In the year and a half that Taiwan High Speed Rail has been in operation it has captured a significant chunk of the island's domestic travel market. It has already achieved profitability and now the island's airlines are reeling:
Since the high-speed railway service began, half of the air routes between Taipei City and the country's western cities have been discontinued, with those from the capital to Taichung and Chiayi closed last year and the one to Tainan ended in August. While flights between Taipei and the southern cities of Kaohsiung, Pingtung and Hengchun--home to Kenting National Park--are still in service, operators recently stated that their future is uncertain, with reductions or cancellations being considered.
Mandarin Airlines, a subsidiary of Taiwan's China Airlines, is the only company still running flights between Taipei and Kaohsiung--once the nation's most lucrative domestic route that was also operated by three other local airlines, Uni Air, TransAsia Airways and Far Eastern Air Transport (FAT). Despite reducing its Taipei-Kaohsiung service to one flight per day Aug. 16, Mandarin Airlines also applied to the Civil Aeronautics Administration under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications to pull out from the route as of Sept. 1.
"Summer is supposed to be the peak season of air travel, but our passenger occupancy rate is barely over 50 percent," said Irving Hsu, spokesman for Mandarin Airlines. "Airlines cannot survive with occupancy rates lower than 60 percent. It is increasingly difficult to maintain operations as more travelers now choose to take THSR's trains," Hsu explained.
Soaring ridership is the global rule and should finally put to bed any lingering argument that California high speed rail will have any problem meeting ridership projections.
The Taiwan Journal article I linked above used the headline "Romance of rail jeopardizes domestic air routes." But I'm not sure it's romance that's at work here. Instead it's likely simple efficiency and common sense. High speed rail is a fast, reliable way to travel. It's easier to do work on a train - you can make calls, perhaps get WiFi, and not be as crowded in as you are on a coach airline seat (with my 6'2" frame it's nearly impossible for me to even open my laptop fully). HSR trains usually serve city centers, whereas airports are typically located on the urban fringe by necessity.
Taiwan's experience, alongside that of Spain, France, and Japan (to name but a few) proves that if given a choice between flying and taking a high speed train, many if not most travelers will choose the train.
What of the economic impact on the airlines? They are already in crisis, and already cutting flights between LA and SF. US carriers are shifting their business model to emphasize medium and long-haul flights, and smaller cities like Fresno are in jeopardy of losing air service entirely. In this context HSR helps fill a vacuum for Californians and helps get the airlines make a shift they're already looking to make. The fact that no airline is spending a dime to fight Prop 1A should suggest how they really feel about it.
Additionally, the carriers that serve intra-California routes are not dependent on those routes. The days of PSA and AirCal are long gone, and even Southwest can survive without the LA-SF corridor.
High speed rail is essential to California's future. The airlines cannot be relied on to provide us fast, cheap transportation with our state. If we act now and pass Prop 1A we can ensure that California has affordable transportation for decades to come - an absolute necessity to a prosperous and competitive 21st century economy.