MTC Study Shows HSR Will Succeed In California
One of the most common things we’ve found around the world with high speed rail is that it is very, very successful at attracting riders to switch from flying between two points to the train. Despite deeply ignorant claims that because Southwest Airlines offers cheap flights, we don’t need HSR, the evidence indicates that HSR will indeed thrive by drawing a chunk of its riders from planes. Here are some examples of how HSR has succeeded, often very quickly, at gaining riders on high-traffic air corridors:
• Spain HSR overtakes flights on Madrid-Barcelona route, long one of the busiest air routes in the world
• Taiwan airlines “reeling” from HSR success – keep in mind this is from an HSR system that needed a government bailout thanks to a flawed funding method
• Acela takes over 40% of market share on Northeast Corridor – even though Acela isn’t real HSR, certainly not what we’re planning here in California
Other studies have indicated that California would experience similar benefits from HSR. The Brookings Institution produced a report last October that claimed SF-LA was one of the best corridors in the country for HSR.
That study is now boosted by a new report from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) showing that HSR will get at least 6 million riders per year from the three Bay Area airports combined:
SH&E forecasts that by 2035, San Jose would lose 12 percent of its projected passengers because of high-speed rail, followed by a 9 percent diversion at Oakland and a 4 percent loss at San Francisco. They figure the three airports would carry slightly more than 100 million total passengers without the bullet train but that each would carry about 2 million fewer travelers if high-speed rail is built as planned.
Translated to total airport activity, the train project is estimated to reduce overall operations at San Jose by 9.2 percent, at San Francisco by 5.3 percent and at Oakland by 5.2 percent….
The consultants say two-thirds of San Francisco and San Jose travelers headed to the Los Angeles area would switch to high-speed rail, and about half the Oakland passengers would do the same.
The study is based on the MTC/CHSRA ridership estimates prepared by Cambridge Systematics, and independent observers view those numbers as credible:
“There will be a giant sucking sound as you hear, especially business travelers, vacate airplanes in favor of high-speed rail,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst with Forrester Research in San Francisco, who was not involved in the study. “It will be less susceptible to delays, more efficient, (will go) city center to city center, and there are just some additional pleasantries,” he said.
And the local airports aren’t concerned by it. SFO has long been supportive of HSR and welcomes the station planned for Millbrae. Mineta San José Airport, in the midst of a major and welcome expansion project, is also unconcerned:
California airports have long been supportive of the rail project. Stations are planned at the BART stop at San Francisco Airport, in San Jose and near Southern California airports.
“We recognize that if high-speed rail does affect our short-haul passenger traffic at the airport in the future, that makes it even more important to protect the airport’s ability to serve long haul routes in the future,” said David Vossbrink, spokesman for Mineta San Jose International Airport. The study indicated the diversion estimates represented “total aircraft activity.”
This is because they understand that the future of short-haul flights is not bright. Rising oil prices in 2008 led to a major reduction in those flights even on the busy SF-LA corridor. Southwest has only been able to maintain its low prices through the use of fuel hedges that allowed it to lock in low fuel costs. As oil prices rise, which they will do for the foreseeable future, Southwest will become unable to keep their fares low.
That is why we should welcome this study. California must move beyond relying on oil-based forms of transportation, including flights to get around our state. High speed rail will enable us to provide sustainably powered travel with a stable cost. Further reasons to ensure HSR gets built as planned.