Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Oh, what's this? A nice rah-rah piece on Amtrak, that suck-hole of tax dollars and inept provider of passenger transportation, courtesy the Lafayette Journal-Courier:
Recent spikes in gasoline prices, airport congestion and environmental awareness are among the reasons why Amtrak is reporting record ridership for the 2008 fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

Nationwide, Amtrak carried 28.7 million people this year, compared to 25.8 million in 2007. That was an 11 percent increase.
So, since the gasoline prices are now lower than when Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, back in August 2005, ridership will certainly have already begun to tank, if it were such a factor in driving an increase in ridership. I love this quote from a rider:

"We're students and we're poor," she said with a chuckle, noting the train's comparatively cheap cost.

A round trip ticket between Lafayette and Chicago generally runs between $30 and $50 depending on the days, according to Amtrak's Web site.

Well, poor student, you aren't learning mathematics at Purdue, that's for sure. With gas now around $2/gallon, even if you drive a Hummer or some other beast that gets 10mpg, you can drive from Lafayette to Chicago for $25.20.

126 mi / 10 mpg = 12.6 gal x $2 = $25.20

You're going to be poor for a lifetime if you can't do the math. Amtrak isn't the solution. Oh? Riding for the environment? Ok, then calculate the ride in my Toyota Corolla:

126 mi / 40 mpg = 3.15 gal x $2 = $6.30

Seriously. What kind of stupid do you have to be to lap up what this article is offering?

Update: In response to the astute comment that caught where I didn't (shame on me!) that the Amtrak pricing is based on round trips, and my car pricing is based on a single leg, I decided to shore that up. Doubling my auto prices is the easy part:

252 mi / 10 mpg = 12.6 gal x $2 = $50.40
252 mi / 40 mpg = 3.15 gal x $2 = $12.60

I went to Amtrak's website to see the various prices. Turns out that the article is wrong. One cannot get a $30 round trip fare. It varies pretty significantly depending on the days of departure and arrival.

$36 - Depart Lafayette Nov 19 or 20, Return from Chicago Nov 24
$41 - Depart Lafayette Nov 19 or 20, Return from Chicago Nov 22 or 25
$52 - Depart Lafayette Nov 21, Return from Chicago Nov 23 or 26
$58 - Depart Lafayette Nov 19 or 20, Return from Chicago Nov 22 or 25
$67 - Depart Lafayette Nov 21, Return from Chicago Nov 23 or 26

So, the J-C's range of 'generally between $30 and $50 for a round trip' is misleading. You can't get a fare as low as $30, and most combinations are more than $50.

I guess we're both shoddy journalists, quick to make our points. In any case, my ride in the Corolla is still WAY cheap.


varangianguard said...

Like most bourgeoise elistists, you are assuming that the students either have a car at all, or that the car they do have is capable of traveling 100+ miles without suffering some kind of breakdown or tire failure.

Math is great, but there are always the qualitative issues that trip you bean counters up, every time. ;)

Seriously, the current Amtrak system is flawed. There are profitable areas (like the northeast corridor) which should be sold off to private enterprise. The rest, even though it's nostalgic and scenic, ought to be relegated to the dustbin (or returned to the BN/ATSF and UP).

Too bad, because I've always loved trains. But, the railroads shot themselves in their collective feet long ago, and have been limping along ever since. There may be some light at the end of the tunnel, though. Consolidation has finally cleared the decks of duplicated routes and suicidal rates, traffic is up, and the outlook is about as rosy as it has looked since right after the Civil War.

Mike Kole said...

Bourgeoise elitists. Nice. :-) Well, I am reminded of a former co-worker who bought all of his food at gas stations. No lie. He lived hand-to-mouth that way. I used to get on him about how he was blowing his dough, that he should go to a grocery store once a week, and better than that, a wholesaler once a month. His reply? I can't afford those.

Well, of course he could afford those. They were cheaper in the long run, by far. What he meant when he said that was, "I'm not willing to save, or to plan".

More on RRs later. That's a favorite subject of mine, too!

varangianguard said...

I thought you might be amused with the bourgeoise thingy...lol

Anonymous said...

Also I think you only figured the one way trip. The train fare was $30-$50 for a round trip ticket.

varangianguard said...

What about the time factor? Traffic or train breakdowns.

Annoyance factor. Having to drive on the Windy City's perpetually "under construction" roadways.

Parking costs?


Mike Kole said...

There are so many factors. I guess suffice to say we can look at which behavior most commuters engage in to know which mode is preferred.

I drive Chicago with more frequency than I care for. I recently did a comparison when based in Crystal Lake, about 48 miles northwest of downtown. One day, I drove in. It took 80 minutes, and was totally frustrating. I spent $24 to park in an 'early bird' garage. I probably spent $6 on gas, at $3.50/gal at that point.

Next day, I took Metra in. It took 90 minutes. I spent $1.25 to park at the Crystal Lake station. The one-way fare was $6.10.

So, as a communter on this run, I would always take Metra. 10 more minutes is negligible, but the cost savings on Metra is huge, but only because of the parking. Besides, I really enjoy riding trains. It kind of pains me to be such an opponent of passenger rail. I'd be all for it if it were 100% private, which is possible, since the tracks are privately owned, unlike our roads.

Now, I've used a commuter scenario, and not the kind that was offered by the J-C. I would still drive my car on the Lafayette-Chicago run. My work scenario above made for a situation where I was going to walk to a handful of destinations, all close enough to the Ogilvie Station. But Chicago is not entirely a walking city, like NYC is. If I had a few distinations just 3-4 miles outside of downtown, there is no way I would take the Metra.

Many considerations, in any case.