The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Pricing in externalities

Uber, the ride-sharing company that pretends it isn't a ride-sharing company, has started a massive PR campaign against the city of Chicago because Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants them to pay for the damage they're causing to the commons.

Let's unpack all of that.

Lightfoot has proposed a $3 tax on ride-sharing trips into the Loop, Near North, Lincoln Park, and other affluent areas, and a smaller tax on trips out of the center city, because trips in and out of those areas cause several kinds of damage to the city's infrastructure. This is the definition of "negative externalities." In fact, Uber's and Lyft's pricing model has caused the following problems:

  • A glut of cars on the road during rush hour, with all the emissions and traffic they cause;
  • Reduced public-transit ridership and revenue, which disproportionately harms less-affluent users;
  • The destruction of the regulated taxi industry in Chicago, including thousands of bankruptcies due to taxi medallions losing more than two-thirds their value since 2014; and
  • The enrichment of Uber's officers and shareholders on the backs of underpaid Uber drivers.

Lightfoot's tax will increase the cost of a trip from Lincoln Park to Chicago by $3. If that pushes people to use public transit instead, we win. If people pay the tax, we win. If Uber's board take home less money, that's a neutral result we can all cheer anyway.

Compared with the way London, for example, has dealt with the environmental damage of cars in the central city, Uber's getting off easy in Chicago.

But of course, having gotten very rich through exploitation of other people, they don't see i that way. (Why are billionaires so whiny these days? Even Carnegie built libraries.)

Because we don't have Satanic mills employing thousands of 9-year-old orphans any more, it's hard to see the direct similarities between companies like Uber and companies like those portrayed in Dickens novels. But guess what? They're fundamentally the same. And Lightfoot's tax is only the first, modest step in Chicago government making life better for everyone in the city in the aggregate. The people complaining the most about the Uber tax are the people to whom $3 hardly matters. You can tell because $3 is more than the price of a CTA ride, and less than the current cost of an Uber ride.

If some Uber shareholders have to suffer a little so that people on the South and West Sides can get to work more reliably, I'm OK with that.

So sorry I'm missing this

It's rush hour in Chicago right now, where commuters are slogging through snow and -5°C temperatures as the second significant winter storm pushes through the area.

And I feel for them. But here in London, it's 9°C and sunny, so one doesn't even need a coat to go out for lunch.

I also had the presence of mind to park in the $17-a-day garage instead of the $19-a-day outside parking lot at O'Hare, which will add 5 minutes to my trip from Terminal 5 to my car and save 15 minutes shoveling it out.

Sometimes I can plan ahead effectively.

How does one pack for this?

We have pretty normal autumn weather in Chicago right now, in that it's gray and cold with temperatures about 3°C below normal. Friday morning, when I fly out, temperatures will fall to 10°C below normal and then 13°C below normal when I get back Tuesday.

We have this ridiculous late-autumn chill because of climate change. Warm air over Greenland and the Grand Banks has distorted the circumpolar jet stream into an omega shape, bringing the Arctic to Canada and the central US and bringing California to Alaska. Check out the map.

I'll just have to drive to O'Hare and leave a winter coat in my car, I suppose.

O'Hare's "interim fly quiet" plan

Chicago has the world's 6th busiest airport, with hundreds of thousands of aviation operations every year. Naturally the people who live nearby get an earful. I live about 16 km east of the approach end of runway 28C, the preferred landing runway from destinations south and west of Chicago. Even though the planes are about 4,000 feet up when they cross the lakefront, I can still hear them well enough to tell them apart by sound. (No machine in the world sounds like a 747, I assure you.)

Starting today, the airport will use a rotating arrangement of landing and departing runways for nighttime operations (10pm to 7am). Despite its name, the "interim fly quiet" plan won't actually reduce aggregate noise emissions. It'll just spread them around more evenly:

Currently, O’Hare uses just the parallel, east-west runways at night. The so-called “Interim Fly Quiet” plan will mix in diagonal runways, so an east-west runway will be used one week, then a diagonal runway the next, then back to east-west, with adjustments made depending on weather and other factors.

It will mean more noise for suburbs like Des Plaines, to the northwest of the airport, while areas more directly east or west, such as Bensenville and some North Side Chicago neighborhoods, will get less.

Note that this only applies to nighttime operations, when planes land about every 10 minutes. During peak hours, O'Hare brings them in on two parallel runways at 90-second intervals. When runway 9C/27C opens soon, it will be possible for O'Hare to land one plane a minute on 3 parallel runways.

Music in the Neighborhood

It was a lovely afternoon for a concert. We performed selections from Händel's Messiah, Rachmaninoff's Aleko, and Bach's St John Passion in the gorgeous St Michael Catholic Church in Old Town, Chicago:

Inside, just before the concert:

Our next performances will be with Chicago Opera Theater on the 14th, 16th, and 17th. Then some of us will be back at St Michael for Messiah on December 6th.

It's going to be a hectic couple of months.

Fwoomp

On Wednesday night it snowed, and the temperature spent several hours below freezing. That caused this to happen:

Those leaves fell en masse from a linden tree in my neighborhood. Which means they won't fall in two weeks when they're bright yellow.

Most of the trees in my neighborhood, and the ivy covering my own building, dropped all their leaves the morning after the snowstorm. So we don't really get an autumn this year. And that makes me sad.

Nature, sometimes you suck.

Where's my flying car?

It's the first day of November 2019, the month in which the 1982 classic film Blade Runner takes place. Los Angeles has a bit of haze today from wildfires in the area, but I'm glad to report that it isn't the environmental disaster portrayed in the movie. No flying cars, no replicants, and no phone booths either.

In other news:

Happy November!

Backfield in motion

That's American for the English idiom "penny in the air." And what a penny. More like a whole roll of them.

Right now, the House of Commons are wrapping up debate on the Government's bill to prorogue Parliament (for real this time) and have elections the second week of December. The second reading of the bill just passed by voice vote (the "noes" being only a few recalcitrant MPs), so the debate continues. The bill is expected to pass—assuming MPs can agree on whether to have the election on the 9th, 11th, or 12th of December. Regardless, that means I'll be in London during the first weekend of the election campaign, and I'm elated.

Meanwhile, a whole bunch of other things made the news in the last day:

  • Writing for the New Yorker, Sam Knight argues that before Boris Johnson became PM, it was possible to imagine a Brexit that worked for the UK. Instead, Johnson has poisoned UK politics for a generation.
  • Presidents Trump and Obama came to Chicago yesterday, but only one of the personally insulted us. Guess which one.
  • That one also made top military officers squirm yesterday when he released classified information about our assassination of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, including a photograph of the dog injured in the raid. The dog's name remained classified, even as it seemed clear that he was a very good boy.
  • Grinnell College in Iowa released polling data today showing just how much people don't like President Trump. Moreover, 80% of those polled thought a presidential candidate seeking election help from a foreign government was unacceptable. Adam Schiff cracking his knuckles could be heard all the way to the Grinnell campus.
  • An appellate court in North Carolina ruled that the election maps drawn up by the Republican Party unfairly gerrymander a Republican majority, and must be re-drawn for the 2020 election.
  • Grubhub's share price crashed today after the company released a written statement ahead of its earnings call later this week. The company made $1.0 million on $322.1 million in revenue during the 3rd quarter, and projected a loss for the 4th quarter.
  • The City of Atlanta decided not to pay ransom to get their computers working again, in order to reduce the appeal of ransomware attacks.

Finally, it looks like it could snow in Chicago on Thursday. Color me annoyed.

Three quick links

First, former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, who appears entirely too deeply integrated in the President's impeachable offenses to get out without an indictment, and who also owns what he calls a "security consulting service," butt-dialed an NBC reporter. Twice. And the resulting voicemails were...interesting.

Second, how exactly did Justice Brett Kavanaugh pay for his house in 2006? He seems to have gotten almost $250,000 from some undisclosed source.

Finally, the City of Chicago will raise taxes on ride-shares because they cost the city a lot of money. A new report shows that Uber and Lyft have significantly raised traffic levels and delayed buses since their arrival in 2014.

Happy Friday!

Things to think about while running a 31-minute calculation

While my work computer chews through slightly more than a million calculations in a unit test (which I don't run in CI, in case you (a) were wondering and (b) know what that means), I have a moment to catch up:

The first 30-minute calculation is done, and now I'm on to the second one. Then I can resume writing software instead of testing it.