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Thread: Privately funded mass transit?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian WSU MUP Student's avatar
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    Privately funded mass transit?

    There was an article in a local business rag here reporting on a proposal for a 3.4 mile loop with what they called trains but sounded a bit more like street cars that has been taken up by a private coalition.

    Light-rail for Woodward?

    I also thought that if I had the money, this would be a great pet project to try to undertake because by going at it privately because a private entity could spend a lot less time trying to get multiple competing governments to agree on routes and would presumably have most of the financing in place and not be trying to float a bond.

    Does anybody know of any examples where a private company came in designed, built, and operated a successfull mass transit route? I would imagine that once it is up and running, the goal of the private operator would be to sell the infastructure off to the city or county or some sort of regional board.


    If anybody is intimately familiar with the route that the above article talks about, what do you think about the loop just being along one particular street from end to end? In my dream world, it would be a loop that would encircle Woodward Avenue by running along the roads one block out from Woodward. I would think that this would better serve areas with a higher concentration of residents (especially along Cass Avenue to the west of Woodward and in certain areas of John R. to the east where there has been a relatively high amount of condo development recently and more planned) and better serve some of the major employers along the route like the Detroit Medical Center, Wayne State University, and the State of Michigan.

    But most importantly, Woodward Avenue is a state highway and I think setting up private transit stops or an embedded track along a state highway right-of-way would not be worth the red tape that would need to be worked through.
    "Where free unions and collective bargaining are forbidden, freedom is lost." - 1980 Republican presidential candidate Ronald Reagan

  2. #2
    Cyburbian jkellerfsu's avatar
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    Charles Street Trolley

    http://www.charlesstreet.org/trolley/

    The "owners" of this project had to agree that they would seek no public funding as the City is focusing its efforts on the regional red line. The City did not want competition in regards to funds on a local project.

    The Charles Street Trolley is still in the planning phase.

  3. #3
    Almost every older US transit operation began life as a private entity. Virtually all failed. (Think GM buying up systems and converting them to buses - wouldn't have happened if systems were publicly owned and they were profitable to begin with).

    Last example I have heard of was in Las Vegas - and it is in danger of a default.

  4. #4
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Plus, a private entity would still need to get permission from local juridictions for use of right-of-ways, since such a system would have to operate on public streets to be really useful.

    And as Gotta Speakup stated, most mass transit systems started out private. But really they were more a means to an end than an end. They were often built in order to get people to/from "suburban" locations for commuting. The transit developer would route the line(s) to undeveloped land on the edge and then subdivide the property for construction. But once all the land was developed and sold and the rolling stock and infrastructure began to deteriorate, the profit margins continued to decline until they mostly all went under or were taken over by newly created government entities.

    Oh and sorry I don't have any examples for you about current private transit companies.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    Private mass transit?

    I'm not intending to be pointlessly obvious here, but this does exist in many places in the form of buses, either on fixed schedules or demand-responsive shuttles. There are obviously the big intercity bus companies, but many smaller examples like employee shuttles, hotel/airport area shuttles (often free an paid for by a group of participating hotels), and some more obscure (to me at least) examples, such as the high-rise condo development on the western Toronto waterfront that has it's own bus service paid out of condo fees.

    It is a huge financial leap from leasing and operating a few buses to laying track however, and that is why these services are running buses - no public consultation, little or no government approval needed, minimal capital cost, and easily abandoned when things turn bad.

    One example of proposed private rail transit I know of is the airport rail service in Toronto, currently in limbo due to the bump-up of a class environmental assessment to a full-EA (see http://www.georgetownpearsonstudy.ca...tudy/index.asp and http://westoncommunitycoalition.ca/). In this case the private developer teamed with an existing public transit agency that has right-of-way owned or leased already, and the expense is therefore limited to new track and trainsets (though not cheap!). Because it was known to be a private project however, the public was immediately suspicious (likely in part due to the perceived problems with the Highway 407 PPP), and opposition was intense, leading to the bump-up. Whether the EA will be positive and the developer will still have interest remains to be seen.

    Having said that, I would really like to hear of more successful privately-funded rail projects. With the success of toll roads, it stands to reason that rail could work, given the right location.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Richi's avatar
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    Some early electric transit was developed by developers to serve "streetcar suburbs", some were creatures of private electric companies. Many were hard hit by the depression, but were ran into the ground w/o any maintenence and extra heavy use during WW II. After the war, the auto came into dominance. A frequent tactic of GM was to display a spanking clean, new bus against an old, wornout streetcar with a sign on the bus side asking "Which do you prefer?"

    The transit wasn't inherently unprofitable, but faced with subsidized competition and sprawl subdivision it just could not survive.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian safege's avatar
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    Public/private planning could work, but likely for automated rail only. The labor costs are too much for the bus.

    1) Branding stations - Las Vegas
    2) Retail - TOD multi-modal
    3) Parking garage - generally bus - Minneapolis
    4) Freight spur lines - passenger priority, shared rail capacity
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  8. #8
    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Plus, a private entity would still need to get permission from local juridictions for use of right-of-ways, since such a system would have to operate on public streets to be really useful.

    And as Gotta Speakup stated, most mass transit systems started out private. But really they were more a means to an end than an end. They were often built in order to get people to/from "suburban" locations for commuting. The transit developer would route the line(s) to undeveloped land on the edge and then subdivide the property for construction. But once all the land was developed and sold and the rolling stock and infrastructure began to deteriorate, the profit margins continued to decline until they mostly all went under or were taken over by newly created government entities.

    Oh and sorry I don't have any examples for you about current private transit companies.
    Thanks, I was lazy for not including all that!

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Another thing is the problem that a trunk line can be profitable, but the feeders into the trunk generally are losers. When you try to make it "more efficient", you end up cutting the feeders that make the trunk profitable.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    I'm not especially aware of any true "mass" transit system that is profitable. An exception might be the Seattle Monorail - which operates (operated) at a profit; although it's only got two stops which are only a mile apart. It's not really transit; it's a tourist trap.

    As was mentioned before, the old streetcars that many cities used to have were built and funded by property developers selling new homes - served by the streetcar. One could say that these systems as a whole were profitable, but the streetcars themselves rarely or never ran at a profit.

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