Saturday, April 05, 2008

Why connections matter: Skybus edition

Critics of Amtrak service prefer to characterize the national network as a collection of discrete trains. They find it convenient to completely ignore the network effect that occurs in places like Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington.

Why does the network effect matter? Consider the curious case of Skybus, the Columbus-based carrier that just failed yesterday, April 4.

Until the day it shut down, Skybus warned its passengers that its hub wasn't a hub. Here's some text from the "Where We Fly" page cached at Google (as of April 5), with emphasis added:

Currently, Skybus does not offer any connecting flights (for example, from Los Angeles through Columbus to Boston). And we don’t offer flights between our destination cities (for example, between Los Angeles and San Francisco).

Please note: It’s possible to create your own multi-point trip through our Columbus and Greensboro bases, but we don’t recommend it. Our flight schedules are very tight, and you may miss your connection. If you do create your own multi-point trip, please keep the following in mind:
  • You must claim and recheck your baggage between flights. If you create your own multi-point trip, you must collect your own baggage at each stop and re-check it yourself – Skybus does not move your bags automatically. For more information, see our Help Center section on baggage.
  • Leave enough time between flights. If you book a multi-point trip, we recommend that you allow at least two hours between your flights. This will help ensure that you have enough time to retrieve and re-check your bags, and be at your gate in time. All of our check in and gate deadlines still apply if you purchase multiple flights.
In other words, the Skybus route system was a collection of discrete routes. With no connection between them.

Don't let any critic or so-called rail fan tell you different: Networks matter.


Blogger Simon said...

It is reasonable, at least in my opinion, to expect able-bodied passengers with minimal luggage and not travelling with young children to be able to cope with changing trains provided that connection times are short (e.g. 10 to 15 minutes),
services are frequent (e.g. every 30 minutes, or at worst every 60 minutes) and run nearly all day at even intervals (possibly with additional peak workings), and good facilities are provided at interchange stations (including catering, toilets, lifts etc).

However, encumbered passengers, including those with disabilities, seem to demand through services (and there were huge protests when through services were withdrawn between Glasgow/Edinburgh and southern England via Carlisle and Birmingham), out of proportion to the actual inconvenience of changing at Birmingham New Street or elsewhere. Similarly, there is a huge marketing benefit to (e.g.) a town like Skipton to be able to advertise "a through service to London" even if it does only run once daily (the rest of the day there is a half-hourly service to Leeds which in turn has a broadly half-hourly service to London).

Furthermore, especially on rural routes and for late evening passengers, there is always the risk (both for rail travel and for air travel) of missing the last train of the day. I suspect it is this that causes protests when a through service is split.

1:53 PM  

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