On Sunday I posted about setting goals and working through disagreements. One area I had in mind was the Northeast Corridor. We currently have 86% of trips, or 137 million per year, going by car or plane, and I asked what it would take to flip that so we have no more than 14% of trips, or 24 million, by car or plane.
My original thought was that with so many passengers traveling through New York Penn Station, and the often-repeated claim that the North River Tunnels leading into Penn being maxed out, any increase would have to be in buses. In the comments, Alon convinced me that there is capacity in the tunnels, and that Amtrak can move more passengers by running longer trains, improving signaling and increasing the number of seats per train. Increasing the number of seats may be counterproductive, because it will lower the quality of the experience and thus limit what Amtrak can charge for a seat.
The question then comes down to a strategic issue. Which is likely to get more people out of their cars, improving signaling and increasing train length, or increasing the number of buses? It's a little more complicated, though, because the strategies are unequal in various ways. It might be better to ask which gives you the biggest bang for the buck, but it's not all about money. Which strategy gets the largest number of people out of their cars per hour of activism?
Signal improvements and train cars are fairly straightforward because there's no constituency that feels threatened by better train signals or longer Amtrak trains. There is only the constituency that wants to deny Amtrak funding. Activist hours would simply be spent fighting for that funding.
In contrast, there are constituencies that are opposed to various ways of providing more bus capacity. The intercity bus companies seem to be able to buy new buses with fare revenue and maybe even build terminals in other cities, but they don't seem to have enough income to build their own terminals in Manhattan, so any indoor terminal or garage would have to be built with public funding.
Up to now, intercity buses have expanded on the cheap by simply using curb space. This has fueled the explosive growth in this sector of the market, but by enabling "community review" of bus stops and other onerous requirements, New York City has put the curb out of reach of many intercity operators.
That leads us to the final set of questions for tonight: Given the new law, how can we continue to expand intercity bus service in the Northeast Corridor? What is the best use of activists' time? Would an hour spent on bus service get more people out of their cars than spending an hour lobbying for longer Amtrak trains and better signals?