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Andrew Huff / June 10, 2010 10:52 AM

Related: The Reader's story on the last time Chicago's public transit was privately run.

The big difference then vs. now is back then, there were many companies running competing services. I think that could work for the buses, but I'm not sure that would work as well for the trains. Unless the El was divvied up according to line -- one company gets the Blue, Pink and Green, another gets Red and Brown, a third gets the Orange, etc. The Loop could get treacherous, though.

Mucky Fingers / June 10, 2010 11:18 AM

Of course not.

With how the parking meters turned out, I can't believe this question is even being asked.

Cheryl / June 10, 2010 11:28 AM

No.

Matt / June 10, 2010 12:52 PM

Yes. The problem with the parking system was that public pressure kept prices artificially low. By privatizing, the concessionaire can raise prices and invest back in the system. Yes, there were some hiccups at the transition, and yes, the City should have negotiated a better deal.

The CTA needs to raise prices and reinvest in new infrastructure. It could also use better management. What we have right now is not sustainable. It's definitely risky to privatize a transit system, but I think it would be worth the risk.

jj / June 10, 2010 1:15 PM

No way.

Yes, the prices are artificially low but that's a good thing. Public transportation is a public good and it only works if people can afford to take it.

I can't think of a single instance when privatizing an industry turned out well for anyone except the few who got filthy rich from the deal.

John / June 10, 2010 2:00 PM

If we could guarantee that the CTA would go back to public hands if the business fails the I would give this idea a resounding YES. Of course I would also like that agreement to state that infrastructure would remain intact, prices could be capped by a public oversight committee, and probably other things that I can't think of right now. Does anyone remember when GM used shell companies to tear up street lines in major cities and sold their buses to the cities as a replacement? We wouldn't want that to happen again.

Privatization would lean the business, which is something the CTA needs. Private companies need to turn a profit or else their shareholders or whatever funding source they have is going to run dry. There are levels of management that could be eliminated, and there are plenty of other cost-cutting measures that could be enacted.

The biggest problem here would be the lack of government funding and the lack of ability to use eminent domain. A private company can't just knock down buildings next to the Fullerton station to rebuilt it; it takes government to get that done.

Charlie D. / June 10, 2010 3:38 PM

Maybe.

@ John...The biggest problem here would be the lack of government funding and the lack of ability to use eminent domain. A private company can't just knock down buildings next to the Fullerton station to rebuilt it; it takes government to get that done.

All it takes in money.

mike-ts / June 11, 2010 12:23 AM

No. Public transport is one of the last things that is more or less a functional monopoly like Ma Bell used to be when telephones were all hard wired. Maybe it could be turned into a heavily regulated business like power companies or NICTD (South Shore) trains. But unless you have viable competition in a market, whether it's public or private is simple academic.

I can't think of a single instance when privatizing an industry turned out well for anyone except the few who got filthy rich from the deal.

Airlines used to charge hundreds to fly anywhere, and flight was just for the well off or a once in a lifetime thing. I've enjoyed my share of under $100 flights in a deregulated air industry in my day, and have family members who fly more often than some birds. And ever since MCI busted the Bell monopoly, phone rates have constantly declined, and now I can call California for the same price as across the street on the cell phone.

flange / June 11, 2010 9:47 AM

but deregulation isn't privatization.

i love it when people talk about "concessionaires investing back in the system" and hope to visit that parallel universe someday myself. in this one, no, privatization doesn't work.

Jim / June 11, 2010 3:47 PM

If all you want is the North-side Red Line, the Loop-O'hare Blue Line and the Brown Line... sure. Clearly, that's a bit of a doomsday scenario and an extreme but the point of public transportation is to serve the public and that includes the underserved areas as well as the affluent ones.

My biggest concern is that any bus route or train line that does not have enough traffic to be profitable would be closed.

David / June 13, 2010 10:48 PM

In an ideal world, I can see Matt's scenario playing out ... but we're not in an ideal world. Public assets should remain public.

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