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!

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