The High Speed Rail Authority released its report about the initial findings on the review of Cambridge Systematics (CS) ridership model to Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) Thursday at 9 am after 10 attempts to get the information over a period of 3 months. The Ridership Peer Review Panel (Ridership Panel) unanimously reached consensus and they say while they were impressed with many aspects of the work by CS, the model suffers from “important technical difficulties” They highly recommend an eight-week retrospective survey of long distance travel as well as many short term actions before the Panel will be in a position “to make a more definitive determination about the model and forecasts derived from it.”
Here is the actual report with a final production date of July 22, 2011. It was the study of the January-March, 2011 Review Period http://www.calhsr.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/PRP-first-report-final2.pdf
The LA Times was the first to break the story that the report had been released. http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-high-speed-ridership-20110729,0,7694204.story While the subject may be quite technical there is an important back-story that is easy to understand was not covered in their story.
Jeff Barker, Deputy Executive Director of the High Speed Rail, who turned in his resignation July 28th, was stalling to give CARRD a ridership report which was contractually due by the Ridership panel within15 days of their first January meeting. CARRD also had reason to believe that the Authority received the report prior to April 21st.
Jeff Barker said in a July 14th phone conversation, they only had drafts and that CARRD wanted the information so they could put it on their website and make them [the Authority] look bad. CARRD was the group after all who discovered the ridership model anomalies and who could interpret the technical report – – but perhaps there’s more.
Richard Mlynarik, a transit and High Speed Rail advocate, observed there was more. On Robert Cruikshank’s blog, he said it was for “a blindingly obvious reason: to deny plaintiffs information that might have been used before a legal filing deadline that is now long passed.” Clem Tillier, a high speed rail advocate is known for his technical analyses of train related issues and he too agrees with Mlynarik, “If this document had been published earlier, it would immediately have been entered as evidence by the plaintiffs in Sacramento Superior Court civil case.”
Is this a coincidence or was it deliberate? Intent is hard to prove.
As suggested in the Atherton 2 lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court civil case 34-2010-800000679, of which CARRD is not a litigant and only provided technical testimony, train frequency and possible “errors” in the numbers may have played a major factor in the Authority choosing Pacheco Pass over the Altamont Pass route for the Central Valley to Bay Area corridor. The Authority has argued publicly at senate hearings and in court briefs it’s our expert against yours, so you have to believe us. And it’s true usually in an environmental lawsuit if there is a debate between experts, the courts usually side with the state. There is also sworn testimony by Norman Marshall who is an expert of ridership models and also provided sworn testimony that there were major issues with the study. See both Elizabeth Alexis and Norman Marshall’s sworn affidavit on the TRANSDEF site. http://transdef.org/HSR/Ridership.html,
But now enters a fourth opinion, not just any group but the Authority’s own Ridership Review panel which appears to question some of the very same assumptions they did surrounding the frequency of trains that UC Berkeley, ITS and Elizabeth Alexis, econometrics expert and Norman Marshall.
Example: if you were taking a train to work for a short hop and you could just show up and hop on a train because you know one is coming every 5 minutes, the convenience of not messing with schedules would encourage you to use the service. This is considered an urban trip. The theory is the shorter the period people have to wait for a train, the more the service will be used. But with a long distance trip, called intercity trips, you plan much like a plane trip. You show up when you plan to board. You do not randomly show up and catch just any train; you make a decision about the departure time so waiting (out of vehicle travel time) should not be the same as the shorter urban trip.
The Altamont Pass route was heavily penalized with lower ridership numbers because of this factor since they did not have frequent service for these longer trips. The Authority’s ridership peer review panel does not agree the penalty is the same for the intercity rider as the urban rider “where the behavior is quite different.”
If re-calculated, logically the route that was penalized the most, would gain the most ridership. Therefore in all probability, since the numbers were close, Altamont might have had the edge over Pacheco in ridership- one of the key elements for selection since high ridership equals ticket revenue.
Authority Restrictions to the Ridership Peer Review
The Ridership Panel’s review of Cambridge Systematics report was dated July 22, 2011- http://www.calhsr.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/02/PRP-first-report-final2.pdf.
Though this Ridership Panel found “important technical deficiencies in the model”, they were not permitted a historic view of its development. Van Ark wanted them to move forward, not look behind stating in the presentation to the Panel that the “existing model is good enough” for Environmental Review and outreach. The Panel stated that limiting the review of the data was the Authority’s way to not further debate the controversies of the past but [to decide] where to go next with their forecasting efforts. It was also determined by the Authority that they should not waste taxpayer money on “unnecessary and unproductive modeling and data collection”.
While Van Ark has described the Ridership Panel as “world class,” they are oddly required to turn over their work to the another body called the Independent Peer Review Group so that they can evaluate the reliability of the work and “guide [the] model update and support risk analysis. See slide number 24 in the presentation to the Ridership Panel. They also had a member of the Parsons Brinckerhoff team who served as a facilitator and recorder of the meeting who was there for the” convenience of the chair.” http://www.calhsr.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/2011_01_10_Ridership_Peer_Review_first_meeting.pdf
Questions have also recently come up from the public about the role of the Independent Peer Review group. Comments suggest that some members behaved more like colleagues of the Authority than an objective, arms length group giving opinions of the Authority’s work product. It would seem if the members of the Ridership Panel are experts in their field, they would merely pass through their work product to Independent Peer Review Group to be used when they review the requirements in the enabling legislation Assembly Bill 3034 for the business plan and/ or funding requests for construction of segments.
But despite the restrictions surrounding the study of the ridership model, the Ridership Panel left us with one easy to understand hint about the model’s worthiness:
The report points out, “the frequency of service in San Francisco ([with] 8 million residents) in full build-out of 12 trains per hour are [SIC] comparable to Tokyo with [a population of] 30 million.” The panel questioned whether such assumptions are realistic and what the effect of lower levels of service would bring.
Others agree, consider this excerpt from an independent source,“A Reality Check on High-Speed Rail for California” By Christine Cosgrove, published in November 2009.
The author states that“even if high-speed rail attracted everyone who drove and flew between the Los Angeles basin and the San Francisco Bay Area during the year 2007, it would amount to only eight million passengers per year; nowhere near the numbers projected by the California High Speed Rail Authority, explained CEE professor Mark Hansen. But even that estimate is optimistic. HSR would be extremely unlikely to capture most current air travelers due to lack of transportation connectivity in most California cities and regions.”
The multi-billion dollar question is: what would happen, what would be found if a group could develop a model without restrictions and independent of the Authority’s control and direction? As a side note, Cambridge Systematics, who prepared the controversial ridership model was awarded “no bid” contract of nearly 5 million dollar contract for the fiscal years 2010 through 2013. Slide 29 in the presentation to the Ridership Panel. This is in addition to the first sum they received from MTC per their contractural agreement of $1,426,265 for the period of February 2005 to August 31, 2006 as they began work on the model. All contracts are on CARRD’s website on the ridership page. www.calhsr.com
Perhaps the legislators should reassess their position and allow University of California, Berkeley, Institute of Transportation (ITS) to do a brand new study before the taxpayers of California are on the hook for billions of dollars.
See the first story about the Public Records pursuit. http://joltleft.com/transportation-policy-in-san-francisco/public-records-request-or-catch-us-if-you-can
See many more ridership factors at CARRD’s site: http://www.calhsr.com/resources/ridership-forecast/