Getting the HSR Poll Right

Jul 29th, 2010 | Posted by

Dan Walters, a Sacramento Bee columnist whose opposition to high speed rail has been consistent, took a look yesterday at the HSR poll released by the California High Speed Rail Authority and found it wanting:

In other words, as the authority’s deputy director Jeffrey Barker put it to reporters Tuesday, the train would be “a cheaper way to travel.”

Of course the response to a “cheaper way to travel” would be positive, but it’s very questionable premise.

It could be cheaper than driving only if the car carried just the driver and one counted the full-bore costs of driving, including depreciation, maintenance and insurance on the car, rather than merely the incremental cost of fuel for such a jaunt.

The authority’s assumption that bullet train fares would be 83 percent of airline fares, meanwhile, is based on using the highest possible airline fares, rather than the more common and much-lower no-frills Southwest Airlines fares. It also assumes bullet train overhead is as modest as the authority’s current “business plan” projects.

Walters is notorious for believing that 20th century conditions will persist into the future, and for not believing that peak oil will lead to much higher fuel costs in the future, despite evidence from respected economic observers such as Deutsche Bank that fuel costs will indeed rise dramatically. In other words, he believes that the cost of driving or flying in 2020 or 2030 will be exactly the same as it is here in 2010.

We know that’s not true. But we don’t need to take a trip to the future to see that Walters’ assumption that the train could never cost less than the plane is itself flawed. Jeff Barker, in response to Walters’ column, spent yesterday morning going online and pricing trips between two destinations served by both a plane and a high speed train. Here’s what he found:

I spent this morning pricing high-speed rail trips and airplane trips over the same distances in some of the world’s already-established high-speed rail corridors. What I found were tickets half the cost of airfare.

In Japan, a trip from Tokyo to Osaka tomorrow morning would cost you $160 on the Shinkansen and $283 by plane.

In France, Paris to Lyon would be $157 by high-speed train – the TGV – and $336 by air.

In Spain, the relatively new line from Madrid to Seville on Monday morning (you can’t book before then because it’s so well-ridden that tickets aren’t easily available this week), it would be $108 one-way compared to $200 by plane.

High-speed rail throughout the world is competitive, draws riders, and generates surplus revenues on its operations. It would be the same in California.

Ouch. CHSRA 1, Dan Walters 0.

And what of the US domestic scene? I found a fare from WAS (DC Union Station) to NYP (Penn Station, up on 8th ave) on the Acela for $180 departing at 1PM, with afternoon departures closer to $225. That’s cheaper than anything I found on for flights from DCA (National airport) to LGA (LaGuardia; $280 was cheapest) or EWR (Newark; $265 was cheapest – though a long Philly layover brought the price down to $200). On Southwest, the cheapest fare was $171 – but that was from BWI (Baltimore) to LGA, since there were no flights out of DCA.

In other words, if you want to get from central Washington DC to central Manhattan, the fastest and cheapest way is on the Acela.

And of course, the short-haul airlines themselves, like JetBlue, are clamoring for HSR service on the shuttle routes like SF-LA or DC-NY so that slots are opened up for them to fly longer, more profitable routes.

So that would all seem to quite thoroughly demolish Walters’ claims about trains vs. planes, even here in 2010, before the upward march of fuel prices has resumed.

What about driving? Sure, in 2010, it probably is cheaper to pile a family of four into a car and drive from LA to SF than it would be to take a bullet train. But you’d be taking twice as long to make that trip (12 hours round-trip in a car vs. ~6 hours round-trip on a train). For parents, that time can make a lot of difference, and a lot of people will pay for the convenience and time savings.

For a single traveler, it’s no contest. As someone who travels to and from SoCal often for business, I rarely drive even today. It’s a waste of my time. There’s just no question that I’d take a train for such a trip rather than drive.

By 2020, however, the savings of piling a family of four into a car versus taking the train will probably no longer exist. Again, critics of the HSR ridership model assume fuel prices will remain constant over the next 10 to 20 years, an assumption that flies in the face of every available piece of evidence.

I can understand why HSR critics want to undermine this poll – its results are simply devastating to their case. But so far, their criticisms just don’t hold water. Even under present conditions, the underlying assumptions that the train would be more preferable and cheaper than the plane are proved valid, and traveler preference to use something other than a car is already strong. Add in soaring fuel costs over the next 10 years and there’s every reason to believe HSR will be as successful in California as it has been around the world.

  1. Alon Levy
    Jul 29th, 2010 at 10:02

    It may be that Walters is wrong, but the part of his article that you quote is perfectly correct: people often drive because the perceived marginal cost of driving is low; even maintenance and depreciation costs that scale with VMT don’t always figure into people’s calculations of how much taking a trip costs them.

    Meanwhile, Barker made a fatal mistake when he looked at the fare a day in advance. Many of the airline competitors of HSR have an aggressive yield management system, offering very low fares months in advance (for example, I’ve just checked Paris-Nice on Easyjet’s website for 12/28 and it’s 33 Euros one-way). TGV has this system, too (one train costs 25 Euros for 10/28 – and it’s not iDTGV), but other HSR operators don’t. Shinkansen fares five months in advance are exactly the same as Shinkansen walk-up fares.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    But not everyone can plan their trips months in advance. Airlines might always have that advantage. For people who have to plan a trip on much shorter notice, HSR has the advantage. And that’s in the present day, before rising fuel costs are included in the picture.

    PeakVT Reply:

    Though its a bit premature, I think the question about how an HSR operator should manager yield is an interesting one. Unless it is always near capacity, a profit-driven entity would probably end up with a pricing structure like the one airlines currently have. But that would reduce the number of casual trips, which private vehicles are very good at providing, meaning parallel roads would see as much reduction in traffic. And so on.

    Clem Reply:

    If you want the HSR system to make the maximum operational profit, yield management is the only way. It’s the same game: you have a cost per seat-mile and a revenue per seat-mile, and you adjust your fares to maximize the difference (yield). The only difference between airlines and HSR is the cost structure.

    Either you maximize operational profit to fund HSR system expansion, in which case you aggressively yield-manage, or you maximize ridership to relieve congestion, in which case you won’t get maximum profit. You can’t have the cake and eat it too.

    Peninsula Rail 2010 Reply:

    Yield management is absolutely the way to go. Yield management is now widespread in the travel and tourism business. It’s no longer a “weird pricing thing” only airlines do. Hotels do it. Restaurants even do it with their “early bird” specials, lunch specials, and happy hours, etc. Anywhere you want to optimize your revenue with limited amounts of “use it or lose it” time-delimited space, yield management is the best practice. The internet has revolutionized travel booking operations due to its enabling of almost instantaneous yield management practices.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    The TGV’s yield management system is very impopular with part of the population. A journalist even wrote the TGV had become “Ryanair on wheels”. Having to buy your tickets on-line to get cheaper fares disadvantages the less computer-literate. Older, poorer people queue at the counter for full-price tickets while richer, younger people can board the trains with their home-printed cheap tickets.
    The system is designed to keep trains 80% full. This can be achieved thanks to the number of end-to-end trips. Paris-Marseille (470 miles) has only one stop between departure and terminus.
    Keeping the trains 80% full would be next to impossible with more stops and passengers using the line for short trips. Unless seatless riders are allowed, as is the case with the German ICE.

    Peter Reply:

    That’s a major consideration, especially given that HSR in CA is meant to, at least in part, help out communities in the Central Valley that are economically disadvantaged.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Germany’s DB (under its privatization-seeking former CEO) experiment with yield management was disastrous. Ignore your customers, import a bunch of airline consultants, ignore how the system is actually used, combine the inconvenience of airlines with slower trip times = profit … NOT. (Hey, sounds just like CHSRA!)

    “Very unpopular” was an understatement. It took a couple years for ridership to recover from this “experiment”.

    Regular interval services with interchangeable tickets on trains with thousands of connecting services accepting the same tickets are a major selling point of a well-run rail network. Attempting to drag it down the the level of airline service only works with a population that only knows bad airline and bad rail service, and even then doesn’t work well.

    DB is back to almost no compulsory reservation trains (just a couple a day out of thousands), 25% and 50% discounts for most riders (BahnCard holders), 100% discount (“all you can eat” expensive go anywhere anytime ticket for the most frequent and many corporate customers), improved and simplified long distance to regional ticketing (CityTicket means your long distance train ticket automatically works for a transfer to the local transit of your destination city), and a pretty flat fare structure for most riders, with some buy-ahead discounts available to those who can do so. It works pretty well, riders like it, riders use it, the system operates at a profit, and ridership grows and grows.

    And guess what? CHSRA = Flight Level Zero airline.

    The people who are in love with SNCF grandes lignes are mostly all tourists (look at the shiny train!) and Parisian business/government elite. For most everybody else, there’s a lot of unnecessary pain and complication (just try to use their web site…) compared to traditional non-global ticketing. Yeah, people ride, in droves, just as people fly in droves in the USA, but in spite of, not because of, the way it’s run.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I was a tourist, and I wasn’t in love with the grandes lignes at all. Trains that are timed to just miss their regional rail connections = epic fail.

    However, I did fall in love with the RER, or at least with its air-conditioned bilevels. It’s not everyday that you see a train with 1,800 people that doesn’t even look that crowded. (Granted, 1,800 is pitifully low by Tokyo or Shanghai standards. But it’s very high by Western standards.)

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Trains that are timed to just miss their regional rail connections = epic fail.

    Maybe not quite so bad for much longer: Swiss imperial expansion continues!

    Rhine-Rhone HSL sparks 2012 timetable revolution in France
    The high-speed line linking the Rhine and Rhone river valleys is introducing a new type of infrastructure to rail in France. What makes it unique is not so much the civil engineering or technology involved, but rather the role this line is playing in sparking a revolution in the realm of rail planning.

    Imagine that. Maybe these concepts will reach North America by the turn of the next century.

    Meanwhile French regional TER networks are already falling like dominoes before the imperialist Helvetican expansion of régularité horaire de l’offre de transport.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Alas, the new timetable planning involves takt and symmetry but not well-timed connections. The TGV to Nice is timed to just miss the eastward TER connection, in both directions; the takt ensures that all trains miss their connections with perfect regularity. At one point, I came close to just making a connection, when a train was 27 minutes late, enough to just make the next train on the half-hourly takt; unfortunately, the connecting train was late as well, by about 15 minutes.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s not completely true that “Keeping the trains 80% full would be next to impossible with more stops and passengers using the line for short trips.” In fact, the KTX has multiple stops, but the trains are about 70% full, which is about the same as on the TGV.

    The TGV’s flight-level-zero stopping pattern, with trains running nonstop from Paris to cities in the south of France, is uncommon in Asia (I honestly don’t know how it works in Germany). The Nozomi has a rigid five-stop pattern between Tokyo and Shin-Osaka, the KTX always stops in Daejeon and East Daegu, and THSR always makes a couple of intermediate stops.

    By the way: SNCF’s documents advocating HSR in the US raise yield management as a possibility, not as the only way, and say that it can be expected to increase revenues by 4%. For low-margin businesses such as airlines it’s important, but for high-margin ones such as HSR it’s an annoyance.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Very very few people make casual 8 hour drives. More, but still few, make 3 hours casual train trips.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Robert, you need to stop beating the fuel price drum. Let’s say oil goes to $200/barrel, as some projections believe it will. This means the fuel price portion of airfare will double. But it doesn’t mean the ticket price will double; most of the airfare is labor costs, which is how low-cost carriers can undercut legacy carriers (yes, Southwest also aggressively fuel-hedged, but the other LCCs didn’t).

    In addition, at very high fuel prices, you could expect to see changes in airline behavior to reduce fuel consumption. For example, instead of flying many 737s, airlines would fly fewer larger planes. Airbus is marketing the 380 for high-demand short-haul flights, as its operating cost per seat is lower than that of smaller planes; in Japan, they already use 747s on domestic flights.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    We saw what happened in 2008 when fuel prices rose – ticket prices went up, surcharges were introduced for all sorts of things (including bags) and flights were reduced to save on costs.

    When fuel prices rise toward $200/bbl, there’s little the carriers can do to avoid increasing ticket costs. Even if they broke all their unions it wouldn’t help – and they’ve already extracted billions in wage and benefit concessions over the last 20 years from the pilots, maintenance crews, and flight attendance.

    I beat the fuel price drum for a very good reason: it will make air travel much less economical for most Californians.

    Caelestor Reply:

    I think car traffic is the big elephant in the room here. If gas is at $5 a gallon, who would want to make a long, congested, and expensive 6-hour trip? HSR has a definite advantage there.

    Of course, you can also reframe the discussion and play on biases. “HSR will take all these cars off the road, making your trip that much smoother!”

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Feh. If gas hits $5 gallon, drivers will simply trade their 18mpg SUV for a 42 mpg turbo-diesel sedan.

    wu ming Reply:

    because most california households are rolling in liquidity right now, and can buy whatever car they want at the drop of a hat…

    rafael Reply:

    … and they’ll trade the 737 they now use to fly across the state for a DC3 with a rubber band. Sure.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Forget DC3’s; they’ll trade the 737 for a 787.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    This is all true. However, the increase in ticket price was still fairly mild compared to the base fare. The reduction in the number of flights came mostly after oil prices came down, as a result of the recession. The time I’d wait at the immigration line at JFK got cut in half beginning in the winter of 2008-9, not in the summer of 2008.

    Besides, because the oil shock was relatively brief, there was not this much time for the airlines to adjust by offering larger planes. Individual consumers had just enough to adjust and drive slightly less, but airlines would need to order larger planes, change their crew assignments, and train crew on larger planes.

    Overall, you can expect higher fuel prices to cause airline ridership to drop somewhat, but the differences in fare are small enough that it isn’t what will make or break HSR. Maybe, maybe, it’ll shift the air/rail split somewhat, but any HSR that relies just on diverting demand from air is going to fail miserably.

    wu ming Reply:

    every other HSR in the world has diverted a significant proportion of both air and long haul driving (be it bus or car). if you think CA is different, you need to bring evidence to support that.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Exactly. Higher fuel costs will accelerate that existing trend.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t think CA is different. I just think that you shouldn’t expect mode shares to behave more favorably to rail even under a high-gas price scenario.

    Spokker Reply:

    You don’t drop quarters into your dashboard in order to get the engine started.

    James Reply:

    To see how people perceive the cost of driving, compare how people complain loudly that the bridge toll is $3, $4 or $5 but do not give *any* thought to the fact the the cost to make the trip across the bridge is $6 or $7 or more door to door. The operating cost is the driver sitting in the car and enjoying the ride, the toll is the driver reaching in their wallet and handing over dollars. Must be a psychological effect of perceived cost and benefit. We need more toll roads so dirvers can feel the cost directly. Human nature is you assing cost relative to the pain you feel.

    As or EIR all the worry (correctly) over new programs; people give no thought to the fact that 15 or 20% of their neighborhood is under asphalt. And HSR is only a thin strip of land. The EIR of all the roads seems to get a free pass. Maybe 100 years from now we can tear up and restore some of the land covered by roads. Cities would be great for walking with whatever comes after we move beyond automobiles.

    Spokker Reply:

    Some students at my school are pissed that the parking pass is going up, from $162 to $220. They fail to realize that the increase is designed to pay for a new $24 million dollar parking structure with 1,500 spaces. That’s $16,000 per parking spot. Christ, parking is not cheap, especially if you need a lot of it in one area.

  2. elfling
    Jul 29th, 2010 at 11:09

    People need to learn to compare actual END TO END costs, not merely the advertised price of the lowest possible fare.

    For me to use any combination of bay-to-LA airports, I have to add about $35 on each end for shuttles. So that allegedly $59 fare – plus around $20 in airport taxes – is now more like $150 each way.

    And the $59 fare requires advance purchase, not always the most convenient flight, etc. So the base fare might be quite a bit higher.

    When traveling with kids, the advantage of being able to sit with them on the train, talking, playing games, getting food, infinite restroom access – is enormous.

    Spokker Reply:

    Kids fly free sometimes. With advanced purchase, kids could ride free during off-peak hours with an adult during special promotions. Maybe impose some kind of age limit for the discount or something.

    On Amtrak a child fare (2-15 years of age) is half the price of an adult fare. You can bring two kids for half price per one adult. Amtrak has also done kids ride free promotions.

    elfling Reply:

    I get discounts for my daughter on Amtrak but I have NEVER gotten one while flying (after the age of 2). Definitely not free.

    Spokker Reply:

    Maybe it’s not as common as I think it is.

    wu ming Reply:

    it isn’t. and if your kid is under 2, you need to bring their freaking birth certificate or passport, because the ticket nazis will demand their papers or charge you for your infant.

    Bianca Reply:

    Kids fly free sometimes.

    Not in my experience they don’t. Even when they are three months old and are on your lap, you have to buy and pay for a ticket. The fare for a lap baby is not full freight, but it damn sure is not free.

    Driving between LA and SF with a toddler in the car is no picnic, let me tell you. A train, where you can walk up and down the cars endlessly, visit the restroom whenever you want, bring Play-Doh along to entertain your kids without it getting seized by overzealous TSA Agents, carry on all the liquids you think your kids might want to drink, and get to your destination in three-ish hours would be a godsend.

    Eric M Reply:

    And people seem to forget riding on a train can be productive. You can talk on a cell phone or have a wireless laptop access the internet, all while enjoying the nice smooth ride on HSR. Far cry from all the wasted time in airports and on the plane. Nice not to have to get to the airport eons early.

    I was just in Munich Germany and caught an ICE train for a last minute trip. I literally just took the subway to the main train station, bought a ticket on the ICE to Nurmberg which was leaving in 10 minutes, walked up to the platforms and jumped on. Train left a couple minutes later. Absolutely no waiting or hassles.

    Caelestor Reply:

    That’s the major reason for HSR support among youths. How older people can bear driving in stand-still traffic is beyond me.

    I believe there will be some sort of basic security checkpoint to get into the station like in China (put your luggage through the x-ray and walk through the scanner), but that takes 2 minutes, tops.

    Peter Reply:

    Yeah, it’s not like you could smuggle a big enough bomb onto an HSR car to blow it open if you have to go through even minimal security. It’s been tried once (Carlos the Jackal on the TGV), and failed pretty miserably. People just aren’t packed closely enough on an HSR train to do any effective damage.

    rafael Reply:

    You may be overstating the case a little bit. The TGV bomb did kill a number of people and injure several dozen others. The gruesome reality is that terrorists using carry-on bombs have since targeted packed commuter trains (Madrid) and subways (Tokyo, London).

    There have, however, been several publicly acknowledged attempts to sabotage tracks, in both France and Germany. There may have been others that were kept under wraps. Afaik, all of these involved either domestic terrorists or common criminals. In the US, the FBI concluded that the Palo Verde incident was probably a failed robbery attempt disguised as an act of terrorism.

    Separately, a neo-fascist terrorist group was implicated in the bombing of the main train station in Bologna, Italy in 1980. There were 85 casualties and 200 injured.

    Bottom line: if someone really wants to cause carnage on any passenger rail system, there are at least three avenues of attack. Then again, much the same is true of air travel. For example, boarding passengers have to go through security to make it more difficult to attack an aircraft, but literally anyone can walk up to crowded check-in counters with a suitcase containing literally anything.

    Roads aren´t perfectly safe, either. There have been plenty of bus bombings in e.g. Israel and fuel distribution is also vulnerable.

    Life is risk and transportation doubly so. At some point you have to stop being afraid all the time and get on with our life. It´s a painful lesson that nations all over the world have had to learn – though there is usually a period early on during which governments try to pretend that they can keep the general populace (almost) absolutely safe with security overkill measures.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    More people die in a vehicle, on the job/at work, every year than were killed on Sept. 11. Mostly automobiles and light trucks. Roughly one tenth of the deaths on the highways every year.

    Peter Reply:

    The sabotage I recall in Germany was mostly some anarchists throwing a grapnel hook over an OCS wire, causing pantograph damage. And then there were often some lame attempts to sabotage the tracks so that the trains carrying nuclear waste couldn’t get to Gorleben.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    Carlos had planted two bombs timed to explode at the same time. One, on the train, killed two people and injured a dozen. The other, in a baggage locker at Marseille St Charles station killed two people but injured about 40. The bomb on the train was clearly a failure and showed high-speed trains are too sparsely populated for a blood bath.
    Later, they unfortunately turned to more productive targets like subway stations or public squares, killing and maiming hundreds of people.

    Bianca Reply:

    I rode the AVE last December and the sum total security check was to drop your bags on an X-ray conveyor belt, stroll around to the other side, pick them up, and keep going. You barely had to break your stride. No metal detector, no shoes off, no nonsense about three ounces of liquids. As close to painless as you can get. And that was even at Atocha station in Madrid, where the bombings took place in 2004.

    On the Shinkansen, not even that. Just swipe your ticket through the turnstile and on you go.

    Clem Reply:

    The key differences are of course that airplanes carry massive amounts of flammable fuel, are flimsy thin-skinned pressurized vessels, and possess immense amounts of gravitational potential energy. All of these hazards are relatively easy to trigger, with deadly consequences.

    Physics easily explains why HSR security will never be like airline security.

  3. Eric M
    Jul 29th, 2010 at 11:18

    Walters and others (Morris and his shortsighted friends), referencing the Bezerkley study stating the ridership numbers and incorrect make me laugh. They constantly point out the study said the estimates were flawed, saying the numbers “could be lower”. The always forget to finish the rest of the sentence from the report which says the ridership numbers “could be HIGHER or lower”. They must have spilled some coffee on their copy of the report which smeared that word.

    I also believe most of the naysayers have never ridden HSR in other countries, and if they said they did and still complain, they must have caught the wrong train. HSR works everywhere it has been built in the world. Plain and simple.

    Spokker Reply:

    Whether you think rail works or not depends on your value system and assumptions. Some people flatly reject rail because they believe that the bus is good enough, for example. In urban transit settings, anti-rail folks will say that the bus riders are riding the buses without complaint, and that light rail is not needed. Bus riders are happily riding their buses, so freeway widenings should suffice for those stuck in traffic. After all, a freeway pays for themselves many times over and move far more people than any rail line. ;)

    I think there are some very weird arguments and I don’t have the education to really break them down yet, but something seems funny about these arguments nonetheless. I certainly hope that by the time I earn my masters degree, I will be better equipped to speak about these issues, rather than post a bunch of silly nonsense.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Did a little checking on Walters, and it looks like he fits the anti-rail age pattern. According to the link below, he had been a journalist for over 40 years, and that was in 2004!

    Based on this, I would guess his age at 65 or a bit higher. Can anyone give a firm figure?

    Some other random thoughts:

    Will us younger pups get a chance to do anything in time with the Well Off Older Folks (WOOFers) in the way?

    What would be the reaction of a WOOFer if you pointed out the age demographic, complete with all the charts and things that marketing people like to use?

    Is there some way to take advantage of this, say in a rail marketing campaign?

    Is there some way to take advantage of this and make money at it?

    Video clips of Walters–what is amazing is how much he sounds like a somewhat milder Rush Limbaugh, at least to my ears. . .

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Did a little more checking, he was 18 in 1960 when he brokeinto journalism in Eureka, which makes him born sometime in 1942 and is now about 68.

  4. Reality Check
    Jul 29th, 2010 at 11:37

    Here’s another spin on the poll:
    Voters: Slow Down the California High Speed Rail Project

    Caelestor Reply:

    Yeah, the 42% range is quite broad and encompasses a multitude of opinions.
    Really, that poll is getting everybody’s (opponents and supporters) hopes up too high.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    To me the most important numbers are the 34% outright support vs. 13% opposition. That puts those who clearly support HSR at almost 3 times the opposition.

    It’s pretty tough to claim that those that support, but have concerns are really not supporters at all, but even if you split them and the undecideds evenly, that still gives support a pretty clear and strong majority.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    That’s weird. I’ll have to ask Maviglio why he’s trashing the project.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Just read the Maviglio piece: talk about hyper spin on an otherwise positive poll for HSR…wow!

    lyqwyd Reply:

    no kidding, that’s not just bending the truth, that’s tying it up in a knot, and then putting the knot through a wood chipper.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Maviglio is very good at that – usually in the service of causes I support.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    Reality Check, do you actually think it is legitimate to take people who support, but have concerns and group them with those who oppose?

    Tony D. Reply:

    Funny how he/she calls themself “Reality Check,” but for the life of them can’t accept REALITY! People who support HSR but have concerns ARE NOW CONSIDERED AS OPPOSING?!! Talk about a reach.

    Peter Reply:

    I don’t think Reality Check said anything of the sort, but just posted the link. That, in and of itself, doesn’t mean he/she agrees with the content of the link.

    Caelestor Reply:

    Don’t get too hasty or zealous; I think Reality Check is a supporter of the project (not sure to what extent though).

    Spokker Reply:

    He checks reality for us, providing a helpful public service.

    Peter Reply:

    Gotta check occasionally that it’s still there.

  5. Johnathan
    Jul 29th, 2010 at 15:09

    Actually, Shinkansen does provide discounts for advance ticket purchase between Tokyo and Osaka. The “Hikari Hayatoku Kippu”, costs 12,000 Yen ($138) for a reserved seat on the hikari train. Reservation opens one week in advance, with no blackout dates.

    Along with the leisure travel discount – “Puratto Kodama Economy Plan” for 10,000 Yen ($115). Kodama takes 4 hours, but is still competitive with air travel time.

    Many people also ignore the multi-ride/family discounts. Shinkansen offers a 20 one-way tickets package for 7% discount within 3 months. KTX with the four-person family seat discount of 37.5%. Also, Taiwan HSR’s multi-ride card 15% discount, which includes 8 one-way rides for a single person within 30 days.

    We would never see airlines offering half-price monthly commuter passes between SFO and SMF, despite the demand that would be created, if high speed rail existed. These types of discounts were ignored by the CAHSR study and the mainstream press, resulting in a biased judgment by the public.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yep. The Shinkansen and KTX offer some discounts for heavy travelers. You can get monthly commuter tickets on Shinkansen, too. However, this is not yield management in the same way that the TGV fare is; it’s more like the discounts people can get on commuter rail. There’s still a basic table for all fares, which holds outside a few stated exceptions such as unreserved cars.

  6. Tony D.
    Jul 29th, 2010 at 15:35

    If Reality Check is a supporter of the project and just posted the link, my bad brah!

  7. BMF From San Diego
    Jul 29th, 2010 at 16:46

    Coincidentally, I’ll be in Spain in August. I already booked 2 round trip tickets from Madrid to Barcelona; highest class available at peak times (ea direction) – I need certainty I will have leg room. Anyway. Purchased 14 days out, the cost is 270 per leg per person.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    I heard that even in regular class that the leg room is comparable to 1st class on an airplane. Just going over to Europe is enough to convince people that they’d love to see HSR here.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    It’s my 2nd trip. While traveling from city to city while in Europe… traveling by train is the first and only thing that comes to mind… it’s hassle free.

    EVEN IF…. an airplane were cheaper, a higher priced train provides so much more ease! No ride to airport…, no hassle through security and needing to take shoes and belt off and basically unload everything on yourself… basically, much less ‘hurry and wait’ and overall takes a lot less time (depending on trip length and service pattern).

    Oh, that is what I’m taking while there… a direct trip; 2hrs and 38min.

  8. D. P. Lubic
    Jul 29th, 2010 at 21:44

    This advertisement would normally be off-topic here (it’s about modern General Electric freight locomotive construction at Erie, Pa., in this case export engines for South America), but there is some good footage shot in what is called an “erecting hall.”

    Might something on these lines make for a good ad campaign for HSR, particularly as it could relate to creating new jobs?

    (Note–for some reason the audio signal is rather weak)

    Commercial only; better sound levels.

  9. Elizabeth
    Jul 30th, 2010 at 07:10


    Let’s go back to what is actually explicitly in the model.

    Variable NOT in the model:

    1) Price of gas.

    Variable in the model

    2) 1.6 x cost of gasoline required to move a car a mile + tolls (adjusted for general inflation). The extra multiplier was to account for all the non-gasoline costs of operating a car.

    Two important things to note:

    1) Over time, even as gas prices go up more than inflation, the cost of driving per mile will NOT necessarily go up. Historically, it has actually gone down. THis is due to improvements in fuel efficiency. You also have an effect that as the cost of gas goes up, carpooling also goes up so the average people in a vehicle changes.

    2) Spikes in gas prices don’t effect things like insurance, which is assumed to be about 40% of the cost of driving.

    3) The model used assumptions straight from an old version of the MTC transportation models, which were valid for lower prices of gas (the multiplier was a quick and dirty to add the costs of car ownership) and valid for the lower fuel efficiency of local travel. For long trips, it currently way overestimates the appropriate cost of driving (similar to comments Alon made earlier).

    Yes, cost of gas spiking is good for transit, particularly in the short term. The problems planners haved faced is that the cost of driving over a longer time period does not really go up as people buy more efficient cars. Hoping for an oil crisis is not the key to successful transit. A well planned, well operated system that stands on its own merit is the right answer.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The improvement in fuel efficiency is not assured. As wu ming correctly noted, it is entirely possible that the price of fuel could rise more quickly than Californians would be able to afford to purchase new, more efficient vehicles. While this could lead to more carpooling for a commute, it would indeed produce a move away from driving between regions and toward available train service, as happened in 2007 and 2008.

    Note also that for all three Amtrak California routes – Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins, Pacific Surfliner – ridership has remained at or above the 2007-08 plateau level.

    If it does turn out that Californians can afford to shift to more efficient vehicles, then you have another problem: congestion. Interstates 5 and 15 are already severely congested on major holiday weekends, and roads within the metro areas are, as we know, much worse.

    You would also still have the time problem – driving requires twice the time that HSR would, especially between the Bay Area and SoCal. Overall you still have a situation where for many people, though by no means all, HSR would still be a desirable alternative even under 2010 conditions, which we know will not last.

    You mention insurance – it seems likely that there will be a shift sometime this decade toward per-mile insurance policies. It might not be a wholesale shift, but I would expect these policies to be offered alongside the current coverage models before much longer. Suddenly the cost per mile is no longer static for insurance either.

    I’m not “hoping” for an oil crisis. It’s already here and it’s going to grow worse. There’s no arguing with that fact, unless you want to go argue with the peak oil experts (and have fun with that). We’ve already seen Californians shift toward transit as a result. We’ve already seen them vote for mass transit and HSR as a result. So the question is how do we implement those projects so that they are well-planned and well-operated given the fact that we don’t have all the time in the world to wait to get it 100% perfect?

    In your writing on this, I note a persistent skepticism that Californians will ever ride trains. Which is your right, and it hasn’t stopped us from working together on issues where we have the same concerns and goals. But I don’t think that skepticism is warranted by the available evidence, either here in California or around the world.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Is the cost of labor figured into these models? Automobiles are of course diy. Airlines are privately owned and while unionized, are characterized by aggressive cost control. Public transit systems have generally militant unions often well-connected politically. Very high labor costs, even in recessions, will cancel out higher fuel costs for autos and airplanes.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    We could break every union in the state, slash their wages, and we wouldn’t make it easier to get around California. Instead we’d have prolonged recession and deflation.

    The notion that paying people lower wages produces more economic growth and ability to afford stuff for everyone else is simply not true. If it were, we would not be in a recession right now.

    synonymouse Reply:

    If the wages are excessive they will have to be slashed in due course. The extreme option would be for agencies like AC Transit to fail and then be reinvented with a new contract.

    Contract negotiations became politicized, resulting in bloated compensation packages. The spiral or bubble will have to go bust eventually.

    The unions will still be there, but brought back to earth.

    jimsf Reply:

    The notion that paying people lower wages produces more economic growth and ability to afford stuff for everyone else is simply not true. If it were, we would not be in a recession right now

    hallelujah and praise jesus can I get an amen to that. I know I sure put every penny of my “extravagant” wages back into the economy via my decadent jet set lifestyle! (choke) I find this whole “union wages to high nonsense amusing if not insulting, especially having just come home from grocery shopping with the third world at foodsco in the hood trying to maximize my pennies by choosing the 66 cent store brand salt of the 88 cent morton salt. I have some choice four letter words for “synon”

    Peter Reply:

    Jim and Robert, I agree. You cannot reach economic prosperity by slashing salaries and benefits. Doing so is simply the budgetary version of going turtle and hoping you survive the storm. No one benefits from it, but it may be a requirement of the current financial straits we find ourselves in.

    There are, however, without a doubt, issues with the current state of affairs with the size of the salary-benefits packages that many union members have. This is especially a problem given the budget situation many agencies find themselves in. The unions do need to share in the same pain as their agencies and their customers. They can’t solve the problem by sick-outs, the way many AC Transit drivers seem to be approaching the contract stalemate with AC Transit. The funding problems of mass transit and other agencies cannot be solved by unions exerting force on the agencies. If the agencies don’t have the money to continue paying everyone at the current level, something has to give. That something will either be the size of the salary-benefits package, or a number of union members will be laid off.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking unions. My father-in-law is a retired union sheet-metal worker, who has the strongest work ethic of anyone I’ve ever met. They serve many very valuable purposes for their members and society. They should not, however, be considered and treated as immune from financial problems.

    jimsf Reply:

    and keep in mind that its unions who generally defend safety for passengers and crew when companies want to cut corners. and its unions who advocate for increased transit, ( even if for their own motives) when other do not, resulting in preserved service that would otherwise get cut. And the union vote that ensures pro transit representatives get elected. ( other wise they never would get elected because transit is not a main issue upon which americans make voting choices) Also, most union employees, public and private, pay into their pension funds out of every single pay check. ( there are some who don’t but they are the minority) ?I pay a sh*t load to railroad retirement every year and take a hit on my standard of living in doing so but its worth it for the comfort in my approaching old age. to take that away from people will only create larger problems in the long run.

    Here’s what I have always though of government spending and presence in one’s community. So lets take town A, town A is subject to the ups and downs that capitalism brings, the good the bad and the ugly. Pure capitalism, with all its benefits is a fussy, manic depressive soul…. champagne bubbles one minute, depressed and anti social the next, and more often than not, leaving a trail of destruction along the way, at so many levels from the environment, to the human cost. Meanwhile, over in town B, (unilke town A, which is probably in Texas or Alabama, ) public agencies, have a strong presence in addition to the free market. Regardless of what happens, there is still a large employed workforce, who’s paychecks help keep the stores and restaurants open. Much the way a boeing defense contract keeps a place like seattle humming no matter what else happens. These stable, non exciting, non glamourous, dull boring, lifelong jobs with health care and pensions bring a heavy hand of stability to an otherwise volatile system. ( capitalism)

    People tend to praise capitalism for its alleged efficiency, in away that ignores the true costs of that “efficiency” We see only now, 100 years ofter the industrial revolution, what those true costs are. Who benefits and who pays? Just look at the state of the world. From famine to war to BP to Wall Street, decent wages and health care for union employees is hardly at the top of list of serious problems. Unions raise the bar and set the standard for what is an acceptable living wage for an American. Its unfortunate that so many powerless, low wage workers don’t realize the benefits they could have.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Jim, the unions only demand safety when it involves screwing around with service or increasing staffing. For example, in New York, the TWU insists that it’s unsafe for trains to run with just one operator and for stations to have just one agent, but says nothing about train control, and opposes schemes to replace extra station agents with roaming security people.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The media are reporting that the average San Jose firefighter is grossing $180,000.00/yr. My son-in-law makes $10/hr at Home Depot on the graveyard shift with lots of heavy lifting.

    Hard to reconcile.

    Spokker Reply:

    I guess the heavy lifting that the fire fighters do is more important.

  10. Elizabeth
    Jul 30th, 2010 at 14:00


    The Board held its executive committee meeting this morning to discuss revamping the ARRA applications. We’ll have some commentary on the meeting / loose minutes later but here is link to the document

    YesonHSR Reply:

    That is not a revamp of the ARRA funds…its the 2010 funding that happens to have the same dollar amount as the award funding…and it 2.3 Billion for all projects nation wide to compete for..we seem to be going for 1Billion of this to add to the work under ARRA

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Actually your right they are bringin in the new money and reworking as best possible the ARRA grants

Comments are closed.