Friday, January 22, 2010

County-Wide Transit Done Right

Wednesday's AATA Board meeting brought a great deal of information to light. One was the encouraging presentation by consultants of the August 2009 survey of attitudes toward AATA and county-wide transit. Details of that will be made available soon on AATA's Web site, and I'll let you know when they're up.

Most impressive was Director Jesse Bernstein's intense presentation of the process for moving toward county-wide transit, and his impassioned explanation of the benefits of rail transit. Both were very encouraging for those of us looking toward sustainable development based on transit. It's good to know someone on the AATA Board is not only aware of the economic and environmental benefits of rail transit, but also willing to expound upon them with fervor.

Ready, Aim, Fire!

Even more important, though, is the process Mr. Bernstein is insisting on for developing county-wide transit. Instead of saying, "Here's the experts' plan: like it or lump it", Bernstein strongly advocates working in partnership with the community to develop a plan that meets people's needs best. Yes, expert advice is important, but without community participation it's of little value.

Why? Because the community - the voters of Washtenaw County - have the final say in the matter. We, the voters, will decide whether it's worth parting with our hard-earned money to create county-wide transit.

Bernstein explains the process as consisting of three phases, easily remembered using the familiar phrase, "Ready, aim, fire":

  1. Ready: Make sure the entire voting community is ready to participate, familiar with the issues involved in county-wide transit. What are the options? What are the costs? What are the benefits? It's preparation through education.
  2. Aim: Find out what to aim for in county-wide service by taking some options to the community and getting input. What are the best routes? What level of service is needed? What kind of service do people want? What level of funding would work best? Though Bernstein didn't elaborate, I'm pretty sure he's referring to the "best practice": an iterative process in which input is gathered from a series of meetings, a proposal is built based on that input, and the proposal is refined through further meetings.
  3. Fire: With a plan supported by the community, get financial support from the voters and implement the plan.

The "traditional" method of implementing a new service plan is to hire consultants who tell us what the best plan is, based on demographic patterns and possibly a survey, but without the community education and interaction Bernstein is proposing. The result may be a great transit plan in theory, but with little public understanding or support it's unlikely to be accepted and funded.

So I heartily applaud Mr. Bernstein for guiding the AATA in the right direction.

No comments:

Post a Comment