I LIKE TRAINS BUT...
RAIL PLAN NEEDS TO OFFER SOMETHING
To get me to ride, you've got to do at least one of three things.
This goes for any mode of transportation, really, but I'll stick to the trains since that's what's on the table right now. Governor Jim Doyle is talking about using a half billion dollars of stimulus money to build high speed rail from Milwaukee to Madison.
Initially, that sounds very exciting. I'll not go through the traditional pros and cons, because supporters and detractors have been debating them for years. I'm writing this article to talk about what it would take to make that line (or, again, any mode of transportation) successful in my view.
1) Save me money.
2) Save me time.
3) Save me trouble.
You've got to do at least one of these three things, preferably two, to get me on board. Otherwise what's the point? If you can't get me there cheaper, faster, or with greater ease I'm going to drive my car. Here's why I think that will be a challenge for the new system, if it should go. I'm not saying it can't work, but it will be a challenge.
Can't be cheaper, can it? Gas prices are back down, at least for now. Even at 4 bucks a gallon in my Honda, a round trip to Madison came out to about 22 dollars in gas. It's half that now. You can't tell me they're going to charge 10 dollars for a round trip MKE to MAD. Right now AMTRAK's service to Chicago from Downtown is 44 bucks round trip.
Can't be faster. So they're saying with a few stops, the proposed train will get me from Downtown to Madison in 1 hour and ten minutes. I don't know how fast you drive, but that doesn't seem like much faster to me. I can't think of many times it's taken me more than an hour and a half to get to, say, the State Capitol. Maybe on Badger Game Day a little more traffic, but still about an hour and a half and that's door to door. If I've got to take the train... it's a 10 minute ride downtown. 10 minutes to park and check in. 10 minutes extra time just to be safe. We're already up to an hour 40... and that only gets me to the airport in Madison. In my car... I'd already be where I'm going.
Can't save me trouble, can it? Okay... the Downtown to Chicago line... you never know what you're going to get, and who wants to sit in traffic in Chicago? You leave Milwaukee... it dumps you right downtown in Chicago where you might walk to where you're going. No getting stuck in traffic. No getting lost. No parking your car in a strange garage like in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. The Milwaukee to Madison proposal offers none of those additional conveniences. It adds the steps of getting to and from the train stations... and really... how bad is traffic around here or there? I just don't see it saving me trouble.
We're in the early stages of early stages for this thing. There's a great deal to be worked out before we actually climb aboard. I get that. I also understand that not everyone shares my experience. Some folks don't have cars... or if rail were more readily accessible... maybe they'd ditch theirs. Those are legitimate points. Still, the number of people we're talking about there would not be enough to carry the entire system. To sustain it, you need people who would choose to leave their cars in the garage. To do that, you've got to save... save money... save time... save trouble.
So far this line stacks up 0-3... but like I said... it's early.