Tag Archives: Paris

Why U.S. Air Transportation Policy is Anti-Santa

Watch this video:

Now consider the following:

  1. WestJet is a Canadian airline.
  2. This would seem to be yet one more example of a foreign airline providing superior service relative to U.S. domestic airlines.
  3. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. law has long-banned foreign air carriers from serving solely domestic routes, thus:

Air France could not carry a Los Angeles-originating passenger on a one-way flight from LA to New York. However, it could carry the passenger from LA to New York if the passenger had a through Air France ticket to Paris and, following a stopover in New York, boarded another Air France flight to Paris.

Ergo, an outdated protectionist measure may be keeping you from the best flight ever.

Local control over transportation: good in principle but not being practiced

State and local governments know their transportation needs better than Washington D.C. But that doesn’t mean that state and local governments are necessarily more efficient or less prone to public choice problems when it comes to funding projects, and some of that is due to the intertwined funding streams that make up a transportation budget.

Emily Goff at The Heritage Foundation finds two such examples in the recent transportation bills passed in Virginia and Maryland.

Both Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley propose raising taxes to fund new transit projects. In Virginia the state will eliminate the gas tax and replace it with an increase in the sales tax. This is a move away from a user-based tax to a more general source of taxation, severing the connection between those who use the roads and those who pay. The gas tax is related to road use; sales taxes are barely related. There is a much greater chance of political diversion of sales tax revenues to subsidized transit projects: trolleys, trains and bike paths, rather than using revenues for road improvements.

Maryland reduces the gas tax by five cents to 18.5 cents per gallon and imposes a new wholesale tax on motor fuels.

How’s the money being spent? In Virginia 42 percent of the new sales tax revenues will go to mass transit with the rest going to highway maintenance. As Goff notes this means lower -income southwestern Virginians will subsidize transit for affluent northern Virginians every time they make a nonfood purchase.

As an example, consider Arlington’s $1 million dollar bus stop. Arlingtonians chipped in $200,000 and the rest came from the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). It’s likely with a move to the sales tax, we’ll see more of this. And indeed, according to Arlington Now, there’s a plan for 24 more bus stops to compliment the proposed Columbia Pike streetcar, a light rail project that is the subject of a lively local debate.

Revenue diversions to big-ticket transit projects are also incentivized by the states trying to come up with enough money to secure federal grants for Metrorail extensions (Virginia’s Silver Line to Dulles Airport and Maryland’s Purple Line to New Carrolton).

Truly modernizing and improving roads and mass transit could be better achieved by following a few principles.

  • First, phase out federal transit grants which encourage states to pursue politically-influenced and costly projects that don’t always address commuters’ needs. (See the rapid bus versus light rail debate).
  • Secondly, Virginia and Maryland should move their revenue system back towards user-fees for road improvements. This is increasingly possible with technology and a Vehicle Miles Tax (VMT), which the GAO finds is “more equitable and efficient” than the gas tax.
  • And lastly, improve transit funding. One way this can be done is through increasing farebox recovery rates. The idea is to get transit fares in line with the rest of the world.

Interestingly, Paris, Madrid, and Tokyo have built rail systems at a fraction of the cost of heavily-subsidized projects in New York, Boston, and San Francisco. Stephen Smith, writing at Bloomberg, highlights that a big part of the problem in the U.S. are antiquated procurement laws that limit bidders on transit projects and push up costs. These legal restrictions amount to real money. French rail operator SNCF estimated it could cut $30 billion off of the proposed $68 billion California light rail project. California rejected the offer and is sticking with the pricier lead contractor.





When Local Fiscal Troubles Turn Into a Miscarriage of Justice

A sad and sordid NPR story caught my ear.

As Thanksgiving approached three years ago, the Richardson family of Clarksville, Texas, had gathered to celebrate. Around 10:30 PM, their celebrations were abruptly interrupted when police charged through the door and arrested brothers Vergil and Mark Richardson and their half-brother, Kevin Calloway.

It turns out that unbeknownst to Vergil (the owner of the home), Kevin had been dealing drugs out of a shed in the back of the property.

There were a number of problems with the case, however. For one thing, the bust was executed before a search warrant had been signed. Moreover, there was no evidence that either Vergil or Mark Richardson knew anything about Kevin Calloway’s extralegal activities. (Calloway had confessed and said he was the only one responsible for his actions.)

Eventually, these facts came to light and Vergil and Mark Richardson sued the DA, the sheriff and the Clarksville police department in a $2 million civil rights lawsuit.

Given the mishandling of the case, the state’s attorney general office elected to drop the charges (“in the interest of justice”). Then things got really weird: the judge refused to let them do so.

State Judge John Miller refused to accept the attorney general’s decision to drop the case. The ruling was so unusual that it lifted legal heads around the state.

But the judge was just getting started. He told defense lawyers that he intended to replace the attorney general’s office and appoint a new special prosecutor, someone who would agree to prosecute all of the members of the Richardson family, not just their half-brother Calloway.

What was behind the judge’s unusual decision? One explanation may be race. The brothers are black while the judge is white. But one reporter has another theory:

Bill Hankins, a reporter for The Paris News in nearby Paris, Texas, who has been covering the story closely, thinks this case is about more than just race.

“You know, [Red River County] is a poor county … and I think … [Miller is] concerned about the lawsuit eating up funds that they don’t have,” he says.

Read the whole story.

Chasing French Chefs out of France

The French bureaucracy is notorious for being one of the most onerous and challenging to navigate of developed countries. Those in favor of the current system explain that it helps to maintain tradition and the French way of life, known for its emphasis on fine wine and food — the country where the Slow Food movement was instituted.

However, in the ultimate of unintended consequences, Susan Stamberg on Morning Edition reports that the complex legal environment may be pushing many of France’s best chefs and restaurateurs to take their services to countries that are more hospitable toward businesses. Author Michael Steinberger explains:

Bread, wine and cheese makers have all faced problems, and high taxes and bureaucracy make running a restaurant so difficult that many of Paris’s top young chefs have defected to London or New York.

Instead of the traditional haute cuisine for which French chefs are known, many of the country’s entrepreneurs are instead moving toward bistronomy in restaurants that serve quality food in a more casual and affordable setting. Rather than protecting the French way of life, bureaucrats may be helping their traditions spread to other parts of the world and creating opportunities for new, less “French” businesses at home.

“If you have a decent job, do what you’re supposed to do with your money, save your pennies, and pay off your bills, you can have the world by the tail in Flint.”

Recently, Bob Nelson discussed plans to bulldoze sections of Flint, Michigan to shrink the city to make up for declining population. San Franciscan Gordon Young discusses in Slate why he’s giving up the Paris of the West to buy a house in Flint:

As the veteran of a brutal San Francisco home-buying odyssey, there’s no denying the appeal of a place where desperate Realtors sometimes offer up houses by the dozen. But this is more than a quest for cheap housing. I have an almost unhealthy attachment to Flint. I want to do something—anything—to help my hometown. Maybe a “summer place” in what has been ranked one of America’s most depressing cities can pump a little life into the local economy. And I fear that after 15 years in San Francisco—sometimes described as 49 square miles surrounded on all sides by reality—I’m losing touch with my roots, drifting uncomfortably far from the factory town my grandparents moved to at the turn of the 20th century.

Read the whole thing here. Young blogs at flintexpats.com.