Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Amazing Race 29, Episode 10

Seoul (Korea) - Incheon (Korea) - Chicago, IL (USA) - Joliet, IL (USA)- Chicago, IL (USA)

Sungnyemun or Namdaemun Gate, Seoul

[Old and new in Seoul: Sungnyemun (Namdaemun) Gate is one of the original gates in the wall surrounding the fortress-city of Seoul. Most of the wall is long gone, and the gate is now in the center of a busy traffic circle. First built in the 14th century, it has been renovated many times since, most recently after a fire in 2008 destroyed the wooden pagoda above the stone pediment shown in this photo I took in 2002. ]

The three remaining pairs of contestants started this final leg of The Amazing Race 29 by making their way from Seoul back to Incheon International Airport to catch flights to the USA. There are many international flights from Gimpo Airport in Seoul, but no direct flights from Gimpo to the USA.

Redmond and Matt didn’t make the final cut. They finished last and were eliminated at the end of the penultimate leg of the race after they chose to travel by train and subway from Incheon to central Seoul, while the three other remaining teams took taxis.

Was that the wrong choice of transport from the airport to the city? More importantly, what’s the right choice if you aren’t in a race for a million dollars?

As airports have gotten ever larger, they have been built further and further from the centers of the cities they serve: O’Hare International Airport (replacing Midway Airport, which had been the world’s busiest) in an outlying area annexed by the City of Chicago in the 1950s; Dulles International Airport outside Washington in the 1960s; the “New Tokyo International Airport” in the outlying city of Narita and the Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport in Roissy in the 1970s; Kansai Airport on an entirely new artificial island in Osaka Bay in the 1990s; Imam Khomeini International Airport outside Tehran in the 2000s; the “Istanbul New Airport” (Third Airport) in formerly rural Arnavutk√∂y and the as-yet-unnamed airport in Daxing in Hebei Province outside Beijing, both under construction and planned to open by the end of the current decade and each claiming that it will be the world’s largest airport; and many others.

Aside from construction cost overruns, contract disputes, and environmental and land-use controversies, most of these airport moves have been unpopular with the flying public. Time after time, around the world, plans to close cramped downtown airports and move all flights to distant new airports have had to be abandoned, with well-paying and politically influential business travellers insisting on keeping close-in airports open for as many flights to key business destinations as they can accommodate.

People don’t go an airport to go shopping, or just to hang out. They go there to catch a plane, as quickly as possible. Airport designers make a big fuss about space and amenities, which tend to be correlated with long trips to the airport and long walks to check-in counters and gates. But the evidence of travellers voting with their feet and their wallets when they have a choice of airports is overwhelming: location and convenience trump facilities, even if the close-in alternative is an overcrowded dump like LaGuardia.

Decades after their “replacements” opened, more people still fly in and out of Washington National Airport “(“Ronald Reagan Airport”) and Tokyo Haneda Airport than Dulles and Narita, respectively. The competition by airlines for limited landing “slots” and gates is nowhere more fierce than at these “obsolete” city airports, even when there are slots and gates available for the asking at their newer but more distant replacements.

Ever since the fiasco with Dulles Airport, which remained a white elephant for decades despite the intense desire of the FAA and the Pentagon to shut down Washington National Airport, airport planners have recognized the importance of fast and easy mass transit to public willingness to use more distant airports.

Today, it’s rare for rail connections not to be an integral part of the design for any major new airport, especially one designed to replace a predecessor closer to the center of the city.

There are exceptions, but generally only where these are necessitated by the terrain. For example, Quito’s location along the bottom of a steep, narrow valley — the reason for the pressure to close the old airport — would have made building a rail line up and over the rim of the canyon to the new airport on the plateau prohibitively expensive.

Meanwhile, many older exurban airports are getting urban rail connections, whether or not these were in the original plans. A belated extension of the Washington Metro to Dulles is finally under construction, although the final phase isn’t expected to open for service until at least 2020.

Airport rail connections run the gamut: traditional urban streetcar/tram (“light rail”) and subway/metro (“heavy rail”) systems; commuter and express branch or spur lines between airports and downtown train stations; mainline airport rail stations served by direct high-speed long-distance trains to and from other cities.

Sometimes the choice of taxi or train is a simple matter of price. Many new airports are so far out of town that the cost of a taxi is prohibitive for a solo traveller or even a couple, and a reasonable option only for a lager group of friends or family, if at all.

In some cases the choice is a simple matter of time. In the USA, we tend to think of cars as having a higher top speed on the open road than typical subway or commuter trains. But speeds of even what are considered “ordinary” electric trains in most of the world are substantially higher than automobile speeds. The greater the distance, the greater the chances that an express train to the airport is faster than driving, even if there’s no traffic.

But if the price of a taxi is in your budget, and the average or expected journey time is similar, should you choose a taxi or train? You aren’t likely to be in a race, but what if you are late, and afraid you might miss your flight. What’s the safest choice?

The key thing to think about is the distribution of expected journey times, not the average journey time.

You can rarely rely on the road from the city to the airport being free of traffic and delays. If you are trying to catch a plane, the key thing is not how quickly you might get to the airport if traffic is light, but how long the trip might take if traffic is heavy.

If you don’t want to take more than a 10% chance of missing your flight, than you should think about the travel time with the worst 10% of likely traffic (if you take a taxi or bus) or rail delays.

The more risk-averse you are, the more this calculus is likely to favor the train over a taxi. For example, if you are only willing to take a 1% chance of missing your plane, then you need to allow enough time for the worst 1% of likely traffic delays.

Trains can be late, but major delays on most urban rail systems are much less likely than traffic jams. Travel time by taxi is likely to be much more variable. You might get to the airport more quickly, but there’s no real benefit to that if you have to leave for the airport earlier anyway to allow for the possibility of traffic delays.

Raymond and Matt made the safer choice, and the one that makes the most sense for most real-world travellers, by taking the train. But they were in a race, and the other teams of contestants all gambled on traffic — and got lucky.

Link | Posted by Edward on Thursday, 1 June 2017, 23:59 (11:59 PM)
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