Governance Innovation Planning Policy
November 24, 2015
Working for the Change We Seek
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We hosted transit advocates from across the U.S. in New York City

TransitCenter was reborn as a civic philanthropy in mid-2013, amid one of the most transformative moments in transportation. The first couple of years of this new organization’s life involved a significant learning phase, where we circulated among transit champions, civic advocates, municipal leaders, and many other people interested in improving public transportation. Those of us working here at TransitCenter now brought along prior experience in some aspect of transportation policy and reform. Over the course of the past two years, the experiences we brought with us were rounded out with a more developed theory of change and greater development around the programs we started from scratch.

We thought that now would be a good time to give everyone a brief update on our own program development, and the way we implemented our first round of grantmaking. As an operating foundation, the majority of our work involves the projects and products that we generate ourselves; we believe in deep engagement with the subjects that we think would make a difference.

This speaks to our two strategic points of emphasis: the appreciation of human capital, and systemic reform. First, we believe strongly that in order to change the way transportation is planned, funded, operated, and managed in this country, we have to invest in a diverse group of leaders who can forge the way.

Second, these leaders need to also consider completely new ways of transforming the practice and culture of transportation. No longer can we accept the small progress around the edges, we should look for actions that challenge the big system. Those actions may themselves be small, but they should draw into question the very system that currently governs our work today.

In the coming year, you’ll see that we now cast our work in four major program areas.

One program, Leadership and Governance, is a combination of both building human capital and doing so in ways that challenge current systems. Whether we are diving into a specific city to help the civic leaders build capacity and public support for a new transportation system, or training board members of transit agencies, or even collecting best practices in competitive contracting for transit services , we aim to arm all those who are interested with the skills and knowledge that will help them shift the transportation paradigm.

Our Demand and Opinion program aims to expand the conversation in transportation policy to include demand-side considerations. We’ve already launched a public opinion survey, Who’s on Board, on public attitudes on public transportation. Taken further, we’re curious about the additional high-quality practices can we get out of our existing transportation assets, like our existing parking lots, streets, curbs, and transit systems. These methods might include incentives to share a ride, operate vanpools, or walk and bike to work. Thankfully, there is a whole group of practitioners who are experts in this field, but we bet that they will be more effective if they can share best practices and be more integrated in the conversation about transportation reform. Thus we will be developing a handbook of best practices and working with a few specific cities to implement improved travel demand management practices.

Third, we all know that technology is the most disruptive aspect in transportation today, especially for the riders. Today’s riders can not only plan each trip, they can understand the impacts of transportation through data visualization, and they have a suite of new transportation services at their fingertips. Our work in the Rider and Technology program looks at how new technology, whether through open data or new transportation services, can enhance transit systems and resolve some of the barriers to transit. So far, it seems that bike share, ride share, and car share succeed where there is some kind of reliable transit system. We’ll be releasing a policy framework on shared use mobility with Sam Schwartz Engineering, and will be working on a few data visualization tools that help communities better understand the impacts of transit development. We’re excited to see how our transportation options will continue to develop as technology continues to evolve.

Finally, our office is based in New York City, and we’re fully aware that while New York is the biggest transit market, it is also a unique one. We have the largest subway system in the world to provide 24/7 service. To kick-off a New York City-focused program, we first took advantage of the newly available bus performance data, and will be releasing analysis that shows how local buses can be improved in so many small ways. Over the course of the next year, we will be working with local allies to act on opportunities to improve local buses. If London can do it, there’s no good reason New York City can’t.

Along the way of developing our own work, we looked for additional champions and new ideas. Our grantmaking program  helped us do that. We were inspired to learn that we’ve only skimmed the surface, there are many more of you out there, people who care about their communities and think about and look for ways to change one of the most fundamental things impacting all of us: our transportation systems and the way you and your city get around.

Our web site only speaks to a portion of our products, learning and experiences. But stay tuned as more of our programs get underway, we’ll have more to share, and hope you’ll continue on this journey with us.

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