Snakes, Sharks, and all the things that make transit awesome
Last week I had the privilege of judging a policy competition at UGA in which the prompt was to increase MARTA revenues and ridership. Teams from universities across the state came to make presentations and provide a Memo of Understanding (MOU) to the panel of judges. I’m not going to lie, I had two weeks to come up with everything I expected to hear, and everything I would immediately fail. Luckily, no one proposed my automatic fail of blanket fare reductions. That would have made for a very nasty Q & A session.
However, the prevalent theme was distance-based fare proposals, and not a single team addssed bus ridership. I guess I can’t fault them, they’re Public Policy students, not people who obsess over transit all day, every day, but where’s the ingenuity?
One team did have amazingly great, out-of-the-box ideas.
They were from Korea.
The issue is that we’re not thinking out of the box enough. There is this culture in American transit, particularly at MARTA, that we can’t spend money. Times are tough and heaven forbid money gets spent on something that’s not got four wheels and running on pavement.
So what would my proposal be?
First up: don’t be afraid to invest a little bit of money. Where to start? Technology. Provide all the up-to-date bus & train real-time data. If people know when a train on a 20 minute headway is arriving, they’ll be less frustrated and more inclined to take that train. Waiting in stations makes for unhappy customers.
Speaking of customers, they need encouragement. At least a couple of times a week I see tweets from people complaining about not knowing how to ride a bus, or are scared. Offering Ride Clinics would generate buzz around the bus service and encourage people to ride. It would make riding a bus more exciting.
Know what else makes buses more exciting? Bus wraps. You make think I’m crazy, but picture walking down Peachtree Street and seeing this bad boy coming rolling down the street:
Or better yet, this guy:
These guys get attention. These guys cause excitement. And there would even be revenue from the Atlanta Zoo and Georgia Aquarium. I’m just guessing, but every little boy in town will make their parents take them for a ride on that bus. Factor in tourists, and I’m betting that will mean, roughly, an additional million or so boardings a week (totally based on nothing, I’ll admit it). We could even make the downtown streetcar to Centennial Park a shark. Take the shark to see sharks! I love gimics.
What it really boils down to is the need for an educational campaign. People in Atlanta think no one rides MARTA, that it doesn’t go anywhere, and that it’s basically worthless. So in need for inspiration and direction, expect to see a series of posts on the case for MARTA and transit in general. Someone’s gotta do it.