Tim Cavanaugh at Reason.com attacks me this morning for this post, in which I argued that redundancy in transit networks (as hailed by the Economist in their discussion of my book) often comes at the expense of overall service quantity and thus your ability to get where you're going:
… Walker speaks up on his blog, to explain that when he talks about reliability, he doesn’t mean you should actually let people provide a variety of approaches for taking customers where they want to go:
"Massive redundancy" may be fine if you're a megacity, though even there, its effectiveness may be a feature of the peak that doesn't translate to the rest of the day. Anywhere else, services need to work together as a network. Even in London, New York, Paris, Hong Kong and Berlin, that's really what's happening.
This is what happens when your mind is full of smart networks and transit-oriented growth. The proper word here is not “redundancy” but “competition.” To the owner of a taxi medallion or a member of the Transport Workers Union, minibuses, gypsy cabs, rolling chairs and pedicabs are all redundant, because you’re already providing all the service a customer could legitimately need. If some abuelita is stuck in the rain for 45 minutes waiting to make one of your smart connections, well, that just shows you need more money so the system can be more efficiently planned.
Note the use of "competition" not as an idea but just as a mantra. This last paragraph is so incoherent that I'm not even sure what I'm being accused of, so let me just clarify the question of competition.
The problem with encouraging multiple transit products to compete for the customer along the same path of travel is that transit's usefulness lies heavily in frequency (thus preventing 45 minute connections, for example), and frequency is an expensive resource that must be concentrated so that it can be made abundant. To introduce competition among transit services going the same way is to undermine frequency — as in the increasingly discredited British model where people were required to let Joe's Red Bus go by because their ticket was good only on Jim's Blue Bus. Earth to competition fantasists: Outside of the peak commute, people just want to get where they're going now, but they want this throughout the day, which means they want frequency. Abundant frequency arises from concentrating and organizing a single pattern of service, not encouraging lots of different services to run on top of each other.
I have never opposed private sector competition. There's obviously nothing wrong with taxis, pedicabs, etc competing with each other, and even competing with transit. On the peak commute, transit is usually overcrowded and can benefit from others taking up some of the load (because peak transit service is so expensive). But outside the peak commute, where frequency matters, nothing can compete with transit at its price point, once it's built up sufficient frequency. Taxis and pedicabs and autorickshaws can still have a role (a) at other price-points and (b) in places where the geography prevents transit from offering attractive service.
Still, we need to be more critical of cases where we are spending public transit dollars on multiple services that compete with each other instead of adding up to the greatest possible mobility. Competition fantasists imagine that when Joe's Red Bus and Jim's Blue Bus run on the same route, the customer is being empowered. Actually, she's just being obstructed, because in most cases, what she wants is any bus, now.