Tuesday, November 11, 2008

2008 A Record Setting Year for Ridership

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

At least here in California, according to Caltrans and Amtrak, who partner to operate the Amtrak California intercity routes:

Californians are leaving their cars, SUVs, vans, and trucks at home and riding trains instead in unprecedented numbers. Today, Caltrans and Amtrak reported a record-setting 5.5 million passengers rode California's state-supported intercity passenger trains in federal fiscal year 2008....

In 2007-08, the Pacific Surliner carried more than 2.89 million passengers, a seven percent increase from the preceding year.

In Northern California, Capitol Corridor (Auburn to San Jose) trains carried 1.69 million riders, an impressive 16.8 percent jump from the previous 12 months. Meanwhile nearly one million passengers (949,611) rode the San Joaquins service (Bakersfield to Sacramento/Oakland). This past July, ridership shot up a whopping 32 percent over July 2007, rising above 100,000 for the first time. The Capitol Corridor and the San Joaquins ranked as the nation's third busiest and sixth busiest lines, respectively.

Amtrak ridership in federal fiscal year 2008 increased to 28,716,407, marking the sixth straight year of gains and setting a record for the most passengers using Amtrak trains since the National Railroad Passenger Corporation started operations in 1971.

Some might cluck that this is just the product of the dramatic spike in gas prices that took place earlier this year and won't last. While that did fuel some of this ridership growth, ridership on Amtrak California routes has been steadily growing since 2002. Amtrak itself has set ridership records every year since 2002. There is every reason to believe ridership will continue to rise.

That growing ridership reflects a growing awareness among Californians of the value of passenger rail, and that was reflected in last week's election where most passenger rail proposals were approved by voters (Measure B in Santa Clara County, the BART funding plan, is still too close to call). In the article Eugene Skoropowski, managing director of the Capitol Corridor, noted that Prop 1B (passed in 2006) also intended money to be spent on rail expansion. Arnold Schwarzenegger's Department of Finance delayed this, using a flawed audit to claim new cars weren't necessary, but that has been reversed and new cars have been ordered.

We need to accelerate Prop 1A and Prop 1B rail funding. While we wait on federal matching funds for HSR - which we will press for in 2009 - California needs to wait for nobody to release the bond money for the other passenger rail projects that are awaiting funds. California legislators should make it a priority to spend that money as an infrastructure stimulus, as well as part of a long-term plan to grow rail in this state.

Record ridership is an opportunity to take passenger rail to the next level. Let's make sure our legislators follow through on it.


luis d. said...

On a side note to my last comment on the colors of the trains I think that we should be using the Siemens Velaro, ICE type of trains. I am sold after watching some video's on their trains. They look so comfortable and "spacy" as compared to the Japanese trains wich look like they crammed more seats in each car do to their high population and ridership. Watch this video from "renfe AVE".


Rafael said...

I just hope the legislature in Sacramento figures out that increased investment in existing heavy rail passenger services also means high operating subsidies for them. Unlike HSR, their far box returns are well below 100%.

Prop 1B(2006) and prop 1A(2008) do not justify a cut in regular transit funding. It's high time California changed its constitution such that balanced budgets can be passed with simple majorities.

Anonymous said...

I think the number one thing we could do to help retain riders on the existing lines would be to make sure they are all equipped with wireless internet. It seems a relatively small investment would be required. Is this on the horizon?

Brandon in California said...

What is really unusual about public transit ridership growth of late, including among other public transit systems (bus, light-rail, commuter rail) is that it is going up while employment is stagnant or declining.

Maybe the employment numbers are ahead of rider numbers at this very moment, but usually a decrease in employment means fewer people travelling at commute times.

Transit is among the last options for commuters and when travellers sense there is more roadway capacity they'll shift their habits to driving.

I don't like the thought of this, but since gas prices are coming down and there are fewer commuters, we could see transit ridership nose dive in the near future. I hope that is not the case, but that not happening may depend on commuters taking the long view and set their personal choices/preferences aside and consideer other factors... like doign their part to reduce dependance on foreign oil, help improve the nations security, or for environmental considerations.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the wireless comment. I live in Boston and my brother and his wife live in Portland, ME. I constantly take the Downeaster roundtrip to visit them on the weekend sometimes. TrainRiders Northeast (a pro-train citizens org.) helped set up wirless service on the route this past summer; it's a great added bonus to the ride and helps promote train usage over driving and taking the bus.

bossyman15 said...

luis d.
i like that video!
its very relaxing to watch the train cruising across the land at high speed.

luis d. said...

@ bossyman15

I know, it looks very much like California's landscape too.

To others I think Wifi is a no brainer and shouldn't be questioned if wether we should have it or not. WE SHOULD and probably will.

bossyman15 said...

Just wanted to let you all know that there's the new show on history channel called Extreme Trains at 10pm pac times. and after that the Modern Marvels are talking about Bullet Trains!

I am gonna enjoy this tonight! :)

Anonymous said...

While looking at another story on
the LATimes site I just checked the election results on our prop again..its still growing!! it now has a 472,239 lead. And it shows SF County now has 260,298 YES votes
Gees!! and LA shows 1,431,690, Fresno is up to 112,393..nice!

Anonymous said...

Since there has been a bit of dicussion about how the $950m of bonds that are for use with HSR connecting transit systems will be allocated, you may be interested in this document found on SPUR's website. It shows a projection made back in 2002 of how those dollars might be allocated by transit system operator along with a little bit of the methodology that was used.

The numbers will most likely be updated, and maybe they'll even change the formula, I don't know, but this might be pretty close to how it will work.

Andrew said...

@luis d:

I can't speak for the ICE, but I've ridden the 700 series Shinkansen on more than a few occasions, and they're VERY spacious and comfortable, even for me at my 6'1" height.

ian said...

hahaha I'm so excited for the History channel shows!

njh said...

That's a great movie, luis. I've put it on my blog :)

Anonymous said...

@luis d.
The colors and seating arrangements are decided by the buyer, not the trainmaker. The AVE had to conquer its market so the ride had to be definitely superior to flying. The SNCF, on the contrary, can't meet the demand and tends to reduce seat spacing to sell more tickets.
I expect the Californian HST to be more like the AVE because it will also have to conquer its market.
Concerning trainsets, I think the safest choice would be the AVG, given the seismic nature of California. It does not jacknife in case of derailment, which is not the case for the ICE.

Anonymous said...

@andre peretti:

By the time the initial SF-LA segment gets built (around 2019), the AGV will be old technology. The authority would likely choose newer trains.