The Comet (Central Midlands Transit)
Critics of public transportation don’t realize that while transit will never pay for itself, it’s one of the few publicly funded programs that not only generates its own revenues from user fees, but also becomes more efficient the more it’s used. A bus is running down the street, so the more people we can convince to drop the car keys and climb on board, the lower our operational cost per capita will be.
We have focused on three things to combat the negative belief that transit costs aren’t worth the benefits:
The Comet (Central Midlands Transit) places a premium on our image and our identity. We have to beinnovative, responsive and genuinely committed to growing our customer base. Everything we do is viewed through the lens of results and the ability to increase transit use. People may not see the value of a smartly designed transit super stop until they see 15 people lined up to board the bus. Our new website is visually cool and designed to get route info in two clicks.
We put a face on our riders in the community. We ask riders to tell their employers and family members how important transit is to them. We get out and talk with customers to ask what they think. Then we do what they suggest. We invited the independently created bus riders association to have a spot on our monthly board meeting agenda and serve as a non-voting service standards committee member. We ask them for feedback on shelter locations and bus stop design standards and credit them for the feedback.
We are chasing the 17 to 25 year-old market. Transit critics are usuallypeople who are in the habit of driving cars. Research shows young adults are less likely to have a drivers license at 17, drive fewer miles than any other age group and were raised in a technical world. We want transit to be their habit for years. It’s all part of why we moved away from a government acronym. It’s why our colors are bold. It’s why we’re so attentive to college and university atmospheres. It’s why we have booths at job fairs when we aren’t hiring — because we’re selling transit.
We know that by putting “cheeks in seats,” giving riders a voice and attracting a whole new generation of riders we’re slowly chipping away at the number of people who don’t see value in transit. The emphasis isn’t on trying to prove transit is the solution to all problems. We just prove it’s the solution for our customers in the community.
Critics of transit project funding come from different directions, with varied agendas. Good responses to such criticism must address the agenda in play and will usually fall within one or more of the following interrelated categories:
There is ample data to support each argument and organizations such as the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and the National Alliance of Public Transportation Advocates (NAPTA) are excellent sources to find the information needed to back up your responses to critics.
- Jobs — Both project construction and transit agency operations create jobs. Every $1 billion invested generates 36,000 jobs.
- Businesses — Every dollar invested in public transportation generates $3 in local business sales.
- Carbon footprint — Public transportation saves 37 million tons of CO2 emissions every year, equivalent to the electricity generated for 4.9 million households.
- Public transportation saves the equivalent of 900,000 auto fill-ups every day and therefore reducing dependence of foreign oil.
- Areas served by public transportation can save 300 gallons of fuel annually in reduced congestion from less driving.