Why Transit Executives Should Be Required To Ride The Bus

Over the last decade, I’ve been blessed with the cool opportunity to have been on all 4 sides of the“transit square”.

(🤓a self-made term I hope you like it)

I’ve been able to see, understand, and most importantly live out everyone’s challenges, and over time I began to see and realize that a lot of transit-related problems are indirectly coming from decision-makers being out of touch with the actual product.

I don’t believe the issue is industry-wide incompetence, nor do I think decision-makers don’t “care” I think they care a lot, its why they try to solve the problems in the first place. However, I will say, at times decision-makers (including vendors like myself) are extremely disconnected from our customer’s reality.

Surveys, data, and various opinions from others are great but they do not actually capture what the world is like when you actually have to depend on local transit as your only means of transportation.

Here are three reasons why I think decision-makers, vendors, and schedulers should have to depend on transit and transit alone for 60 days.

You’ll understand everyone’s frustrations firsthand

Commuting by choice, or even convenience is great. It’s the hidden gem of transit, but actually having to depend on transit is a completely different ball game.

When I didn’t have a car I rode transit for one simple reason…I couldn’t afford anything else.

I’ve learned that humans are a lot quicker to anger when they feel they don’t have options or can get something in return for their troubles. Think about it…..

When you have issues at retailers, you don’t return, or the company forwards you some sort of incentive/discount as an apology.

Transit does not do this, instead, it hangs its hat on its“all schedules are approximate” moniker. Sheesh, talk about a slap in the face.

What happens when you don’t like the “J bus” but that just happens to be your only way home every day?

Having transit as a choice is playing with house money because at the end of the day you have…………. a choice. Until that choice is gone, it will be nearly impossible to relate to the people you ultimately have to serve.

You’ll see discrepancies in your data

Data is great, but as an operator and passenger, I can tell you- there are hundreds of factors that go into the transit experience that no data mechanism would ever capture.

Truly accurate data is almost impossible to get in our field…..why?

Operators and Passengers all have habits and tendencies that data cannot capture or duplicate. This can make it extremely hard for planners who rely on this kind of data to create schedules. While the planner’s information may suggest one thing, as operators we’ve just learned to work the schedules we’re given in the best possible way for us. There’s a famous saying amongst operators worldwide, and it goes

“If we drove the way they trained us too, no bus in this city would ever be close to being on time”

It’s nearly impossible for me to get this bus from point A to point B in this amount of time unless…

I do a few things that may cause the Administration, Customer Relations, and The Safety department to frown.

As Bus Operators, we typically have minimal control over our time on the day to day basis. We are one of a few professions whose job is broken down into individual minutes. Because of that, the time we do have that isn’t dedicated to something (I: E Layovers) can be very important.

We want to relax for a second, we want to check our media feeds, we want to get a breath of fresh air, we’d like to use the restroom without rushing as well, and here’s the important part

We want to do all of this without having the service running late during its return trip in the other direction.

In most systems, operators and passengers have a culture….. a unique way of working together.

This consists of unwritten rules and tendencies that help us keep the service moving. A system of codes and silent languages that planners would never see, but have a huge impact on the final product that data projects.

Your Passengers Will Recieve You Better

I’m sure somewhere someone is probably reading this poking through my logic with a fine-tooth comb because they commute to work on their transit system, and that’s fine But there is a small problem with that.

The majority of your ridership and operators view them as publicity stunts because they don’t feel genuine

Express buses, or “easy lines” as we call them in operations, don’t count.

Mainly because that is not the majority of your customers day to day experience. In relating to your ridership, you have to understand that if you’re reading this as a stakeholder or policymaker you probably ride service between prime windows, to a centralized place in a very nice area with minimal to no connections. The majority of your customers don’t share that reality. In addition to that, when executives do ride the service it becomes media, political propaganda, and hashtag material…. people cannot relate to that.

I would challenge all policy and decision-makers to really put themselves in the shoes….or seat of the majority of the people you serve.

It could be a game-changer!

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