this. With full language accounting, as required for agencies the size of NYCT, TfL, or RATP, the team may have a director and a few reports, but the reports should still be paid as experienced professionals and have direct access to agency managers.

What are the team’s responsibilities?

  1. Keep abreast of global developments through reading trade publications, following media in relevant countries so as to know whether a proposed solution is locally considered a success or not, and keeping track of how relevant agencies introduce new technology.
  2. Go to international conferences to form horizontal relationships with peers and acquire more detailed knowledge of new methods, and follow up to discuss specifics with them.
  3. Connect local decisionmakers with peers elsewhere in order to discuss how to adapt outside innovations to the local social and political context.

Who should be hired?

People who are likely to have the required knowledge. Horizontal hiring from other agencies is especially valuable, especially agencies from other cultures, where existing hiring is less likely to happen. American agencies occasionally hire Brits and Canadians, so it’s valuable to hire people with Asian, Continental European, or Latin American agency experience for this team.

Such people tend to be mobile, and if they leave to another agency, that’s fine. Often, the most valuable thing is a person who one can email and ask “in Barcelona, how do you do maintenance on the Cercanías?” (and that’s a high-level question, there are more detailed questions at lower zoom level than our work on costs). A former employee who moved on to another agency is always going to remain such a point contact, provided they left on good terms.

To the extent high-wage countries underlearn from lower-wage ones, they have an easier time hiring this way. Junior engineers in Italy earn less than 2,000€/month after taxes; Northern European and American agencies can poach them with better pay.

27 comments

  1. Gok

    Who do you think *does* currently attend international conferences, like, say, last week’s APTA-UITP Rail Conference?

    • Eric2

      How’s your Spanish/Italian? Get hired there, then you will have the experience and connections to fill this job at some US agency in the future.

  2. Tunnelvision

    Good luck with that. In North America getting agencies to attend conferences is not easy as it’s seen as a waste of taxpayers money. Getting permission to go to overseas conferences….. but isn’t this why Agencies hire consultants? I mean the big consultants are multinational and work in many different jurisdictions. For example the company I work for us currently working on Sydney Metro, Saigon Metro, Bangkok Metro, Prague Metro, Jakarta Metro, Crossrail, LTA, MTR, HS2, various project in the Middle East and Turkey, as well as for VTA, MTA, LA Metro, Toronto Transit Commission in various roles from Program Managers to designers for the DB contractor, And I dare say the vast majority of our competitors can say the same. Staff attend international conferences, lessons learned are shared internally and with clients as examples of best or other practice…. And best of all agencies don’t have to pay index linked pensions, health benefits, travel perks once staff retire at 55 to then go and work for the consultants like every agency does….. so ultimately we are cheaper, are better connected and have a better understanding of the different procurement frameworks, codes and standards that exist around the world than any such agency staff would ever have as we are intimately involved in projects. If agencies got their heads of of their arses and used consultants properly for our knowledge rather than resenting out higher salaries then there would be an improvement all around. But until the “I’m the client and you work for me” attitude changes Agencies will be stuck in their blinkered approach.

    • Eric2

      This is the exact opposite of what Alon recommends, so I would be interested to hear his response.

      • Patrick Jensen

        This might work in Germany. Elsewhere, where the industry is samller and agencies are smaller,.. not so much. Our local agency commissioned some help from Karlsruhe in drafting guidelines for track construction. The consultants ended the project by recommending that the agency devote two or three people to maintaining the guidelines. The Germans didn’t quite understand why their suggestion was met with much amusement.

        The issue with consultants is of course that discerning a competent and well-connected consultant from an incompetent and poorly connected one isn’t easy, especially if you aren’t an expert in the substance to boot. It’s further complicated if you have to follow strict public procurement guidlines, which tend to favor consultants who are skilled in the tender process, rather than skilled in the substance.

        I think I would recommend hiring an experienced project manager with a good track record to pick consultants.

        • df1982

          The bigger issue with consultants is they don’t really have the agency’s interests at heart, certainly not for the long-term. They can survive very well by coming in somewhere, doing a report for a stupid amount of money, and then moving onto somewhere else. It all looks very impressive on paper and they can build a track record doing this, but there’s no real long-term involvement, and no chance to see if what they advocate is actually beneficial or not. And when agencies cycle through different consultants they’ll invariably get different concepts, leading them to be engaged in permanent restructuring processes that don’t materially change anything.

          Having people engaged on a long-term basis within the organisation means you can retain a basic sense of continuity, while also ensuring someone has their ears on the ground for things like: hey the Germans can do high-speed points at station throats, why are we stuck with 10km/h speed limits on ours (to use one of Alon’s favourite examples)?

          • Patrick Jensen

            More often than not, the problem isn’t really with the consultant, because believe it or not, most of us are actually decent people who are interested in what we do. It’s usually with the client.

            Consultants are way too often used as a way to launder intra-agency infighting and office politics into a “neutral expert opinion.” You do a report, send it for revisions, it comes back with margin notes that railroad the report to a conclusion the client likes. The subtext is “your integrity be damned.”

            Any consultant worth their salt could tell you that straight tongues on rail switches is a hilariously outdated solution on anything but the most basic shunting yard. The problem isn’t that the industry doesn’t know this, it’s that the party in charge of the switches doesn’t care for whatever reason. Hence, it won’t make much of a difference if the agency hires someone to keep up with best practice, if they’re going to be talking to stone walls.

            If you want to understand how the sausage is made, I strongly recommend Bent Flyvbjerg’s seminal work Rationality & Power: Democracy in Practice. It’s absolutely mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand what’s going on in transportation or land use planning.

          • Alon Levy

            Yeah, in general, my opposition to the use of consultants isn’t because consultants are bad people, but because politicians who hire consultants are bad people. The point of having a strong civil service is that the civil service can self-advocate and removing it incurs a political cost that chickenshit politicians won’t pay. Replacing consultants is easy, replacing a civil service org is only politically feasible in cases of extreme malfeasance and even that requires some courage (see e.g. Sweden’s refusal to fire Tegnell and the US’s refusal to fire Fauci). So the sort of politicians who micromanage to the point of using 100 years out of date switch design prefer to dry out the civil service through hiring freezes and the use of consultants, who can be induced to the correct conclusion as you note.

          • michaelrjames

            That sentence of Alon’s was contorted thru a few double negatives, so no I don’t think he meant Trump should have sacked Fauci. In fact, the president doesn’t have that right because there are processes and protocols to be followed in the case of such senior public servants (excluding the 4,000 directly appointed by the newly-elected president; Fauci is not in that class). It doesn’t mean a president, especially a wilful one like Trump, wouldn’t manage to get rid of anyone if he really tried but Trump didn’t seriously try, and probably because he was advised in this case he would meet resistance. Plus, it was Fauci’s institute who provided the critical spike protein sequence to Trump’s fave company Moderna, to construct their vaccine. Also, Trump’s chief of Operation Warp Speed, Moncef Slaoui, had come from Moderna and was a fan of Fauci like almost the entire bio-medical R&D community in the US and world. The NIH and its institutes, like the one Fauci is director, showed themselves during the pandemic to be one of the most resilient of institutional strengths of US governmental arrangements. The same is true for the UK’s NHS, which despite grotesque underfunding and constant political undermining by ten years of Tory rule, still did the right thing and delivered for the nation–for which Boris Johnson will attempt to take credit, despite his own disastrous actions like appointing highly-paid consultancy Deloitte to manage the track-and-trace operation who in turn hired Serco to do it, and which spectacularly failed.

            Anyway Tunnelvision reveals his tunnel vision in his last sentence:

            But until the “I’m the client and you work for me” attitude changes Agencies will be stuck in their blinkered approach.

            Because, err, they are the client and you do work for them. Incidentally the “them” is actually all of us, citizens for whom the government is merely a proxy. A big problem with the Anglosphere is that both governments, and private consultants have forgotten the meaning of public interest and national interest. To use the tired trope, they have drunk the Koolaid and now believe that what is good for them is good for the country (and if it isn’t, too bad). One of the greatest strengths of the British Empire was the creation of the institution of a powerful civil service–who can act as ‘disinterested’ and competent intermediary between self-interested short-termist politicians (not to mention those self-appointed in the Lords!) and the profit-motivated private sector who do most of the work. This was institutional power beyond measure, which alas has been jettisoned in a single generation (since Thatcher set about destroying it in 1979). I can and will argue about what the British Empire did but there is no doubt it could never have achieved its global dominance without it. Just look at its extraordinarily incompetent handling of Brexit and post-Brexit negotiation with third parties, now run by a totally politically corrupted civil service and currently run by David Frost who entirely symptomatically was anointed Lord Frost (presumably to impress those foreigners he had to squeeze concessions from). Not only are they incompetent but they have totally lost any respect from those foreigners. You can be sure that the ‘lifers’ within the British civil service are appalled.

            My only issue with Alon’s piece is omission of this critical mechanism: to ensure both integrity and longevity (and safeguard institutional memory) there needs to be legal mandates against such civil servants from being poached by the private sector in related domains specifically to gain an insider advantage with which to undermine the public interest. It is counterproductive for the state ie. us, to spend resources on training up such people to work for us to just see it all be poached by the very people we need to properly regulate. One wonders if Tunnelvision was in this category themselves?
            This article of a few days ago concerns blatant political perfidy of this type (in this case a former PM, Cameron) but it applies equally or more importantly, to civil servants.

            https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/jun/13/ban-ministers-from-lobbying-for-five-years-greenill-review-to-propose
            Ban ministers from lobbying for five years, Greensill review to propose Lord Evans to call for tougher rules to stop former ministers using contacts and expertise for private gain
            David Connett, 12 Jun 2021

            Also just a week ago, this article (below) gives an idea of people like Fauci who have a lifetime of service to the national interest. These are the kind of people Tunnelvision thinks it is ok to insult and diminish. (Note that Dr Schuchat was deputy director of CDC which is not a political appointment the way the CDC directorship is–but arguably shouldn’t be. Trump’s appointee director was generally considered a disaster and which contributed to the CDC’s poor pandemic response, especially in the disastrous track-and-trace operation, very similar to the UK disaster. Though even he inevitably earned Trump’s scorn when he didn’t adhere to the orange one’s non-scientific absurdities.)

            https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/10/opinion/anne-schuchat-cdc-retirement.html
            What I Learned in 33 Years at the C.D.C.
            By Anne Schuchat, June 10, 2021

            My father, like many in his generation, enlisted in the U.S. Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Another call to national service, for another generation, followed President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address. My route to public service was more private and less intentional than those. I initially planned to apply my medical training to clinical practice. But the C.D.C.’s disease detective program — the Epidemic Intelligence Service — got me hooked on public health.

            Public service is difficult. The past year and a half left many among our ranks exhausted, threatened, saddened and sometimes sidelined. The Covid-19 pandemic is not the first time the U.S. public health system has had to surge well beyond its capacity, but with the worst pandemic in a century and, initially, a heavily partisan political context, the virus collided with a system suffering from decades of underinvestment. A recent report from the National Academy of Medicine revealed that state and local public health departments have lost an estimated 66,000 jobs since around 2008.

            Public service is deeply meaningful. In my first several years at the C.D.C., I conducted surveillance and epidemiologic studies of an infection, group B strep, that harms newborns. It is passed to infants from women during childbirth. Although research during the 1980s identified the benefit of providing antibiotics to high-risk women during labor, the practice was not put in place. I spearheaded the C.D.C.’s efforts, leading to the 1995 meeting where we brought together obstetric and pediatric organizations as well as parents who had lost babies to the infection. In 1996, the C.D.C., the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics issued the first consensus guidelines that made prevention of group B strep a standard of care for the nation.

            Public service is also joyful. Ask the people who have been administering Covid-19 vaccinations what they feel as one recipient after another experiences the relief of getting an immunization that offers high-level protection and the promise of getting their lives back. The teams carrying out data analysis and field investigations and launching communication drives or laboratory studies have experienced the joy of knowing their collective efforts can achieve something none of them could do on their own.

          • Patrick Jensen

            So the sort of politicians who micromanage to the point of using 100 years out of date switch design prefer to dry out the civil service through hiring freezes and the use of consultants, who can be induced to the correct conclusion as you note.

            What politician is going to micromanage something like that? All the politicians I’ve even run into operate on a helicopter scale, so this kind of minutiae is irrelevant from their perspective. They’re practically never the ones who pick the consultants either, they just rubber stamp what the civil service proposes. If someone actually does micromanage it’s usually an example of bikeshedding rather than something actually important.

            Maybe I’m wrong and it’s different elsewhere, but around here, these kind of issues are the result of infighting and factionalism within the civil service that result from well-meaning, but dysfunctional general policies. Hence adding more people, however good and competent, into the grinder isn’t going to magically fix things.

      • Henry Miller

        The contractors should be going to these to meet the people that will hire them for the next contract. My company sends me to conferences, part of what I do is learn new things to bring back to others (we try to spread out what conferences people go to), and part of it is to figure out what contractors we should hire when we have budget and work that we shouldn’t do in-house.

        I think figuring out what contractors we should hire is that technical score Alon says is more important than cost when getting bids.

        • Matthew Hutton

          Yeah I mean this is the problem with contractors is that they don’t stick around. They can be super smart if used wisely. But you need good internal people too.

          • michaelrjames

            @Matthew Hutton.

            Agreed. But your use of “need good internal people too, has it exactly backwards. The good internal people–ie. relevant civil service employees–are the starting point, not anything optional. Without them the whole thing is sure to fail, as it regularly does in the Anglosphere today whether building transport infrastructure or handling a pandemic. They get to know the various private sector operators to judge which ones are the most appropriate for the task. That is not always the ‘super smart’. For example, I have little doubt that the people in UK’s Deloitte staff are ‘super smart’ on conventional terms, however they were absolutely the wrong people to task the pandemic track-and-trace operation. One would have said that even without the subsequent clusterfk. It was sheer nuts to delegate such an operation to a bunch of profit-motivated people trained in irrelevant fields. It is a now classic example of refutation of the cherished notion (cherished by those ‘super smart’) that domain-specific knowledge and experience isn’t necessary for those smart consultants to run the show.

            Of course, there is no perfect system to guarantee any given outcome but a strong public service is the only known mechanism to reliably produce the best result, and to safeguard the national interest. It is the defining aspect of advanced societies. Including even communist China; I shouldn’t equivocate with that “even” because after all China invented the rigorous examinations to select the best civil servants several thousand years ago.

    • Matthew Hutton

      In the UK in terms of people’s cost to an organisation you double salaries – and given the size of public sector pensions you probably multiply salaries by 1.5x.

      So someone on £200/day (~£45k/year) costs the government £500/day. Compared to that conference fees and even flights are chicken feed if the conference is useful.

  3. Rover030

    Do you mean this to be one specific person/team with this task? This attitude and way of working seems like something you want to integrate into your policy/development team. That also makes it more likely for the knowledge to be used instead of ending up within this island you create within the organisation and doesn’t get taken seriously by the people “who actually do the work and know how it works in practice”.

    • Matthew Hutton

      Probably you get a cross-functional team to do the development work and send each to conferences occasionally.

    • john

      Agreed.

      Alon’s task list really doesn’t seem like enough by itself to justify the cost of hiring people just for that. Only the biggest and busiest agencies are going to have large enough and complex enough ongoing services, and enough of a capital-project pipeline, to need even one person doing nothing but, basically, the public-service equivalent of scientific literature searches plus conferences. But every largish agency should have a (small) planning/policy/development team to do both the equivalent of QA/QC (evaluating things like on-time performance, customer-service complaints, vehicle breakdowns, ridership trends from the single-stop level to the whole-system level) and longer-range wider-angle higher-level planning (new-route planning, fare integrations, coordination with city planners and developers, coordination with neighborhood organizations) is a good idea. And yes, both the everyday stuff and the higher-level should be under the perview of the same team, because they are linked and impact each other. Alon’s “keep abreast of global best practices” and “adapt others’ successes (and lessons from failures) to our situation” would be a core part of such a teams’ responsibilities.

      Per the 2018 APTA report on Baltimore’s Metro problems (link on this webpage https://www.mta.maryland.gov/inspections ; MTA org chart is on report page 18), Maryland’s MTA has 7 administrators/directors/deputies scattered around the org chart with words like “development”, “innovation”, “planning”, “program/programming” and “compliance” in their title. These should be working together consistently, as a team, every day in real life to evaluate what their own agency is doing, research what others do, develop improvements (from a minor scheduling tweak to major system overhauls or expansions) and propagate them to the front-line folks who actually implement everything. And these are the people who can and should be doing what Alon is advocating here. The org chart doesn’t even have to be rearranged to reflect their teamwork, as long as it’s officially in their job description and gets done. And I’m sure bigger agencies have bigger teams for planning, compliance, etc.

  4. Herbert

    The Karlsruhe tram/train system had to shut down because the temperature led the material filling the gap between rail and road surface to become unstable majorly endangering safe operations. This forum discusses it: https://www.drehscheibe-online.de/foren/read.php?005,9758185 at least one commenter claims price only bidding (without taking technical scores into account) as at least part of the reason. Given that the material has failed after less than 10 years in some places, there’ll have to be investigations as to what’s the issues. Temperatures while definitely “summerly” are nothing out of the ordinary for Karlsruhe and are indeed lower than a few years ago…

  5. Bobson Dugnutt

    I have a similar philosophy to what Alon describes in this post to apply to the civil service: Divide organizational functions into the categories of Arts and Sciences.

    “Sciences” should be the best-practices tasks that every agency regardless of size should be doing, and these are probably done at the highest level. I wouldn’t go as far as to say nationally, because it would mean delegating management to Congress in the U.S. Amtrak shows why it is a terrible idea. It should probably be at the MSA/CSA level. In fact, we do have federally chartered metropolitan planning organizations that already do studies and projections and serve as a clearinghouse for federally funded wish lists. These MPOs already hire staffs and procure; give them the next step and actually manage and operate the functions they set out to fund.

    “Sciences” in the context of transit would be the things that could and should be done the same way in the industry as a whole. Say, like scheduling, human resources, fare harmonization, or in-house engineering. These would coalesce around big cities, where there is a market demand for this kind of talent and the need would be the greatest.

    “Arts” would be the things that need to be tailored to local operating conditions and circumstances. This is usually done at the level of the bus garage and the street. (Rail is by and large a science because of the fixed nature of its physical plant; the art is in managing the constraints imposed by this infrastructure — see the numerous articles on the challenges of operating 24-hour and express/local variants of the New York City subway system).

    Operating conditions swing wildly between urban and suburban coverage areas, as well as variations in season and even day and night conditions. An example of the art/science distinction: Look at the operating conditions of the Bay Area or Greater LA in California.

    Both areas have a dominant urban agency (Muni in San Francisco and Metro in Los Angeles), a contentious multi-county authority (BART and Caltrain in the north, Metrolink in the South), some larger second-tier agencies with fair to good ridership (AC Transit and VTA in the North, about a dozen in SoCal like Long Beach, Santa Monica and Foothill or the county-level agencies in Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside), and the suburban/exurban systems with low ridership and low service levels (samTrans, the Contra Costa agencies, Sonoma County transit in the north; Ventura County and a bunch of functionally useless in-city shuttles in L.A. County in the south).

    You don’t have a one-size-fits-all solution to operations. BART, Caltrain and Metrolink don’t have bus operations experience. Muni and Metro have specializations in dealing with high-frequency and urban rail services, but their operations costs make services outrageously expensive for suburban areas. The C in AC Transit stands for Contra Costa County, but it’s only serving the urbanized portions of the county along the bay, and Richmond is socioeconomically identical to Oakland. It has urban operating characteristics and cannot cost-effectively absorb the suburban and exurban systems on the outer ends of BART. In L.A. County, some of the bigger agencies like Long Beach and Santa Monica are in a goldilocks situation where they have just-right levels of ridership and could do well at moderate frequencies but might not be able to scale up to Metro’s levels of ridership. (Santa Monica and Metro both run along the busiest arterials like Santa Monica, Wilshire, and Pico, but neither agency is willing or able to run a single bus route between downtown L.A. and the ocean; there is just one route that Metro has that runs from downtown to the ocean, along Venice Boulevard. A quarter-mile to the south of Venice Boulevard, Culver City runs a route along Washington Boulevard from Venice to the Culver City Expo Line station, while the Los Angeles portion of Washington is run by Metro).

    The smaller systems probably don’t experience overcrowding or bus bunching. They probably also have a need to pay comparatively lower wages since their services aren’t as productive as urban San Francisco or Los Angeles.

    Denver has the right idea. There’s a single branded agency serving the metro area; there’s also a state law that forces the RTD to outsource some of its service. I think the poster RD Rynerson mentioned that conditions evolved to where the in-house RTD drivers work the busy urban Denver routes and the contractor drivers do the suburban routes, and the in-house and contractor drivers achieved a productivity parity to the point where there’s no more cost savings to be achieved by fully outsourcing service. (What might be happening is that the contractors serve as a farm team to RTD’s in-house drivers, so the drivers who want the wage boost will start with a contractor and apply to RTD when they gain experience.)

    • Henry Miller

      I don’t like your use of the term “art”. I think you are getting at the right things, but too often art becomes anti-science – just creative whatever random makes you feel good. There is a lot of real science and engineering that must go into running a local system, and there is only a small amount of room for creativity. Most often art in public projects is spending a lot of money on things that doesn’t get the job done. I know of bridges where the sculptures was a significant portion of the costs, and that is just taking away from our ability to do good transit.

      I’m not saying we should go full on burtalist architecture, that would be going to far even though it would be cheapest. However we need to limit what the art types can do as they will spend a lot of money on things that are not useful transit if we let them. Calling anything we do an art will encourage that.

      • Bobson Dugnutt

        @Henry Miller, I don’t counterpose art and science. Both ideas can co-exist and inform each other. If you think about it, there’s science embedded within art — and vice versa. An artist must think about the material they use and understand their behaviors, even if intuitively. A painter might not know the foundational science of why blending two colors produces a different hue, or the chemical properties that bind a paint to the canvas, but they intuitively know what colors they want to produce and how long it takes for the paint to set before completing another phase of the artwork.

        Even the scientifically inclined are coming around to embracing creativity in their fields, because it furthers knowledge, especially when experienced at a young age. Take a child to an art museum and they’ll be bored, because they must contemplate the work before them. Take a child to a science and industry museum or an aquarium, institutions that tend to have interactive displays, and it will spark creativity in them because they first learn through senses and emotions while their brains are still developing. For instance, if you see how the field of urban planning evolved in the 21st century, you’ll find that a lot of modern urban planners will often credit the “Sim City” franchise they played as kids or teens as one of the reasons why they chose the field. In engineering, some students have credited the Lego robotics kits for embracing the field.

        The art I’m speaking of is the creative, intuitive, situational mind needed to solve novel and recurring problems. Take bus bunching, for instance. We’ve thrown millions of dollars on GPS technology that have at best been able to alert of buses that have bunched but have not solved the problem of three buses arriving together every 15 minutes when the scheduled frequency is 5 minutes. The problem still requires human intuitive problem-solving by skilled workers.

        My intuition that a solution to buses bunching will be solved by a road supervisor, dispatcher, or even a bus driver who will study how a school or military marching band instructor, ballet choreographer, or baseball pitching coach approach their jobs. Each of these fields has a similar constraint that they must overcome to get the results they desire. And they advance their arts through iteration. In contrast, transit — like railroading — is notorious for reproducing bad habits from veterans to younger generations within a culture that is averse to change.

    • R. W. Rynerson

      @ Bobson Dugnutt – due to the drastic service reduction for the pandemic the picture in Denver is a bit messy right now, but your comments are generally still accurate. The private contractors have trouble running the one main line that they have to keep on a disciplined ten-minute base service but their drivers often are complimented for their courtesy when operating minor routes with wide headways.

      The RTD commuter rail contractor had trouble getting employees with railroad experience who could understand that unless otherwise noted, the times at intermediate points were just as important as at terminals. LRT operators who they hired away from RTD had a better understanding of the concept. (Three commuter rail lines are contracted out. One plus all the LRT lines are run by RTD.)

  6. R. W. Rynerson

    A footnote to the discussion above:
    In 2008 a leading transit software company, Init GmbH of Karlsruhe, celebrated their 25th anniversary. Festivities were preceded by a serious conference covering issues of broad interest. Invitations were widely distributed around the world. Five transit employees and no consultants from the United States attended (Seattle = 2, Denver = 1, Champaign-Urbana = 1, NYCTA = 1.) I think that all but the NYCTA staffer were on what we called “doughnut-shaped vacations” in the middle of which personal trips our employers paid the incremental cost of attending the conference. Second class on non-ICE trains in my case.

    This method worked well enough that colleagues used it to attend InnoTrans. In turn, InnoTrans offered North Americans a discounted registration fee. We found that our European colleagues were eager to talk with us and it wasn’t just the sales people. With the sales people we did develop interest in entering the North American market (which several European software firms have done since),

    However, there is at least one large American system that nixed travel to foreign countries including Canada. There are many with such limited budgets that even the cheap incremental cost trip is too much. In 1997 I was investigated as to why there was no paperwork for a trip from Denver to the Railvolution conference in St. Louis. The reason was because I paid for it myself, with the conference fee coming out of an education allowance. In 1990 my agency’s library and librarian service was discontinued. The library had included past reports and studies and even reports on foreign systems. I’ll spare you more, but you should get the general idea.

    I shouldn’t speak ill of the dead but the difficulties of learning across the Atlantic were highlighted when a general manager who is no longer with us was organizing a trip for Board members to Europe. My supervisor suggested to him that I be sent along to help interpret (not necessarily languages, but contexts) and to write a report on what was learned. The GM was horrified at the thought. The trip was for VIP’s! We never heard what they learned.

    If transit system employees read this, keep reading this blog, subscribe to IRJ or other trade publications and start saving your money to pay for your own travel.

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