Van Ark: HSR “Will Be Built”
California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark spoke today at a joint lunch of the Commonwealth Club and the San Jose Rotary Club, and expressed his confidence in the high speed rail project:
Despite some community opposition and money challenges, the head of California’s proposed bullet train said Wednesday that “we can and will build this project.”
Roelof van Ark told a lunch audience in San Jose: “I’m more confident than ever this project can and will be built.”
He also spoke of the need for increased federal funding, and acknowledged that the CHSRA needed to do a better job working with local communities:
Van Ark acknowledged that his agency has not done a good job of communication. “We have not engaged sufficiently,” van Ark said, pledging to improve on that aspect of planning.
All in all, the speech wasn’t exactly groundbreaking, but it was good to see that van Ark is communicating to the public about the project, and recognizes the need to make some improvements in how the Authority does its public outreach.
Still, not everyone thinks this is enough. At the San Jose Mercury News, Sal Pizarro argues HSR needs a Steve Jobs:
Roelof van Ark, who became the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s CEO in June, certainly has the transportation background, engineering skill and business sense to lead the multibillion-dollar infrastructure project.
But he falls flat when it comes to firing up a crowd.
Van Ark gave a fact-filled but snooze-inducing update on high-speed rail to a joint meeting of the Commonwealth Club and San Jose Rotary Club on Wednesday….
To his credit, van Ark concedes that his strengths are in engineering and business. “I’m not a politician,” he said.
But to succeed, this project needs a politician involved to win over Peninsula residents and Washington bureaucrats. Van Ark needs to be complemented with an evangelist who can sell high-speed rail the way Steve Jobs sells iPhones.
Because if a dynamic advocate isn’t on board soon, this train’s not going anywhere.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to have someone as engaging as Steve Jobs going around California touting the benefits of the HSR project. It would have been nice had Arnold Schwarzenegger been doing that a few years ago, when he still had the popularity to pull it off.
Still, it’s not Jobs who generates interest and demand for Apple products. The fact is that the products themselves are what generate the interest in the first place. The first iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad – it’s those things that have earned the oohs and aahs of American consumers, not the thin guy in the black turtleneck and jeans. We know this because not everything Jobs has touted has been a huge success (I almost bought a G4 Cube 10 years ago but went with an iMac instead, as did apparently everyone else).
HSR functions similarly. It doesn’t need an engaging salesperson – Californians already decided they really like the idea of bullet trains and have voted for them. If you want to extend the Apple analogy, they placed the order on the Apple.com store and are just waiting the 3 weeks for the product to get shipped, worrying if the logistical issues will mean they won’t ever get what they ordered.
In other words, HSR needs someone who can deliver on the plans, who can get the project built, who can resolve the conflicts and controversies, and pull together the remaining funding. That’s Roelof van Ark’s job, and I am fully confident that he can get it done.