What Does Pete Buttigieg Think the US has to Teach the World?

On the 27th, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg announced the creation of a new program called Momentum, to export what he calls best practices around the world. Buttigieg said he invites global civil society to engage with USDOT, linking to the Momentum website – not so that the US can learn from the rest of the world, but so that the rest of the world can learn from the United States on matters of transportation and climate change.

It’s remarkable that the areas covered by Momentum are consistently ones on which the only thing to learn from the United States is what not to do. There are seven target areas: transport infrastructure projects, climate change mitigation, transport safety, regional corridors, logistics supply chains, emerging tech (e.g. smart cities), good regulatory practices.

That the US has the world’s worst urban rail construction costs is just the beginning. Climate change, so central to this plan, is another example of American failure; Wikipedia’s list has the US near the top in CO2 emissions per capita, and the US is lagging in not just decarbonizing transport, which the entire developed world is failing at, but also in installing renewable energy (or nuclear power). Transport safety is almost always better in rich countries than in poor ones, but in 2018 the US had the highest per capita car accident death rate in the developed world, and rates rose during corona (in Germany, they fell). The supply chain issues in the US are often localized to the one country – the baby formula shortage is worse than in Europe. Good regulatory practices are to be learned from countries with strong apolitical civil service apparatuses, and not from the US, with its grabbing-hand regulators and government by lawsuit.

There is approximately one thing the US has to teach other countries, but it’s nowhere within USDOT’s portfolio: people who are familiar with the history of infrastructure construction in the early 20th century, when it was labor-intensive because everything was labor-intensive then by today’s standards, should teach these methods to countries with similar GDP per capita to Gilded Age and Progressive Era America, like India or Nigeria, so that they can use their advantage in low-cost labor and avoid importing expensive machinery or use techniques that only make sense with modern first-world wages.

However, exporting that history requires taking the exact opposite approach of Momentum. Momentum tells other places “you can be like the US!”. The historical approach tells them “your GDP per capita is $5,000, get over your cultural cringe and your tendency toward isomorphic mimicry and think how to get from $5,000 to $20,000.” As it is, any country that participates in the Momentum program is likely to be importing bad practices, including a politicized civil service, anti-housing NIMBYism, slow government that is supposed to protect civil rights and environmental standards but doesn’t, and a can’t-do attitude.

I don’t know where the idea for such a stupid scheme came. I know USDOT was interested in dialog with other countries to learn best practices, but I don’t know how far up that idea went. Not knowing Washingtonian well, I can’t tell from Buttigieg’s language whether his junket trip to Germany impressed him with how public transport here is run. But somewhere in that game of telephone, the notion that the US should learn from other countries turned into that the US should teach other countries, and that’s just wrong.

I’ve heard the Momentum program analogized to having Saudi Arabia export its human rights practices. And this analogy, unfortunately, goes further than intended. It’s not just that Saudi Arabia is a notorious human rights abuser and the US is (among people with comparative knowledge) notorious for the poor state of its transport infrastructure. It’s that Saudi Arabia does in fact export its human rights practices – dictators all over the world are impressed by Mohammed bin Salman and wish they had the ability to murder international journalists with a US green card. Countries with wealth or cultural cachet have soft power like this.

And unfortunately, this is not just hypothetical when it comes to infrastructure. A lot of public transit construction badness originates in the United Kingdom, where the privatization of the state in the late 20th century exerts considerable soft power anywhere that interacts with the London elite. The peripheral Anglosphere learned those practices and has subsequently seen its construction costs explode: Canada, Singapore, and Hong Kong all built subways at reasonable costs until, depending on the country, 15-25 years ago, and in Canada the explosion can be traced to the adoption of bad practices like design-build contracts and poor oversight of consultants. The Nordic countries and France are British-curious as well – the bibliography of the Stockholm cost report, to appear very soon, is replete with papers discussing how Sweden should privatize infrastructure construction and maintenance on the British model, written by the Swedish civil service or by academics who are contracted to do research for it, none questioning whether such privatization is wise.

The US has fortunately not been able to export its own variety of dysfunction so far, which differs in some key ways from the British dysfunction that consultants so often recommend. This is because Americans have been insular in both directions so far; after the failure of programs in the 1960s to create heaven on Earth (and defeat communism) within the span of one presidential administration, the US reduced its global presence, and now it’s much more likely that a poor country seeking infrastructure advice will buy Japanese or Chinese dysfunction (and almost never the positive things in those countries’ infrastructure – Chinese investments in African railways build palatial stations outside city centers, but not actual high-speed rail).

Unfortunately, Momentum seems set up to export this dysfunction after decades of neglect. And even more unfortunately, American dysfunction is worse than British dysfunction and much worse than Japanese or Chinese dysfunction. Japan builds subways domestically for maybe $400 million per km – more in Central Tokyo, less in very suburban areas; Japanese-financed projects elsewhere in Asia, such as the Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh, and Dhaka Metros, are largely elevated, but correcting for that, they’re more expensive, and the mostly-but-not-wholly-underground Dhaka MRT manages to get up to $600 million per km even without such correction. But Los Angeles, San Jose, and Seattle are all worse than this, and New York is worse than all three with its $2 billion/km projects. Far from acknowledging that these are all failures, the Biden administration named San Jose’s Nuria Fernandez as the head of the Federal Transit Administration, and in her capacity as FTA head, Fernandez gave a keynote talk at Eno’s symposium on construction costs that displayed total indifference to the problem and consisted of a litany of excuses.

I hope that nobody should make the mistake of participating in the Momentum program. USDOT should take it down and replace its pretense of teaching the world with the humility of learning from it. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law touted by Buttigieg in the video spends tens of billions on urban mass transit and tens more on intercity rail. Done right – that is, done not in the American way – it can create amazing things for American transportation and set up a success that will leave Americans wanting more and then going ahead and building more. But the US needs to lower its head and learn from places that build urban rail for $150 million/km instead of stepping on a soapbox and towering over everyone else.


  1. Matthew Hutton

    The Americans really don’t want to learn from anyone else.

    Given their democratic crisis you’d expect they’d be keen to learn how we’ve achieved such strong anti-conservative swings in rural areas for basically no money (such as https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/2022_Tiverton_and_Honiton_by-election). But they’d rather waste millions of dollars on “targeting” and other bullshit and not learning from anyone else.

  2. Axel

    I am worried, as the idea of learning from the US is ridiculous that does not mean it will not happen. Here in Sweden you see it constantly in the form of taking in bad ideas from Britain. For example we took in a lot of ideas about privatization and localisation of the school system from Britain. Thought in some ways we took it further then they ever did. The result was a collapse in performance. From having one of the worlds leading school systems, in there with Finland to a utterly mediocre one.

    There is also just this constant maddening push to introduce more bad British ideas even thought they are worse then us in those areas. At the same time no one is looking towards actual excellence like Swiss rail timetables.

    • fjod

      It’s interesting that you mention education there – I remember the main argument for this policy in the UK was that ‘Sweden does it and their schools are good’.

      • Axel

        Sweden began it’s privatization and municipalization program 1985 a lot of it inspired by the ideology of Thatcher. Who was the British prime minister at the time. Before that the Swedish school system was extremely similar the the Finish School system. A lot of the Finish school was actually modeled after the Swedish at the time.This lead to a collapse in international rankings and a the school system became worse at helping disadvantaged students succeed.
        Now Sweden has started slowly recover from this disaster but we are still held back by the disastrous privatized school system

  3. Tiercelet

    Pete Buttigieg is pretty much a one-sentence summary of everything wrong with (non-Republican) American politics.

    He may no longer work for McKenzie, but you can’t take that consultancy brain out once it’s been implanted: his primary skill set is producing slick, convincing-sounding, poorly founded presentations that argue on behalf of whatever his employers were going to do anyway, no matter how terrible, and announcing it as a success before it’s been tried. He’s taken this skill set to a whole new league with the federal appointment, but it’s the same basics.

    Of course, the fact he’s playing in the federal leagues is another indictment. Because he has no qualifications for his role—he went from being the failed mayor of the third-largest city of a lower-mid-sized state to a member of the Cabinet, in an obvious political reward for having helped defend the conservative Democratic gerontocracy from a credible challenge on its left flank. (Which is, incidentally, an example of why I argue that the adversarial-legalism/bureaucratic-administration issue in the US is epiphenomenal—the problem is we have a political system on all sides in all areas that elevates political loyalty over subject matter expertise and objectively measurable competence; from this crooked timber no robust civil service was ever crafted.)

    I can only share in the sincere hope that nobody outside the Washington Beltway will view anything Mayor Pete does with anything other than vaguely paternalistic condescension, including this transportation-policy-website equivalent of a child’s finger painting. (Sadly, I suspect most of us in the US at least will rather soon have too many other things to deal with to notice one way or the other…)

    • adirondacker12800

      defend the conservative Democratic gerontocracy from a credible challenge on its left flank.
      Democrats let someone who isn’t a member of the party run in their primaries. At least they entertained a challenge.

    • Alon Levy

      Or maybe Buttigieg got a ministerial job after having run deep in the primary, as is standard for how parties pick cabinets. Bernie likewise was rewarded with the Finance Committee (not a ministerial job but he’s in the Senate).

      • Tiercelet

        Buttigieg is actually the only deep candidate in the 2020 D primary to get a Cabinet appointment (though to be fair, the others all still had real jobs (assuming we count the vice presidency as a real job, though many VPs have historically expressed doubt on this point)); and none of Trump’s Cabinet members were 2016 R primary challengers. I haven’t looked back long enough to see about Obama’s situation or before (Clinton is the obvious one, but also had unusual circumstances due to the intensity of downright racist/sexist identitarian infighting that was happening between the Obama and Clinton super fans in 2008). So I’m not sure it’s fair to say Pete’s following a general rule in the US party politics.

        Sanders is actually chair of Budget, not Finance. That’s just down to Senatorial rules about seniority; he gets the Chair because he counts as a D, because if they didn’t count him, they wouldn’t actually control the Senate.

        • Alon Levy

          Trump gave HUD to Ben Carson; Obama gave State to Clinton, VP to Biden, and Agriculture to Vilsack, and wanted to give Commerce to Richardson but then it turned out Richardson was being investigated for corruption.

          • adirondacker12800

            That’s the way political parties work. Do you expect a party to give jobs to people who don’t share their objectives?

          • Alon Levy

            Hey, I’m the one who thinks it’s normal; it’s the Bernie dead-enders who’ve convinced themselves that giving Buttigieg DOT is weird and inappropriate and that *snake emoji* Warren murdered Bloomberg in the debate in order to clear the way for Biden to win in the moderate lane.

          • adirondacker12800

            Bernie Boyz don’t understand how it works either. They are in a snit because the Democratic Party was supporting… Democrats!

          • adirondacker12800

            Rick, I can only remember two of the three departments I want to eliminate, Perry, got Energy.

          • Tiercelet

            VP appointment is in a different beast–they’re supposed to help you win the election, and both Obama-Biden & Biden-Harris were to shore up a perceived weakness in the top-of-ticket candidate.

            In any case, I don’t think anybody is disputing that Cabinet roles tend to go to party loyalists. The question is just why *this* loyalist–which may well just be because he’s a good public speaker with a story the DNC thinks is marketable and they want to engineer a career for him as a new standard-bearer for Compassionate Capitalism when the current leadership finally crumbles into dust or whatever.

            Setting aside the issue of why him–I’ll still stand by the statement that he’s is a political lightweight with disproportionately little experience in this scale of job compared to the rest of the Cabinet and no real subject matter expertise in transportation.

            I don’t think (given the article I’m responding to) that you have that much disagreement with this?

  4. Project Do Better: tools for a kinder world

    Funny, or sad, that every time I say something like this, my fellow Americans invite me to leave my country.

    “…in 2018 the US had the highest per capita car accident death rate in the developed world…”

    This should not surprise me, but after living in Istanbul it does, unless TĂĽrkiye is considered developed now?

  5. Henry Miller

    The important thing for Americans to do us write their congressman and demand this waste of tax dollars be defunded. For the right they will latch onto saving money, i’m not sure how to convince the left who are mostly convinced we do transport great (it really annoys the left when I point out they don’t care about public transport, just the amount or Union jobs it creates)

  6. xh

    The US does have practices valuable to rest of the world, to name a few:

    Long, heavy-haul freight trains;
    Remote locomotive control (branded as Locotrol);
    Yard automation;
    Satellite-based train positioning and control;
    Transportation Technology Center (TTCI);

    These innovations, however, are mostly industry-driven, in which USDOT played no role.

    • Alon Levy

      Satellite-based train control is a feature of single-track mainlines; double-track mainlines don’t use it in ETCS or CTCS.

      • TheKorot

        Don’t use it *yet; because there are ideas for some GPS-based Train Positioning to allow ECTS without any way-side equipment. The technical hold-out is precision: on a double-track line you can’t tell which track the train is on with current GPS-tech.

          • Sassy

            GPS Block III gets accuracy down to 1-3m. I think the physics of it sounds promising.

          • Henry Miller

            differential GPS is down to less than 3 cm as of at least 10 years ago. You do still need clear skies (how clear I don’t know ), so it isn’t perfect, but more than good enough.

            Though frankly I don’t buy the which track argument. The track is easy to figure out if you know which way the switches are set as the train crosses them. Unlike cars trains cannot switch tracks anywhere (except derail situations). I often see trains go through a switch far too fast to stop if the switch is set wrong so that can’t be an issue the railroads worry about. Most of the time you can figure out where the train must be just from built in speed sensors as well, though wheelslip is never completely known so you have to add in some compounding uncertainty factors, but we can always figure out a worst case where the train is based on simple inputs. The closer you want to run the.trains the more you need something other than wheel speed sensors to constrain the uncertainty.

          • Henry Miller

            Trains move in very predictable ways, except when they derail. As such it is easy to predict with accuracy where a train is from simple inputs. Statistics can tell you where a train is and what the error bars. The question is how small do you want those error bars, if you want to run trains close together you need tight error bars and that needs additional absolute inputs that bring the bars back down to zero, then the error bars slow (and predictably) get larger until you get the next absolute input again.

        • William

          The main reasons ETCS L3 (which no trackside train detection systems) is unlikely to be used are:

          On cab set up, the driver would need to enter in their train length (as there is no trackside equipment for track-clear detection). The safety risks associated with entering an incorrect train length are unacceptably high.

          There is also the issue of tracking non-communicating trains (such as those parked in a siding) when the radio communication is the only position report available. With no trackside detection, A train could runaway without being detected.

    • Tom M

      Train automation is done to a far greater extent in Australia (e.g. actual autonomous heavy haul trains) on the iron ore rail systems

  7. Dan Breaker

    Other than dunking on Momentum what is the point of this article? No one cared about this program so I’m not sure what is the actual point? I’m genuinely curious to know.

    • Alon Levy

      If the secretary of transportation thinks the US should be exporting expertise rather than importing it, it’s a pretty bad sign.

      • Dan Breaker

        Politicians try to create interest around lots of dead end programs to advance their political ambitions. The program is pretty useless and I think the whole thing is a nothing burger.

  8. Eric2

    Somehow I wonder if the point of this program is really for the US to learn from the other countries, and for political reasons it has to be advertised as the other countries learning from the US. But once the dialog is opened, it can go both ways. That’s my conspiracy theory for the day.

    • Alon Levy

      If it’s a noble lie, then it should be dealt with the traditional way nobility is dealt with: land reform, removal of privileges, etc.

      The reality is that if Buttigieg just wanted to pick up foreign best practices, he could just do it. Nobody would look over his shoulder. He chose to make this video publicizing Momentum. The message he’s sending to every low- and mid-level local hack is “you do a great job, other countries are learning from us.” It’s a bad message when those hacks are ignorant of best practices.

  9. Phake Nick

    China have been trying to learn freight rail from the US.
    JR Hokkaido and JR Freight can also use some lessons from this aspect.
    China should also learn about airspace management from rest of the world, which the US isn’t particularly good but is still more functional.
    US have bad BRTs but mostly are still better than what Japan is making.
    Japan can also learn about financial sustainability of rural transit from small American towns.
    Bus service on Okinawa Main Island might also be able to get some inspiration from American cities with how auto-oriented the island’s infrastructure have become following two decades of American occupation after WWII, yet in the past half century the bus services there are really mostly just being left to bus operators.
    Integration of bikes with transit is also something America have more than Asia despite still probably less than some European countries. So is concepts like proof of payment.
    Japanese government also need to learn about how to sustain the operation of rail lines with “only” one to two thousand passengers everyday.
    Chinese government need to learn about how to allow rail track designed for intercity be also use to provide commuter service.
    Resistance against highway expansion when the demand is enough to support transit project instead is also something the US can export.
    Hong Kong is recently studying the adaption of HOV lanes on highway and the idea probably came after studying America.
    Developed Asian countries can also learn from.the US on electrification of buses I guess.
    Transit open data is definitely something better in America than Asia.

    • Alon Levy

      Wait, why would rich Asia learn from the US on bus electrification? The US is tearing up trolleybus lines to buy expensive, unreliable battery-electric buses.

    • Andrew in Ezo

      Japan doesn’t need anything from the U.S. wrt to freight train operation knowhow as the geography as well as resource acquisition is completely different- almost all bulk freight and energy imports in Japan goes by sea as the major cities and industries are located on the coasts. Railfreight modal share peaked in the 1950s at around 50% (likely driven by coal transport)- it was 15% in 1975 (Japan almost completely shifted from domestic coal to oil imports by then), and has dropped to under 5% within the last decade.

      • Phake Nick

        There are desire to expand rail freight market share in Japan, due to lower emissions of trains, and also labor shortage due to aging and shrinking population and failure for truck industry to provide attractive pay to attract new drivers into the industry.

        • Andrew in Ezo

          Japanese railfreight predominantly moves on electrified lines, so it already has a leg up on American practice wrt to emissions. Lack of truck drivers is a worldwide (or at least in the developed world) phenomenon- it is a grueling, thankless job- nor is it a problem America has solved. Fwiw, Japan has more commonalities with places like Taiwan or Great Britain, or perhaps Switzerland- there have been instances of cooperation/information exchange (well, on passenger rail issues) with that third country- in the 1980’s just before breakup JNR staff visited Switzerland to see how rolling stock was interchanged, and much later SBB visited Japan to see how Keikyu ran their interline services.

          • Phake Nick

            The problem is not emission of rail freight itself but that road freight movement have higher emission than trucks and thus it’s favorable to reduce amount of goods moved by truck for rail freight instead, in term of emission. That Japanese rail freight are lower emission due to electrified doesn’t quite matter due to its low market share.

            And while truck driver shortage is a world wide problem that cannot be eliminated by any single measure, reducing the demand for truck by moving the the goods through trains instead can obviously allevoate that. It probably can help allevoate bus driver shortage too due to commonality in driving license

          • Borners

            The structural problem of freight on an island is that you have limited trips in the 500 plus and 1000km range where trains really do outperform trucks* and ships. Even the UK has the channel tunnel. To have a model split at western European levels Japan would have need to invest much more cleverly over the Postwar era i.e. not spending the first 30 years trying to preserve the non-mainline freight network and sub-500km market instead focusing an a west-coast bypass system. complete electrification to Sapporo and an outer-Kanto loop. That’s a lot of money and hindsight! Its probably too late now since the demographic situation means the generations that could have paid for it have already retired! The carbon reduction economy does change things but not enough to justify huge infra changes that will get past the MOF.

            Also @Phake Nick What do you mean by “rural lines”, I don’t think anybody can justify the Yamada line or Banetsuzai line last another 30 years given the population trajectories. Japanese buses outside the Private rail feeders and highway expresses are bad, but American’s BRT would not be the model, it should be Switzerland and in the urban areas Korea. But given those labour issues you mention that might have limited juice. Regional Japan needs to learn Central European rail strategies.

            *at historic price ranges and current technologies.

          • Phake Nick

            Time machine do not exist. Saying what should be done in the past is meaningless, not to mention population distribution and rail network topology back then was different.
            As for “rural lines”, I did a ctrl+F and couldn’t find myself using the term. Anyway, I think that mean all heavy rail lines that are not within urban Tokyo/Osaka/Nagoya/Sapporo, or Shinkansen. Fukuoka/Hiroshima/Sendai are also relatively large urban area but their rail transit excluding trams/metro are quite limited and is not sufficient to cover daily mobility needs, with also challenges of other rural rail lines like decreasing ridership and frequency and depopulation as well as high level of motorization, hence I incline to count them toward rural too for the purpose of this discussion.
            And regional Japan with their aging and depopulation are also having significant impact on their local tax revenue. Which further restrict local governments capability of supporting any transit services that are not self sustainable. Japanese government promoted Furusato tax to let residents to pay part of their local tax to area where they feel attached to or want to support instead of the actual area they are living in, but that can only do so much and is also not a reliable source of revenue.
            Also I didn’t receive notification from the @.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Can’t tourism sustain the rural lines? I’m pretty sure here in Britain most of the rural lines aside from perhaps the Newquay line and some of the more remote Scottish ones are self sustaining.

          • Phake Nick

            Very difficult. For example, Soya Main Line going to Japan’s northmost city, Wakkanai, the section north of Nayoro have an operational revenue of 436 million Yen as of FY2017, yet have an operational cost of 3169 million Yen. Ridership density on this section was 352 passengers per day on average that year.

            The 3169 million Yen operation cost included: 828M Yen on transportation cost, 442M Yen on vehicle maintenance cost, 1145M Yen on facility maintenance cost, 337M Yen on depreciation, 376M Yen on other costs including management etc., and 42M Yen on taxes. This section includes 1 tunnel and 222 bridges, with 170 or 77% of those bridges being more than 80 years old and will need large scale repair.

            The section south of Nayoro until Asahikawa have more passengers, count up to 1452 passengers per day as of FY2017, yet the operational revenue was still just 666M Yen with operation cost of 3497M Yen.

            The 3497M Yen operation cost included: 1093M Yen on transportation cost, 462M Yen on vehicle maintenance cost, 1034M Yen on facility maintenance cost, 365M Yen on depreciation, 468M Yen on other costs including management etc., and 75M Yen on taxes. This section includes 110 bridges, with 22 or 20% of those bridges being more than 80 years old and will need large scale repair.

            With 4 times more passengers, the section south of Nayoro earned 200 more million yen or 50% more than the section north of it despite the southern section is a bit shorter, yet just the cost directly related to the transportation is more than 200 million yen higher for the section to the south of Nayoro station, and combined with other costs, it mean the section south of Nayoro end up losing more money than the section to the north of it.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Why can’t they do driver only operation, unstaffed stations and one manager for, say, 10 drivers? The management cost seems very high.

            And the fuel costs surely shouldn’t be massive with 1-2 car DMUs.

          • Phake Nick

            Driver only operation and unmanned stations are deployed extensively across Japanese rail network. Only 8 out of 53 stations on the Asahikawa-Wakkanai line are manned. Driver only operation are known as one-man operation in Japan.
            Management cost is a type of cost from the entire railway company that are not tied to specific lines, but are spread across all rail lines in rail network through an array of different accounting methods.
            Transport related cost refer to all variable operation cost which is needed to bring the trains onto the line and carry passengers instead of sitting idle.
            For Soya Main Line, a significant majority of passengers north of Nayoro are on long distance limited express trains. Percentage of slow local train riders increase south of Nayoro and reverse to become majority in the few stations toward Asahikawa.

            As of year 2015, 459k people lived in area along the 259.4km-long line, mostly around Asahikawa. As of 2018, Asahikawa have 340k residents, Nayoro have 28k residents, and Wakkanai have 35k residents.


    • John D.

      “Japanese government also need to learn about how to sustain the operation of rail lines with “only” one to two thousand passengers everyday.”

      I don’t see how American expertise would do anything to overcome the structural afflictions of those rural lines (depopulation, antiquated infrastructure leading to low speeds on meandering routes, government-backed road upgrading projects siphoning traffic and/or allowing buses to outcompete trains), or the economic baseline that other transit modes could provide higher quality, lower fare, and more cost-effective service at that level of ridership density.

      • Benjamin Turon

        America solved rural rail and bus service by eliminating it! From what I watch on NHK they are doing far better, America needs to learn how tourist railroads could also do transit 🙂

        • Phake Nick

          Even in small American cities, like Wichita Fall, bus routes can still operate hourly. Meanwhile in similarly sized Japanese cities like Kanoya, most bus routes only operate like 3-4 departures a day

          • Matthew Hutton

            Jesus, in Britain in a city of 100k you’d expect bus routes to operate 3-4 buses an hour.

      • Phake Nick

        Brightline run the Florida rail at 3k ridership a day mow and is praised as great success. Meanwhile rail segments like Otaru-Yoichi and Hakodate-ShinHakodateHokuto with 2k ridership a day are considered financially not sustainable and need to be abolished.

        • John D.

          Taking your claim at face value, Brightline seems to satisfy Japan’s 2,500 ridership density threshold for financial viability while the Hokkaido lines do not, so the disparity is unsurprising and non-indicative of special managerial/operational expertise.

          Of course, it’s disingenuous to compare Brightline (an intercity rail service that charges commensurate fares and has growth potential in the Floridian market) to local/regional rail services within Hokkaido (facing all the contextual challenges I listed above), and on closer scrutiny, Brightline’s all-round performance is hardly that of an international role model.

    • Henry

      Hong Kong already knows what the solution to its traffic congestion is, it just doesn’t like it. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_road_pricing_(Hong_Kong)#:~:text=Electronic%20road%20pricing%20(ERP%2C%20Chinese,to%20implement%20electronic%20congestion%20pricing.)

      I’m not quite sure what the holdup is here. Driving is an extreme minority in Hong Kong as it is, so the normal US complaints of poor people not being able to drive in doesn’t really apply since they can’t afford the cost of even just parking.

      And HK is well beyond the point of congestion where just one HOV lane makes sense. At minimum, probably the entire Cross Harbor Tunnel should be HOV 3+.

      • adirondacker12800

        Even in the U.S. poor people don’t own cars. Nearly poor people don’t take jobs that involve a long commute, by car and tolls.

        • Oreg

          80% of poor Americans have access to a car, according to Census data. Vehicle residency is on the rise amongst the homeless.

      • Phake Nick

        Tolls for crossing tunnels and bridges that connect different parts of Hong Kong together are already acting like some sort of road pricing, yet didn’t stop number of cars from growing exponentially. Even the more expensive tunnels are reaching capacity limit in peak hour and start to see congestion.

        As for why the proposed toll for busy area isn’t getting implemented, main reason is pushback by drivers which many of them are from business especially financial sectors. The political system in Hong Kong have half the seats in legislature assigned to various business sectors to help further business interests, and it’s also in line with the interest of Mainland and Local government to pay special attention to demand and desire from financial elites in the city in order to maintain the special economic status of the city. Road toll also increase operating cost of businesses from logistics, catering, tourism, transportation sectors and such hence are also not being viewed favorably by these stakeholders. Another group that help with government enforcing control of the city, the aboriginal residents, who live in low density traditional villages are also more reliant on cars and are thus more likely to support pro car policies.

        The Hong Kong government tried to attribute the growth in car in Hong Kong to rising property price and claim that young people can’t afford their own apartment so they spent money in cars instead for their own free space. But I don’t think it is the actual cause given how nuch it cost to drive and maintain the car in the city. I would say a more direct reason behind the exponential increase in car and motorbike ownership in the city is due to the government’s attempt to solve traffic congestion by capping and cutting public transit routes, reducing transit frequency, and replace direct bus route proposals with bus transfer options, and mandate private bus operators to scale back their frequency and prohibiting them from operating many proposed routes, as they think reducing the amount of buses on the road can help reduce the traffic volume and thus improve traffic flow. They have also tried to reduce induced demand on public transit by rejecting residential neighborhoods from having a bus route to nearby commercial center, with the goal of diverting traffic demand of residents in daily life to farther away less congested area.

  10. bdbuckman

    I would say the appropriate climate change measure is not CO2 emissions per capita, because manufacturing and services aren’t spread evenly across the world, and some countries do CO2-intensive things mostly for the benefit of other countries. A better measure might be CO2 emissions per PPP $ of GDP. The U.S. doesn’t do especially great there (same as Japan but worse than most of Europe) but it’s decreasing its emissions at a faster rate than pretty much anybody else.


    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, the problem is that then you need to give credit to industrial exporters like China, Japan, and Germany, and debit industrial importers like the US and France.

    • Matthew Hutton

      On emissions the Americans have a hell of a lot more low hanging fruit than anyone else does, primarily building insulation and car fuel economy, so saying they are one of the better performers feels more than a little far fetched.

  11. Tunnelvision

    There’s no way the US will ever admit to needing advice from anywhere else or learning form anywhere else. I’ve been in the US for 16 years and I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, but where has this been done in the US before. Primarily this is a liability and risk issue but its the mindset of many agencies, and not just transport ones. 10 years or so ago the FHWA I think undertook a study of procurement practices around the world, looking at Early Contractor Involvement, target cost type contracts, which are not perfect but somewhat better than the gambler with the lowest bid winning style of contract that still dominates in the US. And yet Design Build is still not legal in all 50 states. And therein lies part of the problem, your not dealing with a homogenous whole in the US, each State has its own laws for example a Professional Engineer has to be licensed in each State they will be signing and sealing designs in, the design company has to have a registered company in the State it is producing designs for adding costs, compare that to almost every other country where its a national qualification, procurement approaches, unions vs right to work where a project in NY receiving say pre cast concrete from NJ requires the teamsters to change drivers or similar nonsense at the State line or payment of additional fees to the Union and then add in the national boondoggles such as Buy America, Ship America and Fly America rules etc. Buy America especially limits innovation as many suppliers are eliminated from the market as they do not want the hassle of having to set up in the US and comply with the rules. Case in point, we were trying to specify three points locks for cross passage doors that would be subject to repetitive piston forces from passing trains, the preferred locks were from a UK manufacturer, no US manufacturer supplied such locks, the doors were from Canada, so the supplier ended up buying a lock firm in Virginia, importing the locks in pieces with the doors and then “manufacturing” the finished assembly in the US. IM currently working on a project where the TBM on its way from Germany has been delayed by a month as the US flagged ships required to be used are currently transporting ammunition and weapons to Ukraine…….

    US costs will never be as low as others around the world. Salaries are higher, real estate is more expensive, procurements are drawn out and costly, contracts are stacked against the contractor so risk is baked into the price, low price awards reward the contractor who gambles the most but then the outcome costs is usually no less than taking the median bidder with all the change orders that will accrue, design build is a joke its all about risk transfer to the contractor while retaining an absolute right to determine what gets built, agencies are staffed with jobsworths, engineers who are more interested in their retirement benefits than getting the best project, politicians interfere to less than ideal projects built, the legacy of the appalling planning over the last 50 years in splitting neighborhoods with elevated interstates, Consultants produce endless reports at the request of owners who cant make a decisions and the consultants see a cash cow rather than just saying here’s the conclusion. The destruction of the previous rail ROW for profit for example the Lackawanna cutoff in NJ was purchased by a local developer for use as a cheap source of excavated fill for future projects, it cost NJ Transit a fortune to buy it back from him despite the fact he paid peanuts for it many years ago. What I have seen is that for example tunnel construction costs, ie excavation and lining are not that different across the industry irrespective of what the tunnel is for, a CSO tunnel is not much different in costs than say a highway tunnel. When we estimate the costs for a tunnel, the final use is not really considered, a EPB TBM costs the same irrespective of the final tunnel use. The costs are higher than other countries but that’s usually a function of labor and material costs, although there are regional variations, a tunnel in NY will always be more expensive than one in Cleveland for example because of the regional cost variations. Where things get expensive are in open cut excavations in urban areas and in the final fit outs.

    Conversely absent a complete change in the legal and procurement framework in the US there’s not much that can be imported unless an owner is prepared to take a risk. In the utility market some owners are developing much more interesting approaches to design, procurement and contracting, although these tend to be the private utilities who are not beholden to the State and Federal funding and procurement guidelines. So there may be hope but it will not be fast and it will never be country and sector wide.

    • adirondacker12800

      the legacy of the appalling planning over the last 50 years in splitting neighborhoods with elevated interstates
      It’s been more than 50 years. 90 years ago they were busy building the IND because the Els didn’t have enough capacity, were noisy, dirty and darkened the street. While they are busy building elevated highways which are noisy, dirty and darkened the street. There’s a promotional film for the West Side Highway where someone exclaims that they are building it strong enough that someday it can be double decked ! ! I have no idea where they expected all those cars to park.

      it cost NJ Transit a fortune to buy it back
      WIkipedia says it was 21 million dollars. Wikipedia also says Conrail didn’t want to sell it to the state too.
      They built the whole thing in ten years and NJTransit has been fooling around with getting to Andover for longer than that. I suspect it has cost more to fight the environmental lawsuits that restoration of service has brought. My favorite one is that restoring the culvert that has been clogged since soon after abandonment would drain a wetland. That wouldn’t be there if the Cutoff had never been built or had been maintained.

      • Tunnelvision

        I used to live about 1/4 mile from the Lackawanna cut off 2004 to 2018 and in all that time they have been trying to get to Andover, they cleared the trackbed from Port Morris to the first road crossing, put the track down and then left it for years …. still at least they had somewhere to store all the flooded trains after Sandy thanks to those tracks…. and they have just awarded the rehab for the Roseville tunnel 6 years after the first time they advertised that contract, that I am aware of…. still $21m is not exactly chump change and its a good job the developer had not started to use the fill as he intended……. the problem with going to Andover is you still have to change trains in Dover if you want a decent connection to Penn so its hardly going to help with the commute until they sort out those transfers. I remember being incredibly frustrated that the HTown train used to lead the Mid Town express from Denville into Dover and had departed before the ME arrived in Dover, the next train being 1.5 hrs later. Incompetent is not a fitting word for NJ Transit.

        • adirondacker12800

          I have an Official Guide from 1956. The schedule. west of Dover, sucked in the past too. There was a thread about how service to Hoboken sucks, since MidTown direct opened. Someone rummaged around for a pre re-electrification schedule. There are more trains to Hoboken today….which was years ago, Who knows what it is now but it’s still likely better.
          …. move out to the countryside where there aren’t many people there aren’t going to be very many trains. Because there aren’t many people. That’s too bad.

    • Matthew Hutton

      To be fair if this wasn’t true the American metro systems wouldn’t be worse than London, Paris, Moscow, Beijing, Singapore, Santiago, Barcelona etc. etc.

      I mean I really can’t believe the people working at the MTA aren’t at least partially train nerds and are embarrassed how bad the New York subway is. So you’d expect at least some progress to have been made.

  12. Alex Cat3

    It’s called the momentum program because the trains are way too heavy and take forever to stop!

  13. Mark Taylor

    So, apart from moaning about it and perhaps emailing a couple of members of Congress, what’s to be done? Has anyone tried actually contacting Buttegieg himself to say that this is an area in which the US can learn lots from elsewhere if he really wants to make a difference?

  14. Pingback: 153 – The Sound of God Jr. Screaming Has Been Removed
  15. Ted McGovern

    The fact Buttigieg did this tells you everything you need to know about his understanding of the world. Then again, Butti took 6 weeks of paternity leave to pose for photos in a hospital bed during a national seaport crisis. I spent two years in Japan and have traveled all over the world. I was stunned as a teenager/early twenties adult by the stark obsolescence of the U.S.’s quality, speed, reliability and functionality of railways, busses and other public transportation systems in contrast to, well, EVERYBODY. Butti obviously still doesn’t understand this, so he is the proverbial fat guy with a chicken wing stuck to his face, as our Transportation Secretary.

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