Crazy Transit Pitches

Wash

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In Edinburgh, tourist busses (think: Old Town Trolley Tours) are operated by the local public transit operator, not a private tour company (although the tour bus routes run with their own dedicated equipment and tour guides). This offers several concrete and several more theoretical advantages over the way the bus networks currently work. Here's a few reasons why the T should purchase Old Town Trolley Tours.

Definite advantages to this system in Edinburgh:
1: Tourist busses board passengers at handicap-accessible regular city bus stops, making for a better experience for tourists (and making transfers between tourist and non-tourist busses unbelievably convenient; see advantage #3).
2: Tourist busses show up just like regular routes on information signs at said bus stops (and in Boston would show up on the Transit app or similar).
3: Tourist bus tickets are valid on the rest of the bus and tram network in Edinburgh (although I'm reasonably sure they're classified as a "premium service" so riding one costs more than a regular non-tourist bus). This gets tourists "in the door" of the public transit system and makes it easier for them to decide to take public transit during the rest of their stay in Edinburgh, since they already learned how to use the bus network when they were figuring out how to take their tour.
4: Tourist bus routes might actually be practical for locals to ride in some cases. Making it possible to ride them with a regular farecard makes this process easier.

Possible advantages of such a system existing in Boston:
1: The T would gain an important source of revenue. With folks warry of raising taxes to pay for the system and the federal money pipeline less reliable than ever (especially given the unwillingness of the most recent Republican administration to hand out money to Democratic states), giving the T a source of revenue independent from either of those two funding sources is of vital importance. Granted, catering to tourists is not the most reliable source of income in the world (see: the past 18 months), but income is income (especially when rainy day funds exist).
2: The T could gain some efficiencies over a private operator. In Edinburgh, the tour busses are just regular double-decker city busses with the roof chopped off so that tourists can ride in the open air. I doubt a New Flyer would be suitable for such a conversion, but even still, a larger operation can realize efficiency thanks to economies of scale.
2: Drivers and employees currently working for Old Town would get better jobs. Providing that all of this can be worked out with Boston Carmen's 589 (one of the major sticking points for this idea and why it's in Crazy Transit Pitches), hundreds of mechanics, drivers and tour guides would come under the protection of a powerful union, and enjoy better wages, hours and working conditions.

An actual economist with actual numbers would have to actually see if it would actually be possible for the T to make money on the deal, and an actual labor negotiator would have to sit down and work everything out with Local 589, but there's a good chance that an investment in tour busses could be a great investment for the T, the city, and the State of Massachusetts.
 

Brattle Loop

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I think it's a great way to start getting our public transportation in this state to be free. Going by city each paying the cost for their residents is a very Massachusetts solution. Obviously if there was a greater Boston region governed on its own where the subway and buses operate within that area it could be done in one but that's not the case. Once some cities and towns start with giving their residents free T passes others will eventually jump on board out of jealousy and/or see how it helps with lessening traffic on roads and slowing the need for maintenance of the roads. We need to start somewhere to get ourselves to free Public Transit and this is the start or we can just argue about the outcome without giving solutions like us Massholes do.
Friendly neighborhood cynic here, come to dump cold water on yet more optimism 🙃 but I think you're underestimating the byzantine - and frankly sometimes bizarre -mess that is local politics here. Anywhere outside the reach of the subway lines the calculus for municipally-subsidized fares is very different from within what is effectively fare zone 1A. That's a result of both the lower-quality service (CR frequencies < RT frequencies) and the CR's rapidly-escalating cost-over-distance fare zone structure. In the CR belt, you'd very likely be talking much higher costs per rider, for a significantly-smaller population that would benefit. That's not a formula that tends to be politically successful, something which does double in the gadfly-strewn NIMBY-mania that is some town politics. Boston, Cambridge, Somerville, maybe Brookline (though that's dicey) could probably have a critical mass of people in line to benefit (and people politically inclined to support it even if they don't personally benefit) but I question whether a good number of the other cities and towns in the district would go for it. That doesn't mean that the cities I mentioned shouldn't consider municipal subsidies for their own benefits, but the idea of it as a chain-reaction way of achieving the goal of no-fare-on-entry strikes me as highly unlikely to be successful.

As for the homeless they would just need to provide proof of residency like every other service from MassHealth to Food stamps to other local services that require it. An ID can be hard to get for the homeless but there are other ways to prove your residency. Heck that's another thing that should be free as it's needed so often State IDs.
This speaks to why a town-by-town solution is inherently less desirable than a radical policy shift at the state level. It's bureaucratic hoops to jump through that, even if you make it as easy as humanly possible, is still harder than being able to enter without trouble because there's no faregates. It would also fail to help boost use of the system by tourists (by definition not residents) and would be complicated for commuting workers and students, who you want to incentivize to not drive, but who would have to hope they were living in a town that chose to subsidize.

I'll reiterate my contention that while these proposals are not bad, they have significant drawbacks compared to doing it properly. It makes them worth consideration as interim steps if they have sufficient value on their own merits, but I don't agree that it's a way to bootstrap our way to a policy change on the statewide level, because I don't think it can reach the necessary critical mass.
 

Brattle Loop

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In Edinburgh, tourist busses (think: Old Town Trolley Tours) are operated by the local public transit operator, not a private tour company (although the tour bus routes run with their own dedicated equipment and tour guides). This offers several concrete and several more theoretical advantages over the way the bus networks currently work. Here's a few reasons why the T should purchase Old Town Trolley Tours.

Definite advantages to this system in Edinburgh:
1: Tourist busses board passengers at handicap-accessible regular city bus stops, making for a better experience for tourists (and making transfers between tourist and non-tourist busses unbelievably convenient; see advantage #3).
2: Tourist busses show up just like regular routes on information signs at said bus stops (and in Boston would show up on the Transit app or similar).
3: Tourist bus tickets are valid on the rest of the bus and tram network in Edinburgh (although I'm reasonably sure they're classified as a "premium service" so riding one costs more than a regular non-tourist bus). This gets tourists "in the door" of the public transit system and makes it easier for them to decide to take public transit during the rest of their stay in Edinburgh, since they already learned how to use the bus network when they were figuring out how to take their tour.
4: Tourist bus routes might actually be practical for locals to ride in some cases. Making it possible to ride them with a regular farecard makes this process easier.

Possible advantages of such a system existing in Boston:
1: The T would gain an important source of revenue. With folks warry of raising taxes to pay for the system and the federal money pipeline less reliable than ever (especially given the unwillingness of the most recent Republican administration to hand out money to Democratic states), giving the T a source of revenue independent from either of those two funding sources is of vital importance. Granted, catering to tourists is not the most reliable source of income in the world (see: the past 18 months), but income is income (especially when rainy day funds exist).
2: The T could gain some efficiencies over a private operator. In Edinburgh, the tour busses are just regular double-decker city busses with the roof chopped off so that tourists can ride in the open air. I doubt a New Flyer would be suitable for such a conversion, but even still, a larger operation can realize efficiency thanks to economies of scale.
2: Drivers and employees currently working for Old Town would get better jobs. Providing that all of this can be worked out with Boston Carmen's 589 (one of the major sticking points for this idea and why it's in Crazy Transit Pitches), hundreds of mechanics, drivers and tour guides would come under the protection of a powerful union, and enjoy better wages, hours and working conditions.

An actual economist with actual numbers would have to actually see if it would actually be possible for the T to make money on the deal, and an actual labor negotiator would have to sit down and work everything out with Local 589, but there's a good chance that an investment in tour busses could be a great investment for the T, the city, and the State of Massachusetts.
After reading this proposal, I'll say this for it, it sounds more insane than it actually is. Don't get me wrong, it's still firmly in the right place here in Crazy Transit Pitches.

OTT itself is far larger than Boston, with operations in seven cities, and it's part of an even larger Florida-based tourism company. Despite the name, it's not an only-Boston local operator. Annoyingly that and the fact that it's not a public company makes it quite difficult to find any financials, so even an amateur non-economist would have a hard time even trying to look at the numbers. That's the hill on which this Crazy Transit Pitch goes to die, though. OTT-Boston is part of a much larger whole, and presumably (at least in non-pandemic times) a profitable part, meaning the only way you pry it out of its owners' hands is to pay the going rate for it, if they're even willing to sell at all. Even if they are, the premium you'd have to pay to 'compensate' them for taking a source of profit off their hands is going to do nothing to make the economics of such a deal look any more favorable to the state.

What information I can find (and its validity is questionable because privately held company finances are extremely hard to find) suggests that OTT's parent company has an annual revenue of something like $130-140 million, across all of its operations, not just OTT. That's something like roughly one-sixth of the MBTA's revenue from fares alone pre-pandemic, for the entire company; OTT-Boston's revenue would be a significantly-smaller slice of that number, and that's revenue, not profit. It's not nothing, but even with whatever efficiencies you could find in economies of scale (and does the desirability of a tourist ride change if the vehicle's basically just a transit bus where it wasn't before?) plus the worker-but-not-MBTA benefit of presumably higher-paying jobs under the Carmen's Union, the actual additional revenue is not likely to be particularly significant. On top of that, you'd be asking a transit agency to run what amounts to a side business outside of its core competence in a competitive market with a very different customer base. Meaning it's distinctly possible that it gets botched (raise your hand if you see money earmarked for the "frivolous" trolley tour operation re-directed to track maintenance or some politicians' favored expansion, leading competing operators - remember, the transit system does not have same-mode-and-market competitors in the same way that OTT does - to corner the market and, whoops, there goes the profits that were the purpose of doing this.

Get an economist and some operations people to say the benefits pan out (I don't think they will say it, but I've been wrong before) and I'll reconsider, but, at the moment, I'm thinking this one should stay here where it belongs as a Crazy Transit Pitch.

EDIT: In case it's not clear, I spent most of the time writing this grinning like a madman. I think it's crazy, but I love how out of the box an idea it is, which is what makes this thread so fun. So thank you, Wash, for providing some excellent fodder for discussion, I mean that absolutely sincerely.
 

Wash

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In case it's not clear, I spent most of the time writing this grinning like a madman. I think it's crazy...
Why thank you.

On top of that, you'd be asking a transit agency to run what amounts to a side business outside of its core competence in a competitive market with a very different customer base.
The thing is the two customer bases are...not that different. The same tourists that are riding Old Town Trolleys could also be taking the subway to the Aquarium, or to Stone Zoo, or the Fenway Park or Harvard University, or at the very minimum back to Logan to get their flight home. Granted, not every MBTA customer rides the tourist busses, but almost every tourist bus rider is a potential MBTA customer. If this were a Venn diagram, it would be two circles inside each other.

That's one of the reasons the system in Edinburgh is so brilliant; in addition to being a cash cow for the transit operator, the tourist busses are enormous billboards for the rest of the transit system.

The rest of your concerns about mismanagement, etc. are perfectly valid, especially in the land of Mr. Bulger's Transit Agency. Whether or not government should run profitable businesses is a political argument with pros and cons on both sides.
 
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Wash

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Get an economist and some operations people to say the benefits pan out
One hundred percent agreed. I think you've made some fairly convincing arguments that the T would end up loosing money on the deal, but the numbers *just might work*.
 
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Wash

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Other potential funding sources for the T (that would have the secondary benefit of improving regional connectivity and allowing the T to work more holistically as "The agency that gets you where you're going in the Boston Area"):

1) Taxis. Transport for London operates every Taxi in the city of London. Buying a taxi company (right now they're cheap!) would have a good deal of advantages, especially since the T already operates what is essentially a taxi service (the RIDE).

2) Bike share. Want fare integration between BlueBikes and the T? Just have the T buy BlueBikes.

3) Harbor Cruises. The T subcontracts operation of its ferries to a couple of private operators. Why not buy out one of the smaller ones (Mass Bay Lines)? Similar benefits to an Old Town Trolley Tours aquisition.
 

Brattle Loop

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The thing is the two customer bases are...not that different. The same tourists that are riding Old Town Trolleys could also be taking the subway to the Aquarium, or to Stone Zoo, or the Fenway Park or Harvard University, or at the very minimum back to Logan to get their flight home. Granted, not every MBTA customer rides the tourist busses, but almost every tourist bus rider is a potential MBTA customer. If this were a Venn diagram, it would be two circles inside each other.
My comment was more aimed the other way. The MBTA's extant services are non-competitive (at least, not with the same mode) and don't require the same level of advertising and customer outreach. A tourist may well overlap with a transit user, in that we are in full agreement (and that is ideal compared to tourists in cars), but the mindsets are different. Every city I've visited as a tourist that has rail transit, I've ridden it while there. In, perhaps, two of them have I taken a bus tour. "Things for tourists to do" and "how to get places" are two different categories, and the "tourist attractions" one is enormously more competitive. OTT's current market is tourists who have numerous options for things to do, and no particular requirement that it involve a wheeled vehicle (other than personal preferences), and that wouldn't change if the owner's name on the door was the MBTA. Which means you have to advertise, you have to compete with other providers for customer attention and business in a way that a public transit agency typically doesn't. You have to have a very good feel for the prices the market will bear (and competitors who may try and undercut you with discounts, or a lower cost structure) and be able to respond quickly to market shifts. I worry that the T doesn't have the necessary skills to manage something so different as a product (it's operationally very similar) especially as a glorified side business/subsidiary.
(As a personal note, I would drop every one of my real-world objections and support this wholeheartedly if it meant OTT could do a version of their ghost tours in the subway, because the ambiance would be delightfully spooky in, say, a lightly-fixed-up Tremont tunnel south of Boylston. :cool:

1) Taxis. Transport for London operates every Taxi in the city of London. Buying a taxi company (right now they're cheap!) would have a good deal of advantages, especially since the T already operates what is essentially a taxi service (the RIDE).
Might help that ailing market compete better with the rideshares and ameliorate some of the losses from when medallion prices collapsed (though I take it NY had it even worse than we did). I kind of like the thought of integrating the taxi network with the MBTA system, in an ideal world you could plan (and with AFC 2.0, pay for) your transit trip plus arrange for a taxi for the last-mile from transit all in one app, with all the 'profit' from the taxis going straight back into public transportation. It's properly at home in Crazy Transit Pitches, but there's something worth considering here to be sure.

2) Bike share. Want fare integration between BlueBikes and the T? Just have the T buy BlueBikes.
Come to think of it, is it really that crazy for a transit agency to run bikeshares? Having BlueBikes as an explicit part and extension of the public transit system (as opposed to a separately-managed adjacent service) does sound like it could have some good upsides. Maybe there's some red flags I'm not seeing, but if not I'd almost call that in the vicinity of a Reasonable Transit Pitch.

3) Harbor Cruises. The T subcontracts operation of its ferries to a couple of private operators. Why not buy out one of the smaller ones (Mass Bay Lines)? Similar benefits to an Old Town Trolley Tours aquisition.
Probably best to keep this one separate. I'd prefer the T buy boats for its purposes and essentially sublease them to the operating contractor (either as a pure lessor or a boat-sharing system when ferry demand is lower). Marine regulations being what they are, there's a very specific and arcane set of requirements, operating procedures, and staffing considerations which are far more specialized than even OTT (which is essentially just commercial passenger drivers driving what are basically just fancy-bodied buses). Buying an operator wholesale (like with OTT) sort of ameliorates the concern in the first place, but you'd have to work to keep the sector-specific competency and institutional knowledge going or else you'll have problems. I'm instinctively against it for the same reason as I don't love the OTT idea; it'd be fine in the short term but going forward you'd have to ensure that marine-sector and tourist-sector experts, respectively, were put in charge of the two operating subsidiaries, and I just don't trust that the T would handle that properly. Put managers who've never had to hard-sell customers on the benefits of the product or who are unfamiliar with marine operating requirements in charge and you're asking for trouble. Still would be worth a study by the economist once they're done studying OTT.
 

donkeybutlers

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1) Taxis. Transport for London operates every Taxi in the city of London. Buying a taxi company (right now they're cheap!) would have a good deal of advantages, especially since the T already operates what is essentially a taxi service (the RIDE).
This is a great idea. It would definitely be both cheaper and provide better protections for workers than Uber etc. This also means even if the T shut down at night there would be a public transit option home. It might even put pressure on the T to open late night service on corridors where people needed the most rides if they were directly confronted with that data internally.
Might help that ailing market compete better with the rideshares and ameliorate some of the losses from when medallion prices collapsed (though I take it NY had it even worse than we did). I kind of like the thought of integrating the taxi network with the MBTA system, in an ideal world you could plan (and with AFC 2.0, pay for) your transit trip plus arrange for a taxi for the last-mile from transit all in one app, with all the 'profit' from the taxis going straight back into public transportation. It's properly at home in Crazy Transit Pitches, but there's something worth considering here to be sure.
I think this could be really efficient and convenient if done well and combined with an expanded bike share system could drastically reduce the need for parking at stations (Freeing up land for dense TOD). I could definitely see this being a popular service.
3) Harbor Cruises. The T subcontracts operation of its ferries to a couple of private operators. Why not buy out one of the smaller ones (Mass Bay Lines)? Similar benefits to an Old Town Trolley Tours aquisition.
If by Harbor cruises you mean the whale watching etc I would say agree this is probably better to keep separate from public transportation. But along with taxis it would be great to make water taxis public and expand ferry routes dramatically. The city is built around a harbor we can take far better advantage than we currently do in terms of public transit. This could actually be an example of something that could be extremely popular both for locals and for tourists, maybe even on the same routes, especially in the summer.

2) Bike share. Want fare integration between BlueBikes and the T? Just have the T buy BlueBikes.
Come to think of it, is it really that crazy for a transit agency to run bikeshares? Having BlueBikes as an explicit part and extension of the public transit system (as opposed to a separately-managed adjacent service) does sound like it could have some good upsides. Maybe there's some red flags I'm not seeing, but if not I'd almost call that in the vicinity of a Reasonable Transit Pitch.
The T hasn't always been great about making space for BlueBikes and they don't always line up as well as you'd hope: (see my post here) so I wonder if they would want it. The cities and towns who currently own it do seem intent on expansion. It has been growing every year, which I worry the T may not be quite as intent to continue, but that would probably change if it was theirs.

I have wondered what it could be if it were a state/regional program rather than a patchwork one though. It would be pretty amazing if like Salem now (but even better with fare integration) you could hop off the commuter rail in Worcester, or Lowell, or Brockton, etc. and hop on a bike that is all part of the same network, that is a lot of bang for your buck and would make day trips by rail even more appealing. Would really put the feather in the cap of a true regional rail system too with last mile connections. The current patchwork system also has serious downsides like the absence of Malden and Medford which makes a gap on the northwest side of the existing network and the lack of stations in any of the satellite cities besides Salem, even inner ones like Lynn and Quincy or large ones like Worcester.
 
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BeyondRevenue

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Okay, hear me out...
NSRL-Regional Rail gets added to the federal budget as yet another defense spending line item instead of being added to the scream inducing, hotly contested dumpster fire that is the general transportation budget.

On its merits, the Department of Defense has a bunch of properties here in the Commonwealth and a bunch of peripheral research centers (your DARPAs and what not) to connect to the rest of the east coast and the nation. Bodies and a lot of heavy equipment often need to move between them on the cheap.
The DoD is earnestly and tactically spending money on green/renewable fuel initiatives already.
Taxpayers already partially subsidize the bus and airline industry for this very reason.

And honestly, they spend money on crazier stuff! Why not Intramodal Ground Deployment Augmentation? Tactical Readiness Asset Mobility (TRAM) Initiative? Advanced Strategic Asset Positioning (ASAP)?
Put it under the Domestic Defense Capabilities Initiative (if it doesn't, exist it should). As long as 'transportation' or 'rail' aren't in the title, it has legs in the flyover states. I mean, who votes against defense spending, amirite? Ladies?
If it fails it will be because someone finally looked at the blank check defense budget. WIN!
It it passes, we might not hear about it until the shovels are in the ground. WIN!
Seth Moulton? Bill Keating? I'm looking at you here. It's a matter of NATIONAL SECURITY! 'MURCA!
 

Brattle Loop

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Okay, hear me out...
NSRL-Regional Rail gets added to the federal budget as yet another defense spending line item instead of being added to the scream inducing, hotly contested dumpster fire that is the general transportation budget.

On its merits, the Department of Defense has a bunch of properties here in the Commonwealth and a bunch of peripheral research centers (your DARPAs and what not) to connect to the rest of the east coast and the nation. Bodies and a lot of heavy equipment often need to move between them on the cheap.
The DoD is earnestly and tactically spending money on green/renewable fuel initiatives already.
Taxpayers already partially subsidize the bus and airline industry for this very reason.

And honestly, they spend money on crazier stuff! Why not Intramodal Ground Deployment Augmentation? Tactical Readiness Asset Mobility (TRAM) Initiative? Advanced Strategic Asset Positioning (ASAP)?
Put it under the Domestic Defense Capabilities Initiative (if it doesn't, exist it should). As long as 'transportation' or 'rail' aren't in the title, it has legs in the flyover states. I mean, who votes against defense spending, amirite? Ladies?
If it fails it will be because someone finally looked at the blank check defense budget. WIN!
It it passes, we might not hear about it until the shovels are in the ground. WIN!
Seth Moulton? Bill Keating? I'm looking at you here. It's a matter of NATIONAL SECURITY! 'MURCA!
I mean, I admire the audacity of this. It's quite amusing as a proposal because it sounds almost crazy enough to work.

That said, I don't think it would work, and I don't think it's a good idea. Part of that is that the Pentagon isn't particularly shy about its opposition to spending that it doesn't want; the stuff it jealously guards is stuff that it wants (regardless of whether it's sensible *cough*F-35*cough*). The military-industrial complex has no particular reason to start supporting what is essentially completely unrelated projects just because some Congresscritters happened to try and shove funding for them into the defense budget.

It doesn't mean it doesn't work, but the price tag on the NSRL is so high that people in DC are going to notice, and you're not going to be able to get the DoD to back it, in public, as a critical piece of national security infrastructure, because it really isn't. (If you wanted upgraded defense transportation rail capacity through to northern Massachusetts and points north, you'd eminent domain the Worcester Main from Pan Am and upgrade that.
 

guitarguynboston

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Im almost positive that it has been discussed some what before but what crazy transit project that would create a new subway line/color does everyone think would benefit Boston and the region the most?

The new subway line shouldnt be a branch or extension of any current lines, can not be conversion of the Silver Line to Subway, could or should hit two city centers on each end of the line that would serve an area that needs it and keep a balance on the current system without creating more chock points.

Our spoke and wheel is great and all but the new line could avoid the Boston core if like I said it could serve a city's needs while also maybe create a new way to reach an area without hurting and current lines.

Also what would the next color be. I hate how some cities have a blue line and a turquoise line. Maybe eventually we could drop the colors and revert back to our old numbers. and letters.

What's everyone think?
 

JumboBuc

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Other potential funding sources for the T (that would have the secondary benefit of improving regional connectivity and allowing the T to work more holistically as "The agency that gets you where you're going in the Boston Area"):

1) Taxis. Transport for London operates every Taxi in the city of London. Buying a taxi company (right now they're cheap!) would have a good deal of advantages, especially since the T already operates what is essentially a taxi service (the RIDE).
Have you seen The Ride's books? It is by far the most expensive mode in the T's system, with subsidies topping out at $40 per trip and averaging in the $20 - $30 range. One of the T's most effective cost-cutting and service-improving initiatives in recent years has been to offer users of The Ride the option to take Uber or Lyft instead, with the T chipping in to cover part of the cost. This has saved the T lots of money (paying for Ubers or Lyfts is cheaper than paying for trips on The Ride) and also improved the experience for users (Ubers and Lyfts are way more reliable and user-friendly than The Ride). And people who use Uber or Lyft in place of The Ride pay no more than they would pay to use The Ride itself.

Given it's current track record, no way the T could operate a taxi service that was price-competitive with the competition without losing a boatload of money.
2) Bike share. Want fare integration between BlueBikes and the T? Just have the T buy BlueBikes.
The current Bluebikes are jointly owned and managed by the cities of Boston, Brookline, Cambridge, Everett, and Somerville. The cities contract with Lyft (Motivate) to operate the system, and they do a good job! I can't imagine the T doing a better job of operating that system.

Why would the T want to mess with this? Setting up a parallel competing system makes no sense as it totally undercuts the value that comes from network effects. And transferring ownership from the cities to the T is just robbing Peter to pay Paul. Fare integration gets tricky as you need a credit card to provide the "collateral" behind renting a bike, and T fare media aren't set up like this.
3) Harbor Cruises. The T subcontracts operation of its ferries to a couple of private operators. Why not buy out one of the smaller ones (Mass Bay Lines)? Similar benefits to an Old Town Trolley Tours aquisition.
Why would the T be better at operating the ferries than their contracted operators are?
 

donkeybutlers

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Given it's current track record, no way the T could operate a taxi service that was price-competitive with the competition without losing a boatload of money.
This is likely at least in part due to who the ride serves, people with disabilities. This means slower loading and unloading of customers, larger vans with specific mobility features like lifts, etc. This would not apply the same way if, rather than only serving people with special needs, they served everyone. The fact that ride shares are more profitable than that type of service is obvious. It is like private/charter schools bragging about their success rate while simply pushing off any difficult students (behaviorally, physically, what ever) back into the public system. If the T provided all kinds of Taxi rides it could very well offset those costs and then some. London, which was given as an example does show this can work quite well.

Why would the T want to mess with this? Setting up a parallel competing system makes no sense as it totally undercuts the value that comes from network effects. And transferring ownership from the cities to the T is just robbing Peter to pay Paul. Fare integration gets tricky as you need a credit card to provide the "collateral" behind renting a bike, and T fare media aren't set up like this.
I don't think anyone suggested a competing system. That being said there is a clear advantage of the T owning it which you leave out: fare and physical integration. There are a stunning number of T stops without Bluebikes, I doubt that would be the same if the T ran it. But sure, there would likely be other problems given the current state of the T and as long as the cities and towns who own it keep expanding and improving it, it should probably stay in their hands.

Why would the T be better at operating the ferries than their contracted operators are?
Maybe privatizing aspects of services does not actually reduce costs (especially not for consumers), and public services that aren't being actively undermined to facilitate privatization can be extremely efficient.
 

JumboBuc

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This is likely at least in part due to who the ride serves, people with disabilities. This means slower loading and unloading of customers, larger vans with specific mobility features like lifts, etc. This would not apply the same way if, rather than only serving people with special needs, they served everyone. The fact that ride shares are more profitable than that type of service is obvious. It is like private/charter schools bragging about their success rate while simply pushing off any difficult students (behaviorally, physically, what ever) back into the public system. If the T provided all kinds of Taxi rides it could very well offset those costs and then some. London, which was given as an example does show this can work quite well.

I don't think anyone suggested a competing system. That being said there is a clear advantage of the T owning it which you leave out: fare and physical integration. There are a stunning number of T stops without Bluebikes, I doubt that would be the same if the T ran it. But sure, there would likely be other problems given the current state of the T and as long as the cities and towns who own it keep expanding and improving it, it should probably stay in their hands.

Maybe privatizing aspects of services does not actually reduce costs (especially not for consumers), and public services that aren't being actively undermined to facilitate privatization can be extremely efficient.
A few thoughts:
  • Even the standard midsize sedan Ford Taurus (or whatever) The Ride vehicles are significantly more expensive and less operatinally efficient than other taxi / rideshare options. This is exactly why shifting the people who use those vehicles (and not the handicapped vans) onto Uber / Lyft has been a success for the T and for users of The Ride.
  • Rideshare corporations are not, and never have been, consistently profitable. The history of the rideshare industry is one in which investors' dollars have subsidized passenger trips. The idea that there are rideshare corporations turning profits and getting rich off of passenger fares is simply not supported by the facts. I'd rather have Uber and Lyft investor dollars subsidizing my rides than T dollars.
  • You cannot integrate T and BlueBike fares without T fares being backed by credit cards, and that's just not how Charlie Cards work. And even the eventual AFC 2.0 has no plans to change this.
  • The BlueBikes system is very well run! It's likley not operationally feasible for every single T stop to have a BlueBikes station. There is absolutely a point where adding additional BlueBikes stations can create more operational challenges than benefits. Generally, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
  • I'm not someone who just dogmatically supports privatization across the board due to political or philosophical beliefs. That's just not me. I'm a believer that it is absolutely better for some "aspects of services" to be publicly owned and operated while it is better for others to be run by private entities. And absolutely nothing about the T's current challenges suggest that the answer is for Park Plaza to take over additional modes and more services and more responsibilities than it is currently tasked with.

"Comparative Advantage" is absolutely a thing. Any person or organization should do what they are best at, and leave the other stuff to other people. The T is not good at running a taxi service or a bike share system or managing ferry operations. Other parties have shown that they have comparative advantage in these fields. Everyone (including the T and its riders) is better off if the T sticks to what it does have comparative advantage in and leaves the other stuff to other people.
 
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Brattle Loop

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Im almost positive that it has been discussed some what before but what crazy transit project that would create a new subway line/color does everyone think would benefit Boston and the region the most?

The new subway line shouldnt be a branch or extension of any current lines, can not be conversion of the Silver Line to Subway, could or should hit two city centers on each end of the line that would serve an area that needs it and keep a balance on the current system without creating more chock points.

Our spoke and wheel is great and all but the new line could avoid the Boston core if like I said it could serve a city's needs while also maybe create a new way to reach an area without hurting and current lines.
1. Congress Street Subway. It's about the best-chance alignment left to run another subway line through the downtown core, especially if the Central Artery alignment is off-limits to preserve it for the NSRL. It's choose your own adventure outside the downtown core; in recent months there's been discussions of Charlestown/Chelsea/Everett on the north end and Seaport or Washington Street to Nubian (and points south) on the south end, but this is Crazy Transit Pitches so it's throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks.

2. Urban Ring. This one's tricky, because it shouldn't be built as a separate line. You certainly can do it, especially here in Crazy Transit Pitches. Dig from Logan through Chelsea and Everett, surface and cross the Mystic near the casino, meet the OL at Sullivan, pass the GLX at Brickbottom, then take the Grand Junction down to the B-Line, then dig all your way past Ruggles to wherever you want to end up, somewhere around Southampton Street or all the way into the Seaport. For an extra helping of Crazy add a harbor tunnel and link both ends of the system at Logan. If you don't do that, keep the SL3 on the surface to allow direct Chelsea-Seaport/South service while the Ring handles everything that doesn't need to cross under the Harbor.

Please do not do the second one.

The Urban Ring is barely in Crazy territory anyway, but as a standalone line it is deep-Crazy. The northern half should be Green extensions eating the Grand Junction and the SL3 (feeding each other and the Central Subway) with the Northwest quadrant (GJ) fed from and feeding the B-Line as well (and if you're feeling generous do some modification at Kenmore for F-Line's boomerang to serve Longwood). The southern half is ludicrously difficult if not impossible as even LRT let alone HRT due to the lack of ROW (digging would be megaproject expensive) and might have to be consigned to BRT (though less incompetently than the initial implementation of the Silver Line, please please please). HRT over the GJ is probably impossible because of the grade crossings, and the building clearances and proximity of the Red Line make elevating at HRT (or at least RR) grades, as well as tunneling, likely impossible.

Also what would the next color be. I hate how some cities have a blue line and a turquoise line. Maybe eventually we could drop the colors and revert back to our old numbers. and letters.
I'd guess Pink, Brown, Black, or Gold for potential line colors, with Pink and Brown as the most likely (both are used, for example, in Chicago). Theoretically could also use Yellow, but there's too much room for it to be confused with the buses. (I would personally pick Brown because it's sufficiently distinct from all of the others, and the...particular shade of fuchsia used by the Commuter Rail starts looking very pink when it fades.)

I'd caution against the idea of going back to letters and numbers. The color system is relatively straightforward and easy to understand, especially now that the OL/RL/BL/GL, etc. designators have been adopted on the maps and are more widely used so that maps and signs are less confusing if not outright hostile to colorblind people. New York uses letters and numbers, and it's fine if you know what you're dealing with, but it's absolutely less straightforward. I have personally experienced it on numerous occasions where people have been confused or become lost because they thought the colors were significant in NY and wound up on the wrong trains. Regular riders won't likely have an issue, but it's a real problem for the uninitiated. (The problem being that the colors are specific to lines as in sets of tracks, but the letters and numbers are services, and it's the services that matter. It's like a much-more-complex version of the Green Line with its branches, except that on the GL everything stops at all stops between (at minimum) Copley and Park Street.)
 

donkeybutlers

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  • Even the standard midsize sedan Ford Taurus (or whatever) The Ride vehicles are significantly more expensive and less operatinally efficient than other taxi / rideshare options. This is exactly why shifting the people who use those vehicles (and not the handicapped vans) onto Uber / Lyft has been a success for the T and for users of The Ride.
From MBTA:
While the RIDE Flex does not offer traditional ADA paratransit-level service, customers may ask drivers for assistance getting into and out of the vehicle. We can’t guarantee that drivers will be able to provide this service.
This clearly is not an equal level of service. If the ride operated like that it would be cheaper too, I do hope it never does that. It makes sense in a Pandemic when over capacity and understaffed but not an indication of which service is superior. If a T taxi could take advantage of various ridership to reduce time driving empty it would be a lot more efficient, but that isn't the Ride's role. The ride is door to door service transit service specialized for people unable to access public transportation. It does a pretty decent job overall of doing that from what I've seen/heard. That will not be cheap. I am truly glad to live in a region that gives this option to people, It truly helps people with certain disabilities participate as full members in society who otherwise would not be able to get around easily at all. I don't think this is a fair comparison to a taxi service aimed to everyone, its verging on dishonest and feels like cherry picking.

  • Rideshare corporations are not, and never have been, consistently profitable. The history of the rideshare industry is one in which investors' dollars have subsidized passenger trips. The idea that there are rideshare corporations turning profits and getting rich off of passenger fares is simply not supported by the facts. I'd rather have Uber and Lyft investor dollars subsidizing my rides than T dollars
No, the drivers are the ones subsidizing the ride with poverty wages. This is how these companies provide a cheap service, it's not tech wizardry its not paying workers enough (and not wanting to even call them workers). Those investors can be really made to subsidize it with taxes, if you want to target them put it on capital gains.
  • The BlueBikes system is very well run! It's likley not operationally feasible for every single T stop to have a BlueBikes station. There is absolutely a point where adding additional BlueBikes stations can create more operational challenges than benefits. Generally, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Bluebikes is good, especially with the discounts, its such a good deal and I'm glad it is public. But It has not been everywhere I have needed it to be, even within core areas of the network. Parts of Boston are only getting stations now. The best thing about it is the way it is expanding consistently and is filling in gaps. But there are definitely still gaps. I agree that it should be kept in the current hands for now but better partnership with the T could help clear up a challenge for new stations (space).

I like the idea of integrating transit systems and I like the idea of expanding public services. Maybe the T as is is not equipped to handle it. I don't like applying market logic to public services.
 

Brattle Loop

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This clearly is not an equal level of service. If the ride operated like that it would be cheaper too, I do hope it never does that. It makes sense in a Pandemic when over capacity and understaffed but not an indication of which service is superior. If a T taxi could take advantage of various ridership to reduce time driving empty it would be a lot more efficient, but that isn't the Ride's role. The ride is door to door service transit service specialized for people unable to access public transportation. It does a pretty decent job overall of doing that from what I've seen/heard. That will not be cheap. I am truly glad to live in a region that gives this option to people, It truly helps people with certain disabilities participate as full members in society who otherwise would not be able to get around easily at all. I don't think this is a fair comparison to a taxi service aimed to everyone, its verging on dishonest and feels like cherry picking.
There's a legitimate discussion to be had about the cost structures when something is as expensive as the RIDE. To the extent that we're talking about a paratransit service providing guaranteed service levels above and beyond anything provided by the private sector, to people who have need of that level of service, it's a public good that is worth the cost if we're to consider ourselves a progressive society. It's also presumably true that not everyone who uses the RIDE needs the full extent of its services; if someone does not, that is where its inefficient cost structure becomes a problem. (It's also why the Ford vehicle mention was relevant; I'm assuming they don't have wheelchair accommodations) Where it's possible to have a driver/vehicle who can operate a RIDE trip then turn back into an Uber/Lyft, that's inherently more efficient than two separate trips (at least one of which implies an empty leg). That doesn't justify cutting the service down on cost grounds, but it does merit asking if there are situations where new market entrants could more efficiently take on some of these trips (where appropriate, and it's not going to be the bulk of them, likely).

No, the drivers are the ones subsidizing the ride with poverty wages. This is how these companies provide a cheap service, it's not tech wizardry its not paying workers enough (and not wanting to even call them workers). Those investors can be really made to subsidize it with taxes, if you want to target them put it on capital gains.
[Begin pedantic interlude.] You're right it's not tech wizardry, and you're not wrong about their dreadful labor practices, but JumboBuc is also right in that investor dollars are propping up these companies and subsidizing fares. That they pay drivers a pittance is a big part of how they keep getting investors and why they fly so far off the handle whenever anyone tries to make them treat their employees well, but the drivers are not, technically speaking, subsidizing the rides and the investors are. (The drivers are, however, getting screwed by the investors and the companies, but "working for the available wages" whether out of choice or necessity cannot properly be called a subsidy without stretching the term beyond useful meaning.) [End pedantic interlude.]

Bluebikes is good, especially with the discounts, its such a good deal and I'm glad it is public. But It has not been everywhere I have needed it to be, even within core areas of the network. Parts of Boston are only getting stations now. The best thing about it is the way it is expanding consistently and is filling in gaps. But there are definitely still gaps. I agree that it should be kept in the current hands for now but better partnership with the T could help clear up a challenge for new stations (space).

I like the idea of integrating transit systems and I like the idea of expanding public services. Maybe the T as is is not equipped to handle it. I don't like applying market logic to public services.
And here I am thinking that market logic, or at least a derivative of it, is exactly what public services lack. Not a profit motive, that one they absolutely don't need, but the lack of competition - and, annoyingly, lack of competent oversight, especially by the political masters - and lack of market-based incentive structures is, in my view, absolutely harmful. If the MBTA were a private business, it's distinctly likely that they would be far more proactive in working with BlueBikes, because increasing accessibility to their services would likely increase the use of said services and therefore their revenue. The incentive is technically there for them now, but since they're a public entity that doesn't really ever have to be motivated to do, well, anything unless the politicians get annoyed, they're more likely to ignore efforts to cooperate until they can be bothered, rather than running the risk of a competitor getting involved. (Public services not tending to have competitors is kind of a big factor.) There's a lot of bureaucratic inertia and far less of a market analysis of what the organization is doing, what it is supposed to be doing, and how best to do so, because the incentive structure weighs against (or at least not in favor of) it. To the extent that market logic is solely defined as about costs and prices and cuts and screwing people over, sure, that's not a good thing, because that's not the point of public services. The point of public services is to serve the public, and they ought to do so as well and efficiently as possible, and some market logic on that end (i.e., how do we do things the most efficiently and effectively, including adopting practices from other industries or competitors, and, perhaps, making significant changes that are ultimately beneficial) is in the public interest.
 

bigeman312

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Im almost positive that it has been discussed some what before but what crazy transit project that would create a new subway line/color does everyone think would benefit Boston and the region the most?

The new subway line shouldnt be a branch or extension of any current lines, can not be conversion of the Silver Line to Subway, could or should hit two city centers on each end of the line that would serve an area that needs it and keep a balance on the current system without creating more chock points.

Our spoke and wheel is great and all but the new line could avoid the Boston core if like I said it could serve a city's needs while also maybe create a new way to reach an area without hurting and current lines.

Also what would the next color be. I hate how some cities have a blue line and a turquoise line. Maybe eventually we could drop the colors and revert back to our old numbers. and letters.

What's everyone think?
Funding is not a factor? And we want this to be one single line, without altering existing lines, and just trying to serve the most need? Based on your parameters, I'll go with:

Brown Line: Mattapan to Chelsea, with stations at:
  • Mattapan Square (connection to Mattapan Trolley)
  • Woodhaven Street (connection to Fairmount Line)
  • Mattapan Library
  • Morton Street
  • Talbot Ave
  • Franklin Park
  • Grove Hall
  • MLK Jr Blvd
  • Nubian
  • Mass Ave
  • Union Park
  • Ink Block
  • South Station (connection to Red/Silver Line, Commuter Rail, and Amtrak)
  • Aquarium (connection to Blue Line)
  • Haymarket (connection to Orange/Green Line)
  • North Station (connection to Orange/Green Line, Commuter Rail, and Amtrak)
  • City Square
  • Navy Yard
  • Admirals Hill
  • Bellingham Square
  • Chelsea Station (connection to Newburyport/Rockport Line and Silver Line)
Tunneling under Blue Hill Ave, Warren St, Washington St, the New York Streets, and the Central Artery Tunnel is crazy.

The rest of it may be god mode.

It hits your parameters as it would:
  1. be an entirely new line, not a branch of any existing line
  2. "hit two city centers on each end of the line that would serve an area that needs it" (Chelsea and Mattapan), not to mention serving Roxbury.
  3. "keep a balance on the current system without creating more chock points," and in fact would help relieve quite a few chokepoints, including Nubian, South Station, Haymarket, and North Station.
Debatably, it converts the SL4/SL5 to a subway, but that isn't necessarily entirely true. BRT could still exist on the surface at Washington Street, and I wouldn't say the nature of this line is a true conversion of the SL to subway. More that this line would serve much of the same ridership that is currently being served by the SL4/SL5.

It definitely serves the city's needs and even provides a one-seat ride between North Station and South Station.

It would be a boondoggle of a project though, especially north of North Station, and might possibly get in the way of NSRL, which is out of scope of your prompt though.
 
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donkeybutlers

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There's a legitimate discussion to be had about the cost structures when something is as expensive as the RIDE. To the extent that we're talking about a paratransit service providing guaranteed service levels above and beyond anything provided by the private sector, to people who have need of that level of service, it's a public good that is worth the cost if we're to consider ourselves a progressive society. It's also presumably true that not everyone who uses the RIDE needs the full extent of its services; if someone does not, that is where its inefficient cost structure becomes a problem. (It's also why the Ford vehicle mention was relevant; I'm assuming they don't have wheelchair accommodations) Where it's possible to have a driver/vehicle who can operate a RIDE trip then turn back into an Uber/Lyft, that's inherently more efficient than two separate trips (at least one of which implies an empty leg). That doesn't justify cutting the service down on cost grounds, but it does merit asking if there are situations where new market entrants could more efficiently take on some of these trips (where appropriate, and it's not going to be the bulk of them, likely).
I think that probably already tapped out. My point is that utilizing private companies isn't the only way to increase efficiency and I worry what always looking to it for that does in the long term. I definitely agree though that it's a public good that is worth the cost if we're to consider ourselves a progressive society.

[Begin pedantic interlude.] You're right it's not tech wizardry, and you're not wrong about their dreadful labor practices, but JumboBuc is also right in that investor dollars are propping up these companies and subsidizing fares. That they pay drivers a pittance is a big part of how they keep getting investors and why they fly so far off the handle whenever anyone tries to make them treat their employees well, but the drivers are not, technically speaking, subsidizing the rides and the investors are. (The drivers are, however, getting screwed by the investors and the companies, but "working for the available wages" whether out of choice or necessity cannot properly be called a subsidy without stretching the term beyond useful meaning.) [End pedantic interlude.]
Ehh would you call this a subsidy though? They make bank to say they are subsidizing it would imply they are putting in money they aren't getting back and I don't think that seems true. Subsidy is not the word I would use for either really. But if anyone is sacrificing to make Uber possible it is not the investors.
And here I am thinking that market logic, or at least a derivative of it, is exactly what public services lack. Not a profit motive, that one they absolutely don't need, but the lack of competition - and, annoyingly, lack of competent oversight, especially by the political masters - and lack of market-based incentive structures is, in my view, absolutely harmful. If the MBTA were a private business, it's distinctly likely that they would be far more proactive in working with BlueBikes, because increasing accessibility to their services would likely increase the use of said services and therefore their revenue. The incentive is technically there for them now, but since they're a public entity that doesn't really ever have to be motivated to do, well, anything unless the politicians get annoyed, they're more likely to ignore efforts to cooperate until they can be bothered, rather than running the risk of a competitor getting involved. (Public services not tending to have competitors is kind of a big factor.) There's a lot of bureaucratic inertia and far less of a market analysis of what the organization is doing, what it is supposed to be doing, and how best to do so, because the incentive structure weighs against (or at least not in favor of) it. To the extent that market logic is solely defined as about costs and prices and cuts and screwing people over, sure, that's not a good thing, because that's not the point of public services. The point of public services is to serve the public, and they ought to do so as well and efficiently as possible, and some market logic on that end (i.e., how do we do things the most efficiently and effectively, including adopting practices from other industries or competitors, and, perhaps, making significant changes that are ultimately beneficial) is in the public interest.
To me this problem calls for truly democratizing public services not applying market logics to them. Give T riders a meaningful say in its governance (and expand that to other services etc) and you get similar results of feet held to the fire without the same risks of lapsing into austerity because the beneficiaries of the market do not feel public services are rendering enough profits for them. This may be a decent logic to expand services while the city is booming, without having to break out of familiar logic, but it has serious risks if that growth ever even slows.
 
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Brattle Loop

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Ehh would you call this a subsidy though? They make bank to say they are subsidizing it would imply they are putting in money they aren't getting back and I don't think that seems true. Subsidy is not the word I would use for either really. But if anyone is sacrificing to make Uber possible it is not the investors.
That link redirected to a quote from one of our posts. I marked that section as the pedantic interlude for a reason. That said, Uber and Lyft are notorious for how much money they lose (and the rare profits they record are generally not from their core businesses). The investors are absolutely subsidizing the company and its fares and operations, in a manner that is quite common for startups and particularly tech startups. That any given investor cashes out with substantial profits does not change that fact, because it's effectively a (legal) Ponzi scheme in which any given investor who cashes out is paid their profits, in effect, out of investment cash from subsequent investors. They're all in essence betting either that the underlying enterprise becomes durably profitable or, failing that, that they can cash out before the whole thing collapses. None of which changes the facts that a.) fares are - or at least have been - kept artificially low to gain market share, b.) that income from fares (revenue) has been consistently insufficient to cover costs, meaning c.) that something else has to fill that gap, which is d.) investment. Artificially suppressing the wages is part of that as well, but not a subsidiary in the same sense. (End second pedantic interlude.) To your last point, the investors aren't sacrificing as such, but they are taking the risk that if the company fails they'll be out their investment unless they cash out beforehand. (That's the nature of investment, especially in startups. It's not for the faint of heart. Of course it helps whenever the people making the investment decisions are playing with other people's money.)

To me this problem calls for truly democratizing public services not applying market logics to them. Give T riders a meaningful say in its governance (and expand that to other services etc) and you get similar results of feet held to the fire without the same risks of lapsing into austerity because the beneficiaries of the market do not feel public services are rendering enough profits for them. This may be a decent logic to expand services while the city is booming, without having to break out of familiar logic, but it has serious risks if that growth ever even slows.
I think this is just a definitional problem of what "market logic" means. If we hold it to mean "profitability" then you're pretty much entirely right. I tend to view it as inclusive of other matters such as efficiency, which is more desirable given that we all want the system to run as well but minimize waste to the extent possible.
 

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