Thursday, May 24, 2018

It might be time to dump Transdev

The T-P ran a pretty good feature last weekend on one of the more striking failures of the "Regional Transit Authority."  It has never managed to become "regional" in any respect other than its name.  Parish participation in RTA is voluntary and, over the years, all but Orleans Parish have opted out leaving the region with separate and largely incompatible transit systems.

This is particularity frustrating for riders in Jefferson and Orleans who need to cross between the state's two most populous parishes on their daily commutes.
No one has tallied exactly how much this hurts riders and our region's economy. But hurt it does, experts agree. Like Stevens, riders must spend hours taking several buses, many of which require a transfer from one parish's transit system to another -- a burden that tends to disproportionately affects lower-income workers who most rely on public transit.
I should point out there are some problems with this article. Despite this bit about the "burden on lower-income workers" the story gives too much emphasis to the needs of employers and of people like Michael Hecht who really just need the transit system to be efficient at getting the low-income workforce in and out of the gentrified city where they obviously are not expected to live anymore.

Also, in that vein, it repeatedly asserts that transit problems were a knock against the New Orleans area in the Amazon HQ sweepstakes, again, under the assumption that "winning" that race to the corporate welfare bottom was actually a desirable outcome.

All that aside, the articles do point out one commonality between RTA and JET.  Both systems are currently operated by the same private company.
One idea floated during interviews is to consolidate the operations of neighboring transit agencies under a single operator. Sharonda Williams, the most recent chairwoman of the RTA, says that could theoretically be done through a multi-parish cooperative endeavor agreement.

It's not a stretch of the imagination: RTA and Jefferson Transit are both currently managed by Paris-based Transdev , though the two parishes have separate contracts with the company. Transdev also runs ferry service for RTA from Algiers to Chalmette in St. Bernard Parish, marking a rare stroke of regionalism loosely organized around one company.
Unfortunately no one in this story asks why we couldn't consolidate systems and boot Transdev out anyway. Its RTA contract is expiring next year. Transit activists and watchdog groups are already suggesting that RTA consider other options before renewing.
TransitCenter unveiled a study last year that criticized the RTA’s lack of in-house oversight of Transdev, depicting the arrangement as an example of the pitfalls that can occur under such public-private partnerships.
The groups don't explicitly say the PPP model should be abandoned but they do suggest looking at different operators and the structure of the working relationship.  Interestingly, the newly appointed interim director had a hand in a Landrieu administration push for more hands-on control from the RTA side of things.  Not sure what that means going forward but one thing that does deserve attention is the relative inefficiency of the current arrangement.
RTA collected more than $75 million in state and local sales taxes, and about $18 million in fares last year, according to its financial statements. Compare that with the roughly $13 million total budget approved this year for Jefferson Transit, which makes around $3 million annually in fares and $6.5 million from two millages.

"We don't have extra money," said Sharon Leader, JeT's executive director. "For transit, you need a lot of money."

Ride New Orleans' annual report acknowledged that high costs pose a barrier for more service "both in terms of pure cost and in rallying public support and trust for additional founding." The advocacy group said among 20 comparable peer transit agencies, the RTA had the second highest operating costs in 2015 at $134 per bus operating hour. Only Detroit was higher.
 What is the point of contracting out operations at all, let alone to Transdev in particular? 

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