Transit Thursday: Your Voice

On the GoTriangle blog, one of our biggest goals is to make public transit relatable. The plethora of transit acronyms – EIS, NEPA, URS, STRNC – are informative, but quickly start to run together. Meghan Makoid did a fantastic job of breaking down the D-O LRT process (aka the Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project – see what I mean about the acronyms?) into everyday language that helped us understand our role in the project’s formation. During her Q&A series, Meghan also highlighted how vital public involvement is in transit because that’s what public transit is: public. As part of the public, it’s something that affects you.

Recently, Triangle Transit announced several proposed service changes for the fall. Just like in the Project Development phase, this portion of the service changes process also calls for public involvement. So in the theme of keeping transit a) relatable and b) understandable, I’m explaining proposed service changes by comparing it to something many of us are familiar with: The Voice. Both service changes and The Voice happen twice a year and both rely on public opinion for a final verdict.

So let’s start at the beginning. How do proposed service changes even get proposed?

Excellent question! Just like in auditioning for The Voice, the process from transit data to actual service change takes many steps. Triangle Transit planners first examine hard data, which is measured by the fare box and the Automatic Passenger Counter, or APC. This black box is located at the front and back doors of the bus and detects how many passengers get on the bus, when and where they get on and off, etc. Using the APC and fare box numbers, planners can break down the ridership for different routes.

Planners also keep track of the bus’s real-time schedule. They track how long it actually takes the bus to travel from stop to stop. If the bus is scheduled to arrive at 4:30 pm, does it always arrive at 4:30 pm? Does it sometimes arrive a few minutes later, or is it frequently showing up late? Are passengers missing their transfers because the bus’s real-time schedule differs from its actual schedule? These are all factors that must be considered. So, once all things are considered, how do they decide what routes move on to the next round?

Both Triangle Transit planners and The Voice coaches examine performance standards. Transit planners use specific service standards to check for performance levels, including measurements of how many people are on the buses vs. how many buses are currently in transit. On average, there are 15 passengers/hour, a number that’s increased since 2009. With this average in mind, planners then compare “low-performing” routes to the “average-performing” routes. Are there 500 people riding one route each day when only 100 are riding another? Why is this occurring?  Coaches and planners must deliberate these issues (and sometimes, deliberation requires company).

At this point, the entire Triangle Transit system is taken into consideration. Transit planners and The Voice coaches have to envision the bigger picture, whether it’s getting passengers to their destination on time or choosing the singer who’ll win the show for their team. Sometimes, planning with the bigger picture in mind means good talent has to be let go or certain bus stops have to be discontinued.

Difficult, yes, but necessary in the larger sphere.

By this point in the show – er, planning process – public opinion has come into play. Since some questions can’t be answered by hard data, planners will often do a pre-survey of the route before the official proposals are submitted. They ride the routes and talk to bus operators and passengers to see how they would feel about the service changes. In planning and on The Voice, once the official proposals and team line-ups are out, the public is still asked for comments. Public comment can even shape early service proposals into something completely different by the time final recommendations are sent to the Board. And as many of us know, early coach-favorites on The Voice aren’t always the last ones standing.

Once recommendations are finalized, they’re presented to the Operations and Finance Committee (O&F) for approval. Like in The Voice’s live shows round, the proposals are now THIS CLOSE to being winners, aka formal service changes. Anyone is invited to attend the O&F Committee meeting to voice their opinion one more time and hear the planner’s final recommendations for the Board.  If the O&F Committee approves the final recommendations, they are then presented at the Board of Trustees meeting on May 21st. If the Board examines the proposed service changes and approves them too, then BAM! We have a winner!

The proposed service changes will now become official services changes and the one singer who auditioned blindly in the hope of just getting one chair turn will now have a shot at the big leagues. Once August rolls around, the service changes will be implemented just as students are returning for the fall semester. They may not come with $100,000 and a record deal, but like The Voice prize, service changes offer a fresh start and the opportunity for new growth.

You might never get a shot at The Voice, but there’s still a chance to have your voice heard: read the full proposed service changes details online and share your opinions with our Triangle Transit planners. Comments can be given via the online feedback form, email, phone, and in person. Get the full contact details here. When the planners return your call personally, it may just feel as good as getting a coach’s chair turn.



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