Daniel Feinglos asks:
Hi, Mr. Walker. Question about a way to address concerns about service cuts or reroutings: are you familiar with any examples of a transit provider entering into some kind of contractual arrangement with businesses along a route to guarantee them a certain level of service for a given period of time? If you're not familiar with anything like this, does it sound at all like a workable means of alleviating fears that a route might not be around for the long term?
Developers sometimes make deals with transit agencies to ensure transit to a new development before it would be viable for the transit agency, or even in cases where it might never be viable for the transit agency.
The sad thing is: The more useful a transit line is, the more diverse its ridership, and the less likely that any one or two interests will want to pay to preserve it. The only entity who can do this, frequently, is a city government, and in gradual ways this is starting to happen. Many of the recent North American streetcar projects, for example, involve operating funds from the city in addition to some from the transit agency.
If you've read Chapter 10 of my book, you know why this is inevitable. Transit demand rises exponentially against density up to a certain point, so dense core cities almost always need more service per capita than their regional transit agency is in the position to provide. The only way this would change is if big regional transit agencies with suburban dominated boards suddenly decided that productivity was more important than each suburb getting is fair share. Seattle's King County Metro did take a gentle step in this direction a few years ago, dissolving a rigid formula that had required less than 20% of the region's service to go to Seattle even though demand is greatest there.
Another phenomenon that must be understood in the same context is the advent of core city government contributions to the regional transit agency for additional service within the city. Portland, Seattle, and some other cities contribute operating funds for their streetcars, for example, with the effect that these services don't have to be counted against a broader regionwide accounting of how much service the city "deserves." City contributions to streetcars must be understood as a toe in the door, which will eventually set a precendent for a broader, more realistic assessment of what core cities must expect to contribute. Either core cities will pay more, or regional agencies will decide to let core cities have more, or (as in Seattle) a bit of both. If you have a suburb-dominated regional transit agency in your urban area, watch how this plays out, because the math is inevitable.