The other day, I had to make some travel arrangements for a couple of speeches I'm giving. I found flights to and from Omaha at the perfect times. When I went to book them the website said that I had timed out and had to start over. When I ran through the routine again the price had gone up by $300... in literally minutes. Every time I returned to the site for days the price came up the same $300 more. I finally caved and booked at that price. Then I had to book a trip to Detroit. Best price? Nine hundred dollars. That's right, you could fly to Paris for less then you can fly to Detroit. And then you'd be in Paris. For $900, I'll end up in Detroit.
While someone else is paying for all this, I still try to get the best price for the people who are sponsoring my talks and I think these prices are just ridiculous not to mention nonsensical.
I'd rather have options... like a fast train. Shouldn't the airlines have some competition? And it turns out a lot of other people think the same way. That's why Amtrak is setting ridership records.
What's particularly painful about the story above is that it notes ridership is particularly high to and from college towns (like ours) and among young people (like the ones we're trying to retain in Wisconsin).
Think back one year.
We were debating the fine details of a new high-speed rail station in downtown Madison. We had the wonderful luxury of a vigorous debate about whether the station really should be downtown (as Governor Doyle and I advocated) or on the near east side at First Street (as people who were wrong about this advocated). We also had a regional transit authority in place, and the only debate was about when exactly to hold a referendum on the sales tax that would have paid for dramatic improvements in bus service, if not commuter rail and (dare I speak its name?) streetcars ("trolleys" to all you radio hosts out there).
But then Tom Barrett lost an election, and for a moment in November and December, we thought killing high speed rail in Wisconsin and giving $810 million back to the federal government so that it could be spent for the same development and same jobs someplace else would be the worst thing that the new Governor Scott Walker could do to us.
He quickly topped that.
So, let's remind ourselves. Scott Walker threw away maybe 10,000 jobs, a new industry base with Talgo building trains in Milwaukee where jobs are really needed, $810 million of our tax money that will now go for the same purpose in other states, transit options that could compete with the dreaded airline industry as well as foreign-oil dependent auto travel, and a transit mode that is attractive not just to older people who can't or shouldn't drive anymore but young people whose ideas and entrepreneurial spirit are necessary to create jobs.
We can only hope that someday we'll have a governor who knows how to open up Wisconsin for business.