Monday, September 22, 2014

All Aboard Florida Ridership and Revenue Highlights

Continuing from my last post, here's a look at the ridership and revenue appendix to All Aboard Florida's Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

To begin with, it's a bit of a misnomer as there's no revenue information in the available summary report. Though I lack any proof, I believe that this was simply, and reasonably, redacted from the report in order to protect their commercial interests. It is a bit unfortunate however since the fare level has a rather large impact on the reasonableness of their ridership estimates.

One thing I would like to quickly address is the mystery I had with the number of passengers diverted from air travel exceeding the number of Orlando-Miami air passengers by a significant margin. As it turns out, according to the FAA on page 24, the number of Orlando-Ft. Lauderdale air passengers is nearly double that of Orlando-Miami, totaling 163,500 annual passengers. The diversion is only on the order of 60% of air passengers then which is rather more reasonable. The diversion from Amtrak is still somewhat mysterious, but may be a result of growth projections as well as possible intermodal trips from All Aboard Florida.

While the EIS refers to the 3.5 million ridership figure as coming from the most conservative ridership case, that's not strictly accurate, at least as how I'd read it. Rather, the 3.5 million comes from the base case. In their own words:
The scenario does not include potential future changes to the proposed AAF service, such as additional future station locations; and does not include consideration of future changes to the relevant transportation network that are subject to some level of uncertainty, such as impact of the growth in congestion on major highways and arterials in the market area, or the impact of potential direct connections with local transit improvements planned by local and regional agencies. (page 3)

Accounting for connections to other transit, such as SunRail and Ft. Lauderdale's streetcar; marketing initiatives; frequent rider loyalty programs; revenue yield management; and other incentives; results in a ridership forecast of up to 5.1 million in 2019, composed of 2,434,300 Orlando riders and 2,671,556 riders traveling solely within the West Palm Beach-Miami corridor. I don't believe this is an achievable ridership figure for the very simple reason that they do not have nearly enough seats to satisfy demand, which amounts to an average of 437 passengers per train every single day. Even nine-car trains are going to see frequently sold out trains in the peak periods and while some will go for cheaper off-peak trains, it's stretching the imagination to suggest that they'll manage to nearly fill each and every single one of them.

Base case 2019 market share


Congested auto travel times were accounted for in estimating station access and long-distance auto travel times. The AAF forecast is not predicated on future growth in congestion, however. This is a conservative approach as it is very likely that congestion within and between the regions will increase, making non-highway modes of travel more competitive. (Page 11)
It's also interesting to note that the impact of fuel prices upon ridership are considered to be negligible, with travel time (including station access time) and frequency being the dominant factors on ridership. A 20% increase in gasoline or air fare leads only to a 1.4% and 1.7% predicted increase in AAF ridership. On the other hand, decreasing the running time by 10% leads to a 5% increase in ridership in the West Palm Beach-Miami market and 7% overall (with a similar drop should running times increase). Similarly, large gains are expected when travel times increase for parallel modes; in the most extreme, a 20% increase in travel time due to freeway congestion (but not impeding intracity travel to stations), there is a predicted 16% ridership gain in the long distance market and 12% in the short distance.

However, the ridership summary does graphically show that putting the northern terminus at Orlando Airport is probably not the best decision. Compare the population and employment density of the Orlando station with that of the other three:



In pure numbers, there are 170,944 people living within a 5-mile radius of the West Palm Beach station (2010), 232,800 within five miles of Fort Lauderdale, 469,842 within five miles of the new Miami station, but only 58,439 within five miles of the Orlando station. Having never once yet enjoyed the drive into an airport, I would not be surprised if Orlando underperformed due to the inconvenient nature of its station. That said, it is something that should be easily fixed: SunRail's planned connection to Orlando Airport would cost $100 million to build. That's a fairly small sum in the scheme of things for All Aboard Florida and it's possible that SunRail will prove amenable to allowing trackage rights to the Amtrak station in Orlando in exchange for bankrolling the project. That's a trade that will do wonders to boost ridership figures and connectivity in Orlando while aiding both projects.

7 comments:

  1. While I think that bringing service into downtown Orlando is absolutely essentially in serving the vast majority of the population, having the line end at Orlando International Airport isn't a horrible idea either. The airport has an enormous array of ground transportation connections to the attractions area in Orlando and other destinations around the region. Even if they extend the line to the Orlando Amtrak station, I think the OIA stop will still be far busier. But for the sake of improving non-auto mobility and serving the population of Orlando, they should extend the line to the Orlando Amtrak station.

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  2. Good analysis.

    Looking at the population and employment density maps, I think AAF are missing a bet by leaving out a station between Orlando and WPB -- somewhere from Palm Bay to Cocoa. I'm inclined to say Cocoa simply because the trains will have to slow down for the turn there, but it might be more commercially viable at the Palm Bay end, I don't know.

    Extending from Orlando Airport to Orlando proper would be well worthwhile.

    It does seem that their trains are too short. That's easy enough to fix, but they'd better not make the *platforms* too short, because that *isn't*.

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  3. Some thoughts:

    They can't stop at multiple Orlando stops even though it would make sense for the train to serve all three (Airport, Downtown, International Drive) stops. I've read the lease with the Turnpike authority, it explicitly bans - with no mechanism to change this defined - trains running over the leased RoW that are "commuter" services which it defines as any train that has two or more stops in the same county. The only way to run trains that go from Miami to both MCO and another Orlando station would be to run multiple trains, one for each destination.

    Another hurdle: while SunRail plans to link to the airport, it still hasn't decided on whether to run on nights and weekends at this point, which is a fairly substantial hole in the "MCO as Orlando transportation interchange/hub" concept. A third party is talking about (I AM NOT MAKING THIS UP) building a half-billion dollar maglev between MCO and I-drive.

    Capacity: As you've pointed out, the Siemens units are lower capacity than normal for an 85ft car, and we're still unclear as to why it's so much lower. It's actually substantially lower than the IC-125's Mark 3 coaches, and they're 10' shorter and 1' thinner.

    But here's my concern: AAF hasn't left itself many options to expand. I don't know about Ft Lauderdale or Miami, but the West Palm Beach station has an 800ft platform, with a grade level crossing at one end, limiting the total length of the train to 8 coaches + 2 locomotives even allowing for the other end to have a locomotive not at the platform itself (not normal practice, but, whatever.) So adding coaches won't help.

    Standard FRA HSR accessability rules makes double decker trains harder too.

    So that leaves adding more trains. And here's where I think there's a MAJOR flaw in the concept as described by the EIS, because there are major capacity issues in AAF's plans, largely because AAF won't (can't?) upgrade some single track drawbridges along the route, notably the St Lucie river crossing in Stuart. That's a 30mph bridge, surrounded by roughly half a mile of single track even post AAF, and every time a freight train uses it essentially shuts down other rail traffic around the bridge for around 5 minutes. There are 14 freight trains a day, were 20 before the recession, and there's talk of growth above this 20 (22 is the best estimate) due to increased traffic. So over five minutes, maybe more during AAF operating hours unless the FEC starts shifting freight to nights, of capacity along the route is spoken for each hour.

    The bridge also has to be open most of each hour otherwise it blocks river traffic: each closure, due to protocol, lasts at least 10 minutes (ie a single locomotive with no load will close it for 10 minutes.)

    Under normal circumstances, AAF could probably get grant money to upgrade the bridge as it would benefit local boaters too, but this is in the heart of the Treasure Coast where local politicians are so anti-AAF they're refusing to let AAF pay 80% of the costs and 100% of the organizational work of setting up quiet zones because that would be seen to be cooperating with the "enemy".

    Even assuming a typo in Siemen's documentation, with more normal coach capacity than posted, I think AAF will have difficulty supporting the amount of traffic its expecting predicted by its own survey. Also I worry they're underestimating the amount of induced traffic the service will provide, I think there's a serious risk they've underestimated demand.

    We will see. Tempted to go to the local EIS meeting planned for Stuart and raise these points, but also don't want to get into an argument with the local NIMBYs...

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    1. Since FEC controls the dispatch of freight along the line, I'd assume they'd prioritize whatever is making more money, probably passenger trains. Treasure Coast has been a thorn in the whole deal, but FEC could potentially terminate all the grade crossing agreements with the county and shut down a huge portion of their roads as a bargaining tool. That's old-days style railroad negotiations, but they could do it.

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  4. They can't stop at multiple Orlando stops even though it would make sense for the train to serve all three (Airport, Downtown, International Drive) stops. I've read the lease with the Turnpike authority, it explicitly bans - with no mechanism to change this defined - trains running over the leased RoW that are "commuter" services which it defines as any train that has two or more stops in the same county.

    Looking at the lease document, I think they'd be in the clear so long as they didn't sell tickets between the various Orlando stations. So a Miami-bound train would pick up passengers in downtown Orlando and at the airport, but you couldn't get off at the airport. Amtrak does that with the long-distance trains in the Northeast Corridor, so it's not an unknown practice.


    Under normal circumstances, AAF could probably get grant money to upgrade the bridge as it would benefit local boaters too, but this is in the heart of the Treasure Coast where local politicians are so anti-AAF they're refusing to let AAF pay 80% of the costs and 100% of the organizational work of setting up quiet zones because that would be seen to be cooperating with the "enemy".


    Personally I suspect that they'll change their tune once the service is up and running.


    Even assuming a typo in Siemen's documentation, with more normal coach capacity than posted, I think AAF will have difficulty supporting the amount of traffic its expecting predicted by its own survey. Also I worry they're underestimating the amount of induced traffic the service will provide, I think there's a serious risk they've underestimated demand.


    The low level of induced demand in their study is definitely odd in my opinion. As for capacity, if memory serves, it does seem to be a bit of a tradition in America to underestimate capacity requirements. I'd be surprised if, two years after the Orlando extension, they haven't started changing the cars to be more inline with the current Amfleets for seating.

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    1. I'm not surprised they're going with a conservative approach.

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  5. I think MCO is a good end point, for a few reasons:
    1. Orlando's downtown isn't really a center of anything. Housing, jobs, transit connections, there's more of just about anything in some other area of Central Florida than there is near Orlando's Amtrak Station
    2. It's where there's a critical mass of ground transportation. This is Florida where talking about here, there's not a dense walkable core of jobs and housing. The Airport is a location where taxi, shuttle, bus, rental car, and other services agglomerate and cater to visitors. Disney doesn't do free pickup from Amtrak, they do free pickup from the airport.
    3. AAF isn't stopping twice anywhere else. Sunrail and Amtrak ought to have more interest in connecting to MCO and to FEC's tracks and AAF's customers, and an MCO connection fits well with what sunrail can be (and, with population doing what it does in florida, will have to be), if not what it currently is.

    As far as other potential stops, I'd say Cocoa rather than palm bay because this isn't commuter rail, population density isn't as important.

    The FEC track near Cocoa is, 10 miles from the 2nd/3rd busiest cruise port in the world (depending on who you ask), a very quick shuttle distance and considering the speed over SR-528 probably the fastest end-end journey possible from the state's second busiest airport to its second busiest cruise port.

    It's also close to Kennedy Space Center, Orlando's closest beach, and pretty much all of the tourist industry of Brevard County.

    Plus, as another poster said, the trains probably have to slow down to make that sharp turn, so might as well put the stop there so it doesn't need to flow down twice.

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