Book Review published in Transportation Journal, Fall 2016
Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead
W.W Norton & Co., New York NY, 2015
In the United States we have become accustomed to traffic congestion, poor public transit, and the inability of the federal government to remedy these problems. Rosabeth Moss Kanter takes on these issues from the perspective of the general public in her new book “Move: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead”. It will come as no surprise that the many nations outperforming the US in infrastructure development are able to do so, in part, because of their national priorities and policies. A recurring theme in the book is what the author calls “the quintuple wins” of greater safety, less congestion, higher efficiency and productivity, less pollution and carbon emissions, and greater economic opportunity.
The opening chapters describe the current deficiencies in our infrastructure and the statistics are stunning. While I found the book to be quite interesting, it is a bit heavy on data. Nevertheless, the point is well made that we have a massive problem which is getting worse by the day and our economic opportunities and quality of life are being limited. Kanter traces the root cause of our problems to the Interstate Highway System and the outmoded Highway Trust Fund. She goes on to examine all modes of transportation and notes that solutions need to be multi-modal and, most importantly, build connections.
While the public is generally aware of our 3rd world passenger rail system, not many know how efficient and profitable US freight rail has become. Indeed, 21st century freight railroads can be characterized by financial responsibility and reinvestment of profits in infrastructure. This is in contrast to other modes which have deferred investment turning hubs into bottlenecks. Commuter rail is examined as an important part of getting America moving again. It is acknowledged that public transit systems cannot cover operating expenses with fares but that they are essential for economic development and mobility. Beyond operating expenses transit systems, other than busses, require huge capital investments. The US has disinvested in rail infrastructure, allocating 4.9% of federal transportation dollars in 1976 and only 1.2% in 2014.
Chapter 3, “Up In the Air”, describes what all travelers know about the ordeal of airline travel today. Technological innovations that can improve the system are highlighted but perhaps the biggest need is for a national strategy. Airports are managed by municipalities and regional authorities while air traffic is managed by the FAA. Airlines want to get passengers out of town while airports view delays as a way to keep them spending money locally. Interestingly, while airport land is very valuable, private companies have been unwilling to own and operate airports. Multiple stakeholders with different interests result in a complex system.
Chapter 4, “Smart Roads Meet the Smart Phone”, is both inspiring and exciting. Kanter introduces the concepts of dynamic pricing as an alternative or supplement to the fuel tax. The reader learns how software can enable many improvements allowing smarter use of existing assets. “Re Thinking Cities,” the subject of Chapter 5, examines how streets can be used as assets for people as well as cars. The author shows the direct correlation between efficient public transit and social mobility. Achieving full interoperability across systems, modes, and geographic regions will require bold policy and political will.
The discussion comes around again to the role of policy makers in the next chapter, “The Will and the Wallet”. In the US we may have more wallet than will. Our 2.4% of GDP investment in infrastructure pales in comparison to 5% in the EU and 9% in China. Kanter does not believe that privatization of infrastructure is a good idea and makes the case that it will cost more in the long run. She is a proponent of PPP’s, Public Private Partnerships. Along with Infrastructure Banks, PPP’s can be an alternative to government bonds or privatization. Unfortunately this section of the book is dominated by a much too detailed and difficult to follow story about the Miami Access Tunnel.
The final chapter, “How to Move”, emphasizes that we need to look to mayors, governors, and regional authorities to do what the federal government cannot do. Kanter believes that coalitions including the private sector are the way to implement infrastructure improvements. This may be the only way in the absence of a national strategy but seems a little idealistic. However, this is an informative book with an optimistic outlook and well worth reading.
Mitch Kostoulakos, CTL
Southern New Hampshire University