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Poll results: Your personal attitude, as a planner (real or 'armchair'), towards ever-expanding suburban areas

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  • Suburbs rule!

    1 0.93%
  • It doesn't matter; my role in a free society is to advise on tech aspects not influence urban form

    7 6.48%
  • My role is to help shape the built environment, but I can't really stop people wanting suburbs

    49 45.37%
  • Planners should actively discourage sprawl and encourage denser forms

    47 43.52%
  • Low-density suburbs are a plague upon the earth; in a perfect world they would be banned entirely

    11 10.19%
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Thread: Your personal attitude, as a planner (real or 'armchair'), towards ever-expanding suburban areas

  1. #76
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Cismontane View post
    That business plan is irrational PI. Give me one revenue-neutral or revenue-positive railed urban system in the US (that's more than a single line or corridor of a larger system), with our without taking amortized capital costs into account. The San Diego MTS railed service is supposed to be one of the least unprofitable in the Americas and it runs at 60-70% farebox recovery and that's mostly because it doesn't really go anywhere and is severely underinvested. LIRR in NY runs at something like 25-30% farebox recovery and its the most heavily used commuter rail system in the country. I think the MTA runs NYC's subways at 55-60% recovery. Yeah yeah, I know that Amtrak says it runs one single segment of NEC service at a profit, but that's one very mature segment only and only because of funny math.

    To the best of my knowledge, Hongkong and Tokyo have systems that run at profits - the only large urban systems in the world to my awareness - but at 100,000+ persons resident per square mile in service corridors, professional "pushers" to shove the passengers into cars at rush hour, and prohibitive taxes on private cars, one should expect so. I don't even think Singapore's system reliably runs at breakeven. There would be physical violence if we tried to run a US system at their throughput volumes, even if we were to shift our primary urban residential typology to 30+ story towers.

    This is my problem with so many smartgrowthers. They rely on unproven scifi assumptions and fantasy modelling to back up their plans. ..kind of like the people in Toronto building out harborfront redevelopment plans with a base 50%+ transit modal share assumption, despite the fact there is no precedent for more than 35% in their city and only in areas with far greater density and employment capture. San Diego County, for example, has two such loser projects: the NCTD Sprinter north commuter system and the South Bay Expressway (a bankrupt toll road). I think both hit 20-30% their planner-predicted usage levels..
    There isn't much privately-operated passenger rail in the United States, for obvious reasons. So, if you are looking for an entire system that is revenue-positive, you're never going to find it here because government isn't a profit-maximizing enterprise. I can point to individual services, like the aformentioned Metrolink, that do have profitable lines that subsidize the unprofitable ones, though. So, why would you discount the former's ability to operate revenue-positive?

    You do know that we used to have profitable railways in the U.S. when passenger rail here was competitive. But, since high-speed rail doesn't really exist in this country, one must look abroad for precedents, and those, of course, are profitable. So, despite all the economic-development benefits that come from this particular mode and that justify capital expenditures in this infrastructure, instead of airport gates or highway lanes, operating subsidies are not only not necessary; several private profit-maximizing companies are interested in investing in the services, including California High-Speed Rail. In the case of DesertXpress (high-speed rail between Las Vegas and San Bernardino County), private developers are building and financing the capital-intensive infrastructure, itself.

    I'm glad you cited the Sprinter because it is an excellent example of most transit being caught in a vicious circle in the U.S. while, in Europe and Asia, virtuous circles are the norm. Levels of service need to increase in order to make transit competitive, and, at the moment, Sprinter doesn't connect major cities or destinations in a timely and convenient fashion. Oceanside, the westerly terminus, has Metrolink, Coaster, and Amtrak services, and Escondido, the easterly terminus, will have California High-Speed Rail. So, let's talk about the ridership of the line after build-out of the more comprehensive system. Similar criticisms are levied by the anti-rail crowd (Reason, Cato, etc.) against the Gold Line trams of L.A. Metro, but they are making these judgments when the corridor is not yet complete. Look at the ridership after the line reaches Claremont, Montclair, and Ontario International Airport. Moreover, transportation investments are a chicken-and-egg proposition by which land uses around transit stations and airports intensify over time, so maturity does matter. Transportation infrastructure, in general, is an asset that realizes its value over the long term.

    As for modal share, the virtuous circle is the key. The gains Toronto, and similar cities, might seek are potentially realistic if these places do enough to create the positive-feedback loop that creates exponential, geometric expansion in transit usage.

  2. #77
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    DesertXpress.
    PI, just because developers are building and financing something doesn't mean that it will be profitable. That system is not built yet. Neither has CAHSR. For all you know, these systems will be as unsuccessful as the South Bay Expressway. You can't credibly cite unbuilt systems as examples of profitability. Having read and analyzed the numbers for the CAHSR business plan (or at least what's been publicly disclosed about it), I can tell you that there are serious questions which have to be asked about it. And not just from me. If you wish to credibly defend a thesis of rail profitability in the US, please cite some real (built) examples with real numbers that we can pick through, not some fantasy glint in a Wall Street bankster's eye. Also, if such a virtuous cycle exists on such a magnitude, can you please give us some (successful and relevant) examples of it so that we can look at those numbers too?

    Until you can do so, I stand by my argument (and the argument of others here) that there are NO profitable passenger rail systems or even distinct elements of systems in the US other than that one segment of the NEC. Please don't try to confuse the issue by trying to distinguish between whole urban systems and parts of one, because you'll just come back to that one single exception which I can explain the hard math on the numbers for if you really want me to.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 29 Jun 2011 at 10:57 AM.

  3. #78
    Cyburbian
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    Keep in mind the while rail needs to be subsidized - so do cars. Roads are paid for by the government so when a government is looking at funding a rail line its not necessarily additional money they need to find, but a redirection of money. They can spend their budget to build/expand roads or build/expand railways or a bit of both.

  4. #79
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
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    Meh. Might as well jump in. Although I'm not speaking against roads (there are clearly many benefits to road networks that rail cannot compensate). However, the main advantage I see to rail lines as opposed to roads is how people pay to use it (by buying a ticket). I think our road systems could benefit quite a bit by placing emphasis on tolling (eg. charging people to use the road the same way you are charged to use a train) rather than focus so much on the gas tax..
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  5. #80
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Howl View post
    Keep in mind the while rail needs to be subsidized - so do cars. Roads are paid for by the government so when a government is looking at funding a rail line its not necessarily additional money they need to find, but a redirection of money. They can spend their budget to build/expand roads or build/expand railways or a bit of both.
    Yes, agreed. I'm not arguing against rail. I generally support rail investments as a complement to road and tired-transit investment, but its proponents need to stop lying about it..just as the road lobbyists need to stop lying about their subsidies.

  6. #81
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by HomerJ9139 View post
    I think our road systems could benefit quite a bit by placing emphasis on tolling (eg. charging people to use the road the same way you are charged to use a train) rather than focus so much on the gas tax..
    They call that New Jersey
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  7. #82
    Cyburbian
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    Personally, i'm very libertarian on the subject. I feel that if a lot of regulations dictating what type of building could be placed in a given place, on how large of a lot were removed, and if developers were required to extend infrastructure through their developments on their own dime, that we would suddenly see the instant return of dense, urbanist, mixed use development.

    Also, regarding trains: Can someone show me some examples of roadways which pay their full development and maintenance costs? Given that cars "pay their way" using fuel taxes, it has to either be fully private (not built with tax money) or non-toll. If the road advocates can show some profitable roads, then they can start talking about trains' cost vs profit.

  8. #83
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by JusticeZero View post
    Can someone show me some examples of roadways which pay their full development and maintenance costs
    BOOT, BOT and certainly BOO tollways should do this and most of them do, at least internationally speaking, in the UK, Europe and Asia. However, there have been rather spectacular failures in the US, such as the Southbay Expressway referenced in my original response below. But in a word, yes, if you don't try to price in the externalities (congestion, environmental damage, etc), many toll roads around the world pay for themselves and even generate profits.

    In terms of entire urban road systems paying for themselves, I think the results have been more mixed. Congestion pricing is not breaking even with new development and maintenance requirements in London, for example, according to preliminary numbers; however, the Singaporean Area Licensing Scheme claims to effectively self-finance the development and operation of the citystate's road system, but that system charges fees in excess of the value of the vehicles, in most cases. I haven't seen any data for Shanghai yet, since they instituted car registration pricing in 2006.. maybe somebody else here has some info.

    I would actually argue that short of the extreme Singaporean system (which I personally think is a great idea), the tollway conparison is a bad one because it fails to take into account the cost of the car. Consumers have to buy - often have to borrow - to buy a car, with tens of thousands of dollars. To me, this should be counted part of the public expense of building and maintaining the roadway system (which calculation usually ends up favoring mass transit - although not necesarily railed transit, to Linda's point - per passenger mile travelled). This latter point is the strongest argument in favor of transit versus private car-oriented urban development policies, and it is often missed by those trying to argue for transit. For the pro-highway-building contingent, I would argue that their math has to include the cost of the vehicle plus financing if they want to include the cost of the rolling stock in the comparable mass transit calculations, if they really want to do fair cost-benefit analysis. Speaking personally, I feel much better off financially, speaking personally, since I don't have to buy and maintain a car.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 29 Jun 2011 at 4:53 PM.

  9. #84
    Cyburbian
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    [QUOTE=Cismontane;596537I would actually argue that short of the extreme Singaporean system (which I personally think is a great idea),[/quote]
    Having seen the Singapore system in person, I do not feel that it can be marked as a "success". This is not because it fails; rather, like some evil djinn of transportation, it perfectly answers the wrong question. Singapore has little problems with congestion, this is true. And Singapore gets a lot of revenues out of the road system. At the same time, they manage to average the same mileage per year per capita as the entire Los Angeles Metro in spite of being quite a small island. So you're seeing some berserk induced demand and social class effects there.

  10. #85
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by JusticeZero View post
    Personally, i'm very libertarian on the subject. I feel that if a lot of regulations dictating what type of building could be placed in a given place, on how large of a lot were removed, and if developers were required to extend infrastructure through their developments on their own dime, that we would suddenly see the instant return of dense, urbanist, mixed use development.

    Also, regarding trains: Can someone show me some examples of roadways which pay their full development and maintenance costs? Given that cars "pay their way" using fuel taxes, it has to either be fully private (not built with tax money) or non-toll. If the road advocates can show some profitable roads, then they can start talking about trains' cost vs profit.
    I would assume that any of the roads that were bought by private companies from states would make a profit or else there would be no incentive to buy them. The closest examples to me would be the indiana tollway and the chicago skyway.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  11. #86
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by JusticeZero View post
    At the same time, they manage to average the same mileage per year per capita as the entire Los Angeles Metro in spite of being quite a small island. So you're seeing some berserk induced demand and social class effects there.
    that may be a function of the fact that their per capita GDP is something like $89k a year, but so be it. Or perhaps because they have trackers on their cars, they just have better data. This being said, the peak commuter modal share in Singapore is 59% to transit, and presumably, for one of the wealthiest cities in the world, that's due to the high cost of owning a car. The government there believes transit modal share should be 70% by 2020 (up for the current 59% in 2010). The MRT generates 2,000,000 trips a day, while bus generates an additional 3,000,000. All in all pretty respectable for a highly suburbanized city of 4,000,000. I love that city despite the heat.. lived there for several years in the late 90s/early 00s. I took the bus every day and didn't have a car. Cabs are cheap too. Friends of mine who did own cars mainly used them on weekends, to get to their second homes up in the Federation. If one didn't need to get to Federation destinations (the four southernmost states of Peninsular Malaysia kind of serves as Singapore's eastern Long Island), one really doesn't need a car... and in fact it's downright irritating given the difficulty in finding urban parking.

  12. #87
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
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    Richard Florida has a new article in The Atlantic which touches on some of the issues that we've discussed in this thread:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/...merica/241200/

    As many of our cities and older inner-ring suburbs are being renovated and revitalized, the great challenge of our time -- far bigger than urban renewal was in decades past -- is to remake our many shoddily-built, far-off exurbs into denser, more- connected, more livable communities. Some of them -- the ones that were built as much to keep the building boom going as because people needed to live in them -- might be fated to shrink back into small towns or disappear altogether.
    Has he previously argued that The Great Reset will include the revitalization of cities and inner-ring suburbs? Sorry, I'm just not convinced that the economic crisis has or will in the future dramatically alter land use/development patterns. When/if the economy rebounds I wouldn't be surprised to see more sprawl. The idea of this great planning effort to retrofit suburbia would require too daunting of a paradigm shift, particularly at the local government level. And then (assuming politics cooperate) there is the question of funding for things like transit to make retrofits actually work. State and local governments are still going to be in the red, strapped with all the infrastructure debt from the last bubble. Those bills will still be due for years down the road. As much as I'd like to buy into the optimism behind The Great Reset, I think there are too many factors working against it (at least from an urban planning perspective). The reset button is stuck.

  13. #88
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by hilldweller View post
    Richard Florida has a new article in The Atlantic which touches on some of the issues that we've discussed in this thread:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/...merica/241200/



    Has he previously argued that The Great Reset will include the revitalization of cities and inner-ring suburbs? Sorry, I'm just not convinced that the economic crisis has or will in the future dramatically alter land use/development patterns. When/if the economy rebounds I wouldn't be surprised to see more sprawl. The idea of this great planning effort to retrofit suburbia would require too daunting of a paradigm shift, particularly at the local government level. And then (assuming politics cooperate) there is the question of funding for things like transit to make retrofits actually work. State and local governments are still going to be in the red, strapped with all the infrastructure debt from the last bubble. Those bills will still be due for years down the road. As much as I'd like to buy into the optimism behind The Great Reset, I think there are too many factors working against it (at least from an urban planning perspective). The reset button is stuck.
    I don't think the current economic crisis is going to undo 250+ years of American culture, either. As Americans, sprawl is us. Much of our history involves sprawl, whether urban historians or planners recognize it or not. What was the whole "westward expansion" and "Manifest Destiny" all about except opening greenfields to development, 18th or 19th century style? The Proclamation of 1763 was the 18th century equivalent of an urban growth boundary since its purpose was to leave the Ohio Valley as it was, and we hated that enough that it was a major grievance leading to the Declaration of Independence.

    Moreover, I think that only those exurbs that were built for lower/moderate income people are likely to wither away. Those people won't be able to afford the gas to commute. The exurban enclaves that were aimed at upper income people aren't going to wither away. They may even become more popular.

  14. #89
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    This is my concern about finding/developing a new alternative, affordable fuel source(s) to power our cars. Sure, it won't pollute the air as much, but it will still support sprawling development and all the issues that come with it. People don't seem to mind driving, afterall. As long as they have a job to go to, it will go on.

    I personally think that is the likely way things will go. Concepts like "peak oil" make the assumption that with shortages of oil comes a total breakdown of society. But I personally feel that if the pressure was on, we would invest more heavily in R&D to develop an alternative source(s). There is just too much money at stake to let things collapse. Currently, though the pressure is not really up to what it needs to be to drive that research.
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  15. #90
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    I don't think the current economic crisis is going to undo 250+ years of American culture, either. As Americans, sprawl is us.
    I agree. Our last re-set happened in the 1930's. It seems much of the sprawl we now have came within the last 70 years. Incidently prior to that time life was not exactly a bowl of cherries for city dwellers. Jacob Riis, Herbert Gans, and William Foote Whyte documented the slums of early america.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  16. #91
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    What's the alternative? Urbane walls of cramped multi-family multi-story housing or offices right against the infrastructure of noisy public transit (because of traffic jams in town or cost to store a car make it prohibitive to own one), or next to dreaded workplaces, eyesore auto repair shops, hazardous industry, blaring sports stadia, etc. right up against wind-swept plains?

    Is there no place for compromise where some people (if they want to) can get away from the "city" and enjoy some space???

    It is natural for the city to spread into the space surrounding it.

  17. #92
    Cyburbian
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    Hey, all you planners out there, don't you know that Americans are a monolith? Don't you know that all Americans want the American dream of an American family living in an American suburb with an American tract house, an American gas-guzzler, and 2.4 American children? Who are you to mess with this vision that the pro-oil, pro-highway, and pro-car lobbies have spent so many decades cultivating and which the social-media arms of these moneyed interests are out in force to preserve?

  18. #93
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Who are you to mess with this vision that the pro-oil, pro-highway, and pro-car lobbies have spent so many decades cultivating and which the social-media arms of these moneyed interests are out in force to preserve?
    I of course can't speak for all, but my inspiration was to help ensure that my corner of the world never ends up like this.

    You certainly seem to lobby a lot for New Urbanism considering you are someone who is against lobbying.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  19. #94
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Streck View post
    What's the alternative? Urbane walls of cramped multi-family multi-story housing or offices right against the infrastructure of noisy public transit (because of traffic jams in town or cost to store a car make it prohibitive to own one), or next to dreaded workplaces, eyesore auto repair shops, hazardous industry, blaring sports stadia, etc. right up against wind-swept plains?

    Is there no place for compromise where some people (if they want to) can get away from the "city" and enjoy some space???
    Of course there is and you most certainly know it. Perhaps your hyperbolic first paragraph is purposely hyberbolic, but development possibilities in the US are most certainly not just the Suburbs or The CIty, but a wide range in between.

    It is natural for the city to spread into the space surrounding it.
    That's a very loaded and bias position.
    Last edited by mendelman; 19 Jul 2011 at 9:02 AM.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  20. #95
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    You certainly seem to lobby a lot for New Urbanism considering you are someone who is against lobbying.
    I don't hire people to spend their days in Washington, D.C. and in state legislatures lobbying politicians to, through the force of law and public policy, mandate that everyone live in suburban sprawl, which is virtually everything that has been built in this country over the last half-century.

  21. #96
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    Quote Originally posted by DetroitPlanner View post
    I of course can't speak for all, but my inspiration was to help ensure that my corner of the world never ends up like this.
    We now have tools and ideas that didn't exist then to insure stuff like that doesn't happen. Assuming there were to be a mass population shift back to urban areas, I find it highly unlikely that there would also be a massive increase in the number of residents living in slums. A lot of this has to do with the fact that the attitude taken towards lots of things (including poverty to an extent) is a lot less laze faire than they were in the 1890s and 1900s. It's now socially acceptable (to an extent) to build affordable/public/mixed income housing without urban residents complaining of the waste of taxpayer dollars to institute Communism and create a world government.
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  22. #97
    Cyburbian Streck's avatar
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    City life per Web MD article:

    City Life Affects Brain's Response to StressThursday, July 7, 2011

    "WebMD" personalhealth@webmdhealth.com

  23. #98
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Pragmatic Idealist View post
    Hey, all you planners out there, don't you know that Americans are a monolith? Don't you know that all Americans want the American dream of an American family living in an American suburb with an American tract house, an American gas-guzzler, and 2.4 American children? Who are you to mess with this vision that the pro-oil, pro-highway, and pro-car lobbies have spent so many decades cultivating and which the social-media arms of these moneyed interests are out in force to preserve?
    It's not people who want to live in suburbs who are constantly trying to force their ideas down other people's throats. Time and again, it's people who advocate for city living who do that. Notice that I didn't say "city dwellers". Most city residents live where they do either because they like city living or they can't afford to move to the suburbs.

    It seems to me that the most rabid advocates of dense urban living don't actually live in those kinds of areas themselves. Many, if not most, are academicians ("my college is located in a small town"), students ("I live in the dorms") and/or suburbanites who long to live the Manhattan lifestyle without Manhattan prices. Few, if any of these folks, have actually lived in the kind of environment they want everyone else to adopt, but, hey, the grass is always greener over the septic tank.

  24. #99
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Linda_D View post
    It's not people who want to live in suburbs who are constantly trying to force their ideas down other people's throats. Time and again, it's people who advocate for city living who do that. Notice that I didn't say "city dwellers". Most city residents live where they do either because they like city living or they can't afford to move to the suburbs.

    It seems to me that the most rabid advocates of dense urban living don't actually live in those kinds of areas themselves. Many, if not most, are academicians ("my college is located in a small town"), students ("I live in the dorms") and/or suburbanites who long to live the Manhattan lifestyle without Manhattan prices. Few, if any of these folks, have actually lived in the kind of environment they want everyone else to adopt, but, hey, the grass is always greener over the septic tank.
    I think he was being sarcastic.
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  25. #100
    Cyburbian
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    Just saw some numbers that might be germane to this discussion (or at least the piece of it a couple of weeks ago when we were debating rail and its profitability). Apparently the Beijing-Tianjin Intercity Rail,operational since 2008, is now profitable, with an average of 69,000 passengers per day and at a 16 to 22 year payout to breakeven, which if you think about it is pretty darn impressive (although still not good enough to privately finance, in my opinion). Note that this compares with 55,000 passengers per day on the (barely profitable) US Northeast Corridor, which I think runs the same number of paired trains each day (about 48), although there may be differences in the number of cars per train that I don't know about.

    I think the moral of the story is, unless you're looking at that type of passenger volume and connecting cities as big as WDC and NYC or Tianjin and Beijing, forget about rail. Beijing Intercity - running through a 55 million person market area with a per capita income at PPP of around $21,000 (nominal of $12,000), is profitable but not enough for truly private financing (it's still a government-constructed and run system). Yes, labor costs are lower in the China but so are the fares, so it all comes out in the wash. That pretty much precludes HSR or even conventional highspeed interurban rail anywhere with lesser populations even at government/subsidized rates of return, CAHSR's completely irrational business plan for California aside (as cited by PI below). NEC in the US has a market of around 50 million but with a per capita income of $39,000.

    Since there just aren't that many any other interurban-commuter markets as big as those two anywhere in the world (you have the potential of maybe 2 in the US and only if you can somehow treat SF-LA-San Diego as a single market, 3 in China, 2 in Europe and 1 in Japan), this pretty much suggests that full farebox recovery on rail is wishful thinking. In other words, profitable rail is a delusion and we should stop kidding ourselves about it.
    Last edited by Cismontane; 18 Jul 2011 at 8:32 PM.

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