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High speed rail is an old school transit solution

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POSTED October 29, 2012 12:46 a.m.

It’s ironic that Jerry Brown - a governor who embraces high tech innovation, the environment, economic growth, and improving the lot of the little guy - wants his legacy decided by the modern-day equivalent of a 220 miles per hour dodo bird.

High speed rail is rooted in Old World solutions to both the economy and transportation. It is a boondoggle easily in excess of $200 billion if the overall system as envisioned is ever implemented.

The real low-cost, high tech solution for cutting driving time for the most drivers, positively impacting the most people, helping both the environment and economy the most, and providing the most mobility can’t be found zipping around in Europe, Japan, or China. It is rolling on the streets right here in California.

Mountain-based Google has the technology to not only reduce freeway congestion but to do so with fuel consumption reductions between 38 and 57 percent. The technology is driverless cars.

The optimum fuel economy on a freeway, highway and street system equipped with technology for driverless cars is based on research released by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in April of this year. The 38 to 57 percent improvement in field economy can be accomplished with optimum braking, optimum traffic flow, and optimum speed. There are three things that a driverless car system has the potential to deliver in a safe manner.

Just an average 50 percent real world improvement in the current fuel consumption of existing 2012 vehicles would meet the Obama Administration’s targeted 54.5 miles per gallon target for vehicles manufactured in 2026. The fleet standard the auto industry must reach today is 29.7 miles per gallon.

It should be noted that the goal for fuel economy is not real world but what the Environmental Protection Agency tests of fuel economy establish. That means there is a strong likelihood vehicles being driven in the most efficient manner possible can meet the 2026 targets with little other improvements to current vehicles than employing driverless technology and equipping our roadways to make it work.

Based on the potential of driverless car technology alone, the California Legislature should pull the plug on high speed rail, go back to the voters, and ask to have the $10 billion in bonds diverted to implementing technology that can change our roads into safer, cleaner, less congested, and more fuel efficient venues.

As mass transit goes, high speed rail is elite and extremely ineffective.

Based on today’s traffic numbers, over 200,000 vehicles a day cross the southern boundaries of San Joaquin County on both Interstate 5 and Highway 99. Not all of that traffic is headed to Los Angeles or even close to a potential high speed rail station. For argument’s sake, assume that traffic on Highway 101 heading to LA makes up for the local traffic peeled off in the valley. That’s 200,000 through vehicle trips from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Los Angeles Basin each day. It is a generous number.

Now look at the California High Speed Rail ridership projections. At the most optimum projection, it would carry 320,541 passengers on an average day. But that is not just from SF to LA but the entire system from San Diego to Sacramento. Many of those riders will not go the distance.

And once passengers reach their destination station, they still have to get around in LA and San Francisco

So for $60 billion just for the abbreviated first phase, we will gain little impact on overall traffic but we will have a shiny 220 mph dodo bird.

If that $60 billion - along with private sector investment to equip new cars sold with the needed technology - went into creating a driverless car tech system for all of California’s major freeways the positive impact would be much greater.

Instead, we are unleashing a 20th century solution with mid-1950s sensibility in terms of ripping apart communities to create an elite bullet train system for those who can afford $110 one-way tickets in addition to ground transportation at either end of the line.

We already have the foundation for the most effective mass transit system in the world - America’s road network. It indeed allows the masses to move freely and in great numbers. What is needed is the implementation of 21st century technology to make it as optimal as possible.



This column is the opinion of managing editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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