HIGHWAY VS. HIGH SPEED RAIL
A user cost/time comparison for Tampa-Orlando commuters
Significant media attention has been given to the expected $2.5 billion cost of the Tampa-Orlando portion of the proposed Florida High Speed Rail system. When it comes to the cost to the user of the system however, the public discussion has been limited. User cost comparisons between highway and high speed rail (HSR) have been nonexistent or anecdotal at best. The following analysis seeks to encourage further discussion about the user cost-benefit of both highway and high speed rail commuting, between Orlando and Tampa in this particular case. Cost-benefit was analyzed based on two primary factors: cost (in dollars) and time (in minutes).
While the methodology used is certainly open to criticism, every effort was made to balance any limitations across both modes. An objective methodology was developed before any calculations were made. The following sources were used to determine various metrics:
- Travel time: Mapquest.com for automobile travel, Florida High Speed Rail website (www.floridahighspeedrail.org) for HSR travel
- Automobile cost: IRS 2010 Standard Mileage Rate
- HSR cost: Anticipated fare according to Florida High Speed Rail website
- Parking cost: Daily parking rates listed on websites for City of Tampa and Orlando International Airport
The most variable factor used in the analysis is origin and destination. Travel times and costs vary depending on where the trip begins and ends, whether by car or rail. Using the endpoints of the high speed rail system would not be an objective or fair choice, since for most users it is unlikely that a trip would begin and end at those locations. The preferred method would be to select random addresses in both Central Florida and Tampa Bay and then calculate the time and cost for a trip to and from those locations and then average the results. In the interest of time though, this analysis compares only one origin and destination. The City Halls of both Orlando and Tampa seemed to be the fairest locations to analyze since both are the symbolic centers of each region. The analysis considers a trip originated at Orlando City Hall and ending at Tampa City Hall, and then returning after a daylong meeting. The analysis assumes a single commuter. It should be noted that the cost of automobile travel remains constant with the addition of passengers (carpooling), while high speed rail travel increases in cost for additional passengers because additional fares must be purchased.
To fully compare cost and time, several factors of a complete trip must be considered. For the cost of car travel, these include fuel and wear-and-tear costs (which is why the IRS standard rate was used) and the cost to park the car. Time estimations for car travel were based on Mapquest.com. Estimated time does not include time to park a car or delays related to traffic congestion. Based on these assumptions, the following formulas were used to analyze user cost and time for car travel.
COST = 85 miles x 2 (round trip) x $0.50 (IRS rate) + $10 (parking at Tampa City Hall)
TIME = 88 minutes x 2 (round trip)
For high speed rail, the assumption was made that a user would drive a car from Orlando City Hall to Orlando International Airport, at which a HSR station will be located. Of course, a user could take public transportation, but this likely would add to the time. A user also could be driven to the origin by a friend or relative, thus avoiding the parking cost, but that seemed to be a biased assumption, and would ignore the cost incurred by the friend or relative. The trip would end at the Tampa Intermodal Center. The Tampa Intermodal Center is located 3 miles from Tampa City Hall. The distance was factored into the cost and time assuming hypothetical car travel. Walking is possible, but would add to the time. The availability of a car (friend/relative) is assumed. This flawed assumption is minor given the short distance.
User costs for HSR include the car cost described above (fuel and wear-and-tear), parking and the HSR fare. HSR time was based on Mapquest.com for car travel and the expected travel time according to the Florida High speed Rail website (“just under an hour”). Estimated time does not include time to park, delays related to traffic congestion or headway variability (waiting for the train to depart/arrive). Based on these assumptions, the following formulas were used to analyze user cost and time for car travel.
COST = 13 total car miles x 2 (round trip) x $0.50 (IRS rate) + $30 (one-way fare) x 2 (round trip) + $10 (Satellite parking at OIA)
TIME = 20 minutes (Orlando City Hall to OIA) + 3 minutes (TIC to Tampa City Hall) + 55 minutes x 2 (round trip)
Based on these formulas, the following cost and time comparison between automobile and high speed rail travel between Orlando and Tampa can be made.
Total cost: $95
Total time: 176 minutes
Total cost: $83
Total time: 156 minutes
According to these calculations, a two-way high speed rail trip between Orlando and Tampa is $12 cheaper and 20 minutes faster than the same trip made exclusively by automobile.
Of course, there are intangible factors that also should be considered when comparing the two modes. Car travel is more flexible. Should a meeting end early, a commuter who traveled by automobile can leave immediately, whereas the departure of a high speed rail commuter would depend on the train schedule. Automobile travel also allows for trip-chaining. For example, a car commuter can stop at other destinations along the way, either as planned or spontaneously. Automobile travel also is flexible because additional passengers can be added with no additional cost. High speed rail travel is more productive. Train commuters can read or work on a laptop during their commute.
Admittedly, this is a simple analysis of the user benefits of car and high speed rail travel. More comprehensive and detailed analysis can and should be conducted. Still, the results of this analysis provide a good overview of the user cost/time benefits of the two modes. If detractors criticize the simplicity and conduct a more thorough examination, that would be even better. As stated in the opening paragraph, more discussion about transportation investments should be encouraged.
Comparisons aside, perhaps the most important aspect of this analysis is that it is based on the availability of travel options. By nature, comparisons indicate the ability to choose. Comparing the user cost/time benefit of these modes is important, but even more important is the fact that Florida commuters will soon have a choice.