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What Would Transit Look Like if it Was Built Using Business Principles?

idea 2More and more we are hearing that public transit agencies need to mirror private sector industries in their practices.  The latest article,  “Public Transit 101: read a ‘how to start a business book,'” written by Kevin C. Brown, is an interesting look at doing just that.

In answer to the “no one uses transit, so why should it be funded” question, he suggests applying business principles to transit development; treat transit like you were launching a new company or product.

To make his argument, he observes that the success of any new restaurant, mobile app, or business venture requires desirable service and a quality product.  With this in mind, he asks, would launching a substantial and convenient public transit system result in a greater adoption of transit?  Imagine, a public transit system that provided reliability, frequency of service and significant connectivity options at the outset; people would use it if it took them where they wanted to go.  For St. Louisan’s, if MetroLink service was your fastest, most convenient transport option, wouldn’t you use it too?

Another relevant piece of business knowledge is the fact that you have to invest money before you get to the point where you are going to make money or even break even.  Successful businesses understand there to be a minimum investment in a new product/venture/store/restaurant where you spend more money than you are bringing in in order to get the product off the ground. Any new start up venture would tell you that it takes time to reach a self sustaining point and that it takes money to make money.  If we applied these common sense principles to transit, wouldn’t our elected officials realize the importance of funding a good system?

Yes, transit is an expensive investment, but so were interstate systems and the roads we use and pay for on a daily basis.  Imagine if the MetroLink system had been given the same investment and financial support.  Imagine how much you would enjoy using the train to get to and from work or for play.

Transit also gives back to the community.  It brings new investment around MetroLink stations.  It puts an average of $9,000 back into your pocketbooks when you don’t have to rely on a car for everything.

All this to say, we like Mr. Brown’s premise that, “a cardinal rule of seeking consumer share is to make the product attractive in the first instance,” which is not the way of most cities across the US.  We have tended to fund transit in a piecemeal fashion, providing slow and unreliable service, only when those who need it most -the elderly, the poor, and the disabled – demand it.  What’s it going to take for all of us to recognize the value of transit and demand funding it too?

We hope you will begin to think about what it would take for you to ride transit.  Where would it take you?  Where would you meet the train?  What would make it a desirable option?  Then help us get there.  Even better, more widespread service is a possibility in a place like St. Louis.  It takes commitment, vision, and leadership from our businesses, elected officials, and commuters like yourself.

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