By Mary Velan
The public and private sectors have long been working together on transit projects across the country – ranging from traditional infrastructure to new technological innovations. Transit experts are now looking to public-private partnerships to create smarter, more efficient transportation networks based on data analytics.
Currently, many cities nationwide are working with private sector transportation agencies to gain insight into how networks are operating. For example, data collected by ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft help cities identify gaps and friction points in existing public transit systems, and assist in planning projects in the future to correct these inefficiencies. City planners use the data to understand how private sector transportation services prevent individuals from taking a personal car for their trip, which can be applied to public transit systems looking to achieve the same goal of congestion reduction, GCN reported.
Furthermore, the data collected from private transit agencies can help inform policy and manage roadways more effectively on a day-to-day basis or during specific circumstances such as storms or major events. Cities can also test new initiatives and gauge the the impact of these pilots on traffic, emissions or overall efficiency. These strategies can include efforts not directly related to transportation but may still influence traffic flow such as housing policy or parking requirements, GCN reported.
In many communities, public transit services seem to clash with private sector companies such as Uber. If both sides collaborating toward the same goal, however, the agencies could work seamlessly together to meet the needs of residents while reducing congestion. The partnerships are key in preserving public transportation as a government service – not a for-profit venture – while enabling growth. Therefore, all transit data should be compiled an analyzed to help both public and private agencies measure their effectiveness through certain metrics to increase accountability. Experts recommend cities not only collaborate with private transit agencies, but also make real-time transportation data sharing as easy as possible for both parties, GCN reported.
The Perks and the Pitfalls
According to the National League of Cities there are three main benefits of public private transit partnerships for cities to enjoy, specifically when it comes to financing:
- Access to funding
Private financing can allow the completion of projects that may otherwise be delayed due to public financing limitations.
- Faster and less expensive project implementation
Time and money can be saved when P3 projects have a fixed fee and cities gain access to private sector efficiency.
- Economic development and investment opportunities
Transit investments typically lead to housing and business growth as well, so local businesses should be involved in transit investments.
- Access to private sector expertise
The private sector offers specialized management capacity for transit projects such as access to innovative expertise and additional capital.
There are still some risks and barriers to consider when embarking on a P3 project such as:
- State legislation regulating/limiting public private partnerships for transit projects
- Private partner bankruptcy or default
- Stakeholder perceptions that can lead to public distrust in the project
Therefore, the NLC has outlined a list of strategies that help ensure an effective public private partnership:
- Carefully choose the private sector partner that demonstrates experience and financial stability
- Consider the potential revenue stream in terms of reliance and sustainability, which will impact future investments
- Effectively communicate with stakeholders to clarify the nature of the partnership to dispel disastrous misconceptions
- Create a government structure that works exclusively with P3’s to increase transparency, accountability and performance
- Maintain the proper balance of public and private funding through market analyses and cost projections
One example of a public private partnership working toward a common goal can be found in Southwestern Pennsylvania where a group of public sector and business professionals from 10 counties in the region are working to identify the area’s immediate and long-term transit needs. Through a crowdsourcing effort, the Regional Transportation Alliance of Southwestern Pennsylvania is gathering information on transportation demands and disparities to find efficient solutions, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.
The regional partnership is collecting feedback from more than 700 organizations on what their transit needs, concerns and priorities are. The organizations include:
- Large employers
- Labor unions
- Arts and cultural organizations
- Large school districts
- Environmental and health advocacy groups
The regional alliance is focusing on gathering data from a diverse pool of local groups to ensure no transit need is missed. The participants will be asked what the current transportation problems are and what are some possible solutions. After the information is gathered, one public and one private sector representative from each county and the city of Pittsburgh will analyze the data for a full report. The alliance will then discuss the findings and brainstorm solutions as part of an on-going transit improvement initiative, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.