image via flickr

Events Innovation
December 4, 2014
Trick Out Our Trip
image via flickr

image via flickr

This fall, TransitCenter partnered with ioby (it stands for In Our Backyard, an organization that is the counterweight to the prevailing Not In My Backyardism that tends to oppose local change) to encourage communities around the country to submit ideas for improving their transit experience. (Tech-based ideas were not included in this round because, well, transit tech has access to more funding than the humble neighborhood bus stop.) Through Trick Out My Trip, ioby received a wide range of projects, and with some vetting, development, due diligence, and training on grassroots campaigning from ioby staff, 10 projects got the go-ahead to participate in ioby’s platform to receive pledges online from individuals and receive matching funds from TransitCenter

We were delighted with the kinds of projects that came in, from bus shelter and stop improvements in Denver, CO, Memphis, TN, and Lithonia, GA; station libraries in Seattle, WA; better pedestrian to transit wayfinding in Los Angeles, to a pop-up transit hub in New York City, and better bike storage facilities in Atlanta, GA.

As wonderful as these projects are, we’re aware that they do not completely replace reliable, convenient transit service. After all, what is the use of a better bus shelter if one is still made to wait for 45 minutes wondering if the bus will arrive? Nonetheless, the collection of projects attests to how much one’s transit experience is in fact oriented around place. Nearly all of these ideas hone in on making the place of transit a much better experience for the riders.

These projects highlight how a good portion of the transit experience falls outside of transit industry discussions about equipment and performance. It’s easy to forget that each node (or stop) in the system is a literally a place that can play an additive role, wherever it is. This observation is not meant to assign undue responsibility to a single bus stop; instead, it is offered to show that an unwavering focus on the vehicles and not on people overlooks the potential of the overall network. A transit experience doesn’t start and stop within the boundaries of the vehicle; it starts when one starts planning to take transit, arrives at the station, the experience along the way, and ends when one arrives at the destination.

But thinking about place often falls between the cracks and is really not part of transit planning practice. That’s why platforms like ioby can help communities jumpstart an idea that might be politically risky or difficult to justify for public dollars or is not in the engineer’s playbook.  Crowd-funding should not replace government services (the transit agency should own the responsibility of improving people’s transit experience, in addition to tending to its fleet) but the Trick Out of My Trip projects demonstrate how transit agencies could improve and expand their service.

Finally, good ideas can come from a variety of sources. Seventy percent of ioby’s applicants are not 501c3 organizations, they’re typically humble “friends-of-the-parks” groups with less than $1000 annual budgets. They are not considered by the IRS to be “non-profits.” But they also represent regular users of transit systems, and their ideas could be as valuable as those from established think tanks. With crowd-funding, pilots can be tested and their benefits measured.

No matter how small a Trick Out My Trip idea might be, each plays a large role in the community, especially in showing our elected officials and transit agencies that indeed, the public does want better places to catch the bus or train.

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