My blogging colleague, Mark Powell, has just posted a new entry regarding ridership forecasts. I will let Mark speak for himself on this blog.
Just as a side comment, ridership forecasts are frequently used as offensive weapons in the war to defeat the objectors to an overpriced rail system (such as ourselves). That is, the higher the forecast, the greater the imperative to blow through as many billions of dollars as possible to built said train. Therefore, when a project such as this one, the California High-Speed Rail Project, is so aggressively being promoted, we can expect incredibly inflated ridership numbers. The rail authority did not disappoint.
How about the number 117 million annual riders? That's one third of the entire population of the United States. And that's the number the CHSRA gave us just before the elections in 2008 that locked in this project. Right after the elections, when they won, and after there was press ridicule of that 117 million number, the rail authority (drawing on the highest authorities they could buy) lowered that number to the high forty million. Today it's still dropping but by less.
(Picture goes here of members of CHSRA Board with their pants on fire.)
There's a pattern here, described by Bent Flyvbjerg in his research. After all those dollars are spend for construction of such a rail project as this one, and the multiples of cost over-runs are incorporated, it turns out that actual ridership is a fraction of the initial projections.
Example: the Chunnel was projected to carry 19 million annual riders. Now they are up to 10 million, and that's after over fifteen years of operation. Oh, and by the way, that's between two insignificant, under-populated towns like London and Paris. (So, what will it look like between San Francisco and Los Angeles? I'm guessing even fewer people and certainly nothing like forty.)
The most successful fast train project in the US is the Acela. It was forecast to carry nearly 20 million annual passengers before being installed, and now they are breaking their record of annual riders with 7 million.
May I just point out that Mark doesn't write that many entries, but those that do appear are carefully annotated with data sources, often the rail authority's own numbers. I strongly urge readers to take what he says very seriously.
One additional point. The latest business plan suggests that travel time will, in fact, take much longer than previously predicted. So, that impossible promise of 2:40 hours has now fallen by the wayside, as have so many other inflated or exaggerated numbers.
People are not going to stop flying. The airlines know how to compete. They're not going to give up their short-haul market easily. Short-haul flight is critical, if only as connector flights for long-haul travel. There are eight airports in the LA region, three in the Bay Area. Which is more convenient, flying or taking a train to only one available station in each downtown of the two connected cities?
People are not going to stop driving to LA. There's a reason we all drive even if the trip takes longer; it's less expensive and they have a car at their destination. High-Speed Rail won't take any cars off truck-filled I -5, the major north/south Interstate. The real traffic congestions are intra-regional, within the Bay Area and within the Los Angeles Basin, not inter-city.
HIGH-SPEED RAIL RIDERSHIP FORECASTS ARE PREPOSTEROUS!
POSTED ON DECEMBER 4, 2011 BY MARK
The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s newest Business Plan forecasts that when Phase 1 is completed in 2033, 8.7 million high-speed train (HST) trips will be made annually between San Francisco and Los Angeles/Anaheim [Note 1] [Note 2]. These 8.7 million HST riders must essentially come from two sources; airline passengers or automobile passengers. Listed below are three reasons why airline and automobile passengers will not switch to the HST in anywhere near the numbers claimed by the Rail Authority.
Reason #1 Travel Times by HST are Closer to Driving than to Flying.
Traveling by high-speed train between the Bay Area and the LA Basin will take 2 ? hours longer than flying.
While the Authority speaks of traveling from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes on an Express Train, Express Trains will be the exception and not the rule. According to the Peak and Non-Peak Train Schedules [Note 3] included in the 2012 Draft Business Plan only 22% of trains will be Express Trains and the average time for all trains traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles will be 3 hours and 22 minutes. The average time for all trains traveling between San Francisco and Anaheim will be nearly 4 hours….3 hours and 57 minutes to be precise. These times compare to flight times of 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Consider the situation of a person living near Anaheim who chooses to travel to San Francisco via the HST. This person must leave their home or business one hour before scheduled departure of the HST. The HST travel time is four hours. Add another hour to exit the train terminal and travel to the person’s final destination and total travel time increases to six hours.
The person might as well drive. According to directions obtained from Google Maps it only takes 6 hours and 47 minutes to drive from Anaheim to San Francisco. If your destination in the Bay Area is east of downtown San Francisco (and there are few destinations west of downtown San Francisco) you might even get there faster with your automobile than with the with high-speed train.
Reason #2 6.2 Million Airline Passenger Trips/Year Converting to HST Trips. Really??
According to the Authority, 5.2 million persons/year who would otherwise be flying between the Bay Area and the LA Basin (54% of projected total airline ridership) will choose to take the train [Note 4]. For example, 57% of passengers currently flying between San Francisco International and Ontario Airport [Note 5] , a 1 hour and 20 minute flight, will instead chose either a 3 hour and 22 minute train ride to downtown LA, a destination 40 miles west of the Ontario Airport, or a 3 hour and 57 minute train ride to Anaheim, a destination 34 miles southwest of Ontario Airport. If it is assumed that persons flying into and out of Ontario Airport use that airport because they live near it, their arrival by train in either downtown Los Angeles or Anaheim probably costs them another 30 minutes or more in travel time. In total, traveling by train instead of by airplane will cost these potential HST riders nearly 3 hours of travel time. Proponents of HST claim that a savings of 17% of the cost of a one way airline ticket, about a $15 savings, will induce them to make the switch to HST. Really??
In an even more egregious example, the Authority claims that 1 million persons/year [Note 6] who would otherwise fly between the Bay Area and San Diego (31% of projected airline ridership) [Note 7] will instead opt for the nearly four hour HST ride between Anaheim and San Francisco coupled with an Amtrak connection between San Diego and Anaheim requiring an additional 2 hours of travel time. Add one hour to make the Amtrak/HST connection and it will take roughly 7 hours to travel between San Diego and the Bay Area via HST instead of the 1 hour 40 minute flying time. Riders will presumably add 5 hours and 20 minutes to their travel time if the rail ticket price is 17% less than the airline price, a savings of roughly $20 on a one-way ticket.
Reason #3 2.5 Million Automobile Passengers/Year Switching to the HST is Based on Faulty Automobile Trip Data.
While the Authority’s diversion of airline passengers to the HST seems absurdly high, it still results in the need for 2.5 million auto travelers switching from their automobile to the train. The Cambridge Systematics report on inter-regional travel [note 8] asserts that 29.3 million persons travel between the LA Basin and the Bay Area each year. This number seems incredible in that it requires each person living in the Bay Area and in the LA Basin to travel once every 2 years to and from the other location. It is also stated that 67% of these trips are by automobile [note 9]. These numbers imply that on a daily basis, 54,000 people are driving between the Bay Area and the LA Basin. That’s a lot of cars…..27,000 with 2 persons per car.
Fortunately, the number of automobiles driving each day between the LA Basin and the Bay Area can be cross-checked using publicly available California Department of Transportation data. The California DOT incorporates sensors to count vehicle flow along all major highways and at on/off ramps. The sensors located along I-5 running through the Central Valley have been studied and show that on average no more than 6900 vehicles per day are traveling between the Bay Area and the LA Basin [note 10] inclusive of travelers taking alternative routes along Hwy 99 and Hwy 101. This count is only one fourth the size of the number being used by the Authority to project HST ridership.
If Authority’s value of 54,000 daily automobile passenger trips between the Bay Area and the LA Basin is accurate, then only one in eight passengers must switch to HST to garner the additional 2.5 million yearly riders. With only one-fourth the traffic volume assumed by the Authority, California DOT traffic count data indicates that one in two automobile riders would need to switch to the HST to generate the additional 2.5 million yearly HST riders.
Whether the number is one in two or one in eight, a reasonable person needs to ask this question; Why would anyone who for years has chosen to travel by automobile instead of the much faster airline switch to the only slightly faster HST at essentially the same cost as the airline trip? The advantages associated with driving instead of flying are still valid for the person driving instead of taking the HST. That is, you travel when you chose to travel, you go directly to your destination, you arrive with a car and do not need to rent one, and extra passengers travel at no additional cost.
It’s time to put a stop to the Authority and their wasteful project. Write to your state and federal elected officials and tell them that too much money has already been wasted on HST studies and that this project needs to be shut down now. Governor Brown should not be contemplating higher taxes to close a budget deficit while proposing to spend billions more on what most of America is now calling a California boondoggle.
Statements made in this article are supported by footnotes shown below. Original source documents can be obtained by clicking on the highlighted notes imbedded in the article.
Note 1 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix D; Memorandum to Nick Brand regarding HSR Ridership and Revenue 2030 Model Runs (10-008, 10-013, 10-014a, 10-014b,10-015, 10-016), Tables 1 and 2
Note 2 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Chapter 6 Ridership and Revenue, page 6-17, Exhibit 6-16
Regarding Note 1 and Note 2:
The 8.7 million passenger number is derived from the average of eight Phase 1 ridership scenarios [Note 1] developed by the Authority’s ridership consultant, Cambridge Systematics and adjusted to reflect a total Phase 1 ridership of 35.8 million [note 2]
Note 3 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix D; Memorandum to Nick Brand regarding HSR Ridership and Revenue 2030 Model Runs (10-008, 10-013, 10-014a, 10-014b,10-015, 10-016), Peak/Non-Peak Train Schedules on page 22
Note 4 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix A, Potential Airline Response to High-Speed Rail Service in California, Tables 1,12,and 14
Note 5 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix A, Potential Airline Response to High-Speed Rail Service in California, page 37, Table 14, Assumed Diversion of Air Trips to HSR by Market – 2030
Note 6 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix A, Potential Airline Response to High-Speed Rail Service in California, Tables 1,12,and 14
Note 7 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix A, Potential Airline Response to High-Speed Rail Service in California, page 37, Table 14, Assumed Diversion of Air Trips to HSR by Market – 2030
Note 8 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix C, Long-Distance Interregional Survey Results, page 28, Table 20, Average Daily Long Distance Interregional Trips
Note 9 California High-Speed Rail 2012 Business Plan, Ridership and Revenue Forecasting – Draft Technical Memorandum; Appendix C, Long-Distance Interregional Survey Results, page 34, Exhibit 5
Note 10 Results from an analysis of California Department of Transportation website data for 2010 relating to traffic volume on I-5 between the I-5/Hwy 99 Interchange and the I-5/I-580 Interchange, Ramp On/Off Data for 2010, and Truck Traffic Data. Use the Contact button at on the website www.againstcaliforniahsr.com to request a copy.