(Nathanael Johnson, KALW, San Francisco) The California High Speed Rail Authority met Thursday to review the findings of an analysis on ridership projections for the $40 billion Los Angeles-San Francisco high speed rail. But despite serious questions about whether ridership and revenues will meet goals, the members of the authority essentially dismissed these findings as academic quibbling.
These academic quibbles, however, could have big consequences. The consultants who performed the ridership analysis have defended themselves by pointing out that they conformed to industry standards. On this point, the peer reviewers agreed. The problem is that the industry standard is fairly terrible —
(Nathanael Johnson, KALW)
For months, watchdog groups and critics of the California high speed rail project have claimed that a study of projected ridership on the proposed super-train was wildly incorrect. The High Speed Rail Authority has acknowledged that one of its numbers was off by an order of magnitude, but has maintained that the model still produces valuable information. These statistical models are incredibly complex, and it’s impossible to assess these competing claims without considerable expertise and a lot of time. So California's Senate Transportation and Housing Committee commissioned a peer review from engineers at UC Berkeley and UC Irvine, to put an end to the debate once and for all. The California High Speed Rail Authority paid for the review.
Now this group has released it’s findings. In their report, the professors wrote: “we have found some significant problems that render the key demand forecasting models unreliable for policy analysis.” They go on to tear the study apart, shred by carefully-worded shred.
Why does this matter?
(Nathanael Johnson, KALW) Streetsblog and the Bay Citizen are reporting that in California's Bay Area, BART has a tentative plan to take money from local agencies to realize its plans to build a train to the Oakland Airport. BART would use this money to replace the funding revoked by the federal government when Washington learned that the project was not in compliance with the Civil Rights Act.
But if the project doesn’t comply with a federal law, further federal funding is in doubt. And it's unusual for local goverments to invest funds with no hope of federal money. And funding plan drinks the milkshake of other transportation projects, while putting taxpayers on the hook for millions more in taxes and debt.