Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Attention High-Speed Rail; We're Driving Less. We don't need you to make that happen.

Just a quicky here.  One of the major arguments for high-speed rail has been that once built and operating, there would be a reduction in automobile use in the US and especially in California, which is, as we all know, car country.  This reduction would, of course, reduce the amount of fuel consumed, the environment polluted, and 'foreign oil' purchased.

As it happens, auto driving is diminishing noticeably even as we speak. (See article, below)  It can't be because of high-speed rail; they aren't running yet.  (Maybe it's the mere threat.  People, out of fear, are abandoning their cars left and right, in order to get in line to ride the HSR when it begins operating.  OK, that's smart-ass and I take it back.)

Here's the point.  All the arguments in favor of the train have been simple-minded sloganeering, bumper-sticker thoughts that have a surface sound of plausibility, but upon examination are far more complicated and invariably they end up being completely untrue.  Here's one case.  There is nothing inherent in anticipating a driving increase in a culture undergoing a basic transformation.

Have you heard about telecommuting? Have you heard about video-conferencing?  Have you heard about on-line shopping? To quote Dylan's frequently cited song title, "The Times, They Are A-Changin'."  Even if our highways today are cluttered with gas guzzling SUVs, that is not the trend toward the future. The HSR mistake is comparing themselves with today's and yesterday's air and highway transit modes to a train that won't be completed for 30 years. They ignore, of course, that flying and driving will also undergo dramatic changes.

I disagree that the population will expand as rapidly or as largely as now forecast.  I disagree that we will need all those additional highway lanes and runways that the rail authority threatens if we don't let them build this boondoggle for themselves. Those two issues must become de-coupled. I disagree that, through "social engineering," we will oblige people to abandon their cars and drive less, and that this will be accomplished by building a fancy luxury inter-city train for the well to do.

Our travel behavior patterns are already in transformation, without high-speed rail.  Our transit technologies and infrastructure are also changing and will continue to do so.  By the time of the possible completion of HSR, many of those changes will have happened, and possible justifications for building the train in the first place will no longer be around. 

Americans drove less, spent more on gas in 2011
Sunday - 12/25/2011, 11:38am  ET

Hank Silverberg,

WASINGTON -- Does it seem like you drove less and paid more in 2011?

Americans drove 222.3 billion miles by September of this year, almost 30 billion fewer miles more than 2010. It also cost more.
AAA says by the time the year ends next week, the average American household will have spent $4,155 on gas this year, $840 more than in 2010.

Next year could be even more expensive.

The average price for gas in the D.C. metro region for the year was $3.53 for a gallon of unleaded regular.

That's 75 cents higher than the average in 2010 and $1.21 higher than 2009. It's also the the highest on record for Christmas week.

The auto club is predicting prices will bottom out around Groundhog Day on Feb 2, but move to as high as $4.00 a gallon by late spring.

Despite the higher prices, two million Washington area residents are driving on holiday trips this year. That's a 2.1 percent increase over 2010.
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