Should Transit Agencies Listen More? What Would That Mean?

It’s popular to claim that what’s wrong with transit is that transit agencies “don’t listen” to riders or potential riders, and that doing so would produce better transit service. Is this true?

In some respects, and in some agencies, I’m sure it is. But the implied accusation here can also be false and misleading.

Most transit agencies I know put a lot of effort into getting and managing input from the public, both riders and non-riders. The problem is not that agencies aren’t listening. It’s that most of the things they hear are not things that the they can do something about, or at least not without harming other people. As a result, they don’t appear to be doing anything in response to what they hear, which can feed the idea that they didn’t listen.

In fact, one of the most common mistakes in transit planning — a mistake encouraged by too many elected officials — is to change something in a way that satisfies a noisy complaint but makes the service worse for everyone else. This is exactly why the simplicity and usefuless of bus systems tends to deteriorate over time — requiring the occasional intervention of a network redesign.

There are really four problems here:
  1. Public feedback processes can never represent people who are busy.  Have you ever attended a public meeting where everyone who came to give comments was either retired or unemployed?  Probably not, because you’re too busy, but I have been to maybe 100 such meetings as a professional.  We love retired and unemployed people too, but a transit system designed around the tastes of people with lots of spare time is likely to be different from one designed for busy people.   The more time it takes to submit a comment, the worse this distortion is, so it’s worst in public meetings and much better with web surveys, intercept surveys and so on. Still, any kind of listening requires a busy person to engage, so busy people will be under-represented.  And most people are busy.
  2. Public feedback tends to be low-altitude.  It expresses desires and aversions about specific bus routes or stops, or some detailed aspect of the service.  Sometimes these can be addressed at their correct micro scale, but again, often the result is harm to someone else.  And it’s hard to derive any useful advice about the big policy decisions a government must make from this kind of input.
  3. Public feedback tends not to talk about priorities, but only about desires and aversions.  For example, most unstructured public comments will say “spend more here” without saying where the agency should spend less.
  4. Public feedback is often laced with abuse.  Because so many public comments are not actionable for the reasons outlined above, some members of the public assume that this inaction means that the transit agency isn’t listening, and that they therefore need to yell louder.  And of course, many people are also just angry about other things and direct this anger at anyone who seems to be in authority.  (Bulletin: There is a lot of agony and rage in society, especially in the US, for many good reasons that your transit manager can’t do much to fix.)

I have been listening to public comments about transit for 25 years — and making them for 15 years before that — so trust me when I say that these patterns are really obvious. I do not want to imply that agencies are perfect in how they respond to comments, but I do know that they work harder at this than almost anyone gives them credit for.

Our firm knows of some ways to work with these problems, and we are delighted to see these strategies used more widely.  To put it simply, we never ask the public to tell us what they want.  We ask them to tell us about priorities:  How would you choose between this or that?  If you want more of this, what should there be less of?  We also put a lot of effort into helping people gain altitude, which means thinking about your personal complaint or idea might be an example of a bigger principle worth talking about.  Many transit problems — including good network redesign — can only be fixed by first viewing them at a high altitude, looking at the structure of the entire city or the policies that govern the transit agency.  So we need to help people come to the necessary altitude to influence those decisions at the scale where they actually occur.

For this reason, our studies rely heavily on groups of invited stakeholders, who are selected because they (a) represent lots of other people, (b) collectively represent the diversity of the community, and (c) have the time and professional interest to focus on the problem.  These stakeholders get an intensive education in the high-altitude questions that govern a network design, and the opportunity to have input on them.  In return, they commit to represent the study to their own communities of interest — by presenting to whatever groups they represent and helping those groups to engage.  This isn’t perfect, but it’s the least bad way we know of to get input at the right altitude — which requires some education and focus — while still hearing about the experience and perspectives of a diverse public.

Of course, this is only a part of a strategy that also includes a lot of web-based surveying of the public, sometimes with both brief and long surveys to reward different levels of attention and curiosity.

All this is hard, and the outcomes are never perfect, and someone, somewhere is always still angry at the end, but it’s the least bad way we’ve found to have an inclusive and respectful conversation that still reaches a decision, so that something can change for the better.

So be careful about accusing your transit system of not listening. If anything, the problem is often that they listen too passively, rather than reaching out and asking the public the hard questions about priorities that would help them know what’s really expected of them.  And remember, public outreach is incredibly hard and the people who do it get yelled at no matter what they do.  Be kind.

32 Responses to Should Transit Agencies Listen More? What Would That Mean?

  1. JJJJ November 20, 2017 at 7:02 pm #

    I get that youre talking about the larger picture, but one of the problems is that many agencies do this:

    “Most transit agencies I know put a lot of effort into getting and managing input from the public”

    but fail to ask the right questions. There are a lot of small issues that the agency officials COULD address and customers would like to talk about, but there’s never a time or place.

    For example “the light in the underpass hasnt been working for 6 years now”. This isnt about moving priorities, or changing how business is done, it’s about trying to make sure the right person knows, and once the right person know, they can actually fix it next week.

    But since it’s so hard to get these little things sorted, how can anyone have confidence in the big picture stuff?

    Why waste time going to a public meeting to talk about priorities if there’s no faith in a $1bn agency being able to even fix a damn light bulb?

  2. not with confidence November 20, 2017 at 7:24 pm #

    “Please put a barrier behind the seat that’s next to the back steps, so when a woman sits there she won’t discover that there’s been a man standing right behind her, facing her, an inch from the back of her head”

  3. Jarrett Walker November 20, 2017 at 8:29 pm #

    I should clarify that I’m talking about planning issues here. There are scores of quick-fix issues that transit agencies can work to be more responsive on, just as city governments can.

  4. JJJJ November 20, 2017 at 10:13 pm #

    Jarrett, what I am saying is that it is hard to get people to think about planning issues, and the agencies make it harder by appearing not to care about the quick-fix issues. They do this because there is no real line of communication.

    Every quarter I get an email from my agency asking me to rate service. Lots of standard business-type questions, including if I would recommend the train to friends, if the stations are clean (on a 1-10 scale) etc. This 20 minute survey will take in thousands of responses, and spit out a number – station cleanliness, 6.9/10. And maybe next quarter it will spit out a 7.0 and the agency will talk about how the stations are getting cleaner.

    Meanwhile, my broken light stays broken because they never gave me a place to tell them about it. So I have stopped doing the survey because my input has no affect on the transit output.

    And this does bleed into your stakeholder meeting. Say you have an organization representing X population. If they think the agency doesn’t listen, or is wasting their time, they’ll send someone less qualified. And the public “sends” less qualified people as well. As you pointed out, the public meetings are full of retirees. Their time is worth $0. Someone whose time is worth $100 an hour isn’t going to sit in at a workshop if they think it’s all a waste of time.

    • Novacek November 28, 2017 at 9:41 am #

      “Meanwhile, my broken light stays broken because they never gave me a place to tell them about it.”

      Twitter works great for this.

      • Crispin Cast-Nine December 5, 2017 at 10:52 pm #

        Also, does your metro area have a 311? That’s exactly the sort of thing they’re supposed to handle, I think.

  5. Jeff Wegerson November 21, 2017 at 12:54 am #

    “,,,groups of invited stakeholders,,,”
    “These stakeholders get an intensive education…”

    In more and more cities the practice of “Participatory Budgeting” is being used. Stakeholders are invited to propose ideas and if they pass some set of basic qualifications they are provided opportunities to work with city technical staff to bring their ideas up to necessary standards. Then a political process is applied to see which ideas can be effected.

    Our city about thirty years ago devolved some powers down to locally elected school councils, powers that included budgetary powers and selection of principals.

    Our park district about the same time invited interested people to participate in local parks advisory councils. While they have strong influence over what happens in their local park, unlike the school councils they have no actual power.

    Meanwhile our police department invites citizens to participate in community policing meetings. These also have no actual power but appear to have little if any influence either.

    Our transit agency invites public input from time to time. It used to hold traditional public meetings where a panel of agency staff would manage a microphone, first for themselves, then for use by the public who attended the meetings. The transit agency became dissatisfied with the process as some people learned techniques to attract media attention to their own sometimes narrow agendas and that attention would overshadow the transit agency’s agenda as well as overshadowing their attempts to gather wider “public” input.

    So they changed the format and now they have no public microphone time but have multiple tables with various presentations of selected options where the public can sometimes ask specific questions of an agency staff member and/or leave comments on post-its etc.

    Meanwhile over the last ten to fifteen years the internet has come online, as it were. People like our professional transit expert Jarrett Walker have used the internet to share their knowledge with many interested followers. In addition sites like Streetsblog have sprung up to highlight best practices of many transit agencies around the world. Not to mention sites like Twitter where followers exchange knowledge and ideas. In addition to sharing information online my local Streetsblog also hosts monthly get togethers at various bars around the city.

    So there now exists not insignificant communities of people in many cities who have become quite sophisticated in transit practices.

    My question becomes then can my transit agency find a way to formalize their local community of sophisticated transit aficionados (stakeholders?) into some kind of advisory council. The agency would make sure that one or more of their staff are directly involved with the council. Such a council could address the burnt out light bulbs as well as the need for asynchronous participation of the busy $100 an hour members.

    They could also serve as a repository of experience for newcomers to get up to speed.

    As my introductory examples illustrated, healthy participation by the public is going to depend upon the quality and quantity of participation by the agency. And vice versa. And a lot will depend upon the kinds of trusts and trusting that will need to happen as well.

    I know that there are a lot of now knowledgeable but frustrated folks looking for ways to participate. Many of us have put a lot of useful thought into many of the nitty gritty local details of transit. And, of course, we miss a lot of details that would potentially negate a lot of our ideas. That’s because, I would suggest, we lack quality lines of regular communication to supply high-altitude guidance.

    In my humble opinion.

  6. Mike Robinson November 21, 2017 at 1:27 am #

    This article really resonated and I think it applies to all transport schemes, including things like cycle paths, not just transit.

    An observation is that consultations seem to turn many people into amateur traffic engineers and because they use a system, they are an expert on how they should be designed with the classic question “How difficult can it be…?”.

    That is not to say that transport professionals get it all right, hence the point of a consultation, but generally the professionals will be considering details that members of the public aren’t even aware of.

    Framing the debate in terms of priorities is a really good point, but I’ve seen this tends to go out of the window when presented with the reality of a proposed change.

    “Well of course the street should be safer with less traffic and less polluted….”
    “Whaddya mean, I’ve got to drive 5 minutes more because you are changing the layout!!!”

  7. Craig November 21, 2017 at 4:27 am #

    Although obvious, shouldn’t there be “#5 – funding constraints” (personally I’d have that as #1) – even if everyone in a suburb says they’d use the feeder bus more if it ran more often or was more direct, the harsh reality is that the transit agency is forced to make compromises to meet the overall budget, even if they too would aspire to make the changes that would get more bums on seats, reduce parking strain etc.

    So the feeder bus is stuck running every 30 mins meeting every 5th train as there is no money to buy another vehicle or two, and also has to do that annoying dog-leg that adds 5 mins to the trip as there is no money to run a second route to cover that estate off.

    A busy person takes the time once to fill in a survey, sees nothing done, and gives up and reverts to using their car.

  8. Grandview Citizen November 21, 2017 at 7:42 am #

    Perhaps a hard rule for those who wish to plan, or to work for a transit agency is that they must actually use the system they will impact on a regular an prolonged basis. Want to propose a change to a bus route? You had better ride that route (or combination of routes) every day.

    And, if you’re working in management at a transit agency, at your next staff “all hands” meeting ask for a show of hands, “How many of you drove to work today?” There’s the first indicator of where your problems are. Give those that raised their hands 60 days to get on transit or to find new work.

    Finally, if you have to resort to a public hearing to get transit feedback, you aren’t managing your transit system, you’re pretending to.

    • Matthew L. November 21, 2017 at 11:38 am #

      I agree with the spirit of the idea that transit leadership should ride transit, but working at a transit agency has shown me that there are several major obstacles to that.

      1. The supply of people with the technical and leadership skills an agency needs is limited, and you might not be able to find the staff your agency needs within your service area. If you insist that everyone who works at the agency must live in or relocate to a transit-accessible place within the service area, you’re cutting yourself off from talent. (Or blowing your relocation budget.)

      2. Transit maintenance bases, out of necessity, tend to be located in areas where the land-use is not conducive to great transit service. Administrative staff who work at the base may not have transit as an option at all, and physically separating your administrative staff from your operational staff can lead to communication difficulties.

      3. In smaller cities, transit simply might not be fast or frequent enough to handle all the trips a staff member needs to make in a day. This is especially true for higher-level officials who have frequent meetings with local governments and other stakeholders, or for working parents who need to get their children to daycare. This is not simply because of the agency’s decisions about how to provide transit (in which case you could say that having to ride poor service is the punishment they deserve for providing poor service), but the local government’s decisions about funding levels.

      4. In cities where the labor pool and the quality of transit are large enough that transit is a feasible commute option for most of the agency’s administrative staff, the service area is usually too large and the routes are too many for staff to maintain intimate familiarity with every route.

      So insisting that all agency administrative staff must ride transit before supervising it or proposing any changes to it is more likely to handicap the transit agency’s effectiveness than to lead to a massive improvement in responsiveness. My experience responding to citizen comments is that in many cases transit staff agrees with the public about what the problems are, but they are also aware of limitations – like not enough money, not enough staff, procedural requirements, or jurisdictional boundaries – that prevent them from solving the problems in the ideal way.

    • Jack November 22, 2017 at 5:52 am #

      I agree with Matthew L.’s comments. The other major obstacle for most operational staff (which is the majority of staff at the transit system where I work), is that you can’t take the bus to work if you’re the one driving the first run of the morning, and you can’t take the bus home if you’re driving the last bus of the night (or cleaning it, or maintaining it, or dispatching it). The vast majority of US transit systems are not run 24 hours a day, and most workers either arrive at work or leave work when no service is being operated, since they are the ones operating the service.

      We are very aware of the problems and limitations of our service, as well as how to make them better. The problem is there is usually a financial, technical, or regulatory reason why we can’t fix something (or why it would make no sense to fix it, given competing priorities), and we have limited control over those aspects. This can make public interaction very frustrating. Citizen A proposes something that sounds completely reasonable, but there are complex and valid reasons on why it cannot happen. We either listen and quietly don’t do, which isn’t helpful, or we try to explain why we can’t do, which makes us sound defensive and unwilling to change, and is frustrating for the Citizen. I’d bet that for most transit systems, the reason things aren’t better is not because the staff is unaware of the problems, how to improve things, or lacks the desire to improve.

      • Sam J November 22, 2017 at 8:03 am #

        One issue we have here in the Twin Cities is that we have very much a two tiered transit system: express routes to nice park and rides in the suburbs with articulated buses and overcrowded, unreliable local bus service in the city where the majority of riders are.

        As a result, a lot of the planners I talk to “ride transit”, but they ride selectively- either using the light rail or express buses- and as a result have a very skewed idea of what sort of service they provide. Hence we get comments like “we provide great high frequency service in the core” when a regular rider experiences daily missed connections, poorly designed bus stops, and bus bunching.

    • Valley November 29, 2017 at 2:32 pm #

      As a principal service planner, I absolutely agree that key staff must be regular users of the service in order to fully comprehend the many subtleties that add up to make or break a good service. What I’ve seen from non-riding staff over the years that are involved in planning is that they resort to rely solely on numbers or other manifest signs that may or may not provide the whole picture. For example, wanting to realign routes so that they’d look better on a map but then end up providing fewer direct connections between origins and destinations; automatically viewing overlapping routes in corridors as “redundant service” when in fact those segments are effectively linear activity hubs and branching routes provide tremendous convenience to riders; an overly focus on branding that does nothing to increase the usability of the service; and on and on.

      Would you have faith in leadership if you worked at any other company where key staff would never consider using their own organization’s product?… Oh the lame excuses, some recited in the rebukes here: “I am too busy to take transit” – no you’re not, be disciplined with your time and make it a habit and it will work; “I live too far away” – then move closer to work and become a part of the community you’re planning for; “the service is too slow and isn’t usable” – then get on that bus, let us know how we can improve, and let’s take steps toward getting there.

      Does the accountant or the mechanic need to be riders to make better decisions? Perhaps not – but key planning staff – absolutely. At my suburban agency, nobody other than myself is a transit rider, so it was basically a shrug when the decision was made recently to recommend discontinuation of service to/from our own facility. So here we are with 100+ buses deadheading to/from the garage every day – but not a single one in revenue service…. Yes, it matters dude.

      • Andre L. December 1, 2017 at 6:30 am #

        If you impose this condition in the actual state of many North American metro areas, you are automatically excluding senior professionals that have families such that relocation (near a transit-convenient area) is not trivial, because their spouses work in some edge-city car-centric location, and/or the areas with convenient transit have atrocious schools.

        I understand the kernel of your argument, but it means automatically excluding certain slices of the population from ever consider applying to transit planning jobs (they are not high-paid positions that would allow, for instance, parents to just pay private school fees or rely extensively on Uber/taxis for errands transit cannot cater to).

        Furthermore, because budget availability is the first-order constraint toward really good Northern European-level rail-based all-day all-purpose transit, it is unrealistic to expect that if planners were dependent on transit to commute, the system would magically become much better, absent additional taxes and revenue, which is far from their decision domain (in the magnitude it would be so required).

        In other words, you would be restricting the pool of people taking planning jobs to the young, single and childless; and to the older transit nerds, probably also childless, or willing to sacrifice a lot in terms of school quality (or the commute of the other spouse) so that they can move to a transit-convenient location.

        • Dave December 1, 2017 at 11:28 am #

          What you say is true in small-to-medium size metros. But larger metros really have no excuse for their transit leaders to not be riding transit, since transit in these places is frequent all day pretty much everywhere. And some of these places do in fact have residency requirements: Chicago Transit Authority for example requires all of its employees to live within the City of Chicago or one of the 20-odd suburbs in which its trains and/or buses operate. (I know this because I used to work for them and I had 12 months to comply with this requirement after being hired.)

  9. Sailor Boy November 21, 2017 at 2:14 pm #

    +1 to this. Here in Auckland we have absolutely butchered our frequent network in the inner suburbs because a few noisy people insisted that the existing, circuitous, but frequent route be retained. This is absolutely the wrong piece of public input to listen to. Yet the public get frequent complaints that users can’t find the appropriate stop for their service in the city centre, no action.

  10. John D November 21, 2017 at 5:50 pm #

    Should Transit Agencies Listen More? I guess the fair question; can we hear from our customers?
    In any business, they said customer is always first, and right. But, in transit I see it different because you might collect a bios data since not everyone showing to the public hearing or call the agency. This happen because there is no appropriate communication channel between transit and customers which help to provide an easy access for everyone. For example, when you go to a restaurant, and you find they change their operating hours, you might just turn on your phone, and put a comment directly on yelp or google. Then many other affected customers will come and vote for it. The owner will see, and will take a response since everyone complaining. This can apply to transit too. When you see the specific trip is always getting late for easy fix reason or the new stop is not safe, or the bus operator was rude in that time. All these feedback will help to improve customer satisfaction even if you can’t fix everything. It will be nice if there is a tool similar to yelp that help your customers to comment and evaluate your service by trip, stop, bus, route, operators. Data is always good to understand your customers. Many agencies, don’t know their customers simply because they don’t have enough and good data.

  11. Richard L Layman November 22, 2017 at 7:57 am #

    I have a running joke with my wife. She says I don’t listen. I say I do listen, I just don’t do what she says. Your post is good because it provides a way to get actionable or at least usable information out of public processes. Then again, in such processes, with knowledgeable people, people can raise incredibly good points that tend to be ignored, lost in the process, not retained, etc. E.g., right now the Crystal City BID is leading a planning process to create a better connection, to wit, a pedestrian bridge, between National Airport and Crystal City, the adjacent community, but separated by a parkway and railroad tracks from the Airport. While the idea didn’t originate with me, I have written about how the biggest thing that can be done now is for National Airport to integrate the Crystal City railroad station into National Airport’s bus based ground transportation system. While many airports do some form of this, National Airport hasn’t had to, because they have a Metrorail station on site. But they need to think beyond. And this is a lot more attainable, now, than building a pedestrian bridge across National Park Service land. This is an example of how there is little ability to capture and acknowledge transformational ideas and concepts within transportation processes.

  12. James November 22, 2017 at 12:47 pm #

    I lie your post and many of the above comments stated above are on point.
    a. The squeaky wheel get the oil. Depends. Surely the transit entity will at least consider the request for service improvements.
    b. Nobody who rides asks for less service.
    c. If you have relative political power, lets say you used to be a reporter for the local newspaper and they run a story about how your service is a less but the overall system service has been improved, especially in areas that need the service, guess what? you get the service even at the detriment to others.
    d. How is funding allocated? Farebox? Local taxes, state taxes< federal? It makes a difference. If your farebox return ratio is 50%, then you'll provide service to make sure you attain the farebox return ratio. Yes, you will still provide lower farebox return ration service, but you will keep an eye on what brings in the money.
    e. Other reasons. I have always been confused by agencies that have Title VI and Environmental Justice issues, it seems to me if you service your current and future customers as much as you are able, then these issues become irrelevant.

  13. David Elvin November 25, 2017 at 6:58 am #

    Here in Springfield MA, our transit service area is one of the most segregated by race and income in the U.S. And the proportion of bus riders who live in poverty is typically more than double that of the service area’s underlying Census district(s), depending on the route. Riders have little in common with the transit agency’s governing board–few, if any, of whom ever ride the bus. Our demographic disconnect is profound. So I would make the friendly suggestion that we revisit Jarrett’s item #4 about public feedback being “laced with abuse” to instead acknowledge that the public input we receive during transit planning is often a direct reflection of the legitimate, existing, longstanding, and structural social inequities that many riders experience daily. But of course, especially with smaller and mid-sized transit agencies, the lack of staff time and resources to do this are yet another structural barrier to genuine “listening.” Indeed we should listen more — and that would mean, as Sam J in the Twin Cities suggests, greater understanding among planners and governing board members of the real-life bus rider experience.

  14. Ruediger Herold November 25, 2017 at 3:15 pm #

    1. Several years ago for a few months I worked part-time for a company conducting telephone interviews. Although it was only “market and opinion research” many people hung up already before the first question was asked when they noticed that it was a call-center calling.
    2. Often the nicer people were happy being asked about important issues. Often people were asked “the wrong” questions and annoyed and so was I but had to defend the idiot with the money that paid for the to-be-asked question.
    3. I was involved in a survey where a public transport company actually wanted to listen and let us phone random numbers and ask people questions.
    4. Well, I managed, but the people there had a different dialect.
    5. At the beginning of the call I had to state that I was (somehow) a representative of the Stadtwerke, which is a municipal company responsible for public transport but also for gas, electricity, water etc. One person my computer called randomly said: “Just write down: everything is too expensive!!” and hung up…
    6. I did not know the city I was working for, so when I asked about what did you realize in the media about changes in the system and the interviewee said: “Oh, yes, the new tram line to suburb XY” I couldn’t tick that and asked “Do you mean the new proposed/envisaged/enlarged tram line nr. 4 or nr. 5?” In the end, in this case, there was no helpful additional data for the agency.

    Years later, I have been phoned the other way round. But I’m tired now. Hopefully, I will manage to write part 2…

  15. Steve Fittante November 27, 2017 at 8:44 am #

    Another point raised was that often the most informed and relevant source of comment are riders, often working and transit dependent, whose voice is often lost. One way that agencies can obtain this input in addition to focus groups, are holding public hearings in bus stations and transit hubs but right at the location where riders congregate. Using more informal comment tables can potentially reach more if those transit dependent riders.

  16. asdf2 November 27, 2017 at 10:10 pm #

    I think the following would be a very interesting survey question to ask:

    Think about the last time you rode an Uber, Lyft, taxi, or short-term car rental. What service improvement would have resulted in you riding transit instead?

    I can imagine all sorts of interesting answers. For instance, more frequent bus service, buses running more hours of the day, elimination of fare penalties for transferring routes, fixing poorly-timed or unreliable connections. In some cases, the answer might be the opening of a planned subway route, still under construction. And yes, there will inevitably be some cases where no reasonable service improvement would have gotten that person on the bus, and that’s ok to know, too.

    In my case, the answer to the question would be a frequency improvement to a bus route. At the time I needed it, the bus was running once an hour, and I had just missed it. The frequency would have needed to improve to about 15 minutes for me to have considered waiting for the next bus, rather than ordering the Uber. Or, put differently, it would have meant improving the level of Saturday service on the route to match that which the agency provides on weekdays.

    In general, I like the idea of focusing on the trips people are making with relatively expensive car services, rather than their own personal cars. The high marginal cost of driving should make such trips prime candidates for transit. A pattern of expensive car-service trips between certain neighborhoods at certain times of day, especially by people with relatively modest income levels is probably a sign that the transit system is failing to do its job as effectively as it could.

  17. Ruediger Herold November 28, 2017 at 12:08 pm #

    Part 2
    7. Just recently I was phone-interviewed for the/a transit company. I once had a similar job AND I’m interested what questions companies ask their potential customers AND my home is also my office AND I do not own a car AND I’m a fan of Jarrett’s and other blogs. So with me, they get a successfully ended interview (this time 36 minutes… – but I say it when I think that questions are misleading which adds minutes) but how representative?
    8. I don’t know how many people like me would not confuse “Schleswig-Holstein-Ticket” and “Schleswig-Holstein-Tarif” but I know why I’m not explaining the difference here… But both are useful on many occasions! The call-center-person also asks if other ticket-types are known to the interviewee but the interviewer maybe lives in a different state.
    9. These are some of the questions I find problematic:
    10. “Did you recently realize advertizing of this (transit) company?”
    Well, what the…? I’m quite informed already and I want information or explanation not slogans.
    11. “Are you satisfied with the friendliness of the personell?”
    Well, firstly I want the bus drivers to be good at … driving, and, secondly, calming down potential troublemakers. If a bus driver is unfriendly to me because I’m not showing my ticket properly it’s rather unimportant to me.
    12. “Do you think this company is a modern company?”
    Well, I like modern busses, but if tickets are cheaper and/or service is more frequent I think that “old-fashioned” is better.

  18. Garth Macleod November 28, 2017 at 8:32 pm #

    I have had a great and bad experience as a member of the public in Auckland. The great one increased a service from eight a day to 76 buses a day. This was despite the transport agency going to court to stop it. I put success to a number of factors including a willing bus company , a petition which informed what time people wished to arrive and active advertising by me at the hospital and university the bus went past.Also when there were 57 buses a day someone set up a Facebook account about the lack of buses and got 400 hits in a day and newspaper coverage.
    The bad was presenting my ideas at a 10 minute speaking slot and then have my ideas rebuffed. Someone came up to me later and said “they didn’t listen to a word you said”

  19. Kem Marks November 29, 2017 at 3:10 pm #

    Sorry, but I am going to have to disagree with you. If you want a perfect example of this, just look at the Division Transit Project right here in Portland. I and other steering committee members suggested TriMet do exactly what Albuquerque did for their BRT which you praise in another article. Everything east of 82nd Ave could have been a center dedicated bus lane/station configuration. None of the jurisdiction members or TriMet were willing to consider this, primarily because of the political problems it would cause not for design reasons.

    With all due respect, experts always think they know best. You all never give others credit for understanding or resolving problems

  20. Mike Lindblom December 4, 2017 at 10:04 am #

    Great observations by Jarrett. A couple more:

    * Retirees, neighborhood councils, affinity groups and nonworking activists who dominate public meetings, though they don’t necessarily promote the best network design for a whole city, are perfectly capable of wrecking a tax measure, so transit boards do take their advice.
    * Transport agencies, at least around here, blow millions of dollars preparing for redundant rounds of public outreach, including 10- and 20-year master plans that last only four years. The Highway 99 and Highway 520 rebuilds each spend more than $100m to reach preliminary design, and Sound Transit 3 is scheduled to spend $285m to reach preliminary design on a $6b corridor. Some of that money can be conserved, to increase service.

  21. david vartanoff December 4, 2017 at 12:50 pm #

    At a transit agency board mtg, 45 mins were spent on staff presentation and board discussion of a “branding paint scheme” for a poorly designed brt lite scheme. Public comment was basically “who cares about the color scheme, will the buses run on time?” At another mtg, despite rider input, policy was set to replace a local bus with a brt lite express–but no local service. This is along an avenue with a continuous commercial strip.

  22. Wanderer December 4, 2017 at 3:39 pm #

    I’ve been to transit hearings where both sides are in the wrong. The transit agency staff is convinced that they know what needs to be done and the public should get out of the way. But the loudest public voices in the room are busy saying how they’re SO much smarter than those STUPID transit staff. And by the way the transit staff is evil and corrupt too. This does not lead to good outcomes.

  23. Nathanael December 7, 2017 at 7:45 pm #

    Readers have given plenty of examples of transit agencies being idiots and asking the wrong questions. Perhaps “listening more” means, wait for it, listening more. Not to people’s proposed *solutions* — that’s what experts are supposed to be for — but to what people like and what people don’t like.

    Sure, you’ll always get “I want to drive my car door to door everywhere” and “I want a one-seat ride everywhere”. Since those are impossible, ignore them. But other people will, for example, say that they want the bus stops to feel safe. Or they want the buses to run on time. Or they want the buses to run late enough/early enough that they can use them to get to work. You can do something about that.

  24. run 3 May 23, 2018 at 6:27 am #

    In Stockholm in some bus areas they have a variable compensation for the company operating the buses for the city, it is connected to the number of verified ticketed riders. In return the companies have more to say in changing routes to increase ridership. Before they were paid to run the buses on the time tables and feed if they couldn’t make it. I think it is an interesting approach, it is not without its flaws though.