Broadening the View

Holistic planning and partnerships can enhance transit capacity and preserve budgets

Transit agencies across the nation are experiencing two trends that, taken together, present both great opportunities and profound challenges. On the one hand, demand for public transportation has been rising: According to HNTB’s America THINKS 2015 public transit survey, 158 million Americans use public transportation, and four out of five survey respondents indicated they could be motivated to use it even more. Yet, on the other hand, transit systems nationally face a daunting maintenance backlog to achieve a state of good repair.

Increasingly, agencies are reconciling these trends to incrementally improve capacity and enhance the customer experience without significant investments. A key strategy is to step beyond traditional operational boundaries—and the desire to “own the customer’s trip” in its entirety—and successfully partner with others to pursue mutual goals.

Pursuing common goals
At the highest level, this strategy entails broadening the view beyond transportation to understand the overarching goals and challenges facing the region or municipality in which the transit system operates.

Local leaders—of public, private and nonprofit organizations alike—have goals for their constituencies that often overlap. Some examples of these goals might be boosting economic opportunity, promoting healthier lifestyles or improving safety. By initiating conversations with a diverse set of local leaders, transit leaders can identify specific shared goals and brainstorm ideas for mutually beneficial solutions.

What might this kind of collaboration look like? Every case will be different. But, envision a mayor and commuter-rail operator collaborating to co-fund bike lane and bike-sharing initiatives, pursuing the mayor’s goal of combating obesity while helping to reduce parking demands at the transit system. Similarly, imagine a large local business collaborating with a transit station manager to co-fund pathway and lighting upgrades nearby, meeting their shared desire to enhance security and the travel experience for hundreds of local workers. Such collaborations, beyond reducing the transit agency’s estimated costs for such improvements, may create opportunities to compete for supplementary grants from government or nonprofit agencies.

One example of such a broad-based collaboration is taking place in Dallas, Texas, with the Texas Department of Transportation’s Dallas City Center Master Assessment Process—better known as CityMAP. HNTB led the CityMAP team through more than 80 one-on-one listening sessions with hundreds of stakeholders. Although the process is ongoing, the final CityMAP document, which included research, stakeholder analysis and conceptual designs, provided TxDOT and its partner agencies an important foundation for moving forward. It has received unanimous support from stakeholders involved. With the momentum CityMAP has established, partnering agencies now are encouraged to work together with TxDOT to prioritize projects and to define the sequencing and funding packages supportive of stakeholder needs and desires.

Focus on mobility management
As a complement to this higher-level strategy, transportation leaders are collaborating among themselves to integrate modes in ways that boost system capacity while enhancing the customer experience. This focus on integration, broadly called mobility management, starts with the premise that when fixed-route operators synchronize their offerings, they can offer improved, more efficient service. It can be achieved through a number of methods:

1. Consider ‘complete streets.’ We see mobility management at work when transit authorities work with departments of transportation and local officials to transform streets to accommodate more diverse traffic. For example, when road lanes are narrowed from 12 feet to 10 feet, it creates more space for sidewalks, bus lanes, bike lanes and transit stations. Users have more choices, transfers between modes are more seamless, and overall system capacity is increased.

2. Look at systems from the perspectives of a broad range of potential users. This requires answering tough questions about the ease with which people can gain access to, and interlink, various mobility options. For example:

• Are there unbroken routes that bicyclists can use to get to and from transit options?
• Are bike-sharing options readily available?
• Are pedestrian pathways within a mile of transit stations clearly marked, well-lighted and safe to walk? Are rideshare companies being treated as symbiotic allies, or sworn enemies? Is it easy for people to be picked up and dropped off at stations—or are rideshare drivers excluded from certain transfer lanes? Similarly, are rideshare company managers at the table at discussions regarding transportation strategy? They should be.

3. Take a different approach. All of us in the public transportation sector understand that we cannot address the dual trends of rising demand and tighter budgets without doing things differently. As a first step, this means broadening our view beyond transportation—learning about the goals of other local and regional leaders and looking for potential synergies to meet common goals while sharing the cost burden.

As a second step, this means working with all the players in the transportation sector—from non-profits and public agencies to for-profit rideshare providers—who can all build transit’s success while meeting their own unique goals.

Ultimately, by pursuing our specific goals while helping others achieve theirs, we can ensure that transit remains a vital, responsive and efficient asset for our communities.

Mendes is vice chair of the APTA Legislative Committee. This “Commentary” is excerpted and reprinted from HNTB’s publication, InTransit, Winter 2017. Find details at www.hntb.com.

Views expressed in posts are those of the author and are not endorsed by Infrastructure Week, its steering committee, sponsors, or affiliates.

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