Monday, June 30, 2014

Kissing Off 15,000 to 20,000 Bys Travelers in Vermont

While the Yorkers and Quebecois merrily travel Amtrak daily between Montreal and several stops in New York along the way to New York City, Vermonters and their brethren to the north face expensive forced in second class busing right now with no connections to Vermont’s two Amtrak trains which terminate in New York City and Washington.  When the Montreal bus connection to Amtrak at St. Albans got severed some years ago about 10,000 riders disappeared traveling on a Vermont supported train, adding to the deficit Vermont taxpayers continue to anti up to this day.

The lesson learned at a transportation research conference held this June across the river from Detroit at the center of Canadian auto industry was that stifling trade  caused by inferior transportation facilities or unnecessary red tape and poor cross-border services costs tens of thousands of jobs on each side of the international border.  It just cuts business transactions for both nations.  The  current lack of a Montreal-St. Albans bus connection to our Amtrak trains represents an example of one such “stifle.”  Sure both sides of the border agree to re-establish the rail connection St. Albans-Montreal but meanwhile the positive economic benefits to both—and perhaps 15,000-20,000 potential travelers yearly goes untapped.

The lack of a Montreal-St. Albans-Amtrak connection represents an even more important fact of life—it is part of the larger export market process between our State and our largest customer, Canada, the destination of about 40% of our total exports.
Canada-Vermont trade depends as it does for rest of the U.S. on making cross border travel and rules for goods movement as simple and inexpensive as possible.  Losing the past 10,000 riders a year connecting Montreal to our Vermont Amtrak trains is a clear example of Vermont trading policy gone amok.  Yes Vermont and Quebec governments agree on bringing customs clearance at Montreal’s Gare Centrale but this requires federal action on the part of both nations and there other fish to fry of more importance than duplicating the kind of service provided in Vancouver which more than doubled the Amtrak Portland-Vancouver passenger service numbers.

Restoring the bus link today would surely increase revenues in excess of $1 million over the cost of bus service thereby reducing Vermont tax dollars supporting the two Amtrak trains.  The Amtrak/bus connection to Montreal provides another way for folks to travel in high quality service to and from Burlington’s airport which continues to struggle to maintain its passenger numbers, numbers heavily dependent on a continued infusion of Quebec flyers taking advantage of lower Burlington air fares possible only because of the much higher landing fees charged airlines at Canadian airports.  Easy access by bus/Amtrak from Canada means more potential business for both winter and summer recreation here, and for both Chittenden and Franklin County tourism-oriented businesses.

Most Americans believe China is the U.S.’s biggest trading partner, but exports to China are dwarfed by Canada—always has and always likely will.   For 2013 our exports to Canada were $302 billion, two and a half times that of China, $122 billion.
Wolf concludes his Burlington Free Press column reporting these figures bemoaning the fact that “Vermont firms do not seem to be participating in the global economy as much as are firms elsewhere…” and that this does not “bode well” future Vermont economic growth.

Already this fall after years of construction the major segment of two-lane highway between the Highgate border station and St. Jean, QC will be replaced by four lane divided highway cutting travel time by about 15 minutes between Montreal and the U.S. border with a full corridor of divided highway within a year or so cutting a total of about 20 minutes off the current trip.  This makes the Montreal-St. Albans/Amtrak connection even more economically attractive and effective as an express bus connection not only is shorter in travel time but also assures a more attractive leave and arrival time at Gare Centrale. 

One place State government working just with Quebec could start is through transportation connection improvements to Quebec—and a Montreal-Amtrak at St. Albans service surely can help trade with our northern neighbor as well as make a profit too for our Vermont taxpayers!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

More Vermont Seniors--equivalent every two years to a Burlington ward, every three a Montpelier


Last decade Vermont Governor Jim Douglas and then UVM President James Fogler regularly referred to the growth of Vermont seniors’ population as the major driving force in Vermont for the foreseeable future—well the future arrived and now and the dimensions of population change for the 2000-2030 period become even more pronounced than expected.  Census estimates 3,215 more seniors each year 2000-2030.

Census described the numbers for Vermont senior growth 2000-2030—doubling their share of total Vermont population to 24% with the 65-and-over age residents rising from  77,510 in 2000 to an estimated 173,930 in 2030, up 124%.  To bring this into perspective this 96,430 Census growth estimate amounts to 3,215 more seniors each year, more than three times the Census growth estimate for the entire state during the three-year period 2000-2013 total of 889.  

The statewide senior population growth every three years tops the total population of Montpelier, or in two years a Burlington ward. 

The senior population growth in Vermont is home-grown, almost exclusively the growth of our existing population in 2000 moving into the senior range, the longer life expectancy thanks to improved lifestyle and medical gains in addition to the key demographic driver, the baby boom population bubble hitting retirement years. 

Meanwhile, changes in the under-65 age population remains dead in the water.  Census probably overestimated the growth of Vermont population overall, 17% to 711,000 2000-2030, in great part because of the “Great Recession” hit in 2008 with the U.S. birth rates dropping to levels not seen since the 1930s Great Depression.

The Vermont senior population bomb-let does not exist in isolation.  A more recent Census 50 year projection extending to 2065 nationally shows an under 65 age population growth of 20% while the over 65 numbers increase 80%

So almost halfway to 2030, Vermont estimated population growth is only 2.9% (2013 Census estimate) versus the projection for 2000-2030 of 17% growth with the State on a trajectory right now of about  a third of the projected rate.  The baby bust and low net migration to the State represent the two key factors of likely small under 65 age population change and right now it is fair to conclude the under 65 age group overall is in decline since 2000.

So what about the population under 65?  Here even the optimistic 30 year estimate of the Census—a likely overestimate—really looks dismal.  The Census estimated under 18 age group dropping 10,564 or 2.4% per decade 2000-2030 with the 2030 projection of 136,959.  The experience of declining school enrollments continues for at least one to two decades if this trend continues.  And the prime working age population 18-64?   Yes, this estimate number does rise by 17,374 2000-2030 but still not very much in the Census estimation—2.3% each decade to 400,968 in 2030.  Again, this number probably represents an over estimation because of the Great Recession and the overall 2000-2013 period when net migration, a source of young and younger working age population growth clearly now remains way behind the assumption in the Census estimated for 2000-2030 calculated in 2005.

The Census projections along with overestimation of the under 65 population suggest careful examination of housing and transportation dieections for Vermont over and above a very startling new expectation of a flatlined labor force for at least two decades to come.