when transit agencies say “we don’t control that!” (email of the week)

Ask: Who does?

From Mark Szarkowski:

A common transit agency response to these pleas for improved service … is that the problem is out of their control. And in some cases, such as "bunching" due to traffic, they're right. So do you think irate passengers would get more mileage by directing their pleas to the third parties that actually are in a position to fix issues that are truly outside the transit agency's control – say local {transportation and public works departments] that could improve signal timing or implement [transit signal priority], bus lanes, bus bulbs, and so on?

Do we mistakenly assume transit agencies are more powerful than they really are? If so, should they be more aggressive in lobbying third parties for the improvements they know are needed to make bus service more reliable? And how can bus riders – a usually-invisible, but potentially powerful constituency – be tapped to do the lobbying? Would folding a metro's transit, traffic, road maintenance, and planning agencies into a single organization help, such that "complete streets" would actually be designed by "complete" agencies with a "complete" spectrum of users in mind?

When it comes to surface transit that interacts with traffic or other obvious causes of delay, vast parts of the customer experience are outside its control.  The same is true, more obviously, about the experience of walking to or from transit, or waiting at a surface transit stop.  These are important parts of the transit experience, but the transit agency usually has zero control over what happens in those places.  

I encourage transit agencies never to say "we don't control that!"   Instead, say "____ controls that."   Name the agency that has jurisdiction over the issue.

This doesn't necessarily mean that it's ___'s fault, exactly.  Sometimes the problem lies in inter-agency communication and planning.  

Sometimes, transit staffs feel so unsupported that they fear they would get reprisals if they forward a complaint to the responsible agency.  But refusing to say who's responsible makes the transit agency sound like it's obfuscating, and that affects the transit agency's image.  

For example, if transit riders blame all service problems on the transit agency, while the road authority hears only from motorists, the road authority won't get much evidence that they should care about transit riders, will it?

And if the responsible government agency doesn't get the calls about the things they do control, it's unlikely anything will change.  …  


6 Responses to when transit agencies say “we don’t control that!” (email of the week)

  1. Carl October 29, 2014 at 8:33 am #

    Transit agencies need to take a stronger stance with other agencies who do control the transit rider experience. Whether that’s to solve traffic bottleneck or create safe lighted walking paths. The rider is their customer, and it’s part of the rider’s experience.
    If the agency would take a stronger stand with other agencies, they can more service more attractive, faster and more reliable, and cheaper to operate. Clearly it requires support from the government leadership for transit agencies to be effective, but they should consider it their responsibility to influence all aspects of the service that customers experience.

  2. david vartanoff October 29, 2014 at 9:58 am #

    Serious and common problem. In my local case AC Transit (Berkeley, Oakland etc) can’t seem to persuade Berkeley parking control to ticket double parking delivery vehicles on a narrow commercial strip (Telegraph Ave which actually has commercial only parking spaces for such trucks) delaying the second busiest bus line in their system. The 4 block choke point can cost five minutes on a bad day.

  3. Cyclelicious October 29, 2014 at 5:09 pm #

    One of the biggies that affects the usefulness of public transit for the elderly and disabled and simple sidewalk access. The transit agency has no control over the quality of the sidewalk or even the bus stop amenities in many cases.
    In Santa Cruz County, California, happily, we have a group meddling do-gooder seniors and disabled advocates who have identified high priority sidewalks that they need to get to their bus stops along with the correct jurisdictional contacts so they know who to bug. The transit agency for our county participates in grant funding applications with the appropriate jurisdiction to fix these accesses.
    This reminds me of another transit access issue which transit agencies have no control over, and that’s the practice by many cities to bury bus stops in snow, since plows shove the snow to the side of the road and onto the sidewalk. Transit users absolutely should call the city and complain loudly about this practice.

  4. Marc October 29, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    Cyclelicious, that’s awesome! So do they simply note where sidewalks are needed, ask the DPW (or whatever the local maintenance org is) to install them, and forward the news to the transit agency? Please keep the coordination examples coming!

  5. Brian Guy October 30, 2014 at 11:35 am #

    It all starts with the political will to be a human-centered place.
    Without the vision and commitment of putting pedestrians first in both land use and street design, a transit system can never succeed at becoming a cost-effective system for the independently mobile masses.
    When lacking in built environment, transit just picks up the pieces, as a costly social service for the zero-auto captives.

  6. M1EK October 31, 2014 at 12:29 pm #

    I go back and forth on this.
    Our best transit corridor is currently suffering a 16% decline in ridership because the (basically branding only) Rapid Bus service is so bad.
    Capital Metro would say it’s bad because the city hasn’t given them their own lane.
    I don’t want the city to give them a lane unless it’s for rail. (Otherwise, I don’t believe it’s worth the disruption).
    So who wins this one?