The Agenda

What Happens When Local Mass Transit Agencies Find Themselves Strapped for Cash?

Well, a lot of things could happen. Mass transit agencies hobbled by work rules that limit their ability to embrace labor-saving practices might be forced to cut essential services. Another possibility, hinted at in Kris Hudson’s recent Wall Street Journal report, on the spread of bus rapid transit, is that transit agencies will improve their offerings to attract more paying customers:

To woo workday commuters, Cleveland and select cities across the U.S. are trying to replace the image of the gritty, pokey, crowded bus by sending sleeker, more spacious and trainlike buses onto certain commuter routes. They are packing these buses with amenities cribbed from the handbook of other cities’ commuter rail and light-rail trains.

In part, they hope to attract passengers who don’t have to ride the bus to work—people who can afford to own a car and pay for gas and parking, but who will willingly hop a bus. Getting more of these “choice riders,” as the public transportation industry calls them, can help fund local transportation and reduce traffic. 

Note that there would be little need to attract “choice riders” if the transit agencies in question weren’t subject to some degree of spending discipline, as the subsidies would keep flowing whether or not they offered a service that people with options actually wanted to use. 


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