A Bid for Better Transit: Improving Service with Contracted Operations

Service contracting is a tool that government can use to improve transit service quality for riders and better position transit agencies to succeed in today’s dynamic transportation industry. Public agencies must strongly align the private sector’s profit motive with the public sector’s goals in order to unlock this potential using financial incentives in contracts and market competition during the bidding process. Public officials and transit agencies who identify this opportunity and use it to advance their long-term goals will have a powerful strategy at their disposal to improve transit for the communities who rely on it. Contracting does not inherently yield better or worse transit service, and contracting is not “privatization.” A litany of government-managed and government-funded services are delivered by private-sector contractors working for the government, according to contracts that the government has written to hold private companies accountable for delivering those services. Clear accountability and public oversight, effective management, and carefully designed incentives differentiate the most successful contracting regimes from their less successful counterparts.