The Virtues of Rail Transit and Democracy

Mar 19th, 2014 | Posted by

UC Berkeley environmental law prof Ethan Elkind has been publishing a series of interesting articles on his website recently looking at rail planning in California. His basic thesis is that the ideas that make sense to the transit planners don’t often make it to construction – that the political process intervenes to produce different outcomes.

Shocking, I know.

One of Elkind’s first articles in the series was The Disconnect between L.A. Rail Leaders and Academics. His thesis here is that “academics” failed to influence the politics of transit planning in Los Angeles, leading to the construction of rail rather than more buses:

The old joke about transportation scholars is that their research can be summed up in four words: “Rail bad, bus good.” In Los Angeles, especially during the early years of the effort to start a rail transit system, that joke certainly rang true. Scholars at UCLA and USC campaigned against the idea of starting a rail system in Los Angeles, repeatedly arguing in public and to elected officials that rail was a waste of money, would not achieve the results that officials predicted, and was a bad idea compared to investments in buses, shuttles, jitneys and the like.

But elected leaders, and eventually most of the voting public, essentially ignored these pleas. The experts involved were left to lick their wounds, or in the case of scholar Jonathan Richmond, devote almost an entire book trying to explain through psychology research why everyone was basically too dumb to understand the anti-rail argument.

Elkind tries to figure out why the academics lost the argument, and comes up with the following theories:

However, the academic community bears some responsibility for its lack of relevance in shaping at least the early Metro Rail debate. The general stance of anti-rail, pro-bus recommendations ignored an overarching political dynamic in Los Angeles: rail was politically popular, and buses simply were (and still are) not. Most people associate buses with crowded, dirty, unpleasant conditions, whereas rail is perceived as a pleasant and modern way to get around. Around the country, the effort to raise public money to develop new, comprehensive urban transit systems was always sold with rail. From BART to MARTA to Metro Rail, voters wanted a big vision to solve the big problems of traffic and sprawl. Recommending low-cost options like buses captured nobody’s imagination. So the academic recommendations were often politically infeasible and therefore largely irrelevant.

I don’t mean to suggest that academics should not have spoken their truths or censored their recommendations in some way. Society benefits from hearing alternative opinions, and academics have a role in challenging popular public perceptions and shifting public opinion.

But perhaps academics could have helped their cause by recognizing political realities and tailoring their recommendations accordingly. For example, if buses are a superior option, but the public reacts viscerally to the idea of a bus, why not emphasize the positive attributes of a bus vision that counters public misperceptions? Emphasize a clean, fast, reliable, and modern bus system as an antidote to the stereotype. To some extent, this happened with the San Fernando Valley bus rapid transit line, which officials smartly dubbed “rail on rubber tires” or “rail on wheels.” Academics could similarly package and develop their arguments to acknowledge these political realities.

This is a rather naive analysis that suggests transit planners, particularly those in academia, could stand to take a few political science seminars from their colleagues. Voters are not morons. It’s not that they failed to grasp the insights of the anti-rail academics. Voters heard those arguments and properly rejected them because they did not match voter perceptions of what Southern California needs to address its transportation woes.

Southern Californians understand that rail is better not because it’s seen as cleaner or sexier. Rail carries more people than buses, at higher average speeds than buses, in part because it is grade separated and does not get stuck in traffic. Voters see themselves as potential transit riders, and of course a high capacity rail system is going to appeal to them more than a bus system – the train gives them better choices.

Voters absolutely want a big vision because they want real solutions to their problems. The problem with most transportation academics is they have a totally different concept of what “the problem” is. They get wrapped up in discussions about efficiency, often meaning cost efficiency, that most voters who are willing to support transit simply don’t care about. They will vote for rail even if it is perceived by the academics as being less efficient because the voters are evaluating things quite differently.

The academics may think the way the public sees transit is wrong, but who’s to say that’s true? We live in a democracy, after all. If voters say they want rail because it’s more reliable, carries more people faster and doesn’t get stuck in traffic, who cares? They’re showing support for the highest level of mass transit and that should be welcomed with open arms.

Elkind’s not breaking new ground here. His approach is a more academic version of Alon Levy’s post from June 2011, Politicals vs. Technicals: the Primary Division of Transit Activists. Levy looked at debates over rail, including those in this blog, and reached what I think is a generally correct interpretation of the different flavors of transit advocacy:

Politicals are the people who tend to trust the transit authorities, support a general expansion of all rail transit projects, and believe the primary problem is defeating oil-funded anti-transit lobbies. Technicals are the people who tend to distrust what the authorities say, and prefer their own analysis or that of technically-minded activists; they support transit but are skeptical about many projects, and treat agency inertia and turf wars as the primary obstacles for transit revival.

Elkind’s post on LA rail is a classic example of the “technical” genre. Unfortunately, so too is today’s post slamming the California high speed rail project, The Perils of Rail Transit and Democracy:

For political reasons, the California line is routed to serve the 99 corridor in the eastern San Joaquin Valley over the more direct western Interstate 5 route, all at the behest of congressional representatives and local Valley officials. And then the system serves the Lancaster/Palmdale area in the Mojave Desert area of northern Los Angeles County in order to please a powerful member of the five-seat county board of supervisors. Both route changes cost travel time between the state’s major population centers and have engendered local opposition partly as a result. Meanwhile, the wealthy residents of San Francisco peninsula towns that don’t want a high speed train near their backyards are bankrolling legal opposition.

This analysis is deeply flawed, and I said as much on Twitter, leading to a long back-and-forth with between myself and Elkind. Say what you will about my points (that’s what the comments are for), but it’s clear that Elkind utterly failed to mount a convincing case.

Elkind’s post falls into the rather common trap of believing that if the California High Speed Rail Authority had just made different route choices, all would be well. The problem is that his recommendations are contradictory, and even if adopted they’d do nothing to improve the project’s political fortunes.

As I’ve pointed out repeatedly, sending HSR along the Highway 99 corridor is a financial decision above all. There is no good argument to be made for bypassing over 2 million riders by sending the trains through empty land along Interstate 5 on the San Joaquin Valley’s West Side. Yet Elkind slams the Pacheco alignment for bypassing the half a million or so potential riders in the Tri-Valley region along the Altamont route.

He also points out that those routing choices have created local opposition. But here’s the reality: “local opposition” will emerge no matter where those tracks are proposed to be built. If Pacheco is somehow abandoned for Altamont, you will hear a scream from Pleasanton and Livermore residents every bit as angry and loud as we’ve heard from Peninsula NIMBYs or Kings County farmer. Same holds true for people living along the Tejon Pass corridor (and yes, they do exist).

Elkind cannot decide whether he supports increasing ridership overall, or just getting from SF to LA as fast as possible regardless of the consequences. In our Twitter exchange Elkind revealed himself to be a supporter of putting San José on a spur line rather than on the main line, in part to enable the detour through Altamont. Yet he refused to explain what that would mean for overall system ridership (a hint: it would almost certainly cause it to decline by missing out on the millions of riders going to and from destinations in or near Santa Clara County). His complaints are confused, lacking any clear logic aside from attacking the CHSRA.

More to the point, Elkind misunderstands the actual relationship of HSR to democracy. California’s democratic processes have produced repeated support for the bullet train. Those who oppose the train have had to resort to end runs around the democratic process, primarily by going to court to try and reverse the decisions of the voters and their legislators.

Elkind might support reforms to broken laws like CEQA that enable NIMBYs to attack transit projects. But his primary interest seems to be to insist that planners, not voters or elected officials, have the final say on what goes where.

There’s really no reason for anyone else to support such an approach. Transit routing has always been a highly politicized process. Planners can help lay out options and explain pros and cons of different choices, but in a democracy, it must be the people themselves or their representatives who make the final decisions. That is in part because their interests may not be the same as the technicals and the academics. And that’s OK.

Transit exists not to fulfill a theory on paper or to hit maximum efficiency. It exists to help people get around and make our lives better. Those are fundamentally subjective things. Data and analysis can help us understand the different ways we can get there. But if we the people choose something other than what the academics say is best, then that is the system working just as it should.

Especially when the academics have yet to agree with themselves on exactly what their standards for analysis actually are.

  1. Dylan
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 11:53
    #1

    “Planners can help lay out options and explain pros and cons of different choices, but in a democracy, it must be the people themselves or their representatives who make the final decisions… Transit exists not to fulfill a theory on paper or to hit maximum efficiency. It exists to help people get around and make our lives better.”

    Here, here!

    Nathanael Reply:

    Hear, hear!

  2. Broumint
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 11:56
    #2

    There’s also the opposite problem, where the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies managed to almost totally exclude any rational consideration of anything but freeways for decades. By becoming the go to place for transportation analysis, they prevented the development of transit throughout California.

  3. Reality Check
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 12:24
    #3

    New report says San Jose’s downtown at crossroads

    After decades of downtown development, San Jose has arrived at a crossroads in its quest to create a truly great downtown, according to a report released Tuesday.

    The report, prepared by SPUR, a nonprofit group consisting primarily of Bay Area business and government leaders, recommends that city officials insist on high-density office, retail and residential projects near future BART stations and transit hubs, make the downtown more pedestrian-oriented and promote the concept of a central San Jose that has the downtown district as its core. All of these tactics are aimed at one critical result: Getting more people in a still-sparsely populated urban core.

    […]

    “Downtown needs more people,” the report said. “It is neither small enough to navigate easily nor large enough to draw significant crowds on a regular basis. As a result, it’s not attracting the level of activity necessary to succeed.”

    Jobs are one key measure of San Jose’s need for downtown development, according to the report. Downtown San Jose has about 39,000 jobs, compared to 83,000 jobs in downtown Oakland and 317,000 jobs in downtown San Francisco, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report cited by SPUR.

    A major factor behind the disparity is that both downtown San Francisco and downtown Oakland emerged as the principal job hubs for those cities while the primary employment hub for San Jose is the city’s north side.

    […]

    City officials agree that they have key development decisions to make, especially since BART has agreed to extend train service to two new downtown San Jose stations, one at Diridon Station and the other one near Santa Clara and Second streets, though no dates for completion have been set and there currently is not enough money to extend the BART line past its current planned terminus in the city’s Berryessa district.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Please stop censoring articles by cherry picking parts of the headline and the paragraphs you decide to print.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Why? The link to the full story is there if you care to read all of it.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    San Jose’s downtown at crossroads: Can it be great?
    By George Avalos
    Oakland Tribune

    Posted: 03/18/2014 04:45:16 PM PDT58 CommentsUpdated: 03/19/2014 01:08:42 PM PDT

    The Tech Museum of Innovation lies in the background of the fountain in Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park in downtown San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday, March 19, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Staff) ( LiPo Ching )
    Related Stories
    Mar 19:
    City Council approves parking incentives to lure Mercury News to downtown San Jose
    SAN JOSE — After decades of downtown development, San Jose has arrived at a crossroads in its quest to create a truly great downtown, according to a report released Tuesday.

    The report, prepared by SPUR, a nonprofit group consisting primarily of Bay Area business and government leaders, recommends that city officials insist on high-density office, retail and residential projects near future BART stations and transit hubs, make the downtown more pedestrian-oriented and promote the concept of a central San Jose that has the downtown district as its core. All of these tactics are aimed at one critical result: Getting more people in a still-sparsely populated urban core.

    Restaurants line San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday, March 19, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Staff) ( LiPo Ching )”The city will squander an opportunity if it doesn’t maximize its potential,” said Jessica Zenk, co-chair of the report and senior director for transportation policy for the Silicon Valley Leadership Group. “Failure won’t mean the demise of the downtown, but it will be the difference between a good downtown and a great downtown.”

    San Jose seeks to reshape its downtown at a time when downtown districts are back in vogue, with more residents and companies receptive to denser, more urban locations. But it’s not enough for San Jose to have good timing on its side, according to the report, titled “The Future of Downtown San Jose.”

    “Downtown needs more people,” the report said. “It is neither small enough to navigate easily nor large enough to draw significant crowds on a regular basis. As a result, it’s not attracting the level of activity necessary to succeed.”

    Jobs are one key measure of San Jose’s need for downtown development, according to the report. Downtown San Jose has about 39,000 jobs, compared to 83,000 jobs in downtown Oakland and 317,000 jobs in downtown San Francisco, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report cited by SPUR.

    A major factor behind the disparity is that both downtown San Francisco and downtown Oakland emerged as the principal job hubs for those cities while the primary employment hub for San Jose is the city’s north side.

    “A lot of businesses left downtown San Jose in the 1970s and 1980s, and a lot of those jobs went to suburban campuses,” said Garrett Herbert, a co-chair of the report and a managing director in the San Jose office of Deloitte, a large consulting firm.

    San Jose overall has the potential to add 400,000 jobs over the next 30 years, and the downtown alone could add about 49,000 jobs over the same period, according to San Jose officials and the SPUR report. The city also notes that about 90 high-tech companies are located in downtown San Jose.

    City officials agree that they have key development decisions to make, especially since BART has agreed to extend train service to two new downtown San Jose stations, one at Diridon Station and the other one near Santa Clara and Second streets, though no dates for completion have been set and there currently is not enough money to extend the BART line past its current planned terminus in the city’s Berryessa district.

    Kim Walesh, San Jose’s economic development director, said the city “highly values” the new report and already has taken initial steps to fulfill all of its major recommendations.

    “San Jose is at the crossroads,” Walesh said. “We can transform this good downtown into a great downtown.”

    The entrance to San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose, Calif. on Tuesday, March 19, 2013. (LiPo Ching/Staff) ( LiPo Ching )The report also suggested that city planners create more urban walkways such as Paseo de San Antonio and Fountain Alley to encourage people to stroll around the downtown. And it called for more street fairs, live music, festivals and other crowd-attracting events.

    “When people in the South Bay think of going to an urban environment, we want them to go to downtown San Jose,” said Egon Terplan, the report’s author.

    Contact George Avalos at 408-859-5167. Follow at Twitter.com/georgeavalos.

    Joey Reply:

    Honestly, paraphrasing or picking out key points is a lot more effective than a wall of text, even if some information is left out.

    Nathanael Reply:

    There’s also serious copyright issues involved in copying an entire article. Sometimes it’s fine, especially if the article is very short. But usually…. don’t do it.

    jonathan Reply:

    Don’t post a wall of text. Post a precis, followed by the link.

    Can downtown San Jose be “great”? San Jose is a metastasized dormitory suburb. Yeah, it could be a “great” metastasized dormitory suburb. But it’s still a …..

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You of course got permission to reproduce their copyrighted content before you cut and pasted it? Where do those of us who didn’t want it clogging our RSS feed send the bill for .00000079 cents worth of bandwidth you wasted?

    blankslate Reply:

    Can you explain what important information is included in the entire article you reproduced that was “censored” out of Reality Check’s summary? Hint: a good way to do so would be… quoting and paraphrasing.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    San Jose overall has the potential to add 400,000 jobs over the next 30 years, and the downtown alone could add about 49,000 jobs over the same period, according to San Jose officials and the SPUR report. The city also notes that about 90 high-tech companies are located in downtown…

    synonymouse Reply:

    doing what?

    Retail brick and mortar is giving ground to internet purchasing.

    Zorro Reply:

    That isn’t your concern Mr Mouse.

    Zorro Reply:

    Or Mine for that matter.

    datacruncher Reply:

    Did the Mercury News ever replace Righthaven with another copyright violation lawsuit factory?

    JB in PA Reply:

    Freedom of speech.

    Mattie F. Reply:

    I would say, “stop posting off-topic links”. If you want “freedom of speech”, get your own damn blog.

    Dylan Reply:

    The agglomeration economies of scale developing along high-speed rail routes in Japan, China and various other countries provide an argument, that once real estate costs for markets in specific industries are too high they will relocate to a more efficient location. These locations happen to be cities with high accessibility, which in this case is the form of rail transit.

    Reedman Reply:

    FYI, a “mystery tenant” has been approved by the City of San Jose to build and occupy 2 million square feet of space at 101 and Brokaw, near 880 and the airport. Mayor Reed knows who, but is honoring secrecy requests and will not divulge. This is the largest office project in San Jose history (ten buildings, seven stories each).

    http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/03/19/company-x-mystery-tenant-set-to-take-over-massive-san-jose-office-development/

    Joey Reply:

    Each building presumably surrounded by a parking moat?

    Nathanael Reply:

    I just hope it isn’t the NSA or the CIA or some similar organized crime operation.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    must’nt forget the expansive lawn between the parking moat and the highway to make it even more difficult to walk from the bus stop to the building. Putting the building ten yards away from the curb would make the walk from the nether reaches of the parking lot too long wouldn’t it?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    So that would be nowhere NEAR “downtown” SJ, nowhere NEAR Diridon Pangalactic Interstitial Multimodal Hyperport, and nowhere NEAR the BART extension that is supposed to make SJ the urbanized hub of the galaxy.

    It is, however “served” by the galaxy’s worst-performing light rail system,. so there’s that.

    And there’s excellent freeway access. Of course. Of course.

    Dude, do you even read what you post for basic consistency?

    Tony D. Reply:

    Damn your an idiot RM…

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    “Tony”,

    So you have access to alternate maps that locate 101 and Brokaw in San Jose near BART (present and/or future), near Diridon Interdimensional, near the all-important Downtown, and a near a functioning urban public transportation system?

    Please, do share! Nothing could be more encouraging.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    http://www.vta.org/projects-and-programs/transit/light-rail-efficiency

    Joey Reply:

    “your an idiot”…

    You’re new to the internet then?

    John Burrows Reply:

    Looks like a 15 minute VTA ride from downtown San Jose. Do you think that among the 8,000 to 10,000 employees who will work here, that there might be some brave souls with enough pioneer spirit to be willing to colonize the new high rise residences that are springing up in downtown San Jose and possibly even take VTA to work?

    John Burrows Reply:

    And heading the other way from these downtown highrises, it’s a 10 minute VTA ride to Diridon Station.

    Take VTA from downtown to Diridon—Transfer to HSR to go anywhere that the high speed trains go.

    Joey Reply:

    Why should we settle for development that needs a transfer when there’s plenty of undeveloped and underdeveloped land near our existing and future transit hubs?

    Joe Reply:

    What’s your question ?

    It reads as if you think high-speed rail should have local stops across San Jose because transfer suck.

    Or are you questioning why San Jose allows development away from the high-speed rail station along other transportation corridors?

    Joey Reply:

    I’m asking why San Jose isn’t shifting development away from transit-poor sites and toward existing and future hubs, especially since we’re spending so much money on BART and HSR in Silicon Valley. If they were planning mid- and high-rise development around the new BART stations that would be somewhat encouraging, but it seems to be business as usual there – anything above three stories is considered “dense” even if more space is dedicated to parking than the actual development, and little is done to encourage development in transit priority areas other than lackluster redevelopment plans.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Because VTA is locally controlled and HSR won’t be. People forget that cities are effectively a corporation with a geographic monopoly on services. Like any monopoly, they respond to incentives differently than a firm that exists in perfect competition.

    Reed’s biggest problem is California cities generate revenue two ways, by building new retail or by building new housing. You can’t do either in Silicon Valley, so the only option is have an employer that pays a ton of property tax like Apple. As you can imagine, there is a relationship between how each city is doing and the health of their corporate tenant. Adobe, which has been beaten up by Apple’s decision to avoid Flash on their devices, just happens to be in …. San Jose.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    It’s a 2-mile shuttle ride from flea market BART (most of SF is farther from BART than that)

    To Santa Clara Caltrain/ACE/Capitol Corridor it’s an 8-min shuttle, or free #10 bus
    (or walk to the proposed SJC people mover under the runway)

    As noted it does have excellent freeway access for ‘Google’ busses to bring SF residents.

    And of course it is in the N. SJ area where MTC and ABAG (and San Jose) have designated for a large share of the regions growth in residents and jobs.

    If only SF would just accommodate all of our well-paying jobs and population growth then we would never have to encounter any sort of imperfection in transit or historical U.S. land use…

    Joey Reply:

    Are the shuttle connections timed? If not how often does the shuttle run?

    Neil Shea Reply:

    My large peninsula employer co-funds a bunch of AM & PM shuttles to Caltrain, it’s pretty standard for a large worksite

    Joey Reply:

    So the shuttle timetable is synchronized with CalTrain’s then?

    Jerry Reply:

    Yes.

  4. Derek
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 12:34
    #4

    But if we the people choose something other than what the academics say is best, then that is the system working just as it should.

    The tragedy of the commons says otherwise.

    joe Reply:

    No it doesn’t.

    [edit]
    Nobel Prize-winning economist Elinor Ostrom and others revisited Hardin’s work in 1999.[10] They found the tragedy of the commons not as prevalent or as difficult to solve, since locals have often come up with solutions to the commons problem themselves; when the commons is taken over by non-locals, those solutions can no longer be used.[11] Robert Axelrod contends that even self-interested individuals will often find ways to cooperate, because collective restraint serves both the collective and individual interests.[12]

    Hardin’s work was also criticised[13] as historically inaccurate in failing to account for the demographic transition, and for failing to distinguish between common property and open access resources.[14] Carl Dahlman argues that commons were effectively managed to prevent overgrazing.[15] Anthropologist G. N. Appell criticized those who cited Hardin to “impos[e] their own economic and environmental rationality on other social systems of which they have incomplete understanding and knowledge.”[16]
    German historian Joachim Radkau thought Hardin advocates strict management of common goods via increased government involvement or international regulation bodies.[17] An asserted impending “tragedy of the commons” is frequently warned of as a consequence for adopting policies which restrict private property and espouse expansion of public property.[18][19]

    Derek Reply:

    when the commons is taken over by non-locals, those solutions can no longer be used.

    Joe Reply:

    Look, the problem was well understood and solved before Econ 101 or Adam Smith

    it’s a nice story to illustrate a concept..

    Eric Reply:

    Except for the many many cases where it’s not solved…
    For example, pollution.

    Bill Reply:

    Now if the “Invisible Hand” could only build HSR, this blog wouldn’t be necessary.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    They found the tragedy of the commons not as prevalent or as difficult to solve, since locals have often come up with solutions to the commons problem themselves;

    Sure. We just need Local Empowerment.

    Meanwhile 398.0 3 ppm and rising by the minute.

    Joe Reply:

    We passed 400 ppm.

    If you don’t like the Wikipedia entry on “tragedy of the commons”, feel free to edit and correct it.

    Nathanael Reply:

    How’s privatization working out to deal with that? Not at all.

    Might as well try local empowerment for a while. I’ve seen more action against global warming done by local governments than I’ve seen done by national governments.

  5. Joe
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 13:11
    #5

    Someone needs to improve the field of transportation sciences. Maybe follow economics and incorporate psychological research including human judgement and decision making.

    Transportation theory and models apparently omit human psychology and decision making and dibsewuently produce results that are contrary to observations.

    The academics’ proposed solution to poor behaving theory is to change the observed, human behavior, to fit the theory rather than expand the theory and fix thier models. Just lecture people that they need to behave according to prevailing theory.

    Mattie F. Reply:

    dibsewuently?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Robert and Alon are giving Ekland too much credit: the white intelligentsia were wrong about just about everything in the 1990s because they were completely disconnected from the demographic upheaval that transformed LA at that time.

    The plan to return rail to LA in 1968 under Kenny Hahn did fail…but as the white Midwestern base died off or moved away, urban liberals and minorities gladly invested in more transit. The parting shot the Republican base was to force jurisdictions building rail in the Diridon Age to use light rail, which preserved suburban growth and made heavy ridership impossible.

    The better book Ekland should write is what the Sputhern California cognoscenti were RIGHT about in the early 90s…like area code prefixes….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    For James Moore values of “intelligentsia,” sure.

    jonathan Reply:

    The parting shot the Republican base was to force jurisdictions building rail in the Diridon Age to use light rail, which preserved suburban growth and made heavy ridership impossible.

    You’re naming an entire age after a piss-ant academic fraud, who publishes non-peer-reviewed papers about how CBOSS is a very effective use of public money !?

    Light rail, per se, has nothing to do with “heavy ridership”. Light rail forced to share right-of-way with cars, stop at road intersections, and running at less-than-walking speed for several blocks through “downtown” San Jose, now that’ll kill ridership. But “light rail” is simply US-speak (“dog whistle”) for non-FRA-conformant rail vehicles. But “Light rail” doesn’t *have* to be a Diridon Disaster. It can be an off-the-shelf European S-Bahn vehicle. Put them on European S-Bahn style rights-of-way, and what you have is .. an S-Bahn.

    For James Moore values of “intelligentsia,” sure.

    How about “Rod Diridon, Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute” values of “intelligensia”?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Is Diridon at all an academic? Because Moore is, his chair is just endowed by Reason, which lets him get away with saying in 1992 that it’s inconceivable that the Blue Line would meet ridership projections by 2000 (it did in fact meet them). But anyway, I focus on Moore because Elkind’s attack on academics for being anti-rail focuses on two people, of whom one is Moore, and completely ignores Vuchic and many others.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Diridon was the person who spearheaded the funding mechanism (countywide sales tax) that allowed all the light rail systems in California to bloom. As Paul Dyson mentioned, San Diego already had started to run trolleys on old freight ROWs to save on construction costs. However, the upshot was project after project built on the cheap that could not travel fast enough to generate the ridership needed to match something like BART from Sacramento to San Diego.

    Ekland’s thesis is curious because he seems not to realize that the rest of California today looks like LA did 20 years ago. It’s like “Back to the Future Part IV” with these people. We already know how this will end. HSR is going to happen, it is just a question of it is done shitty or done right. We can get BART and revel in the economic growth that happens or we can build VTA statewide and watch old trains run half empty while Millennials pay for luxury buses.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Ted Judah

    Consider the relative decline of the American auto industry, epitomized by GM’s withdrawal from bus manufacturing.

    And don’t forget excessive payroll, epitomized by BART and Muni.

    When government entered the transit business the game was changed. Orders of magnitude in spending increase. If the PE had benefited from that level of largesse it would still be around.

    That is, if the unions allowed it.

  6. Donk
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 13:27
    #6

    When it comes down to it, there are only two things that people really care about when they support public transportation:

    1. I want another viable option to get from point A to point B.
    2. I want other people to ride it so that I can get from point A to point B faster in my car.

    #2 is a fairy tale, yet many voters are told this and believe it.
    #1 is why nobody supports buses.

    All other reasons (environment, jobs, etc) are just talking points and do not have as much of an impact on voters. Most voters are selfish and want what can impact their lives directly. Hence #1 and #2. NIMBYs and Republicans vote against rail because they perceive that it will directly affect their property values or their wallets.

    It’s all about appealing to voters’ selfish motives. Me me me! Now now now! I hate voters.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Onion says that too, but is it actually true? What I see is that in areas with high preexisting transit use, people are the most supportive of transit expansion, while the people who benefit only by having others not drive tend to be the worst NIMBYs. In Vancouver, the car owners of the West Side are against subway expansions in their areas, while the strongest support comes from people who already ride the buses and would like an option that doesn’t involve letting two buses go because they’re full before you can get on the third bus and miss class.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Get up earlier and you won’t miss class just like the majority of the people on the same buses who manage to get to work on time consistently.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    This is what I did when I taught mornings. Since the time spent on campus before my class was effectively dead, it turned a 23-minute door-to-door commute into a 45-minute effective commute.

    jonathan Reply:

    Gosh, I miss my 6-minute bed-to-9am-lecture commute. On foot (that left zero leeway)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It was the same commute for the cafeteria lady. You both chose to go to work for an employer that has inflexible start times. In a city that tolerates letting buses pass by passengers because the buses are too full. If you want something that arrives when you need it and takes you where you want to go it exists, taxicabs.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The cafeteria lady doesn’t start work simultaneously with classes, I don’t think. But anyway, there’s a simpler solution than “suck it up,” which is to build the damn Broadway subway; it’s $3 billion for 300,000 projected daily riders.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    IF you are still lounging in bed at 7 how do you know the cafeteria lady doesn’t face the same problem? And there are other people besides the cafeteria lady who are blissfully unconcerned about class schecules who have to commute in Vancouver. There’s interim solutions like splitting the line into halves or thirds that express through the other parts or limited stops or getting out the line painting machine loading it with purple paint and painting bus lanes or something.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Because I know when the passups are because there are web applets showing you where and when they are, and they’re not at 7 in the morning.

    And yes, there are interim solutions. They all involve higher operating costs for buses, and more people bumping up and down on what Jarrett thinks is the same ride quality as a streetcar. (No, it isn’t.) The Broadway corridor has, between local and limited buses, 80,000 riders a weekday, which is more than Wilshire, Geary, or 1st/2nd. The bus route I take, where the buses that are timed to meet the 9 and 10 am classes are full, isn’t even Broadway, but a relief line. There’s a reason the city wants the subway; it’s not to make more room for VIPs’ cars, since the VIPs in the affected neighborhoods don’t want it, but to improve the state of public transportation for a large fraction of the city’s population.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Since there’s a severe peak you’ll get passed up by a train instead of by a bus?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Actually, I won’t, because the train has far more capacity than the bus, and doesn’t start to bunch when the headway hits 3 minutes.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They tolerate overcrowding on the buses what makes you think they won’t tolerate it on the trains?

    Nathanael Reply:

    I’ve been surprised by how few people there actually are in group #2.

    The thing is, it actually *does work* in smaller cities (not the biggest ones) — public transportation does clear out road space and make for an easier drive for car drivers — but nobody seems willing to admit it. Maybe it’s the mandatory rhetorical anti-elitism of the US — you can’t actually say “Get the 99% on the subway so that the road is clear for my limo!” in the US, even if that’s what you believe.

  7. Alon Levy
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 13:30
    #7

    One of the things that greatly annoys me in certain quarters is the assumption that giving the technocrats more power leads to better outcomes. In reality, the reason I distrust American transit authorities so much is that they’re so opaque. They do not ask the voters for funding, and when they do they only ask for $9 billion out of $43 billion and tell people not to worry their pretty little heads about the rest, it will certainly materialize. They engage in politicized planning, not of the democratic kind but of the power broker kind. And since most US transportation construction is still roads, they make communities unsafe by widening roads for speed and by proposing urban renewal projects that glorify themselves and other political leaders.

    The worst thing about it is that technicals can morph into technocrats. Thomas MacDonald started his career by forcing the road building contractors to compete rather than collude, which allowed Iowa to build roads much more cheaply than the surrounding states. Within fifteen years, he had seized control of US road spending from Congress, J. Edgar Hoover-style, and within another fifteen years the Bureau of Public Roads was building roads for the sake of building roads, even projects that were originally dismissed as expensive overbuilding.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s reasonable to expect Federal funding on a major project. HSR in California is one of the most important corridors in North America. Why it’s going to cost so much is issue that is separate from whether or not it should be built.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s reasonable to expect federal funding, but there’s a big question mark of how much. Big projects don’t actually get all that much funding. If I remember correctly, New York’s non-WTC projects are about 30% federally funded. The people in Congress who think New York isn’t Real America and doesn’t deserve federal funding don’t like California any more than they like New York.

    More to the point, when 1A went to ballot, there was no federal funding stream for HSR. The people who wrote the proposition hoped there would be some pot of money they could get funding from and got lucky with the stimulus.

    Donk Reply:

    Huh, isn’t the 2nd Ave subway taking much more than 30%?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes but don’t let that get in the way of the propaganda. ARC, the tunnel to New Jersey and the station in Macy’s basement was going to have, according to Wikipedia, 51.16 percent of it’s funding from the Federal Government. The rest from the Port Authority which along with whacking New Jerseyans for tasty tolls whacks New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians and Connecticuters and Montanans who are silly enough to drive through New York City. And another 14.37 percent from the NJ Turnpike leaving New Jersey to fund .01 percent. In other words having to fund the coordinators at NJTransit.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    so HSR needs 70 billion. 9 from the bonds. If 50% was supposed to come from the Feds that is 35. Where were they expecting to get the other 26?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The state found a billion dollars for widening I-405, it has money someplace. Or get yourselves some toll facilities that have can search the couch cushions for billions in loose change.

    Derek Reply:

    so HSR needs 70 billion.

    $53.4 billion in 2011 dollars.

    Where were they expecting to get the other 26?

    17.7.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    70 billion in 2014 dollars (per the current plan). And that is 9 billion in current dollars also (assuming the court lets them spend it). So my math was right, since you dont have a time machine to go back to 2011 and start the project.

    Derek Reply:

    The draft 2014 business plan says $54,894 million in 2013 dollars for Phase I. Where are you getting 70 billion in 2014 dollars?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Thats my mistake, i should have said YOE not 2014 dollars.

    http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/about/business_plans/FINAL_Draft_2014_Business_Plan.pdf

    page 36. 67.6 billion (YOE). That is before the inevitable cost overruns.

    Unless you think the fed funds are not coming in the YOE and are instead coming in a big lump sum today.

    joe Reply:

    “That is before the inevitable cost overruns.”

    Current section is 1.2-1.8 B estimated and was bid at under 1B.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Not built yet. Remember that estimation AFTER it is built

    Derek Reply:

    Unless you think the fed funds are not coming in the YOE and are instead coming in a big lump sum today.

    That would be much better. For example, CAHSR was promised $9 billion from the state in 2008. Now it’s 2014 and that $9 billion is worth $9.8 billion today, but CAHSR will only get $9 billion of that. Therefore, it would have been better if Prop 1A had promised $9 billion in 2008 dollars. The longer we wait to build HSR, the more money we’ll have to come up with to replace that lost value.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “One of the things that greatly annoys me in certain quarters is the assumption that giving the technocrats more power leads to better outcomes. ”

    The extreme example of this is the NSA, CIA, and the other organized crime syndicates operating within our government. They have been proven to be completely and utterly incompetent and their actions are severely endangering national security.

    Their claim? “Trust us, we’re experts”.

    Yeah, right, like I’m gonna trust the guys who failed to notice the collapse of the Soviet Union, or the guys who still don’t know what data Snowden walked off with — not to mention the fact that these guys are violating the Constitution and many federal laws and committing perjury in testimony to Congress.

    Snowden, him I’d trust to run my national signals intelligence operation — he’s competent.

    —-
    The situation with transit planning is MUCH more transparent and honest than that. Proposals are put out to the public, they do take comments, and they usually actually listen to criticism, and even adopt changes.

    Admittedly, the situation in the Bay Area is especially bad, with exceptionally non-responsive “planners”. And there’s stuff in Washington State like the “Deep Bore Tunnel” in Seattle which was literally decided by a backroom deal at the legislature.

    But for every one of those, there’s something like the new Tacoma WA Amtrak station, where they listened, and came back with alternatives. Or Englewood Flyover in Chicago, where they listened, and said “Fine, we’ll try to hire more locals, but dammit, we’re building the project now because you didn’t actually complain about the merits of the project.”

    Or any subway project in LA — there’s been a lot of responsiveness to public input, and the Expo Line was basically built due to public advocacy. The NIMBYs have been defeated on that route, but they were stopped by an larger and equally vocal political group, not by “deference to planners”.

  8. Robert S. Allen
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 16:38
    #8

    BART in Oakland crosses over the UP/Amtrak rail lines to San Jose and Sacramento. A transfer hub station there would be six to ten minutes from four downtown San Francisco BART stations by trains that run about every four minutes. It would link the Bay Area BART service area with inter-city rail to Sacramento, the Silicon Valley, and the Central Valley via both Martinez and the Altamont. High Speed Rail to that Hub would be better, safer, more reliable, and less costly than Blended Rail (on Caltrain rail) to a single downtown San Francisco station.
    —–
    Half a century ago the voters in three Bay Area Counties voted the bonds that brought us BART. The time has come to enlarge the BART district to include all five major counties that ring the Bay and have or are getting BART service. A unified 5-County BART District with voter-approved bonds, and HSR to/through the East Bay Hub station is the way to go.

    FDW Reply:

    The curve there would make things difficult, but it might be doable.

    joe Reply:

    BART to San Jose comes out to 333 Million Dollars per mile. We need to get the cost of BART down before we try anything and disband the BART police force before another tragic death.

    Joey Reply:

    Which phase is that for? Even $333m/mile seems a bit low for American tunneling…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s not just a tunnel. The unfunded Berryessa-Santa Clara phase is $500 million per km of tunnel.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    If there was ever any area that was ripe for elevated track, its suburban Santa Clara County (which is also how large chunks of VTA light rail should’ve been built, IMHO). I mean, along key routes like North 1st and Tasman, hardly anyone lives along the roads, and there’d be very little NIMBY resistance.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You really want rail versions of the Embarcadero Freeway?

    Honolulu will find out when it gets its kama’aina HART-BART. linear “designated shitholes” for bums to inhabit.

    Eric Reply:

    Because as everyone knows Brooklyn and the north side of Chicago are “shitholes”…

    synonymouse Reply:

    Maybe it is too cold for bums.

    Try SF and Oakland. Bums under freeway bridges.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Like only place in the US with elevated highways is Oakland and San Francisco.

    synonymouse Reply:

    In the Bay Area if you erect something that can shelter bums, you will likely get bums. There are more homeless and lowlifes than in cold places.

    Aerials only when you really have to. Tunneling or surface is better if you can afford it or find the space. You would have more space if you did not have so many people and cars.

    Population stabilization is the really best approach. Progress and development are way overrated.

    Joey Reply:

    Especially in El Cerrito and Rockridge.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Put a BART elevated in Yosemite Valley – it will surely improve the property values just as in El Cerrito and Rockridge.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    But we’re talking about the suburban wasteland of Santa Clara County-either get rid of the grade crossings for light rail, or elevate it. The Embarcardero Freeway was a blight in San Francisco, but there’s nothing to blight in North San Jose. Besides, I’d go for a berm or something, not stilts.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Amanda, then you’re talking HART-BART – you might as well go automated Breda and to hell with Amalgamated jockeys.

    I guess it will open in some years and we will be able to experience Kama’aina BART. My surmise is noisy as hell but one can always hope. I suspect they will have an underfloor wheel lathe but hollow core sings no matter how true the wheels are.

    Eric Reply:

    That would mean dumping a huge amount of money into a currently failed system. Wouldn’t it be smarter to start out with something like signal priority at intersections?

    jonathan Reply:

    It’s not just a tunnel. The unfunded Berryessa-Santa Clara phase is $500 million per km of tunnel.

    And how does that compare to the Chuo Shinkansen (maglev, majority in tunnel)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Poorly, but the Chuo Shinkansen is not an urban project; Japan has subway lines that cost way more per km than the Chuo Shinkansen, for example the Mita Line extension was almost $500 million per km itself. The difference with San Jose is that the Mita Line extension was in a dense part of Central Tokyo whereas BART to San Jose is in a suburb that pretends to be a central city.

    jonathan Reply:

    a metastasized dormitory suburb…

    Mattie F. Reply:

    What does this have to do with this post?

  9. Joe
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 19:12
    #9

    You want Caltrain improved, then you need HSR.

    http://m.sfexaminer.com/sanfrancisco/caltrain-and-california-high-speed-rail-a-partnership-to-improve-rail-service-along-the-peninsula/Content?oid=2739037

    jonathan Reply:

    You want Caltrain improved, then you need HSR.

    that’s a big lie. I guess you think the Big Lie never fails?

    Never mind the Caltrain numbers Any and all of the Altamont Route-Warriors will disagree with you.

    A _true_ statement might be: without MTC support, Caltrain electrification willl not happen.
    But that’s a subtly different statement. A statement which someone who practices “science” according to the precepts of Creation Scientists, or the Ministry of Truth, may not appreciate.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Great. Upgrade existing infrastructure without being too invasive. Provide immediate local benefits on corridors already in use

  10. Darrell
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 20:44
    #10

    From your description of these articles, it appears Elkind is lumping all transit academics together, which is nearly as much a fallacy as presuming all economics academics agree (read Paul Krugman’s blog if you need any reinforcement of the latter!).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah, Elkind’s definition of a transit academic consists of two people, of whom at least one (James Moore, or USC) has a chair endowed by Reason. That’s not an intellectual, that’s a hack. By the same token he could be complaining that the academics are against gun control because of John Lott.

    Nathanael Reply:

    While not *everyone* funded by Cato or Reason is a dishonest hack (Radley Balko comes to mind), *almost* everyone funded by Cato or Reason is a dishonest hack. I’m not sure why people haven’t noticed this yet.

    Darrell Reply:

    (Hit Enter too fast…)
    I had the good fortune to have Prof. Wolfgang Homburger at UC Berkeley for Transportation Engineering in 1977. Prof. Vukan Vuchic of the University of Pennsylvania is an academic father of modern light rail in the United States. But too many other transportation academics, unfortunately, are largely known for publishing content in libertarian journals that is pretty easily debunked.

    You responded well, Robert, that reality in Los Angeles is that buses lack the needed speed, capacity, and comfort of rail. The Orange Line is out of capacity and takes over 50% longer than light rail on the same route; San Fernando Valley leaders are now seeking its upgrade to rail. And HSR’s route to serve San Joaquin Valley cities was deliberately chosen.

    Eric Reply:

    I took a course with Vuchic in college. I learned a lot, but it also convinced me not to go into transportation engineering as a career.

    Reedman Reply:

    The Orange Line could increase capacity immediately by using longer buses. It would require permission from Caltrans, however, which presently restricts articulated buses to 60 feet.

    http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/engineering/trucks/trucksize/length.htm

    Nathanael Reply:

    The ride quality would be awful. Have you ever been in one of those fishtailing multi-articulated buses?

    There’s a reason trains run on tracks. Maybe now that Zev Yaroslavsky’s Curitiba-fandom is no longer a major political force, the Orange Line can get converted to the LRT which it once was and which it should always have been.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Yaroslavsky’s embrace of BRT was purely about stopping the Wilshire subway. The Orange Line has taught people the lunacy of using it as a substitute for rail.

    Better question is how viable is Warner Center?

    synonymouse Reply:

    “And HSR’s route to serve San Joaquin Valley cities was deliberately chosen.”

    – by the Tejon Ranch Co.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I thought it was so the developers could turn Mojave into Manhattan

    Eric Reply:

    No, so they could turn Mojave into San Jose.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Mojave is never going to be another San Jose. It won’t have a BART station.

  11. swing hanger
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 22:39
    #11

    I always thought buses and rail were complementary- rail service is built where the population, density of settlement, and commute distances make it the optimal choice, and bus lines serve the rail stations in that rail-centered system as feeders and perhaps on cross-city or peripheral routes. Smaller cities can have buses do all the work. Simple. But it seems in the U.S., you have to be in one camp or the other, and that organic solutions are untenable.

    Darrell Reply:

    Most transit professionals agree with you. Each mode has its strengths on the continuum of low-to-high cost / capacity / speed: local buses – rapid buses – light rail – heavy rail.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Some agency from Japan produced a lovely little picture for this. I wish I knew where I’d placed it. One axis was distance and the other was passenger volume, and the area was carved out into “preferred mode”.

    It included pedestrians, bicycles, taxis and private automobiles as well as various sorts of buses and trains. (Ferries and airplanes were not included; I guess it’s a land transportation grid.)

    The summary:
    – Pedestrians in everything which is very short distance.
    – Bicycles over slightly longer distances.
    – Over long distances, various types of trains dominate for all the high-volume loads.
    – And over long distances, private autos dominate in all the low-volume loads.
    – Buses and taxis and so forth fill in various medium-volume situations depending on distance.

    Eric Reply:

    I’d like to see that if you ever find it.

  12. Loren Petrich
    Mar 19th, 2014 at 23:30
    #12

    Returning to the OP, why do these transport-studying academics think that buses are good and rail is bad? I’d like to see some assessment of the reasons that they claim for their opinion.

    Zorro Reply:

    Busses = use Oil.

    Electrified Rail does not.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Tell that to Muni.

    They won’t do any more trolley buses. They’d rather do fossil even with a trolley coach yard on route.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Someone should tell that to Muni. Seattle was considering getting rid of trolleybuses… but after a public outcry which reversed that proposal, they’re now starting to talk about expanding trolleybus routes.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Muni is hopeless. Willie Brown had scored the funds to electrify the #71 when he was in the Legislature but Muni management procrastinated and eventually demurred.

    Muni maintenance is execrable, primarily due to the unions, who run the show. So management in desperation opts for the cheapest diesel buses, burns them out and gets new ones. No resale market for Muni diesel buses.

    As for the exotics nannies are imposing on Muni I assume they will have to farm out the maintenance or just let the derelicts accumulate in the yards the usual way. If they cannot maintain trolley buses how could they handle the more complex hybrids. The Skodas turned out to be way too light mechanically for Muni. Their stuff has to be totally “ruggedized”.

    The one thing Muni can be counted on to do is sell off their property. So be careful if PB-CHSRA implodes there will be a great temptation to try and grab Caltrain real estate and put it back on the tax rolls.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    busses are economically efficient. They use an already existing infastructure and at the cost of just the bisses themselves they can be expanded.

    Rail, while providing superior capacity, service, and speed, has (to be generous) high starup costs.

    So companies can provide a profitable 1 seat $15 bus ride from LA to SF right now. It will cost 70+ billion to get a 1 seat HSR ride between the same routes.

    If you have limited money to spend on transpotation (which the academics realize, but not the advocates) then you spend the money wisely. i.e. busses.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    It would be interesting to know how much subsidy the $15 bus seat ride gets.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The full-fare seats subsidize the four seats on the bus that sell for $15 in order to make the bus company look cheap.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    the last minute (I just checked the price on a bus that leaves 30 minutes from now) is $49. That is cheaper than a projected HSR ride. Now of course the anticipated HSR ride is better, faster, etc., but the bus ride is real today.

    Jon Reply:

    $60, actually. And I can’t be certain that’s the highest priced ticket as I don’t know if it’s the last seat or not.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Either I did not get through the fine wording (please forgive me, English is not my primary language), or it has been deliberately misunderstood.

    What I am wondering is how much the taxpayer subsidizes that (no matter how much it costs for the passenger) seat in the bus. As we know, trucks and buses do not cover their cost (the wear on the road goes with the 4th power of the wheel load). Of course, it is very easy to generally actively ignore the usage of the infrastructure (it has been said that the bus operator does not need to invest in infrastructure; all he has to get is essentially the buses).

    Nathanael Reply:

    It’s hard to compute how much the taxpayer subsidizes the bus. But it’s a lot, since the bus pays *nothing* for the use of the roads. The bus companies aren’t even providing stations, just dumping people at the side of the road.

    Despite this, the intercity bus companies are barely profitable and several have gone bankrupt in the past.

    (There are exceptions to the general rule that the bus companies pay nothing — the tolled Lincoln Tunnel in New York City, for instance. However, most bus companies really do pay nothing and many even avoid tollway routes in favor of slower routes which don’t have tolls.)

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Well, I guess they do pay a little bit (unless private bus operators are exempt from the taxes on diesel). But, similar to trucks, that does not cover much at all.

    I wasn’t aware of the toll road avoidance (but then, I did not care much when driving around in the US, and my main toll roads were actually bridges – around New York).

    Andy M Reply:

    Only that buses are not taking the bite out of the airline market that HSR could. ALSA ran loads of buses between Madrid and Barcelona and between Madrid and Alicante before HSR opened but I don’t think that bus service was even on Iberia’s radar when they were checking out what the competition was doing. Buses may be cheap but they don’t achieve much in the bigger picture. Is Caltrans ever going to say “we’re not going to add lanes to the Interstate 5 because Greyhound is doing such a good job?”

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Google and the other hi-tech companies that are busses workers every day seem to think they add value. More importantly the employees think they add value. Thousands of employees, every day…that has a real impact

    And my point was that busses are more economically efficient to add. You can add bus service in a year, you need decades to add HSR

    Jon Reply:

    There’s a big difference between riding a bus 45 minutes to work, and riding a bus for 8 hours from SF to LA. A bus journey of that length has me climbing the walls.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    So don’t take the bus, and hope that somebody else pays for something else so that you feel more comfortable.

    Jon Reply:

    Someone else has already paid for something else so that SF – LA travellers can feel more comfortable – the SFO and LAX airports. Yet for some reason, that use of public funds doesn’t seem to spark your ire in the same way as HSR does.

    In any case, your comment is completely irrelevant to the point at hand, which is that buses are more suited to short distance travel and are not likely to take the chunk out of air travel on SF – LA distance journeys.

    Eric Reply:

    I have heard that a significant percentage (sometimes all?) of the funds for airport improvement come from fees paid by the airlines. Can someone confirm?

    wdobner Reply:

    Only if you’re fond of comparing apples and oranges.

    That bus service cannot, and will not, carry any significant fraction of the intercity travel market between the anchor cities and the en route cities or each other without costly infrastructure improvements. Even four buses an hour between LA and SF is a piddling number of passengers when compared to the capacity the HSR system will provide. To get up around he capacity provided by the HSR system at fairly low rates of utilization (4tph with 350 pax/train) you’re looking at dozens of buses an hour. Buses operating at a headway of just 2 minutes or less along the length of I-5 are going to put a real demand on the infrastructure. You’d undoubtedly be looking at some manner of highway expansion to provide for those buses.

    But what is the point of providing the funding to a mode nobody in their right mind would subject themselves to? Even if we can run 24 to 36 buses an hour, there aren’t going to be that many people willing to sit for a 6 to 7 hour ride between SF and LA. So you’d have to get the average speed up, and that undoubtedly means going to a dedicated busway where they can cruise along at upwards of 125mph. But at those speeds fuel consumption rises precipitously, so you will probably want to use some sort of electric propulsion, to cut down on costs. Except that they’ll need some sort of guidance to keep them safe at high speeds. And then once you have a bus running over your pavement every 120 seconds it’s going to become rather difficult to maintain his busway to the high standards required for those high speeds. So steel wheel on steel rail it is. And those drivers aren’t cheap, so we could cut down on the number of operating personnel by coupling the buses together into long trains. Congrats, you just designed high speed rail.

    Yes, it’s cheap to take advantage of federal subsidization of the highways to run a pissant bus service. But to offer it as an alternative to legitimately proven intercity services, such as HSR, requires far more investment and has much lower return on that investment than competing modes.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Interesting, but supposedly people are already driving in significant numbers from LA to SF. I refer you to the HSR business plan which states it will reduce traffic. So you take several cars off the road for every bus. Hence no increase in infrastructure needed. No increasing speed, no busway, just a willingness to sit for 8 hours which you have to do if you going to drive anyway.

    I already stated HSR is superior to busses. That is a given. The question is HSR 70+ billon superior to the current forms of intercity travel which is busses, cars, and planes.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The people who drive between LA and SF now are free to get on a bus now. They don’t.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    they do, hence profitable private bus service from those points

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Profitable if you don’t mind cooking the books until the the paper starts to disintegrate.

    wdobner Reply:

    That does not make any sense. The bus cannot increase its market share so long as it remains slower than the automobile. Why would anyone sit for 6 to 8 hours on a bus when they can get there in 2 to 3 hours less by automobile? It doesn’t matter how many buses are operated between the city, the fare can never fall far enough to appeal to the passengers for whom a trip is a profligate waste of their time. HSR, on the other hand, provides an arrangement whereby trips can originate and terminate within an hour of LAUPT or TBT via public transit and be completed in less time than required to drive or even fly between those two points.

    That is definitely worth the $54 billion the project will cost, and it’s especially worth the ~$25 billion required to get a usable system up and running. Your fabricated $70 billion figure is not worth discussing.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    First

    http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/about/business_plans/FINAL_Draft_2014_Business_Plan.pdf

    page 36. 67.6 billion (YOE). That is before the inevitable cost overruns. Its really going to be 100+ billion with cost overruns but I cant prove that so 70+ billion is fair for the moment.

    Second, 25 billion does not get a usable system from SF to LA up an running. It gets a IOS running which will begin and end in neither SF or LA so its usability is up for debate, but for sure it will not be an alternative to current LA to SF possibilities.

    Third

    “why would they sit for 6-8 hours on a bus”

    They dont have a car and cant afford an airline ticket happens every day, those bus companies (unlike Amtrak) are private and make money.

    HSR is better than a bus and I think a plane also (from SF to LA). That is a pretty easy argument. Is it better than a car? depends on if you have to drive around your final destination.

    But the questions is not if HSR is a nice mode of transit, it is, the question is do you want to spend 70 billion on another mode of transit when we already have slow, cheap and fast expensive options

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    greyhound had 12 departures a day and some of them take 12 hours to do the trip. The low fare is $56.00 each way. 12 departures a day is one trainload. I have a feeling the buses with a 12 hour schedule have few if any through passengers. The fastest bus takes 7 hours and 50 minutes.

    Donk Reply:

    One thing you are missing is labor costs. Buses have higher labor costs per passenger than urban rail.

    Eric Reply:

    Perhaps that’s why they once had articulated intercity buses running between LA and SF.
    http://blog.hemmings.com/index.php/2010/03/25/kaisers-articulated-bus/

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    One of them according to the article.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Donk

    Compare BART to MegaBus. You are forgetting Amalgamated-TWU.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    the all in cost is 15-50 and they are making a profit. So labor is built in

    wdobner Reply:

    And boy are they getting their money’s worth. I dunno about you, but I think my life might be worth the $40 that will likely separate most Megabus fares and the fares contemplated by the CHSRA.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    nah the magic hand of the free market is going to keep low low fares low.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Tours_bus_crash

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    So you guys are all for mass transit. As long as it’s trains?? Busses don’t count? Screw reducing cars or helping people get transit at affordable prices. Choo Choo or bust.

    And the call republicans heartless one track minds

    wdobner Reply:

    When buses are used to justify substituting a vastly inferior mode for vital improvements, to maintain our hideous status quo, and to allow the government to shirk its responsibilities to its citizen, it’s difficult to imagine what sort of hardcore extremist right winger would be in favor of that.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I’m fine with appropriate uses of bus service. Connecting lines along quiet roads to connect smaller communities to the main rail trunk line? Go for it! Special services to cater to irregular, a-few-times-a-year events? Go for it!

    Most of the times bus service is proposed as an alternative to rail, however, it’s grossly inappropriate. Buses are bad for high-volume trunk service.

    Rail advocates have generally stopped proposing branch railway lines to obscure and underused places, where buses work better. But bus advocates keep proposing totally inappropriate uses of buses for high-volume trunk line service. This makes me very suspicious of bus advocates.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Depends on the origin, the destination and the infrastructure at the destination. More people use buses to get to Manhattan from New Jersey than use commuter trains.

    Derek Reply:

    The “existing infrastructure” that buses use is not unlimited, so it costs more to add a bus than just the bus itself.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    there is excess capacity in the infrastructure, so until you have to build a new lane (which busses help you avoid) you dont have to pay for additional infrastructure.

    i.e. Google is paying for the bus, the gas, and the driver, not a road charge

    Derek Reply:

    there is excess capacity in the infrastructure, so until you have to build a new lane (which busses help you avoid) you dont have to pay for additional infrastructure.

    Road space is a finite resource, and every bus you put on the road costs you some of that finite resource. Therefore, there is a cost to put another bus on the road. You an even assign a dollar value to that cost: it’s the cost of widening the road divided by the capacity increase from widening it.

    Meanwhile, buses don’t help you avoid paying to widen a road. All they do is increase the capacity of the road.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    A road has a fixed capacity. That resource, while finite, is not “used up” when a bus passes. So if a road can support 20 cars a min at the speed limit and only 1 car a minute uses it the there is excess capacity in the system that you can exploit “for free”.

    Think of a simple 2 lane county lane road. Maybe 20 cars in a day, but could carry thousands more.

    Since you can’t build a fraction of a lane, any road that is under capacity has excess you can exploit.

    By increasing the capacity you delay the need to widen.

    You keep assuming that roads are at or over capacity. The vast vast majority of roads in the country (I’m talking freeways, roads, urban, suburban, etc.) are way under capacity because at minimum you have to have a 2 lane road and most traffic does not need that. Every residential street in America other than those used as primary neighborhood access points are under capacity

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Great, so now we all going on 2 lane country roads from SF to LA on a megabus.
    HSR-bring it on!

    flowmotion Reply:

    Only if you take the bus that goes through Palmdale. :)

    synonymouse Reply:

    IIRC the Amtrak buses do not go thru Palmdale, so they are politically incorrect.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    It was an example. Stop

    Nathanael Reply:

    “any road that is under capacity has excess you can exploit. ”

    Which is why buses are fine for branch lines, and stink for high-volume trunk lines.

    You have to have your roads under capacity for the ENTIRE DISTANCE OF THE ROUTE in order for buses to work effectively. Take an example I know well: the buses from Ithaca to New York City. They suck. Apart from the poorly trained drivers with a bad attitude (theoretically fixable) and the ride quality issues (not theoretically fixable), why do they suck?

    Because they hit traffic 30 miles outside of New York. I have actually wished that there were buses which just went to an outlying NJT station.

    In California, you hit traffic 40 miles outside LA and 50 miles outside SF — if you’re *lucky*.

    Going out of Chicago, the traffic is constant all the way to Cleveland. (Hence the extremely expensive widening of the Ohio Turnpike which took place not long ago.)

    In short, John, there’s no free road capacity in the places where you *need* it for intercity bus routes.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    …. you’ve never been stuck in traffic at the Water Gap?
    ….Ewww… the buses don’t go down 17 do they?

    Someday you’ll be able to take the bus to Syracuse and be in New York in 2 hours unless the state fucks that up.

    Eric Reply:

    That’s easily and cheaply fixed by taking an EXISTING lane and using it for transit/HOV/HOT.

  13. Bill
    Mar 20th, 2014 at 15:16
    #13

    The only thing good about San Jose is the airport and Sharks hockey.

  14. Keith Saggers
    Mar 20th, 2014 at 15:42
    #14
  15. trentbridge
    Mar 20th, 2014 at 16:15
    #15

    Talking of efficiency – I watched a documentary about Cuba and – since the country lacks enough buses (working) to haul the working folk to Government jobs in Havana, they have yellow-shirted bureaucrats mounting road-blocks in surrounding areas that make private vehicles stop and take these folks into town with them.

    Now this has two advantages – it’s very socialist and very efficient. It requires no infrastructure and doesn’t increase the volume of traffic into Havana. (In fact, I think many Cubans will lie -denying that they have any intention of going to Havana to avoid hauling commuters with them.)

    So the “best” solution – pioneered by Loondon, England is to have a stiff, mind-blowing toll for driving your automobile into the city center – like $10 – $20 per day and waiving said fee if the vehcile contains three of more.

    A public university professor should appreciate that the solution to public transit woes is to apply socialist doctrine to private transportation for the good of society. No empty seats in a car if there’s a person who lacks such an asset who wants to go where you’re going.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The tolls for the Hudson River crossings from New Jersey to Manhattan are $13 with cash at all times , $11 during peak hours for the electronic pass and $9 off peak. Congestion is still awful.

    Derek Reply:

    That would imply that the price is too low. They should auction timeslots for the next day’s commute on eBay.

    trentbridge Reply:

    Charging tolls is part of the solution – it’s the “stick” part but the socialist part is to offer a substantial discount i.e. a “carrot” if you share your automobile with the needier commuters and give your comrades a ride across the river into Manhattan.

    I don’t believe London offers a discount for filling your vehicle but then Boris is a Tory.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    People who drive into Manhattan during rush hour are certifiable. 45 minute delays are not unusual. It’s not unsual for pedestrians to be moving faster than the cars once in Manhattan. You have to get from the crossing’s exit to your parking place and walk to your destination. It’s faster to take the train or the bus or the ferry.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Even the buses from New Jersey to Manhattan, which get their own lane in the Lincoln Tunnel in rush hour, are painfully slow. There’s just so many buses.

    The trains more or less run on time.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The trains don’t go to Times Square. Many of routes the bus stops at the train station. People take the route that is fastest.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    London’s congestion pricing was an initiative of Ken Livingstone, whose nickname is Red Ken.

  16. Thomas
    Mar 21st, 2014 at 08:07
    #16

    Legislature held a hearing regarding cap and trade for HSR earlier this week-

    http://www.news10.net/videos/news/politics/john-myers/2014/03/19/6635515/

    Would cap and trade funds be legal for HSR?

  17. TRANSDEF
    Mar 21st, 2014 at 08:11
    #17

    Robert,

    As a political, your trust in transit authorities has led you into an irreconcilable contradiction: You have written that transit should go wherever the politicians want to put it, no matter their motivations. Yet the HSR project is not mere transit: it is required by law to stand on its own with no operating subsidies. Political dealmaking leads to entirely different route decisions than the optimization of profitability.

    Investment in the project by an HSR operator-led consortium prior to construction would have allayed my concern about the chosen route being a loser. I don’t trust consultant studies promising profitability, especially after I discovered MTC’s directive to Cambridge Systematics to not make public last minute changes to the ridership model that severely penalized Altamont ridership. Altamont would have had much higher ridership than Pacheco, had the model not been rigged.

    To me, attempting to build this project without an HSR operator is a tacit admission that the route is not commercially attractive.

    I find it highly ironic that you write “Elkind misunderstands the actual relationship of HSR to democracy” while the very people you so enthusiastically support argued in court that the Authority has no obligation to honor what were obviously commitments to the voters written into the bond measure. That speaks volumes about “the actual relationship of HSR to democracy.”

    StevieB Reply:

    The California High-Speed Rail project is required to have no operating subsidies in order to sell construction bonds. The planned route should allow fares to break even with operating costs which is not the same as a route optimized for profit. The state of California benefits most from a route that maximizes access to transportation and economic activity for the millions of people surrounding stations along the route which may not be the same as a route the maximizes profit for the operator. A route that optimizes profitability is not required and from the standpoint of the state is not desirable.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “A route that optimizes profitability” is one that is most efficient and utilized and the one to be chosen. It is simple Darwinian.

    Contractor and union welfare is a prescription for failure. Who is going to buy this money losing POS when the State has to divest it?

    jimsf Reply:

    The purpose of transportation is to serve the most people and take them to the most places. The current plan provides the greatest number of city pairs with and between the most regions.

    Derek Reply:

    The purpose of transportation is to serve the most people and take them to the most places.

    No, the purpose of transportation is only to move people and things.

    jimsf Reply:

    No, the purpose of transportation, in california, is to give options to as many options as possible to as many people as possible.

    Derek Reply:

    Instead of wasting money trying to do whatever’s possible (e.g. PRT), I think we should stick to what’s cost-effective. If people aren’t willing to pay 100% of the cost of something through user fees, then it isn’t cost-effective.

    Joe Reply:

    Looks like happy hour came early today

    Joe Reply:

    And who elected you?

    Eric M Reply:

    This coming from the“follow the lights” group?

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Yeah. The ‘Follow the Lights’ route pictured goes right into the heart of Fresno.

    And the brightest spot on the map is San Jose.

    Of course the East Bay will be served by the HSR route first via the San Joaquins and ACE trains, which will then be improved — perhaps even before a Pacheco route is built. So this is no reason to advocate against building HSR up and down California.

    But it would be nice if someone would help Livermore understand that trains are their friends, and they would benefit by letting BART and the ACE tracks meet in their fine town. Encouraging walkable communities and all that. If they’re afraid of BART they certainly won’t welcome HSR.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    I think BART is trying to send Livermore a message by only extending in the median of 580 as far as Isabel Ave. If they want further extension then it’s not going to be in the freeway median outside of town.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    A petition to keep BART out of downtown was signed by 8000 voters, Livermore has 45,000 registered voters.

  18. Emmanuel
    Mar 21st, 2014 at 14:48
    #18

    Doesn’t it all boil down to paying for it? Californians undoubtedly want high speed rail. The problem is when it comes to paying for it. $68 billion makes people want to faint, but we like to forget how much we spend on a highway system the same length. To me, the budget of HSR should never have been a separate issue and instead be completely incorporated into our normal transportation budget. Period. Get some funds from here and there, pray for federal matching funds, loans and make it work.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Pretty much any clod with a pulse can use the highway system and with automated autos maybe even some who could not get drivers licenses. No Amalgamated chauffeurs at $200k/yr and undocumented no-shows required.

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