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TRANSIT: Contracting out could improve service

Letter by Michael H. Wilson, Olympia on Oct. 3, 2011 at 5:04 pm with 8 Comments »
October 4, 2011 9:50 am

As a libertarian and someone who promotes open markets, it is shameful that management at Pierce Transit cannot find any alternative except to cut services, thus leaving low-income people without adequate transportation.

There are plenty of real-world examples that should be considered first, such as opening the market to private companies. According to the Feb. 6, 1915 edition of the Electric Railway Journal, there were 518 private jitney buses operating in Seattle carrying 49,000 passengers daily. Unfortunately the government regulated them out of business.

Atlantic City, N.J., has the oldest privately operating, unsubsidized transit service in the nation. The Atlantic City jitney buses, which hold 13 passengers each, operate around the clock at fares comparable to Piece Transit’s.

Contracting out the service may be a better option for the public than what is now in place. Denver has contracted out about half of its transit services to private operators and saved money. Many European cities – such Stockholm, Helsinki and Copenhagen – have contracted out their urban transit to private companies and have seen improved services along with reduced costs.

The examples are out there. Management just has to be open to new ideas.

Leave a comment Comments → 8
  1. That has worked SO WELL for Good 2 Go.

  2. alindasue says:

    In Japan there are several private train, subway, and bus services that connect into they main publicly owned JR line transportation, expanding and already good transportation system into an incredible system…

    I find it interesting that this letter comes out the same day that Peter Callaghan writes his column piece lamenting the loss of private sector businesses that are willing to invest their own dollars to fill a public need.

    Pierce Transit recently announced that by discontinuing the outlaying routes and reducing service to peak times, they have cut per passenger costs per trip from $9 to $4. I’m sure that if we moved all the area casinos downtown, reduced PT service area further down to the size of Atlantic City (roughly downtown and central Tacoma), dropped all buses down to the smallest size, AND turned all the drivers into independent contractors (akin to taxi drivers) while keeping the same fixed route system… maybe, then PT will be able to operate at a profit without any public subsidies, only needing to raise ride rates a quarter to the $2.25 the Atlantic City jitneys charge.

    I’m not trying to say that privately run systems like the jitneys are a bad idea. I’m just saying that they wouldn’t work so well on the larger scale that city and county transit systems need to run. Atlantic City is a very small city. As far as I can find, there are no medium or large city transit systems that are not, at least in part, taxpayer subsidized.

    Having said that though, the cutback in PT service provide an excellent opportunity for some private investor to move in and take up the slack. It may cost PT over $5 extra per passenger to drive its buses all the way out to some place like Bonney Lake, but it would be much less expensive to run a jitney like service locally through the town and out to connect with the closest city/county transit services. Similar privately run transport could also be used to provide denser coverage in under-served areas within the city – for instance, up and down Tacoma Mall Boulevard.

    It works in Japan. It could work here – if there is a company or three willing to invest in getting it started. Like Mr. Callaghan, I also mourn the loss of investors willing to take their own risks to better themselves and the community. Without those investors, it’s “privatization” in name only.

  3. stetsonwalker says:

    A big problem is the fact that a private line is against the law in Pierce county!

  4. KARDNOS says:

    The biggest issue with a private line is the cost of insurance…..

    Stetson….can you cite the law that prevents a private bus service in Pierce County?

  5. KARDNOS says:

    Mr. Wilson…..to quote one of our esteemed Conservatives….

    “We’ll be looking forward to your money on the table to finance a countywide bus service.”

  6. alindasue says:

    stetsonwalker said, “A big problem is the fact that a private line is against the law in Pierce county!”

    I have been searching for the better part of an hour and found no reference, outside your comment, that such activity is illegal in Pierce County. Perhaps, it would help if you could provide a link to the source of your information.

    What I did find though during my search is that there are several options besides Pierce Transit that help the elderly, disabled, and low income get around. Most of the options appear funded by government agencies or non-profits such as United Way or Catholic Community Services, but at least a couple of the services appear privately run.

    There are several privately owned transportation options in Pierce County: charter services like First Class or taxi type systems like Yellow Cab. I know the Airporter shuttle operates in Pierce County as does Greyhound (although I think Greyhound might be subsidized a bit).

    I think, as KARDNOS stated, “The biggest issue with a private line is the cost of insurance…..” – that, and the lack of a serious investor with start up capital to successfully run such a system.

  7. stetsonwalker says:

    RCW 36.57A.100
    Agreements with operators of local public transportation services — Operation without agreement prohibited — Purchase or condemnation of assets.

    Except in accordance with an agreement made as provided in this section or in accordance with the provisions of RCW 36.57A.090(3) as now or hereafter amended, upon the effective date on which the public transportation benefit area commences to perform the public transportation service, no person or private corporation shall operate a local public passenger transportation service, including passenger-only ferry service, within the public transportation benefit area with the exception of taxis, buses owned or operated by a school district or private school, and buses owned or operated by any corporation or organization solely for the purposes of the corporation or organization and for the use of which no fee or fare is charged.

    An agreement may be entered into between the public transportation benefit area authority and any person or corporation legally operating a local public passenger transportation service, including passenger-only ferry service, wholly within or partly within and partly without the public transportation benefit area and on said effective date under which such person or corporation may continue to operate such service or any part thereof for such time and upon such terms and conditions as provided in such agreement. Such agreement shall provide for a periodic review of the terms and conditions contained therein. Where any such local public passenger transportation service, including passenger-only ferry service, will be required to cease to operate within the public transportation benefit area, the public transportation benefit area authority may agree with the owner of such service to purchase the assets used in providing such service, or if no agreement can be reached, the public transportation benefit area authority shall condemn such assets in the manner and by the same procedure as is or may be provided by law for the condemnation of other properties for cities of the first class, except insofar as such laws may be inconsistent with the provisions of this chapter.

    Wherever a privately owned public carrier operates wholly or partly within a public transportation benefit area, the Washington utilities and transportation commission shall continue to exercise jurisdiction over such operation as provided by law.

  8. stetsonwalker says:

    I rest my case…

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