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Finding your way: Public Transit and Uber

Uber has been disruptive in many ways.  One way, which has been a great disappointment, is the effect on public transit systems.  It was once hoped that ride hailing would provide an assist to public transit, as a gateway to abandoning car ownership.  There have also been hopes that suburban commuters would use ride-hailing as their connection to public-transit which is not accessible by walking in these areas.  Multiple studies have confirmed these hopes have largely not materialized, and public-transit has been weakened.

Cities have reacted, mostly by putting barriers to ride-hailing growth.  Sometimes they are collecting extra fees, sometimes placing new requirements.  But mostly these efforts don't do much to change the relationship between ride-hailing and public-transit.

I work with a local group that spends time thinking about automated car policy, how to get the most good and the least bad.  We've discussed a proposal that fits ride-hailing, in the here and now, just …
Recent posts

The wrong approach to affordability

A Chicago Alderman just demonstrated why trying to solve affordability at a local level works poorly at best.  Alderman Maldonado down zoned a collection of properties to "combat gentrification".  On it's own, that would be the worst solution as it's decreasing available housing, which will only push up the prices of the remaining housing.  There's a small silver lining in that he claimed this was a negotiating tactic to push more affordable housing into development plans.

The problem here is, that while affordable housing is a great goal, this is a poor way of getting it.  It's not necessary to negotiate for it if you act in a comprehensive way, because you can simply legislate the requirements.  Legislating creates a predictable and equal environment for development.  Negotiating creates friction, uncertainty and is at risk of being arbitrary.  The developers who succeed in such an environment are often going to be that are best at bending the politicians i…

How to make housing affordable

Housing costs in many areas across the States have been rising quickly.  One of the major causes is restrictive zoning that keeps housing in short supply, allowing demand to push prices higher.  Two weeks ago Oregon passed a bill with similarities to the failed California SB50.  This bill takes a statewide response to zoning, upzoning many single family areas to automatically allow higher density housing (quadplexes).

It's a fairly amazing development that other states (and cities) should pay close attention to.  Localizing zoning is a fine idea when the concerns are truly local, but when it comes to housing costs, the effects are much more regional.  Left to business as usual, zoning changes at a pace that does not accommodate demand.  Worse yet, when zoning changes it's often only can occur via a backroom deal, which privileges developers with access, ability, and willingness to manipulate the systems.

When a developer spends 1 year planning a project, prices go up.  Part of…

Is it only California?

The Economist ran a special report last week comparing Texas and California strengths and weaknesses.  What's unavoidably obvious is that many of California's weaknesses stem from housing affordability.
The finances of their schools are severely hampered by 50% higher salaries for teachers.  That's not largesse, it's driven by the higher cost of housing.  Teachers in California need that money to afford to live there.Net migration is negative (though population is still growing), and the overriding factor here appears to be housing costs.California spends a lot to help it's low-income population, almost 120% more money than Texas per person, yet still ends up with only a marginally lower rate of poverty after transfers despite a much higher average wage.  Housing explains about 80% of the higher cost of living that negates California's more substantial efforts to have less poverty. So, if you care about any of these issues, you should ask, are high property valu…

Incentives and Balance

A number of times recently, while having a discussion about a policy with friends or acquaintances, the regressivity of a policy has been raised as a concern.  In one case it was gas tax, in another a carbon tax, in another a bag fee.

Does being regressive make a policy bad?  While I agree, it is a point against, it's not the final decision point.  A policy should be looked at in terms of its larger context. 

While it's hard to justify putting additional burdens on those with less, a policy can be enacted within a context of policies that overall lighten the burden.  It's beneficial to do so when the policy has net benefits.  For example, a basic carbon tax is regressive; the poor as a percentage of their income are more dependent on gasoline and energy.  But if a carbon tax is enacted within the context of a equal direct cash payment, the overall effect is progressive.

It's also important to recognize that distribution can be the smaller question, even if it's alw…

Messaging, Recycling, Headlines

Being involved in an activist group, being (I think) highly rational, and being somewhat resistant to becoming part of social collectives, messaging is something that comes up often.  So reading On Left Straussianism from the Point did stoke up thoughts.

I'll disagree with one part right off.  This isn't all about elitism.  Talking about messaging doesn't only have to involve elites.  It's small group/large group, but it's not always about level of education, it's often about intensity of connection.  When "messaging" in public, the bandwidth is limited, especially in terms of feedback loops.  If someone misunderstands your message, it's hard to correct.  Attention wavers, so key distinctions can be lost.  And then there's the telephone game.  Those dynamics are true no matter what level of education your public has.

A second distinction, before you even start to talk about withholding or twisting the truth, we should think first about caution…

Exceptional harms

California was pursuing a new transit oriented development bill, SB50. It morphed into a general housing bill, before being killed by a powerful Senator. His arguments, shared by other LA residents, was that they didn't want local control taken away.

On the surface, that sounds reasonable, who doesn't like more direct democratic processes? But local zoning has failed to address the problems the bill targets, and it is predictable that it will continue to fail, so long as political engagement maintains its current form. In many places, city-by-city control could work, but California is such a jigsaw of localities that each city has incentives to keep following business as usual, which means, zoning restrictions to prop up property values, which inevitably lead to housing shortages and unsustainable costs for anyone who isn't getting the land value windfall.

Even those getting the windfall are trapped into non-optimal decisions by housing immobility. That immobility has be…