Tuesday, April 17, 2007

UTA Planners....

When I think of transit planners my mind goes back to an incident that happened in 2000 when I was living in Spokane. Because the a revamp of the vehicle tax by Initiative I-195 in 1999, the Spokane Transit Authority and all other Washington State transit systems where threats of severe cuts because a major source of income was cut out.

During one of the public meetings proposing to cut the system, a citizen asked a show of hands from the Board of Directors and the STA employees of how many actual ride the bus. There was several minutes of silence until one of the County Commissioners started rattling off a list of excuses on why they can't ride the system.

Well that may be well and good but what about the planners? Since they are making decisions about the system shouldn't they be riding it on a regular basis in order to get a better idea on why, when, where, and how people are riding the bus?

Interesting enough when the head planner left that meeting in Spokane he jumped in his expensive BMW and drove away. Now, how is this guy supposed to truly understand what makes the system tick?

They would argue that they have the ridership date from the black boxes carried on many buses these days. The problem is, the boxes don't tell the planners why the person rode the bus, doesn't tell the planner if the person transferred from another route, doesn't tell the planner what the customers destination is, and so on.

Here is something else that troubles me with the planners. When they post requirements for the job when their is an opening the insist on a degree, while a business degree is listed their prefer a urban planning degree and planning experience. I have never seen a transit system higher a planner with extensive business experience only planning.

So why the business? Once again it boils down to the fact that planners do not have the business experience to look at things from a marketing and financial point of view. They do not see having buses sit 8 months a year as being wasteful. How long do you think someone would last at Southwest if they had a plane sit 16 hours a day? The answer is not long.

The reason is that when that vehicle is sitting it is not earning revenue. The government (planner) mindset is that if the bus is sitting its not costing anything (they don't understand the concept of wasting capital resources). This is the same "transit-mentality" that is killing Amtrak.
All transit agencies should require a business background for a planner. In addition, the planners should be required to ride the system a certain number of hours per week in order to better understand why the system works the way it does. Maybe then we would see some changes for the better in the planning of our transit schedules and not see the stupid statements being made like "bus service is not being cut".

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