Greater Greater Washington

DDOT ponders contracting out streetcar and local bus routes

Should a private company finance, build and operate the streetcar? Should it also take over neighborhood Metrobus routes from WMATA? Yesterday, DDOT put out a broad request to transportation companies asking them to weigh in on the possibilities.


Photo by MattHurst on Flickr.

The Request for Information (RFI) focused on the streetcar, where DDOT asked for general plans to privately design, build, and finance DC's complete streetcar system in 5-7 years, then operate and maintain it for 30. DDOT hopes this might save money, get around DC's debt cap, and possibly greatly speed up the process.

The RFI also contains an idea which has been kicking around for years: taking over "non-regional" Metrobus routes from WMATA and having the streetcar operator also run those along with the Circulator. This would, in essence, create a fairly large local bus system like Ride On, ART, DASH, and Fairfax Connector.

What is a "non-regional" route?

WMATA operates are 2 types of bus routes: regional and non-regional. Regional routes cross jurisdictional boundaries or run on major commuting corridors. For those routes, the jurisdictions share operating costs according to a formula.

Non-regional routes serve more of a neighborhood function, and the jurisdiction containing them pays the whole cost. There's a set list of non-regional routes, which isn't always intuitive because as routes have changed over time, their status as regional or non-regional has not necessarily changed.

WMATA was originally founded just to build and operate Metrorail, but took over failing local bus companies in 1973. More recently, many jurisdictions created their own bus systems and started taking non-regional routes away from WMATA.

Montgomery's Ride-On, Arlington's ART, Alexandria's DASH, and Fairfax's Connector all absorbed the vast majority of the non-regional routes. Only DC and Prince George's have substantial numbers of non-regional Metrobus routes; Prince George's also has its TheBus, and DC has the Circulator, but WMATA still also runs many non-regional routes in both jurisdictions.

DC already contracts out operations for the Circulator, as do some if not all of the other regional bus systems. This trial balloon would add other Metrobus routes to the same or a similar arrangement.

In DC, the non-regional routes are:

NumberWMATA's name
79GEORGIA AVE RAPID
B8,9FORT LINCOLN SHUTTLE
D2GLOVER PARK-DUPONT CIRCLE
D4IVY CITY-FRANKLIN SQUARE
D8HOSPITAL CENTER
E6CHEVY CHASE
H6BROOKLAND-FORT LINCOLN LOOP
H8,9PARK RD-BROOKLAND
K1TAKOMA-WALTER REED
K2TAKOMA-FORT TOTTEN
M2FAIRFAX VILLAGE-NAYLOR ROAD
M4NEBRASKA AVE
M6FAIRFAX VILLAGE
M8,9CONGRESS HEIGHTS SHUTTLE
N8VAN NESS-WESLEY HEIGHTS LOOP
P1,2,6ANACOSTIA-ECKINGTON
U4SHERIFF RD-RIVER TERRACE
U5,6MAYFAIR-MARSHALL HEIGHTS
U8CAPITOL HEIGHTS-BENNING HEIGHTS
W2,3UNITED MEDICAL CENTER-ANACOSTIA
W6,8GARFIELD-ANACOSTIA LOOP
X8MARYLAND AVE

Should DC contract them out instead of paying WMATA?

At various times in the past, people have asked if DC should also take over its non-regional routes. DDOT might be able to save money; the amount the District pays WMATA per hour for non-regional bus service is less more than it pays First Transit to run the Circulator, former DDOT transit head Scott Kubly said when he was working for DDOT.

In 2010, DC paid $102.41 per hour for non-regional service, according to Michael Perkins, and that number will be higher now; eyeballing the DC Circulator dashboard's data for total cost and revenue hours, the cost per hour looks to come out to about $85 per hour. I'll update the post if I can get more current numbers.

DC paid a total of $31.77 million in the latest fiscal year for this non-regional bus service; if they can get this kind of savings, they might save $5 million, which is considerable.

However, some doubt DDOT would save quite so much. Circulator is a newer service than Metrobus, and just as newer airlines have lower costs because their pilots and flight attendants are younger, Circulator drivers are younger. People from the transit union have noted in the past that mature suburban bus systems like Ride On have higher costs as well.

Contrary to what some assume, Circulator drivers do belong to a union. Kubly also pointed out, during a conversation while he was at DDOT, that federal rules also limit a city's ability to take a transit service it's already paying a unionized workforce to operate, and simply bidding it out to operators who might not be unionized or might pay substantially less.

What would happen to Circulator?

It would probably spell trouble for the Circulator brand if DC simply made all of these 30 routes into Circulator routes. These routes don't run on the 10-minute headways standard for a Circulator. Some of the non-regional routes are among WMATA's poorest-performing in terms of cost recovery; DC has kept them running because many residents depend on them.

The most recent Circulator 10-year plan suggests a standard for Circulator service: routes that connect activity centers, usually with limited stops and frequent service. Neighborhood Metrobus routes are the opposite; they connect some homes to an activity center, typically with a great many stops.

DC could create 2 brands, one for limited-stop, center-connecting, 10-minute bus service, and another for other service. Maybe some of these routes could one day, if not now, move up to Circulator standard and become Circulators.

Would it confuse riders?

Already, it's somewhat confusing to have some Circulator buses and some Metrobuses in the same area. The Circulator map doesn't show Metrobuses, and the Metrobus map makes Metrobuses more prominent than Circulators. To riders, though, they're all buses, mostly.

If more WMATA-run regional and DC-run non-regional routes ran along the same road, would people understand the choices as easily? Would someone let one type of bus go by to take another when both go to the same place? Would everyone have to consult even more maps than they do now?

For example, the D2 shares some of its route with the D1, D3 and D6. But those are regional. If the D2 stopped being a Metrobus, would it even show up on the same maps?

And what about mobile apps? Today, you have to look at different apps to find real-time arrival info for Circulator and Metrobus. Will apps integrate these and the new DC buses, or will riders have to look even more places?

DDOT is probably interested in hearing what the industry has to say before it makes any decisions. That's why the RFI is very open-ended, and why it's an RFI instead of an RFP (Request for Proposals). DDOT is not bidding out a contract now; it's asking industry players what they might be interested in bidding on.

Maybe local buses will be a part of that, or maybe not. But if so, that'll be a significant change, for better or worse.

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David Alpert is the founder and editor-in-chief of Greater Greater Washington. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and daughter in Dupont Circle. 

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Why is D2 and D4 non-regional, but D3 and D6 regional? That makes no sense at all.

by andrew on Jun 27, 2012 10:44 am • linkreport

I think you could create a new, DC Bus brand.

Circulator hasn't had 10 minute headways for years. More like 15-20.

However, you could easily replace the bus lines on 16th and Wisconsin with a private company, and it would be better for everyone.

The real issue is WMATA has been ignoring buses for year. Would DDOT do better -- mandatory plea for updates on the bus priority lanes.

by charlie on Jun 27, 2012 10:56 am • linkreport

Whatever London is doing, let's do that. If we privatized bus services but required them to adhere to certain routes, standards, livery schemes, etc., and make sure they remained within the SmarTrip system, I think everyone could potentially win.

The idea of having any number of bus systems greater than one is always unnecessarily complicated - it should just be the DC Bus Network that has whatever operating under it (i.e. merge, at least in terms of branding, Circulator and WMATA buses).

by GWJ on Jun 27, 2012 11:07 am • linkreport

However, you could easily replace the bus lines on 16th and Wisconsin with a private company, and it would be better for everyone.

How so? Just because it's private it's better?

Circulator hasn't had 10 minute headways for years. More like 15-20.

Not sure where you got that information, but based on my experience this is false. And looking at NextBus the buses at most stops appear to be spaced about 10 minutes apart. The K Street route sometimes gets weird spacing due to traffic and you might have to wait 15 minutes, but that doesn't mean they're not trying to operate at 10 minute headways.

Whatever London is doing, let's do that. If we privatized bus services but required them to adhere to certain routes, standards, livery schemes, etc., and make sure they remained within the SmarTrip system, I think everyone could potentially win.

What exactly is the point of privatizing it then if it's exactly the same as what the government provides?

by MLD on Jun 27, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

What exactly is the point of privatizing it then if it's exactly the same as what the government provides?

That's an excellent question, and honestly, I don't have a good answer, other than that the system there was far and away the fastest, cleanest, most reliable, most comfortable that I have ever ridden there. Preferred it to the Underground by a factor of roughly a million. So I'm not sure if the privatization explains its high quality, but I figure duplicating essentially everything about it has to work...right?

As to the point of privatization itself, I think the idea there is to reduce the overhead costs that DDOT or WMATA would be responsible for, but I'm not sure how the integrated fare collection works in that respect.

by GWJ on Jun 27, 2012 11:24 am • linkreport

@MLD: What exactly is the point of privatizing it then if it's exactly the same as what the government provides?

Because then the government looks smaller. Observe.

Before:

Government "Spending": All operating costs of the transit line.

Government revenue: Fares collected plus taxes needed to provide the operating subsidy.

After:

Government "Spending": Operating subsidy to private contractor

Government revenue: Taxes required to provide the operating subsidy.

Woo hoo! We "cut" the size of government!

by Michael Perkins on Jun 27, 2012 11:26 am • linkreport

@MLD; given that I ride the Circualtor 5 times a week, I am pretty sure about headways. Yes, they try, and I waited 18 minutes for one yesterday in Georgtown -- carefully looking at nextbus all the time.

Also, this is about pension costs.

by charlie on Jun 27, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

Already, it's somewhat confusing to have some Circulator buses and some Metrobuses in the same area.

Pfff. Two buses confusing? Come to the Pentagon, with WMATA, ART, Fairfax Connector, PRTC, LCT...

Aside from that, it would be a collossal mistake to outsource the bus system. There is now way that DDOT/DC is going to be able to write a contract that makes sense on for such a long term. See HOT-lanes, see Chicago parking deal, etc.

by Jasper on Jun 27, 2012 11:34 am • linkreport

I was hoping you would speak about the possibility of getting the streetcar built quickly; that's the real exciting part to me.

I know China is an obvious choice, but I could also see someone like Siemens or even GE bidding on the streetcar aspect. Siemens seems like a natural fit and they have a huge US presence.

by H Street Landlord on Jun 27, 2012 11:36 am • linkreport

NJ Transit contracts out some of its local bus routes. I know that the buses that serve the city of New Brunswick are all contracted out to Academy Express. They look like other NJ Transit buses, take NJ Transit passes, are on the website, etc, they are just operated by a private company.

by dcdriver on Jun 27, 2012 11:42 am • linkreport

I'd disagree with the claim that "WMATA has been ignoring buses for year[s]".

Metrobus does have some very difficult problems stemming in large part from a deep-seated go-along-to-get-along culture that makes, e.g., chronic no-show and early buses very difficult to improve.

But WMATA has been conducting a comprehensive review of bus lines, a process which I believe began under John Catoe. All have involved multiple public meetings and eventually produce formal reports. The first and most visible study was of the 30s, but they're also studying the Y line, the 14th street line, the F4/F6 line, the A buses, the K6 buses, the 16th street buses, among others.

by thm on Jun 27, 2012 11:58 am • linkreport

@GWJ- one of the reasons London buses move better in traffic than other cities of large size is the congestion charge. London also has greater incentives for non-car use in general and a denser subway network to absorb motorists hit by the congestion charge.

Bottom line- I think there are other factors at play in why TFL's buses outshine WMATA.

by CityBeautiful21 on Jun 27, 2012 12:01 pm • linkreport

Just pointing out that there's an Android app for Metro that covers next bus information for WMATA, Circulator, Fairfax Cue, The Bus, and the UMD Shuttle. It's not everything, and you do have to switch screens to get info for different systems. For example, if I'm trying to determine the fastest way to get home, it won't display Circulators as "other nearby routes" when I select a stop (it shows the next 3 times for the selected bus plus one arrival time for up to 3 nearby routes), and if I want to switch to Circulator after looking up a WMATA route, I have to do more clicking. But they're all at least in the same app.

The source of any reduced operating costs should be examined. It could be lower overhead/management costs (Circulator doesn't do nearly the amount of advertising Metro does; the company that runs it probably does not have 57,000 layers of management trying to run a somewhat unwieldy system; the company is probably better about managing overtime, job duplication, project down time, etc.). But it could also be either what you said - the newness of the system generates savings that cannot be realized longer-term - or skimping on something necessary - safety, maintenance, adequate staffing, etc. If a private company can generate savings while providing a high-quality product and operating in a respectable manner (respecting their employees and properly prioritizing safety), then okay...we should go for it where possible. Like most people, I love the Circulator. There is a reason why people clamor for a Circulator route in their neighborhood.

by Ms. D on Jun 27, 2012 12:03 pm • linkreport

I don't know why more people don't know about this: on your smartphone, go to http://nextbus.com. It will first ask to use your current location, then it brings you to a screen that lists all bus services (regardless of operator) that have stops nearby and shows you real-time arrival info. No separate windows or different apps, or even apps at all. There's even a hint to add the link to your home screen by clicking a button on the browser window.

No stop ID, no scrolling through lists of routes, no app downloads.

by MDE on Jun 27, 2012 12:31 pm • linkreport

@ MDE:I don't know why more people don't know about this: on your smartphone

Many people don't have a smartphone.

by Jasper on Jun 27, 2012 1:33 pm • linkreport

I think the people at WMATA (the board and the applicable staff work groups) should refine the list of Regional and Non-Regional bus routes. Keep in mind that at WMATA a bus route is different from a bus line.

How is a bus route like Route 42/43 not a non-regional service? It serves within the District, coming no where close to Maryland or Virginia. How is the 70 regional but the 79 non-regional?

If anything, the only truley regional routes are those crossing state lines, crossing local jurisdiction lines, or major established Metrobus routes connecting points on the Metrorail system.

Imagine the savings if DC contracted out the operation of the 42/43 at the costs noted in this post. Those savings could then be put into additional service elsewhere or improving the headways on the same routes, line, etc...

by Transport. on Jun 27, 2012 1:47 pm • linkreport

Here's an idea off the top of my head ... take the non-regional bus service in DC and make them all Circulators. You could then have different Circulator service standards. For example, maybe Circulator - Gold buses come every ten minutes. Circulator - Red buses come every 15 minutes. Circulator - Blue buses come every 20 minutes. Circulator - Yellow buses every 30 minutes. Circulator - Purple buses come every hour. Then, line up all the schedules on the hour. So if I'm at a Circulator - Blue stop, then I know the bus comes at x:00, x:20, and x:40. If I'm at a Circulator - Yellow stop, then I know the bus comes at x:00 and x:30.

Just an idea.

by Josh on Jun 27, 2012 2:34 pm • linkreport

@ Josh:

Just an idea.

You want a bus at every stop at the same time?

by Jasper on Jun 27, 2012 2:43 pm • linkreport

Remember that a private company *already* operates the Circulator.

I'm pretty left-wing, but I can see some advantages of this particular arrangement -- the private operator can bring some industry knowledge to the table, and has more motivation to improve efficiency.

That said, a monolithic 30-year contract would cancel out most of these advantages.

by andrew on Jun 27, 2012 3:48 pm • linkreport

FWIW, you need a plan. I'd recommend the point I make about "mass transit planning" at the metropolitan scale, and the various levels of the network. The gold, etc. proposal is merely what I call primary, secondary, and tertiary subnetworks. But it builds on the definitions in the Arlington County plan.

http://www.scribd.com/doc/34657145/Metropolitan-Transit-Planning-Towards-a-Hierarchical-and-Conceptual-Framework

A big reason for the Circulator's popularity is its legibility and branding. You have to separate that out from the headway issue. A "Circulator" level of service for headway isn't justified by most of the routes, even if people appreciate the legibility (understandability of the route system and structure) and branding.

That's why we need transparent standards about level of service, like how it's done in King County WA.

My first reaction when I read this entry was about how DC really needs to have a master transportation plan including a robust transit element.

WRT this, the point is that the network at all levels should be defined in a metropolitan transportation planning initiative, and then how the actual preferred services are provided is a different matter. By default, WMATA as the transit operator is the planner, but really the decisions should be made at a higher level.

by Richard Layman on Jun 27, 2012 4:12 pm • linkreport

Oh and wrt thm's point about improvements in bus service. That started with the Regional Bus Study in 2003, which predates John Catoe. The Regional Bus Conference was held just before Mr. Catoe started as GM, maybe in Nov. 2006?

by Richard Layman on Jun 27, 2012 4:15 pm • linkreport

A "Circulator" level of service for headway isn't justified by most of the routes, even if people appreciate the legibility (understandability of the route system and structure) and branding.

Just wondering: is the lack of justification due to the route itself or to current/projected ridership? I know for my part, I avoid the bus because the headways are so ridiculous (similar to Metro on the weekends). It's a chicken-and-egg scenario; if you want to increase ridership, you have to run a more frequent service. But if the numbers look like they won't justify it...

What it really comes down to with virtually all mass transit are, in fact, the headways. If you don't have a car, then frequency is freedom. Jarrett Walker has expressed this much more eloquently: http://www.humantransit.org/2011/12/how-frequent-is-freedom.html

by GWJ on Jun 27, 2012 4:24 pm • linkreport

1. The regional vs. non-regional bus criteria were established by the Regional Mobility Panel in 1997. DC Watch nicely has the basics of that report posted, including the 4 criteria for a route being regional. This explains why some of the routes above are regional, even if within state lines.

2. Transport for London contracts with approximately 26 private companies to provide bus service (though 4-5 companies operate about 80% of the service). Each bus route is contracted out with specific performance criteria, for a five year period. The Quality Incentive Contracts (QIC's) include bonus/malus for performance, especially excess wait time and safety. With private profit affected by performance, operating to schedule is a prime focus and both the private operators and the authority put a lot of effort into monitoring performance (e.g., supervisor and regulator standing side-by-side with devices recording).

3. London's bus system has about 8,000 buses. Approximately 80% of bus service is operated on a headway of 15 minutes or less (and hence no timetable is provided to customers, only a headway range). The buses benefit from a) more historical investment in the Bus Priority Network, the LBPN; b) lighter, more open vehicles, which arguably, in the form of the double-decker, are more pleasing simply because of the "golden ratio", and finally c) wider public and hence political interest in their quality (leading back to a.).

4. Privatisation benefitted London at the expense of the rest of the nation. Bus ridership in the rest of the UK is still often below pre-privatisation levels. With market power, London was able to coerce the private firms into putting their best, newest buses in London, leading to a fleet age of less than 5 years at one point. After five years, the buses are dumped into the rest of the country, where quality has suffered. Likely the Preston report of 2004 is the best academic take on the whole scheme, though there are many others. Bus costs in London are pretty high, even with the returns to scale of density, whilst many overhead costs are absorbed at the TfL or borough level, in ways not seen for Metrobus operation here in DC.

by Eric R. on Jun 27, 2012 5:15 pm • linkreport

@ Eric R,

Saying that privatisation benefitted London at the expense of the rest of the nation is not exactly right: London was the only place were bus services weren't deregulated. Deregulation in the rest of the country meant that any bus operators could compete against each-other, and that transportation authority role was limited to subsidizing loss making routes, not regulating the whole system as is the case in London. That meant all sort of things including bus congestion, bad frequencies....

by DCvinc2009 on Jun 27, 2012 5:25 pm • linkreport

About the benefits of having a private operator running public transport operation:

Private companies have less overheads because they employ less management staff and usually provide lower benefits. That enables them to be cheaper than the historic operator which results in a direct saving for DDOT.

As people pointed out above, the London example is one of the best models. TFL sets the standards, the rules and the performance metric, operators comply!

by DCvinc2009 on Jun 27, 2012 5:35 pm • linkreport

GWJ -- tricky question. Generally for 10 minute headways, you probably want at least 10,000 riders/day. Most of the Circulators don't meet that #. What the potential capture rate is depends on density, activity centers, proximity to subway, the nature of the route, etc. So where you have potential for capture at that number, you can do Circulators, except that there already is Metrobus service in those corridors (16th St., 14th St., Georgia Ave., Florida Ave-8th St., PA Ave., etc.).

E.g., the Capitol Hill Circulator ought to be two or three different bus routes really -- Union Station to PA Ave.; PA Ave. to Barracks Row; Navy Yard station/Ballpark to Eastern Market Metro. Still, there's no 10,000 riders/day.

WRT London, yes, they have market power, and a lot of people making frequent bus service practical and privatization profitable.

by Richard Layman on Jun 27, 2012 5:46 pm • linkreport

I said "you can do Circulators" I should have said "you can do 10 minute headways".

by Richard Layman on Jun 27, 2012 6:02 pm • linkreport

If anything, the 2003+ "bus study", lack of WMATA ability to promote "nextbus.com" rather using a very complex station numbering via SMS, and the lack of any bus priority updates are all very good evidence of how WMATA neglects buses.

by charlie on Jun 27, 2012 6:15 pm • linkreport

Roy Chalk's DC Transit ?

by Tom Coumaris on Jun 27, 2012 6:43 pm • linkreport

One advantage of DC planning its own bus and streetcar service is that - finally - the rational, transit-based (rather than development) savings associated with running streetcars could be realized. Many of us have pointed out that operating expenses for streetcars can be a fraction of that for buses *where there is high ridership*, making for long-term savings. But this only works if substituting overcrowded buses with streetcars is part of the plan...

by egk on Jun 27, 2012 6:54 pm • linkreport

By the way, is there a historical reason why the list of non-regional routes has only one numbered route and a whole lot of lettered routes?

by Turnip on Jun 27, 2012 9:42 pm • linkreport

for the most part numbered routes reflect old streetcar lines which had numbers, but that isn't fully true. E.g., the X2 is a regional route, although it is also a re-creation in part of the once extant 10/12 streetcar route. And you seem to think that the list above includes all the lettered routes, but it doesn't, e.g., the H2/4 crosstown routes, which are also regional, and of course the S2/4 (16th Street lines).

In any case, "regional" even though for the most part the lines serve mostly DC, really means "primary bus network route" although I don't think that the WMATA studies use that definition. Many of these lines do

These are lines that have 10,000+ daily riders for the most part and many of the lines are active for 22+ hours, serving multiple destinations and neighborhoods, including transit stations as hubs, but not necessarily but usually--90s buses do not, H2/4 do not--downtown. Many of the lines cross the border of DC into nearby Maryland or close to it (70s, S, 80s, X, 30s, 50s terminate in Takoma).

Another way to term them would be that the Regional Routes make up the basis of the frequent bus network, if it were branded that way (except the 80s buses don't have frequent service).

by Richard Layman on Jun 28, 2012 7:16 am • linkreport

L buses on Connecticut Ave. too are lettered and regional, although they don't seem to be supra frequent. I don't know what the old # was for streetcars on that street; I guess they were 40s. (10s were H St.; 20s went through Georgetown to Rosslyn.)

by Richard Layman on Jun 28, 2012 7:21 am • linkreport

As to the reason why SOME of the old streetcar routes that are now buses (H Street, etc) have letters (X2), see this map:
http://www.dctrolley.org/dctrolleymap.htm

Those streetcars were replaced with buses before the entire trolley system shut down; I think that is why they have letter/number combos.

Here's what the network looked like in '48:
http://ghostsofdc.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/transit-map-1948.jpg

by MLD on Jun 28, 2012 9:23 am • linkreport

The DDOT RFI used a list of DC non-regional bus routes that was a year or so out-of-date. The 79 on Georgia Ave. is now a regional service after successfully completing a trial period. The N8 and K1 non-regional routes were discontinued due to low patronage and the closure of Walter Reed Medical Center.

by Steve Strauss on Jun 28, 2012 9:23 am • linkreport

Call me crazy, but I think WMATA does a pretty decent job with bus service.

Yes, perhaps it plays second fiddle to the rail system, but the bus system has made visible strides in the past 5-10 years. The buses themselves are nicer-looking and seem cleaner, and service on big routes isn't quite as erratic as it used to be.

Someone mentioned the bus line studies (Pennsylvania Ave, F-routes in MD, etc). At first, I shrugged these off as academic blather. But WMATA has followed through on some worthwhile findings from the studies -- and those changes have improved the system.

As for Circulator, it's been able to "succeed" thanks to its small size. Five routes and 50 buses is a boutiquey, niche operation. Add to that two dozen more routes -- at varying service levels and coverage profiles -- and the neat-and-streamlined Circulator suddenly becomes just as "unwieldy" as the system it's intended to improve.

As for alleged cost savings of private operation, it's a lot like how Wal-Mart built its business. Private operators usually -can- save money -- for a year or two or three. After that, costs tend to rise pretty sharply.

There's lots of talk of "mature" public systems and their legacy costs. It's a valid criticism; I'd recommend looking at mature -private- systems (Phoenix, Las Vegas, etc), where costs are equivalent to (if not higher than) publicly operated systems.

I'm not totally opposed to privatization -- it can be effective in small doses. But to expect that for-profit companies can operate a money-losing service in the long range... well, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

by Neil G on Jun 28, 2012 9:39 am • linkreport

@NeilG; bus service is money losing for a few reasons (in DC)

1) inability to raise the fare (and the joke of the anacostia discount, paper transfers, and people just not paying by walking in the back door). Having SmartTrip did solve a lot of this.

2) pensions, benefits: WMATA needs major reform on pensions, no desire to tackle that one, and if you contract it out you can get out of that mess.

3) ADA: having disabily requirements is strangling WMATA, and realted to bus service.

NextBus, newer vehicles, and smarttrip have been big improvement. What you don't see is better branding, cost containment, and better route structure.

A major reason for Circulator's success is the $1 fare.

by charlie on Jun 28, 2012 10:12 am • linkreport

1 The First DC & WMATA should go through a review of every single route in DC. Many routes could be combined or rerouted and still serve everyone.

2 What makes a bus regional and one non-regional; what is a bus that cross multiple jurisdictions that is not regional. Many buses weave in and out of DC, and Maryland or run on the border (W4, F1, F2)

3 What is with WMATA discontinuing a service and bringing it back years later see X1 & X3 (discontinued around 3 or 4 times and brought back) , X9 (original X2 route), 50’s (route was shortened then brought back to most of its original route) 34 (discontinued then partly brought back).

-----------------

@ charlie
What does new vehicles and better branding actually do for bus service rather than just cosmetic change? If someone is just riding something due to looks than what is the point in catering to them when there are thousands who would ride regardless.

That Anacostia Discount was WMATA’s fault anyway. They cut all bus routes in SE near Anacostia to end there. The 90’s, P6, A’s, B’s etc all use to either go pass St Elizabeth for those that started north or near Downtown from those that started south. I remember it and WMATA has a history of doing this; it was done when the Congress Heights – Branch Ave were opened in 2001, Georgia Ave & Columbia Heights open in 1999. I still have of the old schedules before the changes and service was way different.

@ Richard Layman
The 40's streetcar was a combination of what is now the 42, 43, D6, 96 and 97

by kk on Jun 28, 2012 11:20 am • linkreport

@charlie
1) inability to raise the fare (and the joke of the anacostia discount, paper transfers, and people just not paying by walking in the back door). Having SmartTrip did solve a lot of this.

Agree on the fare thing, it should probably be $2 by now as it is in lots of places. However, they've gotten rid of the Anacostia discount (kk summarizes the reasons for it pretty well), and paper transfers are gone. That has helped them get more money AND speeds bus loading because now nearly everyone has SmarTrip. I noticed a huge change in how people paid when they got rid of paper transfers. Honestly I think problems with fareboxes (and drivers wanting to board buses faster by just waiving people on) is a bigger problem than people entering through the back door.

2) pensions, benefits: WMATA needs major reform on pensions, no desire to tackle that one, and if you contract it out you can get out of that mess.
Employees need to pay more into their pensions and more thought needs to go into the calculations for pensions. But I'm not sure we should just screw public employees over because everyone in the private sector gave up on getting screwed. There are laws that prevent the transit agency from just contracting everything out as a way of sidestepping the union.

3) ADA: having disabily requirements is strangling WMATA, and realted to bus service.

How so related to buses? It's cheaper to serve these people on regular bus service than with paratransit (though I don't think paratransit should be a transit agency responsibility). Low floor buses make wheelchair boarding much faster than it used to be.

Agree that route structure should be considered - I'd love to see someone do an exercise where they see how much bus service is out there and see how you could re-organize it starting with a blank slate.

@kk
New vehicles are a big deal. The low floor buses are much more comfortable and easier for passengers, and hybrid buses help agencies save on fuel costs.

by MLD on Jun 28, 2012 11:53 am • linkreport

@kk
If someone is just riding something due to looks than what is the point in catering to them when there are thousands who would ride regardless.

The reason to cater to people other than those who absolutely need it is because giving more people buy-in encourages public investment in your transit system. Look at transit systems in cities where only the people who have to use transit use it - the poor, elderly, disabled, etc. You end up with bad, infrequent service. Contrast that with a place like DC where all kinds of people ride transit - more frequent, convenient service and investment.

by MLD on Jun 28, 2012 11:57 am • linkreport

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