Another Academic Makes a Flawed Attack on HSR
I’m wondering if the Koch Brothers went trolling for academics to attack the high speed rail project, because this is getting ridiculous. There’s clearly a concerted effort to use university professors to lend legitimacy to anti-rail arguments by publishing op-eds – which are usually full of false and/or misleading claims. Today’s example comes from a USC engineering professor writing in the LA Times. James E. Moore II starts off by making some false statements about the effect of Obama’s cave to Congressional Republicans on HSR funding:
The congressional action means that California will not get the $19 billion in federal grant support the authority was counting on receiving by 2016, nor (almost certainly) the $2.4 billion in grants that Florida’s governor declined.
As we explained earlier this month, what happened was that while FY 2011 money was zeroed out and uncommitted FY 2010 funding taken back, the 2009 stimulus funding remains. Much of Florida’s $2.4 billion is stimulus money, and California still has a crack at a big piece of it. And of course, the cuts do not at all mean California will never get any more federal money at all, since control of Congress might well swing back to Democrats in 2012 (the public is already turning on Republicans). So Moore’s claims here are simply incorrect.
Moore goes on to frame HSR as all cost and no savings, implying implausibly that the cost of doing nothing is zero (it isn’t), and suggests the legislature was wrong to kill Diane Harkey’s anti-HSR bill (they weren’t). Why does he assume this?
Moore is basically one of those people who is convinced that nobody will ride trains in America, and that the project’s price will soar. He has no evidence for either claim, and his arguments on both points can be easily debunked. First, the claims of high costs:
In 2008, the Reason Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn. issued a report estimating that the final cost could run as high as $81 billion.
Both organizations opposed the HSR project, and offered no actual evidence at all to back up the claim, which was published in October 2008 in an effort to block Prop 1A’s passage. We debunked the study at the time – the study merely made an assumption that rail projects have 45% cost overruns, and that’s how they got to $81 billion. A bunch of nonsense, really.
Then Moore dredges up the flawed Berkeley ITS study yet again:
Believe the higher estimate. In 2010, UC Berkeley engineering and economics professors examined the revenue and ridership forecasts the authority relied on to help make its case to the electorate and the federal government, and found the forecasts deeply flawed.
No, that’s not what the Berkeley ITS study said. They disagreed with the ridership study’s methodology, but their own disagreements were themselves questionable. “Deeply flawed” is the spin HSR opponents have put on the study.
Moore has made some flawed statements so far, but it’s towards the end that he totally goes off the rails (pun intended):
Even if we were prepared to further bankrupt ourselves doing so, we would accomplish nothing that cannot be accomplished much more cheaply by expanding airports, better maintaining and managing roads, and using conventional technology to burn gasoline and jet fuel even more cleanly.
But if you ask the airlines themselves they actually *want* high speed rail. So do the airports. They know that on routes like LA-SF, high speed rail is a better way to move people, freeing up gates and runways for medium and long-distance flights where the real money is made. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission showed that HSR will draw 6 million people annually from Bay Area airports. That’s merely repeating a phenomenon seen around the world, including the Acela.
Expanding airports isn’t cheap, and one reliable estimate gave the cost of expanding airports and freeways in California to meet the same demand as HSR would serve as being between $80 and $150 billion. Even if you took the flawed Reason Foundation study as truth, HSR is a better deal merely on the construction costs alone.
Moore compounds his errors by arguing that air and auto travel is always going to be cheaper and more preferable to trains:
The market for U.S air travel has been aggressively deregulated, and airfares are relatively low. As a result, U.S. airlines capture a large share of the market for short intercity trips. Even with recent increases in the price of oil, retail gasoline prices in the U.S. are about half the pump price in Europe, and the differential is even greater relative to places such as China and India. Consequently, a large share of the U.S. market for medium and long trips is accounted for by automobile travel. There is not enough room for high-speed rail to compete.
This is all nonsense. Consider the links above showing that the airlines and airports themselves want out of the short-haul business. Airfares have only been low due to cheap gas prices; since 2008 high gas prices have caused a crisis in the airline industry. Fees have soared, airlines have gone bankrupt, and flights have been cut back. We know that gas prices will keep rising for some time to come.
All around the world – from Spain to the Northeast Corridor – people have already shown they prefer fast trains to planes when given the choice.
The same will be true of driving. Moore’s error is to assume that 2011 conditions will last forever. They won’t. Driving between SF and LA is long, inconvenient – and with rising gas prices, it will be costly. Spending 6-7 hours in a car versus 2:40 on a train is just not a good way for families or other travelers to spend their time, especially when the passengers are more limited in their ability to stay connected to their digital devices – and of course the driver can’t be connected at all.
I’m also assuming that Moore is totally unfamiliar with the mounting evidence of a great shift away from driving. Moore assumes everyone will just keep driving everywhere as they did in the late 20th century. They won’t, and they’re already making the change. For him to not even know about this shows just how little he actually understands about how transportation works in this country.
As longtime blog readers know, we spend a lot of time here debunking attacks on the HSR project. These attacks keep coming, and they keep being as full of nonsense and easily debunked false, misleading statements as ever. I’m getting pretty good at playing whack-a-mole…