Kevin Standlee (kevin_standlee) wrote,
Kevin Standlee

So Much for Air Travel being 'Free Market'

I will say up front that in my opinion, all forms of transportation are subsidized by the government in one form or another. There is no such thing as a true libertarian market for transportation. If you disagree with this, you'll probably disagree with everything else I say here.

Salem, Oregon, doesn't have scheduled commercial air service and hasn't for some time now. After Salem raised about $1 million, some of in the form of federal transportation grants, Delta ran service to Salt Lake City for a while, but they exited the market after about a year, citing high fuel costs.

Salem's problem is that, while it is the state capital, it's too close to Portland and too small on its own to support its own airport. People drive (about sixty miles north) to PDX or take the Hut Airport Shuttle. But that hasn't stopped local booters from continuing to beg airlines to start serving Salem again.

The latest news is that Salem will spend $10,000 and waive rent and landing fees if SeaPort Airlines will start serving Salem. SeaPort has been building up small-plane service between PDX and Seattle Boenig Field (not Sea-Tac), touting the fact that you don't have to go through TSA to fly them, which naturally means you gain roughly an hour and don't have to get groped. It looks to me like SeaPort will run a couple of flight daily on a puddle-jumper route of Newport-Salem-Portland-Seattle.

I assume that if you use this to connect to a major carrier at PDX, you'll have to do TSA there. You won't be able to connect at SEA because they don't fly there, so you'd need to get a taxi from Boenig Field to Sea-Tac. And for this, the city of Salem is willing to provide the airport service for free (which means the city is paying for it, because TANSTAAFL).

A much better solution would be an electrified high-speed (or at least conventional medium-speed, which means 125 mph like UK trains do every day, and not just on the Eurostar) running Eugene-Salem-Portland-Seattle (and probably Vancouver BC if we were being sensible). I suspect the market for short-haul flights such as the Eugene-PDX and PDX-SEA shuttles would dry up, especially with good station siting and connectivity between trains and planes. And we'd at least postpone the need for further widening of Interstate 5 on this corridor.

I expect that we'd see companies like Alaska/Horizon and SeaPort Airlines complaining bitterly about "government subsidies" if we got a true high- or medium-speed rail system under construction in the Pacific Northwest. But they're happy to tuck in to government subsidies for air travel public investment in critical air transportation services. Because of course air and highway travel isn't subsidized, oh no, never. I wish I was allowed to redefine terms so easily.

Thanks to Lisa for pointing out the story to me.
Tags: airlines, politics, trains

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