Here in Oregon a new law mandates that all public meetings must have a virtual component. It is no longer acceptable to do only an in-person meeting.
This is great news, especially for people who want to have diverse and inclusive conversations about public transit.
In the old world, pre-2020, the default public meeting was in person. If you wanted to express your view, you had to clear your schedule at the appointed time and travel to a meeting site — which was especially onerous for people who don’t drive. The result was a process that is biased against people who are busy. Most people don’t have the time that in-person meetings require.
When it comes to public transit, there is a direct tension between the interests of busy people — who tend to care about getting places quickly — and those of many people who have spare time. To take one example, retired people often tell me that they need a bus right at their door, but that it’s fine if it comes once an hour, because they can plan around that. That’s great for them, but that kind of service is useless to anyone whose day is full of deadlines they don’t control: punching a time clock, getting to class, picking up the kid at daycare.
The only way we get functional, just, and inclusive transit is for people with different needs to listen to each other. That only happens if everyone has the opportunity to contribute, as they do in virtual events.
The other issue, of course, is that virtual meetings can be civil, because the moderator has tools to cut people off if they are rude, profane, or off-topic or speaking too long. All forms of physical intimidation, however subtle, are also off the table . Those behaviors have become another good reason to avoid public meetings.
The in-person event shouldn’t disappear until we’ve fully replaced it for everyone who really needs it, but the exigences of the pandemic have made far more people comfortable with virtual meetings, and there are a range of ways to reach those who still aren’t. Oregon’s law doesn’t ban in-person meetings, of course. It just says that a process that’s only in-person is no longer acceptable, because it just excludes too many people. I hope we’ll see this spread far and wide.
 At a Cleveland meeting a few years ago, where I was presenting about our bus network design project, one lady devoted her three minutes to probing whether I was married, and if not, what I was doing about that.
 Then there was the meeting in a Western US city, years ago, where one belligerent gentleman testified while keeping one hand in his pocket, holding a clearly gun-shaped object.