Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Who runs Baltimore's transportation?

That Baltimore is known for having a poor transportation network may be in part due to the confusing number of providers.
This is just a quick top of the head and likely incomplete run-down of options for getting around in this city:

  • the MTA bus, 
  • the City Circulator Bus run by BC-DOT 
  • UB, MICA, Hopkins and UM each running their university and college bus flags 
  • the Harbor East shuttle, promoted by the Waterfront Partnership
  • MTA's Mobility service, 
  • the MTA light rail, 
  • the MTA Metro, 
  • the MARC train,
  • MTA commuter buses 
  • Amtrak,  
  • a water taxi for tourists and a Harbor Connector for commuters run by Plank Industries 
  • there are 1,100 taxis rolling through Baltimore streets under a dozen or so brands, 
  • there is Uber, Lyft, 
  • Zip-car, 
  • bike-share run by the City through private company Bewegen
  • the Super Shuttle (for trips to the airport)
  • and finally an array of company provided employee shuttles (to Amazon, for example) or apartment and hotel limousines. 
An older image showing an early Circulator Bus with the Veolia name
More is obviously not always better. In an attempt of pinning the blame for the poor transit on somebody, a lot of current discussion revolves around the role of the State and whether it wouldn't be better for Baltimore to have its own transit company. 

But there is another angle that, instead, looks at the many pieces that make up Baltimore area transportation and are not controlled by the Maryland Transit Administration MTA.

It may surprise some that the jungle of mobility options becomes much simpler if one understands how many of these services are run by one and the same company: Veolia and their Transdev transportation division (Veolia divested from Transdev in 2016 but still owns 30% of the company). Transdev is the US largest private transportation provider operating services in 200 US cities and is the engine behind much what rolls through Baltimore's street: The company runs
  •  the Charm City Circulator for the City of Baltimore,
  • the Collegetown network for Baltimore's universities and colleges
  • MTA's mobility services
  • the Harbor East Shuttle
  • Some MTA Commuter services
  • and 650 cabs under three brands in Baltimore's taxi fleet  
Veolia Commuter Bus
No wonder that somebody asked at an event by Transit Choices, whether the company couldn't run the MTA buses as well. Transdev's Baltimore manager Mark Heishman responded affirmatively by pointing to other cities where Veolia-Transdev provides public transportation. But the fact that Veolia-Transdev have their hands on the wheel of som many transportation options doesn't make the matter more transparent. Quite the opposite.

Transdev North America's CEO is Baltimore's very own Mark Joseph who in 2001 sold his Baltimore taxi empire Yellow Cab to Connex which turned into Veolia-Transportation which turned into Transdev. 
Yellow and Checker: Transdev's taxi  brands

The French parent company Veolia is an expression of the privatization frenzy that had rolled across Europe a decade or so ago and which has, surprisingly washed ashore our continent, usually seen a bulwark of private enterprise, with years of delay. On both sides of the Atlantic there are strong feelings that privatization isn't always better, more efficient or beneficial to customers. 

The Veolia empire includes 48 nations and over 300,000 employees that provide services ranging from gas, water, sewer and electricity all the way to the already noted transportation services. In Baltimore Veolia operates district heating and cooling and is behind the repairs of the steam line that exploded on Eutaw Street early this summer.

But Transdev is frequently very hands off, even if the company driver firmly grips the steering wheel of a bus. Sometimes the company just provides the operators, sometimes the maintenance, sometimes the dispatch and logistics, sometimes the fleet (bus train or streetcar). In the case of the Circulator the city owns the system, decides the routes and owns some of the 30 buses. How hands-off Transdev really is can be exemplified by the fact that BC-DOT's new director has not yet met with the company that runs their bus system.
Veolia Collegetown Shuttle

The very many methods under which Transdev can be engaged (for example by running and maintaining the college buses under their different names with college own buses) make it hard to understand who decides what. In the case of the public transit Circulator, it is pretty hard to understand why the system keeps running a deficit and why the private company doesn't have a say in bringing budget and expenses into better alignment. A strategy that would have urban mobility in mind and not only the parochial concerns of the individual clients would certainly yield many cost saving possibilities that would make transportation in Baltimore also a lot more transparent.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Transdev AV shuttle: The driverless transit revolution is
just around the corner

Related articles on this blog:
Time to reset the Circulator bus
Another bus shuttle comes to downtown

Still no steam

1 comment:

  1. I wasn't aware Transdev ran commuter services. I don't think they run MTA Commuter Bus routes, do they?