Highlighting Transit Innovations

The Environmental Defense Fund has released an interesting and useful report on transit innnovations in 11 case study cities. The report, Reinventing Transit, examines new types of transit services in cities ranging from rural bus service in the San Jaoquin Valley in California to surface street bus programs in New York City. Of course, it also pays homage to street cars in Portland, Oregon.

What is notable about the report is that ten of the eleven case studies are rubber-tire transit programs (albeit one is a bike transit center). This is definitely a step in the right direction. Innovative use of highways and roads for bus or van can provide better connectivity and access to more destinations cost effectively.

Unfortuantely, despite statements at the beginning of the report on the need to find “cost effective” transit solutions, the case studies themselves do not speak to cost effectiveness. The report also doesn’t discuss other meaningful performance metrics such as market share, whether transit use has attracted significant numbers of people out of automobiles, or whether the ridership levels are high enought to have a relevant impact on congestion, air quality, or green house gas emissions.

I’m sure they don’t. In most of the case study cities, transit use is a very small part of the travel picture for travelers.

We would have liked to see more discussion of the ways transit services could be provided cost-effectively through innovations like public-private partnerships, competitive bidding, and allowing private competition.

Reason Foundation has spotlighted some of these successes in Len Gilroy’s series Innovators in Action which includes an interview with Denver Regional Transportation District executive Cal Marsella and an article by former King County (WA) executive Ron Sims on transportation reform.