guaranteeing adequate service: developer and city roles

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.

8 Responses to guaranteeing adequate service: developer and city roles

  1. Beta Magellan August 28, 2012 at 9:09 am #

    The CTA’s looking into in an interesting plan ( right now that aims to add service to the most-used bus and train routes while restructuring or eliminating a number of circulators, overlapping routes, or suburban/outer-city services. They can do this, of course, because they are mainly a Chicago service and the service plan improves enough of the city’s area to make cuts elsewhere possible.
    The fact that suburban bus services are organized as another agency, Pace, helps insulate the City of Chicago from such pressures, and the fact that pace serves some of Chicago’s more outlying neighborhoods also gives the CTA more leeway in redistributing operating dollars from periphery to core.

  2. Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) August 28, 2012 at 6:31 pm #

    The CTA/Pace split is something I wish we had here in Seattle. That, and not having any substantial service change need to be approved by a district-elected county council in which two members represent largely rural districts.
    It also helps that Cook County has a higher tax rate to support the higher standard of service in Chicago and inner-ring suburbs, whereas King County is required to have a uniform tax rate from urban Seattle to remote Skykomish.
    Also, the City of Seattle (and some of its suburbs and local employers) subsidizes some service through Transit Now!

  3. Henry August 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm #

    This happens to a limited extent with the MTA in New York – every time a budget crisis looms, riders in the five boroughs get the short end of the stick. While there is no suburban bus service operated by the MTA anymore, LIRR and Metro-North have never really suffered drastic service cuts while the city’s bus and rail services are ravaged.
    Frankly, I’d argue for the MTA to spin off the commuter rail operations – they’re a large money-suck and the suburbs whine about “bad” services anyways, so the suburbs should be left to deal with them.

  4. Eric August 28, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    I’m naturally skeptical about any contract where a transit agency promises to provide service to a particular business, because the inevitable result becomes a specialty route that is designed to serve the route’s sponsor and nothing else.
    For example, you end with bus routes that leave the main street to go into the parking lot of the business that sponsored the route, even if only a small percentage of transit patrons going down that street are actually going there. Or you end up with routes that offer super-frequent peak service, but virtually no off-peak service, because the route’s sponsor cares only about a service that gets its employees to work.
    By contrast, when routes and schedules are designed and revised by transit agencies, themselves, they are done so with everyone’s interest in mind, and the result is more of them high frequency, all-day routes that operate in a straight line on major arterials with regularly spaced stops.

  5. Nicholas Barnard August 29, 2012 at 12:32 am #

    The City of Seattle already pays for additional runs of existing Bus routes with King Count Metro. links to a Google search that will link you to the routes that Seattle pays for additional runs. It also very specifically says the number of additional runs that Seattle has paid for, and other info..

  6. Jonathan August 29, 2012 at 3:51 am #

    It’s worth noting, however, that suburban or rural communities require more expenditure to maintain their roads, sewer and water connections, electricity connections and so on. Typically flat rates are charged, with the effect that urban consumers subsidise the connection of suburban or rural consumers. Daily fixed-rate postal delivery is a reasonably transparent example of this. Conversely, in the the case of high-speed broadband, no such monopoly-grant-with-service-requirements exists, and it is virtually impossible to get broadband connections in some rural areas because of it.
    The point being that it’s appropriate for regional governments to take a wholistic view of costs incurred and taxes paid by sub- and urban areas, rather than putting transit in a box.

  7. FRJ - Vancouver August 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm #

    The Toronto Transit Commission has operated transit service specifically requested by organisations, even if the service doesn’t meet the TTC’s financial or ridership standards. The proviso is that the requesting organisation must cover the costs of the service. Many years ago, a local church requested some early morning Sunday runs for its congregation. The church was willing to pay and the TTC operated the trips as part of its regular service (not charters). On a grander scale are the contracted services that the TTC operates for York Region Transit.

  8. Agile Developers September 21, 2012 at 3:39 am #

    In this role, Jarrett revised the proposed public transit concept for the suburb and proposed revisions to the structure plan that would bring more Molonglo residents and jobs close to high-quality transit. He has continued to be consulted ever since his first engagement in 2008.