Transportation headlines, Wednesday, July 11

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

Are state and local mass transit projects really job creators? (L.A. Observed)

The post is mostly a transcript of a segment on KPCC featuring L.A. Observed business editor Mark Lacter, who asks and attempts to answer a good question: how many jobs do big infrastructure projects really generate? As Lacter puts it, the total number of jobs is often open to different interpretations and the number of people working on a project at any given time is usually a different (read: lesser) number than the estimates.

What high-speed rail means for So Cal in the next decade (L.A. Streetsblog)

Damien Newton rightly points out that the Legislature’s approval of bond money for the project also includes dollars for local projects in the Bay Area and Southern California that help tie the bullet train tracks into local transit systems. In our area, that could mean money for some double tracking of Metrolink lines and station upgrades for Palmdale and Anaheim.

Is California’s high-speed rail project on track or off the rails (L.A. Times)

Columnist Patt Morrison doesn’t really answer the question in this opinion piece, but tries to draw parallels to other big, ambitious projects that cost a lot of money and may also have done some good. And she includes this good kicker, which I think neatly summarizes the moral quandary facing the state over the project:

High-speed rail could wind up as a techno-evolutionary dead end, or it could be a model for the nation, one for which future Californians will bless us.

That’s why government undertakes big, important, useful things: because no one else can, or will.

As for high-speed rail, in a way, there’s no wrong vote on it, and no right vote, either, except through the rear-view mirror of history, when people either will be lionized or reviled for their decisions. And there are perfectly sound reasons for legislators to vote either way. But none of those reasons should be a timidity of ambition or narrowness of vision.



15 replies

  1. mark r. johnston,

    Ideally that would be the case from our POV, but issues are never one-sided. Let’s look at this from Japan, France, and Germany’s perspective.

    What do they gain from this? Japan, France, and Germany are as much as robust capitalist nations as the US; being said that, they’re not going to do this for free, and they are not going to do this just for an one-time deal.

    In the eyes of Japan, Germany, and France, building HSR project and being paid for that is nothing. It’s a drop in a bucket in contrast to their economic size. Building HSR from their eyes is only an one time deal. What they want is long term assurance of long term profit gains.

    Here’s the biggest thing with high speed rail: unlike cars, HSR cars are built to last for years. Unlike buying a new Toyota every five years, a high speed rail car built by Kawasaki can last upwards of twenty, thirty years or more.

    If CA starts running the Shinkansen bullet trains built by Kawasaki from 2020, Kawasaki ain’t going to see another sale until 2050 or more. And that’s also depending on whether the high speed rail project in CA is going to be a success or not.

    So how do they want to ensure that CAHSR will be profitable enough that they’ll be sure to buy newer Kawasaki trains more often? Kawasaki will want to become a majority shareholder of CAHSR, Inc.

    Simply said, things are not going to go smoothly so long as there’s a government interest on the one side and the other is private for-profit companies. Companies in Japan, France, and Germany are out there to make profit.

  2. In the beginning, I would have had Japan, Germany and France look over what we wanted to do, give us a proposal, we pick the best, then put it out to bids. Leave the politicians , hordes of consultants and attorneys out of it. Get a good solid plan, then let the engineers figure the best way to do it and move on to construction. Japan runs through earthquake zones, France runs through hills and valleys and Germany runs through farm lands and intense build up urban areas. We have all these issues in California. We are on the verge of blowing this big time. Is it to late to call them for help ?

  3. Eduardo A.,

    Private enterprise and competition is the best way to go. They don’t have to rely on taxes and all their investments are at risk. They will need to provide good service at an affordable price to grab market share.

    Government on the other hand, nothing is at risk. Good service or bad service, it’s still tax payer money. There is no competition so they can do whatever they want. They can push off the debt to future Americans (i.e. Measure R+), print more useless money, and increase the size of the national debt to whatever they want.

  4. I don’t care if it’s done by government or private company, so long as it’s cheap, affordable, efficient and doesn’t make my taxes go any higher.

    Bottom line:
    If it’s gonna cost me in taking away 20% of my paycheck, forget it.
    If it’s going to cost me $10 per ride whether I ride it for a mile or twenty miles, forget it.
    If it’s going to take me anything over five minutes for the next bus or train to come, forget it.
    If it’s going to take me over an hour just to cover the distance I can get done in less than fifteen minutes with a car, forget it.

    So who’s up to providing this the best way? Government or private enterprise?

  5. Joaquin,

    “We need some adults to intervene.”

    No what we need is to kick out politicians from anything to do with mass transit and replace them with transit officials who know how to plan and run them. All politicians care about is about getting re-elected. That’s why they don’t care about rational plans.

    When they hear “free money from the feds,” it means “I want a piece of that pie for my constituents to ensure my re-election.”

    They don’t give a cahoot about transportation, they know basically nothing about mass transit. Why would they? They get chaffeured around in their taxpayer funded limos.

  6. “Also, I am sure you do realize that Amtrak was started after the private railroads basically begged the government to take them over because they were losing money.”

    You can’t apply the failure of private rail transportation in the past as an example that government assistance is still needed. Times change.

    Rail competed against horses back in the 1850s. Horse drive buggies were driven out to extinction by the early 1900s.

    Then came cheap gas, the private automobile, and the airplane. Private rail were driven out by them by the late 1960s and early 1970s. Amtrak was then created to subsidize our nation’s rail system because passenger rail service could not compete against cheap gas, the freedom of the private automobile, and the airplane.

    But as much as the 1850s are different from 1960s, so is 2012 totally different from 1960s and 1970s.

    We don’t have cheap gas any more. Owning a car is more of a hassle these days. Our nation’s air traffic is congested and we’re the only country in the world that is stupid enough to rely on aircraft to get between intra-city distances of less than 500 miles like LA to San Francisco.

    Because of this, privatization or at least competition with private mass transit can be restored. But government doesn’t even allow competition to take place.

    Why should Amtrak Acela be the only one to run rail between Boston and Washington DC? Why can’t JR come in and kick Acela’s butt with better service?

    Why should LA Metro be the only one to run mass transit in LA? Why can’t a private firm from Singapore come in to compete head-to-head with Metro?

    See, it’s all about government protecting their transportation monopoly because it’s the best way to keep sucking our tax dollars with remarks like “no one wants to do it, so we are entitled to do it ourselves (so fork over more of your paychecks!)”

  7. “That’s why government undertakes big, important, useful things: because no one else can, or will.”

    Except numerous companies around the world have tried to help the State of California design and build the high-speed rail line, only for their advice to fall on deaf government ears. As was said in the LA Times article about the frustration of French firm TGV, California is completely blowing it by trying to build a rail line from scratch and picking routes that simply aren’t financially tenable.

    We need some adults to intervene.

  8. @ Steve P

    “This was an odd comparison to make, not only because Amtrak is operationally profitable in the Northeast Corridor, but also because Virgin’s history of operating trains in the U.K. has not been scot-free. Though ridership has increased more than expected, on-time performance of Virgin trains have never reached levels above 90%. Instead of paying £1 billion to the government as originally planned in the contract, the company actually received what were effectively £590 million in operating subsidies between 2002 and 2006, according to the National Audit Office (much of which was due to the government’s own poor contract writing).”

  9. Steven P. said “The less government has to deal with running Acela, the more funds will be available to focus on those other “pointless” routes.”

    This is a blank statement with no facts behind it. Acela makes money which helps subsidize other Amtrak routes, especially those in the middle of the country as others have pointed out, which is why private enterprise like Virgin is interested in Acela. Take away Acela and Amtrak would need even more subsidies because you would take away their revenue from their one money maker so your statement is completely backwards.

    Also, I am sure you do realize that Amtrak was started after the private railroads basically begged the government to take them over because they were losing money. Amtrak requiring subsidies is no different from when the private railroads subsidized them through their freight earnings. Privatizing is no magic bullet.

  10. GaryB,

    Your line of thinking is along the lines of “let’s still use taxes to provide welfare, EBT, social security, Obamacare and Medicaid/Medicare to Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Michael Dell, Warren Buffett, The Walton Family and Mark Zuckerberg because even though they can clearly sustain themselves own their own, they are also help bringing in money into the pot to keep such social welfares intact.”

    Wouldn’t America be better off just cutting off social welfare for the multi-billionaires who could get by on their own and actually spend the tax dollars to re-distribute it those that need it the most?

    The same thing with Acela. It’s profitable, there’s no need for government assistance. Sell it off to Richard Branson and privatize it. The government funds that used to go to Acela can then be used to double track the LOSSAN Pacific Surfliner corridor instead. And when the Pacific Surfliner becomes profitable, sell that off, privatize it and focus the funds on other regions like the Austin-Dallas-Houston Texas Triangle, so and so forth.

    This is why increasing number of Americans are beginning to become disillusioned with some liberals. The stuff that comes out their mouths don’t make any sense at all.

  11. “The reason why Amtrak won’t give up the Acela route is because its profits are basically cross-subsidizing all the horrible, expensive, pointless rural routes it is forced to run by the government.”

    The less government has to deal with running Acela, the more funds will be available to focus on those other “pointless” routes.

    If Virgin can pay for their own set of rail cars through profits of their own, then the existing rail cars can then be used to increase frequencies in other “pointless” areas like Chicago-St. Louis or Seattle-Portland.

    The government’s role is to help America, not make taxpayers be forever beholden to it.

  12. @ Steven P

    The reason why Amtrak won’t give up the Acela route is because its profits are basically cross-subsidizing all the horrible, expensive, pointless rural routes it is forced to run by the government.

  13. “That’s why government undertakes big, important, useful things: because no one else can, or will.”

    No, government just wants to keep their transit monopoly because it’s a guarantee to milk taxpayers for more money. There are a lot of private companies outside of the US who’d be willing to take upon privatized mass transit.

    Sir Richard Branson of the Virgin Enterprise has many times expressed interest in buying out Amtrak Acela and making it a private enterprise. Yet the US government refuses to give up the monopoly and repeats the same BS that “no one is willing to do it so we have to do it” and that there’s a “conflict of interest.” Gee I wonder why.

    With government at the helm it’ll take them 50 years to do something that if Amtrak Acela were bought by Virgin, could be done in less than 10 years.

  14. Mass transit in America aren’t real job creators as these “jobs” are more like “make work programs” funded by tax dollars.

    Real job creators are those that companies can hire on their own using their own money. Apple does not use tax funds to hire researchers or initiate a project to build the next iPad or iPhone; those come from profits from Apple products and shareholder investments from Apple stock.

    That’s the biggest difference.

    In order for mass transit to be a true job creator, they need to start making profit on their own and start using their own profits to create jobs and fund their own projects just like Apple.