Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Answering the question: How will Lyft Shuttle change public transit?

Posed by the Los Angelees public radio station KPCC, in response to the launch of a "private bus" by Lyft ("How will Lyft Shuttle change public transit?").

The answer is: not much.

If bus transit were profitable, the private sector would already be doing it -- see for example the history of why "transit" became "public transit" as the public sector took over previously private transit services, which were no longer operable without subsidy, as the nature of the market especially competition from the automobile as well as the decreased profitability as land use and population deconcentrated or "spread out."

See the more recent failures of Bridg ("Lessons from the collapse of Bridj: Quality counts, but transportation also requires subsidies," CommonWealth Magazine) and the premium bus service that Marc Andreesen and others tried to launch in San Francisco ("Behind the Failure of Leap Transit's Gentrified Buses in San Francisco," New York Times).

There are only so many people going to the same destinations to make it worthwhile to spend lots of money on expensive bus vehicles, etc.

From the CityLab article "Leap Transit is Dead, Long Live Public Transit":
The start-up mindset is especially problematic for private transit ventures because there’s no way to make loads of money charging bus prices for taxi services—at least, not the type of profit that conjures Justin Timberlake’s line in The Social Network that a million dollars isn’t cool, but a billion is. There’s a reason taxis cost a lot more than buses: they provide a personal chauffeur who follows a customized route. And there’s a reason it takes public funding to keep transit systems afloat. A taxi ride at a bus price won’t pencil out unless you find a revolutionary way to connect riders and rides or artificially undercut your own prices to boost volume—and even Uber, which has done both these things better than anyone, is considered by transportation experts to be severely overvalued.

Written by James Aloisi, a former Secretary of Transportation for the State of Massachusetts, the CommonWealth Magazine article is definitely worth a read for the insights it offers on innovation in transportation in the context of the role of the public sector.

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