Tuesday, April 14, 2020

The essential service of public transit

Right now, the nation's public transportation providers are under a lot of stress. As the coronavirus pandemic grinds life to a halt and forces people to stay at home, ridership has plummeted and the funding sources that sustain them - sales tax and farebox revenue - have dried up. At the same time, agencies are assuming unbudgeted expenses to take precautionary measures such as deep-cleaning and disinfecting vehicles, creating physical separations to ensure social distancing between passengers on buses and trains, and providing protective equipment - masks, gloves, googles - to bus and train operators.

Why would transit agencies even make these considerable expenditures at a time when they're carrying so few passengers? With everything else in our society and economy shut down right now, why don't transit providers just do the same in order to conserve resources?

Transit consultant Jarrett Walker explains why that isn't possible:
Why are agencies behaving this way? Because they are not businesses. And if there’s one thing we must learn from this moment, it’s that we have to stop talking about transit as though ridership is its only purpose, and its primary measure of success. 
Right now, essential services have to keep going. It's not just the hospital, the grocery store, and basic utilities.  It’s the entire supply chain that keeps those places stocked, running, and secure. Almost all of these jobs are low-wage. The people using transit now are working in hospitals that are saving lives. They are creating, shipping and selling urgently needed supplies. They are keeping grocery stores functioning, so we can eat. 
In transit conversations we often talk about meeting the needs of people who depend on transit. This makes transit sound like something we’re doing for them. But in fact, those people are providing services that we all depend on, so by serving those lower income riders, we’re all serving ourselves. 
The goal of transit, right now, is neither competing for riders nor providing a social service for those in need. It is helping prevent the collapse of civilization. 
What’s more, transit has always been doing that. Those “essential service” workers, who are overwhelmingly low-income, have always been there, moving around quietly in our transit systems, keeping our cities functioning. Too often, we have patronized them by calling them needy or dependent when in fact everything would collapse if they couldn’t get to work.
Interestingly, the theme of today’s Google’s “Doodle of the Day” was dedicated to public transportation workers. They are at the front line of the battle against Coronavirus, providing the essential service of getting other essential workers to hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, warehouses, and other essential businesses. They are also dying as they provide this essential service.

As I've said before: public transportation, as its name implies, is a public good, like police and fire protection, parks, and libraries. While we ideally want its services to be used as much as possible, its primary purpose (contrary to what its libertarian critics might claim) is not to continually increase ridership or maximize farebox recovery. Its purpose is to provide mobility to the people who need it, including (and especially) in times of crisis.

"In big cities, transit is an essential service, like police and water, without which nothing else is possible, Walker concludes. "Maybe that’s how we should measure its results."

Friday, April 10, 2020

When local personal injury attorneys make ASMR videos

(If you don't understand why this is so funny, see this and this)

The complicated relationship between Coronavirus and toilet paper

Years from now, when we look back at our current Coronavirus pandemic, we will remember it for many reasons: the "stay at home" orders, the parents pressed into service as homeschoolers, the overburdened hospitals, the ever-rising death toll, the shuttered economy, the utter incompetence emanating from the White House, and the sudden scarcity of toilet paper:
The problem, like the virus that spawned it, is global. In Australia, a cafe began accepting rolls of TP as payment — a cup of coffee will run you three rolls. In Hong Kong, armed crooks held up a supermarket; all they took was 600 rolls of the soft stuff. A pet store in Dornburg, Germany, last week set up an outdoor toilet paper drive-through in a parking lot when the owner was able to obtain a massive shipment. 
Nothing seems to be unspooling in the right direction for a commodity that rarely gets much attention: In Hutchins, Tex., a tractor-trailer hauling a full load of toilet paper crashed and burned last week on Interstate 20. Rolls, most charred or reduced to cinders, splayed all over, shutting down the roadway. 
Demand is as flush as supply is bare. Americans have spent $1.4 billion on toilet paper in the past four weeks, a 102 percent increase from the same period a year before, according to data collected by IRI, which tracks retail sales based on the bar codes on products. (Prices have been quite stable over that time.) Only hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes and the like have seen substantially bigger sales boosts. 
But toward the end of March, TP sales plummeted because the supply just wasn’t there. 
Of all the things to hoard during a viral pandemic, why toilet paper? The reasons are actually rather simple:

1. People know that they will be making fewer trips to the store during the pandemic, so they want to stock up.

2. People are wiping their bottom-parts almost exclusively at home now, rather than at work, or at restaurants and bars and stadiums, which results in an obvious over-demand for home supply:
Collectively, we probably still use the same amount of toilet paper as we did before the pandemic, but suddenly, we’re expected to use more of our own supply. Most people are no longer eating out at restaurants or going to work or school — places where we conveniently use the restroom and the available toilet paper. Georgia-Pacific estimates that the average American household will use about 40 percent more toilet paper than usual if people spend all their time at home. 
As Will Oremus reported for Medium, the toilet paper industry is divided into two markets: consumer (the likes of Quilted Northern, Charmin, or Cottonelle that you use at home) and commercial (bulky rolls of thin, scratchy paper you find in public restrooms). Most toilet paper manufacturers aren’t sure when consumer toilet paper supplies will be “back to normal” because, well, the situation isn’t normal. Businesses, workplaces, schools, and other public spaces that used to order commercial toilet paper have no need for it, while consumer demand has significantly increased. 
Suppliers have to shift gears as demand for consumer toilet paper outweighs that of the commercial sector, but it’s not a simple task. The products are entirely different, down to size and packaging. “Shifting to retail channels would require new relationships and contracts between suppliers, distributors, and stores; different formats for packaging and shipping; new trucking routes — all for a bulky product with lean profit margins,” Oremus reported.
As it turns out, the "toilet paper supply chain" is a real thing, and one that we normally think about. But it's under a lot of stress right now, for a lot of reasons, and it might be scarce for while.

Happy wiping.