Five things I’m thinking about transportation, Jan. 18 edition

REGIONAL CONNECTOR: I think it was nice to see the final environmental study for the Regional Connector be released the other day. Although public review and approval from the Board of Directors is still required, it’s the fourth major environmental study of a Measure R project to be completed since the public voted for the half-cent sales tax increase in 2008 — the others are the Crenshaw/LAX Line, the Gold Line Foothill Extension and the Expo Line’s second phase.

The Westside Subway Extension’s final study is also due to be released soon. Yes, construction is sexier, but these exhaustive and furniture-sized studies are required by law and must be done first.

As for the Connector, I recommend taking a look at the study. When all is said and done in the coming years, Metro will have spent more than $3 billion on building the Expo Line to Santa Monica, the Gold Line to Azusa and the Blue Line to Long Beach.

The Connector ties those lines together in downtown Los Angeles and by greatly reducing the need for transfers and allowing more frequent service, the Connector will shave time off the commute of anyone traveling into downtown Los Angeles or through it.


THREE THOUGHTS ON HIGH SPEED RAIL’S LATEST SPEED BUMPS: Last week’s meeting of the Board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority was mostly a sleepy affair (judging by a few napping audience members) when the Authority’s CEO and Board Chair both announced they were stepping down. That, of course, inspired a fresh round of media stories about the project and whether it would be built.

My perspective — with an emphasis that these are my views and not the agency’s:

•There are clearly critics of the project in the state who suffer a failure of imaganation when it comes to California’s transportation future. There are clearly proponents of the project who suffer from their unwillingness to put actions behind words and propose a realistic way to fund the bullet train. At this point, it feels to me as if we’ve reached a stalemate without enough voices on either side to get it built or kill it.

•To me, the greatest problem to date is the lack of a Plan B. Flawed language in the state bill that allowed the high-speed rail bond package to go to voters in 2008 required that the train must be able to travel between San Francisco and the L.A. area in 2.5 hours. As this L.A. Times story explains, that kind of speed has greatly elevated the cost of the project to the point where it’s facing an $86-billion shortfall.

•And what could be a plan B? Perhaps a plan to build a train that would take five hours or so to connect San Francisco or Los Angeles. Amtrak is already enormously popular in California even though it takes half a day (literally — 11-plus hours) at present to travel between L.A. and Oakland on Amtrak. I suspect cutting that time in half would still result in higher-speed rail and attract many riders who would rather not drive or fly. Problem is, we don’t know how much that would cost because the bullet train studies have focused on the most expensive option — a 220 mph bullet train.

EXPO LINE: I’m pleased that today we’re publishing the first of many posts on destinations reachable via the first phase of the Expo Line. I still don’t know when it’s opening — sorry, no insider info here — but I do think as testing has ramped up it’s time to take a look beyond the actual project to the neighborhoods it will serve.


12 replies

  1. Martin,

    Zonal fares and distance fares are two different things. Zones just create problems and make things more difficult like you mentioned; if a short journey happens to cross two different zones, you’re SOL.

    Distance fares on the other hand have no zones. It’s just straight-shot fare based on how far you travel wherever you are in the city. Just load up whatever you want on to your TAP card ($10, $20, $50, $100, your choice) and just tap-in, tap-out, deduct based on distance.

    It keeps deducting every tap-out, $0.50 for a short ride like one or two stops away, $1.00 for a bit longer ride for about a 5 mile distance, maybe $1.50 for a mid distance ride up to 10 miles, and $2.00 for a longer trip for anything over 10 miles. There are no zonal boundaries like London or Portland, all you pay is the distance between point A and point B.

    Just look at the fare structure of how Taipei run on a distance system.

    They have no zones but it’s straight forward: load up whatever you want onto your prepaid EasyCard and tap-in (data point where you got on), tap-out (data point where you got off) and the price is deducted from the card based on distance (data point on tap-out minus tap-in).

  2. Nothing is wrong with requiring a fast trip from SF to LA on HSR. Travel time is an absolute key feature for HSR to be successful.

  3. Frank and James, I agree that a high base fare penalizes those who want to make one short journey. That wasn’t the system I was advocating. Some large cities (eg Portland, Oregon) have zonal fares, but that does penalize those whose two or three stops happen to cross a zone boundary. A timed system would keep the current base fare (or whatever that fare has become by the time the Connector opens) for journeys – with or without transfers – where the last transfer (the last time you tap in) could be completed in a relatively short time. Higher fares would apply for journeys involcing transfers which took longer.

    It would be relatively simple (and mean many fares would cost roughly what they do now), if just three fares were proposed, but you’d have to be able to load a single fare on to a tap card. From the ticket machine or the bus driver, you’d load either a $1.50 fare (which would be valid for the shorter time up to the final tap – 6O minutes? 90 minutes? – or until the end of a one line journey, no matter how long it takes) or, say, a $2.50 fare (which would be valid for up to 2 hours or maybe even a little more), or a day pass for unlimited journeys. One journey and day passes would cost no more than they do now, but there would be a saving for those who had to transfer on a relatively short journey.

    The only reason for suggesting something like this is that the Connector, precisely, is going to lead to a situation where two lines use the same tracks, so it isn’t actually going to feel as though you’ve changed lines. Getting off your train and then finding and going to the platform entrance, tapping in again and coming back on to the same platform will not come naturally and people will think they can just continue their journey on another train from the same platform without doing so. But the present fare structure doesn’t allow that.

  4. Let me say that I love European train travel, especially intercity or commuter travel. So fast and reliable, you just know it boosts productivity, stokes innovation, and well, it simply feels like the future (if you come from the States).
    When we passed the HSR initiative, I had no such confidence that we could do it here. Not in the States, and specifically not in CA. The HSR Authority, IMO, confirmed the critics’ suspicions when it became clear that it was abusing the public trust.
    I’ve always felt that we’re presented with a false choice: Like sausage, it’s ugly what goes into it, sure, but what’s the alternative – to starve?
    The many challenges that we face suggest that this cannot be one of our priorities, I believe. Not when we’re disappearing the safety net, or making imprudent business tax breaks, or giving away cash for cars that folks will buy anyway. It’s no way to run a state, and Brown’s doubling-down on HSR offers no additional confidence in that regard.
    That said, if we took it out of the Authority’s hands and handed over $50b to SNCF or DB, I’d be much more confident that at least we’ll get some value for what we could otherwise put into schools, or home health care, whatever.

  5. A TAP-in, TAP-out system would be good.

    In the Chinatown-to-Jefferson example, you would TAP once when you entered the Chinatown Station and TAP again when you leave at Jefferson. You would not TAP when you transfer. The system should have a fare table to figure out how much you owe.

    As an added bonus, TAP-in, TAP-out could give Metro more accurate statistics on ridership.

    A $2 fare would penalize people who want to use the Regional Connector to shuttle between the convention center (Pico Sta.) and Little Tokyo during events like Anime Expo.

  6. Raising the fares to $2.00 or $2.50 for everyone on a “pay per ride” concept doesn’t fare well even with a free transfer involved as there are just as many people who only need one train or bus for a short distance to get where they are going. If we choose to follow that path, we’ll just end up becoming broke like NYMTA: constantly raising fares, asking for more tax hikes and wondering why they continuously run in the red.

    Not everyone lives and works far away. Not everyone works way out in the suburbs and commutes to Downtown LA. Not everyone fits into the demographic of living in East LA and working as a maid at Beverly Hills. There are just as many people who work and live closer to the city. Not everyone who work and live in the urban core fit into the “rich, tree hugging, bicycle loving hippies” demographic either.

    The truth is no one in LA fits into a single demographic. It’s more like a melting pot of varying lifestyles that differs from person to person. You have a low income person living in Florence who works at a factory in Vernon along the Blue Line two stations away. Is it fair to charge that person $2.00 or $2.50 now if all he needs is a short two station distance on just a single Blue Line? How about a waitress who lives in an apartment in Koreatown and works at a restaurant in Thai Town? And no, not everyone can resort to “why don’t you just walk or bike that short distance” either. Try living with a bullet from Vietnam stuck in your leg.

    IMO, the whole flat rate idea needs to be scrapped and we should just move on to distance fares. Tap-in, tap-out, and deduct the fare from the TAP card based on distance. The concept seems to work elsewhere in the world, notably transit agencies in Asia, we should just move to that. Distance fares is the only fair system that fits into the melting pot lifestyle in this vast city like LA.

  7. UK trains are rubbish, please don’t implement in California, let’s just move forward with CA•HSR and stick to the plan, begin building in the LOSSAN corridor or Capital Corridor instead of CenCal!

  8. Agreed with Martin on the fare structure problems. Raise the fares to $2 or $2.50, but then allow for free transfers within the Metro rail system and 2 hours with the buses.

  9. Something is going to have to be done about the ‘one line, one ride’ fare once the Connector is operational. Azusa to Long Beach will be $1.50 (or its equivalent), but Chinatown to, say, 23rd Street or Jefferson will be $3 (because, technically, they are on separate lines. At the moment, you tap in again when you change platforms. But at any of the stations between Little Tokyo and Pico, you won’t change platforms (that’s the whole point): you’ll just wait for the next train. If you have to go off in search of a machine to ‘tap’ again, the change becomes a lot more hassle (and, quite frankly, will people bother to do it). Perhaps the time to look at timed tickets with transfers included? The current base-fare could give you, say, 90 minutes from the first to last tap in (that’s about the average in most big cities), but if you wanted 2 hours or more of free transfers, you’d have to pay a higher fare.

  10. Mr. White, those studies were done a decade ago. That is when (for example) maglev was nixed. Upgrading the existing conventional rail routes is certainly a good interim measure but we should be able to build the real deal over time. All the uncertainty is one reason private funding and builder investment is not on the table yet…

  11. @ Steve White
    I completely agree with you about the build options. CAHSRA should be studying the possibility of Acela-type service or something akin to the British HST lines if full HSR cannot be implemented. At least then we could have a solid, reliable, fairly speedy rail system linking the metropolitan areas of this state which would be faster than driving and cheaper and more comfortable than flying.

  12. Why isn’t the HSR being studied like Metro studies its projects (I’m basing this on my experience studying the streetcar and attending those meetings…)?

    With a No-Build option, Transportation System Management Option, and multiple Build Alternatives. I know they’ve at least put out cost estimates for No-Build and TSM — but we should be studying various build options as well (not just routes). It seems there should be at least 3 different options for systems to build.