JetBlue Sees Benefits of HSR
One of the more common arguments against HSR is that “nobody will take a train when they can get from SF to LA faster by flying on Southwest for $49.” There are numerous flaws with that argument, including the fact that you can rarely get a $49 fare on short notice, and the fact that the door-to-door travel time for HSR and a flight is very similar, at least for an SF-LA trip. Another flaw is the belief that fares will remain that low for much longer, as you have to pretend peak oil doesn’t exist to assume that Southwest will offer such cheap fares forever.
Alongside those flaws is another important detail: low-cost carriers aren’t very bullish on those routes. Consider JetBlue.
JetBlue is one of the nation’s leading low-cost airlines. I’ve flown them several times between San José and Long Beach, and enjoyed the service, the in-seat entertainment, and the low fares. Sure, I’d still prefer a high speed train – it’d still be easier for me than flying out of SJC, given that my destinations in SoCal tend to be closer to a future HSR station than to an airport.
JetBlue is also supportive of high speed rail. They don’t think that the shuttle routes, such as Bay Area-SoCal, are all that great. Here’s JetBlue CEO Dave Barger quoted in the SF Examiner yesterday (and by an actual Examiner reporter, not by one of their biased bloggers who gets to use the Examiner name):
Q: Do you see nationwide high-speed rail as a threat or complement to the airline industry?
A: It’s a complement. I don’t think we need hundreds of departures every day from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.
JetBlue has said this before with regard to other routes, such as NYC to Boston:
It was an event filled with charts and maps that drove home how overwhelmed and outdated current air traffic control technology is. One solution [JetBlue COO Rob] Maruster said was obvious is taking airline passengers off some routes, like New York to Boston. “It seems like there’s a mode that might work better for us in that regard. When we see things like high-speed rail going into South Florida, we say OK, that makes sense. But I think this region, with almost 25 million people in the Tri-State area, makes a lot more sense for those kind of things.” Maruster says he’d like to see New York City and federal transportation officials put out a 20 or 30-year vision that addresses how airplanes, trains and other modes of transportation can be put together. He hasn’t seen one yet.
None of this should be surprising if you’ve been paying attention, especially if you remember the summer of 2008. We spent a lot of time discussing the airline crisis here on the blog, as high gas prices drove the airlines to slash flights. Carriers cut flights on the SF-LA corridor in 2008 – airlines see better profit potential for medium and long haul flights, instead of on the shorter shuttle routes.
Southwest Airlines, which helped kill the Texas HSR project in the 1990s, has also come around on HSR, having not lifted a finger to block any of the HSR projects being proposed around the country. Perhaps Southwest, like JetBlue, understands that their future isn’t in the short-haul services that can be replaced by bullet trains – especially when the California system will bring travelers to airports such as SFO, SJC (Diridon is close enough), BUR, ONT, and perhaps SAN.
It’s further evidence of how HSR is an essential part of California’s future. HSR opponents and critics believe we don’t need it, but they aren’t looking closely at the reality of the present situation, including what the airlines themselves are saying. The status quo isn’t viable, and is going to change. HSR is how California will not only adapt, but thrive.