Examination of Regional Transit Service Under Contracting: A Case Study in the Greater New Orleans Region

Hiroyuki Iseki

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Many local governments and transit agencies in the United States face financial difficulties in providing adequate public transit service in individual systems, and in providing sufficient regional coordination to accommodate transit trips involving at least one transfer between systems. These difficulties can be attributed to the recent economic downturn, continuing withdrawal of the state and federal funds that help support local transit service, a decline in local funding for transit service in inner cities due to ongoing suburbanization, and a distribution of resources that responds to geographic equity without addressing service needs.

This study examines two main research questions: (1) the effect of a “delegated management” contract on efficiency and effectiveness within a single transit system, and (2) the effects of a single private firm—contracted separately by more than one agency in the same region—on regional coordination, exploring the case in Greater New Orleans. The current situation in New Orleans exhibits two unique transit service conditions. First, New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA) executed a “delegated management” contract with a multinational private firm, outsourcing more functions (e.g., management, planning, funding) to the contractor than has been typical in the U.S. Second, as the same contractor has also been contracted by another transit agency in an adjacent jurisdiction—Jefferson Transit (JeT), this firm may potentially have economic incentives to improve regional coordination, in order to increase the productivity and effectiveness of its own transit service provision.

Although the limited amount of available operation and financial data has prevented us from drawing more definitive conclusions, the findings of this multifaceted study should provide valuable information on a transit service contracting approach new to the U.S.: delegated management. This study also identified a coherent set of indices with which to evaluate the regional coordination of transit service, the present status of coordination among U.S. transit agencies, and barriers that need to be resolved for regional transit coordination to be successful.