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Froma Harrop
Froma Harrop
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Foggy Thinking in the Sunshine State

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — You'd think that a state knocked cold by the real-estate meltdown would invest in a future not based on housing bubbles. And that if the feds dangled a bag of money to help it address a serious economic drag — a gridlocked highway system that turns off tourists, retirees and business travelers — you'd think the state would grab it.

But this is Florida, where the recently elected Gov. Rick Scott has rejected $2.4 billion in federal money for a $2.7 billion high-speed train connecting Tampa and Orlando. Scott offers several reasons for this move, though not necessarily the real one.

The Republican insists that Florida taxpayers would have to subsidize the line's operations, even though a state-sponsored study says otherwise. He notes that Tampa-Orlando is a relatively short 84-mile trip, and because the train would make stops, the trip would take almost as long as driving. This is true, assuming Interstate 4 isn't clogged with traffic, which it often is. (Orlando ranks seventh in the country for the worst traffic.)

But the Tampa-Orlando run was to be just a first leg on a more ambitious bullet-train system. The bigger vision has trains turning right at Orlando and zooming down the crowded east coast to Miami. Tampa to Miami is 281 often tough road miles.

This piecemeal thinking is indeed problematic, says Rush Loving, a railroad expert and author of "The Man Who Loved Trains." "The real market for the Tampa-Orlando run would have been from the airport to Disney World," he told me. That's not why you build bullet trains. "But there is a market from the Miami and Fort Lauderdale airports to Disney World."

Consider my recent conversation with a helpful Thrifty car rental guy at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport.

Do you wish to buy a SunPass for the toll roads? he asked.

No, I responded, I'll be driving on non-toll Interstate 95. Any other reason why I might need a SunPass?

Well, he said, many drivers headed south to Miami on I-95 encounter such congestion that they switch to Florida's Turnpike, which is a toll road. Florida has been getting rid of humans who make change, so you need a SunPass at unmanned exits.

OR you can go through the TOLL-BY-PLATE collection system, where a photo is taken of the license plate and a bill for that sum plus an administrative charge is sent to the rental company and added to your final tab.

Suppose I were a jet-lagged tourist from Poland (or Portland). I'd think: What on earth is he talking about? I could visit the turnpike website and its "frequently asked questions," of which there are 26. One tells car renters who miss a toll, "Please contact the rental car company directly to report the missed toll and to learn their policy on toll violations." Is it now clear?

OK, so why didn't Scott lunge for money that could have launched America's first bullet train and employed a bunch of jobless Floridians? Politics.

Fast trains were to be President Obama's moon shot. Work on the Tampa-Orlando link was already so far along that it could have debuted in time for the 2012 election. The project is wildly popular in the independent-voter-rich I-4 corridor. Giving the people what they want might help Obama win Florida, so you can't do that.

Meanwhile, the California High-Speed Rail Authority meets this week to pick projects on which to spend the $2.4 billion that Florida turned down. Scott's snub of this grant wrapped in golden ribbons has angered Floridians of all political persuasions. Just wait until the bullet trains start streaking across California.

To find out more about Froma Harrop, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com.

COPYRIGHT 2011 THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL CO.

DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM



Comments

7 Comments | Post Comment
Re: "Just wait until the bullet trains start streaking across California." Mostly empty and subsidized by taxpayer money. What is wrong with these people? We are in debt up to our grandchildren's eyeball and STILL they want to SPEND, SPEND, SPEND.
Comment: #1
Posted by: David Henricks
Thu Mar 31, 2011 4:55 AM
Trains are pretty much useless without a mass transit infrastructure in the city you're traveling to. If you get off the train in Orlando and still need a car, what's the point? Mass transit needs to exist at all levels of travel before it becomes viable. I remember visiting my grandparents in St. Petersburg in the last 60's. There was bus service even on the edges of the city center every half hour. A bus at every stop, every half hour and stops that took you within a 2 block walk of just about everything you could want to access. Imagine that. I used it at the time (I was 16) with no trouble.
Comment: #2
Posted by: GeorgeC
Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:48 AM
Trains are pretty much useless without a mass transit infrastructure in the city you're traveling to. If you get off the train in Orlando and still need a car, what's the point? Mass transit needs to exist at all levels of travel before it becomes viable. I remember visiting my grandparents in St. Petersburg in the last 60's. There was bus service even on the edges of the city center every half hour. A bus at every stop, every half hour and stops that took you within a 2 block walk of just about everything you could want to access. Imagine that. I used it at the time (I was 16) with no trouble.
Comment: #3
Posted by: GeorgeC
Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:49 AM
Trains are pretty much useless without a mass transit infrastructure in the city you're traveling to. If you get off the train in Orlando and still need a car, what's the point? Mass transit needs to exist at all levels of travel before it becomes viable. I remember visiting my grandparents in St. Petersburg in the last 60's. There was bus service even on the edges of the city center every half hour. A bus at every stop, every half hour and stops that took you within a 2 block walk of just about everything you could want to access. Imagine that. I used it at the time (I was 16) with no trouble.
Comment: #4
Posted by: GeorgeC
Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:52 AM
Trains are of limited value without a good mass transit system in the city you take it to. If you walk out of the train station and your choices are to rent a car or take a series of $40 taxi rides you generally are better off to have driven. When I visited my grandparents as a child in St. Petersburg in the late 60's there was excellent bus service. A bus at every stop every 15 or 30 minutes and routes that could deliver you to within a couple blocks of most destinations. I'll wager that's no longer the case. My feeling is the big routes between the cities need to be built AFTER the internal mass transit systems are restored if you want them used.
Comment: #5
Posted by: GeorgeC
Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:11 AM
Trains are of limited value without a good mass transit system in the city you take it to. If you walk out of the train station and your choices are to rent a car or take a series of $40 taxi rides you generally are better off to have driven. When I visited my grandparents as a child in St. Petersburg in the late 60's there was excellent bus service. A bus at every stop every 15 or 30 minutes and routes that could deliver you to within a couple blocks of most destinations. I'll wager that's no longer the case. My feeling is the big routes between the cities need to be built AFTER the internal mass transit systems are restored if you want them used.
Comment: #6
Posted by: GeorgeC
Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:12 AM
"He notes that Tampa-Orlando is a relatively short 84-mile trip, and because the train would make stops, the trip would take almost as long as driving."
Obviously Harrop has not tried to travel between Orlando and Tampa by public transport. Even now there is no regularly scheduled bus service between these two cities. We have competitive private tour companies galore in the area and if there was a market need for this service some entrepreneur would fill the need. With this bit of information how in the world would one even partially fill a bullet train?
Comment: #7
Posted by: dobrdale
Thu Mar 31, 2011 9:44 AM
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