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Bremen-Paris with no planes

by Jerome a Paris Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 09:33:49 AM EST

I was somewhat affected by the ash cloud from Iceland as I was in Bremen (and nearby cities to the North, being Bremerhaven and Cuxhaven, where a good bit of the offshore wind industry is based) with 2 colleagues on Thursday and we were supposed to fly back yesterday morning. Needless to say, our plane was cancelled, and we tried to find other options.

We first ruled out driving back, as it is about 800km through busy parts of Germany or the Benelux countries, and headed for the train station. We managed, without any significant wait, to find a very helpful person at the ticket desk, but quickly discovered that most trains were already closed for reservations. Some of them still allowed tickets to be booked, but without seats reserved. So we managed to cook up an itinerary via Köln and Brussels as, for some reason, 3 seats were found on a Thalys to Paris. I was hoping to get a Thalys to the Roissy airport, as my car was still parked there, but we could not get to Brussels early enough for the train that did have seats. Departure just before 11am, arrival in Paris 8 hours later, with an hour wait in Köln and almost 2 hours in Brussels.

So far so good, and our first pleasant surprise was that we were actually able to sit down in the first leg of the train, to Köln (but the train got crowded a couple of stops later, and people were standing through that train). We could work, and even managed to have lunch in the train, at our seats, and considered ourselves lucky.

But the second leg did not turn out to be so easy, as several hundred people were waiting on the quay to board the next train, which was announced to be 45mn late. Checking the station maps, we positioned ourselves far from the crowd, which was actually not positioned where the train was planned to stop. That was a smart decision, as the rush to get into the (already full) train was quite frantic; we managed to get in, as opposed to about half the people on the quay, and took standing positions in the middle of our wagon.

After a number of minutes, an announcement was made (in German only) saying that the train was too full, and that people who board in Köln had to get down in order for the train to leave the station. Naturally enough, nothing happened; a few minutes later, a new announcement, in a wearier voice, indicated that people without reservations should leave the train. Still nothing, and a new announcement was again made, in a slightly annoyed voice, accompanied by a rather brusque version in English ("the train is full, if you have a reservation, it's good, you can stay, if you don't have a reservation, get off the train, or it won't leave"). No movement. Another announcement, yet more annoyed. No movement, several more announcements, each time more exasperated (I couldn't help thinking the voice told us "who are those rude people who can't follow simple instructions?") and, at some point, also made in French (even more brusque than in English). Still very little movement. After a few more announcements, there was the add-on that people getting off the train could go to the service point. After a few more unsuccessful announcements, another slightly helpful add-on was that people could take local trains to Aachen, then Liège, then Brussels.

A few people trickled out - probably those that had already missed out their connection, or had alternatives. A large fraction of the passengers were people trying to go to London, quite a few with Eurostar tickets, and they obviously had few alternatives to going to Brussels.

Finally, the inevitable happened (after about 1h30 of wait on the quay): the voice announced that people without reservations would be taken out of the train by the police (the English and French versions pleasantly added  that "then you will have big problems"...) Some people started going out of the train; we found seats in our wagon (where less than half the seats actually had seat-specific reservations visible) and waited, just in case. We had tickets for that train, but no seat reservations, so the DB guy said "out", and the police gently asked us to leave, like the majority of people in the train. At this point, we would not have made the connection to the Thalys (unless it was delayed) so we did not try to protest that in any way. I have no idea what happened to the train in the end...

We decided to have a go at the car rental agency, where there was surprisingly little wait - for a good reason: the only agency with cars was the one that only allowed you to drop the cars in Germany or the Netherlands... We tried on the internet to scour cars in nearby cities, but no success. Finally, a bit of luck: a guy was waiting on the last car of one of the bigger car rental networks, but hesitating over the price they were charging: 750 euros per day (instead of the usual 75-100 on a normal day). And, in a touch of luck, he was going to France. We immediately offered to share the car and the cost, and he agreed. We signed the papers, paid the car, went back to the train ticket office to have our tickets reimbursed (again, a relatively quick line, a helpful clerk, and a quick and successful resolution) and went to pick up the car.

The drive to Paris was largely uneventful, other than a massive traffic jam near Liège because of (poorly organised) road works; there was unusually heavy traffic for a Friday night towards Paris - and lots of obvious rental cars full of business people (we saw several from Denmark at a stop area, and countless German ones): at least a lot of people seem to have had the good sense of sharing vehicles. Our co-traveller was a very friendly Egyptian physical therapist trying to get to a conference in Barcelona - the organisers were obviously keen to have him as they were driving to Lyons to pick him up there for him to be down there this morning... We left him at Roissy, where I picked up my car - by then, it was 11pm, so we all got home in Paris at midnight.

So, for us, it was a somewhat inconvenient day rather than a major catastrophe, but it's obvious that in such circumstances, money matters. Being able to put up the cash to get an overpriced rental car helps; being able to pay for first class, flexible or otherwise more expensive tickets can help; even if you get reimbursed in the end, the ability to put the money upfront (having liquidity) matters when everybody is trying to grab the same thing. And while airlines seem to have behaved decently, and the train companies seem to be trying to help as much as possible (even if I'm not sure I understand how a train could be considered "too full" and not others), but some like the car rental companies are clearly taking advantage of the situation.


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some like the car rental companies are clearly taking advantage of the situation.

While it leaves you with a bad taste in ones mouth, it is actually good sense. If there is a shortage there must be rationing, and rationing by price is by far the most efficient way of rationing in a situation like this.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 11:13:22 AM EST
if one happens to have relatively more money on hand, that is. were one especially endowed with political or social capital, i would imagine that other forms of rationing would appear efficient.
by wu ming on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 11:18:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh.

Im stuck in Italy, and will be for the foreseeable future.

Thanks for explaining to me the beauty of the market.

by Trond Ove on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 12:52:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's not really market pricing - for that the tolls on the roads should also adjust in a spectacular way. Otherwise, you can get around it by using your own car.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 02:31:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
rationing by "first come first serve" works just as fine, and is just as fair (or unfair).

Just as rationing by forcing people to share cars if they go in the same direction or close enough could be arguably more useful.

Wind power

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 01:03:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Just as rationing by forcing people to share cars if they go in the same direction or close enough could be arguably more useful.

Which is just what happened to you... high prices lead to car sharing, people respond to incentives, the market will provide etc. ;)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 01:08:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The Visible Car Rental Rate of the market?

:-)

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 01:24:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
We Try Harder

signed: The Invisible Hand

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 04:10:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
strikes me as clearly fairer.  but businesses should still be free to jack up prices when demand spikes.

The point is not to be right, but to get to right.
by marco on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 01:21:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
When demand strikes due to natural disaster there should/can be limits to such price-jacking.  200% of average high for that day, for example, would be expensive yet still fair.  750 euro's?  there's no need for that.
by paving on Thu Apr 22nd, 2010 at 06:42:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It would be most efficient in a crisis to ration by price but require two or more riders per vehicle. The problem with rationing by price is the unfairly skewed income distribution, not rationing by price in itself.

fairleft
by fairleft (fairleftatyahoodotcom) on Thu Apr 22nd, 2010 at 02:25:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
and rationing by price is by far the most efficient way of rationing in a situation like this.

Eficient in what way? does it get the most people  who need to travel moved? I think not.

Any idiot can face a crisis - it's day to day living that wears you out.

by ceebs (ceebs (at) eurotrib (dot) com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 01:13:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You can't measure need with money now?

Who, then, decides, and on what basis?

Align culture with our nature. Ot else!

by ormondotvos (ormond.otvosnospamgmialcon) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 02:39:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was surprised Jerome's statement, personally. Wealth-based rationing is terrific--if you're wealthy. Otherwise it sort of sucks.

During the second world war, rationing (in the U.S. at least) was done on a pretty level basis, with allowances for specific occupations... The question is whether in this sort of a system, it should be legal to sell ration tickets--which converts it back to a wealth-based system...

by asdf on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 07:08:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The question is whether in this sort of a system, it should be legal to sell ration tickets--which converts it back to a wealth-based system...

Well, yes and no. It turns it into a wealth-based rationing system with built-in redistribution. Which is a different kind of beast, because it ensures that only the surplus above stark necessity is traded in the wealth-based rationing system.

Conventional utility theory claims that this is equivalent to a pure price-rationing system, because conventional utility theory tacitly assumes that aggregate utility is independent of the income distribution. In the real world, of course, the mechanics are very different: A rationing system with saleable coupons provides a fixed price for the bulk and a floating price regime at the margin.

Now, as any properly schooled Serious economist will tell you, the market-based microeconomics works only at the margin - the bulk price is irrelevant. And as any small-"s" serious student of the real industrial economy will tell you, the cost of price volatility in the bulk is considerable. So a rationing system with tradeable coupons will (in theory) combine the best of both worlds - microeconomic incentives work where they matter (if they matter at all) and macroeconomic planning isn't disturbed by the wild price swings that accompany rationing-by-price.

Incidentally, releasing prices and production volumes at the margin but retaining price and volume controls for the bulk was how China transitioned from a command economy to whatever it is it has at present. Russia provides the other example - there, bulk prices were allowed to float at the same time as the margin prices. I think the different trajectories of those countries amply demonstrate the difference between the two systems of rationing...

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 08:18:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Glad you made it back home alright.

The point is not to be right, but to get to right.
by marco on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 01:55:44 PM EST
In Italy they have stopped flights in the North as well. But they are allowing flights for emergencies, such as Berlusconi needing to get to Raimondo Vianello's funeral.
Gli unici voli autorizzati sono stati (e saranno) quelli imposti dall'emergenza. Tra questi, anche il volo della Presidenza del Consiglio, con a bordo Silvio Berlusconi, partito da Roma per assistere alle esequie di Raimondo Vianello a Milano.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 02:35:41 PM EST
well, it's potentially damaging the plane in irreversible but invisible ways... Will he take the same plane later?

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 02:37:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Jerome a Paris:
Will he take the same plane later?

Let us pray...

"Ce qui vient au monde pour ne rien troubler ne mérite ni égards ni patience." René Char

by Melanchthon on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 03:28:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now, now. There will be perfectly innocent staff on that plane.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 03:38:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you never heard of targeted prayer?
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 04:12:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Does it work?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 04:13:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Refer to Bible, Lord, smite the enemy.

The smiting seemed to follow most of the time.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 05:02:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Selection bias. When the smiting didn't follow, the Bible doesn't report it.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 09:23:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It does, but there's always a reason God withheld the smite. The Chillun of Israel were whoring after false gods and such.

In fact, the Old Testament offers a series of object lessons in how to succeed in targeted prayer.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 04:37:10 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Since when are they innocent?
by paving on Thu Apr 22nd, 2010 at 06:43:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Is hitch-hiking legal in Europe these days? One would think that in such a situation, every car would have a full complement of passengers...
by asdf on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 07:09:25 PM EST
It's legal enough, but not very common.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 08:33:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Have you considered turning this into a movie?  It could perhaps star Steve Martin and John Candy (except he's dead, hmm, any other fatties available? John Goodman)
by njh on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 07:53:30 PM EST


"The future is already here -- it's just not very evenly distributed" William Gibson
by ChrisCook (cojockathotmaildotcom) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 09:24:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This is a terrific movie, for those who haven't seen it.
by paving on Thu Apr 22nd, 2010 at 06:44:12 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Glad you got home OK. I had the thought earlier today--wonder if people like Jerome are stuck out there on the road?

There have been mentions in news stories that shops esp in the UK may soon run short of fancy foods, as they are shipped as just-in-time inventory. When I looked in my (Japanese-made) American fridge, I saw English cheddar and French chevre, so theoretically inventory shortages could happen over here.

There was once a series of TV ads that showed lot of thunder and lightening and a voiceover that said, "Don't mess with Mother Nature." I am getting the feeling that She is seriously ticked off at humankind and is letting us know about it.

by Mnemosyne on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 09:09:42 PM EST
A lot of fancy foods are shipped, not flown. There will be some panic buying this week, but there won't be shortages of staples. Flowers are likely to be the most obvious casualties.

I'm more concerned about the post - the IRS owes me $3600, and the cheque they posted on Friday is supposed to arrive via airmail.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 10:04:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I heard Svalbard is running low on food with some time left until shipping can safely start for the summer season.

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Thu Apr 22nd, 2010 at 04:44:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Glad you made it home Jerome. I agree with whoever above said your story would make a good movie.

My sister is one of the stranded ones.  She joked with me today that maybe she should look into getting home by ship - I told her if the Queen Mary was booked she could look into going by freighter.  

She is, in fact, in Paris.  Fortunately she is traveling on business so the company is paying the long hotel bill as she waits to see when she can get home.  In the meantime she plans to enjoy herself.  

by Maryb2004 on Sat Apr 17th, 2010 at 10:12:33 PM EST
Sorry you had to endure such travel.  Hope you were able to at least check out the Cathedral next to the station.

According to Iceland geologists, this chaos may be around for a while.

I'm really glad i've got my DB 50% Pass already.

"Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Anaïs Nin

by Crazy Horse on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 06:12:26 AM EST
No, we did not leave the train station in Köln.
I have just gotten word that no planes will be leaving Paris tomorrow, so my participation at the big EWEC conference in Warsaw this week is now uncertain. It' a pity, as I was chairing the panel on offshore wind and was hoping to do some good advertising for my new company...

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 01:47:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You could always drive there... It would take you two days, though.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 01:51:42 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I see there was a night train from Mannheim to Warsaw. What would be the best place to book that? Mannheim is easily reached by TGV from Paris.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 02:39:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Bahn.de? You can also do travel planning for the whole of Europe though you cannot book non-DB trains through that website.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 02:47:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Also Köln-Warsaw. If you have a hard time getting a ticket out of Paris, driving to one of these and then taking the train might work. You can book the night train (but not always the train from Paris) on bahn.de; I checked several of them, and they even have some discount rates for couchettes left; I doubt that's what you're looking for, but it's an indication that not too many people are trying this option.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 03:15:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've found the Mannheim-Warsaw online, but they won't let me book. They provide a phone number; I'll try tomorrow morning.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 03:28:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's one of those old D-trains. The Köln one is a standard EN train, and online booking seems to work, so you can try that if you can't get through to that number (I wouldn't be surprised if they are as overloaded as everything else). The Mannheim one actually starts from Basel, so Karlsruhe might be a more convenient place to catch it.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 03:33:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hopefully this mess will result in a higher priority on high speed rail. A direct AGV express train Paris-Brussels-Köln-Hannover-Berlin-Poznan-Warsaw should take something like 6 hours, if it averages about 250 km/h. Not that impossible with a top speed of 350 km/h.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Sun Apr 18th, 2010 at 05:54:04 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Heh. Incidentally, over the past few workdays, I was trying to get the permissions and tickets for a conference in Lille, which I finally got all today. As between 18:02 at the Gare du Nord and 20:20 at the Gare de l'Est on the 21st, I would be in Paris, I thought to ask about a mini-meetup -- that's obsolete I guess.

On the other hand, I just got an email from the conference organisers, who are considering to call it off due to the air travel situation. (A rail conference, close to a HSR station, called off due to air traffic problems... sigh.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Mon Apr 19th, 2010 at 07:06:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I regularly drive 500km days here in California.  just sayin'
by paving on Thu Apr 22nd, 2010 at 06:38:29 PM EST
Somebody's signature used to be Americans think 100 years is a long time, Europeans think 100 miles is a long distance.

The brainless should not be in banking -- Willem Buiter
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Apr 22nd, 2010 at 06:42:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]
750/Euro's day for a car is insane.  There are laws against price-jacking in the case of disaster (hurricane's, earthquakes, etc).  I think volcanic ash can be added to that list.
by paving on Thu Apr 22nd, 2010 at 06:41:06 PM EST


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