Reverse "Crowding Out"

Daniel has a few interesting things to say about the plans for Chicago's North/Clybourn L station. First let me say that I think any transit improvement is worthwhile. But I also think we have to consider the potential risk that this could pose in the long term - a sort of reverse "crowding out" of public investment in transit infrastructure.

(from flickr user konomike)

Here's the concern: Apple might spend a few million bucks renovating the North/Clybourn station, but Apple itself might never see a direct financial return on its income statement. The net beneficiaries of the improvement will be the public, who will use the station, and other businesses in the area, who will free ride off of Apple's investment. For Apple, it will primarily be an act of corporate goodwill.

The risk is that transit systems become reliant on these acts of corporate goodwill, which are never guaranteed. A more reliable idea for transit improvement would be some sort of public and private collaboration. The private side would be administered by a business improvement district, to avoid some firms free riding off of others. This might not work so well for brand new transit systems whose goal is to drive development; but for older systems that already have development around stations or for potential in-fill stations, it could be the most efficient way to make improvements to crumbling transit infrastructure.