Recently in journals Category

Property Tax on Privatized Roads


Recently published:

  • Junge, Jason and David Levinson (2013)
    Property Tax on Privatized Roads.
    Research in Transportation Business and Management. [doi]

    Roads cover a significant fraction of the land area in many municipalities. The public provision of roads means this land is exempt from the local property tax. Transferring roads from public to private ownership would not only remove maintenance costs from city budgets, but increase potential property tax revenue as well. This paper calculates the value of the land occupied by roads in sample cities and determines the potential revenue increase if they were subject to property tax. Further calculation computes the extent to which the property tax rate could be reduced if the land value of roads were added to the tax base.

    JEL code: R40, R11, R14

    Keywords: tax, land value, locational analysis, transportation finance


Academia should be faster than it is. This especially applies to the transportation and planning journals with which I am familiar. It often takes more than a year to do less than 8 hours of work (reviews and editorial decision-making).

Some peer reviewed journals (which will remain nameless in this post) are best described as Black Holes. Articles are submitted to be reviewed and never escape. There may or may not be an acknowledgment of receipt. The paper may or may not have been sent to reviewers. The reviewers may or may not have acknowledged receiving the paper in a timely fashion. They may or may not conduct the review in a timely fashion. Some reviewers might do their job, but the editor may be waiting on the slow reviewer before making a decision.

There are several causes for this black hole:

  1. Authors - Why would you be foolish enough to place your trust in an editor you don't know? But of course, for graduate students and tenure track faculty, what choice do you have when your career is determined by success in the publication game? In this game, the author is in general the supplicant. If the author is famous, the situation might be reversed, and the editor should be seeking your paper to make their journal stronger, but given there are well over 1 million peer-reviewed journal articles published each year (and I guess 2x that submitted), and only 20,000 Scopus indexed journals, the average journal has leverage over the average author.
  2. Reviewers - Why would I do free labor for a stranger (the Editor) for a community I don't know (prospective readers) to help an anonymous person (the Author)? Why would I do it quickly?

    • The noble answer is to stay on top of cutting edge research.

    • A plausible answer is the opportunity to ensure your own work is properly referenced. Though this might appear sketchy to you as an author when reviewers say cite X, Y, and Z (and reveal themselves), yet you as an author will still cite these works in the revised manuscript, and it looks perfectly natural to the reader. This motivates the reviewer and raises the citation rate of the reviewer's own works.
    • Another answer is to accumulate social capital.

      Where exactly do I redeem the social capital I am accumulating? Where is the social capital bank:

      Editors write promotion (or immigration!) letters in support of good, quick, helpful reviewers. Editors might more favorably view the papers of helpful reviewers. Editors might more favorably review proposals of helpful reviewers. Editors might be more likely to nominate good reviewers for awards. Editors might nominate good reviewers to an Editorial Advisory Board and bestow upon them some prestige. The reviewer might be an editor elsewhere and be able to "return the favor". But all of this is probabilistic and a bit vaporous. Journals sometimes publish list of reviewers. In any case, a list of (self-reported) number of reviews by journal is one of the beans that is counted in the promotion and tenure process.

  3. Editors - What leverage do I have over unpaid labor (reviewers) and why should I care personally about ungrateful authors who have submitted an unready paper to my journal which will almost inevitably not be accepted the first round. The leverage is future favors I might bestow in advancement of potential reviewers (see above). This indicates Editors should favor graduate students and assistant professors as reviewers over full professors. Unfortunately full professors are more famous and more likely to be selected to do reviews. I am personally running at a rate of about 100 review requests per year now. If I were really famous, I would need to decline far more than I do now. If I were really, really famous, I would not have time to decline requests (or perhaps I would have staff decline requests for me).

So there is a social network at play in this process, and if any link breaks between author and editor, between editor and reviewer, or back from reviewer to editor or editor to author, the circuit is not complete, the paper entered the system, and like a light from a black hole, cannot escape.

This is one reason I like journals that have check to automatically track publication status, nag reviewers, and have quick turnaround times. This is one reason I like the idea of "desk reject". It is much better to be rejected immediately then after 6, 9, 18, 24 months of review. Fast has value.

There is a second black hole, not quite as large, dealing with accepted papers that have yet to be formatted for publication. This is usually solved by an online "articles in press" or "online first" section of the journal website. The advantage to the journal of this is the ability for papers to accumulate citations before they are actually "published", thereby gaming the ISI impact factors, which look at the number of citations in the first 2 years from publication.

A major problem with looking at 2 years when journals are slow is apparent. I cite only papers published before I submit my paper. If it takes 2 years to accept and publish, I will not have included any papers from the past two years. Therefore slow fields have lower impact factors than fast fields. This feeds the notion (in a positive feedback way) that these fields are sleepy backwaters of scientific research rather than cutting edge fields where people care about progress.

To break the black holes I have a couple of ideas:

  1. A "name and shame" open database (or even a wiki) which tracks article submissions by journal, so that authors have a realistic assessment of review, and possibly re-review and publication times. Also the amount of time in the author's hands for revision would be tracked.
  2. Money to pay reviewers and editors to act in a timely fashion and publication charges to finance open scholarly communication. A few journals pay reviewers. When I get one of those, I am far more likely to review quickly than when I get requests from other journals, especially for journals outside my core area, especially when the likelihood of withdrawing social capital is minimal. Other journals charge authors and use the funds to speed the process (but as far as I know these journals don't pay reviewers). Of course, we need to be clear to avoid "pay to play". Libraries could help here, redirecting funds from the traditional subscription model to a new open access model, helping their university's authors publish in truly open access journals. The new federal initiative will hopefully tip the balance.

We all know the journal system as we have known it is unlike to survive as is for the next 100 years. It is surprising it is lasted as long as it has, but academia is one of the last guilds.

There are lots of cool models out there beyond the traditional library pays for subscription of expensive journal: from open access journals with sponsors (JTLU), author fees (PLOS_One), membership (PeerJ), decentralized archives (RePEc), and centralized electronic archives arXiv.

Yet we need some way of separating the wheat from the chaff, and peer-review, as imperfect as it is, has advantages over the open internet where any crank can write a blog post.

Eventually time will act as a filter, but peer-review, the review of papers by experts to filter out the poorly written, the wrong, the repetitive and the redundant, can save readers much time.

Titling Articles

A number of papers in the academic literature use words in the title like: Understanding, Examining, Studying, Determining, Assessing, Modeling, Evaluating, Impacts of, Effects of, etc. I am guilty of this myself in some papers where insufficient thought goes into the name. Often these words can be eliminated.

There is no formula for good titles. There are however statistics on what types of words and punctuation marks lead to better or worse citation rates (Huggett 2011). As a simple illustration, there is a reason Adam Smith's "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" is shortened to "Wealth of Nations".

In titles, as in life, Omit Needless Words.


Huggett, Sarah (2011) Heading for success: or how not to title your paper. Research Trends #24.

Call for Papers

Special Issue of Economics of Transportation
in Honor of Herbert Mohring

Economics of Transportation, the journal of the International Transportation Economics Association, invites papers for a special issue in honor of Herbert Mohring, who passed away on June 4, 2012. All submissions will go through a regular peer review process. Papers submitted to the special issue can be on any topic in transportation economics. Papers on topics related to Mohring's work are especially desirable. Mohring is best known for his work on transportation economics themes such as efficient pricing and capacity provision and the resulting implications for self-financing, and scale economies in public transport.

The special issue will be guest-edited by Marvin Kraus of Boston College ( To submit a paper, visit and indicate that your submission is for the Special Issue in Honor of Herbert Mohring. Any questions or problems should be directed to the guest editor.

Timetable for Submissions

* Deadline for initial submission of papers: February 1, 2013
* First-round referee reports returned to authors by May 15, 2013
* Deadline for submitting revised papers: September 1, 2013
* Second-round referee reports returned to authors by December 1, 2013.
* Deadline for submitting final drafts of papers: December 31, 2013
* Expected publication: Early 2014

Linklist: June 13, 2012

PeerJ Blog A new, respectable, open-access journal (in biology and medicine) that charges authors "memberships" rather than publication charges. Memberships on the order of $100.

Wired: Apple, Google Just Killed Portable GPS Devices Dallas - Fort Worth: Pedestrians face danger on Orange Line 'path' in Las Colinas

"Meanwhile, joggers question why the rails are so accessible if they’re intended to be off-limits. DART says it may consider changing the design if it becomes a bigger problem."

Linklist: May 22, 2012

NYT: Big Data Troves Stay Forbidden:

" In the future, he said, the conference should not accept papers from authors who did not make their data public. He was greeted by applause from the audience.

In February, Dr. Huberman had published a letter in the journal Nature warning that privately held data was threatening the very basis of scientific research. 'If another set of data does not validate results obtained with private data,' he asked, 'how do we know if it is because they are not universal or the authors made a mistake?'"

In the "be careful what you wish for department" ... NYT: George Lucas's Plans in Marin:

"But after spending years and millions of dollars, Mr. Lucas abruptly canceled plans recently for the third, and most likely last, major expansion, citing community opposition. An emotional statement posted online said Lucasfilm would build instead in a place 'that sees us as a creative asset, not as an evil empire.'

If the announcement took Marin by surprise, it was nothing compared with what came next. Mr. Lucas said he would sell the land to a developer to bring 'low income housing' here."

TOLLROADSnews: Traffic congestion dropped off 30% in 2011 INRIX says - weak economy, higher gas prices :

"2011 saw a dramatic drop in traffic congestion in the US - 30% fewer hours wasted in congested traffic according to INRIX, the nation's leading provider of traffic data. The 2011 improvement is only outmatched in the years since INRIX has been measuring congestion by the financial crisis year of 2008, when congestion dropped 34%. In 2009 congestion was up 1% and 2010 saw a 10% regrowth of congestion. "

[I call 'Bullshit'. There may have been a methodological problem they are calling a trend.]

Wired: SpaceX In Orbit - Successful Launch of Falcon 9 Rocket :

"CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — The second time’s the charm for SpaceX. This morning at 3:44 a.m. EDT the company’s Falcon 9 rocket lifted off Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral. After a faulty valve led to an aborted launch on Saturday, today’s successful flight marks the third of the Falcon 9 rocket, the second flight of the Dragon capsule, and the first flight for a commercial spacecraft bound for the International Space Station (ISS)."

Kottke: Douche parking: "I can't tell if the app featured in this video is imaginary or not, but it's a great theoretical solution to the problem of douche parking. Douche parking is basically parking like a douche, and is way more prevalent in Russia than in the US. The Village feels publicly shaming is the best way to deal with douches. Unfortunately, one trait of douches is an inability to be shamed."

Matt Kahn @ Environmental and Urban Economics: New UCLA Research Suggests that Men Should Not Bike:

"A study by researchers at the UCLA School of Nursing has found that serious male cyclists may experience hormonal imbalances that could affect their reproductive health. "

Linklist: May 3, 2012

Akamai: State of the Internet Report [Comment: It's not faster than last year, because, like roads, it is not rationed or priced properly]

Tim Lee @ Ars: Why bandwidth caps could be a threat to competition: "Since the first dot-com boom, unmetered Internet access has been the industry standard. But recently, usage-based billing has been staging a comeback. Comcast instituted a bandwidth cap in 2008, and some other wired ISPs, including AT&T, have followed suit. In 2010, three of the four national wireless carriers—Sprint is the only holdout—switched from unlimited data plans to plans featuring bandwidth caps."

Tom Vanderbilt @ The Wilson Quarterly: The Call of the Future : "Today we worry about the social effects of the Internet. A century ago, it was the telephone that threatened to reinvent society." ["He is currently at work on You May Also Like, a book about the mysteries of human preferences."]

David Willetts @ The Guardian: The UK government is promising: Open, free access to academic research [Woot!]

Tim Leunig, an Elsevier editor of Explorations in Economic History, writes: Elsevier have a right to price their journals as they see fit, but they must be honest in their reasoning and not attack boycotters with untruths. :

"I therefore have no difficulty in defending Elsevier’s right to price its journals as it sees fit. Equally, I have no difficulty in understanding the decisions of individuals and libraries not to subscribe to Elsevier’s journals. What I strongly dislike is the Chief Executive claiming that the objections of Elsevier’s critics are based on “misstatements or misunderstandings of the fact”. He should be honest and state that in many cases his journals have an element of monopoly power which as a commercial, capitalist company he is determined to exploit as fully as possible. I would respect him were he to say that. For him to claim otherwise is simply false – and as a journal editor it is my job to expose those who speak falsely. That responsibility extends to rejecting comments made by my Journal’s publisher’s Chief Executive, just as much as it extends to rejecting articles that make unsubstantiated and unwarranted claims unsupported by the evidence."

A growing set of researchers are boycotting Elsevier, a major academic publisher, details at: The Cost of Knowledge. From that website:

"Academics have protested against Elsevier's business practices for years with little effect. The main objections are these:
  1. They charge exorbitantly high prices for their journals.
  2. They sell journals in very large "bundles," so libraries must buy a large set with many unwanted journals, or none at all. Elsevier thus makes huge profits by exploiting their essential titles, at the expense of other journals.
  3. They support measures such as SOPA, PIPA and the Research Works Act, that aim to restrict the free exchange of information."

The long review process is another complaint, but this is journal or editor specific, rather than Elsevier as an organization.

For those in the field of transportation research, Elsevier is an oligopolist and the dominant player at that, it publishes the well-known Transportation Research parts A - F and other journals in the transportation field (Research in Transportation Economics, Transport Geography, Accident Analysis and Prevention, Transport Policy, and Journal of Air Transport Management, as well as the new Economics of Transportation: Journal of ITEA)

Basically this is a collective action / coordination problem, someone has to coordinate academic publishing. Some money needs to be collected somewhere. Papers don't typeset themselves. The problem is the charge for this service is outrageous, allowing Elsevier in particular to collect excess rents (monopoly profits).

I have not yet joined the boycott, I am still debating internally. Words are cheap, actions have consequences. While undoubtedly I could get by, my students careers may be hurt if they were unable to publish in some of the highly ranked Elsevier journals. I count 7 papers currently under review in Elsevier journals and I don't want to restart the process on all of them. I have published other papers in Elsevier journals. And of course, all this may flop.

In transportation we need more alternatives. There are not enough open content journals, and only a few other serious non-Elsevier choices. We have the following significant English-language non-Elsevier journals I am familiar with, (this list seems like a lot, but few have the reach or the legacy of the TR journals, and many are specialized):

* indicates open access.

[Did I miss any (I intentionally excluded journals from Bentham and SCIRP)?, a more comprehensive list is maintained by Robert Bertini here, a list of Open Access journals in Transport is here and Transportation is here ]

There are also lots of journals in adjacent fields (Safety, OR, Planning, Regional Science, Geography, Civil Engineering, etc.)

I have done what I can with JTLU, but I can't operate 15 open access journals, other people need to step up. We need new models.

The whole publication field is in flux, Public Library of Science and arXiv have been around a while in the sciences, and a new initiative called Faculty of 1000 is promoting "post-publication" peer review in biology and medicine.

Previous posts on Elsevier:

Network Structure and City Size

Recently published: Levinson, David (2011) Network Structure and City Size. PLoS One PLoS ONE 7(1): e29721, January 12, 2012 [doi]

Network structure varies across cities. This variation may yield important knowledge about how the internal structure of the city affects its performance. This paper systematically compares a set of surface transportation network structure variables (connectivity, hierarchy, circuity, treeness, entropy, accessibility) across the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. A set of scaling parameters are discovered to show how network size and structure vary with city size. These results suggest that larger cities are physically more inter-connected. Hypotheses are presented as to why this might obtain. This paper then consistently measures and ranks access to jobs across 50 US metropolitan areas. It uses that accessibility measure, along with network structure variables and city size to help explain journey-to-work time and auto mode share in those cities. A 1 percent increase in accessibility reduces average metropolitan commute times by about 90 seconds each way. A 1 percent increase in network connectivity reduces commute time by 0.1 percent. A 1 percent increase in accessibility results in a 0.0575 percent drop in auto mode share, while a 1 percent increase in treeness reduces auto mode share by 0.061 percent. Use of accessibility and network structure measures is important for planning and evaluating the performance of network investments and land use changes. Keywords: Connectivity, Network Structure, Transportation Geography, Network Science, City Size, Scaling Rules, Accessibility, Travel Behavior, Mode Share, Journey-to-Work

This paper has several features:

  1. The paper includes a ranking of 50 US cities by estimated accessibility (Table 3). This estimate is macroscopic, though I think quite plausible, and shows the variation in the 10 minute vs. 20 minute ... vs. 60 minute and composite accessibilities. The composite numbers are more or less what you expect, but some small cities are quite fast, so have high 10 or 20 minute accessibilities by car. Lots of work remains to be done on this (both multiple modes and multiple points in time) but this should be a valuable metric.
  2. Larger cities are better connected. They are also more productive. This research suggests a hypothesis (which further research will need to test) that variations in network structure may explain variations of economic output. More connected cities are more efficient. It is not simply how many people are in the city (the classic economy of agglomeration argument) but how they are connected that affects their productivity.

I will also comment about the publication itself. It was published in PLoS One, a first for me. PLoS ONE is a newish, open content journal across part of the Public Library of Science family that aims to represent all fields of study. I did this as an experiment as much as anything. The paper is out less than 4 months after submission, and 2 months after revision. This is *fast*, much faster than for-profit publishers offer. The journal is interdisciplinary, and does not winnow for importance (letting the field do that), instead winnowing for quality of the work and its description. Everyone in the field knows how arbitrary publication is when paper is a constraint. This seems an improvement.

Dear Elsevier,

Your RSS Feeds are Broken

I use Google Reader to read RSS feeds of journals in my field. Your RSS feeds have broken in recent months. At first I hoped it was a hiccup. It seems more substantial. The same RSS feed
gives me both Transport Policy (good) and Comparative Immunology, Microbiology and Infectious Diseases (which is wonderful, but quite useless).

The same RSS feed

gives me Transport Research part A and The Lancet and Diamond and Related Materials.

The same RSS feed

gives me Chemical Engineering Research and Design and Regional Science and Urban Economics
etc., etc., etc.

Today The Journal of Transport Geography gives me Journal of Inorganic Biochemistry

This is an interesting problem since the feeds seem cleaned up when I go to them directly (e.g. in Safari). I suspect you clean out the wrong feeds after Google Reader archives it, though perhaps there is another explanation. Google Reader has this problem only with Elsevier feeds. None of my other feeds seem similarly corrupted.

I realize not too many people are using these RSS feeds, but I am one of them. It seems simple enough. Please fix.

More than 4,000 National Academies Press PDFs Now Available to Download for Free

But not TRB? TRB really needs to get on board with this.

With the rise of RSS feeds, it is easier to stay on top of the academic literature, especially for those of us without a nearby physical library. I have compiled a list of the journals I track into an OPML file, which should be importable into the newsreader of your choice (e.g. Google Reader)


Also, the list of transportation blogs that I follow is below:


Happy reading.

Transport Reviews 30th Anniversary

The journal Transport Reviews has just turned 30. I am happy to say I have an article "Equity Effects of Road Pricing: A Review" in this anniversary issue. David Bannister writes:

Routledge, our publisher, has made 30 articles free to view to celebrate the journal's 30th anniversary. I hope that you enjoy reading them!

Issue 1 is a special issue to mark the anniversary. You can view the table of contents for the issue and read the editorial for free here.

Routledge are also giving away 30 days free access to the entire back file in July! To receive a special code that will give you this free access please email Alexandra at Routledge: Alexandra.Dann (AT)

Please forward this email to your colleagues so that they can take advantage of these special offers too.

Thank you for your support of Transport Reviews.

Kind regards,

David Banister
Editor of Transport Reviews

David Levinson

Network Reliability in Practice

Evolving Transportation Networks

Place and Plexus

The Transportation Experience

Access to Destinations

Assessing the Benefits and Costs of Intelligent Transportation Systems

Financing Transportation Networks

View David Levinson's profile on LinkedIn

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