Thursday, August 4, 2011

High-Speed Rail won't replace driving

Although this article is about a poll regarding high-speed rail in the UK, the HS2, its findings would surely parallel those if a legitimate poll were taken in California.  So far, we have not had such a poll, since those that have been conducted up to now are sponsored by the CHSRA or their croneys and contractors, or their political supporters. Therefore, these should be considered "push-polls" which are intended as political propaganda rather than honest information seeking. ("Do you love puppies?")

However, I even have some problems with some of the findings in this particular British poll.  When interviewees are asked whether they would ride a high-speed train or not, are they told that the ticket costs will be far higher than the next level of train service down, such as Express trains?  When 42% of the Scots say they would ride the HS2 if it became a service, how many of them have been told what the ticket costs will be?

This point has been one of the contaminating issues with the California ridership numbers, since polls were part of that study.  Train riders were asked if they would ride the train.  Were they told what the tickets could cost, and if so, what were those costs?

The study does strongly suggest that it's not drivers that would give up driving to take the train, or, more importantly, that the high speeds, which make the train so costly to build and operate and are their major selling point, are not the critical variable in peoples' minds, which are possible convenience and affordability.  

One principle frequently neglected in these discussions is the first and last mile problem.  When comparing highway costs to HSR costs, it should be borne in mind that access to any highway, anywhere begins with everyone's driveway or parking space -- everyone.  That's not the case with HSR.  You have to get to the station, and we all won't be living across the street from that station.

In other words, it's important that transit goes to where people are, and it does not oblige people to go where transit is.  The point here is that to be effective, transit, whether local, urban, regional or inter-city, must have very high accessibility and almost without fail must be inter-modal.  Rail, alone, which is quite inflexible, won't cut it.

The paradox of high-speed rail is that in order to be high-speed, it can make few if any stops between terminals. Therefore, only those in close proximity to those terminals can benefit from it's service.

It should also be said that the claim for high-speed rail that it will relieve traffic congestion is specious.  The traffic congestion with which we are so familiar exists within, not between, population centers and regions.  HSR is an inter-city transit capacity and will compete only with short-haul flying, not with highway driving.
Motorists doubt purpose of high-speed rail
4 Aug 2011

Only three per cent of motorists say speed would be an important factor in persuading them to use the Government's proposed HS2 high-speed rail line, according to an AA/Populus survey today.

Cost was the most important factor for 62 per cent of the 16,850 AA members polled, with 18 per cent stating proximity of a station to their home or office was vital.

Asked if they would use high-speed rail (HSR) if it was available for a journey they usually made by car, 33 per cent of those polled said they would, 34 per cent said they would not and the rest did not know.

With HS2's planned first phase due to run from London to Birmingham, the poll indicated that those most likely to immediately benefit from the project were those least keen on it.

Just 30 per cent of those polled who lived in London and only 31 per cent of those living in Birmingham said they would be likely to use HS2.

But 35 per cent of people in Wales and 42 per cent of those in Scotland said they would use HSR if it came to their area.
The survey also showed that those on lower incomes were less likely to use HSR (26 per cent would) than those on higher incomes (37 per cent would).

Cost of tickets was a major concern for 74 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds but was less of a concern for those living further away such as Scotland (57 per cent), or south west England (67 per cent).

AA president Edmund King said: "It appears that perhaps the main raison d'etre of HSR - speed - seems pretty irrelevant to most drivers.

"Two thirds of members are concerned about costs of using rail and therefore we believe that rail enhancements that are cheaper, based more on reliability and increased capacity, rather than speed, would be much more effective in convincing some drivers to let the train take the strain."

He went on: "There are clear divisions between those that would use HSR, those that definitely wouldn't and those that just don't know. It is clear that cost of ticket, proximity to station and reliability are much more important than speed.

"If speed is not the over-riding factor then it seems that the Government is backing the wrong horse with HS2. This scheme will not provide best value for money. Spending the £34 billion cost on conventional rail upgrades, removing road bottlenecks, building bypasses and improving road maintenance would provide much better value for money."

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