- Focusing on performance may open new avenues to expanding use of, or access to, mass transit. As with charter schools or private trash hauling, public transportation agencies may find more efficient or affordable methods to accomplish their goals than direct funding or control. As an added benefit, increasing mass transit's reliability may attract additional users, which can create new revenue streams as well as an expanded base of advocates for public transportation.
- Technology can increase reliability, productivity and efficiency, as well as allow new forms of more lucrative advertising within the mass transit network. Technology also can provide incentives that increase ridership. In Austin, Texas, the transportation authority is deploying wireless broadband access on its buses so users can check e-mail, connect to their employers' virtual private networks or surf the Internet while traveling around the city.
- Promotion, advertising, marketing and education can expose more people and new users to the benefits of mass transit while creating an expanded advocacy base.
The items on this menu of solutions are neither exhaustive nor required. Each mass transit project requires careful consideration and analysis, and which solutions apply to which projects will vary based on unique local, state and situational demands.
DEVELOPING A CUSTOMIZED FUNDING PLAN
Without funding, even the most logical or beneficial mass transit projects are doomed to fail. The following four-step funding strategy plan can help match the right solutions with the circumstances that define each individual project. It also identifies and leverages tools used to create the political will to support mass transit, including education, advocacy and the use of cost-benefit statistics to prove the value of mass transportation.
STEP ONE - IDENTIFY COSTS AND BENEFITS
The first step in any strategy to secure funding for a mass transit project is to identify the costs and benefits of required capital improvements. This provides a consistent starting point for various stakeholders as the project sponsor seeks support from local, state and federal leaders, and funding decision makers. The building blocks necessary to develop such a funding strategy include:
- * Develop a financial plan — including both capital and operating expenditures — and schedule for the project. The step includes developing a cost-benefit analysis that will assist with informational, promotional and advocacy communication strategies in Step Two.
- *Identify potential funding sources, including federal, state, local, public-private and private, and the amount of money each source is likely to be able to contribute to the project. Pay particular attention to opportunities to leverage small (usually local or state) amounts with larger (usually federal) contributions.
- *Identify financing techniques, such as bonds, tolls and loans.
- *Develop several funding strategies that include local, state, private and federal sources.
- *Open a frank dialogue with potential funding agencies about the project's funding options and share positive cost-benefit analyses.
STEP TWO - DEVELOP AND DISTRIBUTE INFORMATIONAL MATERIALS
Project sponsors must tell a clear, compelling story about why the capital improvements are vital to achieving a particular transportation goal. They must detail the need for the project, but focus on its impact: the benefits to local communities, the region and the nation.
Sponsors also should include honest assessments of the anticipated cost, schedule, funding plan and quantifiable benefits.
In today's complicated and busy world, sponsors must develop informational materials designed to present the project's benefits in an appealing way to the several specific audiences who must respond to the need, including funding agencies as well as civic leaders, users and potential users and anticipated opponents. Those messages must be simple, memorable and focus on the real-world impact of the project, as well as respond directly or indirectly to expected opposition. Sponsors also must design audience-specific messages to appeal through a variety of communication channels: brochures, videos, news coverage, the Internet, etc.
STEP THREE - APPROACH FUNDING AGENCIES DIRECTLY
Once the project sponsor has developed funding strategies and ranked them in order of relative ease of implementation, and created the informational materials that support the project, its time to actually secure the funding. The sponsor's goal is to leverage the cost-benefit analyses, informational materials and public advocacy to negotiate commitments for both short- and long-term funding of capital and operating expenditures at the local, regional, state and federal levels, and among private sources, as appropriate.