Thursday, August 6, 2009

High Speed Rail for the Masses

Yesterday was such an HSR frenzy that I thought it should be documented:

First, David Lazarus questions whether transit will work in the United States. He talked to some "experts":
He said investments in transit projects need to be accompanied by policies designed to make driving costlier and thus make public transportation more attractive. These policies include significantly higher charges for parking virtually wherever you go and the increased use of toll roads.
I don't like this frame. You mean we need to charge what they really cost. It's not like we would inflate the cost just for the heck of it to some arbitrary number. I guess we could, but really if people just realized how much that garage spot cost or how much the roads really cost things would be much different. Lazarus concludes:
I hate to be cynical, but I simply can't imagine political leaders at the local, state or federal level telling voters that they support a big increase in gas taxes, sky-high parking fees and high-density neighborhoods.
There's a lack of supply of those types of neighborhoods. I really wish people would realize this. It's not that some people don't want to live in these types of environments. It's that for the most part it's illegal. That we need to change.

But a question I had coming out of it is whether HSR can really be called "transit". We don't call air travel transit do we? It seems to me like a kind of grey area. How do you define what transit is and what it isn't. Lazarus was also on NPR's Marketplace.
The head of Ryanair is obviously going to jump up and down and hold his breath if the UK government states that all short haul flights should be by train. Obviously not all trips can be by train but England really shouldn't be hop skipping inside the country when there is a faster alternative.
Rob talks Intercity buses. They are cheap and becoming more plentiful. I don't see them being an alternative to rail as some believe. Rob also talks Bent Flyvbjerg. Many people use his work to say we shouldn't do megaprojects. Rob must be back to posting more. Free time?
That China place is rocking along with their HSR lines. Many places that were super far apart have halfed their travel time between the two. In such a large country, HSR will bring them closer.
Glaeser. I've heard he's a good economist. How come everything I read from him that's politically tinged is awful. Ryan explains.


Justin said...

Ryanair is also saying that passenger are willing to STAND on airplanes for a substantially lower price!

Gotta hand it to O'leary. He knows just how much money he will lose if UK build a true HSR system.

njh said...

There is an implicit cultural assumption that planes pay for themselves whereas HSR needs subsidy. Of course in reality, operational costs such as policing, TSA, airport maintenance and ATC are funded by the govt. airport construction is funded by govt loans (often with negative interest), the fuel is tax free, the R&D costs paid by the military and the true ticket price mucher higher than first appears.

People say that you can get cheap airfares, but having tried several times, I can assure you that such fares are very rare indeed. Try actually booking a flight from SF to NY on a cheap fare site sometime, you'll discover that mysteriously all the tickets become unavailable. clear your cookies, and they're all cheap again!

Matt Fisher said...

Does Ryanair's British competitor, EasyJet, do it too? (Ryanair is an Irish company.) Does Southwest Airlines, which long opposes HSR in Texas, do it as well?

Justin, my man,
Very funny. :) I couldn't leave out the assumption that cars "literally pay for themselves".

Jon said...

doesnt ryanair want to charge for the bathroom? people may think these low fare carriers are good for air travel but really they are slowly killing the industry. these dirt cheap carriers have managed to create a race to the bottom within the air travel industry and in doing so have made air travel painful and widely hated by the public with their nickel and dimeing and bare bones service. and the air fare game that airlines play just makes everyone so concerned with cost because they dont want to get screwed and pay $500 for a short hop flight. if the airfares werent so varied and unpredictable people wouldnt care so much about getting a good deal... now no one knows what the fair price is for a given flight since it varies so much.

glaeser? he is most definitely a right wing libertarian economist. he writes for the american enterprise institute such as on housing... AEI is not only a right wing think tank but is where cheney criticized obama several months ago (remember back when cheney wouldnt shut up).

Andrew said...

Even with aviation things have gone from being "Jet Set" to just plane "Air Bus".

Robert said...

I have to disagree that the gas tax _does not_ need to be set arbitrarily. I would hold that drivers already pay the full cost of their driving.

Highways are paid for with the gas tax, so that's covered. City streets are paid for out of the general fund, but it's not like city streets still wouldn't be needed.

They wouldn't need as much maintenance if folks say, road bikes, but it's not clear how much this cost would be. But I'll indulge the premise of your argument -- if the government were to set the gas price to provide funding for city streets and roads, would the gas price here in California reach the $5/gal level that seemed to push folks onto mass transit last summer? I find that hard to believe, frankly.

Indeed, I think the European model of pushing gas prices arbitrarily and uni-laterally high enough to discourge driving would be necessary. The true costs of driving are just not high enough, even if all of them are put onto drivers.

Alon Levy said...

Highways are paid for with the gas tax, so that's covered.

Not true - in Texas, the most cost-effective roads generate half as much revenue in gas tax as it costs to build and maintain them, and most other roads generate much less.

City streets are paid for out of the general fund, but it's not like city streets still wouldn't be needed.

City streets the way they're constructed today wouldn't be needed. Just compare the streets of Lower Manhattan and Back Bay to those of Houston and Dallas and you'll see the difference.

The true costs of driving are just not high enough, even if all of them are put onto drivers.

You're ignoring the costs of pollution. Greg Mankiw calculates that to offset tailpipe emissions excluding the effect of global warming, the gas tax would have to be raised by $2.21 per gallon.

Robert said...

Thanks, Alon. I can't believe that I'm reading this on a TxDOT website...