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Expect Delays: What Threatens Mass Transit Asset Reliability in 2017?

What threatens mass transit asset reliability?

Three ubiquitous national trends have pushed asset management in mass transit to the brink in 2017.

Every year, mass transit in America makes 10 billion trips – and takes 10 billion chances.

Will my bus break down?

Will my train arrive on time?

Will I, the work-a-day commuter or the low-income local or the environmentally minded traveler, get to where I need to go?

Although the state of asset reliability in the transportation sector varies from state to state and authority to authority, three ubiquitous national trends have pushed asset management to the brink in 2017.

3 Trends in Mass Transit Asset Management

1. Stagnating ridership

Maybe it’s the low gas prices. Maybe it’s the rise of ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft. Whatever the cause, fewer people rode public transit in 2016 than in 2015, according to data compiled by The Seattle Times. Incidentally, the city of Seattle escaped the epidemic of declining ridership, as did a handful of others, albeit marginally.

Transit authorities can spin a drop in ridership as a good thing, especially those with congested buses and subway cars. Technicians will say decreased foot traffic will strain equipment less. But there is a flip side: Fewer riders means fewer fares. Fewer fares means less to draw from when state agencies propose necessary expansions and redesigns. In fact, added light-rail stops and restructured bus networks are most likely what drove mass transit ridership in Seattle, which had the highest year-over-year increase in the country with 4.1 percent. Moreover, investment shortcomings then lead to, among other things, fare hikes for public transportation loyalists, further aggravating the issue.

2. Longer hours

Between 2015 and 2016, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority experimented with late-night subway service. This past February, the MBTA, known simply as the T to locals, canceled those operations after ridership in the wee hours dropped below levels that might have justified its continuation. According to Metro Media, however, the transit provider polled Massachusetts residents on the experience, the degree of service offered and alternatives that might interest them, hoping to optimize spend should the program return.

Chances are reasonably high other transportation authorities across the country have entertained similar ideas pertaining to offering after-hours service or expanding what they already have as a means to stimulate local economies. If, however, these organizations cannot preempt asset failures effectively through predictive maintenance practices or uphold high reliability standards, they risk stranding night owls away from home and harming their reputations irreparably. A few crowded trains during rush hour? Not great but forgivable. A late-night train that abandons fare-paying riders far from home at 3 a.m.? That’s poisonous for public relations.

3. Environmental uncertainty

Climate change debate continues to flare up in U.S. federal politics, but decisions made by governments abroad may indicate the role transportation may have in the future in the battle against global warming and pollution.

In an effort to drastically reduce smog, Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo has imposed strict regulations on driving throughout the city. Starting July 1 and stretching through the summer, no cars built before 1997 can drive through the French capital between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. on weekdays under threat of fine, taking about 1 in 10 cars off the road. According to French media outlet Les Échos, this mandate will apply 24/7/365 by 2020.

Why does this matter to enterprise asset management in U.S. public transportation? Because back in 2016, Paris also temporarily made its metro and bus services free of charge as an emergency effort to lower exhaust pollution caused by cars on the road. These combined efforts set a precedent worthy of the consideration of American transit authorities. As conversations over climate change mount, infrequent riders and commuters alike may increase usage and forgo carbon-burning automobiles. Environmental impact may even factor into future state government decision-making around transportation. While the world figures out how to reverse the effects of climate change, asset reliability of mass transit matters now more than ever.

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