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Getting to the Route of it: The Role of Governance in Regional Transit

Posted by Content Coordinator on Thursday, October 16th, 2014


The Route of ItIn 2013, a group of researchers, including the Eno Center for Transportation, visited Chicago to analyze the region’s transit issues and make recommendations that could help Chicago’s Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) overcome recurrent challenges in the distribution of transit funds. It soon became clear that RTA did not actually have a funding distribution problem—instead RTA’s problems were rooted in the institutional arrangements that governed the region’s transit network. The study also revealed that flaws in RTA’s governance structure impeded its ability to coordinate regional transit service and related investment decisions, and contributed to chronic underinvestment in Chicago’s transit network.

This revelation led to an obvious question: could regional governance be at the root of problems faced by transit systems in other regions? Some regions have struggled to create universal farecards with updated technology. Other regions have targeted investment to new projects while neglecting the core network. Many regions struggle with coordinating service and interfaces between different operators or transit modes. If regions attempt to solve these problems without resolving their governance issues, they—like Chicago—may be fighting a losing battle.

To learn more about how governance affects transit performance outcomes, Eno partnered with TransitCenter to travel to five other complex, urbanized areas to study their transit systems and the structures that govern them. The aim was to explore how different regional governance structures help foster—or hinder—the ability of different transit systems to deliver improved service, mobility, and innovation. This report summarizes insights and conclusions drawn from the experience of these six regions. Its findings are qualitative and inherently subjective as they are largely based on interviews conducted with senior officials at numerous organizations in each of the study regions. The goal of the report is to provide a resource for local- and state-level policy makers interested in understanding the transit governance structures of other regions, and in exploring opportunities to improve performance and customer experience on their systems. While recognizing that each region is unique in its history, jurisdictional boundaries, and transit network organization, this report concludes with several recommendations for improving existing transit governance structures.

This study is framed around the relationships between regionalism, funding, and customer service. An effective governance structure must address the fact that most bus and rail lines do not end, and should not end, at a city, county, or state border. Like other regional networks, transit can be more effective when it is planned, organized, and operated with a regional perspective. This report not only examines the governance of individual transit agencies, but also the larger interactions between organizations and the influence of funding and governance on the way investments and decisions are made. Recognizing that the ultimate goal of regional transit is to add economic, social, and environmental value by efficiently moving residents and visitors, this study adopts a customer perspective when evaluating different transit governance structures and their ability to deliver the kinds of services that enable regional economies to succeed.

The case study regions are Chicago, Boston, Dallas/Fort Worth, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York City Tri-State region, and the San Francisco Bay Area. As a group, they represent diverse geographic regions and distinct approaches to complex transit governance issues. Through conversations with experts in each region, the team compiled key themes and lessons from each region and supplemented this research with additional data where necessary. Every case study was evaluated independently to demonstrate the different approaches that regions have taken, with varying degrees of success, to foster regional connectivity.

Download full version (PDF): The Route of It

About the Eno Center for Transportation
The Eno Center for Transportation (Eno) is a neutral, non-partisan think 
tank that promotes policy innovation and leads professional development 
in the transportation industry. As part of its mission, Eno seeks continuous 
improvement in transportation and its public and private leadership in order to 
improve the system’s mobility, safety, and sustainability.

About TransitCenter
TransitCenter is an independent civic philanthropy dedicated to sparking 
innovations and supporting policies that improve public transportation.
TransitCenter believes new approaches are needed to change the urban 
landscape and empower communities, policymakers, businesses, and riders to 
take action. TransitCenter works through research, convenings, collaborations, 
and publications that inform and improve the practice of planning, financing, 
and operating transit that bolsters the overall vitality of our cities.

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