California's planned high-speed rail system has been the target of varied criticism, including from Orange County state assemblywoman Diane Harkey who wants to kill the thing outright. Now, a study from UC Berekely–funded by the high-speed rail authority–says the entire project is based on ridership projections that may be too rosy.
The Institute of Transportation Studies' report, released today, says that the high-speed rail agency's models for projecting ridership were flawed, in part, because they relied on focus groups composed of people who weren't representative of the riding population at large and the agency incorrectly compensated for that fact.
This is no small concern. Ridership projections have played a role in winning billions of dollars in federal funds, for example. In a news release, the study's chief investigator Samer Madanat says that the problems with the ridership numbers make it so that “it is not possible to predict whether the proposed high-speed rail system will experience healthy profits or severe revenue shortfalls.”
The Los Angeles Times reports, though, that the CEO of the rail authority criticized some of the study's conclusions as “extraordinary” and unsubstantiated.
This all comes on the heels of a call by State Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) to remove Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle from his chairmanship of the high-speed rail board of directors because of potential conflict-of-interest. As an OCTA board member, Lowenthal argues, Pringle has a vested interest in directing state funds towards Anaheim and Orange County–which, indeed, he has been doing in trying to get high-speed rail money to fund the construction of a transportation hub near Angels' stadium.
The Berkeley report, as well as a damning State Auditor's investigation released in April, will be addressed at next Thursday's meeting of the California High Speed Rail Authority board of directors in Los Angeles.