Wednesday, September 23, 2009

LaHood:Trains Are the Ticket [He is Stuck in Reverse]

U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been quite vocal with the bankrupt idea that (pseudo) high speed and other trains will be beneficial to the nation. Far from it. They will bankrupt the nation and harm the environment, while highway congestion rages unabated and the economy suffers.

Today LaHood said this in Ohio: Trains might never shuttle Ohioans to ballgames, musical shows and other events throughout the state as quickly as cars, but rail will attract riders who value convenience over speed, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said yesterday.

Sadly this is another political appointee selling (expensive) hot air. Here is a number of counter-punches from experts.

Four days ago the Wall Street Journal interviewed Dr. Joseph Coughlin and Dr. Bryan Reimer. They are, respectively, the director and associate director of the New England University Transportation Center and also at AgeLab, a think tank at the MIT dedicated to improving older adults' quality of life. Here is what they said. [My comments in brackets.]
  • The boomers are working more and are far more engaged in daily activities than their parents were at a comparable age. Their expectations are far greater for products that facilitate their independence and mobility as they age. [Trains are the most inflexible mode for urban transportation, thus they are the least suitable "product" for the baby boomers and their families.]
  • Some 70% of Americans over the age of 50 live in suburban or rural areas where public transit either doesn't exist or provides poor service. But more fundamentally: This is a generation that has moved around in automobiles its entire life. You don't wake up one day at age 65 or 70 and say, "I think I'll take the bus." [think that many boomers grew up in one-car families, whereas their children grew up in two and three car families. How many will sell their car and ride trains?]
  • The car is no longer just a transportation system. It is a platform for living. When we enter the car, many of us pick up the phone and call a spouse or friend or finish the day's business. We turn on the satellite radio. It may be one of the only parts of the day that truly provides some private, quality time. If it was only about transportation, any mode would do. But this is a way of living—not just a way of moving.
Isn't it interesting that the Obama Administration is in favor of trains and renewable energy but they raided renewable energy funds to provide Americans with the opportunity to buy cars with the cash-for-clunkers program? Nearly 700,000 new cars were obtained in this way complete with registration, taxes, fees and insurance. How many of them will lock them up and ride trains?

Washington State obtained a FONSI (finding of no significant impact) in its environmental justice analysis for the installation of toll roadways. What is very important in that body of work is the analysis for the usefulness of transit to the poor. Politicians often mention that rail will help the poor.

The summary result is as follows:
Transit is not a viable alternative for the poor and the jobless. More specifically transit is not considered a viable alternative as 51% or responders said that would not use transit to avoid the toll, 53% of them said that the service is too infrequent and 56% they live or work too far from transit stations. Many low-income users were found to be car-dependent and support congestion pricing.
Source: Jamie Strausz-Clark, PRR, Seattle, WA

9/24 update: "Taiwan’s struggling high speed rail line, the only fully private and commercial high speed rail system in the world, will be taken over by the government his week. The line has been plagued by disappointing ridership levels totaling approximately one-third projected levels. The cost of the system was approximately $15 billion."

Secretary LaHood needs to get in touch with transportation reality in the U.S. and stop pedling support for taxpayer financed transportation losers defined as overly expensive transportation systems that survive only with continuous tax subsidy, provide marginal improvements to productivity, harm the environment and deplete funds for real solutions to productivity, congestion and environmental impacts.