What We’re Reading: Resetting the Narrative

  • Author: Andrew Carpenter
  • Date: February 15, 2018

It’s easy for opponents of public transit to paint systems' declining ridership numbers as a reason to stop investing in transit, when in fact the opposite is true. Streetsblog points out that there are caveats to this decline, particularly because systems with recent design changes and investments have seen a growth in usage.

Mobility Lab points out part of the problem behind this narrative: many people ask the wrong questions about transit investment. This leads to a common narrative that transit wastes money, while instead it is more likely to be underfunded (as mobility managers are well aware). It’s important to control this messaging and show how real investment in transit benefits everybody in that area.

The effect of changing messaging around transit can provide a positive feedback loop, too. In Nashville, Tennessee, for example, Vanderbilt University donated $200,000 to promote the city’s push for a $5.4 billion transit package. This donation was critical in showing that a major employer has picked up on the positive mobility narrative created by transit. Mobility managers can leverage similar influential voices in their communities to further build support for their programs.

From another perspective, mobility managers have the status quo pushing against them, and must actively reach out to overcome default biases against vulnerable people. Many local reports on pedestrian deaths, for example, point out that a victim would cross a street illegally, but fail to show that there’s no safe way to reach their job from their bus stop. Mobility managers should become the go-to contact for events like this to explain to the community why these things happen and how improving mobility options or street design could prevent such tragedies.

Sometimes, there are simple ways to illustrate the potential for improving networks. During the winter, fresh snowfall reveals the paths that cars follow to navigate certain streets, and the untouched parts are called sneckdowns. These show the unused space given over to cars that could instead be used for better purposes, like wider sidewalks or bike infrastructure.

It also helps to take examples from beyond the lens of mobility. Health care officials have found that many factors beyond direct treatment influence patient outcomes. As a result, the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago has started a pilot in which they pay for homeless patients’ housing, and preliminary results suggest it has been a major factor in improving their health. Whether or not this example directly applies, it could help mobility managers explore creative approaches to accomplishing their work and building support for it.

With this focus on messaging, mobility managers should take an active role in pushing for more and smarter investments in transit networks, which serve as the backbone for their clients’ ability to access the things they need. Transportation for America has developed the Advocate’s Guide for Expanding and Improving Transit, which can help mobility managers begin their efforts.


Image Credit: Elvert Barnes, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0


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Have more mobility news that we should be reading and sharing? Let us know! Reach out to Sage Kashner (kashner@ctaa.org).

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