Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Trouble With Amtrak

No easy solution.

H. Glenn Scammel, a former head of staff of the rail subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the railroad should give up on some of its cross-country trains and redeploy the equipment on relatively short intercity trips, where it could provide enough frequency to attract new business. (Providing one train a day in each direction will not draw many new business travelers.)

But the railroad’s labor contracts provide stiff penalties for dropping routes, and dropping states from its itinerary would hurt its political support, especially in the Senate, where thinly populated states are overrepresented relative to their population.

You get a micro version of this at the state and local level. Getting transit funding involves getting more lawmakers on board, including ones who live in areas where mass transit makes much less sense. Bribing them with money for costly low ridership routes in order to get money for other things provides ammunition for the anti-mass transit crowd who get to squeal about how costly it is.

Here's our situation locally:

Geopolitics is always a driving force on the board. SEPTA's board makeup gives the four Republican-dominated suburban counties more clout than Democrat-dominated Philadelphia, although the city provides most of the riders and most of the local subsidy.

I'm not quite sure how that state of affairs evolved, though it obviously doesn't make any sense.