Many transit activists are frustrated: what we've dreamed of for years is happening, but it's being stymied by short-sighted politicians. People are abandoning their cars for transit, but the government agencies that run the transit systems are - in many cases - not receiving the capital funding to expand so that they can handle these passengers. The Market Street trolley in San Francisco is packed, but Muni won't buy more vintage trolleys, and would have difficulty finding them anyway.
I've been skeptical for a while, but I'm starting to come around to Adron Hall's idea that the private sector can run good transit, given a suitably level playing field. Adron is no dummy: he doesn't believe that a private company could run, say, the Dutchess County Loop system in competition with subsidized personal transportation. But he does point out that private companies did just fine with transit before around 1929.
On Streetsblog yesterday, there was a very interesting post about Alan Hoffman's "Quickway" approach to Bus Rapid Transit: instead of building and operating a "BRT Line," build a BRT corridor that can be used by any authorized bus route. This can be used to bypass general-traffic bottlenecks and keep buses time-competitive with private cars. As I posted in the comments, it sounds a lot like the Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane.
I was also struck by a comment on the post by Hoffman himself, where he observed that the Brisbane Quickways were "ACTUALLY PUSHING MANY TRANSIT ROUTES INTO THE BLACK" (his emphasis). My first reaction was, "so? we've got plenty of profitable commuter bus carriers in the area: Adirondack Trailways, DeCamp, Martz and the Coachusa stable of Short Line, Red & Tan, etc." Well, guess what those lines have in common? They all use the XBL.
There are other carriers that are profitable without relying on the XBL: Bonanza, Peter Pan, the Chinatown and Hasidic buses, and the various independently owned Egyptian/Peruvian/Dominican/Jamaican "dollar vans" around the region. Much of this is because we've got the density to support such a large transit-using population. But it's also because the regulatory agencies worked with the bus and van operators to facilitate their operations. The Port Authority, in particular, has allowed a thick network of private transit operations to develop in Hudson County while policing it enough to make sure that it is largely safe and comfortable.
If the shift to transit continues and governments are unwilling to invest in the expansion of their transit systems, then they should allow others to do so. This doesn't mean "getting out of the way" of private enterprise, but it does mean at a minimum providing the basic regulatory infrastructure to ensure safe, comfortable commutes. All the better if they can fund physical infrastructure like the XBL, the Port Authority Bus Terminals and the auxiliary terminals and layover areas that compensate for the heavy subsidies given to private cars. And you know, it would be nice if they could coordinate information, publicity, scheduling and ticketing as well.