Reforming Mass Transit in America - with Nicole Gelinas and Nick Zaiac

In episode 4 of the Market Urbanism podcast, we talk about why mass transit ridership is declining in America – and how it can be reformed. In segment 1, we discuss the New York MTA’s ongoing struggles with Nicole Gelinas, a senior fellow for the Manhattan Institute. In segment 2, we discuss how transit should be built in sprawl cities with Nick Zaiac, a commercial freedom fellow at the R Street Institute.

Show Notes:

0:47 Scott Beyer begins his editorial on the state of American mass transit

1:47 Martha Ekdahl says what we can learn from the failed Nashville transit ballot

2:46 Antonio Grana on the need for transit bureaucracies to be more flexible

4:29 Beyer asks the two co-hosts from New Jersey what their thoughts are on the New York MTA

6:12 beginning of interview with Nicole Gelinas

8:33 Beyer asks Gelinas why NYC’s subways are in such bad condition

12:52 Gelinas: “we’ve only built 4 subway stations since the 1930s”

13:02 Grana asks Gelinas how MTA compares to other global transit systems in spending efficiency

14:17 Gelinas: “93% of New York’s transit ridership is on the subways and buses. But more than half of our capital spending for new projects goes to suburban rail projects…the resources of spending all of this money towards the 7% of people who take commuter rails – it doesn’t make a lot of sense, and is really done for political reasons.”

15:27 Grana asks her what the solution is to these politicized misappropriations.

19:40 Beyer asks her why there isn’t more political outrage about MTA’s dysfunction

20:44 Sergio Rodrigues asks her how the high cost problem will eventually get fixed. Gelinas’ says it will require a real political reckoning:

It always takes a crisis. I’m not an advocate of that, but that’s how it is. Giuliani was elected on a crime crisis. Bloomberg was elected on the crisis of us thinking we couldn’t attract people and rebuild after 9-11. And we may start to see some elections that are based on the transit crisis.

23:37 beginning of interview with Nick Zaiac, starts by discussing Nashville’s failed referendum

25:52 Ekdahl asks Zaiac about merits of BRT, designated bus lanes

27:30 Beyer asks him about importance of frequency versus coverage

30:03 Beyer asks him whether the public transit industry should really focus on fixed routes

32:51 Rodrigues asks him about the scalability of private jitneys

35:51 Grana asks him what role private automobiles should play in city transportation networks

38:00 Beyer asks if it’s wise for cities to begin contracting out their transit services to private rideshare

39:22 Grana asks whether increasing transit frequency will have to mean increasing transit budgets.

41:07 Beyer asks Zaiac if there are fundamental flaws with the idea of governments running transit. His answer:

I think most of this transit is going to fall somewhere between public and private. That said, the public agencies that do run these [systems] are managed by political actors. That is what defines all of this. These are political choices about where and how to run transit. And so long as they are political choices by people who are elected, not the market, then they will forever struggle with the same kind of standard public choice and governance problems.

42:29 hosts react to both interviews