The Politics of High Speed Rail Policymaking….

Florida received $1.25 billion of the federal government’s $8 billion allocation to high-speed rail projects. It would be hard to find a state rail plan that flies in the face of Obama’s commitment to so-called evidence-based policymaking. The plan would linke Tampa and Orlando, two major cities just 84 miles a part whose downtowns are accessible within 90 minutes by automobile. Just about everyone agrees that high-speed rail “works” when cities are at least 200 miles apart because that’s the distance necessary to make travel speeds competitive with the automobile.

From the New York Times (March 22, 2010):

The Florida train would indeed be high speed — as fast as 168 miles per hour. But because the trains would make five stops along the 84-mile route, the new service would shave only about half an hour off the trip.

Time-pressed passengers may also find themselves frustrated at the end of their trip. Neither city is known for great public transportation, so travelers may discover that they have taken a fast train to a slow bus.

Proponents of high-speed rail worry that the new line, which is scheduled to be up and running in 2015, might hurt rather than help their cause, if it comes to be seen as little more than an expensive way to whisk tourists from Orlando International Airport to Walt Disney World, which is slated to get its own stop.

Of course, shaving the half hour of the trip is optimistic. It doesn’t include the time needed to get to the train station, buy the ticket, board (or wait for) the train and disembark once you have arrived at the other end. Like most transit, the trip will probably take much longer than driving.

I actually feel some sympathy for the high-speed rail proponents on this one. Federal officials lobbyed the Florida legislature hard to pass legislation in the fall of 2009 that would qualify the state for the federal funds. Yet, the feds funded a high-speed rail link that has no meaningful utility other than getting a line up and running fast to score political points in a system that will have dubious benefits at best. This could well be a set back for high-speed rail in the U.S. since the other projects likely to get up and running are simply faster Amtrak trains.

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.

Staley is the author of several books, most recently co-authoring Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008). Texas Gov. Rick Perry aid Staley and Moore "get it right" and world bank urban planner Alain Bartaud called it "a must read for urban managers of large cities in the United States and around the world."

He is also co-author, with Ted Balaker, of The Road More Traveled: Why The Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It (Rowman and Littlefield, September, 2006). Author Joel Kotkin said, "The Road More Traveled should be required reading not only for planners and their students, but anyone who loves cities and wants them to thrive as real places, not merely as museums, in the 21st Century." Former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Mary Peters said, "Balaker and Staley clearly debunk the myth that there is nothing we can do about congestion."

Staley's previous book, Smarter Growth: Market-based Strategies for Land-use Planning in the 21st Century (Greenwood Press, 2001), was called the "most thorough challenge yet to regional land-use plans" by Planning magazine.

In addition to these books, he is the author of Drug Policy and the Decline of American Cities (Transaction Publishers, 1992) and Planning Rules and Urban Economic Performance: The Case of Hong Kong (Chinese University Press, 1994).

His more than 100 professional articles, studies, and reports have appeared in publications such as The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Investor's Business Daily, Journal of the American Planning Association, Planning magazine, Reason magazine, National Review and many others.

Staley's approach to urban development, transportation and public policy blends more than 20 years of experience as an economic development consultant, academic researcher, urban policy analyst, and community leader.

Staley is a former chair for his local planning board in his hometown of Bellbrook, Ohio. He is also a former member of its Board of Zoning Appeals and Property Review Commission, vice chair of his local park district's open space master plan committee, and chair of its Charter Review Commission.

Staley received his B.A. in Economics and Public Policy from Colby College, M.S. in Social and Applied Economics from Wright State University, and Ph.D. in Public Administration, with concentrations in urban planning and public finance from Ohio State University.