The California legislature based its approval of the sale of billions of dollars of bonds to start construction of high-speed rail partly on claims that the rail line would help revitalize California’s economy. But now a study from UCLA finds that Japan’s high-speed rail line, one of the most popular in the world, failed to boost that nation’s economy.
“Rather, the evidence suggests high-speed rail simply moves jobs around the geography without creating significant new employ- ment or economic activity” says the study. “As an engine of economic growth in and of itself, CHSR will have only a marginal impact at best.”
The California High-Speed Rail Authority responded to the study by trotting out an architect who claimed all sorts of benefits for the train. Asking an architect to respond to an economic analysis is like asking a plumber for a second opinion on your cancer diagnosis. The plumber might give you the answer you want, but probably not the right answer.
Meanwhile, the latest Reason magazine features an article on “how rail screws the poor.” In this case, “rail” refers to light- and heavy-rail in Los Angeles. This is old news, but it seems people need to be reminded of it over and over.
The short story is that LA cut bus service to pay for rail construction in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This led to a 17-percent drop in bus ridership. An NAACP lawsuit charging racial discrimination led to a 1996 court order to restore that bus service, which led to a restoration of ridership levels. However, that court order expired in 2006, after which the Metropolitan Transit Authority almost immediately began cutting bus service (arguing as it did so that it was substituting “quality for quantity”).
The transit authority, says Reason, “is simultaneously increasing operating costs, reducing operating revenue, cutting service for working-class and poor customers, and dismantling a functioning mass transit system, all in the service of a fantasy that was pushed on an unwilling L.A. by wealthy liberals.” And rail advocates in the rest of the country hope to achieve the same results in their own cities.