Editorials

Why Can’t Train Tickets be More like Plane Tickets?

I live in San Diego County. From San Diego International Airport, I can get to almost any part of the United States or the World. I would have to transfer at other airports to get to many of these places. But I can buy my tickets,often at a discount online and it is more convenient to fly out of a local airport.The reason I can travel economically to so many places, conveniently from my local airport, is that the airlines have agreements with each other to sell tickets with connecting flights to other airlines including one stop baggage check in, in most cases. The point of this is to attract the most airline passengers such as myself so the airlines can fill up their planes with paying passengers.

By the time this article is linked to the RailPAC eNewsletter, I’ll be on vacation in Ireland. Eastbound I’ll be flying from San Diego to Chicago O’hare. I will connect at Chicago, flying on Aer Lingus to Dublin. If you check flights online, you will see dozens of connecting flights on Aer Lingus to almost every commercial airport in the United States to Chicago O’hare. The reality is Aer Lingus only has one flight: a round trip to Dublin at Chicago. But it has connections through United Airlines to most of the United States.

From San Diego, there are listed departures from San Diego on United as well as on Aer Lingus, SAS, Air Canada, Lufthansa, India Jet Airways, and Brussels Airlines to Chicago. But they are all on the same United flight. So my flight on United is more than just a flight from San Diego to Chicago. But it is also travel to Ireland, Scandinavia, Canada, India, Germany and Belgium. On my return flight I’ll be flying from Dublin to San Francisco on Aer Lingus and on United back to San Diego. Similar connections will also be available on these flights from all over the world to most of the United States. Most flights have multiple connections to other flights and airlines.

So, if I can get from San Diego to Dublin by plane: why can’t I buy tickets online to get from Oceanside to West Los Angeles by train with connections? Why can’t people travel between San Luis Obispo to Pomona by train with one ticket? Or even from Fresno to Escondido with connections when buying tickets online from one source? Why isn’t there one step ticketing online between Amtrak, Metrolink, Coaster, Caltrain, BART, ACE, transit services as well as bus lines to almost anyplace in California like the airlines?

The reason the airlines want so many connections is because they have learned that the more markets they serve at the lowest costs to them, the more money they make. The late Dr. Adrian Herzog demonstrated this when he developed a computer program in the 1990”s to predict ridership on the Long Distance trains based on changes to the level of service. What Dr. Herzog showed was the power of adding connections to a single rail service.

What Dr. Herzog showed with what he called the Matrix Theory for Passenger Trains, was that if you have a non-stop service between 2 stations you have 2 city pairs. Basically from point A to point B and from point B to point A. Now if you add just one extra station on this route you go from 2 city pairs to 6 ! That would be from A to B, B to A, A to C, C to A, B to C and C to B. If you increase this to 4 stations you have 12 city pairs. That’s from 2 to 12 places you can sell ticket to just by doubling the number of stations.

A traveler in California should be able to go online and order train tickets (often at a discount like with the airlines) to almost any combination of places to get to where they want to go. A new service could be created to sell tickets to connect different rail and bus services. This will increase ridership on all carriers. Most people rarely use rail service and are not aware of many of the possible connections to travel around the State. With such a service, passengers can find ways on in one simple step to make connections to where they want to go without studying many different timetables most people are not even aware exist.

Such a service will increase the pressure for these different services to coordinate their schedules with each other. With growing ridership it will make sense to increase and expand service on many rail services such as the Surfliners, San Joaquin, Capitol Corridor, Metrolink, ACE and Coaster. With increased ridership will come increased public support for more rail service.

Many new markets could be added to rail service with additional frequencies from expanded Amtrak Thruway Bus service and connections directly with bus companies. This would expand service to many places with limited Rail service in California such as along the Coast, Inland Empire/Palm Springs area, San Joaquin Valley and north of Sacramento. There are places that have limited service due to track congestion that could be supplemented with buses. This includes between San Diego and Southern Orange County, between Fullerton and Los Angeles, From the San Fernando Valley to the the Coast Line and even out of State such as to Reno,Las Vegas and Phoenix.

Such a computerized system selling tickets online with connections to all these services should be in place before 2022.This type of computerized ticketing should be combined with the start up of California High Speed Rail to provide connections to it and the rest of the State from day one.

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