Transit Coordination- how the Europeans do it

This is my proposal for a Ph D Dissertation, some day….

The regulatory, political and organizational structure of effective metropolitan public transit in multi-operator multi-jurisdictional metropolitan areas: can effective models in Western Europe be applied in the United States and elsewhere?

Research Scope and Objectives
Metropolitan areas, both large and small, are typically composed of dozens or even hundreds of small, medium and large cities surrounding one or two major cities. In addition, in many areas of the world, the growth of metropolitan regions has spilled out beyond traditional boundaries. This phenomenon has been noted in the United States for at least 50 years (see, e.g., Gottman, 1961) and has also spread to regions in Europe (see, e.g., Taylor and Pain, 2006) and elsewhere in the world (Florida et al., 2007, identifying some 40 megaregions world-wide). Serving this complex political morass are often: 1) the major city’s public transit system; 2) inter-regional transit operator(s); 3) intraregional (cross-county) public transit operator(s) which are managed by either the major city or other government levels or special districts; and 4) dozens of local bus operators serving the smaller cities at the periphery of the metropolitan area. The worst-case scenario is that each transit agency sets its own fares, plans its own routes, determines its own schedules and independently performs long-range planning for future service extensions. How to organize all of these players into an effective seamless regional transit system? Good models can be found in Zurich and Stuttgart, where a traveler from the suburbs needs only a single ticket to arrive in the city center and then use all transit modes within the city; the total cost is approximately half that of buying each ticket individually and most intermodal transfers are relatively seamless. How did this come about? Who is responsible for decisions that affect different agencies and political entities? What are new institutional arrangements for organizing and delivering public infrastructure and services? This is the essence of this research proposal.
This research is to conduct a comparative study of urban and regional public policy on effective inter-agency metropolitan public transport; specifically, the purpose is to identify the organizational structure that enables the many operators and modes throughout an entire metropolitan area, to be as integrated and coordinated as possible. “Metropolitan public transport” is defined as all the players involved in planning, operating, maintaining, funding, marketing and analyzing fixed-route, scheduled passenger service open to the public, and typically includes several of the following modes: metro/subway, commuter rail, light rail, trams, local buses, express buses, BRT and occasionally cable cars, funiculars and ferries. The objectives of the study are to:
1. Determine appropriate indicators to measure the effectiveness of coordinated and integrated metropolitan public transport, and develop a rating/scoring system for integrated metropolitan public transport.
2. Choose a dozen metropolitan areas and rate the public transport integration by this methodology.
3. Choose three to five of the highly rated metropolitan areas as more detailed case studies.
• For each of the selected case studies, research how transit coordination is achieved with a focus on the legal, institutional and financial mechanisms used to support and carry out said integration.
• Examine the specific structure for decision making for transit coordination in the region.
• Determine if the mechanisms and organizational structures are periodically renewed and/or evolve with time.
4. Evaluate the extent to which the organizational structure(s) and other key organizational and institutional elements identified in the cases is replicable across country lines or are dependent on country-specific laws or culture.
5. Evaluate whether any of the institutional arrangements could be applied to US cities using the San Francisco Bay Area as a case. Identify barriers to transfer of successful transit coordination models to the US and ways to overcome those barriers.
Despite increasing focus in the past decade on smart growth and transit-oriented development, metropolitan areas in the US will continue to be composed of many political jurisdictions and many transit providers. For example, in the 8 million population San Francisco Bay Area, there are three major subcenters (San Francisco, Oakland-Berkeley, and San Jose), 101 separate cities, nine counties, six regional (multi-county) transit agencies, seven countywide transit agencies and 13 city or multi-city bus agencies, plus a ferry agency. In addition, the region has been spilling over its traditional boundaries and now involves significant commutes from three additional counties as well as overlapping commute sheds and other economic activities with the 2.5 million population Sacramento metropolitan region (160 kilometers from Oakland). This emerging megaregion means that even more jurisdictions and agencies have a stake in intra and interregional transit provision.
Every so often, there is a push by politicians and policy makers in the SF Bay Area to consolidate all the transit agencies into one giant operator. However, given the size of the metropolitan area, this approach is unlikely to be feasible. Moreover, the model of a single operator has some significant drawbacks from the perspective of labor relations, resiliency, and responsiveness to localized considerations. Furthermore, the single-operator model is not the solution used by western Europe (or arguably anywhere); these metropolitan areas recognize that local transit operators know their localities best and should remain separate from, although coordinated with, regional transit. (Krauss, 2009). Instead, mechanisms for coordination through regional Public Transport Authorities (PTA) have been established.
With the growth of metropolitan areas as well as megaregions throughout the world, there will be increasing need for effective institutional arrangements for transit coordination. Thus an assessment of effective mechanisms for inter-agency coordination is especially timely, as is an assessment of the transferability of best practices across national borders.
In 2009, I was the recipient of a German Marshall Fund fellowship for which I studied transit-oriented development in Germany and Italy. One of the main conclusions of my policy brief was that the United States needed a bold new approach in order to answer the question: What comes first – high quality mass transit service or denser land uses? I wrote: “The solution? Region-wide master planning for mass transit networks without regard to political boundaries. Just as in 1956, when the federal government committed to funding the Interstate Highway System, the United States needs a similar visionary commitment to plan, construct, and operate efficient, affordable mass transit systems in every urban area [in order to be able to] traverse the metropolitan area via one or more mass transit modes without regard to artificial boundaries.” (DeRobertis, 2010).
In the absence of such a national initiative to spend billions of dollars to plan and fund region-wide mass transit networks, I believe there is still much that can be done to coordinate transit within a metropolitan area. As part of the aforementioned fellowship, I met with representatives of Stuttgart Strassen-bahnen (SSB) and Agenzia Mobilita’ Metropolitana di Torino (AMMT) and learned about the Public Transport Authorities of Stuttgart and Torino. I would now like to pick up where my fellowship left off and study how to optimize metropolitan public transit coordination.
The State of the Art in the Field
Although there has been some research on public transit organizational theory and policy, much of it is over 15 – 20 years old, and the definition of organization varies from study to study. Vuchic (2005) addresses integration of transit services provided by different operators: “the three obstacles to achieving full integration of the multiple transit services are historic, political/legal and organizational”. The first PTA to provide coordinated, integrated metropolitan public transport was in Hamburg Germany, called a “verkehrsverbund” (Vuchic, 2005). Cervero (1998) wrote that a “verkehrsverbund is the ideal organizational approach for providing integrated transit service”. The concept quickly spread to other cities in Germany then western Europe as well as South Africa (Raboroko and Whitehead, 2009) and Brazil (Peixoto, 2009). Indeed there is now an Association of European Metropolitan Transport Authorities (EMTA) which was formed in 1998 to serve as a “venue for exchange of information and best practices” (EMTA 2008). It currently has 30 members and has several publications; EMTA will undoubtedly be an invaluable resource for this research.
Joachim Krauss’ power point presentation (Krauss 2009) explains the Greater Stuttgart Region’s model. The premise is that public transit in metropolitan areas needs three levels: 1) Public Agencies, 2) the Transport Coordinator (PTA), and 3) the Operators. The boundaries between the three levels are drawn differently in every PTA and even within PTA’s. The Greater Stuttgart Region’s PTA, Verkehrs-und Tarifverbund Stuttgart (VVS), coordinates five counties, 179 municipalities and 40+ operators in terms of fare coordination, collection and distribution, schedule coordination and conceptual planning. Half of the Board are representatives of political jurisdictions and half represent transit operators.
In October 2011, the Florence School of Regulation held the First European Urban Transport Regulation Forum on “Role, Functions and Status of Transport Authorities” which I attended. Pedro Abrantes’ presentation explained England’s system of “Passenger Transport Executives” which “provide, plan, procure and promote passenger transport in the six largest English conurbations outside London.” (Abrantes 2011).
Eugene Jud described the excellent transit setting of the metropolitan area of Zurich and strongly recommended it as a case study, and recommended Nash 2001 for further reading (Jud 2011). Cervero (1998) reported Zurich has twice as many public transit trips per capita as London, and its PTA, created in 1990, has been “absolutely indispensable in coordinating tariffs and service”.
Veeneman’s (2002) dissertation studied the organization of metropolitan public transport from an interdisciplinary perspective. He analyzed four cases studies of PTA’s from various perspectives within five disciplines. He identified many performance indicators, some of which may be useful for my research.
Although Vuchic and others indicate that PTA’s are the key to integrated and coordinated transit by multiple transit providers within a metropolitan area, I have found little in the academic or technical literature that describes any performance indicators for the effectiveness of said integration and coordination of public transit. Nor have I seen a comparative analysis of the governance structure of PTA’s or an assessment of which organizational structures might work best in certain regulatory or political environments.
Hypothesis and Methodology
Hypothesis: A metropolitan area Public Transport Authority with a Board of Directors composed of representatives of both small and large operators and the political jurisdictions is the key to providing effective coordinated interagency public transit across large metropolitan regions including megaregions. The organizational structure of the authority must be able to adjust periodically to changes in the size and shape of the region. Lessons learned from studying successful transit authorities in the EU may be applied to improve transit performance in large regions in the US such as the San Francisco Bay Area.
I propose to use qualitative research methodologies primarily using empirical research of comparative case studies. I would conduct informal interviews with staff as well as conduct selected surveys as needed. A combination of exploratory, descriptive, explanatory, and evaluative qualitative methods would be developed in conjunction with research advisors and by consulting standard text books such as Denzin & Lincoln, 2003.
To study this hypothesis, I will first need to answer two related questions in order to identify the case study locations:
1. What Measures of Effectiveness (MOE’s) have been or could be developed to measure effective coordination and integration of public transit service in a multi-operator multi-jurisdictional metropolitan area? Is there an industry standard? Do individual countries have any MOE’s? If not, then I would develop MOE’s using qualitative methods such as interviews with transit authority staff for the key roles of an PTA. I may survey public transportation users, if appropriate.

2. Which multi-jurisdictional multi-operator metropolitan areas have effective coordinated public transit service, as defined in No. 1?

Then three to five case studies would be chosen from those metropolitan areas which meet the effectiveness criteria described above. I would conduct a comparative analysis of these case studies, determining the nature of the mechanism, most probably a PTA, that coordinates interagency public transit. Through interviews, observations, and review of archival documents, I would research how the PTA was created and the legal and other obstacles in its creation. How did each PTA come to exist and become responsible for binding decisions across operating agencies and political entities? When the PTA was formed, who were the “winners” and who were the “losers” of the inevitable power struggle? How did the “losers” get on board? Next, I would compare and contrast the case study PTA’s with respect to the composition of their Boards, their duties and powers, and the pertinent national state or regional laws. Lastly, I would assess these organizational structures for applicability to other countries and to the United States.

Short Bibliography.
Michael Cabanatuan, Chronicle Staff Writer, San Francisco Chronicle, “Transit Agencies Urged to Coordinate Service”, October 27, 2011.
Abrantes, Pedro, 2011, Presentation at the FSR First European Forum on Urban Passenger Transport, October 14, 2011. Transport/Policy_events/Workhops/20111/1stEUrbanTRF.
Cervero, Robert, The Transit Metropolis, Island Press, 1998.
Denzin, N. K., & Lincoln, Y. S. (Eds.). (2003). Strategies of Qualitative Inquiry (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage
Denzin N.K. & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
DeRobertis, Michelle, “Land Development and Transportation Policies for Transit-Oriented Development in Germany and Italy – Five Case Studies”, 2010.
Ebol, Laura and Gabriella Mazzulla “A methodology for evaluating transit service quality based on subjective and objective measures from the passengers point of view” , Department of Land Use Planning, University of Calabria, Italy, January 2011 – cor1
EMTA, Association of European Metropolitan Transport Authorities, Directory 2008,
Florida, Richard, Tim Gulden and Charlotta Mellander, The Rise of the Mega-Region, University of Toronto, October 2007, at
Gottman, Jean (1961). Megalopolis: The Urbanized Northeastern Seaboard of the United States. New York: Twentieth Century Fund.
Jud, Eugene, Lecturer, California Polytechnic University, San Luis Obispo, interview, December 30, 2011.
Krauss, Joachim, powerpoint presentation and interview, staff member of the Board office, SSB, Stuttgart, 2009.
Nash, Andrew, Zurich’s Transit Priority System, Mineta Transportation Institute, San Jose, MTI 01-13, FHWA/CA/RM-2000/09, October 2001
Peixoto, Dilson, “The Greater Recife (Brazil) Transport Consortium: The Consolidation of a Transport Authority” Public Transport International Volume 58, Issue 6, UITP 2009
International Association of Public Transport, (UITP) “UITP Position Paper -Developing Public Transport in Low Density Areas through Appropriate Fare Systems” May 2005
Raboroko, Eze and Melissa Whitehead, “Institutional Parameters for Achieving Sustainable Public Transport Integration: The Gauteng Transport Management Authority, South Africa”; Public Transport International Volume 58, Issue 6, UITP 2009
Regional Plan Association (2006). America 2050: A Prospectus. New York, NY: Regional Plan Association.
Taylor, Peter J. and Kathy Pain (2006) , Polycentric Mega-city Regions: Exploratory Research from Western Europe, at
Veeneman, Wijnand. “Mind the Gap – Bridging theories and practice for the organization of metropolitan public transport”; TU Delft University, PhD dissertation, 2002
Vuchic, Vukan, Urban Transit-Operations, Planning, and Economics, John Wiley & Sons Inc. , 2005.


3 responses to “Transit Coordination- how the Europeans do it

  1. Michelle, I think you’re on to something here. The jumble (jungle) of transit agencies her in the SF Bay Area is better than it has been but still a mess to navigate, as we found out 2 weeks ago when we tried to attend an electronics industry trade show in San Jose by rail, take Caltrain to TransForm’s 15th birthday party that night in SF,and return to the east bay via BART that night. Transfers were the big problem: landing in a strange place and not knowing where and when to grab the closest connection was a real PITA…..

    • thanks Jon
      i applied for a phd program in italy, but was not accepted, so dont know how i am going to work on my PhD,but the issue needs to be studied.

  2. Actually TCRP just started a $300,000 research project on this topic, awarded to Nelson Nygaard. It does not explicitly focus on Europe, but covers much of the same ground.

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