Prison overcrowding is just a queueing problem

According to an article from 5 years ago, BBC NEWS | UK | Prison overcrowding ‘at crisis point’. Apparently it still is: BBC NEWS | UK | UK Politics | Jail system in ‘serious crisis’.
This “perpetual crisis” is simply a queueing problem: There is an arrival rate of prisoners (how many people we jail), there is a departure rate (how many people we release), and there is a storage capacity (how many we keep behind bars). To relieve this perpetual crisis, we can
1) reduce arrivals
2) increase departures
3) increase storage, either by adding capacity or making better use of the space through double or triple bedding.
The various strategies have been tried, reducing arrivals most notably last week when the beleagured Home Secretary (Attorney General/Secretary of Homeland Security more or less for US readers) was chastised by a judge who refused to jail a paedophile because of a memo from the Home Office about prison crowding.
Capacity will take some time to expand, especially given the inaction to date.
We could increase departures, but then prisoners would not serve their full sentences (and we know that prisoners who are safe to release after 7 years must somehow remain very dangerous after 6 years and 364 days).
The problem in thinking about this is the implicit (and wrong) assumption of inelasticity of demand, if we changed the cost, we would get just as many prisoners.
So how about pricing? Charging prisoners for their stay would probably not work, most can’t afford it, and we would have to send them to debtor’s prison.
Maybe we could charge someone else.
Prison cells are a scarce commodity, valuable to the communities seeking to send more of their own into the slammer. Each community (via their judges) would administer a “prison budget”. The judges could bid on cells in an auction (envision eBay), perhaps a Dutch auction, for each of their potential prisoners, the highest N bidders get to imprison their least favorite baddies. There would of course be different classes of prison cells, and a certain number enter the market each week (e.g. 5 cells of maximum security with a 6 year stay, 19 cells of medium security for a 3 year stay). We might even get an options market, and trading between communities if the match didn’t work. Prisons could transform security levels to better match market demand. It shouldn’t take too long for a new equilibrium to emerge.
This might open up the option for new suppliers to enter the market, driving down costs. I don’t know the legal nicities of this over here in the UK, but in the US many states have private prisons, and one could easily see the least dangerous baddies condemned to an underperforming Motel 6 instead of prison.
Communities would reveal through this process which crimes they really dislike based on how much they are willing to pay to imprison different people who committed different crimes.
Just a thought.

The Oyster Gotcha

A nice blog post (via The Transport Blog): The Oyster Gotcha – Software Reality on some of the other problems with London’s Oyster card system. As wonderful as it is, it is a user interface problem par excellance.

Bad news for the casual carpooling program

According to an article in SFGATE: Woman escapes carpool carjacker / Man said he had a bomb, then hit her and stole her car.
The title basically summarizes the article. Casual carpooling has been quite successful for several decades enabling people to use the HOV lane by getting non-drivers to ride as passengers, with very few if any reported violent acts.
It is used in Washington along the Shirley Highway, as well as San Francisco, where it is called Slugging.

The elite score more privelage from the state

The Guardian posts an article: Bribe your way to the front of the queue in Britain and India
Apparently first class passengers in the UK get undeserved perks from their government much like those in the US. See previous post. In this case it is queue-jumping the immigration line rather than queue jumping the security line. I don’t know which is worse. Both are appallingly inequitable and should not be supported by government.
The other thing to note is that this is quite un-British, where the people (or at least the non-elites) are taught how to queue. Queueing is something the British excel at due to their extensive practice in the matter, it would be a shame to see them lose their competitive advantage in this arena.

Vandalism or terrorism

We were returning from Harrogate to London last night on the Great North Eastern Railway (GNER) after attending the well-run and interesting UTSG conference.
The trip from Harrogate to Leeds was uneventful. On the trip from Leeds to Kings Cross in London, we were interrupted by what I believe the announcer said was a Code 3 on Coach M. (We were on a different coach so at the time didn’t know what that was), though we did not stop there.
Later the announcer told us that there had been vandalism, a rock through a window, which needed to be repaired before we proceeded.
The coach was held at Peterborough for about 15 minutes while repairs were made to the broken window, and we arrived 15 minutes late. When we arrived, I could not locate the vandalism, so it must have been cleaned up fairly well.
Three observations spring to mind …
(1) If this had happened on a plane it would be called terrorism.
(2) If this had happened on a plane, the delay would be considerably more than 15 minutes.
(3) This doesn’t seem to happen on planes.
This does seem to happen a lot on trains. In fact on 100% of my trips (both of them) from northern England or Scotland to Kings Cross, my journey has been delayed by rocks thrown through windows. The precise statistics on train vandalism (by rocks through windows) I have not been able to find, but it must be common, and there are websites discussing vandalism. It is and has long been so common that it features in a Thomas the Tank Engine season one episode
My previous trip from Edinburgh to Kings Cross on August 30, 2003 was eventful for several reasons.
My notes on the day
“Depart Edinburgh. Check out of Globetrotter, take hotel shuttle to train station, catch next train to London (on the half hour).
Train: operated by GNER
1st conductor upset we are on wrong train, but eventually allows us to stay
2nd train stops at Grantham Station and engineer announces we are stopped because the train ahead was involved in a fatality on the tracks. this involves a 1 hour delay (death = 1 hour)
3rd, train stops south of Stevanage when someone pulls the emergency stop. It seems a window was broken on the car, the glass was inside, suggesting perhaps a rock was thrown?
Arrives a King’s Cross.
Transfer to King’s Cross/Thameslink station, which is not at the King’s Cross Train Station, nor at the King’s Cross underground station, but 2 blocks away. Surely these could have been connected somehow.
Take Thameslink to Gatwick. The train passes through some really poor areas of London.
At Gatwick catch hotel shuttle to Renaissance Hotel Gatwick. Everything operates smoothly.”
So there was what I have later learned has come to be termed a “person under a train”. This too seems fairly common. Several weeks ago I vistited Stevanage New Town, as part of my visits to a number of the New Towns in London (I am from Columbia, Maryland after all). While my train did not hit anyone, another train was cancelled for this reason and the system was delayed. The announcer at the station apologized several times for the train cancellation due to a person being hit by a train. This is a very British thing, saying sorry but somehow blaming events beyond their control. If the person was hit accidentally, I suspect he deserves a much more significant apology than the delayed customers, however that might not have been the case.
These “suicide by trains” are potentially as dangerous as other suicide bombers that we normally call terrorism. But this is rail, not air, so we don’t make an issue of it. The number of people who have been killed by train derailments caused by vandalism and by suicide does not make the news.
Now why are people so disgruntled they feel like destroying? Are the causes political (I don’t like trains because they destroy the environment, or community, or lead to industrialization … the vandals are merely illiterate or uneducated Ted Kasczynskis in the making), or merely for the entertainment of the vandals (It is amusing to see things destroyed)?
Not being a vandal myself, I don’t understand the psychology.
I am not the only one disappointed in GNER service, there is a blog devoted to the issue.
At any rate, I could say the trains are decrepit, but it would be much more polite to say the British make excellent use of their capital investments and don’t waste money on maintenance.
— dml

Cash fare in London rises

The Guardian (and other papers) report on the increase in cash fares for public transport in London Most expensive in the world: London’s fares rise again .
The key issue is driving passengers toward electronic payment (Oyster-based smartcard prices have been frozen simultaneous with the cash increase). This is essentially the same as the model I developed a few years ago for toll roads with electronic toll collection, though in that case I suggested pushing travelers to electronic payment through delay reduction and ETC discounts, suggesting that it would be better overall to move travelers toward electronic payment sooner rather than later.
The more relevant point is that the Oyster fare is still more expensive than smartcard fares in other cities. Is that because London is recovering a higher share of its costs directly from passengers (rather than having a larger subsidy from general revenue), or because its costs are higher. The first would be a good reason for higher fares (why should bus users subsidize rail users, or bicyclists subsidize either?), the latter might suggest management problems, especially since there is no notable higher quality of service on the underground than on other large city metros. The network is more extensive, and more as a result more widely used, but on the other hand, it is far less reliable than any other city’s system I have used.
The increase in National Rail fares is another issue entirely …

We are dying less

According to an article in the Strib Road toll is lowest since 1945, the number of traffic fatalities was down to 475 people in Minnesota for the year 2006 (from 655 people in 2003 and 1060 in 1968). This is a significant and non-random improvement in traffic safety, and notable given the continuing increase in total travel (indicating safety per trip or per mile has improved even more).
How much of the improvement is due to better vehicles, better weather, better roads, better drivers, better law enforcement, or better emergency response is an important question, as it may help direct resources toward the most productive areas additional improvements. I suspect a large part of the recent trend is emergency response, especially with the advent and widespread adoption of cell phones in the last decade leading to faster notification and response, as well as better medical treatment in hospitals for injured persons.

Is this what Hans Monderman has in mind

A find from Digg: Asia’s Craziest Intersection .
Is this what Hans Monderman who believes in designing for negotiation, had in mind?

Word on the Street about Streetcars

Downtown Journal Online has a follow-up to their article on streetcars in Minneapolis. Seems opinion is mixed. Of course the person from the streetcar museum was in favor.