Public Choice Theory, HSR, and Strippers Thrown in For Good Measure

Public choice is in the air, a little like fall for me.

Yesterday in planning theory class, one of my brilliant students brought up public choice economics, without calling it that, because it’s not something that makes its way into much undergraduate education (I think he went to Princeton, where such things do come up in undergraduate education).

My brilliant colleague, Peter Gordon, notes Tyler Cowen’s remarks about how about public choice economics is neglected in today’s macroeconomic debates.

Why such a neglected field? I’m not sure, other than things go in and out style in economics just like everything else. Back in the day when I was studying, urban economics and labor economics were unpopular fields, in favor of game theory and econometrics. Now at least urban economics has come back, along with public finance, as a sexy field.

Perhaps it is time for James Buchanan Renaissance, as certainly the ideas are very relevant to those who currently suspect government workers from enriching themselves at the expense of the public.

Anyhow, the basics for public choice are laid out actually pretty well in Wikipedia. I love how people have made Wikipedia better and better over the years.

So here are James Buchanan’s two brilliant books, which many students no longer read due to how old the books are. It’s a pity.

The Demand and Supply of Public Goods, first published in 1968.

The Calculus of Consent by James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock.

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Nonetheless, Buchanan is still out there, tearing things up. He recently starting taking his own profession to task over the 2008 crisis and their failures in dealing with it: Economists have no clothes.

If you read Peter’s blog, he’s nonplussed by my reactions to the announcement that HSR is now expected to cost $98 billion. Dear Peter always suspects me of being naive, but I did expect more of a reaction from supporters. Instead, it’s more of the same: the HSR is worth it, worth it, worth it, worth it, no matter what it costs. The Transport Politic embodies the response nicely. It has a supposedly convincing graphic that the state can afford the HSR project because–check it out!–the yellow circle representing the high speed rail project is such a tiny, tiny dot compared to the state’s entire product, and look! at how much bigger that big big big Caltrans dot is! According to this graphic, we’re just dumping money into to the auto-oriented bureaucracy*, so that by comparison, $98 billion for the train project seems absolutely reasonable.

Ok. First off, I hate circle graphics because they almost never accurately reflect proportions right. Does this tell us anything that a straight up pie chart wouldn’t? No it doesn’t.

And then there’s the assumption that a train project, because it costs less than one of the state’s biggest agencies, is actually a pittance, or not that expensive, after all.

Under this logic, we could invest $98 billion of tax money in strippers and call it effective public policy. Yay, us! We poured $98 billion–oh, excuse me $74.5 billion (cough)–into a hole in the ground, but it’s ok because it’s not as much we spend on other things! Wooooo!

Maybe the HSR project is, indeed, worth it worth it worth it worth it, but that graphic–oye–and that logic. Urk. Bad liberal logic in a nutshell.

So what does public choice theory have in it to explain the problem? Well, first, public choice theorists would note that the $286 billion wrapped up in Caltrans represents an ever-expanding bureaucracy where public managers have a strong motivation to expand their roles and powers. I think the average public choice theorist would argue that state departments of transportation have outlived their usefulness now that that interstate highway system has been built (I don’t think that, btw), and yet here they are, hanging on, continuing to gather resources because that is the motivation of the bureaucrat absent the profit motive: more power, more revenue, more things to command.

IOW, public choice theorists argue that with Caltrans, you are looking at the future of the California High Speed Rail Authority, which is already starting off on the “we’ve already taken billions to do very little but produce renderings and marketing plans” foot, with a $98 billion project. So that if it gets the funds to do that, it will simply continue to seek more and more rationales for its continued existence.

For the Cal HSR folks, they have no real choice–they were forced to own up to the reality of the finances at some point, after they spent years dithering, and now they must continue to the carry the banner for the project. Yes, it’s going to be wildly expensive, but look at how wonderful the trains are. Their jobs is to do their job, and their job is to try to get a train built.

*BTW, Caltrans spends a lot of its time and money focusing on transit support.

Is the $98 billion admission smart or dumb politics for HSR?

The California High Speed Rail authority released a business plan that upped the cost of the state’s high speed rail from I believe $42 billion (In my defense, their decoy numbers have jumped around a bit) to $98 billion. The story appears in the Los Angeles Times here.

Take a look at the story; the additional costs are associated in the business plan with extending the construction by another 10 years. Whenever I read a business plan from these folks, the lizard part of my brainsays we are dealing with a lemon market and I become immediately critical of every single claim the seller makes. So what? The admission that the cost is likely to be just shy of $100 billion (my best students estimated it at $105 billion) strikes me as a gambit to try to wring as much money as possible from both Federal and state supporters.

See, for example, exhibit a: this story covering a letter from the California High Speed Rail Authority telling legislators what everybody with any sense already knows: no private money is going to darken the agency’s door until the state and the Feds have eaten all the capital risk. Quelle surprise.

Given the emphasis and increasingly persistent calls for Federal help, I think this “It’s going to to cost us $98 billion if we have to extend construction dates” is a scare tactic. Give us more money to get started sooner and that scary, scary $98 billion price tag goes down! Like magic!

Only it doesn’t really go away because we’re at the end of 2011, there’s no way that project could be constructed by the 2020s anyway, even if all of us immediately stopped flinging away money on silly things like education and medical care for foster kids in favor of giving it all to the California High Speed Rail Authority.

It’s a pretty good gambit. If they get the federal money faster than they are currently, they can always say that the feds didn’t give them enough to prevent the delays and see? We told you it would cost more if you didn’t fund us up front. They have a built-in rationale for the likely cost over-runs.

There’s part of me that thinks I’m giving them too much credit with the scare tactic. After all, they do politically dumb things all the time, like, say, planning to demolish the school attended by the children of one of the state’s leading Republicans. D’oh! Just to be clear: the goal is to make sure that the project goes close enough to Senator Bedfellow’s constituents that they get to have some of the billions, but not so close that his kids’ school is going to have to rebuild somewhere else.

I’m happier that the closer-to-reality price tag is out there; it at least forces people to wake up. The HSR authority is right that the longer construction and financing period will increase costs, and people should be aware of that. And they should also be aware that most of us who follow this kind of work do not think that this project can be delivered for anything under $90 billion under even happy assumptions. And they should be aware that private investors are not going get themselves leveraged for construction costs; the best we will get is clawbacks in leasing the facility later.

So here are the questions: If this is a gambit, should the feds jump in to give them more cash upfront to try to jumpstart the project and try to curtain the higher costs? If the business plan is not a gambit, is the project worth $98 billion to the state? Proponents say that’s still cheaper than expanding airports and highways, but those generally run $4 to $5 billion a pop, so doing the math might help us. Even if it’s not cheaper than expanding airports and highways, perhaps that price tag is still worth it?

I will leave you with one more story from the LA Times, this one from Sunday, on the predatory subprime lending in used cars in Los Angeles. A woman who has a child with asthma, faces a two-hour bus ride to get to her $27000 a year job at UCLA. So she buys a used car from loan sharks because cars are immensely useful. 1) Nobody who makes $27K can afford to live anywhere near UCLA, so we have an affordable housing problem; 2) the subway to the sea would probably cut down her transit ride time by a lot, but I still think she’d have so many transfers it would be cheaper and faster for her to drive; 3) if she works at UCLA, why can’t her child receive care there for his asthma and 4) if I were going to spend $98 billion on something, it would probably be on 1 through 4.

Facing the reality of new infrastructure: LA Times story on CalHSR routing

Yesterday’s LA Times ran a story entitled California bullet train: The high price of speed. The tag line for the Facebook entry was “What HSR Would Destroy in California.”

From the story:


Almost every city and county along the proposed route loses something, but none more than Bakersfield. More than 228 homes and more than a half dozen churches would be taken, many of them in low-income minority communities on the city’s east side. The rail authority’s plans have both homeowners and government agencies confused.

Ok, now we need to quote somebody saying something along the lines “can’t make omelets without breaking a few eggs” right? We’d be right back to Interstate Era planning.

I’m not sure why this story is a surprise to anybody, as this is a huge, new project. There simply isn’t existing right of way for large stretches. And while you can criticize the HSR authority, the story of how Bakerfield boosters originally welcomed the plan only now to have misgivings as it gets more and more real should give us all pause. Are they just a bunch of hypocritical NIMBY folks? I don’t think so. The California High Speed Rail Authority has been pretty strategic in marketing the project early for ballot measures. Their mantra has been: ” The system will be great, don’t worry about the details, or the lines on the map, what’s important is that it’s coming to you.”

Then, with implementation, the lines on the map and promise of a new service accompany the very real sacrifices that come with building such a large project. It’s not what you envisioned. It’s your friends and neighbors being forcibly moved. The abstract jobs jobs jobs! idea constantly pushed comes along with the likely destruction of existing businesses.

It’s a hard, obviously redistributive act of government–and it always is, every time something like this gets built. We try to cloak everything in “win-win” language, but there are few real win-wins in projects like this. The building of the Interstate System was exactly the same.

My students in planning theory had to discuss this idea of how do you create knowledge about the future? It is, as Yoda says, always in motion. Your decisions shape it. What should have been done differently here, if anything?

A collection of HSR links from around the web

The LA Times features Rand’s Martin Wachs in this story, describing how the state of California is probably going to have to go it alone if it wants to build high speed rail. I told you so, California, four years ago! Here’s the money quote:

The project’s first phase would take the rail from downtown San Francisco to Anaheim for an estimated $43 billion, but outside groups put the cost at $65 billion or higher. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said it could hit $67 billion. (A second phase would extend lines to Sacramento, Riverside and San Diego.)

It’s hard for me to grapple with the Dem’s attachment to this project. Maybe if Obama had started with this instead of health care, things would be different. But as it is, the national plan has all the markers of a sinking ship, and advocating for it when entitlement spending is going under the knife strikes me as rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic of social liberalism.

Gulliver’s column at the Economist this week argues against high speed rail investment simply because the country’s existing inter-city train system is doing a pretty good job. It’s a small country that doesn’t take long to traverse as it is.

My husband’s uncle, regular reader, sent me this link from the National Review, written by Michael Barone. Barone’s piece has the marks of the National Review, with private-sector, private-sector, Rah-Rah tone to it, but he does make an excellent point: that is, the private sector, who has yet to show up in any meaningful way to the High Speed Rail party other than construction companies willing to bid for government contracts. Instead, there is quite a bit of intercity transport provided via private bus companies:

The buses have bathrooms, AC power outlets, and free Wi-Fi. They’re not as fast as the much more expensive Acela train, but they tend to run on schedule.

Bus travel used to be decidedly downscale, with a clientele that scared off middle-class travelers. That’s because, back in the days of heavily regulated transportation, bus lines followed the passenger railroad model, with stations in central cities, routes with multiple stops, fares propped up by monopolies, and operators with no economic incentive to provide comfortable or pleasant service.

Chinatown and Megabus operators ditched this model for one that works for travelers for whom money is scarce and time plentiful. Who needs a station? Inter-city buses can occupy curb space briefly just as city buses do. Who needs multiple stops? You can make money on people who want to go from one specific location to another.

Now, the service is still a four-hour ride, and this is where I suspect that people will argue with Barone. His last statement comes here:

So the private sector provides cheap inter-city transportation while government struggles to waste $53 billion. Please remind me which is the wave of the future.

That’s a bit too pat, but still. Advocates will argue that the four-hour bus ride is just too long and we need nicer facilities. But we do have nicer facilities–the Acela train. I’m sympathetic to Barone’s point here because I think the rail-only advocates do tend to be one-eyed about their pet technology, when everyday travelers really don’t care about what under the vehicles (rail or wheels). They only really care about comfort, cleanliness, speed, frequency, and geographic coverage (limited to their preferred locations). Previously, those were better delivered with trains, but there are improvements possible with bus technology as well. Advocates say “cha! that’s not true.” But if we can get improvements in those dimensions without spending billions, why shouldn’t we do so? That still wouldn’t necessarily be a substitute for HSR along the corridor: your $20 Megabus passenger probably isn’t going to opt into HSR if they aren’t opting into the Acela now. But service quality improvements are still probably worth getting anywhere we can get them.

So what do you think? BTW, if the immediate response is “Oh, we’ll save the environment” more with HSR, not many reading The National Review are going to buy that argument.

Privatizing HSR…or not?

Minding my own beeswax yesterday when I got an announcement from Reconnecting American on Representative John Mica’s bill arguing that the US privatize the Northeast Corridor and intercity travel there.

You can find a copy of the proposed legislation here.

The concerns, from the Reconnecting American statement:

1. Very few, if any of the long-distance lines will attract private sector funding. The focus on privatizing the Northeast Corridor will weaken the existing national system. Removing the profitable NEC from the current system of shared benefits deprives the rest of the nation’s rail system of critically needed operating assistance. This approach, as proposed, may weaken or terminate the intercity rail connections that are the lifelines in small towns from Montana to West Virginia, as well as big cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles.

2. Globally, rail privatization has led to costly government bailouts of private companies that have acquired too much risk. Investors have an implicit assumption that taxpayers will provide a backstop for companies that make risky choices to maximize profits.

3. This approach will require an unknown amount of taxpayer funds in an effort to attract private investors to upgrade, maintain and operate the NEC.

Of course, they are correct on all three points, but with caveats. These problems with the private sector also have their analogues in the public sector.

#1 is creaming–a huge problem with privatization across the board. Network goods almost always require some level of cross-subsidy. Small airports do, and it’s likely that high speed rail would, too.

But #1 could be addressed with the leasing agreement, where the private company’s yearly or up-front payment gets used to offer subsidies elsewhere.

And in the public sector, jurisdictions have become louder about refusing to allow redistribution of revenues and tax collections across system. It’s a stretch, but all that return-to-source, donor state squabbling in the tax field illustrates the issue nicely. That type of politics can become regional easily.

Here’s the weird thing: the Reconnecting America people in their message lump Los Angeles and Chicago in with rural Montana and West Virginia as places that aren’t likely to make any money for private investors. That’s certainly not what the California High Speed Rail Authority line about HSR in California–they are banking on relatively high levels of HSr.

The problem with the other two objections to privatization—bailouts and higher costs–is that these issues also plague publicly owned HSR as well.

In the case of #2, yeah, bailouts are embarrassing, but it’s not like taxpayers don’t routinely have to provide operating subsidies to publicly owned services. For example, we’ve been on the hook paying for Amtrack for a long time, and while there’s usually no high drama associated with bailouts, death by a 1,000 cuts of yearly payments for the services can also get expensive. So while Reconnecting would like us to avoid expensive bailouts, they don’t seem to have a better idea. There is nothing to suggest that public-sector managers of HSR are any better than private operators. In fact, the opposite: there are some private operators in the world who already have experience running these systems. Companies can also have a diverse enough portfolio of investments that they can withstand some problems with cash flow–again depending on the leases.

In the case of #3, it’s not clear to me what costs they are referring to: the transactions costs of marketing the investment opportunity? The costs of drawing up and maintaining contracts? The public sector analogue of that is simply the money getting poured into advertising to voters and lobbyist. I suppose you could look at the second set of costs as a given, and the first set of costs as additional costs.

However, these costs, which can get high, are small potatoes compared to the taxpayer risks associated with building the system in the first place–which is Reconnecting America’s raison d’etre. It’s nice of them to worry about costs and all, but there are much bigger risks than the costs of seeking investors, or giving concessions to investors–though those things can be costly. The big-ticket taxpayer hit concerns the cost overruns that are coming, along with the time lag in attracting riders to pay for operating the system.

It’s not high speed rail as a mode, per se, that’s the problem. The problem is undertaking a massive new infrastructure investment–it’s just expensive and financially risky, and I’d be saying the same things if somebody were proposing to expand the Interstate system.

Does it matter what car Dr. Lisa Drives? And Gabriel Rossman on the environmental silly

My apologies: it’s rather pompous to refer to myself as Dr, but I have a lot of Asian PhD students, and I really enjoy them, and one of their common traits is that they really prefer to show you respect by using your title, but almost none of them can linguistically manage all the consonants strung together in “Schweitzer”, so they usually wind up calling me Dr. Lisa, which I find wonderful and charming. It’s like being Dr. J!

My husband and I were briefly considering replacing our car, which is over ten years old and a two-door. One of my friends–a pushy one, who likes to think she gets to tell me what to do, said, “You SHOULD get a hybrid.”

She herself is a Toyota Pius driver.

I said that I was uncomfortable spending on a car what most hybrids cost. I did the calculation, even with higher gas prices. Given how little Mr. Miller and I drive, it would take close to 23 years to break even.

Why can’t we just get a small, cheap, four-door ICE and continue driving very little?

The pushy friend responds: “Well, but you’re supposedly an environmental professor!”

But I take the bus for 30 percent of my trips, walk for the remaining 50, and only have Andy drive for about 20 percent of our short trips. She has a hybrid, but she drives everywhere she goes.

Isn’t there a point where hybrids are like diet cookies? Yes, good job, lower calories and what not. But the cumulative effect can be the same or worse, regardless of what the marginal effect is.

(Economists call this concern the “rebound effect”. It’s cheaper to drive a hybrid so you drive more than you do with a car that costs you more per mile.)

I already did a major thing for the environment: I didn’t have any American kids. There are two less American kids in the world because Mr. Miller and I did not replicate ourselves.

In terms of numbers, that’s far more likely to save the planet gobs and gobs of environmental harm than anything else I do ‘for the environment.’ (This is not to say that nobody else should have kids. It is to say that not doing something is often just as good for the environment as doing something. Like not driving much versus driving a hybrid a lot).

Gabriel Rossman over at Code and Culture sends up a piece in Sunset magazine that has a pictorial of a concept for a dining car in an LA-SF bullet train. As he notes:

Instead, let’s think about the dining car itself. The pictorial shows a dwarf citrus tree in the car for passengers to pick fruit either to eat out of hand or for juicing. (As the owner of an orange tree, I can tell you that the pictured dwarf tree would make about two carafes of orange juice). Similarly, there is a “Self-Harvest Salad Bar. Snip and dress your own organic greens from a hydroponic vertical garden and choice of on-tap vinaigrettes.”

Do we really want people handling scissors on moving trains, just to cut their own lettuce?

My favorite part of the rant:

As I fumed about this, I realized that this isn’t just a really stupid idea for a train’s dining car, but a reductio ad absurdum of the whole idea of locavorism.

I love that line. It pretty much sums up the whole problem when people design to optimize on one dimension.

For many conservatives in the US, the bottom line is that all the enviro-babble surrounding us has lost sight of other priorities, like employment, freedom, economic security, and not giving people on bullet trains sharp tools with which to perforate themselves and others simply to satisfy some socio-cultural design notion of how/what people should eat. WTF? What if I don’t like vinaigrettes?

Wouldn’t it be better to not eat vinaigrette, since it’s not locally made?

And so on, to insanity.

How about we concentrate on some of the big environmental issues, instead of always creating narratives about *ourselves* and what *we* do–or don’t–for the environment?

Rail, power, Peter Coyote, and Bay Area HSR

Rail advocates love to write and say victim-y things about how cars have all the advantages. This is a bit like Donald Trump whining that Indians get all the breaks*. Rail development today is backed and pushed by extremely powerful coalitions of real estate and construction interests, just like highways were a generation ago. And rail coalitions have an additional ace–the coalition includes environmentalists.

The real second-class citizenry in transportation = bus riders. Followed by walkers and bicyclists. But bus riders are treated terribly, by the agencies who are meant to serve them as customers, politicians, and the electorate. People in LA love to complain about the Bus Riders’ Union, but without them, the bus riders who have supported LA’s transit for years would be treated like they matter not at all.

Rail advocates will argue that they want to serve bus riders better by giving them rail. It’s probably an argument that works better in theory than in practice. Rail and bus service have to work together and in tandem for good frequency, geographic coverage, and, ultimately, customer service. When you are focused entirely on building rail, and bus service operates as a mere hey-you, it’s not likely that anybody will take the time to harmonize the transfers and go to the considerable work it takes to serve bus riders well.

Where are the *transit* advocates? Is bus transit is second-class because of its inherent limits as a technology, or is it second class because everybody treats it that way?

Here is a movie of the Transbay Terminal redevelopment, narrated by Peter Coyote. The Transbay is meant to be the terminus of the the HSR for San Francisco. When was the last time a new bus line got a celebrity to narrate? Oh, the money that is going to be made here–and it will happen even without the HSR. You can build and sell anything you build on the peninsula.

I have no objections to making money. But.

I have a friend who bought her loft last year. She got $9,000 in tax credits for it. On a place she was going to buy anyway. That’s bad pubic policy. Just like it’s bad public policy to chuck money at projects like Transbay. Let the developers develop–don’t make them more miserable during the approvals process than necessary–but don’t hand them any public candy, either.

In the end, I doubt the HSR will get into Transbay. It will stop somewhere on the edge of the region and passengers will be expected to transfer to BART or Caltrain.

And that would be fine. The Bay Area has a lot invested in transit. So what if the transfer point to regional rail network occurs in a suburb rather than downtown?

Right now, the board is committed to getting HSR into Transbay. They will get sued a lot, incurring much higher costs than necessary, and then they will settle on a peripheral location.

*Trump once complained that Indian casinos in NY state had an easier time of it than his own casinos did, at least in terms of public approval. Oh, my, how Donald does understand why the caged bird sings. Idiot.

Gabriel Ahlfeld and Arne Fedderson on the local economic development effects of high speed rail

Gabriel Ahlfeld also gave a really great presentation at the high speed rail symposium. He presented on this manuscript, downloadable from the London School of Economics:

Ahlfeldt, Gabriel M. and Feddersen, Arne (2010) From periphery to core: economic adjustments to high speed rail. London School of Economics & University of Hamburg. (Unpublished)

They haven’t published this yet, and I wonder why–I think the Journal of Urban Economics would want it, or Regional Science. Either way, it’s a nice case analysis. I don’t love their accessibility measure, but I am not sure I’ve ever met an accessibility measure I do love, and it’s as good as any other.

So the basic story: when the EU began planning and implementation for its HSR system, two complete German backwaters, Montabur (pop 12,000) and Limburg (34,000) were able to successfully lobby to get stops in their little corners of heaven. The authors argue–I’m not sure successfully–that the fact that these towns were so small prior to the HSR investment means that the study identifies causation, i.e., the towns weren’t growing, so it’s not that they were growing and were thus able to get the HSR. When we have two case cities, I’m not sure that makes much difference, and I also have to question the logic: the cities, though small, were influential enough in some way to get some political sugar daddy to make this happen–ergo, they were not without influence, which means they had some political/economic strings to pull.

Nonetheless, the cities are in a context that makes sense for study, particularly for us to perhaps generalize to California. The cities are located between two very large regional economies–much like the Central Valley cities in California.

The authors use difference-in-difference to measure the productivity changes in the areas that have access to high speed rail, and they find a significant and persistent difference in productivity in the two small cities.

How to interpret this? Well, there’s the no-brainer part of it: if you spent millions of euros in a place to add service, it’s like to add productivity. The problem is always the counterfactuals.

As I said during my presentation to the symposium: sure, you can construct a highway counterfactual, and dance around it and say you’re better. But what if we were to take the $80+ billion we’re likely to spend here and use it to make California schools–including those in the Central Valley–the envy of the world? Wouldn’t that increase productivity? Perhaps even more than the train?

In the end, Ahlfeld and Fedderstein have a similar problem: it’s not clear to me that even though these small cities grew that there aren’t offsetting productivity losses elsewhere from forcing two stops in small cities, or whether there wouldn’t have been greater productivity gains than otherwise if the trains had simply connected the two existing economic powerhouses in the region (the Ed Glaeser idea: what if all the people being more productive in Montabur would have been even more productive had we just expected them to move to Cologne for the higher salaries, etc?). I think there are some reasonable equity arguments for wanting to hook small cities into intercity travel, but the question is always–at what cost?

Voila Capture41

Mikhail Chester and Arpad Horvath and High Speed Rail Life Cycle Assessment

Yesterday, I presented at Berkeley for the Goldman School of Public Policy and their Center for Environmental Policy symposium on California High Speed Rail. Two presentations stood out as very good. I’ll cover one today and one tomorrow. Mikhail Chester is a Berkeley post-doc researcher who worked with Arpad Horvath to create a comprehensive life cycle cost analysis of California’s High Speed Rail. You can download a summary of the research from Access magazine.

The estimates reinforce how important forecasting is. According to their analysis, the environmental ROI for energy is 14 to 51 years. For greenhouse gas emissions, the estimate is 26 years to 51 years. NOx is 37 years to never, depending on fast ridership catches on.

It’s possible to shake up this analysis if the state were to pursue the greenest construction possible, using low-carbon-impact concrete.

On the GHG emissions payoff, they did something particularly cool: they took into account the additional radiative costs associated with the timing of the GHG costs and savings. The upfront emission costs occur during construction, and they weigh more heavily than those savings that come later (because they are contributing to the warming problem before they alleviate it). That pushes the ROI for GHG to 25 to 40 years after the project starts running.

I understand that advocates argue that we’re planning for the next 100 years–fine by me. But we can’t really accept a lot of excuses if the ridership doesn’t meet hopes. (I think it should–there are a lot of people who will want to use the system, and if it comes down to this, California will just pour enough operating subsidy into it until they can offer fares cheap enough to get the ridership they need.)