Now is the Time to Fight

March 4, 2011
A reoccurring theme at this week's APTA Marketing & Communications Workshop was authorization. Educating legislators on the benefits transit has on a community is more important than ever.

“The outreach we have to do at the federal level can not be overstated,” Michael Scanlon, American Public Transportation Association (APTA) chair, general manager/CEO of San Mateo County Transit District and executive director of Caltrain, said when speaking at the opening session of APTA’s Marketing & Communications Workshop in San Diego, Calif., this past week. The conference always shares what latest in what marketing and PR professionals are doing but this year it was also stressed throughout the conference that everyone needs to be doing what they can to educate legislators about the benefits of public transit. With authorization looming, industry leaders shared what they were doing and ideas for how we can work together to strengthen the message that is being heard on the Hill. Alan Wulkan, managing partner with InfraConsult LLC, said with half of Congress not having been around for the authorization of SAFTEA-LU, we need a new public education effort. And there was some good news he said; he’s never heard public transit mentioned in a president’s State of the Union address and 2/3 of Congress has a history of supporting what we do. He said now is our time to give them the information they need to go to DC to make the best decisions. The future of our cities depends on infrastructure investments done the right way. One key to the success that kept getting mentioned throughout the conference was that the industry needs to have the help of the business members; it’s not just about public transit, private sector jobs are impacted. Looking for natural allies — environmentalist groups, bicycle coalitions, the business community, realtors that market transit access, suppliers to your agency — people you are already talking to anyways. These partners can help spread transit’s message. Morgan Lyons, Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s director, media relations, stressed that we don’t know when we will get authorization, so we still need to capture transit’s stories to share the personal impact with our legislators. APTA’s new initiative i<3transit [I *heart* transit] to connect people to a petition when they text “transit” to 86677. You can also follow @ihearttransit on Twitter to get ongoing updates about the benefits of public transportation. People come to the bus stop and they expect to see a bus. They don’t think about it; it’s just always there. Many people don’t know what public transit means to a community: access to jobs, education, entertainment, shopping, and the jobs it provides. At some point there will be an authorization bill. We don’t know what it will look like. We don’t know what will be in it. There is still time to educate members of Congress. As Alice Wiggins-Tolbert, director, project development with Parsons Brinckerhoff, said, “If there is any time to fight, now is the time to fight.”