a bunch of questions

Friday, August 21, 2009

What if the public transport is free supported by property tax?

We had a discussion a couple of days ago during lunch at the university cafeteria. Discussion was about ticket checking on trams, metro and train. As the economics of crime and punishment suggests, our Dutch colleagues suggested that its fair not to check every passenger for tickets every time but instead to check infrequently but fine heavily those traveling without tickets.
Yes, this is also interesting. The most effective way, as Amatya Sen said, something like, check once a year, get a person and put him/her in death penalty...

Carlos then threw a proposition which wasn't entirely new to me: that public transport should be free and that it should be paid for through property taxes. The argument is that that it would remove the need to put resources for ticketing and ticket checking. But also that it would encourage people to use public transport more than private cars (positive for the environment and in some cases reduce travel time).
The other side of the story might be to encourage more travel demand: people who used to bike, may take the public transport instead. The cost will increase.

Some of us immediately started thinking about free-rider problems...they were quickly dismissed as non-arguments by Carlos. The renters would indirectly pay for their travel through increased rent that they would pay to the landlord to cover for the higher property taxes. The people who live outside the city and commute to the city for work will pay through their employers who rent work space for which property tax is paid. Out of city tourists will pay their part when they shop in the city or visit museums or eat at a local restaurant or stay in a hotel - each of those businesses pay property tax.
I am more convinced with the purpose of cheap or free public transport in for the increasing of available land for cities development. For high density cities with limited land, the development of public transport and make it cheaper, allows living a little further away but on main public transportation corridor attractive.

There will invariably be some free riders - for instance, poorer tourists or backpackers/campers who do not spend enough in the city for its propertied class to justify paying for her/his local travel needs. But lets suppose that the numbers of such free-riders are comparable to the current ticketless travellers who do not get caught. Would this then be a fair system to finance a public transport system? My answer would be "maybe".

First, there will be some who would pay higher property tax even though they don't have much local travel needs - the retired people, for example. It would be a bit unfair for them to have to pay for the travel of those who travel more frequently and those who travel long distances. There will be no monetary incentive for people to pick their location for residence close to their workplace. And there will be boundary problems: people will move right at the edge of the city
just outside the city limits thus avoiding paying higher property taxes but still availing free public transport. (Carlos' response to that one was that this thing would only work if this system is formulated at the metropolitan level, therefore avoiding the boundary problem. Then my next question would be that the metropolitan area also would have a boundary - what would stop me from locating right outside the metropolitan area?)
This reminds me of the public transport fair zones in many cities in Europe. We once traveled in Milano one more stop than our ticket allowed us to go, then it created the trouble on our way back, we couldn't get inside the station. I think there should be studies on whether this zones with different metro fair affect the property price.

Nonetheless, the idea was quite appealing and made a lot of sense. And I started wondering why it has not happened already. Possible explanations might be that whichever city implements such a policy, the perception is that this city will become less competitive for corporations and potential investors who can always move capital to cities with lower taxes. The challenge would then be introduce an element of reward for early-adopting cities that can offset the initial misgivings about making the city less business-friendly that can serve as exemplars for other cities who will then adopt such a policy to provide free public transport paid for from property taxes. Can someone suggest a way to solve this problem?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Bhuvan...earth from sky...Indian version Google Earth

Today, Alberto found a news on an Italian website describing an Indian
version of Google Earth which the news says would be a serious
competitor for Google Earth. Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO)
recently launched a web service called Bhuvan which is the Sanskrit
word for Earth. Its a similar service like Google Earth but with
images of far higher resolution that are updated every year.

My immediate reaction is that it would be another ugly website like that
of Indian Railways or BSNL...afterall you don't expect Indian babus
particularly interested in snappy and sleek websites. Currently, the
website of Bhuvan only works with Inernet Explorer and requires you to
download a plugin. You also need to register and login to the site.
This is really a pity. I guess it might be related to the fact that they developed the whole thing based on IE, and it takes more time to make it adapt to other browsers. If it get popular, this should not be a problem for long.

I tried to read some reviews and all of them said that its a rather
premature release. They tried to release on the Independence Day
although their project has been delayed since it was announced last
year October. Anyway, will follow the developments to see how far it
goes. I just feel Indian public sector does not have a great track
record in developing commercially successful products...the only other
example that comes to mind is the Simputer project started by IISc
Bangalore which was revolutionary before the days of the OLPC but it
never took off.
I am wondering whether it is the problem of Indian public sector or just public sectors anywhere?

But at least a good effort to make use of ISRO's super cheap rocket
and satellite technology to some practical use.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Urban Governance

Urban Governance Index

The diagram is from the UN Habitat document file here :

Read this doc on Scribd: Urban governance index

From the book "cities transformed", it identified five dimensions of the urban governance challenge facing all large urban areas:

1. Capacity - the ability of local governments to provide adequate public services to their citizens;
2. Financial - the ability of local governments to raise and manage sufficient revenue;
3. Diversity - the ability of government to cope with the extraordinary internal variation within cities and to address the attendant issues of fragmentation and inequality;
4. Security - the ability of government to deal with issues related to rising urban violence and crime;
5. Authority - the increasing complexity of managing the jurisdictional mosaic as large cities grow and spread out.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Flickr is accessible in China

I just found that Flickr images including some sensitive ones (like the famous one of the man standing in front of a column of tanks the Tien an men square) are available from China. I tested it by asking an acquaintance who is now in China to click on the tank image from flickr and he was able to access. It is not surprising though. It will be hard for the Chinese censors to automate the blocking of jpegs, mp3s and mpegs.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Picture=a thousand words

Ok...Finally, after procrastinating for several months, I got to writing my first post. A recent post on Global Voices Online, a meta-blog of sorts that I recently discovered triggered this post. The post was an interview of ziboy, a blogger from Beijing and to whose site I have been a regular visitor for last three years.

Pointing to two facts that thwarts communication between China and the rest of the world - China's amazing infrastructure for web censorship, and the linguistic divide between mandarin speakers and the rest of the world, John Kennedy writes,

Photoblogs are of brilliant design, though, both in being able to get past keyword filters and in their ability to speak to any audience regardless of culture or language group.

Very true. And that is exactly the reason I have been addicted to Ziboy's site. I have quite a lot of interest in happenings in China and China Daily, like most other news sites from China provides "black&white" (meaning texts and images that metaphorically go through multiple layers of "filters" to produce a monochrome image of the world around us) and therefore an incomplete picture of events. Any form of citizen voice from China therefore is a welcome change for folks like us eagerly trying to guess what Chinese society as a whole is collectively thinking.

In this interview Ziboy "politely declined" to answer a question regarding his views on Chinese censorship. For good reasons of course. But the pictures on his blog are quite bold at times. I wish more people in China can take cues from Ziboy's goals and less riskier methods to achieve those goals. ("Ziboy: The goal is to provide foreigners with a non-official window into Beijing and China not bound by the constraints of text, to let them see images from lives of normal Chinese that aren’t found in newspapers, magazines, on television or in other exhibitions. From the beginning until now my goals and thoughts haven’t really changed.") I would like some photo bloggers from the provinces in China- areas that are somewhat less visible to the international audience.