With transit ridership down 79% in 2020 and a nationwide budget shortfall of close to $40 billion, writes Nate Berg for Fast Company, struggling public transit agencies are looking to revive their revenue through other means. Because many of them own land near their transit lines, some agencies are looking to the development of transit-agency-owned land as a potentially significant revenue source.
Until recently, most transit agencies used their land for surface parking, hoping ample parking near transit stations would draw more riders. But Jessie O’Malley Solis, transit-oriented development manager for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, says that in their area, it didn’t work that way. “Just building seas of parking wasn’t going to generate ridership. You needed to generate connectivity along the system to make it valuable for riders.” Now, as residents in Silicon Valley struggle to find housing in one of the country’s least affordable markets, VTA is making plans to turn some of its land into “new transit-adjacent community hubs” and hopes its own development will have a ripple effect that encourages more private development near station areas. “O’Malley Solis says the development is always geared toward improving ridership and making more transit-oriented communities—whether it’s on land the agency owns or not.”
While transit-oriented development isn’t a silver bullet for increased ridership, “when done well, these projects can make an impact” on commuter mode share as well as increase the availability of affordable housing and the sustainability of transit agency budgets.