The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Thursday, August 08, 2002

The Latest SAEPT Award: Department of Economics, Harvard University

From the Cabalmaster:

The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal has awarded lifetime SAEPT membership to the Department of Economics, Harvard University,

Of all who have trumpeted that "Sappiest" of slogans:


Harvard-trained economists are among the noisiest and most tenacious.

Harvard economists have also been in among the vanguard of "Saps(tm)" who have attempted to export this slogan overseas. This fact convinced the TransitCabal that the entire Harvard economics department deserves special recognation.

In Singapore, planners concluded by the mid-1970s that a heavy-rail trunk network would become necessary as transit traffic outgrew the capacity of the existing all-bus system.

However, rail plans drew criticism from the World Bank, and Singapore government finance officials got sticker shock.

A team of Harvard economists, styled as the "MRT Review Team," prepared a report supporting an all-bus alternative. This argued that heavy-rail costs would substantially exceed benefits [sounds familiar!], and touched off an extended debate. [We opinionated TransitCabalists support such debates over major public infrastructure projects -- and hope that some day, the "other side" will come up with something more substantial than STOP BUILDING RAIL SYSTEMS, DAMMIT!]

A subsequent review rejected the all-bus recomendation. This found that the Harvard economists:

--Did not consider substantial increases in bus operating costs.

--Made various unrealistic assumptions, including those about operating speed and the necessary fleet size, and failed to consider the need for large downtown bus terminals.

--Did not address how to handle large numbers of passengers at downtown bus terminals.

Singapore opened its first rail line near the end of 1987. Today, the 55-mile, 50-station "Mass Rapid Transit" network is widely recognized one of the world's most modern and efficient urban rail systems (see:

[We doubt that many Harvard economists ever listen to Led Zeppelin -- even though their "song remains the same" -- but perhaps one of them is reading this and will check it out.


"Singapore's Transport and Urban Development Alternatives," MRT Review Team, Singapore, 1980.

"Singapore Plans for a New Era," Susumu Awanohara, "Far Eastern Economic Review," February 15, 1980.

"Ready, Get Set, Don't Go," Susumu Awanohara, "Far Eastern Economic Review," August 22, 1980.

"MRT -- More Reflective Thought," Susumu Awanohara, "Far Eastern Economic Review," August 22, 1981.

"The MRT Debate in Singapore: To Do or Not To Do?" Seah, Chee Meow, Southeast Asian Affairs, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1981).

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