Productivity II

In 2005 I started a new job in Philadelphia. It didn’t take me long to realize that I was spending more per month on gas than the cost of a SEPTA pass, SEPTA being the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority, swallower-up of the Reading and Pennsylvania railroads along with various light rail lines.

I bought the pass and a new laptop and got on the train. There was nothing really new about this. In 1972 I moved to Morton, Pennsylvania, and started work at Third and Walnut in Philadelphia. Newspaper in hand, I took (what used to be) the Pennsylvania Railroad into Suburban Station. I have used both the (former) Reading and the Pennsy off and on since then. In the off seasons I drove to some suburban office park.

The laptop was for the two hours of enforced idleness that commuting from Langhorne involves. You can see the results of my labors at

Which gets us to productivity. One of the ideas I’ve gleaned from reading about productivity is how our interstate highway system contributes to the country’s productivity. My first reaction was “Oh, yes, another economic theory that doesn’t offer a real-world proof.”

The trouble with public transportation is not just the consideration of what I am going to do while I wait for the train to get to Reading Terminal–er, Market East–er, Jefferson Station. I’ve found I could spend that time on I-95 waiting for the car in front of me. The problem really is that it forces my schedule to the train’s. (True, there can be a lot of waiting for trains. But if you commute that way, you learn to game the system so you don’t waste much time-not nearly so much as if you are behind the wheel and can’t, or at least shouldn’t, do anything else. Part of Bill’s problem with his last commute is that his workplace was nowhere near the train station, which made it a very long sucker. –KD)

If you consider the promise of the interstate highway system (from downtown to the shore in an hour) and its realization (try three hours on the Friday night before the holiday weekend), it’s difficult to see the benefit. My mother as a young woman took the subway to Camden and a Penn-Reading Seashore line to the shore. She had a book, not a laptop. (And she’d have a book, not a laptop, today. –KD)

What I’ve found is this: the difficulty is the enforced schedule of public transport. If I drive, I can leave for my meeting in Philadelphia when I’m ready and start the journey home as soon as my meeting is over. That more than makes up for the hour and half on 95 alone with my thoughts, not my laptop. (Going to these meetings and commuting are apples and oranges. Bill’s meetings these days are in the evenings, when the trains don’t run so often, and he has less to do in town, so he can’t use the time before and after the meeting as well as he used to. –KD)

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