Wednesday, 12 January 2022

The Amazing Race 33, Episode 2

London, England (U.K.) - Glasgow, Scotland (U.K.)


[Cross-border Passenger Rail Services (from New Action Plan: boosting long-distance and cross-border passenger rail, European Commission, 14 December 2021)]

This week’s episode of The Amazing Race 33 was filmed at the end of February 2020, just before the production was suspended and the cast and crew were sent home to wait out the Covid-19 pandemic for a year and a half before resuming.

With that in mind, I wouldn’t have been surprised if this episode had overtones of nostalgia for “the ghost of travel past”. But instead, it inadvertently highlighted an aspect of travel that the TV producers and cast members couldn’t have known would grow significantly during the pandemic, and that we can expect to play a greater role in future travel in both Europe and the USA: overnight long-distance trains.

Overnight trains generally, and sleeping cars in particular, have been in decline in most countries, India and to a lesser extent China being the most important holdout. As shown on the map above, the Caledonian Sleeper routes between London and Scotland, including the train the racers took to Glasgow, and one other route between London and Penzance (Cornwall), are the only overnight sleeping-car trains still operating or currently contemplated in the U.K. Many European national railways, including Deutsche Bahn (Germany), have discontinued all overnight trains and sleeping-car services.

A relatively pessimistic study of night trains commissioned by the Transportation Committee (TRAN) of the European Parliament in 2017 served mainly as a post-mortem of discontinued night trains and the factors that argued against restoration or expansion of night trains or sleeping cars:


[Research for European Parliament TRAN Committee - Passenger night trains in Europe: the end of the line? (May 2017)]

But time hasn’t stopped during the pandemic, and not all of the changes have been for the worse. In some cases, infrastructure projects have moved forward more quickly during the pandemic while travel was down and transportation facilities, or portions thereof, could be taken out of service for renovations, with less impact on travellers or ongoing operations, because their full capacity wasn’t needed.

As recent debates in Congress should make clear, transportation and infrastructure are political and not purely business issues.

In Europe, as I’ve observed in Strasbourg during previous discussions in the European Parliament, integration of passenger rail systems, from reservations and ticketing to rolling stock and operating procedures, to support seamless through international train travel, has been a goal for at least a decade. That pre-existing agenda for improved pan-European passenger rail transport received a huge boost with the increased Green vote in the 2019 elections for the European Parliament. Improved passenger rail service (along with better provisions for bicycling and bicycle/rail/ferry intermodal travel) is a key component of the European Green Deal, which is a particular priority for the Greens but which has consensus support from most other European political groupings as a climate change agenda.

Many travellers would rather take an overnight train, at least if they can sleep in a sufficiently comfortable bed en route, than spend all day on a train. (The same is generally true of air travel, with the same caveat of, “if they can sleep in a sufficiently comfortable bed en route”.) But if a journey takes only a few hours, there’s no need to pay for a bed and no reason to travel at night. So part of the growth in traffic on medium-distance European domestic high-speed rail lines has been at the expense of travel on slower night trains:


[Cross-border Passenger Rail Services (from New Action Plan: boosting long-distance and cross-border passenger rail, European Commission, 14 December 2021)]

For a while, only China had constructed high-speed rail lines long enough to want overnight trains. The trip from Shanghai to Urumchi, more than 4,000 km / 2,500 miles (described, with considerable artistic license, in Stuart Stevens’ Night Trainb to Turkistan) took me four days and three nights (84 hours) on the fastest direct train in 1989. Today it takes only 33 hours with a change in Lanzhou on high-speed trains. But while that’s a big improvement, it’s still a long enough trip for there to be continued demand for a through train with first-class sleeping cars between Shanghai and Urumchi, even though the sleeper runs a bit slower with a 39-hour journey time.

More recently in Europe, as high-speed rail systems that were created as national prestige projects on domestic routes have begun to be integrated into a transcontinental network, that network has extended beyond the distance that even the fastest train can comfortably cover in a day trip, reviving passenger demand for overnight trains on longer routes, especially for through international trains.

France, for example, where rail upgrades focused for decades on new high-speed lines for which no sleeping cars have been designed or procured, has recently revived night trains between Paris and the Mediterranean (Marseilles, Nice, etc.) and is expanding other domestic overnight sleeper services as well as overnight connections with over countries. The grand but long-abandoned station at Canfranc on the former main line between Paris and Madrid is being restored and converted into a hotel, while the French and Spanish governments have finally agreed to draw up joint plans to re-open the Somport Rail Tunnel — the most direct rail route between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of Europe. Repairing the tunnel and its approaches would cost far less than drilling a new tunnel under the Pyrenees. And 50 years after a derailment damaged part of the line, the dispute over whether France or Spain should pay for the repairs seems finally to have been resolved by the European Union, rather than the individual countries, agreeing to bear much of the cost of the project in the name of European “integration”.

Funding is being made available by the European Union for acquisition by European national railways of new sleeping cars, as part of an EU action plan to boost long-distance and cross-border passenger rail announced in December 2021. And a new EU regulation on rail passengers’ rights adopted in April 2021 includes mandates for integration of reservations and ticketing to permit comparison shopping and sale of through tickets for rail travel across borders throughout the EU and for provision of adequate space for intermodal carriage of passengers’ bicycles (which as of now is subject to inconsistent and sometimes unwritten obstacles) on all new passenger railcars.

Meanwhile, in the USA, sleeping car occupancy on Amtrak trains has remained very high throughout the pandemic. Many travellers are willing to pay extra for a private compartment to avoid the perceived greater risk of infection in an open chair car. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act enacted in November 2021 contains significant funding for Amtrak, some of which is likely to go toward both new and refurbished Amtrak sleeping cars.

If you think that the pandemic has seen only reductions in transportation services, think again. Some mothballed Amtrak sleeping cars have already been taken out of storage and put back in service. Perhaps most notably, sleeping car service on Amtrak’s most important line, the Northeast Corridor, has resumed for the first time 2003 with the reintroduction in April 2021 of sleeping cars on the overnight trains in each direction between Boston and Washington, DC.

On “The Amazing Race”, Cayla and Raquel, who work as flight attendants, noticed the similarity between their compartment on the Caledonian Sleeper and the berths in the crew rest area on a long-haul jetliner. That raises a pair of questions to which I don’t have ready answers: Why aren’t more airplanes configured with bunk beds or sleeping berths, as Zeppelins and some other airliners once were? And why aren’t airline-style business-class “pods” that convert from seats to flat beds at the push of a button ever used to reconfigure railroad chair cars as sleeping cars? These modular airline interior units are manufactured in relatively large numbers, and available as a commodity (although customizable to suit the branding and other desires of individuals airlines). At the very least, using airline pods seems like it might be a “quick and dirty” way to test the market for sleeper service on a new overnight rail route, without having to commission construction of a short (and therefore expensive) production run of bespoke sleeping cars.

Sleeper buses go both ways, so why can’t planes or trains? Some sleeper buses have airplane-style seats or “pods” (with varying degrees of recline, up to and including flat beds), while others have beds more like a Pullman berth or a Japanese “capsule” hotel. Overnight long-distance international buses (although mostly without beds) are currently much more common in Europe than overnight trains. But these private night buses are less widely known and, because they are marketed primarily to specific ethnic communities, substantially more difficult to find and reserve than night trains operated by national railways, especially if you don’t speak or read local languages.

Link | Posted by Edward, 12 January 2022, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | Comments (3)

Wednesday, 5 January 2022

The Amazing Race 33, Episode 1

USA - London, England (U.K.)

Maybe you’re not sure if you are ready for travel, much less for international travel, long-haul flights, or a trip around the world. But the new season of The Amazing Race is a chance to explore these ideas and clarify our own (revised) travel goals, plans, and expectations.

Broadcasts of The Amazing Race have resumed after a hiatus of more than a year — with changes, some yet to be revealed, prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This renews the question this TV series has always raised: “What, if anything, can I learn about real world travel from a reality-TV show?”

This isn’t the first time that reality has interrupted the “reality” television of The Amazing Race. The first season of the TV race around the world, starting and ending in New York City, was filmed in March and April of 2001, and the first episode was broadcast on 5 September 2001. After 9/11, the second episode, scheduled for broadcast on 12 September 2001, was postponed for a week while CBS television executives debated whether to cancel the show.

This time, of course, the delay in filming of a new season was due to COVID-19. Season 32, filmed before the pandemic in 2019, was broadcast in 2020. But filming of Season 33, which began in February 2020, was interrupted by the pandemic after only three legs of the race. The cast and crew were sent home. Location filming, under modified conditions and with a drastically modified itinerary, didn’t resume until September 2021.

This week’s two-hour season premiere, taking the racers from their homes in the USA to London, was filmed before the pandemic began to affect travel in most of the world. So it provides a reminder of what travel was like in the B.C. (“Before Covid”) era, rather than any indication of what world travel is like now or will be in the future, D.C. (“During Covid”) or A.C. (“After Covid”).

Where and how we can or will be able to travel, or want to travel, during and after the pandemic? What will be different, and what will go back to the way it was? What new and different services and products for travellers will be available, and which will disappear (or have already)? What will change about air travel? Surface transportation? Accommodations? Food and drink for travellers? How we interect with locals and other travellers? Where we go? What we do? Will there be an “after the pandemic”, or an indefinitely continuing “new normal” of life and travel?

I look forward to thinking about these questions in the context of The Amazing Race 33, even if my crystal ball remains cloudy. But to see how the TV producers have addressed these issues, we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for the episodes later this season that were filmed in September 2021, after the cast and crew were vaccinated.

In the meantime, the only things that have really changed from previous seasons in these first pre-pandemic episodes of The Amazing Race 33 are the advertisements. Changes in advertisers and ads on “The Amazing Race” provide clues about the thinking of providers of travel services and other businesses.

The online travel agency Travelocity (a division and brand of Expedia), has for many years been the lead sponsor of “The Amazing Race” on CBS-TV in the USA. This season, Travelocity has pulled its ads. A product placement for Travelocity in the first episode (a prize for the pair of racers who finished first in the initial leg) had already been contracted for and filmed, so it was included. But there were no other Travelocity ads.

Also notably absent from the roster of advertisers on the first episode (although perhaps less conspicuously) was American Airlines.

The entire season premiere double episode took place en route to, and in, London, making it a two-hour advertisement for travel to American Airlines’ most profitable non-U.S. destination. American Airlines has more flights to London from more U.S. gateways than any other U.S.-based airline. Putting members of the cast of “The Amazing Race” on AA flights to London from gateways across the USA (even nonstop from Charlotte) served to further highlight AA as the airline to fly from the USA to London.

Nothing has been confirmed publicly, but I assume that the TV producers arranged these flights for the cast in the expectation that they could sell AA on a product placement and perhaps additional advertising. But after the start of the pandemic, AA chose not to advertise these flights, some of which had been cancelled and others of which were being flown with too many empty seats to be profitable. So there were no shots of AA planes or the AA logo on this episode of “The Amazing Race”, and no mention of American Airlines in Phil Keoghan’s voiceovers. Most of the “recovery” in air travel (and travel generally), not just in the USA but in other countries, has been in domestic travel. International flights remain difficult to sell, and apparently AA doesn’t think it’s worth the price of national TV ads to even try to sell its most important intercontinental route.

Travelocity was replaced as lead sponsor for this season of “The Amazing Race” by another, older, division of the Expedia group, VRBO (“Vacation Rentals By Owner”). I can’t tell whether Expedia had already committed to the sponsorship, but substituted VRBO for Travelocity after the pandemic began, or whether it was an independent ad purchasing decision. But however it was arranged, it clearly reflects the shift in patterns of travel. Travelocity’s profits come primarily from bookings of traditional hotels, while VRBO is a rental and sublease platform for owners of seasonal and resort houses, condos, and timeshares. Some of these properties also are listed on Airbnb.com and/or Booking.com, but timeshares not so often. Many people who buy a timeshare — a permanent right to an apartment, condo, or suite at a resort for a certain number of weeks every year — find that they aren’t using some or all of their weeks. Subletting a timeshare slot the owner isn’t going to use is sometimes much cheaper than booking a similar rental unit at the same resort or property for the same week. Other timeshare sublet platforms include Redweek and Koala.

At least on the broadcast I watched (KPIX-TV, over the air in San Francisco), there were no other travel-related ads in the first episode of The Amazing Race 33. That says something about the market for travel services not having “recovered”, but it may also say something about the state of retail sales and advertising in general. It’s hard for anyone outside the advertising industry to know for sure, but it looked like CBS and KPIX couldn’t find many advertisers willing to pay to target viewers of “The Amazing Race”, but instead sold many of the commercial slots in the remnant market to advertisers willing to accept placement on any (prime time) show in exchange for a discounted rate per viewer.

There are already signs of new business models for travel services emerging out of the pandemic. Whether or not their ads show up in broadcasts of “The Amazing Race”, I’ll be reporting on some of them in future columns. Stay tuned!

Link | Posted by Edward, 5 January 2022, 23:59 (11:59 PM) | Comments (0)

Monday, 27 December 2021

Congress punts decision on draft registration into 2022 or 2023

Congress has once again deferred making a decision as to whether to finally end draft registration or to expand it to include young women as well as young men.

What happened with Selective Service and the Fiscal Year 2022 NDAA?

The final version of this year’s this year’s annual National Defense [sic] Authorization Act (NDAA) approved by Congress on December 14th and signed into law today by President Biden makes no change to the provisions of the Military Selective Service Act (MSSA) which authorize the President to order men, but not women, to register with the Selective Service System (SSS) for a possible military draft. This leaves the current Selective Service registration and address reporting requirements (applicable to young men but not women) in effect, and the issue unresolved.

Continue reading "Congress punts decision on draft registration into 2022 or 2023"
Link | Posted by Edward, 27 December 2021, 09:25 ( 9:25 AM) | Comments (2)

Monday, 22 November 2021

"Freedom to Travel Act of 2021" introduced in Congress

On the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, the Freedom to Travel Act of 2021 (H.R. 6030, “To protect the right to travel by common carrier”), has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

If enacted into law, the Freedom to Travel Act would be the most significant step toward bringing the TSA within the rule of law since the creation of the TSA 20 years ago this week with the enactment of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (ATSA) in 2001. It would rein in the TSA’s ability to substitute secret, extrajudicial edicts for court orders restricting American’s rights, and would remove key barriers that have stood in the way of judicial review of TSA actions and legal redress for those whose rights have been violated.

The 20th anniversary of the creation of the TSA is an apt moment for Congress to step back from the post-9/11 panic that drove the enactment of the ATSA, take a deep breath, consider what it has actually wrought, and begin to restore the historic right to travel that the TSA has been steadily chipping away at for the entire 20 years of its existence.

The Freedom to Travel Act would create no new rights, but would codify in Federal law an explicit right to travel by common carrier.

The Freedom to Travel Act would apply to interstate common carriers in all modes of passenger transportation: airlines, railroads including Amtrak, interstate buses, and ferries.

The Freedom to Travel Act would create an explicit new Federal cause of action against any common carrier, person, or Federal agency that denies or refuses transportation by common carrier to any individual except on the basis of (1) failure to pay the fare or comply with the conditions of carriage in the carrier’s published tariff; (2) failure or refusal to submit to an administrative search limited to a search for weapons, explosives, or incendiary devices likely to pose a threat to the safety of the conveyance, passengers, or crew; or (3) an order from a court of competent jurisdiction.

The Freedom to Travel Act would have important benefits from both a consumer and a human rights perspectives.

If you are a U.S. citizen, ask your U.S. Representative to co-sponsor the Freedom to Travel Act (H.R. 6030), and ask your U.S. Senators to introduce a similar bill in the Senate. Urge consumer and civil rights groups to endorse this bill.

Read more from the Identity Project (PapersPlease.org).

Link | Posted by Edward, 22 November 2021, 19:01 ( 7:01 PM) | Comments (0)

Sunday, 14 November 2021

U.S. Senate prepares to expand Selective Service to women as well as men

After months of delay, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced today that the Senate is “likely” to vote this week on an annual defense [sic] bill which includes a provision — already approved by the House of Representatives in its version of the bill — to extend the President’s authority to order men to register with the Selective Service System for a possible military draft to include women as well.

Continue reading "U.S. Senate prepares to expand Selective Service to women as well as men"
Link | Posted by Edward, 14 November 2021, 14:49 ( 2:49 PM) | Comments (3)

Thursday, 4 November 2021

Unity in diversity

What does it mean to be part of a “union” of “independent contractors”? My article below on this question is cross-posted from the blog of the National Writers Union:

The Book Division of the National Writers Union, including Delegates and other NWU members interested in issues related to books, e-books, and audiobooks, met online on October 22, 2021, as part of the 2021 triennial NWU Delegate Assembly (“DA”).

This was an important opportunity to assess what we’ve done, what we are doing, and what remains to be done — together as NWU members, and with allies.

As outgoing Co-Chair of the Book Division and as a Delegate from the Northern California Chapter of the NWU, I gave a report to the Book Division and the Delegates on highlights of the work done in the name of the Book Division, and other national and international advocacy for copyright and writers’ rights by the NWU, since the last DA in 2018. The earlier reports on the NWU’s international advocacy and coalition work to the 2018 DA and the 2016 National Executive Board meeting provide some context, background, and framing of the issues that may be helpful especially to those new to these issues and activities of the NWU.

I have served as Co-Chair of the Book Division since first being nominated from the floor and elected at the 2009 DA, and as de facto sole Chair since 2018.

From those 12 years of experience, I take away two lessons above all others for myself and for other NWU organizers, office-holders, and members:

Continue reading "Unity in diversity"
Link | Posted by Edward, 4 November 2021, 15:36 ( 3:36 PM) | Comments (0)

Friday, 17 September 2021

House votes this week on Selective Service

Key votes in the U.S. House of Representatives on proposals to repeal (unlikely), expand to women (most likely), or eliminate some of the penalties for violations of the Military Selective Service Act will take place the week of 20 September 2021 as part of the debate on this year’s annual National Defense [sic] Authorization Act (NDAA).

Here’s a calendar of the Congressional and Presidential actions that are leading up to women being required to register and report address changes to the Selective Service System starting when women born in 2005 turn 18 in 2023.

Calls to members of the House are needed now, especially to members of the House Rules Committee who will decide this Monday whether the full House will debate or vote on whether to expand draft registration to women (or will enact this as part of a larger bill with no line-item debate or vote on Selective Service).

Continue reading "House votes this week on Selective Service"
Link | Posted by Edward, 17 September 2021, 15:08 ( 3:08 PM) | Comments (1)

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Youth Liberation and Military Conscription

My article on Youth Liberation and Military Conscription is now online in the Summer 2021 issue of the Peace Chronicle, the magazine of the Peace and Justice Studies Association. According to the editor’s introduction to this themed issue on “Youth”:

Edward Hasbrouck offers up thoughtful views on youth and liberation from military conscription. He articulates ageism to anti-draft and anti-war positions, arguing that it is incumbent upon us to see and engage with this additional layer of oppression, the taken-for-granted discrimination that characterizes compulsory service or participation in war. As allies or would-be allies of youth, older adults must see ageism as a problem of older people, just as white people must play a role in resisting and dismantling racism, and men must see feminism as their issue, too. As in other movements, allyship in the anti-draft movement is not just about “saving” those most oppressed but about liberating us all.

Read the full article (free): Youth Liberation and Military Conscription

Link | Posted by Edward, 2 September 2021, 09:05 ( 9:05 AM) | Comments (1)

Wednesday, 1 September 2021

House and Senate Armed Services Committees vote to make women register for the draft

Today the House Armed Services Committee joined the Senate Armed Services Committee in voting 35-24 to expand registration for a possible military draft to include young women as well as young men.

Following today’s House committee vote and an earlier Senate committee vote in July (before Congress’s summer vacation), the versions of the annual “must-pass” National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to be considered later this fall in both the House and Senate will include provisions requiring women to register for the draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday and report to the Selective Service System each time they change their address until their 26th birthday, as young men have been required to do since 1980.

An alternative compromise amendment to suspend draft registration unless the President declared a national emergency and put the Selective Service System into standby was submitted before today’s committee session, but ruled out of order on the basis of arcane PAYGO procedural rules. Under the same rules, the amendment to the NDAA to expand draft registration to women was ruled in order, considered, and adopted without any antiwar opposition from members of the committee.

Floor amendments may be proposed when the NDAA is considered by the full House and/or the Senate to repeal the Military Selective Service Act, end draft registration entirely, abolish the Selective Service System, or put Selective Service into “standby” as it was from 1975-1980. But even if such amendments are proposed and put to a vote, they have little chance of success in either the House or the Senate.

It’s now overwhelmingly likely that the Fiscal Year 2022 NDAA to be adopted in late 2021 or early 2022 will authorize the President to order women to register for the draft at age 18, starting in 2023 with women born in 2005 and after.

Continue reading "House and Senate Armed Services Committees vote to make women register for the draft"
Link | Posted by Edward, 1 September 2021, 20:31 ( 8:31 PM) | Comments (4)

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

European Commission rejects my complaint against CRSs

Just over four years after finally agreeing to consider my complaint that the lack of passwords and lack of logs of access to Passenger Name Records (PNRs) constitutes a violation of the privacy and data protection provisions (currently under review) of the European Union’s Code of Conduct for Computerized Reservations Systems (CRSs), the European Commission has decided to reject my complaint without any investigation of the facts.

Continue reading "European Commission rejects my complaint against CRSs"
Link | Posted by Edward, 14 July 2021, 13:48 ( 1:48 PM) | Comments (1)

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