Friday, August 15, 2008

HSR Grabs 30% of Market in Six Months

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Spain's AVE high speed train service was finally completed between Madrid and Barcelona earlier this year, with the first passengers riding in February. Since then the line has taken 30% of the travel market between Madrid and Barcelona, which was one of the world's busiest air corridors. That's a stunning level of ridership that is surely going to grow as more Spaniards become used to the service.

The Madrid-Barcelona line shares many similarities to the California high speed rail project. It connects the two major metro areas of the polity (sorry, Sevilla) in 2 hours 40 minutes - and even though a flight between the two is about an hour, Spanish travelers are flocking to HSR. Like California, the Madrid-Barcelona line serves a few intermediate-size cities - Zaragoza, Lleida, and Tarragona are sort of like San José, Fresno, and Bakersfield (though not necessarily in that order, and surely not culturally). As Matt Melzer explained last month, Spain's population densities are much like those here in California and a third of the ridership on the AVE trains was "induced demand" - new travelers brought out by the promise of fast and comfortable rail travel.

Lest we think that Europeans are somehow different than Americans in their travel habits, the Acela has over 40% of the market on the Northeast Corridor between Washington DC and Boston, despite the fact that the Acela isn't true high speed rail. Here on California's intercity trains ridership is booming, straining the existing capacity of Amtrak California. Standing room only is now common on many Capitol Corridor and Pacific Surfliner trains, and LA Metro Rail continues to set new ridership records.

As gas prices will continue to rise well into the future, causing airlines to cut back on flights and charge higher fares for those that remain, demand for high speed trains will only continue to rise. If ridership is already this high on Spain's and America's high speed trains, imagine how it will look here in California in ten years' time.

If Californians want a fast and affordable way to get around their state in the years to come, they need to vote for Prop 1.


Michael said...

Only difference is that when you get to Madrid, you're in the center of one of the largest metro systems in the world, similarly with Barcelona. You don't need a car when you get there.

On the other hand, except for downtown San Franciso, visiting car-free in the Bay Area or in LA is less than desirable.

Spokker said...

And flying just keeps getting worse.

Spokker said...

"On the other hand, except for downtown San Franciso, visiting car-free in the Bay Area or in LA is less than desirable."

The metro system is the same whether you fly in or take a train. People who travel by high speed rail can either use public transit or rent a car, same as they do now with flying.

But I don't agree with you that transit in the Bay Area is less than desirable. I just got back from a car-free trip to the Bay Area and we had a great time getting around on Caltrain, Muni and BART. If we had wanted to visit outlying places where transit doesn't go, we would have rented a car.

As for LA, it largely depends on where you are going. Transit can be either really good or really bad.

Brandon in California said...

The main LA station will be at Union Station. There are robust transit facilities there.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

This also shows the issue with how critics talk about transit systems. Here you have a corridor for which you are comparing the share. In transit systems, critics are always trying to paint the line into a corner that it must relieve the share for the whole region. When seen on the corridor that its serving it works really well. We need to start changing the frames.

Brandon in California said...

^^^ I understand your comment very well. Often, critics say transit only caries a small portion of the traveling public; often citing a figure between 1% and 3%.

However, and it is a big however, transit carries a much larger share in corridors where it is provided in a quality fashion. The share in these corridors can be extra-ordinary.

For example, BART says they carry as many passengers across the SF Bay that is equivalent to one deck of the SF Bay Bridge. That is probably an extreme case, 33% ?, but elsewhere the mode split can get upwards of 20% or so along major corridors where quality transit is provided. Or, downtown areas.

And, the original argument is really unfair to compare. Roads go every where and are connected to every persons home and driveway.

Transit has limited funding and in order to be effecient and productive it must be direct and frequent, and not take side deviations and circuitious routings in to cul de sacs and low density areas. That's not good service for thru riders.

It's really comparing apples to oranges to argue mode split.

Granted this argument is more local than related to intercity travel.

Rafael said...

@ michael -

your point is well taken. However, what makes you so sure that the California cities that will have HSR stations will not upgrade and expand their transit systems, modify their zoning laws etc?

The truth is, every one of them has grand plans for new local transit projects. The question is if voters will approve local sales tax hikes to fund them. Santa Clara county has been struggling with the ever-increasing cost of the planned BART extension. Perhaps voters will have the good sense to hit the reset button and force a VTA-run bus rapid transit network with routes that criss-cross the Golden Triangle.

If funds for light and heavy rail cannot be found, will planners look to privately operated sharecabs and light buses? Will they sell billboard space to fund a Velib' service, possibly using electric bicycles?

Unfortunately, neither CHSRA nor anyone else has pulled together a web portal linked to the transit and urban development plans of each of the cities that will be served by HSR.

Tony D. said...

Great post and information regarding Spain. However, respectfully, one slight error: San Jose is no longer an "intermediate-size" city, as the population of the nations 10th largest city now exceeds 1 million. It's defenitely not on par with Fresno or Bakersfield. Again, great stuff!

Anonymous said...

Everything in this thread is so positive on HSR

What about acknowledging that oil just sunk to $111 per barrel today and all those earlier posts that were going to drive everyone to use rail rather than driving because of un-stoppable rising gas prices, just doesn't hold water.

Robert Cruickshank said...

What about it, anon? Did you read this post explaining why your criticisms are baseless?

Unknown said...

I'm sorry but oil at $111 isnt cheap. That still leaves us with $3.50 a gallon of gas. I realize it feels good when the price of gas dips below $4 but try to remember when the price shot past $3 and how that felt to fill up then.

Ridership is dependent on a whole list of factors. Price of oil is obviously a huge one, but a reliable fair-priced and quick alternative is the biggest ridership boost hands down.

Quoting todays 'lower' oil price as reason not to support HSR is like celebrating the low tide as the savior of your sand castle.

Brandon in California said...

AB 3034 would provide the following ballot language for Proposition 1 or 1A:


Provides long-distance commuters with a safe, convenient, affordable, and reliable alternative to driving and high gas prices.
Reduces traffic congestion on the state’s highways and at the state’s airports.
Reduces California’s dependence on foreign oil.
Reduces air pollution and global warming greenhouse gases.
Establishes a clean, efficient 220 MPH transportation system.
Improves existing passenger rail lines serving the state’s major population centers.
Provides for California’s growing population.
Provides for a bond issue of $9.95 billion to establish high-speed train service linking Southern California counties, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area.
Provides that at least 90% of these bond funds shall be spent for specific construction projects, with federal and private sector matching funds required.
Requires that use of all bond funds is subject to independent audits.
Appropriates money from the General Fund to pay bond principal and interest.”

Spokker said...

"What about acknowledging that oil just sunk to $111 per barrel today and all those earlier posts that were going to drive everyone to use rail rather than driving because of un-stoppable rising gas prices, just doesn't hold water."

How about acknowledging that gas prices always go down at the end of the Summer.

Anonymous said...

I just saw this on the Bayrail Alliance website:

"Despite the timing of the lawsuit, we consider the litigation, the project itself (other than the Bay Area-Central Valley alignment) and the bond measure to be separate issues. We continue to support the High Speed Rail project and Proposition 1."

無名 - wu ming said...

the funny thing is that the people lauding the "cheap" $110 a barrel oil were the same people who told us over and over that there was no way oil would ever reach $100.

another point they may be unintentionally making: the current drop in oil prices is in part due to a decline in driving/flying and thus oil consumption driven by the high price of gas, as people use ... wait for it ... alternative modes of transportation.

thus, building a HSR alternative to long distance drives and short-haul flights may well help to bring down gas prices (or at least slow their ascent) in the medium term.

Spokker said...

So the price of gas goes back down to $3.50. Maybe even $3. People drive more. People get off the bus or train and back into their cars. People buy less fuel efficient cars. Oil consumption goes up.

Bam. We are right back to $4 a gallon gas and beyond.

Saying, "hay guyz, gas is down lol have fun with ur gay trains rofl *drives off*" is just a dumb argument.

Gas near my house is $3.86. Still riding on Metrolink.

Though it is kind of irritating that fares went up because of the price of diesel but God forbid they lower the fares now that oil is back down for a little while...

Anonymous said...

(sorry was posted in the wrong thread)

Oil fell to its lowest price in three months Friday, briefly touching the $111 level after the dollar muscled higher and OPEC predicted the world's thirst for fuel next year will fall to its lowest point since 2002.
The article from AP, suggests that "
Oil fell to its lowest price in three months Friday, briefly touching the $111 level after the dollar muscled higher and OPEC predicted the world's thirst for fuel next year will fall to its lowest point since 2002."

So now in spite of what has been written here regarding always expanding needs for oil nad
constantly rising oil prices, we will be headed back 7 years in consumption.

You raise prices enough and the market reacts. By the time the project would ever get built,
autos coming off the line will be at 40 GPH and above. The project proposed savings in CO2 and less fossil fuels burning, will prove to be bogus. The state will be saddled with operating losses and debt service payments for generations to come.

The project has no merit. Its time to get the word out. Don't take what available funds can be had which would go to mitigate existing traffic and congestion, and spend
them on this ill conceived project.

Tony D. said...

These anon naysayers, "the price of oil is falling and this project sucks!," never cease to amaze me. Do country's with HSR have to put up with all this lack of vision BS? It seems with record profits and ridership, HSR is doing just fine in other parts of the world and would do just fine here. I just can't see some Frenchman or Spaniard making naysaying arguments against must be an American thing. By the way, go over to Bay Rail Alliance and read their pathetic defense of the NIMBY/"we didn't get Altamont!" lawsuit. I've already gave them a piece of my mind. Transit advocacy group?...what a joke!

Robert Cruickshank said...

As far as I can tell, anon is so desperate to kill trains that he's now becoming self-contradicting. If oil prices can only fall by reducing consumption, isn't that an argument FOR high speed rail? Because otherwise demand destruction cannot be sustained without massive economic damage. Without an alternative to driving and flying, people simply won't travel, and that will hurt the California economy quite seriously.

Also, OPEC's statements on prices have not been credible for the last ten years. They are virtually alone in predicting a price collapse to 2002 levels.

In any case, gas prices aren't the only HSR argument - otherwise why would HSR be seeing high ridership all around the world, including here in the US (the Acela)?!

Anonymous said...

Well even if gas goes back to 2bucks gallon ..or cars get 40mpg it will do nothing to free us from imported oil. And what about traffic ..LAX..SFO ect ect.MY friend went to LA this week and he reported it took 4hours from the time he walked out his door to the hotel..and it was a pain in the neck he reported..That why 57-62 percent of the voters what HSR!!

Anonymous said...

dear anonymous, I think this Farley chap explains your mistake quite well:

Blogger Brandon M. Farley said...

The price of oil is based on supply and demand. Users got whalloped over the past few months and demand for driving autos has taken a holiday of late.

Ironically, users increasingly used alternative transportation as we have seen rail and other transit use spike.

Your argument has no merit.

August 16, 2008 10:18 AM