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Private vs. public transit

written by andy on

Recently there are more private commute transit options being introduced in San Francisco, with most services focused on connecting affluent neighborhoods like the Marina with Downtown SF and SOMA. Opinions differ whether it is a good addition to a variety of transportation options, or a competition against public transit like Muni.

The main problem with that it’s aiming at reaping the top of the transit market, the most profitable routes, leaving Muni with even less resources to deal with the other routes

As someone who works in public transit, if this is a viable business model that helps enable the car-lite lifestyle to a broader demographic of so called “choice riders,” all the better. I’m most concerned with getting people out of their cars with alternatives that offer a comparative advantage in cost/convenience/time, etc.

Ian Mitchell
Choice riders are not concerned with “affordable service”. I’ve never heard anyone say the drove rather than took transit because the public transit was too damned expensive. Transit is one of the most underpriced goods out there.

You have it backwards, choice riders ride transit because it’s so damn cheap. Sure you could pay 1000$/month for a parking place, but even if you make tech money salary, it doesn’t mean you don’t wanna find a better use for that money.

I guess I don’t understand why there’s so much snark being directed at this concept.

One feature that public mass transportation usually lacks, which modes like private car transportation do have, is the ability for riders to easily make tradeoffs between price and other characteristics of the trip – comfort, convenience, cleanliness and amenities. If you own your own car, you get to choose how much you want to balance cost and comfort/amenities, and you can put as much (or as little) effort into maintaining it as you want. Public transit typically offers one option for all customers.

There’s a concern that because private services focus on the affluent market, that somehow it will hurt public transit for the low-income. I disagree. It is important to note that private service cost public transit agencies nothing. If companies (including large employers like Google) can spend millions on their own bus service, then it is a few millions not spent by public agencies that can be spent on the basic transit for those who need most. Considering that most of the transit funding comes from taxes, people who use non-traditional or private transit are no different than parents who send their kids to private schools. They don’t contribute any less taxes to public transit than people who do use transit. Because there’s essentially no profit in nearly all aspects of public transit operations, fare revenues from high income riders are insignificant and agencies are financially better off by not subsidizing these riders.

Some believe that the affluent should be exposed to the rest of the community by riding on the same transit vehicle. I am not sure where this idea comes from, but I think it may be based on the notion that if they’re exposed more, they will be more likely to sympathize with the rest of the population and support policies that can lift them up. Regardless, class distinction is not illegal but very typical. Airlines and Amtrak offer first and business classes for customers who want better amenities even though the travel time is essentially the same as those in coach. Some transit agencies use motorcoaches with better seats for express, commuter oriented routes that charge premium fares.

Despite the noble goal, if upscale transit does not exist, many affluent commuters may choose to drive which tend to have a larger negative impacts on the community. Even though San Francisco Muni does not nor plans to operate motorcoaches, it would rather be promoting inequality if Muni were to spend extra money to buy better buses to be more competitively serve high income riders.

I think we need a lot more transit and more of the different types of transit. Many of the gaps with regular transit may be addressed by the private sector with non-traditional means. I believe some of the opposition against these services are based on the idea that there ought to be a single public transportation provider (similar to natural monopolies like electricity, gas, and garbage collection), where profits generated by some markets are used to cross-subsidize markets where there are losses. But the reality is that transit has not hold a monopoly on commute transportation since the introduction of automobiles. We continue to support transit because it provides basic mobility for people who need it most and it is an effective tool to reduce traffic congestion, parking demand, and improve air quality. If private entities can bring more resources into the cause, even just for some people, the better it is for everyone.