Spend a few hours or so each week day over the course of a month at San Francisco, Oakland, or San Jose airports.
Take a close look the passengers who fly airlines such as Southwest between the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin on a regular basis.
These are not the faces of typical Californians. Their incomes are on another planet compared to most of the state’s 37.7 million residents. Among them you will find a splattering of state politicians who go from north to south as part of their work routine.
These are the people that California is going into hock for big time as the state moves forward with selling $4.7 billion in bonds for the high speed train system.
In today’s prices it will be $105 a pop to travel one way between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The authority expects 41 million riders on the system by 2035.
The assumption is that regular folks traveling between north and south will take a train as supposedly it will be cheaper per mile to travel. True - at least from point A to point Z. But once you get to the train station - especially in Los Angeles - you’re pretty much stuck renting a car or using taxi cabs to get around.
For those of us that don’t have flush bank accounts, high speed rail will never make sense except perhaps as a one-time Disney-style “E” ticket ride.
Disneyland is a good place to put high speed rail considering its numbers are worthy of Fantasyland. Remember the original construction costs when they pulled the wool over voters’ eyes? It was supposed to cost $45 billion. Then, after they had to come up with more realistic numbers in order to try to sell bonds, the number ballooned to $98 billion.
In order to avoid a lynch mob from killing the project, they reworked it so the costs would be lowered to $68 billion by using existing tracks in the Bay Area and LA Basin.
But as outrageous as the construction numbers are, they look like a little white lie compared to the operating costs.
Go back and read the language of the 2008 ballot measure. It states rather clearly that the state will not be subsidizing operating costs.
In order for that to happen given their ridership projection and relatively low fares they will need to get costs down to 10 cents per passenger mile.
That number is meaningless until you review data complied by an independent panel of experts - and the majority of lawmakers proceeded to ignore - that noted 10 cents a mile would amount to an incredible leap in bullet train efficiency.
The lowest system today worldwide is in Italy that costs 34 cents per passenger mile to operate. Next on the list are bullet trains in Germany and Japan at 50 cents a mile. And the relatively fast moving and heavily used Amtrak trains servicing the corridor between Washington, D.C., and Boston are 44 cents per mile.
Unless extraordinary economies are actually achieved, it will cost California taxpayers more than $2 billion a year to subsidize high speed rail operations if they managed to be as efficient as the Italians.
So why should this concern you if you’re never going to ride high speed rail?
Well that $4.7 billion has to be paid back with interest as does the rest of the $60 billion or so they need to borrow to complete the system. Then there is the issue of running the trains.
The money has to come from somewhere.
That, of course, is a concept lost on career politicians like State Senate Darrell Steinberg who talked breathlessly during the high speed rail bond authorization debate about it being the moment of truth as the state may never have the money again.
He was referring, of course to $3.3 billion in federal matching funds for high speed rail.
Given the state’s financial situation, it is kind of like someone who can’t pay any of their bills, refuses to cut back significantly on expenses to bring them in line with income, and who is on the verge of losing their home to foreclosure going out and borrowing $250,000 to buy a high-end Lamborghini because the dealer will give you a $5,000 match for a $5,000 down payment.
It’s fitting that the route high speed rail advocates are pursuing slices through Bakersfield High and will force it to lose several buildings. That way students in the future can see exactly where money for education and other state necessities is going to pay for a rich people’s transit system to whisk them through the poorest region of California - the San Joaquin Valley.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 209-249-3519.