9.2.18

CONSIDER A DIFFERENT FUNDING MODEL.

A Florida transit planner takes a ride on Brightline. "While I loved my travel experience, as a planner, I'm keenly aware that Brightline’s service model cannot be easily copied by public transportation agencies."  Perhaps the place to start, dear reader, is by reworking the public agency model.  Let's start with Ms Whitton's contrasts.  "Brightline cost billions to build, and it was built without direct public funding. That being said, several things give it an advantage that public transportation agencies do not have."

First, "[Florida East Coast] has owned or had exclusive access to right-of-way for the railroad tracks for more than a century."  Unlike the legacy commuter train operators of the big cities, who sought public assistance with the operating deficits, leading to a situation in which the subsidy-paying agency might be at odds with the freight railroad that owns the tracks, Florida East Coast are starting this service, and adding capacity, ab initio.

Second, "All Aboard Florida’s business model includes revenues from nearby real estate developments."  I've called that the "Sim Trump" approach to railroad construction, and it seems to work in Japan.  But such "value capture" isn't so easily done by Commuter Rail operators (the prospect of Chicago's Metra getting too close to well-connected Pritzkers or McCaskeys isn't just a theoretical worry.)

Third, "During my ride, I noticed several 'official partners' of Brightline."  In plain language, naming rights (and well-patronized trains won't be white elephants.)  But again, where you have a government agency, with a monopoly on generating rents, you have the risk of corruption.  "While some larger transit agencies such a RTD in Denver and CTA in Chicago have corporate partnerships, the procurement rules or politics within most local governments would prohibit this revenue source."

Perhaps Brightline is a rarity, maybe even a one-off.  And yet, there might be ways for the Passenger Rail authorities to change their procedures.
It is a false assumption that public transit agencies can use Brightline’s entire playbook, but they can use some of its plays. There aren’t many locations where right-of-way is readily-available and cheap. Brightline also had access to developable land for transit-oriented development in already booming neighborhoods – an expensive and infrequent possibility in most cities. Generating revenue, such as with corporate sponsorships, is more realistic.
Put another way, rather than having the public money provide "demonstration projects," here is an entrepreneurial demonstration project that the Commuter Rail authorities might emulate.

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