Governance at the Root of Regional Transit Challenges

Governance, not funding, lies at the root of the problems facing regional transit networks across the U.S. That is the key finding of “Getting to the Route of It”, a report by Eno Center for Transportation and TransitCenter.

The study identifies six case study metropolitan areas and explores how governance – the way transit agencies and other institutions function - affects transit outcomes. Drawing from the experience of these diverse places, the authors find that the governance structure adopted by regional transit networks is a key determinant in their ability to tackle other challenges.

The value of metropolitan planning organizations and transit agency consolidation at the regional level are two of the lessons learned highlighted in the report. The authors recognize that there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to regional transit governance. Placing MBTA under the administrative authority of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation may work well for the Boston metropolitan area, for example, but wouldn't be ideal in more decentralized states like California.

To accompany the release of the report, RPA co-sponsored a panel discussion on Oct. 8 at Baruch College on the role that governance plays in the success of regional transit networks. Panelists included Robert “Buz” Paaswell, professor at City College of New York and director emeritus of the University Transportation Research Center, Thomas Prendergast, Chairman and CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Beverly Scott, General Manager and CEO of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and Christopher Ward, Executive Vice President at Dragados USA, Inc. and former executive director of the Port Authority.

“The institutional structures that underlie these transit systems really do matter,” said RPA Executive Director Tom Wright in remarks at the event. “This report shows that here in New York, we still have things to learn from the rest of the country.”

While all panelists affirmed the importance of sound governance for regional transit networks, opinions varied on what effective leadership means when it comes to funding these systems. Ward sounded the alarm about agencies taking on more debt, while Prendergast said he would rather take on more debt than see the MTA revert to a 1980s level of performance.

The  full report, “Getting to the Route of It: The Role of Governance in Regional Transit,” is now available on the Eno Center’s website, along with full video from the event.