Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mercury Drops Bid for CHSRA Communications Contract

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

This was unexpected:

Mercury Public Affairs did not rebid on a $9 million, five-year communications contract with the California High-Speed Rail Authority despite being the frontrunner in September before board members raised objections.

After the board objected, Rail Authority officials scrapped their previous recommendation and reopened the bidding process last month. At the time, Mercury said it would do whatever the board asked. But the firm has since decided not to reapply, saying it lacks confidence in the new bidding process.

"Mercury followed the initial (bidding) process to a tee but we were ultimately sidelined because of internal politics," said Mercury spokesman Brian Jones. "We have subsequently decided to not to invest our time, energy or resources into a process we no longer have confidence in, nor believe in."

There are multiple ways to read this: sour grapes that they didn't get the contract the first time, genuine lack of confidence in the process, annoyance that the skids aren't greased this time around as well (note: I don't believe the skids were greased, but that is an interpretation that's been floated).

Ultimately this will wind up increasing confidence and legitimacy in the CHSRA's bidding process, even if there will still be some critics out there arguing that this is "$9 million for PR" and thereby missing the point entirely (this is for all the agency's communications work, including public outreach, scoping sessions, publishing all those business plans that Roy Ashburn demands, etc).

The final decision on who will receive the contract will be made at the November CHSRA board meeting.


Anonymous said...

I believe according to Brown Act laws, they can not hear the bidding and take a vote in the same meeting. They need to have a meeting with chance for public input, with a vote in a subsequent meeting. At least that's the way I thought Brown Act worked.

Anonymous said...

I guess state agency not governed by brown act, but rather by Bagley-Keene Act. So I don't know about if that's hold true.

Rafael said...

I can't blame Mercury for pulling out. Once bitten, twice shy.

Once the chattering classes have decided that a vendor is somehow in cahoots with CHSRA, it's game over. Whether the allegations are true or not matters little, perception is reality in the PR business. CHSRA needs another whiff of impropriety like they need another hole in the head, so they would almost certainly pick "anyone but Mercury" in a second round of bidding.

Other vendors will take note, however. If CHSRA is still perceived as an agency that can't manage a credible tender process by the time the big bucks need to be spent, some vendors may decide there's plenty of work for them elsewhere in the world. Projects with approved budgets and on-time payments.

Anonymous said...

One would assume, and there is no reason not to believe, that Mercury is a reputable company, motivated by normal business motivations, such as revenue, profit, satisfying customers, keeping employees, their own quality products and reputation - and so, you would think they think pretty rationally about business decisions - who they do business with, risk, profitability, etc.

In other words, not Nimby's.

So, far from increasing confidence and legitamacy for CHSRA in any way shape or form, you have a reasonable company coming out and voting with their feet (and their bottom line); no confidence and no belief in CHSRA's process. Pretty strong words and actions. They could have just declined and gone away.

According to Dr. Phil, When someone tells you who they are, believe them. Apparently Mercury was smart enough to heed this advice. Lucky them.

looking on said...

@Rafael and others.

The LA Times disclosure of what was obviously a corrupt effort to land a PR contract for friends of the Governor, should not be so lightly dismissed. One should keep in mind that the leader of this effort, Jeff Barker had just come from the Governor's office and still remains a deputy director of the Authority.

Recall the now removed station between Gilroy and Merced, that was another fraudulent effort to enrich cronies is another. How many others are hanging around? We don't know.

Senator Lowenthal's committee had noted these problems and made a lot of effort to put into place restrictions on how and where funds can be used.

There are so many other questionable practices that have thus far gone un-challenged. For sure the route structure down south from Anaheim to San Diego just reeks with suspicion.

The worst planned HSR system in the world? No question about that.

Anonymous said...

The worst planned HSR system in the world? No question about that.

This is likely pretty true, but I'm not sure how you get around it.

Freeway projects everywhere in this country enriched crony friends. I personally know someone in Louisiana who worked with the state legislature (through campaign donations) to ensure that I-49 went right through his property, where he sold some of his land at ridiculously inflated prices to the state, then reaped the benefits of a freeway right there for the rest of his land. We can point to dozens of examples of this happening in California as well (with everything from freeways, to subways, to light rail projects, to redevelopment projects, to propositions, to whatever else).

Our overly democratic system simply doesn't allow autonomy for agencies building public works or government in designing tax policies, etc. There is good and bad from this (less hidden corruption, but more "I'll pat your back, you pat mine."), but I'm not sure that our political system will ever allow something different.

The question then becomes, do we never embark on new projects because cronies will profit? Or is there still benefit in some projects in spite of corruption?

Anonymous said...

anon @ 9:48 here - one more thing:

I'd probably agree with many people here that the money that we're about to spend on CAHSR could be better spent on local transit - EXCEPT - that I've seen how money is spent on local transit. BART to SFO? Disastrous waste of money and terrible design. Central Subway in SF? Even worse. BART to SJ? At least as bad as BART to SFO, probably worse. VTA light rail? Calling it a waste of money is being kind. Southern California has a slightly better track record, but it ain't perfect either.

The only local agency that I have any faith in spending money in a decent way is Caltrain, who happens to be at least tangentially involved in CAHSR.

Peter said...

@ Anon @ 9:54

I agree that BART to SJ is a waste, but at least it serves some legitimate purpose. It may not be the best, or most economical solution.

BART to SFO is a total waste. Just run Millbrae-SFO as an automated people-mover.

Anonymous said...

do you all even live in the bay area?

Bart to sfo, a people mover was discussed and it was the pulbic that agreed that if you're going to build bart to the airport then it should go into the airport and not stop short. I remember the public discourse.
The word on the street among the "chattering classes" was indeed that if they're gonna do it do it right and take it all the way in"

that was the general public consensus here the bay 'hood. It wasn't foisted upon us.

I think some southern californians get mad everytime northern california get any money cuz you guys are used to getting everything you want.

As for central subway, years of public input was taken into consideration and the design was altered in several ways to adapt it to what the constituents wanted. So there has been ample input and review and its not up for discussion or criticism by people in orange county anyway.

And as far as backroom deals cronyism and the like are concerned you're gonna have to get over it because this is america and that is how EVERYTHING gets done if you hadn't noticed.
Im so sick to death of everyone crying about this.
There has never been a project in california that wasn't built based who benefits from what and who know who.
For all the calls for world class this that an other and europe does this and japan does that, it doesn't sound like folks are ready to play with the big dogs in a world where money talks.

Thats how its done, here, and everywhere else.

You want a train, thats going to be part of the deal. period. YOu wanna kill it because the politics offend your sensibilities, then you aren't ready for big toys anyway.

Anonymous said...

What is the common denominator in all these poorly conceived and executed transit projects? Answer: they were all rammed thru by the local entrenched political machine. Even if you make the argument that nothing can be accomplished without that type of raw power, why do the functionaries have to be so stupid?

The key is that it is impossible to revise schemes once the hierarchy has blessed them. Oobvious blunders, like moving the Central Subway from 3rd & Kearny to Stockton Street effectively go unchallenged.

It is incumbent to go ragging on fiascos even to the point of seeming obsessive. Nonsense like BART broad gauge needs to be exposed. It is healthy to hone the public's skepticism and shine light on backroom corruption. That's why it is right to go on flogging the dumbass Tehachapis detour. The controversy will go on forever because the arguments against the Grapevine remain superficial and dismissive. Everythihg abot the hsr is risky - a major detour into the hinterlands is the riskiest move of all.

This project needs an outside audit, not just of the operations of the bureaucracy, but of the scheme itself, including the routing.

Peter said...

@ Jim

I'm not saying that BART to SFO wasn't conceived with public input. I'm just saying that now that it's built and it's obviously broken, we should fix it. And yes, I do live in San Jose. But I was not here when they were doing the public input process, so I'm unaware of all the history to that.

Peter said...

Ahh, the hinterlands. How are population centers "hinterlands"? Versus avoiding population centers, and thereby going through, well, the hinterlands?

Anonymous said...

anon - the public wanted it moved to 4h. thats why it was moved. everyone thought the zig zag 3rd street plan was crazy.

@peter - yes I remember the public discourse it sounded something like this"

"they're considering stopping the bart outside the airport and them making us take a people mover from milbrae"

"great another half assed bart blunder, why can't they take it into the airport like they do in chicago and paris"

that was the general consensus. that stopping short would be the boondoggle.

The result is that its in the gorgeous new international terminal and arriving foreigners are greeted with a great terminal and immediate rail transport to union square and fidi, in the way they are accustomed.

Locals still have to schlepp a little but at the time Sf was in the early throws of "we have to be world class" ( an attitude I knew we would come to regret)

now in retrospect I was right in that all this focus on trying to be somebody for the last 20 years has brought nothing good and everything bad to the city. and we'd have been better off to focus on running as a pleasant small town that people love to visit.

but its too late.

and the tehachapi detour serves half milllion people while the grapevine serves 4 people.

Anonymous said...

oh and because a day without nimbys is like a day without sunshine there's this

Anonymous said...

Nonsense - Palmdale can be more than adequately served by a regional upgrade. Likewise Bakersfield and Fresno can be served by a branch to the I-5 alignment and still be faster.

The Tehachapis is a dumb move than will stigmatize the hsr permanently. As problems with the hsr begin to emerge big time media with resources way beyond Richard Tolmach will investigate and the results will be very embarrassing to the CHSRA.

By problems I mean environmental issues like noise, vibration and visual blight. Once operations are phased in complaints will also start pouring in and the CHSRA will be subjected to intense scrutiny. Freeways and airports are far worse environmentally than the hsr but there is a difference. Airports do receive continuous public criticism over their noise and pollution, but they employ a great many people, more than the hsr. Freeways are the worst environentally, and are associated with many deaths annually, but the public accepts them because the level of use and access is extremely high, much higher than with the hsr.

Anonymous said...

anon you are just making stuff up now out of thin air.

What would be the point of building hsr and then leaving half the state out of the system while putting them on connectors and conventional rail. That doesn't even make sense. The train goes where the people are and connects all the people to all the other people. get it?

if Im in palmdale and want to get to fresno quickly, you want me to take metrolink to la then take hsr up the i-5 then take a branch line to fresno.

the train will connect all the state current and future population centers together at once.
period. thats how it will be built and thats the way the most people will use it.

Anonymous said...

Palmdale to Fresno? What a joke! I doubt there's enough public transit market there to even support a bus a day.

There's not even one passenger train on the Tehachapis Loop line currently. Be realistic; if there were a genuine demand for rail service on that route the UP could be convinced to cooperate with Amtrak, especially now that rail traffic is way off.

Anonymous said...

youre missing the point. you are only thinking in terms of getting people from sf to la.

the system is designed to accomodate the serving of all the current populations and all the future population growth areas. thats wy it looks the way it does

look you could build bart from concord to sf with no stops in between but you'd lose all the ridership in between and wouldn't have enough to justify it.

by stopping in pleasant hill walnut creek afayete and orinda you do two things with one system. yougather more ridership along the way and you offer service to people in and out of the city AND in between the stations along the way thus maximizing usefulness. hsr will do the same thing.

maximize riderhsip by hitting all the populations along the way. you gain a lot more riderhsip that way.

you aren't going to lose sf-la rideship by doing that either because you still have good travel times and express trains that compete in time with cars and planes.

why is that so hard to grasp?

Alon Levy said...

Likewise Bakersfield and Fresno can be served by a branch to the I-5 alignment and still be faster.

Can you show us what alignment would that be, and how many minutes it would save?

There's not even one passenger train on the Tehachapis Loop line currently.

There are shuttle buses from LA to Bakersfield, which are much faster than the capacity-constrained, bicycle-speed freight trains that go through the Tehachapis.

Anonymous said...

bakersfield is in the top 10 busies in cali with nearly a half million per year already.and thats with only a few trains a day.

Tehachapi Madness said...

It's an interesting idea: why doesn't Amtrak try out a temporary rail route from Bakersfield to LA through the Tehachapi Pass, especially when freight traffic is down?

I think the obvious answer is that the bus bridge across the Grapevine is much faster, even if Amtrak could reach high speeds over the Tehachapi (which has long, steep grades).

Jim, Palmdale has a very small population spread at an ultra-low density. Commercial air operations there are defunct. Why build enormously expensive, high-capacity infrastructure to such a mousehole? Land developers and construction interests.

Anonymous said...

There's not even one passenger train on the Tehachapis Loop line currently. Be realistic; if there were a genuine demand for rail service on that route the UP could be convinced to cooperate with Amtrak, especially now that rail traffic is way off.

That's because there's no room in the schedule for passenger trains - UP has it full to the brim with freight.

Frankly, I'd be thrilled to ride the train instead of the buses. Note that every time I take Amtrak to LA, they fill 5 buses going south from Bakersfield (then two more go elsewhere).


Joey said...


BTW for anyone advocating the grapevine alignment — how do you propose to account for the considerably escalated costs of that route, which could easily amount to more than twice the amount of tunneling as Tehachapi?

Anonymous said...

Five buses... wow, that's serious demand (feel the sarcasm) for a train that arrives six times daily to connect to LA. Obviously, not many people are riding Jim's trains, so he has no clue where people want to go.

Anonymous said...

How do you account for financing the construction and maintenance of the extra 60 miles of trackage that Tehachapi requires over the Grapevine?

Can't build a tunnel across an active fault? Get better tunnel engineers. It is certainly surmountable, and the benefits are so much greater.

With some flexibility in design, you can even avoid tunneling across an active fault. Those studies were rigged and hardly definitive.

Anonymous said...

I feel like we are in a time warp:

Joey said...

Do you have any idea how much more expensive tunneling is compared to at-grade alignments?

Tehachapi Madness said...

Tehachapi will require plenty of tunneling. The long, steep grade is also going to slow HSR trains down significantly according to PB's own plans.

The amount of tunneling over the Grapevine will depend on the speed desired. Higher speed = more straight tracks = more tunnels. Less speed = curvier tracks to climb mountains = less tunnels. Given that the Tehachapi route is already so severely constrained with 60 more miles and that long, steep grade, the Grapevine could easily settle for slower speeds and less tunneling across the mountain.

Robert Cruickshank said...

omg, not this again.

Let's be clear. Nobody criticizing the Tehachapi alignment has ever explained how you can build the route along I-5 at a price we can afford. I have to question whether anyone making this point has ever actually traveled along I-5 over the Grapevine.

It's just not credible to criticize the Tehachapi alignment unless you are willing to spend an unlimited amount of money building a long tunnel through the Tejon Pass/Castaic region.

Tehachapi Madness said...

Tehachapi requires 60 extra miles through difficult terrain and plenty of tunnelling. Tehachapi will require lots of tunnels unless you want to slow the train down significantly.

If you are willing to slow down the train AND add 60 miles to the route, you can easily have the train climb the Grapevine with very little tunneling by relying on climbing curves. Not ideal, but certainly cheaper. If you are going to burden the route with an extra 60 miles and long, steep grades with Tehachapi, why not??? The Grapevine is actually a cheaper option, but this project is not about affordability.

Anonymous said...

anon and tehach madness are out of their minds and don't know what they are talking about.

there are 12 trains daily @ BFD 6 in each direction.

they don't use up tracks because up won't let them and amtrak has been trying for decades.

There are 30 buses a day in and out of BFD.

They don't use the 1-5 because it faster, they use buses over the 1-5 because UP won't let them on the tehach tracks.

The proposed route through the techapapis is not a difficult route and metrolink already goes through there.

further, you can cross the fault at grade rather tan inside a tunnel which makes sense for so many reasons not the least of which is that when there is damage, fixing tracks at grade is a cheap piece of cake and rebuilding a fractured tunnel is a billion dollars.

didn't your mother ever tell you not to talk about sutff while your head is up your ass.

The hsr isnt going over the grapevine.

Not now. not ever. IF you are hell bent on killing the project because you are a nimby or hell bent on killing the project just because you didn't get your way, you're going to have to come up with a better argument.

Anonymous said...

palmdale isnt going to be served by a regional upgrade they are going to be served by high speed rail because los angeles county voted for high speed rail based in part on the the chosen route. You aren't going to pull a bait and switch and try to take hsr away from the central and antelope valleys' BOTH OF WHICH ARE CURRENTLY UNDER SERVED AND BOTH OF WHICH WILL BE ABSORBING A LARGE SHARE OF THE STATE'S FUTURE POPULATION GROWTH

D O Y O U U N D E R S T A A A A A A A N D?

Anonymous said...

you got rocks in your head or what.

Anonymous said...

The proper solution is worth the extra money. The Grapevine is manifestly the superior route. Because it is so much shorter it behooves us to cost it out in detail. Let the engineers work on this problem. Knowledge is power and it is worth the cost to engineer this thing in detail.

I an certain that a private entrepreneur or auslanders in general would not dismiss the Grapevine without a genuinely exhaustive study. Just maybe Balfour Beatty will revisit the I-5 in order to save precious minutes. Just a whisper in Di-Fi's ear might do the trick. The public will understand the obvious that the Grapevine is the more direct route.

K.T. said...

Tehachapi Madness, Anon,

Can you give an example of HSR tunnel that crosses active fault?

Anonymous said...

We don't even know if it is necessary to cross the San Andreas in tunnel.

There is no project that has an "ünlimited cost", not even the Bay Bridge. What could be virtually unlimited are the costs of ongoing operating subsidies. The faster times afforded by the I-5-Grapevine could allow the hsr to break even instead of requiring a subsidy. Remember it is still faster for Bakersfield and Fresno. And significantly faster SF-LA, enough to cut into the airlines.

You don't have to kill the hsr - just reroute it. Just come up with some hokey reasons, like the ones that have been used against the Grapevine.

Anonymous said...

What is your real reason for being against tehachapi? hmmmm?

Alon Levy said...

We don't even know if it is necessary to cross the San Andreas in tunnel.

True. There's one available option for crossing it at grade, which may or may not cross other yet unknown faults in tunnel - it's not known because it depends on meter-scale geology.

The cost estimates for the Tehachapi and Grapevine options are about the same, but the Grapevine has a higher risk of cost overruns, if it turns out that it's impossible to cross the San Andreas at grade.

Anonymous said...

tehachapi also adds a better vegas connection from norcal, even without vegas hsr. because currently passengers have a 6 hour train ride to bakersfield and a five hour bus ride from there. versus a two hour train ride to palmdale and 4 hour bus ride. It almost cuts the travel time in half.

Anonymous said...

My real reason for being against Tehachapi is that I want a bleeding edge hsr.

Anonymous said...

That may be what you want, but that doesn't serve california's broader goals for transportation.

無名 - wu ming said...

it is amazing how the anomymi repeatedly argue on the one hand about CAHSR's supposed cost overruns, and then immediately propose all manner of gold-plated unnecessary additions that would drive the cost up.

Alon Levy said...

My real reason for being against Tehachapi is that I want a bleeding edge hsr.

And my real reason for being against the Grapevine is that I want a system that manages to keep the cost overruns to a reasonable minimum.