Vice President – Federal Relations
No timing like the present.
Timing is everything. And with legislators, the best time for promoting transit and its myriad of benefits is . . . all the time. But it’s important to know how to approach legislators and their staffers to ensure that transit gets its legislative due.
Know Before You Go
As transit proponents, we want to advance our agenda effectively. With Congress, the first step is to do your homework. Are the Congressional members you’re approaching newly elected? Do they have a voting record? Have they been a transit supporter? If not, what do they support? You need to know.
Follow Your Knows
What do you hope to gain from the relationship? What do you want the legislators to do? Do you want them to support more funding? Block crippling overregulation? Is this a “friend-building” meeting for some future vote? Know before you go. In addition to knowing what you want, know the lay of the land.
Is there a transit bill on the floor or in committee? Is there a funding vote pending? Know what’s going on in Congress when you approach legislators of interest, and know their role in the process.
The Congressional Staycation
Everyone inside the Beltway knows when Congress leaves town. But most people don’t realize this is an ideal time to approach members and their staffs. The members are both required and naturally inclined to return home frequently; they need to stay in touch with the concerns of their constituents. Those district visits are also excellent opportunities to spend quality face time with a legislator. They’re a perfect time to share your passion for transit’s virtues. And don’t forget their staff members.
A Staff Affection
While their bosses go home, Congressional staffers stay in Washington to do the work they had little time for when Congress was in session. But they must also eat lunch, and they thrive on useful meetings. So sit down with staffers and get to know them. Share your passion for transit. Why? Because Congressional staffers are some of the most important people in Washington.
Congressional staffers are the gatekeepers. They control the flow of information to Congresspeople. They control who gets to see the Congressperson. They set the daily agenda. They draft memos and even legislation for their bosses. Staffers keep Congress running. They have an inside track on everything happening in Congress. Establish a working, professional relationship with Congressional staffers. Treat them with the respect they deserve. It is an investment that will pay dividends for your transit agenda.
What a Face
Today, many people think email can deliver your message to Congress. Do you want your transit system’s funding riding on an email? Nothing replaces a face-to-face meeting. Sit down with the Congressman or Senator. Get to know them. Let them get to know you. Even if they don’t support transit now, you might be able to help them with another part of their agenda. And that could bring them around to supporting transit.
Is Mr. Smith Still in Washington?
Though we’d all love to have Jimmy Stewart serving as our advocate for transit on the Senate floor, some situations call for professionals. Lobbyists are not intrinsically bad. In fact, they are an essential part of the political process. Congress could not function without them. Use them. Work with consultants and lobbyists to shape and advance your transit agenda.
Timing is everything. And there is never a bad time to advocate for transit. But there are strategic methods for reaching Congress, and they are your best way to ensure transit is given its legislative due.