All Aboard! Florida Professor breaks down Brightline's expected impact
Its refunded tickets for people who booked trips up until September 21, 2023.
Randall Croom is an Associate Professor of Management at Stetson University.
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Talia Blake: When service does finally start, what's the impact it will have on the economy here in Central Florida?
Randall Croom: I think the impacts will be significant, varied, but also nuanced. So one of the impacts that it might have is connecting Orlando to Miami in such a way that it becomes psychologically closer for people. Right now, it might seem like a long haul, but if you recognize you can just hop on the Brightline, get down to Miami and see Messi play. It seems like a not such a big deal. — hop, skip and a jump.
Talia Blake: It's interesting what you said about it being more convenient. In a previous conversation I had on this segment about transportation with Orlando Economic Partnership's Tim Giuliani, he said in Orange County, for example, if you don't have a car, you have access to about 5,000 jobs. But if you have a car, you have access to over 500,000 jobs. Do you think the opening of Brightline will alleviate that issue? Why or why not?
Randall Croom: Well, it's a little complex. On the one hand, some studies suggest that high speed rail largely benefits people who are already urban dwellers living in areas where there are lots of professional jobs. So the benefits of Brightline, or of high speed rail in general, are not always evenly distributed. However, for some people who are looking at commutes or a job that requires some travel, Brightline might expand the scope of jobs that they might be interested in or consider themselves a good fit for.
Talia Blake: Speaking of benefits, what are some of the benefits of Brightline opening and having this high speed rail line?
Randall Croom: Well, there are both economic benefits directly. In fact, some studies suggest that when we look at measures like personal income, for example, those things tend to improve maybe because of access to different jobs. And it seems like there are regional economic benefits, but when we measure in terms of things like GDP, it seems like high speed rail doesn't seem to have as much of a pronounced effect on that. Some of the benefits, though, are infrastructure related that might have some follow on costs. By alleviating pressures on other modes of transportation, we might find, for example, that other modes of transportation are sustainable for longer in terms of the capacity they can hold, because this is going to alleviate some of the capacity issues. In addition to that, there are some social benefits. So in terms of connecting people to opportunities that they might not have had, Brightline can be useful for that. In addition to that from a climate or environmental perspective, for people who are taking quick flights into South Florida, reducing the use of jet fuel is important. The other thing is, to get back to psychological distance, there is an idea that when people travel here, they might decide that they do more than just spend their time in just Central Florida or just to Miami, because they can quickly get to another place. You know, 'I'm already here, I just have to hop on a train really quickly.' In my last trip to New York, I took a quick train down to Washington, D.C, but, I would not have driven to D.C or flown to D.C and then flown to New York just for a quick day trip. So we might see people engaging with and spending money in more parts of the state when they come to visit either Miami or Central Florida or any points in between.
Talia Blake: Yeah, that's really interesting. I didn't even think about it from that perspective. So on the other side of that, what are some of the costs to having this high speed rail or are there any cost to this?
Randall Croom: There are always costs. No such thing as a free lunch unfortunately. One of the costs, obviously, is simply just the cost of building an infrastructure. That does take time, energy and effort. Then also, it might take some time for it to reach full capacity because right now, there are people who are obviously looking very forward to it, but there are other people for whom this is not one of their normal choices, or something that they think about, it will be new for them. So they'd have to get acclimated to the use, the opportunity, and the possibility of using it. And so you'll actually have some capacity cost because you'll be running, very possibly, trains that are not full and that sort of thing. There also going to be some costs connected to communication and informing the public about the possible benefits of Brightline for them. Then there may be some costs to communities. So there could be the idea that having a train here could create some noise or could create some different traffic patterns that people need to adjust to. It remains to be seen. They're likely to be some spillover costs, but spillover benefits as well.
Talia Blake: Speaking of cost to community and cost of Brightline, how much will it cost someone to take a trip on Brightline if they want to go down to South Florida?
Randall Croom: From Miami to Orlando $79 is the starting price, but if you want to premium seat it's going to cost you $149. It does seem to be. family friendly, though. A family of four can buy tickets for the whole family for $199 one way.
Talia Blake: As we wait on Brightline to start service, do you know where the money came from to get this rail service started? Who is exactly funding it? Is it taxpayers? Is it the city, the county, the state?
Randall Croom: Originally, construction costs were projected to be about $1.5 billion. In 2013, an organization called All Aboard Florida applied for a $1.6 billion loan that came from the Federal Railroad Administration. Then again in 2014, they applied for a $1.75 billion private activity bond allocation, which pretty much reduced or replaced the amount of the original loan requests from the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Organization.
Talia Blake: Recently Brightline announced that it would be relocating some 60 jobs before the Orlando station opens. What will Brightline's overall impact beyond the job market here in Central Florida?
Randall Croom: Well, it's hard to say. There will be direct impacts just based on the idea that people working for Brightline will have jobs. There will also be indirect impacts in the sense that people might be able to find other jobs accessible. So even though we have transitioned in our economy, from all face-to-face to sometimes completely remote to sometimes hybrid work, there still is a range of people who are looking a little bit further for sort of partially in-person and partially hybrid. And something like the Brightline might make those jobs more appealing to other people. This is going to result in many cases of productivity increases, just by the fact that if you want to have the best talent, you used to be constrained by a limited geographic pool, right? So the person that you might optimally choose might think that commute is too far, or find it very complex, or just doesn't like to commute. For some of those people, you might see some incremental increases in productivity just by having organizations sort of be able to draw from a broader pool. But the flip side of that is, every organization will be able to have, in that same range, a broader pool. So you might find yourself competing for talent from companies that are a little bit geographically further away. So that could be one interesting career impact, but the truth is time will tell.
Talia Blake: Speaking of impact, and being able to kind of broaden your horizons here more locally, when service starts with Brightline, how will that impact services like Lynx and SunRail that are already here in Central Florida?
Randall Croom: It's hard to say, but it very well may be that a lot of people who are using Brightline are going to be thinking about the long haul trip to Miami primarily. And some of the other things like SunRail and Lynx might just be more about local service. So it actually might not cannibalize the previous businesses, which is fortunate. I was mentioning earlier that I my car didn't work today, and I had to take a Lyft here to the office. My Lyft driver mentioned that he loves to cruise, but he and his family have stopped going to Miami as a port of entry for cruise because of the level of congestion and complexity. But with Brightline, he's saying that he may very well be back to Miami. So the existing transportation options did not get him to Miami. In many cases, this additional transportation option might actually serve needs that otherwise would not be met.
Talia Blake: Lastly, speaking of serving the needs of the community, what does the opening of this new train service mean for residents here in Central Florida?
Randall Croom: The number one thing that it means is options, a lot of flexibility, and a lot of connectivity to other places. One of the areas of study for what high speed rail does, looks at comparing it to driving and comparing it to flying. Oftentimes the extra time you spend going through airport security, or the extra time you spend having to think about parking in a place and leaving your car for a long period of time, and all of these other things are things people factor in. It turns out that studies have suggested that people are willing to pay more to save time if you're going to be able to travel to new places or to get to a place earlier. And they're even willing to pay a little bit more for the convenience of not stressing with travel. I think that's the thing that as the holiday travel season rapidly starts to approach, one of the things that people complain about a lot is just the hassle and the stress of holiday travel. This might alleviate that for some Central Florida people to get down and see their families in Miami or have them come on up here. So no excuses anymore for the people who were saying, 'Well, it's a little far. You can say let's just hop on the Brightline.'
Talia Blake: Randall Croom is an associate professor at Stetson University. Randall, thank you so much for talking with me today.
Randall Croom: Thank you.