Thoughts on FAT airport expansion

If you read this blog, you’ve probably heard the news that Fresno Air Terminal (FAT) will be expanded in the next couple of years, and they’re calling it FATforward because why not. This will be the first customer-facing expansion since 2006, when the international arrivals area was built. Since then, there have been some changes on the air side, but nothing major. Of course, the biggest expansion in FAT history was in 2002, when the second-level concourse was built with jet bridges (title picture).

The expansion has two components: terminal expansion, and parking expansion. Let’s talk about parking first! Click to read more!

Manchester Center Renovation Moving at Glacial Pace

One year ago I wondered if “the Manchester Center Food Hall was Really Coming?” I recently took a stroll around the mall to see if we could get an answer to that question. I have some good news and bad news.

The good news: Some work is being done.

The bad news: The pace at which the work is being done indicates that there is a single person working on his weekends to complete it. At the current pace, we will all be dead before that person is done.

Background: In May 2015 a company announced a renovation of Manchester Center. A year later, nothing had happened. In September 2016, the Bee reported that work was beginning and phase 1 would be done by Spring 2017. Click to read more!

Amtrak San Joaquin Daily Express To End in April

That was fast. Last April, Amtrak California decided to try something new – an early morning train from Fresno to Sacramento, timed to arrive for the start of the business day. The return train was scheduled for the early evening. The idea was to make it possible for people in the Central Valley to use Amtrak to attend a meeting or conference in the capital. However, this was not an expansion of service. Instead, cities south of Fresno lost one of their trains. The reasoning being that no one was going to board a train in Bakersfield at 3am. I talked about this change in service in November of 2017. Click to read more!

Where do people fly to from Fresno?

While not the focus of this blog, I’ve talked a few times about air service from Fresno Air Terminal (FAT). A couple of years ago, I compared air service in Fresno to a group of peer cities, which confirmed that Fresno is under-served.

One big question has been: what destination is missing from Fresno? United answered that question in part last year by adding trial service to Chicago on an Embraer 175 operated by Skywest. This route was somewhat noticeable because it became one of the longest flights in the US operated by a small regional jet. Well, the test proved successful, and United will again operate flights to Chicago in 2019, but this time with a full-sized plane (A319). However, service will still be summer-only. In 2017, United also increased their service to Fresno by upgrading San Francisco to a mainline jet. Click to read more!

Hyperloop Turns Five. A look back at the hype.

Time sure does fly. It was just over five years ago – August 2013 – when Elon Musk released his Hyperloop “white paper,” setting the imaginations of the tech world on fire. 2018 was all about his new razzle dazzle proposal – the Boring Company – but I thought it was time to take a look back at the original Hyperloop hype and the progress since then.

As a reminder, here is what that paper proposed:

A new high speed mode of transport is desired between Los Angeles and San Francisco; however, the proposed California High Speed Rail (HSR) does not reduce current trip times or reduce costs relative to existing modes of transport. This preliminary design study proposes a new mode of high speed transport that reduces both the travel time and travel cost between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The total trip time is approximately half an hour, with capsules departing as often as every 30 seconds from each terminal and carrying 28 people each. This gives a total of 7.4 million people each way that can be transported each year on Hyperloop. The total cost of Hyperloop in this analysis is under $6 billion USD.

At the time, I pointed out that the half-baked plan appeared to be just an attempt to delay the HSR project in favor of a future silver bullet. The reason for that conclusion is that the paper made an effort to downplay the HSR project while misrepresenting what the Hyperloop was promising. The biggest red flag was that the proposal didn’t actually go into San Francisco or Los Angeles, which is where the biggest expense would be.  Other folks, like Alon, took issue with some of the engineering promises.

Looking back through the document, five years later, I am a bit surprised to find that the claims are less hyperbolic than what I remembered. Misleading, yes, but not outrageous. A reason I am a bit surprised is because Elon Musk’s behavior has deteriorated significantly since then. From a USA Today article:

After reading Musk’s 57-page proposal, Sam Jaffe, senior research analyst at clean technology firm Navigant Research, was impressed with Musk’s willingness to release the report with “excruciating detail” and openly invite criticism. “What he’s done is amazing. He wrote it and said, ‘Criticize this,'” Jaffe says. “And it’s worthy of being criticized.”
USA Today 

That willingness to debate in the public space didn’t last long. In 2018, any criticism was met with cries of “fake news” and “pedophile” by Musk.

Too funny.

Of course, Hyperloop has existed as more than just a paper, as it spurred the creation of an entire industry of hype. It’s through interviews, press releases, and “demonstrations” where the more ludicrous claims emerged. I still chuckle at the render of the Hyperloop next to the Golden Gate Bridge, where apparently the concept of boats larger than kayaks was not known.

At first, much of the hype was based around the idea that Musk could do no wrong, and the government couldn’t do anything right.

I expect [Musk] will prove, once again that the private sector (and not the government) should be handing public transportation,” Draper told me yesterday after the Hyperloop announcement. “He is smart to go after inefficient government public works.”

For years, government has been a nuisance to Elon Musk. It’s slowed him down. It’s required him to spend his valuable time lobbying his Twitter followers for support in the New York legislature instead of building rockets. It’s required him to explain his mind-bending technical innovations to grayhairs in Congress as if he were speaking to schoolchildren. Over and over, the public sector has convinced Musk that it is hopelessly lost when it comes to matters of innovation, and that anything truly revolutionary must spring from the ambitions of the private sector. Click to read more!

California High Speed Rail Posts Summer Update Video

The California High Speed Rail Authority used to post videos every month or two summarizing their construction progress. Unfortunately, that ended around October of last year. Now they’re back with a new video highlighting what has been going on. At under four minutes, it’s a good watch.

While they’ve been stingy with their videos, they have continuously updated their Flickr account. Usually new photos go up every 3-5 weeks.

Here are some of my recent favorites. I especially like the ones from angles I cannot get myself.

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I’m hoping that in 2019, we see these various construction sites linked up with rails and walls. I think that once that happens, the project will really seem to be real, even though we know train service is still far away.

Additionally, one other major piece of infrastructure was recently “finished,” and that’s the train station in San Francisco.Or at least the box where it goes. Streetsblog has a tour here.

Of course, I wish this all was moving faster. But it’s still nice to see that it is moving at all.

Major improvements in rail service coming to Northern Central Valley

I love plans. I have also learned that every plan should be read with a heavy dose of skepticism because many of them don’t go anywhere. California publishes a State Rail Plan every couple of years, and it is always full of exciting ideas, including new rail lines, increased service, and better operations. However, I never post about those plans because most of them just never happen, so why waste time? For example, from the State Rail Plan:

The Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) has been studying passenger service in a 141 mile rail corridor between Los Angeles Union Station and Indio, CA since 1991.

One such proposal I’ve seen a lot about involves a big increase in rail service in the northern part of the San Joaquin Valley including shifting the Amtrak San Joaquin over to a completely separate rail line into Sacramento, adding a bunch of stations, and increasing service. Cool stuff, but it’ll never happen, right?

Well, earlier this year, those plans were granted $500 million. Five hundred million! That’s real money to turn the plan into an actual operating rail line, so it’s time to take a very serious look at what is actually going to happen. This money is thanks to SB1, a law that is estimated to provide $52 billion over the next decade to transportation projects. Keep that in mind when you vote in November.

The state Thursday put another $500.5 million into expanding passenger rail connecting the Bay Area with Modesto and other inland cities.

Some of the money will go to extending the Altamont Corridor Expresss, which runs between Stockton and San Jose by way of Livermore and Fremont. It could reach Ceres by 2023 and Merced by 2027 with this funding on top of $400 million allotted last year.

The $500 million also will pay for expanding ACE north to Sacramento by 2020, including new stations to be shared with the current Amtrak service in that corridor.

All of the $900 million will come from the gasoline tax increase signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2017. The projects aim to provide comfortable rides for people who now drive to the Bay Area, where jobs are plentiful but housing is costly.
Modesto Bee Click to read more!

New airline emerges – could they serve Fresno?

A frequent topic here has been about how expensive it can be to fly out of Fresno. Specifically, how the lack of lower-cost airlines (especially Southwest) has kept prices high. Even though the city was the birthplace of Allegiant Air, that company is now based in Las Vegas and only flies from Fresno to Vegas (although they have previously flown to Honolulu and Mesa/Phoenix as well). Frontier is low cost, but their flights to Denver come and go based on airport incentives. On the nicer end, Jetblue is nowhere to be found, nor is Spirit at the low end.

In comparison, Boise (metro population of 709,845, less than Fresno’s 972,297) has low cost flights to 15 different cities through Southwest, Allegiant, and Frontier. A couple of years ago, I looked at some peer cities and found this:

There have been some changes since, but nothing too drastic. Frontier came back to Fresno, for example, and Reno gained an additional Jetblue destination.

Personally, I’d love for Jetblue to add Fresno, but it seems incredibly doubtful. I was hoping that they would buy new planes and shift their older Embraer 190s to smaller markets like Fresno. Instead, they simply committed to replace their existing Embraer fleet with a larger Bombardier model and retire the older planes. That makes Fresno even less likely in their future, since each flight has more seats to fill.

The airline said it hasn’t yet decided how many seats it will put on the A220-300, which can hold as many as 160 passengers. It also has the right to convert some orders to the smaller A220-100 plane, which can take as many as 135 seats. The Embraer E190s being replaced carry 100.

However, there may be some hope.

Inside the new airplane

The guy who created Jetblue – and other airlines around the world such as WestJet in Canada and Azul in Brazil – is back to start a brand new airline. Unlike Jetblue, which began by focusing on major airports like JFK, Boston, and Fort Lauderdale, this new airlines is aiming for undeserved airports. This isn’t just an idea, he’s already signed up to buy 60 brand new airplanes.

David Neeleman is raising funds to launch a new low-cost airline, called Moxy, Airline Weekly reports. Moxy could launch as soon as 2020, as soon it takes delivery of its first aircraft.

Moxy has big plans for thinking small. The airline will use Bombardier CS5300 aircraft to shuttle passengers between smaller airports, like Providence, Rhode Island; Hollywood Burbank Airport in Los Angeles; and Chicago’s Gary International Airport.

Moxy has placed an order for 60 Bombardier CS5300 aircraft, according to Bloomberg. Capable of carrying 130 passengers, the lightweight carbon fiber plane was designed to service smaller airports. It offers “over 15% cash operating cost advantage, over 20% fuel burn advantage, exceptional operational flexibility, widebody comfort and an unmatched environmental and noise footprint,” according to the manufacturer.
Travel and Leisure  Click to read more!

Fresno added bus service, and riders appear to be responding

In February of this year, Fresno finally launched the “Q,” a new express bus line with increased peak service along the two busies transit corridors in the city. In addition, the system expanded service hours past 9pm and added live bus arrival times. While it is way too early to make any definitive statements about how Q has impacted FAX (Fresno Area Express), the early data looks promising. We now have data showing three full months under the new service plan, and the initial results are good.

First a reminder. Here is what Fresno bus ridership looked like for ten years, from July 2008 to October 2017. Pretty scary. You can read my full analysis here.

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Now let us zoom in to the last 2 years. I have highlighted April and May of 2016, 2017, and 2018 to make an easier year-over-year comparison.

rider1

Since the status quo was a continuous decline, even stopping that decrease would be a positive. Instead, the system has done better and shows ridership ticking up a notch compared to previous years.

This next chart shows ridership plotted against Vehicle Revenue Hours (VRH) since 2005. The higher the VRH, the more time the buses are spending on the road serving customers. You can see that began to increase in 2017 when FAX introduced later hours and increased service on Shaw Avenue in advance of the Q rollout.

rider2

This next graph shows ridership plotted against the maximum number of buses FAX runs at a given time (rush hour peak). I like it because it helps highlight how stagnant the system was for so many years. Once again, you can see when the initial FAX-15 rolled out on Shaw and Blackstone in advance of the Q service. This one also helps to show that even with this expansion, FAX used to operate more peak service in the past. Essentially, they cut 3 routes and re-allocated the money to run those buses on other lines during other times of the day, which is why the previous graph does not show a marked decrease.

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Of course, I look forward to seeing this data again once we have a few more months to look at. People do not respond immediately to transit improvements. If you bought a car because FAX service wasn’t getting you to work, it is hard to come back, for example. However, as people move and start new jobs, they might take a new look at FAX and realize that the improvements help get them to where they’re going, and at least for the near future, these improvements in service are guaranteed by federal funds.

One question that will surely be brought up: What about gas prices? They have indeed been rising. However, that increase hasn’t yet resulted in improved ridership in the peer cities I track. Modesto and Visalia are pretty flat, and Bakersfield is hard to compare with because they started counting their ridership in a new way in 2017. Across the country, I continue to read stories about how transit ridership is still falling as well.

In conclusion, congratulations FAX, you have discovered that people like better service!

Fresno COG’s 2018 Regional Transportation Plan Available for Public Comment

The Fresno Council of Governments (COGs) is the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Fresno area. Basically, their job is to ensure planning is done on a regional basis, rather than a city-by-city basis. Or in their words:

The Fresno Council of Governments (Fresno COG) is a consensus builder, developing acceptable programs and solutions to issues that do not respect political boundaries. Fresno COG is a voluntary association of local governments, one of California’s 38 regional planning agencies, and one of 500+ nationwide. In 1967 elected officials of Fresno County and its incorporated cities informally created the agency, formalizing Fresno COG in 1969 through a Joint Powers Agreement. Fresno COG undertakes comprehensive regional planning with an emphasis on transportation, provides citizens an opportunity to be involved in the planning process, and supplies technical services to its members. Click to read more!