Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Train Travel Makes a Comeback: Sold Out Trains

Amtrak has reported that nationwide ridership was up 12% annually in June, when 2.5 million passengers rode.

Ridership on Amtrak's Northeast corridor increased over 3.2% annually in June. A look at the most recent numbers for fiscal year 2008, which covers October through June, reveals an even sharper increase in ridership compared to the same nine months in 2007. From October through June, over 5.6 million passengers traveled the Northeast corridor, from Washington to Boston, versus 5 million during the same period last year, representing an 11% increase (and coming
despite increased fares). Travel on Acela (pictured above), the Northeast-only express service, increased by 8%, from 2.4 million to 2.6 million riders.

On the Northeast corridor it is not unusual to find a large number of trains to be sold out each day.

Link.

See Greg Mankiw's related Cross-Price Elasticity of Demand X
here.

15 Comments:

At 7/29/2008 8:34 AM, Blogger randian said...

The taxpayer doesn't subsidize my car. They do subsidize my Amtrak ticket. It should be no suprise that when gas prices rise more people choose the transportation mechanism that other people pay for.

 
At 7/29/2008 8:55 AM, Blogger Thomas Blair said...

The taxpayer doesn't subsidize my car.

You're not driving on roads, are you?

 
At 7/29/2008 10:33 AM, Blogger David said...

Passenger rail cannot be more than a minor factor in US transportation unless we build a substantial amount of new high-speed-capable track. The environmentalists are not going to allow us to do this, regardless of how much they like rail *in theory*.

Try to build a 500 mile rail line (or power transmission line, or any other form of connected infrastructure), anywhere in the United States, and see how long you are tied up in litigation, environmental impact statements, and regulatory gamesmanship.

 
At 7/29/2008 11:13 AM, Blogger Gregory said...

3.2% increase is pathetic considering how expensive gas has become.

A train is a terrible transportation system for people no matter how much track you build.

It is because, as david points out, we already have a substantial amount of high-speed track: they are called interstate highways. While the fastest Amtrak train can push 80mph along multi-million dollars-per-mile track, any Greyhound bus can do 70mph along existing highways. Not just for some stretches, but the entire way barring traffic.

I believe we could eliminate a lot of our congestion if we just privatised the urban bus system. The de-conjested highways would allow inter-city bus lines to be more competitive against airlines.

 
At 7/29/2008 11:19 AM, Blogger Thomas Blair said...

Gregory,

I'll never get on a long-distance bus again. A 3-hour drive from Memphis to Nashville took me 6 hours on a Greyhound because of all the passenger stops along the way. Plus, the bus was dirty and uncomfortable.

 
At 7/29/2008 11:36 AM, Blogger Gregory said...

You are absolutely right. The current bus system sucks, but for long term reasons. The current bus system suffers two problems: first, it is geared towards the poor which do not care how comfortable the ride is or how long it takes. Secondly, it has very low ridership so to pay a bus to go from Memphis to Nashville it must stop 20 times along the way.

However, this is not a rule. In a privatized bus world there is nothing to stop an entrepreneur from running a bus non-stop from Memphis to Nashville in three hours, all they need is the ridership and a customer base eager to get there quickly.

We can get there, all it requires is getting those that can afford a car emotionally used to riding a bus. I will never ride a city bus again, because it takes 90 minutes to travel the same distance a car can go in 20 minutes because it stops every friggin' block. But it does not have to; a private bus company can run a smaller bus, get an 18 year old to drive it, stop at a few apartment complexes, then go straight to the front door of a few major employers. However, they currently cannot because doing so is illegal in every U.S. city. Where I live you need a waiver from the city to run a free shuttle.

 
At 7/29/2008 11:44 AM, Blogger Gregory said...

I just looked into it, and it turns out that in many states, to be elegible for government subsidies greyhound buses must stop far more than even greyhound would like; perhaps as much as every city they drive through. So, even if Greyhound would like to have smaller stop-everywhere busses handle the small towns and have their big inter-city busses go non-stop, doing so would cost them their government subsidies.

 
At 7/29/2008 1:51 PM, Blogger Shawn said...

btw...for some private bus information, feel free to check out (guess who) google's system.

I won't be surprised if wal-mart doesn't start doing this before long.

Google--we'll pick you up!

 
At 7/29/2008 1:52 PM, Blogger Shawn said...

sorry; too many negatives in there.

"i won't be surprised if wal-mart starts doing this soon."

 
At 7/29/2008 1:55 PM, Blogger randian said...

> You're not driving on roads, are you?

Highway subsidies amount to less than half a penny per passenger mile. By comparison, transit subsidies are more than 61 cents per passenger mile. That calculation ignores all of the excise, sales, and income taxes on auto-related goods and services that are diverted away from the automobile into public transit and the general fund. I am sure a proper accounting would reveal that there is no subsidy of autos. Which hardly refutes my point, which is that public transit is perceived by the public as "cheaper" precisely because much more of its operating costs are paid by somebody else, not because it is in fact cheaper. Public transit doesn't save energy or money and is terrible at actually getting you anywhere, which is why I reject attempts to expand its scope.

 
At 7/29/2008 3:11 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"You're not driving on roads, are you?"...

Hmmm, if randian is buying gasoline or diesel for his/her vehicle, isn't randian paying his/her own way unlike the AMTRAK riders?

Personally I used to like riding trains but now its not so fun anymore... One can't even smoke in the bar car...

None the less consider the amount of extorted tax dollars the House wants to spend on AMTRAK:

H.R. 6003 Would Be the Costliest Bailout in Amtrak's 40 Years of Federal Subsidies

'Even more inequitable is the per passenger federal subsidy, which the U.S. Department of Transportation calculates at $210.31 per passenger per 1,000 miles for Amtrak passengers, compared to $6.18 for those using commercial airlines'...

skip

'Since Amtrak's inception in 1970, the annual business-as-usual bailout has allowed it to squander more than $30 billion in taxpayer money for the benefit of a tiny fraction of the traveling public and its overpaid workforce'...

 
At 7/29/2008 7:07 PM, Anonymous Craig said...

I'd sooner think that the uptick in Amtrak ridership has more to do with the increasingly ugly airline situation in this country than it does with high gas prices.

 
At 7/30/2008 8:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I can drive from my home in South Louisiana to where I usually want to go in the Houston area in about 4 1/2 hours. Amtrak takes about 5 hours. Ignoring the cost of a ticket that's not too bad of a trade off. The problem is it is not unusual for the train to run 3 to 4 hours late. It almost always runs late in fact. Good luck with anyone ever using Amtrak as serious transportation in the New Orleans, Lafayette, Lake Charles, Beaumont to Houston corridor.

 
At 7/30/2008 12:35 PM, Blogger juandos said...

"I'd sooner think that the uptick in Amtrak ridership has more to do with the increasingly ugly airline situation in this country than it does with high gas prices"...

Good point craig...

I got to tell you though even with the higher ticket prices, fuel surcharges, security surcharges, and let's not forget this recent development, 'charging extra for the first piece of luggage checked and more for the second one' I've not seen a downturn yet in airline traffic...

I started working for the airlines in early '76 and I find it more than a bit bizzare myself...

 
At 7/30/2008 8:16 PM, Blogger OBloodyHell said...

>>> The taxpayer doesn't subsidize my car.

> You're not driving on roads, are you?


Paid for more by gas taxes than by income taxes or other taxes, I believe. Also supposedly paid for in the local instance by impact fees placed on developers and such, which are passed onto the users.

I'm very open to dispute about the percentage from non-user tax sources, mind you, and you can certainly argue about state-vs-county-vs-federal roadways, too.

Where do the taxes that pay for Amtrak come from?

====

As far as the topic itself goes, the northeast corridor is a special case -- the density there, esp. in the urbanized regions, is almost European, so public transport does make sense. Are there any other areas which can provide similar densities? The only places I could see such having a useful possibility, offhand from my own experience would be Miami-WPB in FL, Tampa-Disney-Orlando-Daytona Beach, in FL, and the region around Chicago, probably.

I gather LA is spread way out, as is SF. I found Dallas to seem like LA appears, as was Denver and Atlanta, although my experience with all three is 15 yrs old.

So the experience in the NE Corridor is atypical of most of America. I'm curious what the ridership figures are in the Miami-WPB corridor, as that might also support such, and I know it has regular daily passenger service back and forth.

> In a privatized bus world there is nothing to stop an entrepreneur from running a bus non-stop from Memphis to Nashville in three hours, all they need is the ridership and a customer base eager to get there quickly.

The problem, though is clear: One major difference between the train or the bus, and a car is, once you get there, you get to keep the car.

This is probably one of the major advantages to a car, and it far outweighs the benefits of the buses or the trains. Further, with the car, you are on your own schedule -- if you need to work late, or want to run some errands before going back, well, hey, like the Nike commercial said, Just Do It. You don't have to worry about missing the last bus, or waiting for two hours for the next bus.

What we need is more computerized cars -- computerized cars could certainly do most of the driving on highways, if not the open streets, and quite possibly do it better -- and a computer could add
two major benefits to highway driving:
1) It could draft -- by communicating with other cars, you could effectively get a chain of a dozen cars or so drafting each other and gaining substantial increases in fuel efficiency. You would not want humans doing this, but computers could easily follow the car ahead by mere feet.

2) The driver can do whatever they want during the trip -- read a book, watch a tv show, play a video game. Essentially have a chauffeur.

-- That last comment is more important than you think. By eventually computerizing/automating cars, we can do an awful lot towards easing congestion and parking issues which are currently one of the difficulties of cars in cities. When you can tell your car to go park itself after it drops you off, parking facilities can be larger and farther away than currently (you would presumably summon it via your cell phone or other device, and both would use GPS tracking to reconnect you).

In addition, cars can and would be able to pick alternate routes from point A to point B which would distribute traffic flow more evenly and avoid problem areas such as construction and accidents.

One of the problems with cars being automated is that people don't grasp that they don't need "vision" -- a car does not have to recognize what it is about to hit -- it only needs to realize that it IS about to hit, and act accordingly. About the only thing you lose that way is that a person *might* have the foresight in a critical situation to hit another object rather than a person or child (you might counterbalance this by a couple means, including recognizing "hard" objects over soft, and by favoring immobile objects over moving ones). This is counterbalanced by the ability to anticipate better the requirements for stopping. A car can react instantaneously when it perceives a collision course -- and can brake and swerve at the optimal speeds to prevent a collision, if possible. There are issues to resolve, yes, but we could do most of this right now without a lot of new hardware, and only a limited amount of new software.

*That* is where the future lies.

 

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