MONEY Tourism

Price Hikes Up to 150% Are Planned for Your Favorite National Parks

Entrance sign near Big Oak Flat Entrance Station, Yosemite National Park.
Entrance sign near Big Oak Flat Entrance Station, Yosemite National Park. Fred van Wijk—Alamy

A proposal is in the table to hike prices of admission, annual passes, campsite reservations, and more at roughly 130 national parks and recreation areas.

A broad proposal from the National Parks Service (NPS) first exposed by the Denver Post could make visiting some of the country’s biggest and best national parks significantly more expensive as early as next summer. Admissions to popular national parks such as Yosemite, Mount Rainier, and Crater Lake are likely to see price hikes of 50%, while prices at some lesser-known gems like Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park might rise upwards of 150%. Price increases are also being proposed for annual passes, campsites, boating permits, and other services at dozens of park and recreations areas.

Before storming the parks service in protest, bear in mind that even if the price increases are accepted, our national parks would remain one of the world’s great vacation bargains. The current price of a seven-day pass for a vehicle and all of its occupants at Yosemite is $20, rising to $30 if the proposal is approved. To make its case that the increases are necessary and appropriate, the NPS noted:

The current park entrance fees have been in place since 1997, when a seven day pass was increased from $5 to $20 per vehicle. According to the U.S. Bureau of labor and Statistics, $20 in 1997 is equivalent to $29.64 in 2014. This fee change will allow Yosemite to maintain consistent revenue while adjusting accordingly for inflation.

Likewise, the price of admission at Great Sand Dunes would rise to $10 per person up from the current rate of just $3 (there’s no flat vehicle rate offered), while the cost of an annual pass would increase from $15 to $40.

Park visitors could start to see the price increases as early as next summer, and/or fees might be incrementally hiked over the next couple of years. One of the reasons cited for the proposed increases is that the NPS is celebrating its 100th anniversary in 2016, and it wants to commemorate the centennial with parks and recreation areas looking their finest.

None of this is a done deal, however. The parks service is allowing the public to weigh in with comments over the next couple of weeks, and at least in theory the response could have an impact on how the proposed price increases play out. What’s especially complicated about the matter is that the average Joe is being asked to submit comments related to each park’s price hike individually; there is no central spot where people can respond to the general idea of raising prices across the board. There’s one spot where you can offer your opinion on price increases at Yosemite, for instance, another for the price increases at Washington’s Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, and so on. (The nightly cost of an individual campsite at the latter would go from $10 to $18, by the way.) The dates for open commenting and public meetings at each park are different as well. The commenting session at Yosemite began on Monday and stretches through November 20, and there’s a two-hour meeting open to the public on November 12, while comments for Lake Roosevelt can be made through October 31, and three meetings are being held in nearby state-owned facilities this week.

The superintendents of each park also have some authority to decide if and how price hikes go into effect, though a broad range of parks—including Mount Rainier and Olympic in Washington state, Rocky Mountain in Colorado, and Glacier in Montana—are expected to follow through on some if not all of the proposed increases. Jon Jarvis, the NPS director, noted in a memo that there will always be “significant public controversy” about any price increases for use of lands that we as a nation own. Yet he stated that the increases “will allow us to invest in the improvements necessary to provide the best possible park experience to our visitors.”

Surely, many park goers will be upset by the proposed increases, and it would be surprising if a majority—or even a significant minority—of those commenting on the proposals were voicing their approval of higher fees. For some perspective, Kurt Repanshek, who runs the National Parks Traveler blog, points out that admission to Yosemite cost $10 a century ago, so we are more than due for a price hike:

When you think of how inflation has treated park entrance fees — that $10 fee charged in 1915 equates to $230.74 in 2014 dollars — entrance to the parks under the existing pricing structure might literally be described as a steal.

MONEY Sports

S.F. vs. K.C. By the Numbers: How the World Series Teams and Towns Match Up

San Francisco blows away its opponent in terms of global cachet and higher incomes, but Kansas City has barbecue—and more importantly, the Royals are favored to win it all.

The Kansas City Royals have skipped through the 2014 playoffs thus far without a loss, and sports betting operations named the team as a slight favorite to win the World Series over the San Francisco Giants. What’s particularly impressive about the Royals’ run is that the Giants’ payroll is more than 50% higher ($148 million versus the Royals’ $91 million).

The home markets of this year’s World Series contenders couldn’t be more different either. San Francisco is a hip, high-powered, and high-priced magnet for tech startups where the average home sells for close to $1 million, compared to a mere $186,000 for the typical house in Kansas City, a low-key, highly livable Midwestern hub famed for top-notch barbecue. Nonetheless, the secondary market price of World Series tickets for Kansas City home games is roughly 30% higher than games hosted by San Francisco. That somewhat unexpected disparity likely comes as a result of San Francisco owning the edge on most recent World Series title. Giants fans have been spoiled of late with championships in 2010 and 2012, whereas Royals’ fans have been waiting since 1985 for another World Series title.

With the Series starting tonight, click through the gallery above for a look at how the competitors match up, on and off the field.

MONEY Odd Spending

8 Ways Somebody Is Making Money Off Ebola Fears

Clorox and Lysol on shelves in store
Patti McConville—Alamy

The buzz over Ebola has triggered sales that might be described as overboard (body suits), ironic (Ebola Halloween costumes), or downright bizarre (protective masks featuring a hip-hop artist's face).

On Monday, the World Health Organization declared that the Ebola outbreak is officially over in Nigeria. Yet fears of the deadly virus continue to grip the world, meaning that sales of Ebola-related products like these are likely to continue being strong.

Anti-Germ Products
Disinfectants, Clorox, Lysol, and hand sanitizer are among the germ-fighting products that have experienced a boost in sales since Ebola fears have hit the U.S. and other nations. In a recent four-week period, for instance, Clorox sales were up 28%. Anecdotally, travelers report that hand sanitizer and other anti-germ products are appearing more often near the checkout areas of airport shops, though that may be partly just because it’s flu season.

Protective Gear
After word spread that someone in the U.S. was being treated for Ebola, sales of medical-grade masks, gloves, body suits, and other protective gear made by one Chicago-area firm spiked. The number of phone calls the company handled increased fivefold almost overnight, and sales of face masks jumped by 40%. Sales of a wide variety of infection protection and doomsday prep kits have soared as well. And speculative investors see opportunity in the situation, too. One day in early October, the stock price of Lakeland Industries—which manufactures industrial protective gear worn by professionals who might come into contact with dangerous chemicals and viruses—surged more than 50% (before retreating significantly of late).

Hip-Hop Ebola Masks
Basic polypropylene masks sell for less thanb 10 cents apiece when purchased in bulk. But when you’re going to the trouble of protecting yourself from germs with a mask, why not go the extra step and protect yourself in style? That, presumably, is the sales pitch from the rapper Cam’ron, who is selling polypropylene masks for $19.99 each, featuring an image of his likeness on them—oddly, while he’s speaking on a pink flip phone. Perhaps even more oddly, the item is only available for preorder at the moment. “Ships 11/7/14,” the order page explains. You’ll have to hold your breath or (gasp!) use a lame, basic mask until then.

Ebola Halloween Costumes
Thanks to the world’s lightning-fast-moving attention span, we’re guaranteed that anything that’s been buzzing in the news or has achieved meme status in October is bound to pop up in some form as a Halloween costume. Even if it’s a subject as grim and deadly serious as Ebola. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the “hot costume” label has been applied to Ebola-related outfits, including Ebola containment workers, Ebola victims, and Ebola zombies.

Ebola Toys
To be fair to Giant Microbes, the Connecticut-based “Learning & Fun” company has been manufacturing plush toy versions of Bed Bugs, Chickenpox, Dengue Fever, Black Death, and no fewer than three Ebola products long before Ebola sales became trendy. In any event, sales of Giant Microbes’ “uniquely contagious” Ebola toys have been off the charts since the virus became a mainstay on cable TV news; the company has been completely sold out for days.

Fake Charity Scams
The Better Business Bureau warned consumers about “a variety of Ebola-related scams and problematic fundraisers” that have popped up in recent days, including crowdfunding ventures that aren’t necessarily providing any aid to Ebola victims and sketchy phone solicitations that aren’t tied to any genuine, known charities.

Vitamin C
Essential oils and herbal remedies are among the many unproven “cures” that have been suggested as strategies for fighting off Ebola, but of all the groundless theories for protecting oneself, none has gotten more attention than Vitamin C. One opportunistic New York businessman has been selling up to 14,000 packages per day lately of a supplement with 554% of the daily recommended intake of Vitamin C—which he packages under the name Ebola-C.

Science blogs have felt compelled to combat the misinformation, describing one effort to pump up sales of the vitamin as a “particularly irresponsible bit of quackery promotion.” In a Los Angeles Times story about purported Ebola “cures,” Gerald Weissmann, editor-in-chief of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology and professor of medicine at New York University, said that while Vitamin C is part of a healthy diet and helps build up one’s immune system, “there’s no evidence it has any effect on infectious disease” when taken in higher doses. What’s more, “all this quack stuff takes money and effort away” from legitimate research devoted to coping with Ebola and other health dangers.

Web URLs
In 2008, a forward-thinking entrepreneur named Jon Schultz purchased the Ebola.com URL for $13,500. He’s now willing to part with control of the site for a mere $150,000, the Washington Post reported.

MONEY Family

Toys R Us ‘Breaks Bad’ with New Crystal Meth Toys

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At least one toy maker is dreaming of a Walter White Christmas. ©AMC/courtesy Everett Collection

Parents aren't happy that the toy store chain is selling drug dealer dolls, complete with bags of crystal meth and sacks of cash.

Susan Schrivjer, a mom from Fort Myers, Fla., was a fan of the award-winning AMC show Breaking Bad. “I thought it was a great show,” she told a local TV station recently. “It was riveting!”

Even so, she thinks it’s not such a great idea to sell action figures based on the show’s notorious crystal meth dealers Walter White and Jesse Pinkman in a store where the customer base is families with young children. So last week Schrivjer launched a Change.org petition criticizing Toys R Us for selling “a Breaking Bad doll, complete with a detachable sack of cash and a bag of meth, alongside children’s toys [as] a dangerous deviation from the [company's] family friendly values.”

The petition, which asks Toys R Us to stop selling the dolls, had attracted signatures from more than 2,200 supporters as of Monday morning. The “Breaking Bad”-Toys R Us protest picked up extra steam after Schrivjer appeared on The Today Show this weekend, making her case that “anything to do with drugs” should not be sold in a toy store. She has no problem with the figures being sold by e-retailers and shops that are less likely to be frequented by children, such as adult novelty stores. (For what it’s worth, Breaking Bad figures are also sold by Barnes & Noble, Walmart, and other major retailers. Walmart even sells a pink Breaking Bad teddy bear.)

Toys R Us has released a statement clarifying that the Breaking Bad packaging “clearly notes that the items are intended for ages 15 and up” and that they’re only sold “in the adult action figure area of our stores.” Yet Today Show staffers found the drug dealer figures within arm’s reach of G.I. Joe dolls, Super Mario Brothers figures, and other products of obvious interest to kids. Schrivjer and her supporters are of the opinion that the Breaking Bad figures shouldn’t be sold anywhere in a toy store: “Its violent content and celebration of the drug trade make this collection unsuitable to be sold alongside Barbie dolls and Disney characters.”

The controversy pops up at a time when sales of traditional toys have been slumping—and therefore so have stores whose bread-and-butter is selling those traditional toys. With the exception of Lego, which has been on an amazingly awesome roll and recently became the largest toy company in the world, many iconic toy brands have been struggling. Mattel sales declined during the last year’s all-important fourth quarter (when winter holidays take place), and the company’s latest report shows that Barbie sales continue to dip. One of the biggest reasons cited for dismal sales is that children are increasingly drawn to electronics over traditional toys.

It’s understandable, then, that toy makers and toy stores have taken steps to sell more of what kids want today (video game and electronics sections at these stores have exploded), and also to try to expand their customer bases by manufacturing, marketing, and selling products that are for “more mature” folks. Hence, the September decision by Toys R Us to enter a global partnership with Claire’s, a jewelry and accessory brand favored by tween and teen girls—a demographic that hasn’t had much interest in shopping at Toys R Us of late. By the end of 2014, Claire’s shops will be set up within a dozen U.S. Toys R Us locations, and more are expected down the road.

The desire to woo older customers also provides some explanation for why the toy chain would be selling drug dealer dolls, as well as why it would have an “adult action figure area” to begin with.

Read next: Netflix Had a Pretty Awful Day

MONEY Shopping

How Opening on Thanksgiving Day Can Actually Hurt Store Sales

Eager shoppers crowd the entrance as they pour into the Macy's Herald Square flagship store, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, in New York
Eager shoppers crowd the entrance as they pour into the Macy's Herald Square flagship store, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2013, in New York. John Minchillo—AP

The decision announced this week by Macy's and some malls to open doors to shoppers during the dinner hours on Thanksgiving seemed inevitable. But it doesn't necessarily make sense.

Macy’s was blamed for the death of Thanksgiving when the retailer announced last year that it was opening up for shopping on the holiday—at 8 p.m. If Thanksgiving’s obituary was written in 2013 because Macy’s opened at 8 p.m., what does the retailer’s decision to open at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving 2014 mean about how we as a culture value the holiday? Perhaps it’s the equivalent of spitting on Thanksgiving’s gravestone.

Of course, it’s not just Macy’s that’s opening on Thanksgiving, and doing so earlier and earlier each year. Entire malls in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere have announced 6 p.m. Thanksgiving openings, and it seems like the majority of stores that aren’t opening at 6 p.m. plan on opening a mere two hours later. Surely more retailers will match Macy’s 6 p.m. start; last year Toys R Us and Walmart launched “Black Friday” sales in stores at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m., respectively. (Best Buy went with 6 p.m. too.)

Macy’s confirmed its 6 p.m. opening begrudgingly, almost apologetically, this week after a letter from company executives to employees was leaked to the media. A Macy’s spokesperson explained via statement to the (Minneapolis) Star-Tribune that the move was based on “significant, sustained customer interest,” and that last year’s Thanksgiving hours were supposedly a big hit with Macy’s workers. “We also heard last year from many associates who appreciated the opportunity to work on Thanksgiving so they could have time off on Black Friday.”

Retailers essentially gave the same explanation last year for why they were opening on Thanksgiving Day. Macy’s 2013 press release stated that its 8 p.m. Thanksgiving opening came as a “response to interest from customers who prefer to start their shopping early.” It also noted that stores would only open “after families across the country have finished their holiday meals and celebrations.” Presumably, those meals and celebrations will have to end earlier this Thanksgiving for anyone wanting to start their shopping when the doors open. Likewise, a J.C. Penney spokesperson told the Dallas Morning News last year that it was only opening on Thanksgiving (at 8 p.m.) because “our stores saw a lot of frustrated customers tap our doors wanting to shop,” the year before, when locations opened a few hours after many competitors.

Everyone Else Is Doing It

The overall message retailers are trying to send is: We’re not opening on Thanksgiving to be greedy or anything. We’re doing it simply to make our customers happy. Another way to translate the message: Don’t blame the stores for ruining Thanksgiving, blame the shoppers who want to go to the stores on a national holiday.

The reality is that these retailers are opening on Thanksgiving mainly for the same reason that kids often cite as the excuse for why they did something stupid: Everyone else is doing it. Macy’s and the rest of the mall stalwarts feel forced to open earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving because that’s what the competition is doing—and by not opening on Thanksgiving, a store is essentially conceding some chunk of sales to the competition. The battle for holiday sales and when stores should open is even more muddled by the fact that consumers can shop to their heart’s content no matter what the day, 24/7/365, because e-retail never closes.

What’s interesting is that there’s a good argument to be made that Thanksgiving store hours don’t actually boost a retailer’s overall holiday sales. Rather, sales on the holiday simply displace sales that would otherwise have been rung up on Black Friday or later in the season. After an underwhelming back-to-school period for retailers, Craig Johnson, president of the retail consulting firm Custom Growth Partners, predicted to the Wall Street Journal in late September, “With the soft sales outlook, we do anticipate a few earlier openings” on Thanksgiving. “However, there is a law of diminishing returns,” he warned, and stores that open on Thanksgiving “risk cannibalizing” sales that they would have made at another time.

The End of Black Friday?

In light of that, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Black Friday sales flopped last year when more stores expanded or introduced Thanksgiving hours, and that some say the Black Friday phenomenon is facing extinction. After all, when stores are open at 6 p.m. or even earlier on Thanksgiving Day, the idea of getting excited by the prospect of shopping at the ungodly hour of 4 a.m. on Friday seems more absurd than ever.

Let’s also not forget that Thanksgiving store hours turn off many would-be customers. Last year, countless petitions were launched pleading with retailers to pull back on Thanksgiving hours, which critics say ruin the holiday for more than just the retail employees being forced to work.

For what’s is worth, Lehigh Valley Live recently asked readers to vote on how early stores should open on Thanksgiving. At last check, around 4% responded “as early as they can.” On the other hand, 82% voted “They shouldn’t. It’s a holiday.”

MONEY Workplace

Which Horrible TV or Movie Boss Is Your Office Stuck With?

October 16 is celebrated—at least theoretically—as Boss Day. We're celebrating it with a rundown of the seven kinds of bosses you never want to have, as embodied by iconic TV and movie characters.

Before bashing bosses on their big day—Boss Day, one of a bajillion faux holidays now on the calendar—let’s point out that not every manager is a bad boss. In fact, in a 2014 CareerBuilder survey, 63% of workers said their bosses deserved an A or B grade for their performance on the job, while only 14% gave the boss a D or an F.

If you’re in that majority, let’s hope that you’re never subjected to the managerial styles of the D- and F-worthy bosses like these.

  • The Incompetent Schmuck

    THE OFFICE, (from left): Steve Carell, Angela Kinsey, Kate Flannery, 'Stress Relief', (Season 5, aired Feb. 1, 2009), 2005-.
    THE OFFICE Paul Drinkwater—NBC/Courtesy Everett Collection

    Probably the best thing you can say about the hapless Michael Scott-type managers of the world is that they’re not intentionally mean (assuming you’re not the office Toby Flenderson). Rather, they’re simply clueless. Or at least that’s what employees think of them: In one poll, one third of workers described their bosses as “somewhat” or “completely incompetent.”

  • The Abusive Bully

    THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA, Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep, 2006.
    THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA 20th Century Fox—courtesy Everett Collection

    Best embodied by Miranda Priestly, the iconic character played by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, the abusive boss seems to take pleasure in torturing his or her underlings. Presumably, the purpose of treating one’s employees harshly is to shape them into better workers and help the company, but the strategy can backfire. More than 13% of employees say they’ve worked under hostile and abusive supervisors, and the frequent result, according to some research, is that when people are ridiculed by managers on the job, they’re more likely to engage in deviant behavior that’s counterproductive to company goals.

  • The Horny Lech

    HORRIBLE BOSSES, from left: Charlie Day, Jennifer Aniston, 2011.
    HORRIBLE BOSSES John P. Johnson—Warner Bros./Courtesy Everett Co

    In the 1980s, Dabney Coleman served as the prototypical arrogant, sexist boss who was constantly hitting on attractive workers in movies such as Nine to Five and Tootsie. More recently, this creep has been played, surprisingly enough, by Jennifer Aniston in two Horrible Bosses movies, in which her character is a dentist who crudely and memorably sexually harasses a dental assistant played by Charlie Day. In real life, the majority of restaurant workers have reported experiencing sexual harassment on the job, and that’s no joke.

  • The Psychopath

    THE SOPRANOS, Tony Sirico, James Gandolfini, Steven Van Zandt, (Season 2, 2000), 1999-2007.
    THE SOPRANOS Anthony Neste—HBO/Courtesy Everett Collection

    The writings of psychologist Kevin Dutton have shed light on how many of the characteristics found in psychopaths—confidence, charisma, ruthlessness, focus—are also common among leaders in the business world. And the underworld too, of course, embodied by Tony Soprano. In studies of corporate professionals, psychopathic traits are more prevalent than they are in the general population, and Dutton’s research indicates that the profession with the most psychopaths (in terms of percentage) is … CEO.

  • The Cruel, Cheap Bastard

    THE SIMPSONS, l-r: Mr. Burns, Smithers in 'Specs and the City' (Season 25, Episode 11, aired January 26, 2014).
    THE SIMPSONS 20th Century Fox—Courtesy Everett Collection

    The stingy, money-hungry Montgomery Burns is “The Simpsons’” Ebenezer Scrooge (before the ghost visits), known for giving out raises, well, never. Perhaps he’d get better production out of Homer and the rest of the nuclear power plant crew if he showed them a little more appreciation. According to a 2013 Glassdoor survey, 81% of employees say they work harder when the feel appreciated by their bosses, and workers say that money is by far the best way to motivate and show them appreciation.

  • The Untrustworthy Backstabber

    WORKING GIRL, Harrison Ford, Melanie Griffith, Sigourney Weaver, 1988.
    WORKING GIRL 20th Century Fox—Courtesy Everett Collection

    Nearly 9 out of 10 employees polled by StaffBay.com said they don’t trust their bosses. In another Glassdoor poll, two-thirds of employees said that a direct manager has had an impact on their careers—and of those, 20% said the impact was negative. Apparently, the Sigourney Weaver character in “Working Girl” isn’t the only sneaky, backstabbing boss out there. (By the way, there are some smart strategies for coping with bosses who take credit for your work.)

  • The Annoying Bureaucrat

    OFFICE SPACE, Gary Cole, Ron Livingston, 1999.
    OFFICE SPACE 20th Century Fox—Courtesy Everett Collection

    What’s … happening? If you’re a fan of the cult favorite “Office Space,” you’ll get that reference. And if you’ve got a boss like Bill Lumbergh in the movie, then you’re guaranteed to be uninspired on the job, at least partially because your manager is inept in terms of interpersonal skills, expects more of his workers than he does of himself, and lacks vision, energy, and enthusiasm. All of those characteristics just so happen to be listed among the top 10 fatal flaws held by bad bosses in a 2012 Harvard Business Review study.

    Now, all you bad bosses, if you could just lose all of these negative traits and allow your workers to handle their jobs in peace? To quote Lumbergh, “That would be great.”

    But until that happens, check out these posts for some tips on how to cope. Oh, and Happy Boss Day!

    Related:
    How to Work With a Boss You Can’t Trust
    Good Ways to Deal With Bad Bosses
    How to Impress Your Boss When You’re Never Face to Face
    How to Fire Your Boss and Break Free of the Corporate Grind

MONEY Autos

Traffic Jams Cost Americans $124 Billion in 2013

Traffic congestion cost the average American household dozens of hours and thousands of dollars last year, according to a new study.

A new study from the London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research aims to put a price on traffic—now, and in the near future. After crunching the numbers and factoring in projected population growth and rising living standards, as well as costs associated with road congestion such as wasted fuel, decreased productivity, and higher prices for goods as a result of higher transportation costs, the researchers estimate that the combined annual price of traffic in the U.S. and Europe will soar to $293 billion by 2030, a rise of nearly 50% from 2013.

For what it’s worth, drivers in the U.S. get off easy compared with motorists in Europe. By 2030, the average American household is expected to incur traffic-related costs of $2,301 per year. That’s a 33% increase compared with 2013, but it’s still much lower than annual congestion costs for drivers in Germany ($2,927), France ($3,163), and the U.K. ($3,217).

At the same time, however, the U.S. has bragging rights for being home to the city where the costs of traffic are highest. No surprise which city has that dubious distinction: It’s Los Angeles, which of all the cities in the study has the most autos (4.5 million) and the highest percentage of workers who commute by car (67%), and where the annual costs of road congestion per household are projected to reach $8,555 by 2030, a 49% increase from 2013. (London is a distant #2 in the category, with traffic costs per household forecast to be $6,259 by 2030.)

A separate line of research estimates how much traffic costs not merely individual households, but the nation as a whole. The U.K. is facing the sharpest spike, with a 66% increase by 2030, but even then the total would come to only $33 billion, a pittance compared with the much larger, more car-crazed U.S. In this category, the USA is #1, with the economic impact of road congestion forecast to reach $186 billion for the nation as a whole by 2030, a 50% increase over 2013.

What can we do about any of this information—besides saying, “That sucks,” and perhaps moving out of L.A. as soon as possible? Among other things, researchers call for improved public transportation options and more of them, to help ease traffic by getting more drivers off the roads.

MONEY Autos

Traffic Costs You Even More Than You Think—and It’s Getting Worse

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JAMIE RECTOR/GETTY

Congestion on the roads costs us a fortune, and a new study forecasts that the price we pay for traffic will rise 50% by 2030.

A new study from the London-based Centre for Economics and Business Research aims to put a price on traffic—now, and in the near future. After crunching the numbers and factoring in projected population growth and rising living standards, as well as costs associated with road congestion such as wasted fuel, decreased productivity, and higher prices for goods as a result of higher transportation costs, the researchers estimate that the combined annual price of traffic in the U.S. and Europe will soar to $293 billion by 2030, a rise of nearly 50% from 2013.

For what it’s worth, drivers in the U.S. get off easy compared with motorists in Europe. By 2030, the average American household is expected to incur traffic-related costs of $2,301 per year. That’s a 33% increase compared with 2013, but it’s still much lower than annual congestion costs for drivers in Germany ($2,927), France ($3,163), and the U.K. ($3,217).

At the same time, however, the U.S. has bragging rights for being home to the city where the costs of traffic are highest. No surprise which city has that dubious distinction: It’s Los Angeles, which of all the cities in the study has the most autos (4.5 million) and the highest percentage of workers who commute by car (67%), and where the annual costs of road congestion per household are projected to reach $8,555 by 2030, a 49% increase from 2013. (London is a distant #2 in the category, with traffic costs per household forecast to be $6,259 by 2030.)

A separate line of research estimates how much traffic costs not merely individual households, but the nation as a whole. The U.K. is facing the sharpest spike, with a 66% increase by 2030, but even then the total would come to only $33 billion, a pittance compared with the much larger, more car-crazed U.S. In this category, the USA is #1, with the economic impact of road congestion forecast to reach $186 billion for the nation as a whole by 2030, a 50% increase over 2013.

What can we do about any of this information—besides saying, “That sucks,” and perhaps moving out of L.A. as soon as possible? Among other things, researchers call for improved public transportation options and more of them, to help ease traffic by getting more drivers off the roads.

MONEY online shopping

3 Reasons Google’s Same-Day Shipping Looks Like a Game Changer

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Nick and Laura Allen—AP

Google already dominates search. If the big expansion of a same-day shipping service proves successful, it could be on its way to dominating online shopping too.

On Monday, Google announced that the express online shopping-and-shipping service it has been testing for months in northern California and parts of Los Angeles and New York City is expanding to three more cities: Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. The service, originally dubbed Google Shopping Express and now shortened to just Google Express, allows shoppers to place orders online or via mobile device with partner retailers such as Walgreens, Costco, Staples, Barnes & Noble, and Sports Authority. Google promises same-day shipping on all such orders, at a cost of $4.99 per delivery or flat subscription plans of $10 monthly or $95 a year.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt mentioned this week at a conference that Google’s biggest rival isn’t Yahoo or Bing but is in fact Amazon.com, and the expansion of Google Express into Amazon’s online shopping turf is a clear indication that Google takes this rivalry very seriously. While Amazon is still the most dominant player in e-retail, Google’s newly expanded service is arguably superior and a better value compared to anything Amazon currently offers. Here are three reasons why Google’s service is particularly compelling:

1. Same-day delivery that’s “free.” Consumers increasingly demand free shipping with online purchases. Things have gotten to the point that free shipping is so readily available—via a coupon code here or reaching a minimum purchase threshold there—that the idea of paying for delivery can now be a deal breaker.

Thus far, the phenomenal success of Amazon Prime has most clearly demonstrated the power of shipping when it’s not only reliably free but speedy as well. Prime subscribers receive free two-day shipping on most orders placed via Amazon.com, and the service has proven so popular and indispensable that enrollment numbers have continued to climb even after prices rose recently from $79 to $99 annually.

Overnight and same-day shipping are more costly services than two-day delivery, however, and Amazon Prime members must pay extra for these expedited options—typically $5.99 for same-day shipping, where and when it’s available. That’s on top of an annual subscription fee.

Like Amazon Prime, Google Express is available via subscription, priced at $95 per year (just a smidge under the cost of Prime) or $10 per month. Members then get free same-day delivery of all orders with a minimum purchase of $15. (As an alternative, nonsubscribers can pay a flat $4.99 delivery fee per order.) One of the big differences between Amazon Prime and Google’s subscription service is that the former includes two-day shipping at no additional charge, whereas the latter covers same-day delivery. Prime has many other benefits—free video streaming, for instance, not to mention a much broader selection of products than Google’s service—but in terms of speedy shipping, Google Express has the edge.

Bear in mind that you’re paying for whichever service you choose. These services are presented as featuring “free” shipping, but that’s silly. Subscribers pay a membership fee to cover the costs of shipping, and there’s nothing free about it. “Prepaid” may be a better way to describe the shipping offered by these services. A subscription is a potentially good value in the same way that an all-you-can-eat buffet is a smart buy for someone who eats (or orders online) a lot, but it can be a waste of money for others.

2. Same-day delivery of stuff you actually need that day. Based on the success of Amazon Prime, plenty of consumers are more than OK with two-day shipping on the vast majority of online purchases. After all, when you’re buying a new TV, or a winter coat, or batteries or coffee pods or a Christmas gift for your aunt, or any other thing you might purchase at Amazon, there are generally no pressing needs that might require you to be in possession of them on the very day you place the order.

Likewise, same-day shipping would seem to be less of a necessity for the products typically purchased from Google Express partners such as Sports Authority, Guitar Center, and Toys R Us. It’s often a different story, though, for the goods one needs from drugstores and supermarkets, because when you need cold medicine or diapers or food on the dinner table, you tend to need them right away—not two days after placing an order. The normal approach in these situations is to handle the errand the old-fashioned way, by making a physical run to the store. But because Google Express’s early partners include Walgreens and grocery chains such as Giant, Stop ‘n Shop, and Whole Foods, these kinds of everyday errands can be crossed off your list quickly online, without even the need to pay extra for same-day delivery. (Same-day delivery from another Google partner, 1-800FLOWERS.com, is probably even more of a necessity among certain shoppers on certain anniversaries and birthdays.) For the sake of comparison, Amazon has already introduced an online grocery service in select markets with same-day and overnight delivery, but its subscription runs $299 per year.

3. Same-day delivery on stuff that’s a hassle to buy in person. Another intriguing partner of Google Shopping Express is Costco. The warehouse membership club giant is beloved by bulk-size-loving patrons, yet much about the shopping experience is less than ideal—starting with the huge size of much of its merchandise and ending with the absence of shopping bags for carrying one’s purchases. What’s more, Costco has had some trouble attracting younger customers because fewer millennials have cars, which are all but necessities for any Costco shopping trip, and they tend to want to live in urban areas rather than the suburbs where most Costcos are located.

Many of these issues disappear when Google and its same-day delivery service enter the equation. If Google is handling the pickup and delivery, customers no longer have to worry about being strong enough to maneuver gigantic tubs of laundry detergent into shopping carts, then into one’s car. Heck, there’s no need for a car at all because, again, Google is taking care of the shipping.

While Google’s service is still in its infancy, it’s probably being helped greatly by the fact that that a popular retail brand like Costco is a partner. But who knows: Down the line, it could be that Costco membership numbers rise because same-day delivery is available via its partner, Google Shopping Express.

Read next: Google Express Expands its Same-Day Delivery Reach

MONEY Food & Drink

Why Sales of Yet Another Traditional Breakfast Staple Are Tanking

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Alamy

Sales of orange juice, once considered a must-have component of a healthy American breakfast, have hit a 16-year low.

In September, the Florida Department of Citrus announced it had paid Marvel Comics $1 million to redesign a superhero mascot who is powered by (you guessed it) orange juice. His name is Captain Citrus, and after helping the Avengers save the world, he says things like, “Just think, it all started with a glass of ORANGE JUICE!”

It’s a dorky attempt at boosting orange juice sales, but it’s hard to blame citrus growers for the effort. Clearly, the industry needs all the help it can get.

A year ago at this time, it was revealed that during the 2012-2013 season, orange juice sales in the U.S. had totaled 563.2 million gallons, the lowest level in the 15 years that such figures have been tabulated. In the year since, things have only gotten worse for folks in the business of producing and selling orange juice. Data released this week shows that Americans bought a new low of 525.1 million gallons of O.J. during the 12-month period that ended on September 27.

By some measure, orange juice sales have fallen 40% since the 1990s. Clearly, sales have suffered partially for the same reasons that cereal and milk sales have declined: Our fast-paced, on-the-go culture means that fewer people are eating a sit-down breakfast at home, or eating breakfast at all.

Orange juice has faced additional hurdles because coffee, energy drinks, and other beverages have gained market share as popular drinks for any time of the day, breakfast hours included. Also, one of orange juice’s biggest selling points—that it’s a brilliantly healthy way to start your day—has increasingly been called into question. A strong argument has been made that orange juice, packed as it naturally is with sugar, is no better for you than soda in terms of nutrition. As Businessweek reported late last year, a typical 8-ounce glass of O.J. contains “110 calories and 26 grams of carbohydrates—more than a pair of Oreos.”

The criticism has prompted members of the orange juice industrial complex to encourage consumers to drink smaller glasses of O.J. daily—a little is better than nothing at all—and more recently, to hope that a rebranded Captain Citrus just might save the day for citrus sellers. The new Captain Citrus, it must be noted, is as buff as Thor and Captain America, with six-pack abs and a bodybuilder physique. The problem is that, based on the way sales have been trending, consumers seem to associate orange juice with the image projected by the old Captain Citrus, best described as a “big, fat talking orange wearing a cape.”

Whereas the new Captain Citrus is drawn with a glowing orange on his muscular chest reminiscent of Iron Man, the vintage version has a large “C” in the center of his spherical body. Presumably, it stands for “Citrus,” not “calories.”

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