Thursday, November 18, 2010


"Nothing was more up-to-date when it was built, or is more obsolete today, than the railroad station."
Ada Louise Huxtable

One interesting possible side effect of the TSA groping over zealous policy: maybe more people will ride trains now.

The key drawbacks of taking a train are that they are slower than a plane, you have to buy your food, and they are never on time. That's what made air travel more attractive, or at least it used to. But now, people are saying "hell with it I'm just going to drive rather than put up with this crap." Why not train instead?

I mean, if you aren't willing to put up with the insane security, are going to take a while getting somewhere anyway, and would rather not drive, a train is still cheaper than gas and a motel. You're going to be buying food anyway, and you won't know exactly when you're going to be arriving, so what's the drawback of a train, again? That you don't have a car when you arrive? Well you didn't with passenger air travel either.

Really the only drawback left is that train stations tend to be in the worst parts of town.

Maybe that's what the Obama administration had in mind all along. Lefties love trains, and hate air travel. Trains are basically US government owned in America, air travel is all private companies.

Somehow I doubt they are that clever and forward thinking though.

A reader at Instapundit offers these thoughts on why the TSA is such a miserable failure:
I am a professor of management at a large state university in the southwestern US. I have done this for 15 years subsequent to a career in a Fortune 500 company. I read your site daily and always find something that makes me smile. Thus, I offer a couple of observations regarding your recent threads on the TSA screening debacle. Anyone that studies organizations or has spent time in corporate or large-government environments, understands why the TSA and the Department of Homeland Security were bad ideas. The expressed goal was to integrate all of the diverse elements associated with public security into one entity and make them work seamlessly.

The only way to do this, however, is through fairly rigid bureaucratic rules and strict policy guidelines. How would you control the behavior of screeners in diverse places such as Minot and NYC? You do it through strict policy and procedures. You simply cannot permit discretion on the part of individuals as this would jeopardize organizational control of these people. This is why TSA seems mindless… the thinking is being done elsewhere, at the time the procedure is written. This is also why large-scale technical solutions like backscatter machines are favored. These are the only ones compatible with the organizational structures of TSA. I would think that even within the leadership of TSA you would get an admission that an Israeli-style security scheme is far more effective. The problem is scalability – and the bureaucratic nature of large organizations. The Israeli model requires allowing discretion on the part of the screener, which would require hiring employees capable of thoughtfully exercising it (better hiring, training, pay, etc.) and far fewer rigid policies and procedures.

One more note. The trend in organizations for several years now is toward decentralizing, flexibility, and mass customization (the achieving of large scale efficiencies on an almost individual level). This is why I favor going back to doing security locally. Think local Fire Marshall vs the OSHA inspector. Who is really getting the job done?
Its not really the fault of the TSA workers, its not the fault of the idea (having all airport security standardized). Its the fault of bureaucracy, and all those worker bees whose primary goal is to not lose their jobs and feel important. This really isn't about party or politics at the drone level, its about straight up office bureaucracy. Anyone who's worked in a office knows all about how that manifests itsself.


Philip said...

I'll throw something out:

The TSA was a quick throw-together. Meaning it didn't really have time to brainstorm a proper organization; Congress gave it no time. Virtually every manager and executive came from elsewhere in the government bureaucracy. Every screw-up, every opportunist saw a chance to get in on the ground floor.

I've talked to ex-TSOs from that Barney Fife era, vets who came on board so they could do something in those post-9/11 days. The TSOs were called "shoe-sniffers" and generally treated like idiot children by management (hence the over-emphasis on standardization). And they had to either suck it up, or quit; there was no union. And until 2008, turnover in TSA was around 17% (government overall is 3-4%).

Add to the bureaucracy a fear of offending special interests and Americans in general. The passengers that Shin Bet screeners admittedly profile are non-Israeli and non-Jewish. Makes sense from an Israeli standpoint. Try setting up a profile in the US...

Larry said...

I looked into the train for a recent vacation from here to my parent's house in SW Iowa.
It was cheaper (and faster) to drive.