Cerabino: Inquiring minds want to know: how much to ride All Aboard?

Publish Date: 
Wednesday, June 18, 2014 - 7:30am

By Frank Cerabino Tuesday, June 17, 2014 - Palm Beach Post

I would think that All Aboard Florida would want to tell the public how much a train ticket will cost or what the ridership surveys have said about the viability of the proposed passenger rail service between South Florida and Orlando. The public, after all, has been lobbied hard for months by the company, which has announced plans to operate 32 train trips a day between Miami and Orlando, with each train holding as many as 400 passengers.

That’s a lot of imagined riders. So what are the anticipated ticket prices, and what does your research say about how many people would be willing to take the train at those prices?

These are fundamental business questions, and since this allegedly private adventure relies on an awful lot of public money — a $1.5 billion federal loan, a $232 million state-built station in Orlando, and millions of dollars in “quiet zone” crossing improvements along the route — the company ought to be forthcoming about such matters.
But instead, All Aboard Florida is trying to line up endorsements and build public consensus while going to court to block the Florida Department of Transportation and other state agencies from releasing to the public any of the company’s ridership surveys or revenue studies, claiming that this is proprietary information.

Sounds like somebody’s got something to hide.

All Aboard Florida contends that its ridership and revenue forecast “is an extremely sensitive and commercially valuable document, the disclosure of which to the public could place AAF at an unfair competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis airlines and other transportation alternatives.”
But that would be like the Miami Dolphins saying they can’t allow anybody to know the ticket prices to the team’s upcoming home games, because it could put the Dolphins at a potential disadvantage with the area’s other entertainment options.
Or it would be like a car salesman pitching a new car, but telling you that, unfortunately, he can’t tell you the price of the car because that might give other car dealers an unfair competitive advantage.
The advantages and disadvantages of taking a train as opposed to a car, a bus or a plane are well known to travelers. There are no trade secrets here, just a simple economic calculation. And passenger rail service isn’t bristling with market competition either, considering that all the existing ones survive only by relying on public subsidies.
The “proprietary information” excuse here is in the same league as the chief executive officer who steps down “to spend more time with my family.”

So what’s really going on here?

Maybe it’s better to keep saying that the ticket prices will be “competitive with other current modes of travel” rather than putting an actual dollar amount on it, and letting the public judge for itself just how affordable the train would be.
And maybe the ridership estimates are transparently optimistic. Or even worse, maybe they’re counting on things best left secret.
For example, a Malaysian company has bought land in downtown Miami, where it has been angling to win legislative support to create a huge casino complex that would be easily connected to the proposed All Aboard Florida Miami train station.
If the train’s ridership projections are counting on running a gambling express linking Orlando’s theme parks with Miami casinos yet to be legalized, that might be the sort of planning you’d rather not disclose.
Sometimes “proprietary” information may just be information you don’t want people to know because it’s unrealistic, embarrassing or contrary to your sales pitch.