Thursday, May 05, 2005

The mobility solution for Houston - Part 2 of 3: Private Transit

OK, so we have our express lane network, but now we need good options on it. The second LA Times article (abstract) talks about the need for private transit options in addition to, or even as a replacement for, public transit.

"As matters now stand, public transit agencies are franchises: They have an exclusive right to provide service in their communities. It is illegal for private providers to enter the market for transit services and compete against a franchise operator. In truth, though, transportation is just another service. A public franchise for bus or rail service is no more necessary or natural than a public franchise for selling shampoo.

Public transit agencies have two conflicting objectives. First, public transit is intended to transfer wealth. Government agencies use public resources to provide mobility to people who could not otherwise easily travel about an area.

Second, public transit is intended to clean the air and decongest roads by competing with the automobile. But the only way to lure people who don't really need public transportation — people who drive where they're going — is to make them want to use alternatives.

Unable to pursue both objectives simultaneously, most public transit agencies resolve the conflict by failing at both.


If we want transportation services — jitneys, private buses, cabs — that can compete effectively with automobiles, we are going to have to bring transportation entrepreneurs out of the shadows, inspect their vehicles and license their operations. If we are committed to making sure that poor people, the old and the disabled have ways to get around, we should stop subsidizing transit agencies. Instead, we should fund transportation voucher programs, give subsidies to the people we want to help and unshackle the supply of ways to get around. There are plenty of people who would eagerly try to make a buck by cooking up new ways of getting folks from point A to point B. But at the moment, it's a crime to do so.

I'm not sure we want to get rid of Metro entirely. They do provide a pretty solid network covering the basic street grid. Where private transit makes a lot of sense though is point-to-point express commuter services.

Once we have the comprehensive network of MaX lanes, I'd like to believe Metro would omnisciently provide the perfect schedule of express services from the various neighborhoods to multiple job centers. But realistically, this is where private providers can be much more effective.

Provide a straight passenger-mile subsidy, and let private operators figure out who wants to go where at what times during morning and evening rush hours. Metro could continue to provide park-and-ride lots, but let people go there and find a whole range of private-operator vehicles to major and minor job centers across the metro area. Some might even offer some interesting service options, like onboard wireless Internet access. But the main reason for private express transit is simple: the odds will be much higher that people will find service where they want to go when they want to go there - which means they will actually use the transit options instead of their cars.

Tomorrow, the final part 3: getting paid not to park at work.


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