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Dale Cooke waxes eloquent on transit systems that will work!


In many cities additional investments in public transit did not result

in significant additional ridership. Unplanned and uncoordinated land

development has led to rapid expansion of the urban periphery.

Residents, by selecting housing in outlying areas, restrict their

potential access to public transportation. Over-investment (when

investments do not appear to imply significant benefits) and

under-investment (when there is a substantial unmet demand) in public

transit are both complex challenges.


Urban transit is often perceived as the most efficient transportation 

mode for urban areas, notably large cities. However, surveys reveal

stagnation or a decline of public transit systems, especially in North

America. The economic relevance of public transit is being questioned.

Most urban transit developments had little, if any impacts to

alleviate congestion in spite of mounting costs and heavy subsidies.

This paradox is partially explained by the spatial structure of

contemporary cities which are oriented along servicing the needs of

the individual, not necessarily the needs of the collectivity. Thus,

the automobile remains the preferred mode of urban transportation. In

addition, public transit is publicly owned, implying that it is a

politically motivated service that provides limited economic returns.

Even in transit-oriented cities such as in Europe, transit systems

depend massively on government subsidies. Little or no competition is

permitted as wages and fares are regulated, undermining any price

adjustments to changes in ridership. Thus, public transit often serves

the purpose of a social function (“public service”) as it provides

accessibility and social equity, but with limited relationships with

economic activities. Among the most difficult challenges facing urban

transit are:


 *   Decentralization. Public transit systems are not designed to

service low density and scattered urban

    areas that are increasingly dominating the landscape. The greater

    the decentralization of urban activities, the more difficult and

     expensive it becomes to serve urban areas with public transit.

     Additionally, decentralization promotes long distance trips on

     transit systems causing higher operating costs and revenue issues

     for flat fare transit systems.



 *   Fixed Infrastructure. The infrastructures of several public

 transit systems, notably rail and subway

     systems are fixed, while cities are dynamic entities, even if the

     pace of change can take decades. This implies that travel patterns

     tend to change and that a transit system built for servicing a

     specific pattern may eventually face "spatial obsolescence".



 *   Connectivity. Public transit systems are often independent from

 other modes and terminals. It is

     consequently difficult to transfer passengers from one system to

     the other. This lead to a paradox between the preference of riders

     to have direct connections and the need to provide a cost

     efficient service network that involves transfers.



 *   Competition. In view of cheap and ubiquitous road transport

 systems, public transit faced strong

     competition and loss ridership in relative terms and in some cases

     in absolute terms. The higher the level of automobile dependency,

     the more inappropriate the public transit level of service. The

     public service being offered is simply outpaced by the convenience

     of the automobile. However, changes in energy prices are likely to

     impose a new equilibrium in this relationship.



 *   Financing and fare structures. Most public transit systems have

 abandoned a distance-based fare

     structure to a simpler flat fare system. This had the unintended

     consequence of discouraging short trips for which most transit

     systems are well suited for, and encouraging longer trips that

     tend to be more costly per user than the fares they generate.

     Information systems offer the possibility for transit systems to

     move back to a more equitable distance based fare structure.



 *   Legacy costs. Most public transit systems employ unionized labor

 that have consistently used

     strikes (or the threat of a strike) and the acute disruptions they

     create as leverage to negotiate favorable contracts, including

     health and retirement benefits. Since public transit is subsidized

     these costs were not well reflected in the fare systems. In many

     transit systems, additional subsidies went into compensation or to

     cover past debt, and not necessarily into performance improvements

     or additional infrastructure. As most governments are facing

     stringent budgetary constraints because of unsustainable social

     welfare commitments, public transit agencies are being forced to

     reassess their budgets through an unpopular mix of higher fares,

     deferred maintenance and the breaking of labor contracts. The era

     of public transit as a welfare agency providing compensation and

     benefits well above the qualifications and the productivity of its

     labor may be drawing to an end.



 I believe this will be a major County Commissioner campaign issue of

 which I am more than prepared to debate. There are ample examples of

 failed metropolitan transit systems in North America, particularly

 those publicly funded rail and light rail systems; most have become

 nothingless than perpetual public debt systems. Meanwhile in many

 countries in South America, Bus Rapid Transit systems funded with

 private capital are functioning in a profitable and reliable manner.


 I will be promoting a Smart Technology Transit System that includes

 21stcentury on-demand technology that will enable the regional

 countiesto form a municipal interconnectingBus Rapid Transit clean

 energy system with a private enterprise complex adaptive feeder

 systemcapable of growingwith demand; neither of which will include

 hard infrastructure beyond existing/future roads and

 accumulation/distribution centers. All this, without additional

 perpetual taxes! We cannot afford the dreams of the utopians and we

 willnot be obliged by the influence of "superior authority".