This is not a repeat of last week’s column. You are not experiencing déjà vu. Southwest Airlines canceled hundreds of flights — again.
To be fair to the beleaguered airline, California is experiencing wave after wave of atmospheric river-driven storms. These are unsurprisingly making travel of any kind, regardless of the mode chosen, rather complicated over there right now. A bit of that storm energy also escaped to the dry side of the Sierras, which left a bit of a snowy mess that disconnected power to tens of thousands of households — some for several days.
To the credit of Nevada’s unofficial regional airline, Southwest did eventually get its planes off the ground. There are still a few hundred NV Energy customers (at a minimum) who would probably appreciate it if their power meters similarly took flight right now.
I come not, however, to condemn two of Nevada’s least popular corporations, but instead to bury an oft-discussed alternative — a high-speed train between Reno (or Carson City) and Las Vegas.
Don’t get me wrong, I understand the appeal. I’ve driven and flown the nearly 450 miles from Reno to Las Vegas and back on several occasions and, quite frankly, even the best trips tend to be at least a little miserable.
On the one hand, if you’re feeling miserly (especially if you’re traveling with a group), you face driving for at least seven hours through some of Nevada’s driest deserts, with the monotony only punctuated by the periodic anxiety of having to pass a semi-truck or recreational vehicle by driving in the same lane as oncoming traffic. On the other hand, you can deal with airport security (TSA PreCheck really does help), sit in a terminal, get on a plane, wait half an hour to taxi, fly for a bit over an hour, land, then wait another half an hour to taxi and deplane.
Neither approach, speaking from repeated experience, leaves you with the sense that you’ve used your time wisely.
Those aren’t the only two options, though. For the sake of completeness, you can also take a bus — Greyhound has one-way rates starting at around $70. That, however, is more than I pay in gas to drive myself (my compact car is admittedly optimized somewhat for fuel efficiency) and is less than $30 cheaper than most Southwest flights.
The significant difference between fuel prices and travel ticket prices might suggest that there’s some money to be had in providing cheaper transportation service. After all, if a family of four can make the trip for under $200 in gas money thrown into the maw of the least fuel efficient sport utility vehicle imaginable, why does it cost at least $280 for a bus driver (or closer to $400 for to make the same trip?
The answer is transportation companies have to factor in all of the costs of each trip — not just the gas, but also the driver’s or pilot’s time, as well as the wear and tear on the vehicle carrying the passengers. Additionally, the vehicle itself has to be partially paid for by the trip as well. These are all costs families don’t have to directly consider when traveling in their personal vehicles …….