What’s happening at other transit agencies?

This weekly post features news from other transit agencies and planners from around the world. Did we miss a good story? Let us know in the comments.


The Center for Neighborhood Technology put together this handy infographic showing Chicago transit riders what their fares are funding.


Where do your Chicago transit fares go? The Center for Neighborhood Technology shows you

This infographic from CNT clearly and concisely captures what Chicago transit riders support with their fares; it also shows what is true of virtually every large transit agency in the developed world: Labor is by far the largest single cost of transit operations. Why? Because large transit agencies have to employ thousands of skilled and hardworking bus and train operators — not to mention mechanics and other support staff.

S.F. Market Street car ban urged by city agencies

The San Francisco Chronicle reports that city agencies are supporting the implementation of a plan called Better Market Street, a key component of which is eliminating cars from a two-plus mile stretch of the city’s commercial spine. What makes the idea feasible in this corridor is the abundance of transit: BART and Muni Metro run underground; streetcars and a slew of buses travel at street level. The key benefit of eliminating private autos, according to the executive director of the Central Market Community Benefit District, is that it would significantly improve both pedestrian safety and transit performance. The next step is for the various agencies involved to hold public workshops next month.

Vancouver unveils 30-year transportation plan: heavy on walking, light on cars

The city of Vancouver released an update of its long-range transportation plan. Already known for its emphasis on transit, biking and walking, Vancouver is doubling down on that vision. The plan sets a goal of having residents take two-thirds of all trips in the city by some means other than driving by 2040, up from 40 percent today. Canadian community blog OpenFile notes that the plan prioritizes pedestrian safety and making public spaces more “rain friendly” in the damp northwest town. In light of this focus, what does the future hold for driving? The plan calls for making the road network work more efficiently — i.e. better signal synchronization — and making parking easier to find, so drivers don’t burn fuel and slow traffic circling the block to find a spot. You can view the full plan here (PDF).

Does attendance at the NHL’s New York Islanders games suffer due to lack of transit access?

Unlike many of its counterparts in the NHL — like your L.A. Kings — the Islanders’ arena in Nassau on Long Island doesn’t have direct transit access. The place is surrounded by acres of parking lots, as seen in the screen shot below from Google Maps. Is it a coincidence, then, that the Islanders had the second-worst home attendance out of 30 teams, despite being a pretty good draw (11th) when visiting other team’s arenas? This blog post from Bleacher Report explores that question. Writer Christopher Benini points out that plans to replace the team’s aging arena involve building a new one — you guessed it — next to an existing transit station. How’s that for a clear sign that team officials think fans want to be able to take transit to the game?

New Calgary light rail line to west side also a boon for cyclists

As the city of Calgary expands its light rail network, it’s not letting the opportunity to improve other modes go to waste, reports the Calgary Herald. The city will install a number of on-street bike lanes and other safety and navigation tools for cyclists. The goal? Give travelers another comfortable way to access the new train stations and travel around their neighborhoods. The plan calls for investing about $5 million in bike facilities. It’s an impressive commitment for a city where the average daily high temperature is under 40 degrees Fahrenheit for five months a year. Roll on, hearty Calgary cyclists!


20 replies

  1. Nathaneal,

    If toll roads and high population densities were the almighty answer, why do transit agencies in the East Coast which has higher population densities, higher number of toll roads, and higher parking fees, still be deeply in the red, scratching their heads why they can’t make transit self-sustainable?

    Both Boston’s MBTA and NY’s NYMTA faces huge budget shortfalls and are deeply in the red despite having the population densities and toll roads.

    The answer is simple: Americans simply suck at making mass transit work.

  2. I would love to see newsstands or other private businesses at Metro Rail stations.

    But I don’t think you need to privatize the whole Metro Rail system to do it.

    And I don’t think that you have to tear apart the safety regulations or the business fee structure to do it, either. Japanese train station manga sellers obey the same rules as everyone else.

    One thing to consider is that there are two ways to have retail at train stations: One is to allow space for vendors inside the gates, or on the platforms themselves. Another would be to directly link the train station with neighboring businesses.

    For example, the Regional Connector stations could easily link with the basement levels of some of the downtown buildings already existing along the route. Metro wouldn’t build the shops, but they could provide passages.

  3. Julie: Japan makes private transit work by tolling all the roads, so that roads are more expensive than transit.

    If you’re ready to convert all the expressways in the country, and many of the boulevards, to tollways, we can have private transit back. Are you ready?

  4. Less taxes is better makes a good point.

    If private companies in Asia can make transit profitable there’s no reason why it can’t be applied here to reduce the size of government.

    For whatever millions we spend every year trying to make transit work with taxes and failing at it, we’d better off to sell it off to those that can make it work. If Japan can make transit work without taxes and purely just on profits alone, just sell it off to the Japanese private companies. Some may say that’s selling out to the Japanese, but those that did it failed to figure out how to make it work so the blame rests on themselves.

    The less burden there is on government, that means more funds available for things like funding our schools and our children’s future.

  5. @ Metro is prejudiced.

    i don’t think the Source should expend resources on covering other transit agencies. Primarily they s/b doing outreach to the communities LACMTA is supposed to be serving.

    The Source should do more coverage on national transit policy making because it has a great impact on local transportation and transit.

    If information about rapid transit systems in other cities or in other countries is desired, there are FAR better sources (no pun intended) on the World Wide Web. Just for starters, Wikipedia has a wealth of information about virtually every transit agency and transportation company in the world and Youtube must have thousands of user uploaded videos of virtually every transportation system and mode in the world, let alone every mass transit metro. My youtube favorites are the Mumbai Suburban Railway and the Chicago EL. Subways do not lend themselves to videography. If you have seen one subway train or subway station youtube video, you have seen them all. The only exception, IMHO, are the subway stations of Russia and the Ukraine. They are like art palaces.

    Transit in East Asian Countries and transit in the United States are totally different.

    A better and more relevant question is why is public transit usage higher in Canadian and Australian cities than the USA? Both countries have just as high car ownership, are just as big geographically, but have far smaller national populations. Public transit usage s/b lower. It isn’t.

    Americans stay in their cars, even with gridlocked highways, and resist using or even supporting public transit (Prop R notwithstanding). I don’t consider a few light rail lines or a BRT line like in Los Angeles and other american cities to be much more than a token effort. Research on the www shows this is uniquely American.

  6. I don’t see anything wrong with Metro making a profit. If anything, if they were to become profitable, that’s one less thing that the LA can relieve their backs off of tax subsidies and make more budget available for other things like education.

    As it stands now, budget is limited and whatever tax subsidies that is needed to keep transit running is essentially robbing Peter to pay Paul; more tax used on transit means some other thing like education or funding for fire fighters or so get cut and so on. It’s better to make Metro profitable and sustain itself on its own so this can get spun out of government’s shoulders so taxes can then be focuses on other things like education.

    If the US Post Office can compete with FedEx and UPS, I don’t see why Metro can compete with private transit on an equal playing field. This the United States of America, not Soviet Russia. Competition, profits, and service is what drove this nation to success, not socialism which makes everyone poorer.

    It’s time to rethink public transit in LA. If the rest of the US doesn’t seem to be heading that way, there’s no reason why we should follow their spiral of death.

  7. From what I’ve read (which is, I admit, not exhaustive), the reason many Asian systems run at break-even or better is because they use income from real estate holdings to subsidize their transit operations. In Japan, for example, some of the rail companies include department stores at their stations, so the agency gets landlord income. If you want Metro to get into the real estate business (or some other profit-making business) to subsidize their transit operations, that’s a conversation that might be worth having. However, you’d run up against a buzz saw of opposition about Metro “competing” with private enterprise. Plus, anytime government does something that earns a profit, the first cry heard is, “Sell it!” (see Conrail or Acela) So what will it be?

    On another note: can we please stop with the hyperbole about bloated government employees all earning million dollar salaries while doing nothing but eating donuts and figuring out new ways to screw people over?

  8. The real reason why it’s impossible to create businesses in LA, let alone at train stations is because of stupid laws wrapped up with red tape entagled with bureacratic paperwork that prevents businesses to be run.

    Anybody can open up a newspaper stand at a station in LA. All you need is a fold up table and line up today’s newspaper and a coffee machine.

    But the moment that person does that, that person will be fined and harassed by officers for not having a business license, didn’t pay bribes, show me your paperwork, or any other made up BS like being a potential fire hazard, obstructing human traffic flow, etc. etc.

    In modern day America, even kids can’t open up lemonade stands without being fined $500 for not having a business license.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the Girl Scouts were banned from selling cookies at train stations across LA for not filing paperwork or some vaguely written law that there might be someone with adverse peanut allergies that can be a hazard from the peanut cookies that they sell.

    Pretty much, cities all over America are desperate for cash, that they will find any excuse to fine you so that they can pocket more money away from hard working Americans. And they fail to realize that all of these red tape are primarily the reasons why they drive out businesses away from their cities.

  9. “The LA Metro primarily serves low-income, transit dependent folks and I don’t feel comfortable creating a profitable enterprise off of this demographic.”

    Just because it serves low-income doesn’t mean it can’t create a profitable enterprise.

    Should we then subsidize the operations of Food 4 Less and 99 Cent Only Stores to make all the food, groceries, and household sold there to be free because they cater primarily to low-income households? Should these companies be forbidden to make profit?

  10. In sharp contrast, the US also home to the world’s largest airport newsstand retailer:

    So why would newspaper stands work at airport terminals and would not work on a smaller scale like the Red Line? They both have people waiting for transportation. And it’s not like you can access WiFi on the subway underground to read on your smartphone.

  11. In regards to systems sustained solely with fares: I think in the LA case, public transit should be exclusively subsidized and should be free to ride. The LA Metro primarily serves low-income, transit dependent folks and I don’t feel comfortable creating a profitable enterprise off of this demographic. Each system is different, and I think maybe Metrolink could be a system that would potentially benefit from working toward complete farebox recovery.

  12. One reason there is a lack of retail and 7-11’s inside the Red Line Station is that metro can’t use its money earmarked for transporation construction for anything else. So If retail were to show up in those stations private money has to be used to construct them just like Rush at 7th and Metro or the shops in Union Station.

    As for Newspapers stands, I see them as a slowly dying business as more people start moving to smart phones, tablets for their reading needs. So there is probably not much viability in getting any significant amount of revenue for them. Plus LA does not seem to have a big newspaper stand culture like other cities, just walk around dowtown and see the conditions of the on-street newspaper stands.

    • I agree on the point about newspaper stands. And the cities in which they’re very common all had tabloid-form newspapers: Post, Daily News and Newsday in New York, Sun-Times in Chicago, Herald in Boston. That said, I do think there are businesses that could work and perhaps even newstands that emphasize magazines or coffee.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  13. A study on how Asian mass transit is able to make profits on their own is a good place to start. It may not cover the all of the operational costs for LA Metro, but looking to them to see what they are doing right so that we can start reducing tax dependency is something that is worth looking into.

    In that regards, why isn’t Metro taking advantage of revenue earning opportunities like multi-use of their stations? Why can’t train stations themselves be revenue makers instead of big tax suckers? Why can’t Metro Rail stations, especially those dead empty cold spaces on the Red Line, themselves be a place to do business like Union Station? Is building a newspaper stand so difficult? Why don’t we have 7-11s and retail shops, and food outlets within the station like Hong Kong? Those activities bring revenue into the system but Metro does nothing like that. It is understandable that people to be increasingly frustrated that Metro’s answer to everything is more taxes instead of learning from Asia on different ways to boost their revenues.

  14. @Metro is prejudiced,

    In addition to what was previosly stated, this is an English langauge Blog. The articles being referenced are in English. That may give a natural selection bias to the articles, but not one that we can blame on the Metro staff.
    My $0.02

  15. @ Metro is prejudiced, many of us readers are well-travelled and have lived abroad. I’ve had wonderful experiences on Asian transit systems as well as European and North American transit systems. Even Asian systems could learn a thing or two from Moscow about how to run rail for one of the largest volumes with the shortest headways, often two minutes or less. However, a good transit system is one that serves its market; it considers pricing, connectivity, frequency, and parking versus development patterns and, most importantly, user behavior. Obviously, not all markets are the same. Compared to Singapore, where I once lived, and Hong Kong, Los Angeles is very dissimilar – with it’s numerous independent municipalities, a preponderance of single-family dwellings, extremely high vehicle ownership rates, and egalitarian tradition toward transportation costs. nUnderstandably, Metro often references other transit networks with more similar market forces and built environments. The analysis is often more well-considered than just the trite matter of skin tone.

  16. It’s probably because of some lame gov’t excuse: “it’s not in our best interest to pollute taxpayers’ minds that mass transit can be run for profit with stable fares, without resorting to taxes, and under private enterprise like Asia.”

    You just have to think how these gov’t bureaucrats work. They live off of your taxes. The CTA example is just that; CTA makes no money, it faces a $277 million budget deficit with no idea how to pay for itself except for the same old, “higher fares, higher taxes, service cuts” options. http://chicagoist.com/2011/11/18/cta_budget_presumes_unlikely_labor.php

    These guys need us to survive because they love their cushy gov’t jobs of being paid six digit incomes from our tax dollars even though they’re doing a poor job that if they were to work in the private sector, they be fired in an instant.

    So what are they going to do? They’re not going to show you anything that hurts their best interests. Asia runs their mass transit operations with minimal or no taxes, they run for profit, and they are private enterprise. The US runs their public transit are in sharp contrast, gov’t owned and relies heaviliy on tax payer support. Of course they’re not going to show how Asia runs them, because if they do, they’ll just be strangling their own necks that people don’t NEED tax payer support to make mass transit work.

    Why do you think LA protects itself from private enterprise cab companies from picking up passengers at bus stops? Is it because “for passenger safety and not blocking the curb where they are reserved for buses” or is really because it’s a way to protect the Metro tax monopoly on transit?

    Don’t trust gov’t people. Anything they say from their mouths has an ulterior meaning. That’s just how gov’t works.

  17. Why do these “What happening at other transit agencies” articles never show us how Asia runs transit? Why is it always countries where whites are the majority? Do they assume that only white majority countries know how to run transit better?

    Sorry folks, it has been shown time and time again, Asia runs mass transit better. Learn from the best folks, and start showing examples of how the ASIANS do transit!

    We don’t care about articles about other failing examples of other failing public transit systems in the US. We want to know more about what other cities, notably in Asia, are doing right and see what idea can be implemented here!

    Like the CTA article! $2.25 for a public transit no matter how short or far? Who the heck is going to ride that!? No wonder they’re broke! And if that’s a way Metro thinks they can convince people here that ours is cheap or dangle the sword above our heads saying “if you don’t want to have high fares like $2.25 like in Chicago, you’d better pass the tax bills we want” they must think we’re idiots or something.

    • To “Metro is prejudiced”:

      If you go back through the posts in the series you’ll see plenty of articles about how transit is run in other countries, including Asia, Europe and Latin America. I make a point of featuring a variety of transit stories, including ones about capital projects, vehicle technologies, operations, financing, fare policy, advertisement, marketing, etc. In fact, in the last roundup I wrote I included a story about how Tokyo is experimenting with new smartphone-based advertising methods.

      That said, any given week’s roundup of stories may not feature the stories you’re interested in reading about. After all, I’m limited by what other media sources are writing about or what interesting news I can dig up. And frankly, there aren’t a lot of stories about how everything is going fine in Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul. Perhaps that’s too bad — there’s a lot American transit agencies can learn from Asian cities. You’ll never find me claiming otherwise or trying to obfuscate that.

      Carter Rubin
      Contributor, The Source