Monday, February 13, 2012

Time for out of the box thinking and less bureaucracy?

Man thinking on a train journey.Image via Wikipedia
As things continue to look bleak for transit agencies across the nation, and with politics in Washington DC not making things any easier, is it time for some out of the box thinking? I know, that is a catch phrase that has been over used over the years but it is so appropriate to the challenges now facing the transit agencies.

Many transit agencies are cutting service and having to do more with less. I have mentioned many times about the unfunded mandate with paratransit service which is something we have to live with and some of the innovative ideas that are being used to make the service less expensive by combining it with flexible bus routes. However, I have also pointed out some of the problems that comes with those types of operations such as cost and connectivity.

One thing we need to see out of transit agencies is more entrepreneurship type innovative thinking and less bureaucracy. The problem is any large organization gets to the point where it is almost difficult to accomplish anything. They squash any attempt at innovative thinking that will rock the boat.

Big transit agencies are so used to do everything the same way they have for years it is impossible to get them to change the way they do business. Now I am not just picking on transit agencies here. Many big companies face the same issues including ones that started by being innovative. Even the mighty Microsoft is feeling the affects of it and for a good look at what is happening there and with the problems it can create take a look at the book Paul Allen: Idea Man. In one chapter of this book he points out how bureaucracy has become rampant at Microsoft (although he never calls it that).

He points out that up to a quarter of the staff at Microsoft is not pulling their weight and need to go away but it has become almost impossible to get rid of them. I am sure that anyone could look inside your neighborhood transit agency and find the same situation.

However, advocates are often their own worst enemy and make the situation worse. So many of them are so negative to anything the transit agency does that the agencies bureaucracy becomes even more embedded into the agencies culture.

Just look at what is happening in Portland, Oregon. Trimet has announced cuts to take place in September. While some advocates are coming up with some good ideas, too many of them are so negative to the agency and so blatantly militant that their views don't get heard.

Is their changes that could take place at transit agencies? Of course there is, many of them could loosen the grips of their bureaucracy and become more willing to adapt to changes and more innovative. But advocates also need to meet the agency half way and have a positive oriented discussion and not a name calling session.

The elections this year may bring change but not the change transit advocates are looking for or transit agencies for that matter or we could have more of the same. Now is the time for transit agencies to start thinking outside the box, become more innovative and to start breaking down their bureaucratic barriers and encourage a entrepreneurial  and true leadership spirit within their ranks. It is also time for transit advocates to start having serious but positive talks with transit agencies.
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