Friday Roundup: Urban affordability, private railroad in Florida, ride-share services and congestion, labor-productivity gains

There are always a few items we’ve read during the week that deserve more attention but don’t make it into our regular posts. So we bundle them for the Friday roundup.

Here’s this week’s bundle:

The Hill: Booming city economies push middle class out

An explosion of job growth in the hearts of America’s largest cities has driven the recovery from the worst economic recession in modern history, sending wages soaring and unemployment rates plummeting.

But along with a growing number of high-wage, high-skill jobs, home prices are rising in urban cores at a much faster clip than in suburbs or rural areas. It’s an indication that the decades-long trend of upper-income residents moving out of urban areas is reversing itself… 

“We’ve had such great business opportunity and growth, but with it has come great challenges,” Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said in an interview. “We’re really a city where people can’t afford to live anymore. A lot of people of color have been displaced and pushed out of the city, the middle class can’t afford to live in Seattle.”

E21: For Progress, Privatize Puerto Rico’s Power

Puerto Rico has taken an important step toward modernization with the decision to privatize its bankrupt and failing power utility. Governor Ricardo Rossello has announced that the sale of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) will take place in the next eighteen months. The widely-anticipated privatization will ease the territory’s crippling debt burden, and, if properly managed, deliver Puerto Ricans a safer and more reliable power system.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is the largest utility in Puerto Rico in terms of revenue and clients, serving 1.5 million customers. Vertically integrated across generation, transmission, distribution and retail, it defines Puerto Rico’s electricity sector. Politicized and dysfunction management of the utility has added $9 billion to Puerto Rico’s crippling $74 billion in debt and hamstrung economic growth on the island.

After the recent hurricane, PREPA has taken months to get back into service, far slower than other damaged utilities. Large parts of the island still do not have service.

International evidence shows that privatized energy companies are more efficient than their publicly-owned counterparts.

Wired: Turns Out Uber and Lyft Might Not Be Ruining the American City

A new report shines a touch more light on how traveling around cities works today. Researchers at the Shared Use Mobility Center pored over data provided by an unnamed ride-hailing company—maybe Uber or Lyft, staying anonymous for competitive reasons—plus a 2015 survey of 4,500 car-share, bike-share, and transit users, plus newly released numbers from four transit agencies’ surveys of their own riders. Their verdict? The picture is still blurry, and definitely very complicated.

So no, Uber isn’t single handedly wrecking your city commute. (It’s not always the bad guy.) And transit agencies aren’t always working the way they should, providing frequent, reliable, or fast enough service to keep those with higher incomes away from the siren call of traffic-creating cars. “This study says what every study says: The transit agencies should be very concerned,” says Bruce Schaller, a former New York City traffic and planning commissioner who now runs his own consultancy.

National Association of Manufacturers: Manufacturing Labor Productivity Rebounded Strongly in Fourth Quarter

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that manufacturing labor productivity rebounded strongly in the fourth quarter, up 5.7 percent at the annual rate. The third quarter figures were pulled lower by hurricane-related weaknesses, with labor productivity and output down 4.9 percent and 1.6 percent in that report, respectively. In contrast, output soared 7.3 percent in the fourth quarter, reflecting both a recovery from the hurricanes and stronger economic growth. Hours worked in the sector rose by 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter, with unit labor costs off by 3.7 percent. The sectoral breakdowns were also encouraging, with labor productivity for durable and nondurable goods firms up 6.7 percent and 4.5 percent, respectively.

Associated Press: Trump infrastructure plan seeks to shift burden to states

When President Donald Trump called for a $1.5 trillion infrastructure investment in his State of the Union address, he didn’t pledge that the federal government actually would provide that much money for roads, bridges, rail and waterways.

To the contrary, Trump’s plan counts on state and local governments working with private investors to come up with much of the cash.

Governing: All Aboard? The Uncertain Future of America’s First Privately Built Railroad in Decades

Just last month, a fleet of brand-new passenger trains, painted in eye-popping colors such as magenta, azure and lime green, all with yellow accents, started carrying riders between Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. If all goes according to plan, they will soon start servicing Miami, too, rolling down 66 miles of one of Florida’s most congested corridors in an hour. Passengers can enjoy wide seats and onboard Wi-Fi, and will start and finish their trips in architecturally striking stations in downtown Miami, Fort Lauderdale or West Palm Beach. The stations will include retail spaces, along with adjacent office buildings and apartment towers that promise to add extra vibrancy to the surrounding neighborhoods…

It isn’t the state of Florida or the municipalities along the route that are putting up most of the funds; it’s a private company that’s convinced it can make money by building and running the $3.1 billion project largely on its own. By 2020, the company, named All Aboard Florida, hopes to extend its “Brightline” service all the way to the Orlando airport, 168 miles north of West Palm Beach. With top speeds of 125 mph, the train could take passengers from Orlando to Miami in a relaxed three hours, rather than the four stressful hours it usually takes in a car…

But before Brightline can serve as a model for infrastructure development elsewhere, All Aboard Florida needs to prove its trains can make money.  There are many doubters. They point to lawsuits, angry neighbors, construction delays, safety questions and political interference. All Aboard Florida has so far struggled to show it can put together a financing package that will attract investors, operate in the black and provide Floridians with a new transportation option that could reshape the state for years to come.