By Melanie Curry, March 25, 2014
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UCLA’s Lewis Center published a report yesterday
finding that California’s High-Speed Rail project is a relatively
expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the near-term,
compared to upgrading local transit and bicycle infrastructure.
Comparing CAHSR to Los Angeles Metro’s Gold Line light-rail and Orange Line bus rapid transit route and bikeway, the report finds high-speed rail to be the least cost-efficient investment the state could make.
The high-speed rail project costs more per metric tonne of GHG
emissions than the current cost of allowances under cap-and-trade, the
report says. If the savings costs to users are included in the
calculations, then the light-rail, busway, and bikeway projects cost far
less than the cap-and-trade auction price, which makes them more
cost-effective ways to meet the emission reduction goals set out
in California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32.
“There are a lot of projects that can reduce GHG emissions,” said
Juan Matute, one of the report’s authors. “And differentiating between
them will become more important in the future. One way is to look at the
cost-effectiveness of the reductions.”
Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed cap-and-trade expenditure plan
includes $250 million for high-speed rail to be spent in the next year
alone, but very little for other transit or bicycle and pedestrian
projects. High-speed rail isn’t scheduled to be online until 2029, so
the savings it yields won’t help meet the state’s 2020 emission
reductions goals. Meanwhile, the funds could be used for more local
investments such as transit services or bicycle and pedestrian
connections that would reduce GHG emissions more quickly.
The report’s authors, Matute and Mikhail Chester, compared life-cycle
costs of the projects, including construction and operation, and
estimated emission savings based on peer-reviewed estimates of how many
people would shift from driving to using each of the new facilities.
They also looked at the amount of money that users save on each type of
“It’s about mode shift,” said Matute. Light-rail attracts the highest
portion of commuters to shift from driving among transport modes
(light-rail projects typically yield a 52 percent shift). But the Orange
Line bike path, which only sees about a 4.5 percent shift from driving,
yielded the highest per-rider emissions reduction due to the low cost.
“Anything that costs more than $11.48 per metric tonne of emissions
(the current price under California’s cap-and-trade auctions) is a less
cost-effective way to achieve emission reductions,” said Matute. “At the
current price, high-speed rail’s cost of $361 per metric tonne is very
The report estimated the transportation costs individuals save on by
taking transit. “Greenhouse gas emissions aside,” said Matute, “the Gold
and Orange lines produce cost savings to their users.”