Sunday musings: How to cross the street, tax or surcharge, business travel has to get better

This Sunday we look at crossing the street — is it a cultural thing? The airlines try to define fuel surcharges as a tax. And, we examine four ways that business travel will improve.

Does how you cross the street tell where you grew up?
In some cities natives never jaywalk. In others, they jaywalk all the time. In some cities pedestrians wait on the sidewalk. In others, they step into the street to wait to cross. Is it cultural? It must be. It changes from city to city within countries and from country to country. Yes, someone studied this phenomenon.

During six weeks in Tokyo last year I noticed that Japanese pedestrians did something that walkers in Manhattan rarely do: they waited to cross the street until the signal permitted. In my (admittedly limited) experience, I found this to be the case even when crossing would have required just a few total steps, and even when there were absolutely no cars in sight. When I asked my interpreter about this habit one day, she told me that most Japanese, as a general rule, obeyed laws to the letter.

Researchers compared two cities — one in France and the other in Japan.

Both roads carried similar volumes of two-way traffic, both had the same speed limit and width, and both tests were carried out at the same time of day. In each case, only individual pedestrians were tracked, so as to minimize the influence of others on the decision to cross. Two experiments were conducted in both cities: one a legal crosswalk and signal (with the same 30-second green duration), and another at an unmarked crossing.
The results were both clear and striking. At the legal crossing in Strasbourg, France, about 67 percent of pedestrians crossed against the red light. Only 7 percent of walkers in Inuyama did the same. At the unmarked crossing, the researchers measured how much time between cars a pedestrian needed before deciding to walk. In Strasbourg that time clocked in at 9 seconds, on average; in Inuyama, walkers felt free from risk at 16-second gaps.

Is a fuel surcharge a tax?
Not really, but the airlines often call it one. The province of British Columbia has held in provincial court that the surcharge is not a tax and that representing it as a tax is misleading. Now, airlines are suing in order to keep misrepresenting the fuel surcharge as a tax based on federal prememption.

Representative plaintiff Derya Simsek, a waitress, alleges that about $350 the airline collected from her as tax on her ticket from Vancouver to Singapore turned out to be not a tax at all. North Vancouver lawyer James Poyner, who represents the plaintiff, says this was money the airline pocketed for its own use in contravention of the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Act, one of the strongest consumer protection statutes in Canada. What’s surprising, says Poyner, is that United Airlines reportedly refrains from this practice in the US but takes its liberties with Canadian consumers. The ticket in question was purchased from a Vancouver travel agency.
Air Canada has recently lost its bid at the BC Court of Appeal to have the provincial consumer law declared constitutionally inapplicable to the airline as a federally regulated undertaking.

Why can’t airlines stop themselves from misrepresenting these surcharges as taxes? The same is happening here in the USA. Several complaints are working their way through DOT’s system.
4 happy ways business travel will get better
Joe Brancatelli admits that business travel has slipped a bit. But, he claims that it will, inevitably, get better. Here are his four thoughts.

• Airport security will be less intrusive
Created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to federalize airport checkpoints, the Transportation Security Administration is nearly impossible to love. Still, the future of airport security will be faster, less intrusive and, by the way, more in tune with the law that created the TSA in the first place [using PreCheck and Global Entry].
• The government will curb deceptive ‘unbundled’ fares
After decades of losses created by their own ineptness, many U.S. airlines have decided that unbundling fares — the term of art invented to explain why they now charge extra for everything from checked bags to seat assignments — is the ticket to sustained profit.
A clash between U.S. carriers and the Department of Transportation is inevitable because airlines invariably try to hide their ups and extras and passengers despise being nickel and dimed. The Department of Transportation whiffed on its first attempt even to define the intrinsic components of an airfare, but it’ll have no choice but to revisit the topic…
• Hotels will realize it’s not just ‘heads on beds’
We can travel with our own whiz-bang tech tools, but we need a place to plop down and use them. As fewer and fewer of us are tied to an office, (Yahoo dictates notwithstanding), just-in-time work space will be the hot commodity. Hotels initially rushed to remake lobbies to adopt a coffeehouse vibe, but now they understand conference rooms need a makeover, too.
• We’ll eat even better on the fly
One of the few places where life on the road has notably improved in recent years is at the airport. Once populated by dark, dank bars and dreary, dreadful dining options, airports now sparkle with on-the-fly outposts of local microbreweries and bespoke wine bars.