What Does Profitability Mean for Transit?

Today on the Streetsblog Network, we’re featuring a post from The Transport Politic, in which he takes up a discussion with Cap’n Transit about what constitutes profitability for a transit system: 

3218634597_6489a80a9f_1.jpgPhoto by network member Rail Life via Flickr.

[T]he
meaning of the word "profitable" itself is subjective. We could argue
that getting enough revenue to pay for a transit service is profitable
if all the money comes from fares, but we could also argue
that a transit service is in the black even if most of its resources
come from a devoted tax base, as long as all
revenue — fares and devoted taxes — eventually pays for the services
a transit system
provides. We have made a decision in our society to subsidize transit;
what that actually means is that our government takes some general
revenue and diverts it to transportation, rather than relying only on
user
fees to cover operation costs. But the rhetoric of our politicians and
advocates rarely takes this truth into account.

The
question of transit profitability is especially germane given the
debate going on over the stimulus bill in the Senate right now. So far,
senators have voted to subsidize auto sales via tax breaks, but they won’t move to subsidize operating costs for transit systems that get millions of people to their jobs all around the country.

Also on the network, some good analysis of the hit rail is taking in the stimulus, from California High Speed Rail Blog; and Christof Spieler at the Citizens’ Transportation Coalition in Texas discusses how stimulus abstractions might hit home in his community.

On the lighter side: on his blog, How We Drive, Tom Vanderbilt posted an enlightening video about "The Plight of the North American Biped."

  • Thank you for finally touching on this. When I was back home in Wisconsin, I tormented myself with an hour of Rush. All they talked about is how unprofitable transit is and that the building of highways creates growth, hence a larger return on investment.
    But when you only look at the dollars and cents at the end of the day, of course this will be your outlook. Our society does not take social, environmental, health issues into account when calculating the bottom line.
    Profitability needs to look at this and ALL factors assessed in a fair and equitable way. Only then will transit be seen as a sound investment to those only concerned with monetary profit.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Six Ideas for Saving Bay Area Transit

|
[Editor’s note: This article is re-published with permission from the transit-themed March issue of The Urbanist, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association’s (SPUR) monthly member magazine. The article, written by SPUR Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan, is based on a discussion paper developed by the SPUR Transportation Policy Board. Read the full paper at spur.org/tsp.] […]

Overcoming the Barriers to a Seamless Bay Area Transit Experience

|
Ratna Amin is SPUR’s Transportation Policy Director. This piece originally appeared in SPUR’s The Urbanist. The Bay Area’s prosperity is threatened by fragmentation in the public transit system: Riders and decision-makers contend with more than two dozen transit operators. Inconsistent transit experiences and disjointed planning and investment make our transit system less efficient, less usable, […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Criticism Compels Uber to Pull Ad About Giving Up on the Subway

|
What do modern ride-hailing services mean for the future of transit? Serious observers think companies like Uber may help complement or substitute for bus service in spread out areas that aren’t well-suited for fixed-route transit. And ride-hailing may help transit agencies provide paratransit services. But one thing that any technology based on space-hogging cars can’t do is replace high-capacity city transit systems. A recent Uber ad suggested otherwise, […]
STREETSBLOG USA

Will Massachusetts Tax Parking Lots to Fund Transit?

|
Here’s a transportation funding idea that aligns incentives nicely: taxing parking lots to pay for transit. That’s what one former high-ranking state official is proposing for Massachusetts, ahead of a big announcement by the state Department of Transportation. Earlier this week Governing Magazine looked at the parking lot tax plan, part of a series of […]

MTA Budget Facing Likely Rejection from Board of Supervisors

|
BOS Prez David Chiu is concerned fares would rise while service is cut. Photo by Bryan Goebel. Support appears to be growing at City Hall for Supervisor David Chiu’s motion to reject the MTA’s budget passed last Thursday. Very little has changed to satisfy Chiu, who remains deeply concerned about fare hikes, service cuts and […]