Wednesday, May 13, 2009

So What's Happening With The Transportation Bill?

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

by Robert Cruickshank

As we've mentioned here before, the $8 billion HSR stimulus is just a first step toward a long-term solution of how to fund the development of a faster and more robust intercity passenger rail network in the US. The real money comes in the quintennial Transportation Bill, which is due for renewal this year. President Obama and many Congressional Democrats see that bill as the place where the nation's transportation priorities can finally change, away from massive subsidies to roads and starvation diets for rails. It's perfectly timed to take advantage of a popular new president who has majorities in both houses of Congress - rather than wage an election year battle or deal with a Congress controlled by the other party, Obama can work with allies to craft a new model of funding transportation.

Transportation advocacy groups and reformers are already at work proposing their agendas in an effort to seize the opportunity the Transportation Bill offers. One of the best comes from Transportation For America which yesterday offered The Route To Reform: Blueprint for a 21st Century Federal Transportation Program. The blueprint is an extensive and sensible proposal for decreasing our dependence on oil and cars and boosting rail and other non-motorized methods of transportation. Summarizing it in this post is almost impossible, but I'll pick out some of the best elements:

Performance Targets: Reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled by 16%; Triple walking, biking and public transportation usage; Reduce transportation-generated carbon dioxide levels by 40%; Reduce average household combined housing + transportation costs 25% (use 2000 as base year)

New Federal Transportation Structure: Comprised of four elements: National Transportation Priority Programs (including planning and maintenance backlog); Geographically-Tiered Multimodal Access Program (state, regional, and local); Programs to Complete the National Transportation System (intercity travel, green freight, and "projects of national significance); and Innovation Incentive Programs to boost sustainable and smart growth.

Possible New Revenue Sources: Sales Tax; Gas Tax; Oil Tax; Container and Customs Taxes.

What I really like about the T4America proposal is it emphasizes performance targets that are set up to ensure the development of a passenger rail infrastructure in order to achieve goals we should all be embracing (Peninsula NIMBYs too): reducing dependence on oil, cutting carbon emissions, and saving people money. The whole plan looks quite sensible and workable to me.

Whether it will be incorporated in any way into the final transportation bill is another matter entirely. In the House we have a strong ally in Rep. James Oberstar, Democrat from Minnesota. Oberstar is determined to produce a bill that will boost transit funding, as reported by Infrastructurist:

• The outline calls for "transit equity." Right now the feds pay 80 percent of highway projects and 50 percent of transit projects. That would change.

• It would create DOT agencies focused on a "national strategic plan" and on "mega-projects."

• "DOT's 108 programs [will be consolidated] into four "major formula programs": critical asset preservation, highway safety improvement, surface transportation program, and congestion mitigation and air quality improvement."

• The document seems to call for more transparency with transportation data.

Oberstar has also said that the Transportation Bill has to fund from $400 to $500 billion worth of projects over the next 5 years. If either his approach or T4America's similar approach are successful, we could have a clear source identified for HSR projects. The funding may be explicitly earmarked for HSR or it might be set up to ensure HSR gets it through the program allocations and targets.

The House is likely to produce a very good bill. The Senate, not so much. As has become clear in 2009, the US Senate is where good and sensible ideas go to die. Controlled by right-leaning Democrats in the pocket of banks, large corporate donors, and who are otherwise in thrall to a 1990s-style "pro-business" neoliberal agenda, Senate Democrats are busily planning to water down health care reform, Obama's budget, and the Transportation Bill as well, just as they watered down the stimulus.

One of those who might want a less strong bill than the House is California's own Barbara Boxer. She's up for reelection next year and though she is widely seen as more liberal than Dianne Feinstein, apparently she is worried enough about former Hewlett Packard CEO Carly Fiorina that Boxer is trying to not look quite as liberal as before, as this Reuters article suggests:

"What I think is very important is to index the gas tax to inflation, because, obviously the gas tax is falling behind," she said at the Reuters Infrastructure Summit. "I also don't want to increase the gas tax, but I want it to keep up."...

The Senate is also considering raising the tax on diesel, changing exemptions to the gas tax given to certain groups, taking a percentage of customs duties, relying on private finance, and charging drivers fees based on Vehicle Miles Traveled, she said.

The bill's authors, though, have rejected attaching a small device to cars to measure Vehicle Miles Traveled, Boxer said.

"We're looking at options. Are there ways for people to -- an honor system, when they register their vehicles -- just say, 'This is the miles I had last year, this is the miles I have this year,'?" she said.

Boxer is inconsistent here - she says she doesn't want the gas tax to rise but then wants to index it to inflation. The fact is that indexing means it will likely rise, although the increase would be somewhat more hidden. As to a VMT box, I'm not sure an honor system is necessary, but perhaps it could be as easy as a DMV staffer checking the odometer when you are up for your annual renewal? (Then again, that would increase pressure on the DMV staff, since currently in California you can renew by mail without having to visit a DMV office.)

Boxer's also uncertain about Oberstar's plan to give the states more flexibility:

Like Oberstar, Boxer wants to pass a transportation bill that emphasizes efficiency and consolidates the numerous transportation programs.

But she wants to maintain the same relationship between the federal government and states, whereas Oberstar is considering giving the states more discretion in spending.

An environmental leader in the U.S. Congress, Boxer said she was finding common ground with Republicans on the Environment and Public Works Committee that she chairs for reducing traffic and congestion.

That last part is simply absurd, and I'm disappointed in Boxer for saying it. The ranking Republican on that committee is Oklahoma's James Inhofe, a noted global warming denier and opponent of mass transit. Boxer should feel no need or desire whatsoever to work with Republicans, unless they are willing to accept the values that Oberstar and T4America, as well as President Obama are proposing.

Streetsblog SF articulates some more concerns about Boxer:

Any chance of reforming the transportation bill, which advocates are clamoring for, will require deft political maneuvering to mollify ranking committee member Senator James Inhofe.

Several sources said that Boxer's cooperation with Inhofe is simple math. The $312 billion baseline for transportation over six years is insufficient to meet state of good repair needs and set the country on a course for innovation. Minnesota Representative James Oberstar, chair of the House Transportation Committee, has suggested $400-500 billion would be needed, while the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Organizations (AASHTO) and the American Public Transit Association (APTA) argue in their Bottom Line Report that at least $160 billion will be needed annually. In order get from $312 billion to $500 billion or better, Boxer will need to get approval for new revenue streams, which would require a filibuster-proof majority, something she might not get without Inhofe and other reluctant members on the committee.

Several interviewees also pointed to Senator Boxer's alliance with Inhofe on an amendment in the federal stimulus bill for an additional $50 billion in highway money as a bad sign.

"You have polar bears and glaciers on your website... then throw people back in their cars?" said one official who insisted on anonymity.

I'm used to watching DiFi like a hawk. Not so much with Boxer. The rest of the article notes some more discomfort with Boxer's positions, so I suspect we're going to have to target Boxer frequently this summer as the Transportation Bill works its way through the Senate.

That is, unless it gets pushed back to 2010 as Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia suggested yesterday:

But Sen Mark Warner (D, Va.) is now saying he’s “not sure” that the estimated $500 billion authorization will happen until next year. According to a story by Terry Kivlan in CongressDaily, Warner thinks that “Congress might have too many big-ticket items on its agenda this year to take on a transportation package.” Speaking at an infrastructure-focused conference hosted by the Departments of Transportation and the Department of Commerce, the senator remarked: “I’m not sure you are going to see a full transportation bill put out this year.”

He’s specifically worried about funding availability in light of the fact that revenue from the gas tax, which pays for highway and transit programs, is no longer sufficient to cover outlays. He called this the “elephant in the room” with respect to infrastructure funding.

In short, Warner is saying that he's scared about anything involving fiddling with the gas tax, and that the big bad Republicans might hit Dems on that after a big fight over health care and the budget. What Warner doesn't explain is how 2010 is any better a time to deal with the Transportation Bill, as it would be an election year.

This would be so much easier if the US Senate wasn't populated by the timid and the right-leaning. Unfortunately, we're going to have to deal with them if we want a good Transportation Bill and not something that mindlessly repeats the same flawed anti-transit policies of the past.


Spokker said...

I think the key for any transportation plan is to make sure that the right mode is used for the right situation. Today we use cars to make short local trips, when our legs or the bus can get the job done.

Many people use a local bus for hour-long trips that would be better served by rapid bus, dedicated busways, and even light rail.

Planes are used for short-hops and intrastate travel when regional rail or high speed rail would be far more efficient. Planes have a place in cross-country and international travel, of course.

Cars are great for those spur of the moment or late night travel needs, or when you want to go somewhere that transit wouldn't serve well even in a perfect world (National or state parks come to mind, or when you have to move a bunch of crap).

Spread transit across all modes, road, rail and sky, and let people choose. Today, to get from point A to point B, people have but once choice, and it's almost always the car. It's a subsidized monopoly on travel!

Americans have been fooled for decades that cars offer freedom. Cars are a prison from which we should free ourselves, and it'll take a national effort.

Deacon said...

I love this blog! Keep up the good work!

I agree Spokker. There exists an Imbalance in the current transport situation this country finds itself in. Efficiency is severely lacking across all modes. The lifeblood of this country is the oil we import and that is a BIG problem. Its essentially a noose around our necks that tightens every time the price goes up. We need to cut the habit.

With some common sense thinking all modes of transport can be made to work in unison for faster, cheaper, more effective travel. From bus to light Rail to rapid bus to HSR to air travel. The all modes we enjoy (or don't) can be made to complement one another.

I hope an all encompassing Transportation bill gets passed so we can step further into the future of sustainable travel. One of efficiency and choice. Americans will welcome the change, build it and they will come.

Rafael said...

The problem with VMT systems is that they either require significant stationary infrastructure or else, sophisticated tamperproofing in vehicles, a big problem especially for older vehicles.


How others do it:

In Europe, different strategies have been developed by different countries:

a) France and Spain rely heavily on conventional toll roads with manned collection posts located either between or at exits. One reason the TGV caught on in France was that driving long distances is either expensive (tolls) or arduous (secondary roads).

b) in Switzerland, Austria and the Czech Republic, passenger vehicles on motorways must display a valid "vignette" (decal) on the inside of their windscreen. Tourists must also purchase at least temporary vignettes at points of sale near the border, valid for 1-2 weeks.

c) for commercial vehicles, Italy and Austria require an inexpensive, easily installed passive RFID box with a unique code that is mapped to the vehicle VIN number at the time of purchase. Beacons installed every few kilometers on motorways interrogate the RFID boxes, which respond with their unique code. Again, all HDV and buses operating in these countries must have these devices installed, even if they hail from elsewhere.

In effect, the system automates toll collection, with accounts settled at the end of each month. Authorities conduct random spot checks to catch and severely fine cheaters whose boxes fail to transmit the code corresponding to the vehicle's VIN.

d) Not to be outdone, Germany invested in much more complicated system that combines GPS, cell phones and an on-board computer to avoid the cost of installing stationary beacons. Each unit costs EUR 300 and takes half a day to install. In addition, the system had teething troubles for over a year and has not been adopted by any other country.

All this is on top of the highest fuel taxes in the world. One objective is to force heavy duty trucks and to a lesser extent, buses, to pay more for using roads because they cause virtually all of the wear and tear. Limiting collection to motorways does divert some traffic onto secondary roads, one reason why Germany later introduced wireless toll collection on some of them to curb the environmental impact on small towns and villages.

Another reason European politicians like VMTs is that at some point, their constituents won't tolerate even higher fuel taxes or vehicle license fees. In Germany, fuel taxes are the second largest source of inland revenue. Fixed amount fuel taxes and tolls are about equally exposed to fluctuating demand for fuel volume, but not directly to the price of a barrel of oil.


How the US ought to do it:

In the US, fuel taxes are a mere pittance compared with those in most other OECD countries. The primary reason for that is that even now, the US has plenty of domestic oil and an industry with enormous lobbying power on Capitol Hill.

A $500 billion transportation bill heavy on mass transit projects could easily be funded by raising state gas and diesel taxes by e.g. an additional 1-2 cents per gallon each and every month for that period, i.e. 60-120 cents per gallon relative to current tax levels by the 60th month. The idea would be to encourage taxpayers to earn to keep more of what they earn by monitoring their tire pressure, removing junk from the interior, driving fewer passenger-miles, avoiding short trips with a cold engine block, moderating their speed and/or switching to more fuel-efficient technology.

There would be less need to provide early-bird incentives, because higher fuel costs make higher up-front investments in efficiency more attractive.

Optionally, there could be a countervailing cut in general sales and/or state income taxes and, in the services funded by those. That's up to individual states, though.

Any state that refuses to implement this or an equivalent gas tax hike would see a corresponding increase in federal gas and diesel taxes, offset by increased federal funding of qualifying transit projects in that state. This alternative gives (conservative) state politicians a fig leaf in that they don't need to vote in favor of a tax hike.

Devil's Advocate said...

Excellent analysis Rafael. But everything boils down to the enormous lobbying power of US Oil companies and airlines. Europeans did not have to cope with that. Until recently both these industries were in the hands of state owned companies, which obviously did not lobby against public transit. Actually in many instances European railway companies, train manufacturers, airlines and Oil Companies were part of the same state owned corporate holding, and therefore under a common governance. Still today, although mostly privatized, many of those same companies include a substantial State stakeholding interest. We can discuss on this blog ad nauseam, but the reality is that HST cannot be fully achieve its potential in America as long as auto and air travel is subsidized. The price factor is heavily skewed in favor of car travel. As I mentioned in previous posts, in spite of the high cost of a HST ticket in Europe, it's still substantially cheaper than cars. Travelling 200 miles will cost you easily 50 euros in gas and tolls alone in most of EU, whereas the HST ticket for that distance will probably be around 35-40 euros (one way in 2nd class). Travelling those same 200 miles between Fresno and LA will cost you less than $20 in gas (no tolls). In addition Euro cities are not car friendly and therefore using the car will cost you in parking and inconvenience once you get there. The opposite is true in american cities, where you probably need a car to go from the station to your destination. When I see gas prices at $8/gallon in the US, then I'll be more hopeful and change my Nickname for this blog. Until then, I'm skeptical.

Alon Levy said...

Rafael: what you suggest can be done on the federal level, too, with gradual increases in the gas tax offset by reductions in other taxes, such as the payroll tax. Greg Mankiw, who was the economic advisor to Romney's Presidential campaign, proposed a similar scheme as an alternative to the Obama stimulus package.

Alon Levy said...

DA: the European cities I've been to - chiefly in Southern France - are very auto-friendly. They have built some light rail and physically separated bus lanes recently, but that has come only after the TGV. For example, when the TGV opened Lyon had a smaller rail system than Houston has today, and far smaller than LA and SF's systems. The other cities on the line, like Avignon and Aix, have ample parking, little public transit, and even less public transit connecting to the stations themselves.

Anonymous said...

From Wikipedia.

Los Angeles 498 sq. miles
density 8206 / sq. mile

Lyon France 18.5 sq miles
density 25,500 / sq. mile

Does that tell you something

Devil's Advocate said...

Alon Levy: Maybe I should have said that they are pedestrian friendly, therefore a car is not needed and sometimes even a nuisance to have. Avignon for example has very small streets around the Palais des Papes, if I remember. But it's true that in smaller towns you can still negotiate the streets and park without too much hassle. But consider cities like Paris, Barcelona, Sevilla, Rome, Florence. They are all very densely populated and well served by city transit. You can't even drive without resident permit in most of the historical centers of those cities. You can't possibly compare them with Fresno, LA, San Jose, where everything is spread out and with scant city transit. I've lived most of my life in Europe and I can tell you that the comparative advantage of trains overthere is enormous when you travel between large cities. But it's the exact opposite in America, where cost and convenience makes the car the better option. The only advantage that the HST will offer to the traveler in California is speed. But people will need to pay a premium for that speed over using the car. If I need to go from Fresno to somewhere in LA, I'll have two options:
1. drive 3 and 1/2 hours door to door with my own car
2. take a taxi to downtown Fresno (up to 30 min.), take the HST to LA (90 min), take a taxi to my final destination (let's say another 30 min.).
In the first option I spent 3 and 1/2 hours door to door, and $20 in gas. In the 2nd, I've spent 2 and 1/2 hours and maybe $80 in train and taxi fare.
If I'm a business man, who plans to work while on the train and wants to get to LA fast to attend a meeting, I'll choose the 2nd option, because it's more productive (I can work onboard) and faster overall. But If I'm not, especially if I'm traveling with the whole family to Universal Studios, I'll probably take the first option even though it'll take me an extra hour. People tend to want to save their bucks when it's not the company who pays for the trip. For longer distances, like Bay Area to LA, the usege of the train will be more, because in that case you're competing with the airplanes rather than the cars, and, assuming similar price between air and HST, and similar door to door travel time, most people will opt for the train over the airplane because of comfort and absence of hassles (you won't need to be undressed by the TSA before boarding the train).

Rob Dawg said...

President Obama and many Congressional Democrats see that bill as the place where the nation's transportation priorities can finally change, away from massive subsidies to roads and starvation diets for rails.Cool. Would you please flesh these points out with some data? I am absolutely on board with the egregious cross subsides we have now. We really really need to stop all the revenue generated by rail from leaking over to roads. It's disgusting and ultimately distorts the true value of passenger rail.

Anonymous said...

Los Angeles has a large and growing mass transit system to go along with a large commuter rail system. One does not need to hail a taxi upon arriving at Union Station. There are plenty of transit options available. The same is true in San Francisco.

American cities were forcefully designed to accommodate the car. This happened only in the last fifty years. There is no reason why our cities can't become more transit and pedestrian friendly.

Alon Levy said...

Anon at 4:19: you're selling LA short - much of its city limits consist of unpopulated mountains. Excluding these, LA's population density rises to about 5,000/km^2, which is higher than in most European cities (though not Paris or Lyon) - for instance Germany's largest city, Berlin, is at 4,800. SF's population density is yet higher.

DA: well, I'm not talking about Paris or Rome. I'm talking about the cities at the other ends of the HSR lines - Lille, Lyon, Marseille, and so on. They all have walkable cores - just like LA and SF, and even Palo Alto. Fresno's different, but you shouldn't compare Fresno to Lyon; you should compare it to Le Creusot, Mâcon-Loché, and the out-of-the-way part where Aix-TGV is located.

Rider said...

Alon - you miss the density point completely

"..LA...much of its city limits consist of unpopulated mountains. Excluding these.." (!)

NO, that's the POINT. You don't exclude those Those are REAL. and they are barriers to population density! And barriers to viability of mass transit solutions that are affordable and that REACH where people need to go daily. The LA population spreads out around and inbetween mountains and canyons. FACT. These are not areas that are tightly connected to each other making a simple bike ride or a simple bus ride feasible in the same ways as cities that have densities of 25,000/sqm

Not even approaching close.

And yes, SF is the same! And go outside of SF Downtown, to the rest of the Peninsula? - its so spread out that INDEED, mass transit becomes completely infeasible and unaffordable. Muni, Caltrain, etc etc etc. You can't serve a spread out population with a TRAIN that goes ONLY in a straight line - without very robust mass transit to feed the train system - WHICH WE DON"T HAVE (and no funding or plan to have any time soon.)

We NEED local transit solutions, and HSR does NOTHING but further ROB and STARVE the transit systems of funding we desparately need, for any hope of making REAL, VIABLE, local mass transit a real possibility.

We have a deficit today. in 2012 we'll have all the transit issues we have today, PLUS one more EXPENSIVE system to run. Which will spread ridership revenues even that more thinly.

Clem said...

you shouldn't compare Fresno to Lyon; you should compare it to Le Creusot, Mâcon-Loché, and the out-of-the-way part where Aix-TGV is located .

True enough: all these smaller TGV stations (Aix, Valence, Vendome, Avignon, Haute Picardie, Champagne-Ardenne, etc.) are built on the outskirts of towns, which is why it boggles the mind that the CHSRA plans to run 200+ mph trains through the middle of Fresno.

It's going to make Palo Alto look like a picnic.


Alon Levy said...

NO, that's the POINT. You don't exclude those Those are REAL. and they are barriers to population density!

Who cares that they're barriers? By that standard, New York isn't very dense, once you include the waters around it. The East River is a major barrier to movement between Manhattan and Brooklyn. Similarly, France and Spain aren't very dense when one includes all the empty space between their cities - less dense than Germany, or even the eastern US.

True enough: all these smaller TGV stations (Aix, Valence, Vendome, Avignon, Haute Picardie, Champagne-Ardenne, etc.) are built on the outskirts of towns, which is why it boggles the mind that the CHSRA plans to run 200+ mph trains through the middle of Fresno.

The placement of TGV stations in between sugar beet fields is generally considered a negative feature.

Anonymous said...

Clem: I had the impression the gold-plated routing through downtown Fresno was because Fresno wants to consolidate the two main freight lines through the city into a single grade-separated one, and get CHSRA to pay for it. If Fresno changes its mind and decides it would be happier with a bypass, I would hope CHSRA would not complain.

Unlike the peninsula, it's fairly easy to just go around Fresno. A super-fast routing through the city might be a waste of money, but I very much doubt CHSRA would waste political capital on it.

Brandon in California said...

The argument that HSR starves mass transit, which I see here and seen elsewhere, is ridiculous. Followed to its conclusion means that mass transit at every level must be fully funded before investing in the next higher grade transit mode.

That's ignorant.

For mass transit to grow in use and popularity... what is needed is an array of high quality services; from local bus to express bus to light-rail and commuter rail. High-speed rail is an additional component and has much synergy with other transit modes (except at the San Diego airport because of location).

And, higher quality does not mean more of the same. Quality transit service is frequent and direct and time efficient. Zig zagging lines, whether bus or rail, make for longer trips and cost more to operate. That's not quality.

Yes, mass transit is underfunded. However, that does not mean higher grade transit modes are the enemy. The enemy of transit, all transit, is insufficient funding and competition with non-transit modes... most notably autos.

Relative to this post, users must pay more for transportation that is consumed. Transit fares are continually adjusted to help assist with rising operating costs, yet the Federal tax on gas has not budged in years and is now depleting the bank used to fund both roadway and transit modes.

I do not care how too much, but roadway users should pay more for using the public right of way.

However, a single payment source is not the solution. It should include a range of methods so as to not overly burden any single individual class of auto users more than any other... like suburban trekkers or long-haul truckers.

Any fees assessed should also try to be in proportion to the benefit being enjoyed and the marginal maintenance effort required. For example, moped users have short trips and require nominal added maintenance efforts for roadways compared to long-haul 18-wheeler trucks.

Regardless of how implemented, one method I think America needs to add or to is one based on Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) and indexed to adjust for inflation. However, I prefer drivers will not be required to visit the local state DMV every 2-years to declare their mileage. It just invites corruption.

Anonymous said...

There's a way to bypass Fresno; it's called I-5 and the grapevine.

Alon Levy said...

Brandon: what's the point of a VMT tax? The most pressing problems created by cars are pollution and CO2 emissions, both of which scale linearly with gas consumption. The next most pressing is congestion, which is internalized by tolling congested roads; there's no point in tolling a rural road that gets little traffic.

traal said...

"Boxer is inconsistent here - she says she doesn't want the gas tax to rise but then wants to index it to inflation."

There is no inconsistency there. The gas tax as a percentage of the price of gas is falling. The federal gas tax is 18.4 cents per gallon, so back when gas was $1.50 per gallon, the effective tax was 12.3%. Now that gas is $2.30 per gallon, the effective tax is only 8.0%.

Brandon in California said...

A VMT tax generates revenue and hits auto drivers in the pocket book. That influences drivers to drive less. Less driving means fewer emmissions and less congestion.

Anonymous said...

^^^I think his point is that a gas tax does EXACTLY THE SAME THING, except that it devalues buying a fuel-efficient car (as compared to an increase in the gas tax). A gas tax is infinitely easier to impliment and track too (and far more difficult to evade).

BruceMcF said...

Rider said...
"Alon - you miss the density point completely

"..LA...much of its city limits consist of unpopulated mountains. Excluding these.." (!)

NO, that's the POINT. You don't exclude those Those are REAL. and they are barriers to population density!

They are "barriers to population density" at the County level, not to population density at the neighborhood level. The barriers at the neighborhood level are the legacy of decades of subsidy of sprawl development.

"And barriers to viability of mass transit solutions that are affordable and that REACH where people need to go daily."

Here too, its the local population density that is critical in providing the potential ridership for public transport.

Mass transit is only one extreme end of the spectrum of public transport services, and rail in particular can be quite effective in knitting together clusters of settlement with high local population density, even if the average regional population density is low.

However, its not enough to simply eliminate legal mandates and remove ongoing public subsidies for sprawl development ... in addition to being allowed to fill in the population densities of neighborhoods, there also has to be a demand. Local rail corridors have been a proven means of generating that demand.

Anonymous said...

This is all so silly. Doesn't anyone here really want to tell the truth.

This project has never been about transportation, conservation and congestion relief. It was taken over by politicians, (Diridon and Kopp) to promote their self interests -- development and land values in SF and SJ. No objective view of the project would ever plan a route going from SJ to Gilroy to Merced. No real planner would run the tracks through the hearts of the cities in the valley.

Its all about promoting land values and population growth in certain areas. It would be the biggest enhancer of sprawl conceived.

Talk about silly. LA is the sprawl capitol of the world. In spite of what is being printed here, you get around in LA via the auto. At least in SF, you have a few reasonable options. And to compare any of this with NYC, is nonsense.

Why go SJ to Gilroy, servicing that small community with outreach to Monterey. You cut off Sacramento, since SAC to Merced to Gilroy to SJC to SF is ridiculous. Sacramento should have been a prime target for this line, yet it will on be served in the 22sd century.

The more the public learns, the less this will be accepted. I suspect about $2 billions down the toilet, it will come to a stop.

Alon Levy said...

Anon: LA has the third highest weighted density of US urban areas, after NY and SF (it's ahead of SJ). If you go by standard density instead, then it has the highest density. The mass transit in LA is atrocious by the standards of New York or Paris, but not by these of Lyon or Marseille, or these of Baltimore or New Haven.

BruceMcF said...

Someone who does not believe enough in their argument to even pick a pseudonym said:
"This project has never been about transportation, conservation and congestion relief. It was taken over by politicians, (Diridon and Kopp) to promote their self interests -- development and land values in SF and SJ. No objective view of the project would ever plan a route going from SJ to Gilroy to Merced. No real planner would run the tracks through the hearts of the cities in the valley.Part of the checklist for evaluating any HSR alignment from the Bay to the LA Basin would be travel time from San Jose to LA, which would be a check in favor of the preferred alignment.

The argument regarding Sacramento seems to be a red herring ... from the Bay, there is no need for Express HSR to capture a major share of that transport market, and from the LA Basin, the connection of Sacramento will be a Stage 2 extension of the line up through the Central Valley in any event.

Regarding the argument that the HSR does not offer direct congestion relief ... neither does investment in inter-metropolitan interstate highways or in airport infrastructure. But the alternative investment in inter-metropolitan highway capacity does generate new local vehicle miles traveled and therefore more local congestion, so avoiding that is an indirect contribution to congestion relief.

Regarding the claim that Kopp and Diridon stand to benefit personally ... first, whether there are transportation and energy efficiency benefits of the system is independent of whether there are private beneficiaries and, second, since there are transport and energy independence benefits, it would seem to be a good thing that there are also private beneficiaries, since it makes it more likely that the transportation and energy independence benefits will be delivered.

It is certainly the case that conventional pro-sprawl urban planning in California would not place an HSR station in the heart of a Central Valley city that grew up around rail lines, and which therefore has rail alignments running through the heart of the city ... but the argument in favor of all-outer-suburban stations in the Central Valley is contradicted by:
"Its all about promoting land values and population growth in certain areas. It would be the biggest enhancer of sprawl conceived."

If its all about promoting land values and population growth in certain areas, then the location of stations in the hearts of CV cities would be promoting land values and population growth in the center of CV cities. And that would be the opposite of sprawl development.

It might not turn out to be feasible to get the HSR corridor to run through the middle of Fresno, but if it is, that would be a substantial positive bonus.

rider said...

Here's the (off topic) question in my mind recently..

What if neither Palo Alto OR Redwood City step up to aggressively lobby for a station? It sounds like at best, both cities are saying 'we need more info - we're not convinced of the benefit and we don't have enough info on the impact yet'. At worst, they may eventually both say - 'No thanks, we don't want the station.' But I get the impression that both are in the 'need more info' stage.

Palo Alto we might easily say is a significant bit more hostile because of the Amicus brief - so perhaps that puts Redwood city at an eventual advantage, (likely the understatement of the century, since Diridon appears to be the sole decision maker on all matters CHSR - and boy is he pissed off about Palo Alto putting up their fight). But the last I read, Redwood City mayor was also distinctly in the 'we're not convinced, we need more info' stage, at best

My impression is that Diridon and company calculated that the cities would fall all over themselves in a bidding war for the station - and therefore would pony up the land, the zoning changes, the infrastructure improvements, to 'win' those stations. It seems from his comments in City Council meeting and from the papers, that he expected a big bidding war with the two cities falling all over themselves to 'win' the station - just like Visalia

So, if neither PA or RC want the station..

1. Do they just pick a new city that REALLY wants it, that is willing to foot the costs to have it there? If so, wouldn't that violate the extremely black and white statements in the Program EIR about station locations - and therefore the basis for Measure 1A bond funds. Does lack of a station in one of these two cities invalidate voters approval of measure 1A? (ie: grounds for more lawsuits...)

For example, Mt. View says they want the station - but that's not one of the options that was put forth in Measure 1A..

2. A different station location definitely impacts ridership and revenue projections for the system. A station in Visalia, aint the same as a station in Palo Alto in terms of ridership attraction. When will they come up with the revenue and ridership projections for the station choices?

2. Given the black and white expecations of the bond, AND the extreme reliance on Peninsula ridership for revenues, does CHSRA attempt to FORCE the station into one of these two cities? Then the costs for CHSR escalate significantly, since the original premise was that the cities would be ponying up for these stations (and loving every minute of it). How much? Does the CHSRA attempt eminent domain on city owned properties? Like roads and parks? Can it even be workable without high level of local support for the station (since alot of local funding was still expected, not to mention zoning law changes, etc)

3. How far can the project level EIR really get without specifying a station choice and all resultant implications (design, eminent domain needed, total costs, who pays, ridership projections for that location, etc). When exactly does that station decision get made? On what basis?

Anonymous said...

Metrolink has significantly (25%) higher ridership than Caltrain. Ridership on LA Metro Rail is only about 20% lower than ridership on BART, and by the time HSR is completed will likely be higher with extensions to East LA, Santa Monica, LAX, and the downtown light rail connector. Contrary to popular belief, it's perfectly possible to live, work, and get around in Los Angeles without a car, and hundreds of thousands of people already do. With continued investment in transit this will become even more true.

Anonymous said...

rider: The Palo Alto and Redwood City stations are owned by the PCJPB (Caltrain). They can presumably build a couple extra platforms on their property with minimal fuss, and with all the money and improvements they're getting out of CHSR they would be happy to do so. If all else failed, local HSR trains could pull over and stop at the Caltrain platforms.

Spokker said...

"In spite of what is being printed here, you get around in LA via the auto."

Come on down here and I'll give you a tour of where you can get to in LA without a car.

The Westside of Los Angeles is underserved, but that should be fixed by the time HSR is open.

Clem said...

@rider: interesting thoughts.

One issue is that RWC doesn't have an axe to grind re: EIR lawsuit... all HSR routes go through Redwood City. They also have better connectivity to 101.

The other thing I'd point out is that there is an enormous amount of unused railroad land around both the Palo Alto and Redwood City stations. Take a look at the maps. The eminent domain takings could be quite minimal.

rider said...

Well, this is interesting - found on line, but not sure where it is in the CHSRA website, or how old, but it shows REDWOOD CITY, and not Palo Alto. Should we assume its decided?

Anon - if you take a look at Diridon's own comments on the matter of stations in these two cities - you'll realize the literal station itself on PCJPB land is not the least of the issues. Its what will surround and support the stations - parking, modifications of roads and approaches to the station, its services like rental car agencies around the stations, its transit systems serving the stations, not to mention the dense housing growth expectation that will flow from the station location. Its basically an entire transformation of the infrastructure of the city in that surrounding area.

I don't think that's something HSR proponents disagree with - its been clear objective of HSR to be significantly transformational where it resides.

For example:

"“They have to show interest and enthusiasm in rezoning and infrastructure issues that would be necessary to house a station,” said Diridon."


“When the bond issue passed in November everyone here was real excited,” said Redwood City Mayor Rosanne Foust. “But like they say, the devil is in the details, and when it became clear that this could be a reality, we realized there needed to be a whole lot of community dialogue to discuss how this would affect our city.”...


"Redwood City mayor Rosanne Foust said her community needs more information before it is willing to consider the idea of hosting a stop on the high-speed rail route."

Anonymous said...

rider: sfcityscape is some enthusiast's site; that map is drawn by them and has no connection to CHSRA or anything official. Their guess of where the mid-peninsula station will be is as good as anybody else's.

YesonHSR said...

I feel with the current budget in SAC that Federal funds are going carry the project the first few years least until we can issue the bonds

Alon Levy said...

Rider: if Diridon is so offputting that even RC backs away from the idea of a station, then the project has bigger problems to worry about than what happens on the Peninsula. For now, though, RC explicitly refused to join the PA/MP/Atherton lawsuit on the grounds that "we don't to be part of a group that says, 'we hate high-speed rail'" (rough quote).

Brandon in California said...

I was quite clear in my May 13, 2009 11:48 PM post. Re-read it and you'll understand what I am saying.... insufficient funding is the enemy of transit and VMT should be added to the list of taxes/fees imposed on drivers. More taxes/fees = more hardship on drivers = less driving = less congestion = less pollution.

Yes, pollution is bad for the environment. Fighting that can and should include a range of tactics. And, the best tactics should be selected for a particular issue.

Anonymous said...

Redwood City council is dominated by high growth enthusiasts. Hartnet also has a seat on the PCJPB (CalTrain). If he has his way, the station is a done deal.

Now the citizens are not that nuts and wanted to restrict development in the baylands, but an Initiative failed last fall. Now, Cargill is back proposing to build 8,000 - 12,000 homes there (25, 000 new residents). This is a completely different attitude from Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton. If you lived here, you would understand a bit about the local traffic situation already and why this kind of development is hopeless.

In the meantime all of the City's over-reaching development plans have not panned out. The City just lost a CEQA suit in the downtown area and must revisit at great cost their whole "build it big,high and dense" downtown plan.

So Redwood City has a lot on it s plate other than HSR, and most likely will see a major change on council shortly.

Alon Levy said...

Brandon: a gas tax is a better tactic if only because the mechanism for collection doesn't violate people's privacy. ACLU liberals are typically urban and don't care much for big oil or big auto; you want them on your side rather than threatening lawsuits.

Even if both approaches were equally politically palpable, a VMT tax would achieve less, because it would only reduce VMT. To successfully reduce emissions, you need to both reduce VMT and increase fuel economy. For example, France has twice the average fuel economy of the US, courtesy of $7/gallon gas, as well as lower car ownership and lower VMT per capita, leading to lower transportation emissions.

Brandon in California said...

I am glad you know that stuff. The more informed people contributing... the better.

I think you're mistaken in assuming I was speaking to emmissions and air pollution, etc.

I was not.

I was speaking to funding for transportation. And, while forwarding my opinion about VMT, I was not speaking to other revenue opportunities.

But, maybe I should have been more clear concerning VMT.

To it... I support it precisely for a reason you spoke to... cars are becoming more fuel effecient.

That is a good thing, except with more fuel effecient cars... drivers are purchasing less gas relative to miles driven. That means gas taxes do not keep pace with roadway use and the need for transportation improvements.

That is what I spoke to. Go back and re-read what I wrote if you want. But, either way I am glad you're hear and contributing.

Anonymous said...

^^^So raise the gas tax and continue to do so as VMT decreases - no reason to come up with an additional complicated new tax that does the same thing, yet increase bureaucracy significantly.

Adirondacker said...

and $20 in gas .

I'll be a Devils Advocate and ask this question. Even if gas is free how much does it cost you to drive 450 miles? IRS reimbursement rate for automobile travel is 55 cents a mile. 450 miles at 25 cents a mile is $112.50... it's three bucks worth of your $19.95 oil change every three thousand miles... Driving is seven hours of work. Taking the train is 4 hours of nap.

You can't serve a spread out population with a TRAIN that goes ONLY in a straight line - without very robust mass transit to feed the train system.

You can't serve a spread out population with only one airport - without a very robust mass transit to feed the airport.

I'll repeat this from another thread. The good people of Wilmington DE, I'm sure are very proud of their mass transit system. It sucks. Wilmington has Amtrak's 11th most busy station. The major complaint about the Albany/Rennselaer station is that it's mass transit sucks - it's almost non existent. It's Amtrak's 10th busiest station.

A VMT tax generates revenue and hits auto drivers in the pocket book. That influences drivers to drive less. Less driving means fewer emmissions and less congestion.

A gas tax generates revenue and hits auto drivers in the pocketbook too. When gas was four dollars a gallon people drove less. Startlingly less.

I drive a Mercury Sable. My husband drives a diesel Volkswagen. I get 25 mpg when I'm using the cruise control on the Thruway. He gets 50+ mpg on the Thruway. If we take my car and the gas tax is a dollar a gallon it costs us 4 cents a mile if we take his car it costs us 2 cents a mile. If there is a VMT tax it doesn't matter which car we take. If anything it pushes us toward using the Sable. My cost per mile is higher than his but it's not double his.

That means gas taxes do not keep pace with roadway use and the need for transportation improvements.

Raise the gas tax. No new infrastructure needed. No new tax collection system. Someone somewhere has to change something on their computer.

Alon Levy said...

Brandon: a high gas tax covers all road maintenance and then some more. For instance, in Germany it's the second largest source of inland revenue, after the income tax. Even if behavioral changes halve VMT and double fuel economy, putting the US in line with much of Europe, a $3 gas tax will generate far more revenue than an 18.7-cent gas tax does now.

Brandon in California said...

And, what do you do when the fleet of cars used by Americans transition to non-gas alternatives?

I tell you what you do... you go broke.

If you cannot create a level or consistent tax payment for gas, electricity, CNG or other transportation fuel source... the cheapest fuel source become the new emphasis and the transportation piggy bank goes broke.

I support a switch to cleaner fuel sources, AFTER we figure out how to fund transportation. And to that, I support a switch to a VMT method.

If our electric represntatives choose to emphasize through incentives one particular fuel source over another in order to influence a change to a cleaner fuel source, fantastic... but only after they figure out how to fund transportation.... of which I support VMT.

Alon Levy said...

And, what do you do when the fleet of cars used by Americans transition to non-gas alternatives?Then you have to spend way less money on Medicaid reimbursements for asthma treatments, river cleanups, energy efficiency schemes, and invasions of oil-rich countries. You have to spend less money on building and maintaining roads for cars and trucks, since some people, especially cost-sensitive shippers, will have switched to rail.

Anonymous said...

"And, what do you do when the fleet of cars used by Americans transition to non-gas alternatives?"

How many years away from that are we? 10? 20? 30? If a high gas tax encourages such a massive switch to new non-gas alternatives that it threatens the funding system, that will be such a incredible accomplishment that I have NO PROBLEM WHATSOEVER believing that we can figure out something new - at that time.

To me it seems like you're the space program worried about being attacked by aliens - before we've even managed to send a person to another planet.

Anonymous said...

Brandon - you're putting the cart well before the horse. Sounds like NASA preparing for fighting intelligent space aliens before we've even managed to put a man on another planet - and not pursuing any missions until those weapons are perfected.

Jack up the gas tax now, then if we start to see a huge shift towards non-gas vehicles, we can look at absurdly expensive and complex new infrastructure to find ways to pay for roads. We'd be talking about years, if not decades, to deal with it (and it would seem to me to be worth it to have a few years where non-gas vehicles had a significant financial advantage, in order to allow them to gain critical mass and economies of scale).