A Purple Line update: the downside of "Public Private Partnerships" -- they are contracts, not partnerships (+ a Penn Line infill station)
In "Purple Line moves forward," I wrote a couple weeks ago about how the Purple Line light rail program in Montgomery and Prince George's Counties in Maryland getting the go ahead, although as e-correspondent and graphic designer Paul J. Meissner says, he'll wait until the the US Secretary of Transportation actually signs the funding agreement.
In a number of posts over the years I've written about how Prince George's County and the metropolitan and region can benefit extra-normally from the addition of this line to our transit network, even if it is light rail rather than heavy rail.
The basic argument is that the Purple Line is as close as we're going to get to a Crossrail-type project. Even though it's nothing like the scale of projects in London and Paris, it does have the ability to strengthen significantly the fixed rail transit network in Metropolitan Washington.
(The Crossrail project creates new east-west railroad lines in London and its suburbs, adding 10 new stations and providing connections to 30 existing stations. The project includes 11 miles of twin tunnels in London proper out of 73 miles of new trackline.)
-- "Maybe the Purple Line light rail project in Suburban Maryland is a lot bigger deal than is recognized (It's our Crossrail)," 2016
Later, in a series of posts totaling many tens of thousands of words, I laid out a program to seize the Purple Line as an opportunity to drive other complementary changes across the transit network which would both make the Purple Line more successful from the outset and improve significantly the transit network at the metropolitan and regional scales.
-- "Setting the stage for the Purple Line light rail line to be an overwhelming success: Part 2 | proposed parallel improvements across the transit network," 2017
This piece lists 19 items to improve the existing transit network, leveraging the development of the Purple Line as a way to do so:
- Change the WMATA Metrorail map so that it includes the Purple Line and regional railroad services
- Integrate the Purple Line light rail line into the Metrorail fare system
- Integrate MARC fares into the SmarTrip/ CharmCard fare media system
- Introduce bi-directional passenger rail service between DC and Frederick on the MARC Brunswick Line
- Consider charging DC-Montgomery County trips on a bi-directional Brunswick Line using the Metrorail/Purple Line tolling/fare schedule. That would treat mileage from railroad trips in the context of a complete (linked) trip on railroad+subway+light rail as a single fare
- The White Flint Sector Plan calls for an infill MARC station. Plans to build that station should be accelerated as part of this proposal
- Provide integrated train arrival information screens at Metrorail, Light Rail, and MARC stations
- Provide integrated bus arrival and departure information screens at Metrorail, Light Rail, and MARC stations
- Bus service in certain corridors between DC and Maryland should be extended and/or frequency increased to better link these areas to the new light rail service
- Montgomery County bus system improvements with the launch of the Purple Line and bi-directional service on the MARC Brunswick Line should include launch of planned Bus Rapid Transit services
- Rearticulate, rebrand, and reposition-extend the Prince George's County TheBus bus transit service. Change the name of the service and the graphic design of the bus livery
- Consider a redesign and rebranding of the metropolitan area's bus systems into an integrated framework, comparable to that of GoTransit in the Raleigh-Durham area
- Set the opening of the Purple Line as the deadline for the integration of the MARC Penn Line and VRE Fredericksburg Line into one combined railroad passenger service
- Set the opening of the Purple Line as the deadline for the implementation of a full-fledged integrated Night Owl bus network for the DC metropolitan area
- Create a cheap weekend pass to use the local transit network, especially Metrorail
- Incorporate quantum improvements in bicycle facilities across the mobility network in association with the launch of the Purple Line
- Rearticulate transportation demand management programming and services in conjunction with the PL launch, including a single network of "customer information centers"
- WMATA should upgrade its Metrorail station bus shelters
- Create "sustainable mobility" corridors in Silver Spring (and other places), complementing the new PL.
Update 1: Adding a New York Avenue infill MARC station to what I called the "Washington Area Transit Network Purple Line Complementary Improvements Program."
The comment thread on yesterday's piece looking at industrial land uses, including railroads, in DC's Ward 5, mentioned the concept of an infill MARC railroad station to serve the New York Avenue corridor.
That should have been included as an additional recommendation in the Purple Line complementary improvements piece, just as accelerating the creation of the White Flint MARC station was recommended as point #6.
I will go back and add this in. I did discuss it in the 2015 piece on applying London Overground principles to MARC and WMATA.
It would have to be on the Penn Line, because the line has 7 day service, and has hourly service roughly throughout the day til about 10 pm.
This would be done with the expectation that the MARC and WMATA fare media systems would be integrated (recommendation #3) and it would be possible to charge the equivalent of Metrorail fares for people getting on at this station and traveling "short" distances (recommendation #5).
Otherwise, the minimum fare on MARC is $5, and that is onerous for a short trip to Union Station. The special fare zone should include eastbound trips to New Carrollton also.
But if this is done in association with a merger of the Penn Line and the VRE Fredericksburg Line (recommendation #13), it would be even more useful. Also see ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines").
Last week, I was talking to someone who is particularly well placed, who made very clear that the concessionaire tasked with building and operating the Purple Line is committed only to executing and implementing what's specified in the contract, nothing more, nothing less.
Granted, these proposed transit network improvements for the most part have little to do with the Purple Line.
But the point illustrates the fact that "Public Private Partnerships" aren't "partnerships." They are "service contracts"/"long term leases to build/operate infrastructure."
The advantage of such contracts in transit is that unlike when money is allocated by elected officials who can always find something else to spend money on instead of paying for maintenance, the private operator will meet the terms of the contract in terms of maintenance, schedule, on-time service, etc. So at the very least, the line is likely to be better maintained than if it were under the direct operation of the typical transit agency.
But the Lessee won't spend money on anything else, or look to change the terms of the contract to make the transit and mobility system "better" overall, because they are not responsible for making the transit network better, they are only responsible for building and operating the Purple Line light rail., a sub-component of the transit network.
While this isn't privatization exactly, it's more a long term lease than a partnership, just as the parking structure and parking meter contract in Chicago has no elements within it that create a partnership between the City of Chicago and the owner of the lease ("A lesson to cities that they need to be very careful when leasing assets to public private "partnerships"").
It's a straight up deal, structured to favor the lessee.
FWIW, this is a problem with government contracting in general. The companies on the other side of the contract tend to have a lot more experience negotiating these types of contracts and they extract every advantage possible.
While there are municipal groups like the National League of Cities, the National Association of Counties, the International City County Management Association, and the Public Technology Institute, which can provide technical assistance, it doesn't seem as if local governments work as a national network to improve their capacity collectively to improve their negotiating positions (advertising and bus shelter contracts are another example).