Monday, August 02, 2010

Split Up UTA?

Sound Transit stop with Metro flagImage by Atomic Taco via Flickr

In my recent comments on contracting out, someone made a comment that the UTA should be split up into different agencies covering the different counties. While I have shown how that could be done in the past, we also must look at the good and the unintended consequences of this type of action.

First of all lets take a look at the good points.

By splitting up the system, the new agencies would be able to respond more quickly to changes in riding habits in their service area.

In addition, you would know that sales tax dollars generated in those counties are being used for those counties.

On the other hand there is the unintended consequences.

First of all how would the system be administered? Would UTA continue to control the money and then distribute it to the individual agencies? If UTA continues to run inter-county services and rail services how would you distribute the funds between the agencies? Will the state legislature and their self interest control the purse strings and send money to their own pet projects?

Second, the major advantage we have with having UTA is that we don't have a bunch of little agencies that protect their own turf and do a poor job and coordinating service with other agencies. The Cap'n Transit blog talked about the lack of coordination in the New York area and we could face the same problems here:

The Black Hole of Transit Coordination

While the problems here in Utah would in now way shape or form be the same as dealing with the super agencies in the New York City region, we would still face the same problems of agencies not coordinating service for what is best for the riders and not themselves.

Los Angeles is a perfect example of the problems of having too many agencies. Almost every city in the county has a transit service of its own, few will actually coordinate service, fares, or transfers with neighboring areas.

While having some community service is fine (such as what I talked about with Salt Lake working on its own in city service), in Los Angeles the service is extremely balkanized between regional carriers making trips across the region more difficult. For example you have light and heavy rail services operated by Metro, commuter rail service operated by Metrolink, if you are traveling to the San Gabriel valley you have service operated by both Metro and Foothill, etc.

All this creates a system that is confusing for riders unfamiliar with the system and lowers the chances that choice riders will ride the system.

Another problem would be facing is bureaucracy. Not only does bureaucracy lead to the turf wars mentioned above but you also may end up having more of it than before. How much staff would each agency have and would you be duplicating functions in the different agencies causing more money to go to overhead than before.

Seattle is another example of this situation. They have the regional agency Sound Transit that runs service in the Puget Sound region. However, each county also has its own bus service who also have their own planning agencies and do their own thing.

While splitting up the UTA may be a solution to some problems with the agency, would it end up opening a can of worms that could make service worse across the region?
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Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I would say that SF is even worse. Many overlapping agencies are much worse than Metro in LA which runs both county bus and rail service. BART, Caltrain, Muni, AC Transit are all agencies that could benefit from more coordination. Though I'm not sure what the answer is, UTA is in a good spot from my perspective.

JMD said...

Thanks for the great points. The grass is always greener...

Tim said...

Thanks for using my photo!

And regarding Sound Transit, they operate service everywhere they impose taxes. That happens to be over three counties--a combined 6,309 square miles with about 3,407,848 living in them. Sound Transit does not nor never has employed any operators or mechanics. All of their vehicle operations are subcontracted out to the agency that operates the majority of the route. For example, route 510 starts in downtown Seattle, heads north across the county line and terminates in Everett. The route is operated by the northern county. Or, route 545 which connects Seattle to Redmond (yes, there are a ton of Microsoft employees on the bus, but there are other people that ride it too). It stays inside one county and is operated by that county's transit agency.
However, Sound Transit has their own administration, their own route planners, their own GIS team, etc. They own the fleet, but it is stored and maintained at the contractor's garage (again with the contractors still being transit agencies).
It's actually quite a bit more complex than that and there are some exceptions.

cptreft said...

Now I agree with a lot that you have said here and there is one point I want to continue with. I want the Utah Transit Authority be a State wide authority. They will be concerned with the Front Runner, inter-agency transportation and the like, and that would be the extent of their authority. They will not be involved with the Cash Vally Transit District, the other new Districts or any other Transit provider. They will have the Authority to oversee these Districts but they cannot be involved with the operation and planning of these districts. That is a placation to Cash County that wants Front Runner but still be separated from the now UTA.
I also believe that as a State Agency, the State Government would have a better oversight than what they have now AS A PRIVATE AGENCY contracted to provide a Public service. Too many times people have called upon the upper management of the UTA to explain their overly high wages while services are being cut. I do NOT believe that the Director of the UTA deserves a 1/4 of a million dollar salary for a Service provider that is the size of the UTA. If the UTA becomes a State wide agency then their salary may warrant the price they are demanding, than what they are getting now.

Tammi Diaz said...

UTA has very Poor Customer Service and the Bus Routes Schedules are so Tight a Majority of Bus Routes are running late. UTA Executives do not care about Improving the Transit System, they only care about their Excessive Salaries.