Participate in the transportation conversation long enough and you hear a familiar refrain: Why can’t we be more like Europe? Europe being shorthand for an enlightened land of high-speed rail, pervasive bike use, and public transit everywhere. (There’s notable less interest in the widespread use of private concessionaires for roadways, but that’s another post.)
With the MBTA’s current financial struggles in mind, a recent study by two scholars — Ralph Buehler from VPI and John Pucher from Rutgers University — of the German public transit system yields some interesting results.
During a period where US transit systems expanded their coverage area faster than ridership, German systems reduced their coverage area while seeking to increase ridership on higher volume routes. They reduced costs by increasing the productivity of their workforce, cutting employee benefits and instituting a competitive system of outsourcing.
During a period where the MBTA needs all the help it can get, perhaps we need to be more European in our thinking.