TIME Crime

Study: Alcatraz Prison Break 50 Years Ago Could Have Succeeded

The group of inmates could have landed just north of the Golden Gate Bridge

Three Alcatraz inmates tried to leave the historically inescapable island prison on a raft fashioned of raincoats more than 50 years ago and were never seen again. Many assumed the group perished in the frigid waters of the Pacific Ocean, but a new study shows how they might have survived.

The study, conducted by a group of Dutch researchers, uses an interactive model to show where the 1962 jailbreakers might have landed if they departed at the right time and under the right conditions. In the absolute best-case scenario, the group would have landed just north of the Golden Gate Bridge and escaped into Marin County.

But the group also could have drifted out into the Pacific Ocean or eastward into the San Francisco Bay. In either case, their chances of survival would have practically zero given the cold temperatures on the water.

MONEY Travel

4 Shockingly Affordable Last-Minute Holiday Trips

Who says you have to celebrate at the homestead? This year, start a new tradition in one of these affordable getaways.

Are the usual holiday festivities feeling a little stale? This could be the perfect time to shake up your routine and celebrate the season with a much-deserved getaway. Yes, we know: Traveling at the tail end of the year is pricey. However, if you’re strategic about where and when you go, you might be surprised by just how low you can get that tab. Here you’ll find four festive trips, each with its own unique appeal. Though the destinations range from beach towns to ski meccas, they do have one thing in common: a reasonable price tag. Now that’s a gift.

 

 

  • San Juan, Puerto Rico

    This palm-lined beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico, could be your holiday vista.
    This palm-lined beach in San Juan, Puerto Rico, could be your holiday vista. Arco K. Kreder—First Light

    When to Go: Dec. 31-Jan. 7. San Juan remains relatively affordable throughout the year thanks to its airport, which has the cheapest average fares (per mile) of the 75 busiest hubs in the U.S., according to the Department of Transportation. In a recent search, flying from Chicago early on New Year’s Eve costs a manageable $550. Hotels are also affordable compared with many Caribbean hotspots. On Hotels.com, four-star properties in San Juan start at $206 a night during the first week of 2015, vs. $304 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, and $341 in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic.

    What to Do: You can’t go wrong wandering the blue cobblestone streets of Old San Juan. Stop by the massive Castillo San Cristóbal fort ($5) and the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico ($6), one of the Caribbean’s largest museums. On Calle del Cristo browse shops such as El Galpon, which sells authentic Panama hats (prices from $60).

    Next, head to Santurce, an up-and-coming area full of hip bars and eateries. “It’s always packed with locals,” says Ryan Ver Berkmoes, author of guidebook Lonely Planet Puerto Rico.

    Hit the beach at nearby Ocean Park and Condado. For less than $20, you can rent a chair, buy a couple of cold beers, and feast on empanadas sold by street vendors. For a wilder dose of nature, explore the hiking trails and waterfalls at El Yunque National Forest, an hour outside the city. A guided tour is $60, including transportation from San Juan.

    Interested in another good day trip? Try Playa Luquillo, the mile-long crescent of surf and sand about an hour east of San Juan. The beach here has a fun, social atmosphere and is known for its food vendors, says Ver Berkmoes. So grab a tasty fried snack and check out the scene.

    How to Celebrate: The city’s biggest New Year’s party, complete with fireworks, happens at the Puerto Rico Convention Center (discounted tickets are $65 on Gustazos.com). For something more low-key, head back to Santurce and its central square, ringed with open-air bars and cafés, to toast 2015 with a $3 piña colada.

    Jan. 6 is Día de Los Reyes, or Three Kings Day. Expect parades and festivals with food and live music (but keep in mind that some stores and restaurants will be closed).

    Where to Stay: In San Juan, Le Consulat is a great bargain in the Condado luxury district, where it’s surrounded by hotels charging upwards of $300 a night. At $127 for a double, you get free Wi-Fi, a simple, modern room, and an outdoor pool. For a bit of a splurge, Ver Berkmoes recommends spending a couple of nights at the Gallery Inn, where each room is decorated with art and antiques. Doubles start at $220 a night.

  • San Francisco

    Embarcadero, Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA.
    Skaters take a spin on the Embarcadero rink. Walter Bibikow—Getty Images

    When to Go: Dec. 19-26. Why not spend Christmas in the City by the Bay? The weather is temperate, most attractions are open, and hotel prices actually drop, says Chris McGinnis, a travel blogger for the San Francisco Chronicle. For instance, last year, rates at the city’s big convention hotels hit an annual low of $170 or less from Dec. 19 to 25, vs. a full-year average of $241, according to the visitors bureau. Plus, with the usual tourist hordes thinned, museums are less mobbed, and reservations at top restaurants are easy (or at least easier!) to snag. Flights, too, are reasonable this time of year. We found nonstop flights from Chicago starting at $305.

    What to Do: Skip touristy Fisherman’s Wharf and check out the futuristic de Young Museum ($10; closed on Dec. 25), which displays 27,000 works from the 17th to 20th centuries. Don’t miss the observation tower. It has stunning views of Golden Gate Park. Nearby, the California Academy of Sciences houses an aquarium, a planetarium, and a living rainforest dome ($35).

    The city is “brimming with sublime food,” says Michele Bigley, author of the Fodor’s San Francisco guide. In the buzzing Mission District, Bigley recommends La Taqueria for a behemoth burrito ($7) before catching a movie at the Roxie, one of the oldest theaters in the nation. Cap the night with a cocktail at Trick Dog, where drinks are named for local landmarks ($12).

    Visit the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market to see the NoCal bounty. “Occasionally you’ll spot famous chef Alice ­Waters shopping there,” says Anna Roth, food and drink editor of SFWeekly. In the same building, she recommends Hog Island Oyster Co. for seafood stew and, of course, oysters ($18 to $20).

    How to Celebrate: Through March, an art project using 25,000 LED lights will illuminate the cables of the Bay Bridge. Check it out from the amazing Top of the Mark bar on the 19th floor of the Intercontinental Mark Hopkins. For a more athletic option, glide over the city’s largest outdoor ice-skating rink, set along the waterfront on the Embarcadero ($14 with skates).

    On Christmas Eve, indulge in an old-school meal at the House of Prime Rib, a city institution. “During the holidays it’s all decked out,” says Roth. “You’ll spend $40 or so for an entrée, but at least the martinis are cheap!”

    Where to Stay: For a unique property in the heart of things, try the Herbert Hotel. Located just off Union Square, the Herbert has bright, sleek rooms (ask for one with a private bathroom) and hardwood floors. Doubles are $259 a night through Dec. 20 but drop to $155 Dec. 21–25. Prefer something with more of a neighborhood feel? The quaint San Remo Hotel offers rooms with windows from $99, though you will need to share one of several bathrooms.

  • Bacalar, Mexico

    Bacalar, Mexico
    The shallow waters of the Lagoon of Seven Colors Hugo Ortuño Suárez—Demotix/Corbis

    When to Go: Dec. 15-22. Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula can get pretty busy at the end of the year. According to American Express Travel, Cancún is 2014’s most popular international destination for both Christmas and New Year’s. That appeal has some upsides—every major U.S. airline offers direct flights to Cancún. However, it also means crowds and, according to hotel researchers STR, a December average daily rate of $227.

    For holiday travelers, Bacalar is an escape from that tourist frenzy. This small town overlooking Laguna Bacalar, or the “Lagoon of the Seven Colors,” is 3½ hours from Cancún, and 35 minutes from Chetumal. During the holidays, ­Bacalar hotels ­average a manageable $123 on ­Hotels.com. To visit, fly into Cancún and rent a car (about $40 a day) or take the $55 bus. Flights tend to be cheaper earlier in December, says Zachary Rabinor, CEO of tour operator Journey Mexico; we found one for $414.

    What to Do: Tour Bacalar’s beautiful old Spanish fortress, Fuerte de San Felipe de Bacalar ($4, free on Sundays), originally built to protect the town against pirates. Later, hang with the locals at the town’s popular balneario (swimming facility); entry $2. The area is lined by small eateries and has plenty of thatched umbrellas where you can take a break from the Caribbean sun. Or, for just $1.50 an hour, rent a bike from Cocomoco rental shop and pedal along the bay. Obviously, you should be eating as many tacos as possible; the fish and shrimp options at La Playita are not to be missed (from $4).

    The town also makes a great base for exploring the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben ($4), a 45-minute drive away. The site, closed to the public until 2002, is home to stone structures dating to the year 800—some still showing signs of their original red paint. Mexico’s biggest cenote (a natural sinkhole), the 300-foot-deep Cenote Azul, is about a mile outside of town—the water is so clear you can see down to the sparkling-white sand floor. Entrance $1, life vests $3.

    How to Celebrate: Get in on the holiday spirit by checking out the town’s tree lighting. Then shop for locally made gifts at handicraft shops in the town center or near the entrance to the cenote. Also be sure to sample traditional Mexican Christmas goodies such as ponche (warm tropical-fruit punch stirred with cinnamon sticks), romeritos (sprigs of the romerito plant served with potatoes and mole), and bacalao (salted cod).

    Where to Stay: The recently opened Bacalar Lagoon Resort ($115) consists of seven spacious cabanas set on a freshwater lagoon; snorkeling gear is available gratis. Nearby Rancho Encantado is a great value at $125. The rooms have thatched roofs, air-conditioning, and cool tile floors. Guests can get an outdoor massage, kayak on the lagoon, or just kick back in one of the property’s many hammocks.

  • Keystone, Colo.

    Keystone, Colorado.
    Skiers take in the view of North Peak. Jack Affleck—Courtesy of Vail Resorts

    When to Go: Dec. 25-30. For a ski trip that doesn’t break the bank, Dan Sherman of Ski.com recommends Keystone, the most affordable of Colorado’s Vail Resorts properties. In late December, a single-day advance-purchase lift ticket at Keystone costs $99, compared with $129 at Vail or Beaver Creek. Plus, Keystone is just 90 minutes from Denver, allowing visitors to fly into a large airport with well-priced flights. Trim the cost of your airfare even further by flying on Christmas Day, when flights from Chicago start at $245, vs. $315 on the 24th.

    What to Do: Hit the mountain! Keystone offers an impressive mix of terrain, from “long-groomed cruisers” to the “trees and bumps of North Peak,” says Harold C. Jenkins, a travel agent at Corporate Vacations American Express Travel. The resort is also home to Colorado’s biggest night-skiing program, with the slopes open until 8 p.m. during the last week of the year. “Watching the sunset from the top of Dercum Mountain is spectacular,” says Sherman.

    Buy your lift tickets at least a week in advance; you’ll save up to 25% off same-day rates. Feeling a little rusty? Ski School lesson prices drop around 20% when you book two days ahead (about $130, though 2014 holiday prices are still being finalized). Kids 12 and under ski free, with none of the holiday blackouts you see at other resorts.

    For a break from the slopes, spend an afternoon in Breckenridge, a half-hour away. Grab ­coffee at local favorite Cuppa Joe and check out the stores and galleries in this former mining town.

    How to Celebrate: You’ve been burning calories, so go ahead and splurge on a nice meal. In the village, Ski Tip Lodge offers a four-course prix fixe ($75), with dessert served by the toasty fireplace. Or hop a gondola to Der Fondue Chessel, located at the top of North Peak. You’ll get a full Bavarian meal—including fondue, of course—for $59 a person.

    What time and place could be more appropriate for a sleigh ride? The resort offers hourlong rides that wind through Soda Creek Valley and include hot apple cider (adults, $30; kids, $20). Afterward, swing by Keystone Lodge to check out the model village carved out of chocolate.

    Where to Stay: Unlike most resorts, Keystone is just a ski area, with no standalone town. While that results in fewer off-mountain activities, it also means most lodging is just minutes from the slopes. A two-bedroom condo at the Gateway Mountain Lodge, a five-minute walk or free shuttle ride from the lifts, starts at $419 per night. (Compare that with a two-bedroom in Vail, which starts at about $900.)

    Prefer a standard hotel room? The Inn at Keystone ($235 a night for a double) is also walking distance from the slopes and has a rooftop hot tub with views of Keystone Valley.

  • What to Know Before You Go

    No matter where you’re going this season, these four air-travel strategies will save you time, money, and hassle.

    Check in the day before. Not only is online check-in your best chance at switching to a better seat (airlines release some prime spots 24 hours in advance), but if the flight is oversold, it reduces your chances of being bumped, says Wendy Perrin, travel advocate for TripAdvisor.com.

    Get in the fast lane. Planning to travel a lot in 2015 and beyond? Apply for TSA PreCheck, the program that allows you to go through expedited security lines without removing your shoes, coat, belt, or laptop. Membership costs $85 and lasts for five years.

    Load up on apps. Use your airline’s app to get the latest on your flight. MyTSA will update you on security wait times, and GateGuru is great for sussing out airport amenities.

    Bookmark flightstats.com. Canceled flight? Use this site to vet your options, says Perrin. Flightstats will show you which airports and planes are delayed so you can look for a route that works for you, rather than blindly accepting whatever the airline rep suggests.

     

TIME Companies

Facebook Shuttle Drivers Vote to Join a Union

FRANCE-LOGO-FACEBOOK
The Facebook logo is seen on a tablet screen on Dec. 4, 2012, in Paris Lionel Bonaventure—AFP/Getty Images

The drivers want higher wages and better shifts

Facebook’s shuttle-bus drivers voted to unionize on Wednesday in an effort to secure higher wages and better shifts.

The drivers voted to join the Teamsters union by a margin of 43 to 28, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Leaders of the union’s Northern California chapter — Teamsters Local 853 — said that the drivers want better pay and changes to the current shift system, which has them working two three-hour shifts in the morning and evening with a six-hour gap in between.

Facebook’s shuttles, operated by a company called Loop Transportation, ferry the tech giant’s employees from San Francisco and other areas to its headquarters in Menlo Park.

Loop issued a statement accepting their drivers’ wishes. “Even though we don’t feel that our drivers’ interests are best served by union representation, our drivers have spoken and we will now begin the negotiation process,” the statement said.

Facebook reportedly declined to comment.

[WSJ]

TIME Google

Google Barge Project Scrapped Over Fire Safety Concerns

Google Mystery Barge
In this Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, file photo, two men fish in the water in front of a Google barge on Treasure Island in San Francisco. The barge portion of the Google barge mystery is only half the story. Jeff Chiu—AP

The Coast Guard expressed concern over lack of oversight in the secretive project

Concerns over fire-safety led Google Inc. to halt construction of its “Google barges,” a secretive project that had attracted significant public curiosity.

“These vessels will have over 5,000 gallons of fuel on the main deck and a substantial amount of combustible material on board,” wrote Robert Gauvin, the Coast Guard’s acting chief of commercial vessel compliance, in a March 2013 email to Google’s contractor on the project, Foss Maritime Co. The Wall Street Journal broke the story using documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

Google had previously said the barges, located of the Maine coast and in San Francisco Bay, were to be “an interactive space where people can learn about technology.” The West Coast barge was eventually moved out to storage 80 miles away, while the Maine barge was dismantled and scrapped.

Read more at The Wall Street Journal

TIME Baseball

San Francisco Braces For Giants’ World Series Parade

World Series Giants Baseball Celebration
San Francisco Giants baseball fans Megan McPhillips, right, and Travis Saracco from Santa Rosa, Calif., wait in the rain for the start of the victory parade for the 2014 World Series Champion San Francisco Giants on Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 in San Francisco. Jeff Chiu—AP

The parade from the Financial District to City Hall is expected to draw record crowds

Undaunted by forecasted chilly weather and steady rain, up to a million baseball fans are expected to crowd into downtown San Francisco Friday for a parade to commemorate the Giants’ third World Series win in five years.

The parade, which started at noon, will stretch for a mile and a half from Market and Steuart streets, then up McAllister Street to the steps of City Hall for a celebration including players, politicians and local celebrities.

The National Weather Service says conditions will be “uncomfortable” with steady rainfall and temperatures in the 50s, but organizers don’t expect fans to be deterred.

The Giants emerged victorious over the Kansas City Royals Wednesday after a tense match up that came down to a final pitch in game seven of the series. The fact that the celebration also falls on Halloween—a day for which orange and black-clad Giants fans will come already dressed appropriately—is expected to draw even more partiers to a wild street celebration.

Bay area transit operators expect Friday to be the busiest day ever on Bay Area trains.

[San Jose Mercury News]

TIME 2014 Election

Pelosi and Hillary Join Forces to Rally Democratic Women

Hillary Rodham Clinton, Doris Matsui, Nancy Pelosi
Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gathers with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, left, and other Bay area congresswomen after speaking at a fundraiser for Democratic congressional candidates hosted by Pelosi at the Fairmont Hotel Monday, Oct. 20, 2014, in San Francisco. Eric Risberg—AP

The event brought together Clinton and Obama supporters from 2008

Three generations of Birmingham family women turned out on Monday to see House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rally for female Democratic candidates.

“It was fabulous, a wonderful event,” gushes Alanna Birmingham, 17, clutching one of the lunch’s floral centerpieces, a keepsake for her to take home. “You could just feel the energy in the room, all this beautiful female energy.” Birmingham was there with her mother and grandmother in a show of political unity the family hasn’t always enjoyed, especially when it comes to Hillary Clinton—and they weren’t the only ones.

Billed as “The Ultimate Women’s Power Luncheon,” the event raised $1.4 million for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from the 820 mostly women in attendance bringing the DCCC’s money lead of its GOP counterpart to a whopping $38 million with just two weeks to go before the election. The event also featured a set by singer Carole King (including a rendition of “Sweet Seasons” where she changed the lyrics to “Some times you win; sometimes you win” instead of lose).

But the 2014 midterms, where Dems are expected to lose seats in both chambers and possibly control of the Senate, were not the elections on most women’s lips at the lunch. Cynthia Birmingham, Alanna’s mother, was there to show early support for Clinton’s anticipated 2016 presidential bid, in part to make up for not supporting her primary candidacy in 2008. “I’m so excited to support Hillary in 2016,” she says.

Birmingham wasn’t the only one. California Reps. Anna Eshoo, Zoe Lofgren, George Miller and Barbara Lee—all close allies of Pelosi—were all in enthusiastic attendance on Monday and all endorsed Obama during the primaries in 2008. Indeed, many saw then Speaker Pelosi’s call in 2008 on super delegates to respect the will of the voters in their home states, rather than endorsing the candidate of their choice, as one of the nails in the coffin of Clinton’s candidacy. Though Pelosi very carefully never endorsed either candidate in 2008.

The event was a healing one for the Birminghams as well. Ann Birmingham, Alanna’s grandmother and Cynthia’s mother-in-law, was also in approving attendance, happy to see her women kin supporting the candidate she’s long adored. “I loved and supported Hillary back in 2008 and I will love and support her in 2016,” Ann says. “I was terribly disappointed when she lost.”

But all that was forgotten on Monday with Clinton and Pelosi hugging and kissing onstage and united in their common cause to not only elect more women to Congress, where women make up less than 20%, but to start a women’s empowerment movement in politics. “When women succeed, America succeeds,” both women—and the crowd—chanted over and over throughout the program.

“For too many women, for too many families they don’t just face ceilings for their dreams,” Clinton said, referring to the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling, or the 18 million Americans who voted to make her the first female Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, she famously referenced in her concession speech, “they feel floor has collapsed beneath their feet.”

Clinton lavished praise on Pelosi’s ground-breaking leadership as the first female speaker, a post she held from 2006 until Democrats lost the House in 2010. And Pelosi started her speech saying she hoped she would soon be surpassed. “I’m frequently introduced as the highest ranking woman in U.S. office; I’d like to give up that title. And soon,” she told a roaring crowd. “If Hillary Clinton, mother and grandmother, decides to run for president she will win… and she will be one of the best prepared leaders, one of the top presidents in the Oval Office. That she happens to be a woman is a bonus and a wonderful, wonderful thing. But she happens to also be a leader of visions and values.”

Indeed, Cynthia Birmingham says she’s supporting Clinton this time around because she’s an experienced, proven leader at a time when the country most needs that experience. “No one else in the field even comes close,” she says, “Hillary just blows them all away. It’s not so much that she’s a woman, but that she’s the best person for the job.”

TIME natural disaster

Worldwide Earthquake Drill Comes 25 Years After Loma Prieta

Jan. 30, 1995, cover
The Jan. 30, 1995, cover of TIME Cover Credit: TOKYO SHIMBUN/REUTERS

This year's "Great ShakeOut" is Oct. 16; the Loma Prieta earthquake happened Oct. 17, 1989

On Thursday, Oct. 16, — at 10:16 a.m. — the annual Great ShakeOut earthquake drill will ask people around the world to take cover for a minute, practicing what they might do in the case of a real quake. It’s estimated that more than 25 million people will participate in this year’s event, which is organized by the Southern California Earthquake Center.

This coming Friday marks the 25th anniversary of a Californian earthquake that was far from a drill.

On Oct. 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake hit the San Francisco area. A 7.1 on the Richter scale, it was the worst quake in the region since 1906’s legendary tremors. According to TIME’s coverage of the aftermath, it was the “costliest natural disaster in U.S. history” at the time, in terms of dollars. It was estimated that the earthquake would cost the area about $10 billion; the vast majority of affected homes were not covered by earthquake insurance and parts of the I-880 freeway had to be demolished. Some speculated that the residual costs of the quake would stunt the Bay Area’s growth as a financial and business region. A year later, the actual cost was adjusted down to a mere $6 billion, but many people rendered homeless by the event were still without a place to live.

Within five years, however, Loma Prieta had been matched by the 1994 Northridge earthquake in California; a year later, another major quake in Kobe, Japan, brought the topic back into the news (as on the cover of TIME, above). Though the damage from such extensive earthquakes seems like something that a simple drill can’t affect, that’s not actually the case. As TIME put it in the Jan. 30, 1995, issue:

Much of the property damage from earthquakes, however, and not a small number of injuries, result not from cracking buildings but from heavy objects flying around and slamming into human flesh. Homeowners can be far more earthquake savvy, securing furniture, TV sets, bookcases and especially water heaters to the walls. Fires in the wake of an earthquake often do more damage than the quake itself, and many a fire has been caused by a top-heavy water heater keeling over, ripping a gas line out of a cellar wall and breaking it in the process. There is little evidence that people are taking these simple precautions, however. Few of those living around major faults really believe an earthquake is likely to strike until it actually does–and then, of course, it is too late.

The potential for a disastrous earthquake is no different today than it was back then — but, 25 years after Loma Prieta, millions of people are trying to do something before it’s too late.

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 Budgeting

Guess Which U.S. City Is the Most Expensive

141014_REA_EXPENSIVELIVING
Nikreates—Alamy

Hint: It's not NYC.

On average, American households spend the largest share of their annual expenditures on housing. The average family spends $16,887 on housing per year, equating to 33% of the average household’s annual expenditures. But how much do those expenses vary from city to city, and which places are the most expensive?

Well, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released a report (link opens PDF) detailing Americans’ average annual expenditures on housing and related items. And contrary to popular belief, New York City is not the most expensive city to live in. Two U.S. cities have overtaken it.

A breakdown of housing costs

The BLS took a deep dive into all the costs of housing, rather than simply comparing the cost of rent or average mortgage payments. Their analysis also took into account utilities (electric, water, and natural gas), household furnishings and equipment (textiles, furniture, floor coverings, appliances, and the like), housekeeping supplies, and other household expenses. What they found was that average annual expenditures on housing were far higher in both Washington, D.C., and San Francisco than in New York.

most-expensive-city-no-longer-nyc_large
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The data is current as of 2012, and housing costs in the District of Columbia and San Francisco have risen since then. In D.C., the rise in housing costs is being led by the redevelopment and gentrification of the downtown area, which in turn is being triggered by the high relative number of government and government-related jobs, particularly in the defense contracting sector. Baby boomers are also moving from the suburbs into the city.

In San Francisco, housing costs have always been high, but they’re spiking because of a confluence of factors. The continued boom in technology companies in Silicon Valley — most notably Apple, Google, and Facebook — means that a growing cadre of high-paid employees want to live in the area. Add in a longtime lack of housing development in the city, and you have a rise in housing prices that has become a contentious issue in the San Francisco Bay area as longtime renters are priced out of the city. TechCrunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler provides a great, in-depth piece on San Francisco’s housing problem.

The difference in annual housing costs between the two most expensive cities and the national average is a staggering $10,000. Excluding New York City, the difference between the two most expensive cities and other major U.S. metropolitan areas is over $5,000 annually. If you’re thinking of moving, it’s smart to compare costs carefully before moving to one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.

National differences in housing cost

While the above data is just from major U.S. cities, we have other data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis showing the real value of housing dollars in each state compared with the national average.

real-value-of-housing_large

You can see that generally, coastal states are more expensive than non-coastal states, as many people enjoy living near the ocean. You can also see that the Northeast on average is more expensive than the rest of the country except for California. These high costs, coupled with better weather and low to no income taxes, are why many retirees move south to Florida, Texas, etc.

If considering moving to a more expensive city, you should be sure the benefits will be worth the extra expense. For instance, while I pay a high cost of living to live in New York City, the quality of life that I get in the city makes it well worth it, in my opinion. While New York state is ranked poorly in terms of the happiest states in the U.S., New York City is ranked in the top quartile by happiness among U.S. cities, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.

The most important thing is to live in a place where you are happy. While the main determinants of happiness are the same for everyone, the specifics vary. Be sure that an increased cost of living comes with an increased quality of life.

MONEY taxis

Uber Has Pretty Much Destroyed Regular Taxis in San Francisco

Uber driver in San Francisco
Mark Avery/ZUMA Wire—Alamy

We've all suspected Uber would wreck the traditional taxi industry. Now, at least in San Francisco, there's proof.

Techno-optimist disrupters and angry cab drivers alike have predicted that Uber, the leading app-powered car service, would eventually put traditional yellow cabs out of business. Now, a new report shows that that Uber is hitting metered cabs hard, at least in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Examiner reports on testimony by Kate Toran, director of taxis for San Francisco’s transportation authority, who revealed that average monthly trips per city taxi have plummeted from 1,424 in 2012 to 504 in July of this year—a drop of almost 65%. Uber added San Francisco taxi service in October of 2012.

In addition to cutting drivers’ revenues, Toran also suggested that people who use wheelchairs could be hurt by the shift to app-based services. Her report shows wheelchair pickups have dropped from 1,378 per month in March of 2013 to 768 in July—a decrease of over 50%.

“The ramp taxi program is just a vulnerable program in the taxi program overall because it costs more to operate, maintain and it costs more in gas for the drivers,” said Toran. “It takes more time to do wheelchair securement, so it’s kind of the first to go.” According to the Examiner, transportation network companies, unlike city cabs, are not required to be wheelchair accessible.

San Francisco isn’t the only place Uber is cutting into the traditional taxi business. Cab drivers from Chicago to Berlin have protested against Uber’s entrance, claiming in many cases that ridesharing companies are competing unfairly because they are not subject to the same regulations as official taxis.

In August, Illinois governor Pat Quinn vetoed a bill that would require companies like Uber submit their drivers to background checks, abide by new insurance requirements, and limit “surge-pricing” where fares are dynamically raised during high-temand hours. A recent Harvard Business Review article blamed excessive regulations of city cabs as a primary reason why yellow cabs have been unable to compete with new transportation services. For example, metered cabs can’t dynamically change prices as demand changes. Uber can. And it has frequently dropped its own fares below those of city cabs knowing its regulated competition will be unable to respond. It has also taken advantage of special rush hour pricing.

San Francisco regulators have responded to competition from Uber-like services by relaxing some standards in an attempt to keep yellow cab drivers from jumping ship. Driver application fees have been waived for the year, and other fees have been reduced. They are also considering eliminating a $500 charge for a wheelchair-friendly cab license.

While Uber’s entrance into the market has been bad for taxi companies’ business, it may have improved their service. Tuesday’s report noted 80% of the city’s taxi fleet now uses the FlyWheel hailing app, which allows customers to summon and pay for taxis using their phones.

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