The Transit Connection

Aug. 15, 2016
Be a leader in community unity and develop the right campaign to give riders and non-riders a sense of connectedness through collective travel.

Building deeper connections to wider communities is a more important imperative for transportation agencies than ever before. This summer, the nation was confronted with a series of trying events which clearly demand a show of unity from those of us in the transport world. In speeches at the Dallas Memorial Service in July, President Obama and former president Bush underscored the need for a spirit of togetherness and perseverance. Across the country we’ve seen similar calls for cross-community understanding at many levels. The time is now to demonstrate to our constituencies the unique role public transportation can play in cultivating peace, respect, community, and connectedness. It’s also appropriate that we remind ourselves of our own valuable roles in this important work.

Now more than ever is our time to make a forthright and earnest effort to reach people who feel a need for personal, social and community connections and to remind them they can take action today. Let your community know that by getting on the bus they can say hello to their neighbor and tangibly take action to meet and connect with others on a daily basis. These encounters reinforce a sense of togetherness and empathy for one another at the ground level. The divisions that many of today’s current events wrongly reinforce has the danger of making people feel the need to wall themselves off. Through your outreach, enforce the heightened sense of community awareness and cooperation attained though collective travel. At the same time, use this opportunity as a reminder of the good your work and our industry have in building connections between people and communities. What could be more important, especially now?

The industry has made important strides to ensure that similar messages reinforcing the overall good of public transportation not only reaches our customer base, but potential riders as well. I encourage agency leaders to push their outreach efforts further in this direction, giving non-riders a real-world community connection to our services. The aim of such efforts is to enact a wider sense of civic solidarity among segments of the community not traditionally regarded as stakeholders and to turn them into allies of your operations. With the nation in search of opportunities to unite, the need is especially strong today to ensure that your message makes it to the eyes and ears of non-riders in your region.

Equally important is the need to communicate the role public transportation already plays in serving a diverse set of people. Many of the difficult events that have put us through a trying period as a nation have focused on our differences. As an industry we can work to bridge those perceived divisions and reinforce the equalizing and opportunity-providing forces we contribute to our communities. Be proud of the diversity of ridership and be clear about your commitment to connecting people to one another. The mixture of experiences and walks of life that make the same journeys together is a force for community unity, and industry pride.

The steps toward enacting such a campaign will differ from agency to agency. Each region has a unique set of attributes that inform the way a community-oriented campaign will be carried out. With this in mind, the unique environments in which we operate bear many commonalities, giving us the opportunity to take similar approaches. Part of this common method will begin by identifying those communities not immediately connected to transit; these organizations can represent sports, business, education, and other interest groups in cities across the country. Within those communities are highly connected individuals whose power to influence others within their network comes from their ability to relay information within their circles. A successful outreach campaign will identify and appeal to such key actors to ensure our message reaches diverse realms of social life.

Transit agencies across the country have the unique opportunity to be harbingers of community unity and leaders in opportunity-driven city building. At the same time, we must remind ourselves of the central importance of the good that we offer; we can directly benefit community cohesion every day, and we need to do our part to let the community know that. You should be proud of your and your agency’s work, and all that we have collectively accomplished as a field. It’s our duty now to continue to push forward, think smart, and continue to be a force of unity in the world.

Scott Wilkinson is president of AlphaVu.

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Feb. 4, 2016