Thursday, May 8, 2008

Austin Hits the Pause Button

It seems that Austin is going to take a breath on the issue of light rail. This means no election in the fall. But another alarming issue is the loss of direct flights from Austin's airport. In fact, being a smaller non-hub airport, this means that with rising gas costs and cuts, traffic could drop. But why does that matter for rail? Because one of Brewster's plans was to use revenue from the airport to connect a line there. In fact there was a huge list of possible funding sources. If I were Austin, I wouldn't rule it out, but I might be worried that it won't produce as much as expected. Now that there won't be an election in the fall, perhaps folks have time to think up a few more sources. And perhaps it's more important now to start thinking about high speed rail to make the short connections in Texas.

6 comments:

M1EK said...

The overall number of non-stop flights went way up; the difference is that far more are on Southwest and JetBlue.

I think American's doing precisely the wrong thing - the hub/spoke model is dying with high fuel prices. (short flights to/from hubs are the least efficient given how much fuel it takes to take off/land compared to cruising, and the fact that bigger planes are more efficient).

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

That's interesting. Do you think that trend will continue? SW and JB? Seems to me that it might get a little tighter as Oil Marches to $200

arcady said...

Hub and spoke is more efficient, because you have fewer destinations from each non-hub city, and can balance the load better and keep planes more full, and use larger planes too. Of course strict hub and spoke isn't good either: it makes sense to have direct flights on busier routes. Also, it's becoming uneconomical to operate the small 50-seat regional jets, which again means fewer flights with bigger planes.

I think sooner or later, though, some airline will realize that they can contract railroads to provide local connecting service just like they do with the regional airlines, but cheaper. Continental is already doing this to a limited extent at EWR. Maybe Southwest will decide to start a service from PHL to New York Penn, or possibly from PVD to Boston, since those are both major cities that they do not serve directly. And with the Atlantic City Express, NJT has shown that it's willing to run trains for someone else, so it's not all that implausible.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I have thought that perhaps airlines would want to start a new HSR business. A friend of mine said however that since its a different business model, they wouldn't want to. But it seems to me that they would be able to reach more cities. I also mentioned on another blog that a way to sell a national transit strategy is to include HSR to many smaller cities. Places like Modesto, Fresno and Bakersfield, Waco, College Station would see better service with these lines and folks in between don't have to go as far to hop on from the rural areas.

M1EK said...

In today's world, hub/spoke means you get regional jets or small planes - so it's only theoretical that hub/spoke is more efficient; in practical terms it's clearly not. And again the smaller cruising range compared to takeoff/landing time still has an effect even in a world where the hub/spoke flights were all on very efficient planes.

If it were so gosh-darn efficient, the legacies wouldn't be getting killed by JetBlue/Southwest everywhere they fly.

arcady said...

In today's world, what's really happening is that fuel is becoming the biggest cost for airlines, rather than airplanes or labor. It's no longer cost effective to replace one 150 seat plane with three 50-seat ones with pilots earning minimum wage, and there isn't nearly as much advantage to starting up a new airline with fresh pilots at the bottom of the pay scale and no union agreements. What this means in terms of actual route structure, well, we'll just have to see, but whatever it is, I suspect there's going to be a whole lot of 50-seat regional jets parked in the desert soon, replaced with bigger RJs and mainline aircraft, and probably it just won't be economical anymore to operate the very short haul flights.