Now That We've Left United Twisting…


… Can we expand the hardnosed approach to other means of transportation?

Fired by patriotic resolve to help stanch the $1.1 billion annual bloodletting Amtrak costs my government, I checked the train monopoly's website for prices on a San Francisco-Los Angeles trip. Here's my first option:

Catch a 6:50am bus from the Wharf to Emeryville train station. From there catch a 7:40am train that arrives in Bakersfield at 1:46pm. From there, catch a 1:55pm bus that arrives in the City of the Angels at 4:15pm. Total travel time: nine hours, 25 minutes. Total cost: $99.

But where's the romance of arriving in LA on a bus? If I actually want to ride Amtrak's rails all the way to my destination, I can:

Catch a 7:25am train to Oakland's Jack London Square. From there, catch an 8:50am train to Los Angeles Union Station. This train arrives at 9:00pm. Total travel time: 13 hours, 35 minutes. Total cost: $126.

If I choose to fly instead, I can get a $70 ticket on Southwest. Including getting a $30 Super Shuttle ride, my total travel time is three hours, 15 minutes. Total cost: $100. I can also rent a car with unlimited mileage for about $35. With $30 to $40 gas, total cost is $65 to $75. Total travel time: Six hours.

There are extenuating circumstances: United cancelled its famously frequent SFO-LAX route, so I can't do a subsidy-by-subsidy comparison. Also, San Francisco and Los Angeles are remote provincial backwaters between which few Americans ever travel. But it's worth bearing in mind that United only wanted $1.4 billion.