Monday, November 29, 2010

More trains, more riders

Will more trains bring more riders to Metrolink?

Five years ago, at a time of robust economic growth, the board of the Orange County Transportation Authority approved a plan to expand Metrolink commuter rail service.

At the time, officials predicted that by 2010, average weekday ridership on the three Metrolink lines that serve Orange County would grow from about 14,000 to more than 30,000.
Then came the recession. Ridership levels are back near where they were five years ago, after rising in the intervening years. In October 2010, average weekday ridership on the three lines was 14,818, down 3 percent from a year earlier.

Meanwhile, OCTA has delayed plans to add new trains. The agency initially envisioned adding 16 round trips between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel by 2009, but didn’t. It’s now looking at adding at most six round trips in 2011, with more to come later.

The expansion, which was approved by voters as part of the renewed Measure M sales tax ballot initiative in 2006, ultimately envisions adding 34 new trains in the county, to bring the daily total to 76. The overall cost, which includes buying new locomotives and passenger cars as well as making improvements to stations, expanding parking lots, and making street crossings safer, is more than $400 million.

Will Kempton, OCTA’s CEO, believes that once trains are running more frequently, more people will ride them.

The idea is that, with trains running every half hour or so, “people won’t have to worry so much about a schedule,” Kempton said. “They can simply go to the station and know that there will be a train.”

That, he says, should result in a “stable and expanding ridership base.”

Still, it’s unclear who the new riders will be.

“Voters always vote for rail,” said David Brownstone, an economics professor at UC Irvine who studies transportation.

Brownstone noted that California voters in 2008 approved a $10 billion bond measure for a high-speed rail system that could one day compete with Metrolink and Amtrak on the Anaheim-to-Los Angeles route.

“They think it’s going to cut congestion,” Brownstone said. “Time and time again, people vote for these things and I think they think someone else is going to take (the train). It doesn’t happen.”

Yet studies have shown that increasing the frequency of transit service does yield an increase in ridership, said Marlon Boarnet, a professor of planning at UCI.

The studies suggest that a 100 percent increase in service will result in a 50 percent growth in ridership, he said.

“I think it’s a pretty good idea,” he said, of OCTA’s plan to expand service.

One pitfall: while OCTA owns the tracks between Fullerton and South County, the tracks between Fullerton and Los Angeles are owned by freight-hauler BNSF. Metrolink gets a certain number of daily slots and on the Fullerton-to-Los Angeles rails, and those are already filled.

That means L.A.-bound riders on new Orange County trains are likely to find there are no additional connections waiting for them once they get to Fullerton.
One thing that isn't brought up in the article is that expanding service on the OC line will make it far more convenient to go to Angels Stadium or the Honda Center. Right now, evening games and performances are pretty much an impossibility if you want to travel by rail as the last Metrolink train leaves Anaheim at 7:13pm and getting there isn't necessarily the most convenient either. Amtrak operates later, but is more expensive and has no evening trains at the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo station, which makes it useless for those using that stop. Meanwhile, if memory serves, the expanded OC line service is supposed to provide service as late as 11pm. With a little bit of advertising, as simple as a message that accompanies ticket purchase advertising a lack of driving hassle or congestion and that a roundtrip ticket is the same or cheaper than parking at the Honda Center, ridership could easily make large gains.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Russian HSR turns a profit

Russian high speed rail turns a 30% profit in less than 12 months

The Sapsan high-speed train launched by Russian rail monopoly Russian Railways (RZhD) less than twelve months ago has proved to be the monopoly's sole profitable enterprise in the passenger transport sector, with its profit margin hitting 30 percent, RZhD President Vladimir Yakunin said on Tuesday.

"The other types of rail passenger transportation are loss-making," Yakunin said in an interview with Vedomosti business daily, adding that losses amounted to 34 billion rubles ($1.1 billion) from commuter train carriage and 36 billion rubles from long-distance train transportation.

Commuter train tariffs are regulated by regional authorities while rates for economy-class coaches are set by the Federal Tariff Service. These rates are lower than the economically justified level and therefore the government has to compensate the rail monopoly for its losses, an RZhD representative said. Tariffs for Sapsan fast-speed trains, however, are regulated directly by Russian Railways, which offers competitive rapid carriage services compared with other means of transport.

The demand for high-speed rail passenger carriage has proved to be so strong that the company is considering buying another eight Sapsan trains, Yakunin said, without specifying the terms of the expected deal.

The company plans to make a decision on the purchase by the end of 2010, Valentin Gapanovich, RZhD senior vice-president, said on Friday.

Russian Railways currently has eight high-speed Sapsans produced by the German engineering group Siemens. They run between St Petersburg, Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. The Sapsan occupancy rate is 84.5 percent, according to RzHD.

The company's revenues from ticket sales may amount to 205 million euros annually at the current ticket price, while profits from the operation of these trains exceed 61 million euros.

Just another fine example of high speed rail systems posting an operational profit, despite all the current Libertarian and Republican naysayers.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Reason TV lying about pork and the gas tax

Let's take this apart, shall we?

Their first complaint is of money being taken away from the highway trust fund to fund non-highway projects. Unfortunately, they give no specifics with which we might examine the issues, but let us consider the argument made: Money is being diverted from the highway trust fund and spent on non-highway earmarks. There's just one flaw with this: It's complete malarky. The gasoline tax doesn't even suffice to cover current expenses, which is why in 2008 the Highway Trust Fund received over 8 billion dollars from the general fund and an additional two billion was spent from the general fund on freeways. Indeed, the total federal tax revenue for gasoline is only was only 25,325,646,000.00 in 2008. Money being quite fungible, any such non-highway uses must exceed the amount of revenue from the general fund and non-gasoline sources before complaints about diversion can be justified. But given the pathetic nature of their highlight, that doesn't seem likely.

That hovercraft in Toledo, OH was an appropriation of 745,125.00 for the development of ferry service between Toledo and Windsor, Canada. Of course, what Reason fails to mention is that of the 18.4 cents collected in gasoline tax, 2.86 cents goes to mass transit. So what we have here is criticizing as pork the use of mass transit money in order to fund mass transit. I'm having a hard time seeing the exact problem with that situation.

Then of course, we have the stimulus plan criticism. Yet the stimulus plan was never meant in its entirety to fund infrastructure repair and construction. Indeed, the largest portion of the stimulus plan was tax cuts, 288 billion dollars worth. Only 48 billion dollars was for transportation, 27.5 billion of which was for highway and bridge construction and repair. While the yoga thing seems to be quite off, I fail to see the problem with observing the effects of cocaine on monkeys as a scientific endeavor, given the high popularity of the drug among America's population and the usefulness of anything that will help combat addiction to it or treat those who have overdosed upon it.

Then of course, we have the true reason for calling these men "porkers" and the final piece of absurdity in the video: Because they have called for raising the gasoline tax by 135%. That 135% increase is a whopping total of 25 cents. That counteracts the depreciation of the current gas tax by more than seventeen years of inflation and rising fuel economies on vehicles, with perhaps a little extra to help with our greatly inadequately built and maintained infrastructure. Only in the bizarro world of Reason is this known as anything other than simply being responsible.