Thursday, February 11, 2010

Could private transit gets public transit moving?

The site Greater Greater Washington, a forum devoted to exploring ideas to improve living in the Washington, DC area, spent some time this week wondering whether a private model could be better suited to serving global public transit needs than public utilities currently can.

Steve Offutt, a contributor to the website started with a few statements of fact, and took his analysis from there:
Many of our transit systems are bursting at the seams, yet only provide about 2% of trips nationwide. It takes decades to build new transit projects. The existing public agency model for providing public transportation services is totally inadequate to rapidly meet the challenges we face, particularly the urgent need to deal with climate change.
From there, Offutt goes on to examine whether a private model, faced with a need to be fiscally responsible but an insatiable appetite to serve a need quickly and effectively, could help cities develop their public transit infrastructure to better serve their citizens--and, most importantly, to make that service available quickly. His focus is on Washington, but the ideas translate well to the City of Ottawa, as well.

The key, Offutt suggests, is finding innovative ways to make public transit beneficial to all parties:
The trick is to make the financial incentives align with the societal goals. If the goal is to reduce miles being driven, then private companies could be paid per mile reduced. They would then strive to find solutions. One example of this is the contract Houston has with a company called NuRide (disclosure: I used to work for NuRide). NuRide is paid by VMT reduced. They offer incentives to people to rideshare and take other modes. If they are successful, they get paid; if not, they don't. So it is in their direct financial interest to find the incentives that will get people to change their behavior.
It would be a drastic embarkation from the way transit is currently modeled, but perhaps that's just what public transit utilities need to get themselves truly effective at serving people's needs. With calls for audits into the management of OC Transpo, a new management model may be necessary; a private model is just one of many possibilities.

1 comment:

John G said...

Transit privatization is a terrible idea. Absolutely terrible! Here is a video that clearly shows how/why transit privatization has failed around the world. We should not privatize our system!