Pret a Porter


 

Good Bertonian Canadians you all are, I’m sure you followed with interest the three part Canwest series on high speed rail called The Next Spike.

If you’ve been hanging around here much, you will know that nothing divides the Maclean’s national bureau like the question of high speed rail. Wells is pro, Coyne is most certainly con.

I used to like trains, until I started riding Via regularly. Honestly, there’s nothing to cure you of any residual National Dream romanticism about railways than trying to organize your life around Via Standard Time, which is to timekeeping what bistromath is to… math.

Anyway, here’s what I put to Paul and Andrew: Don’t we already have high speed rail, and it’s called Porter Air?

I’m serious. Porter is the greatest thing ever. It’s faster than the HS rail would be; it’s certainly cheaper than rail would be, and when it comes to flying in to Ottawa and Toronto, the airports are just as close as the train stations. To boot, Porter is totally sexy, the branding and service is top notch, and it is 100% guaranteed to be superior in every way to whatever Crownish corporation arises to serve us bad food from surly staff at high speed.

So here’s today’s debate: Be it resolved that Porter Air has made the question of high speed rail obsolete.

NB: I think we already know AC’s answer.


 
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Pret a Porter

  1. Isn't one of the main problems with air travel its greenhouse gas emissions? Not mention that aparently, oil is about to get a whole lot more expensive…. the International Energy Agency just released a report about this: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/warning

    • Depends also on whether or not you actually care about emissions, or – like a normal person – instead make travel plans primarily on immediate, practical considerations of price, speed, comfort, convenience, etc. By the criteria of "Does this get me where I want to go at a reasonable speed for a reasonable price," and setting aside self-righteous condemnation of 'dirty' long-distance travel* Potter is correct.

      *But only for the little people, of course; celebrities and VIPs can't possibly telecommute, or even fly coach on a public plane.

      • This post demonstrates quite clearly why some issues must be dealt with at a macro-state level, rather than individual choice and pure market calculations.

        • And yours demonstrates quite clearly why they shouldn't: suspicion of the free market is thinly-concealed snobbery for your personal preferences.

          The elites are going to have access to relatively comfortable, relatively convenient travel in any event, all the while feeling mildly guilty for the sin of having a large carbon footprint (but not too too much – after all, it's important to get to that conference, and it's for the greater good, and after all, they do bike from their downtown condo to the artisanal farmers' market, right?). Heavy-handed intervention in the market would ensure only that those without political connections or private plane-style budgets are forced into hair-shirt "green" alternatives like rail, without any other notable effects.

        • And yours demonstrates quite clearly why they shouldn't: suspicion of the free market is usually thinly-concealed snobbery for your personal preferences.

          The elites are going to have access to relatively comfortable, relatively convenient travel in any event, all the while feeling mildly guilty for the sin of having a large carbon footprint (but not too too much – after all, it's important to get to that conference, and it's for the greater good, and after all, they do bike from their downtown condo to the artisanal farmers' market, right?). Heavy-handed intervention in the market would ensure only that those without political connections or private plane-style budgets are forced into hair-shirt "green" alternatives like rail, without any other notable effects.

        • And yours demonstrates quite clearly why they shouldn't: suspicion of the free market is usually thinly-concealed snobbery for your personal preferences.

          The elites are going to have access to relatively comfortable, relatively convenient travel in any event, all the while feeling mildly guilty for the sin of having a large carbon footprint (but not too too much – after all, it's important to get to that conference, and it's for the greater good, and after all, they do bike from their downtown condo to the artisanal farmers' market, right?). Heavy-handed intervention in the market would ensure only that those without political connections or super-deluxe-first class/private plane-style budgets are forced into hair-shirt "green" alternatives like rail, without any other notable effects.

        • And yours demonstrates quite clearly why they shouldn't: suspicion of the free market is usually thinly-concealed snobbery for your personal preferences, which of course ought to be forced upon everyone.

          The elites are going to have access to relatively comfortable, relatively convenient travel in any event, all the while feeling mildly guilty for the sin of having a large carbon footprint (but not too too much – after all, it's important to get to that conference, and it's for the greater good, and after all, they do bike from their downtown condo to the artisanal farmers' market, right?). Heavy-handed intervention in the market would ensure only that those without political connections or super-deluxe-first class/private plane-style budgets are forced into hair-shirt "green" alternatives like rail, without any other notable effects.

          • suspicion of the free market???? Well I don't want to be tooo snobby, but as an economics student I think you should know that all of us are pretty certain of this concept called "market failures". Externalities (pollution not included in price) is an obvious example of such market failures. So sorry to be all elitist with, you know, facts.

            Really the only people who defend this ideological market fundamentalism 1)don't know anything about economics and are thus 2) unaware that an unfettered economic system has never existed.

            Also i thought according to you, yuppie elitist scum were the ones espousing green living. Why wouldn't they want to also use green rail alternatives?

          • As an economics student, you are doubtless also aware of the failures of governmental central planning.

            The problem with what you propose is that it amounts to "the government should, by law, enforce my standards" which isn't so much a system as a case-by-case list of your political beliefs. The market recognizes its share of externalities (walk through a supermarket and count the "organic" and the "fair trade" and the "no trans fats" labels sometime) and if you believe that the carbon output of short-haul air travel v. construction and use of a high-speed rail network is a problem, define it on those terms. Not on "the state must step in, because it is what I think".

  2. Huh. I thought it would be at least four posts before someone brought up global warming.

    • I'm curious too, Andrew… where do you stand?

  3. This topic is by invitation-only. Only those people who travel between downtown Toronto and Ottawa are invited to comment.

    Seriously, what's the point?

    • An article in one of the recent editions of The Walrus identified not only the Montreal-Windsor corridor, but also the Edmonton-Red Deer-Calgary corridor, due to its burgeoning population. In both cases, high speed rail service requires dedicated rails, not sharing rails with freight trains that apparently (because they pay the "freight"!) have the right of way.

      The Alberta government, typically, suggests that building the infrastructure for HSR should be a private sector initiative, which means it probably won't happen. Also, the old rail station in Strathcona has been converted into a bar, and the current rail station (1 platform!) is located adjacent to the Municipal Airport, and would have to cross the river at some point, necessitating another bridge with its attendant costs.

      Currently, the Muni is slated to close one of its runways, despite the protestations of those who prefer NOT to drive 30 odd minutes( more during busy traffic times) to the International Airport. It's sitting on prime land that will be redeveloped (eventually), thus reducing urban sprawl.

      • Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the provincial government still owns the upper deck of the High Level Bridge and could run rail across it to cross the North Saskatchewan.

        • While that top deck might be available getting to it and away from it would have significant challenges. Probably better off to connect a potential HSR to the commuter rail system, which is kilometering its way to the city's southern edge.

  4. Heavens – my ghast is flabbered…I'm on Mr. Coyne's side with this one…sorry Mr. Wells – that is – assuming we are talking people transportation and not bulk freight (multimodal included).
    I don't know who advised Michael Ignatieff to jump on this wagon – but let's not "back to the future on wagon trains"…

  5. Depends depends depends on how it is measured, how the train is powered etc etc etc.

    q400 are pretty fuel efficient aircraft. Will they compete with a train? Not sure.

  6. Are you a global warming skeptic? Just curious.

  7. Actually, Porter provides service to ten cities.

  8. I whole heartedly agree with Andrews Potter and Coyne.

    The main drawback of Porter is on the non-Toronto ends where check-in/boarding/security is not as efficient (eg Newark).

    Recently I left my downtown Toronto office for a 3PM flight. I left at 220PM and had time for a free cappucino in the lounge.

    The same process for Pearson would have had to start 90 minutes earlier. For a train, it would have started at the exact same time but would have cost taxpayers billions.

    • You had me until you made an assumption about subsidies to rail, while assuming zero subsidies for air.

      Porter is incredibly convenient – I've had the same downtown office –> flight experience as you. Rail is just as convenient and for Toronto – Montreal distances it's completely competitive with flights.

      But your assessment of subsidies is entirely uninformed. For example, did you know that taxes on diesel paid by railroads subsidize road construction? That's right – rail builds and maintain its own infrastructure AND pays taxes to subsidize its main (freight) competitor, the trucking industry. Also, did Porter pay for the construction of the Toronto Island airport? How about airports in Ottawa, Montreal, New York, etc?

      • I don't disagree with you at all — my argument is that to build HIGH-SPEED rail on a cost-per-passenger basis is cost-prohibitive to taxpayers given the existing (rail and air) infrastructure we already have.

  9. Porter Air between Toronto and Ottawa: Yes, high speed rail would be obsolete.

    Porter Air between Toronto and Montreal: No, not really. Because for it to be REALLY obsolete, Porter Air would need a terminus within the island of Montreal itself, something that Ottawa's geography would preclude.

    • Dorval actually is on the island of Montreal, albeit a long way from anywhere you'd want to go. That said, on weekdays, there's quite a convenient commuter rail system downtown…

  10. Is Guildwood one of them?

  11. Correct:

    Chicago/New York/Ottawa/Montreal/Thunder Bay/Tremblant in the Winter/Boston/St John's/Halifax/Quebec City + Toronto either currently or being added.

    Combined population of the metro areas cited…what 40 million people?

    • Yes, but I think only in Toronto and Ottawa are the airports approximately as convenient as the train stations. (TCCA is central to Toronto, and the Ottawa Train station is some ways from downtown.) So I'd say Anon has a point.

      Furthermore, I'd tend to disagree with AP that the YOW and the train station are equally inconvenient — the train station is slightly closer, has better transit access, and essentially no security hassles. And doesn't need you to show up well before departure.

      • I would LOVE a high-speed rail link to Calgary (AND Vancouver and Regina), but I don't see it happening anytime soon. I grew up in Europe, where train stations were centrally located, and service was so predictable and efficient that if you were one minute late to the track, the train was gone! But they have the population density to justify it.

        So maybe the solution is to increase immigration to Canada to develop a market not only for train travel, but for manufactured goods.

  12. Interesting. I agree that Porter is generally much more efficient, and flying in/out of Pearson is time-consuming (not to mention expensive). But for Ottawa-Toronto, or Ottawa-London we always use the train. Much more energy efficient and relaxing. As far as costs, the billions needed for infrastructure have been paid by the taxpayer (and hence customer) for the air facilities, and naturally will be paid by the taxpayer (and customer) for the rail facilities. The long-term benefit is that the rail option is not as polluting and not quite as dependent on weather influences. Europe's hugely successful experiment with HSR bears that out. I've travelled the trains in the UK and Europe often enough to prefer those to the short-hop flights North Americans seem to prefer.

  13. Porter is phenomenal. Got me out of Ottawa during a storm this past Christmas with only an hour delay. Friendly service, and a snack to boot. Only done Ottawa-Halifax and back, but if I was ever heading to Toronto I'd take Porter over Air Canada, VIA, Greyhound etc.

  14. A lot of the arguments for rail are usually for business travel. Couldn't we develop magic 3D videoconferencing or something for less than the price of HS rail?

    • No, the purpose of business trips is to get away from one's family.

  15. High speed rail is a solution looking for a problem.

    I would credit whomever it is I stole that line from — but I forgot.

    • Yeah, right, Joan. Problem? What problem? I don't see a problem.

  16. Only some folks don't see the problems.

  17. And you have to have the mind set to not – not – find airports and airplanes to be
    a totally dehumanizing experience.

    • If you find airports and airplanes to be dehumanizing, you're thinking far too hard.

      • Thanks. A compliment is always nice.

        • Sometimes a plane is just a plane, and a metal detector is a necessary part of the experience, unless you want to buy your own Jetstream. To call it dehumanizing just seems a little melodramatic.

        • Interesting, this dehumanizing thought, even allowing that (as Alex says) it sounds melodramatic….
          – the airlines I have flown with do seem to pack the passengers in like sardines in a can, and
          – although the flight attendants don't have actual cattle prods they sure seem very intent on making sure that you stay in your seat, or if you MUST get up, that you return to your seat as quickly as possible

  18. not entirely convicned by high speed rail but I admit being drawn to it….regardless, for reasons already stated above, Porter has not solved a number of problems rail could: 1) flies into spots that are terribly a pain the ass to get to/from dtown in every city besides Toronto Island; 2) security/customs annoyance/delays everywhere besides TO Island; 3) spots in between, excluded or seasonally scheduled; 4) potentially environ issues.

    Also what has greater ability to adjust capacity to match demand?

    and I love and use Porter. that being said i also love VIA1.

    • Also, trains never drop from the sky in a flaming ball of screaming humans and twisted steel. Not that I'm afraid of flying or anything…

        • No, they de-sky.

          • Nice!!

  19. "would have cost taxpayers billions"

    ????? while their has been subsidization most of those costs are sunk….and if you think there hasn't been/isn't continued subsidization in the air sector, well, you are uninformed.

    • Forgive my poor grammar / syntax – I believe that the incremental cost per passenger to build a high-speed rail system greatly outweighs the incremental costs let everybody live with what we have now (and build it out as needed). I have not specficially analyzed this but you almost don't have to.

      • ok. thought you meant under the current 'slow' rail system. yeah, no doubt there would be more costs to gov. if we were gonna do it i wish we would have under the auspices of the stimulus.

  20. Porter Ottawa-Toronto, round trip, cattle class, from downtown Ottawa. Taxi to airport: 35$, 30 minutes. Wait time at airport: 1 hour. 2 people return: $716$, flight time 1 hour. Ferry from Island to Toronto, 2 adults: 13$, transit & wait time 1/2 hour. Walk to subway: 20 minutes; fare subway-hotel 5.50$, time 20 minutes. Total time: 3 hours, 40 minutes. Total cost: 769.50$.

    Via Ottawa-Toronto, round trip, early booking Via 1 fare, from downtown Ottawa. Taxi to train station: 16$, 10 minutes. Wait time at station: 15 minutes. 2 people return: 436$, trip time 4 hours. Train terminal at subway station, downtown Toronto, no connection time. Fare subway-hotel 5.50$, time 20 minutes. Total time: 4 hours, 25 minutes. Total cost: 457.50$. And you get a pretty good meal, and some nice Canadian wine (no charge) to boot.

    So I've spent an extra 45 minutes travelling, but saved $312.00.

    • I've actually traveled by both VIA 1 and Porter, and I can tell you that your estimates do not correspond with reality.

      First, I've never paid more than $300 for a round trip ticket for Ottawa-Toronto with Porter. So I'm not sure how you decided on that $716 figure for two people. Also, there is no cattle class with Porter. The Ferry from the airport on Toronto Island is free. There is a shuttle bus from the Ferry terminal to the Royal York Hotel (Union Station), so no 20 minute walk is necessary. And finally, unless your hotel is not downtown, you can probably walk or take the subway to your hotel in five or ten minutes. In terms of time, I can anecdotally tell you that when I last travelled by Porter, (2 weeks ago) I left downtown Ottawa in a cab at 5:45pm, caught a 7:00pm flight, and made it home (Yonge & St. Clair) by 8:45pm. That's 3 hours of travel time.

      When I last traveled with VIA 1 (few months ago), I left downtown Ottawa at 5:30pm to catch a 6:05pm train. The train arrived in Toronto at 11:00pm and I was home by 11:30pm. I don't know where you got the idea that it takes the train 4 hours to go from Ottawa to Toronto, but the scheduled times usually range between 4 1/2 and 5 hours. So total travel time is upwards of 6 hours. Also, I'm not sure where you got the amount of $436 for two round trip VIA 1 tickets. The best supersaver fare I've ever received was around $270 per person round trip.

      So it's more like, 'I've spent an extra 3 hours travelling, and I probably saved no money, but I did get a little chocolate cup that is delicious'.

      • My prices for Porter were from their website today. My prices for the Via trip were the actual prices I paid for my upcoming trip on the Labour Day long weekend. My apologies, though. Those Via prices were for the entire trip to London, not for a trip to Toronto.

        Delicious indeed.

  21. Could you give me a better hint…what is this problem that Joan doesn't see?

    • The agony of driving for 9 hours between Windsor and Montreal?

      • I like it, but I'm not convinced that that is what Joan had in mind

      • Isnt it really just the agony at the thought of being in Windsor.

  22. yawn.

  23. Clearly Sean! I used to DREAD flying, but have gradually gotten more comfortable with it. though still prefer being behind the driver's seat of my car (notwithstanding the irrationalities that underpin that view).

    I do now wonder thought what the incidence of train v plane accidents and the realtive mortality rates of the two modes of transport.

    • Nothing definitive, but it looks like trains are marginally safer than planes – and both are far safer than automobile.

      But I try to avoid letting evidence interfere with my phobic inclinations.

      Besides, it seems like swimming and canoeing are the deadliest forms of transport in Ontario these days.

      • yeah, my gf is encouraging me to take a week long canoe trip down the st lawrence with her this fall. i am pretty sure she thinks she is already on my life insurance package.

        • lol!

  24. But, can you download music on Porter's proprietary I-Tunes equivalent site while flying?

  25. Why is nobody talking about the need for LOW-SPEED RAIL?!?

    I just took the train from Ottawa to Toronto on Monday and, though I enjoyed it, as a fan of the outstanding Poirot TV series, in which they're always taking the train, I have to say the seating arrangements strike me as air-travel light. You get more legroom than on an airplane, and you can plug in your laptop, and there's (unfree) wireless access (when it works), and you get some food and chips and stuff, but by God it ain't what it apparently used to be, i.e. in the 1920's. Why not have compartments again? Why not have dining cars with liveried waiters and non-plastic-covered meals? People would pay for the experience. They already pay lots of money for totally unnecessary luxuries in hotels: this would be the same concept. So you arrive a couple hours later, because the train can't go so fast; so it costs 50% more; so what? Bring on the dining cars! Bring on the Belgians!

    • Vive Hercule Poirot (the pear-shaped Hercules!), and Vive the Orient Express!

      • Hmm, good point, it might not help with the crime rate.

    • I can't speak for the Corridor, but such service is available on the CNR transcontinental line with the Canadian and it is every bit as good as you'd think it would be. The dining car is like something out of a Victorian painting. It's a bit more 1960s than you're thinking of – aluminium cars and diesel engines – but it's still a hell of an experience.

      It's also amazingly expensive to travel from Vancouver to Toronto that way. Just unbelievably pricey in any sleeper class. They sell pretty briskly and over a long haul through the Rocky Mountains I bet VIA makes money off of those sleeper cars, but would a lot of people pay, say, $500 for a train between Toronto and Montreal with that level of service?

      • Thanks for the tip on the CNR transcontinental line, I will save up.

        Hmm, no, they won't pay $500 . . . but they might pay $300, I think.

        Which makes me think: Lord Bob, you are, I'm guessing, sceptical about high-speed rail, but you are, I know, a proponent of market competition. Is there any way we could promote competition among private companies on our rail lines? Perhaps, if necessary, by having the government expand (/ fill in) the existing rail lines in the major corridors? I'm not talking high-speed, just plain old tracks. That seems to me the only way to know what people will and won't pay for what service, from the cattle car to the Poirot-esque experience; and it would also make train service twice as efficient. I know Keynes famously remarked that more than one rail line is a superfluity, but perhaps if we just had enough space to allow three or four companies to run trains a few times a day we'd be set.

        • First off, my $500 was a rather glib figure based on the cost of a standard fare, upper berth (the cheapest sleeper class: basically the top deck of a bunk bed, but you'd still get a semi-private carriage, shower, complimentary seatings in the dining car, etc.) from Vancouver to Edmonton of a shade over $700 one way. A similar service from Toronto to Ottawa would probably be less if it was popular, but if you could get it down to $300 then I want to invest in any business you start.

          I'm a skeptic on government-funded anything, including high-speed rail. I'm not a skeptic on high-speed rail itself, since I both detest airports and love taking the train with a frankly irrational passion. If I could take the train from Vancouver for the same price that I could fly from there and with a tolerable timeframe, I'd take the train every time and I doubt I'm alone. In the hands of a really good businessman, high-speed rail could make money, and my only doubt comes from no businessmen yet stepping forward.

          (Hell, on a level I'd like the government to pay for high-speed rail: the amount of use I'd get out of it would vastly exceed the taxes I'd pay. I have to admit, though, that there is one of me and thirty million of everyone else.)

          Trying to expand conventional rail services in our major corridors is a tempting idea, but I'm not sure it would work. To my knowledge, nobody on this continent has made money on long-haul passenger rail since the Second World War even though the infrastructure had been paid for as much as a century before. Moreover, any private sector attempt would face either competing with VIA Rail (i.e. the government) or the government shutting VIA Rail out of the only part of the country it does well in.

          My one hope for your idea is that, last time I checked, Windsor – Montreal Corridor service actually made money for VIA. If a private company could turn a profit in there, they might be able to build out from that. But it would be an awfully iffy proposition if my money were on the line.

          • You can thank all of the students attending the universities along that line for that profit. Toronto London and Kingston Toronto in particular.

  26. Wait. Is Andrew Potter seriously trying to argue that air travel is a solution to the challenges that high-speed rail is supposed to address?

    Are these Porter Air jets solar-powered or something?

    • Are these Porter Air jets solar-powered or something?

      Nope, just market-supported. Something high-speed rail supporters try desperately to not-think about.