Research Roundup: High-Speed Rail, Transportation Statistics, Transportation Taxes

We want to periodically highlight current transportation and transit research that is particularly useful or timely. Several new reports were issued recently that caught our eye and deserve review in addition to inclusion in our daily Transportation Headlines.

Image via California High-Speed Rail Authority


Is high-speed rail in California not only viable, but a worthwhile investment? It depends on who you ask. Two recent reports (not to mention numerous newspaper articles and editorials) have vastly different takes on the subject.

The UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies recently released its Review Of “Bay Area/California High-Speed Rail Ridership And Revenue Forecasting Study” (59p. PDF). They conclude that the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s forecasts of demand and ridership for a new San Francisco-to-Los Angeles high-speed train are not reliable because they are based on an inconsistent model. They believe that average ridership projections were flawed at key decision-making junctures and that it is impossible to predict whether the proposed system will experience either healthy profits or severe revenue shortfalls.

This study’s findings had a strong impact in that it was the first academic review of the rail authority’s ridership forecasts, which were part of California’s successful application for $2.25 billion in federal stimulus funds. An overview of the key problems highlighted in the report can be found in this UC Berkeley Press Release.

Rendering for Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC) via Flickr

Meanwhile, the CalPIRG Education Fund also published a report in the past few weeks with a much different view. Next Stop: California — The Benefits Of High-Speed Rail Around The World And What’s In Store For California (47p. PDF) presumes that the system will be built and proposes that the state will reap great benefits from its investment. CalPIRG finds that dramatically-reduced travel times, lower energy consumption, environmental benefits, high-speed rail’s safety record, and the potential for job creation and economic gains are all reasons to forge ahead and enjoy the great successes that so many other countries have had with high-speed rail.

Image via Flickr


The most recent edition of State Transportation Statistics (2009) was released last week. This is an invaluable research tool if you are looking for information regarding infrastructure, safety, freight transportation, passenger travel, vehicle registration, vehicle-miles traveled, as well as statistics related to economy, finance, energy and the environment.

Whether you need to find out something rather basic such as how many miles of public road there are in the United States (4.04 million) or something more obscure such as the states with the highest and lowest percentage use of safety belts by drivers and front-right passengers (Hawaii 97%, Massachusetts 67%), it’s probably in there. The entire report (143p. PDF) contains 112 tables of data for every state and is available only online starting with the 2009 edition this year.

It’s an enormous effort – how do they compile such comprehensive statistical data? The Research and Innovation Technology Administration (RITA)’s Bureau of Transporation Statistics (BTS) provides this Information On Data Sources Document that is intriguing in and of itself.

Image via Flickr


The Mineta Transportation Institute recently issued the results of a national survey titled: What Do Americans Think About Federal Transportation Tax Options?: Results From A National Survey.

The survey, conducted this Spring, tested public support for sales taxes, gas taxes, and mileage taxes that would raise revenue for transportation purposes. Eight different scenarios were proposed, with the half-cent sales tax garnering the most support (43%) and a 10-cent increase in a gas tax (42%) to reduce global warming. Half-cent sales tax most palpable? Worked for Los Angeles County’s Measure R in 2008.

Respondents were least receptive to a 1-cent per mile mileage tax (21%) and a 10-cent increase in the gas tax that was not earmarked for a specific purpose (23%). The survey found that linking a transportation tax to environmental benefits increased public support. The Research Brief provides a nice summary of the findings.