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Reinventing Transport in Cities: Pillar 1- Public transport should be free

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  • eric.britton@ecoplan.org
    With all due respect Brendan, and I do very much appreciate those three important points you bring up (see below), I really do believe that the time has come
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 3, 2007
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      With all due respect Brendan, and I do very much appreciate those three important points you bring up (see below), I really do believe that the time has come in which we have to set aside just about all of our traditional thinking and practices about how we finance and deliver transport in cities and in the process come up with a whole new game plan.  The Chicago experience, so very typical in many respects, makes it clear above all to me that  we simply cannot afford to tinker any longer with the old models, which clearly are not working by any of a thousand balanced criteria.   


      The emerging new model, which many of  us here are trying very hard to help bring out from the woodwork, the so-called New Mobility Agenda, is predicated on an entirely different set of assumptions, one of them being that a whole dynamic range of seamless “non-own-car” services are needed, that these can and will be provided by a much broader spectrum of players than in the old binary mobility model, and that one of these has to be a basic underpinning of available-to-all public services which are in effect a “free” or at the very least a fully seamless public utility.  


      And yes of course I am well aware of the abuses that such free services can lead to, and this note will not be the place to elaborate or to defend the basic concept. I might add however that in my view at least the services should not be altogether free, since it is important for many reasons to have full feedback about system use and patronage trends, etc., which means some kind of smart card, and this it seems to me to be fair and good to ask people to pay for. 


      The end goal has to be to get the very great majority of private cars out of the city, and in order to achieve that we are going to have to provide “better than car” mobility systems. Hop-on, hop-off  transit is part of this necessary package, an essential  foundation stone for the rest.


      How to pay for it?  How to deliver it? And how do you, how do we assure the necessary rigors of good management?  What other kinds of services are needed to fill out the mobility spectrum, and what do we need to do to  we get them on board?


      These are the kinds of question that we should be asking ourselves. And finding cities and city leaders who want to get involved in making this new model of transport and society.  This has to be a teamwork undertaking

      Eric Britton


      PS. Some of you may wish to check out our in-process Reinventing Transport in Cities site at www.climate.newmobility.org. In addition to the Workpad examples, more will appear there shortly on the on-going Chicago rethink.



      -----Original Message-----
       On Behalf Of Brendan Finn
      Saturday, September 01, 2007 2:42 PM


      Dear Eric, Sujit,


      I have argued many times against cheap fare policies (i.e. deliberate under-pricing) and that transit should be as close to self-financing as it can achieve. I have argued three main points:


      1) All choice users and many non-choice users have the affordability to pay more than "cheap", and most would be willing to do so for better quality. Under-priced transit uses up the available funds for wealth-transfer, leaving little for quality improvements or reinvestment. Public funds should be spent on service, quality and infrastructure, not on low fares.


      2) The vulnerable within society can be supported by subsidising transit passes for them (rather than for all users) and this should be done through welfare funding channels rather than transit funding channels. This better protects the funding source since politicians and administrators would have to overtly remove welfare from those who need it, at risk of heavy political backlash.


      3) Cheap fares require heavy subsidies, and these inevitably tend to keep growing. The transit is then totally at the mercy of the funder. Sooner or later, an administration will come in who decides to cut the subsidy program. They can dress it up in many ways - national austerity measures, correct 'inefficiency and profligacy' (as Eric quotes), moving to a user-pays principle, etc., etc. - we are all familiar with these dreaded sea-changes. Tariffs increase dramatically, services are thinned out and quieter routes closed, customer support programs are slashed, investment is put on hold, quality programs are shelved, important management functions are shut down, and confrontation arises with labour as hard measures are forced through. Patronage is lost, good working relationships are lost, the development effort of a few decades goes down the drain, and the innovators and developers in the management team are pushed aside for the bean-counters. Instability and down-sizing kill user confidence in a way that takes decades to recover.


      Chicago seems to be yet another example of the vulnerability of transit once subsidy becomes a significant part of its income stream. I have no moral or economic argument against subsidy for transit - the more public funds the better, if used wisely. However, it is a Faustian Pact, and a day of reckoning eventually comes. Transit planners and managers should think long and hard about the bargains they enter - they owe it to their customers, their city and their workers.


      With best wishes,




        ----- Original Message -----

        From: eric.britton@...

        Sent: Saturday, September 01, 2007 10:10 AM


       Dear Sujit and Sustran friends,


      Don't think that our Chicago CTA friends have made these moves with joy in their hearts.  The fact is that they have been trapped by state legislators (many of whom have their power base in rural and small town areas) who have decided to, in a phrase, "punish the CTA for their inefficiency and profligacy". Typically "old mobility" and terribly wrong headed, but if this were only the only city and agency that this kind of thing were to take place this would be a happier planet.


        In point of fact I have just come back from a lively week on brainstorming session with a group of more than forty experts and agencies around the table, where we gave our full attention to the possibility of "Reinventing Transport in Chicago".  You can see more of that if interested in our New Mobility/Climate Emergency Project at www.climate.newmobility.org <http://www.climate.newmobility.org/> , where I hope shortly to post some useful information on these sessions.


      In the meantime, you may fond some us in the "Workpad" that you will find on the bottom left menu of this site in process.


        Eric Britton


        ----- Original Message -----

        From: Sujit Patwardhan

        Sent: Saturday, September 01, 2007 10:10 AM


        While we feel encouraged by the excellent proposals initiated by the Mayor of New York, here is what I got from a friend about Chicago. I was under the   impression that Chicago was one of the better cities in the US in providing transit facilities.





        Here is the news:-


        To make up for poor revenues in recent years, the Chicago Transit Authority's board has approved *fare hikes *and changes to services-to include the shutting down of 39 bus routes. Bus and off-peak train fares paid in cash will rise from $2 to $2.50. During peak hours, train fares will become $3. The price of the one-day travel pass will increase from $5 to $6; the seven-day pass from $20 to $23; and the 30-day pass from $75 to $84. The changes go into effect on September 16th.



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