Is driving or the train less expensive?

In today’s SacBee article by Tony Bizjak, California just got 125-mph trains. Here’s why they still can’t outrace your car, it is claimed that driving is less expensive than the train. The example given is Sacramento (SAC) to Oakland Jack London (OKJ) round trip. The article says “A price check by The Bee last week found basic Capitol Corridor round-trip train fares – with no monthly pass or other discounts – of $50 to $54 for the Sacramento-Oakland ride. That is typically more expensive than the cost of gas and vehicle wear and tear on a car drive that distance.”

First, the undiscounted Capitol Corridor ticket price is $58 round trip, though there are many discounts. But I’ll stick with the price of $58. I use the IRS mileage rate, 53.5 cents per mile for this year, to calculate driving costs. I hear people all the time claim that it costs them much less to drive, but realize that this is a real calculation the IRS does each year, and it IS the average cost. Unless this is Lake Wobegon, where all cars are “below average,” this is the best number to use.  Driving from the Sacramento station to the Oakland station is 82 miles, so 164 round trip. Calculated cost is $0.535 x 164, $88. $30 more than the train. Of course this is a solo trip. If two people are going, then it is $116 train and $88 driving, advantage driving. However, once you arrive at Oakland, you have to find parking. There is no free parking within 1/4 mile of Jack London, and even that is places most people would not want to park at night. Parking rates in lots and decks (parking garages) is commonly $15 for the day, though there are a wide variety of choices. Add that to your trip cost if you are driving. 

My point is not to give Tony a hard time. He is just repeating information he hears all the time. I hear it all the time too, including from transportation advocates who should know better.

Amtrak discounts include AAA, NARP, military and veteran, senior, disabled, and children (2-12 50%, under 2 free). Capitol Corridor promotions include steep discounts for additional passengers in a group, such as the current Take 5 Weekend Deal and ongoing Friends and Family, and sports and entertainment co-promotions. Every situation is unique, but these discounts and promotions can often bring the train cost down below the driving cost even for groups of people. 

Of course there is the environmental responsibility comparison, and for that one driving always loses.

summer in the mountains

I spend much of my summer in the mountains, backpacking, so this blog will be pretty inactive until August. I may have a chance to catch up on some topics, but may not.

One of the interesting effects I notice going back and forth between backpacking and hiking in the mountains, and bicycling in town, is that it uses different muscle groups! Though each keeps me in pretty decent overall condition, I do get sore and adjusting muscles going back and forth.

When I go backpacking, I generally take Amtrak (train and/or bus) to Truckee, and then get closer to where I’m going on TART and BlueGo. The west shore shuttle, called the Emerald Bay Trolley this year, takes me close to several trailheads, and also makes connections from the south shore to the north shore. Most of my trips are in the Granite Chief Wilderness, which is off the northwest side of Lake Tahoe, the Desolation Wilderness off the southwest side, the Mokelumne Wilderness south of the Tahoe basin, and of course the Tahoe Rim Trail. To some degree, all of these locations are accessible by public transportation.

On a day in between backpack trips, yesterday, I went to San Francisco for Sunday Streets. This event was in Golden Gate Park and along The Great Highway. It is fun to bicycle along streets and roads closed to motor vehicles, but these long routes don’t have the connections to local businesses and local people that other locales such as The Mission have, and so for me, are a bit less fun. The next Sunday Streets event on Sunday, July 28, is The Mission, which is along Valencia and 24th Streets in the Mission district. Go!

Arena thoughts

Power Balance Pavilion (red) vs. The Railyards (green)

The SacBee headlined Saturday, “Arena Deal Dead.” I never really cared that much about the idea of a new arena for the Kings. I’m not a big sports fan, and of all the sports, I think that professional basketball is the most boring of them all (not so for college ball). Whether the Kings play in Sacramento or not is a matter of indifference. Mayor Johnson has said that he wants to see a sports and entertainment venue in the rail yards regardless of whether the Kings are there, or in Sacramento at all, but without the anchor tenant and in these economic times, new construction seems unlikely.

However, there are a lot of transportation implications related to the arena that I’d like to comment on. The Power Balance Pavilion (formerly ARCO Arena), located in North Natomas (part of the City of Sacramento, but north of the river and north of I-80) is in a terrible location. Why was it built out here, in the middle of agricultural fields, which have since been converted to bland suburbs? Because the land was cheap, and really for no other reason. Though there is sort of freeway access, it is a long way out from the urban and suburban areas where attendees come from. It is even worse for transit, with only one line serving the area. On weekdays, you can get close on RT route 11, on weekends, nothing even comes close. I once rode my bike to the place and got there well ahead of the bus. Once arriving, you are faced with a sea of ugly parking, with no way to tell where you’ll be directed to park relative to where you want to go. After the event there is a long lasting traffic jam as everyone tries to find their way back out of the parking lot and waits long periods at the signals. I can’t think of a more unpleasant way to start and end some experience at the place. And if you ride, be assured there are no bike racks.

If the RT light rail green line is extended to the airport, there would be a station close to the pavilion. However, this project is so far off into the future that RT has not even projected a service date. So for all intents and purposes, the pavilion must be considered a car-only venue.

Continue reading “Arena thoughts”