Event Recap: A Lively Discussion on Volume vs. Value at OPTA LIVE

Event Recap: A Lively Discussion on Volume vs. Value at OPTA LIVE
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Event Recap: A Lively Discussion on Volume vs. Value at OPTA LIVE
By Lyndsey Scofield, Principal Consultant

As TransPro turns 10, we're proud of our progress towards realizing our vision of being the thought leader and primary resource in public sector organizational transformation – something we couldn't achieve without the partnership, inspiration, and collaboration of incredible public sector leaders. Just a few days ago we were honored to host a panel with the Ontario Public Transportation Association on an industry-shifting topic. Over 60 participants tuned into this lively panel discussion moderated by TransPro's Ehren Bingaman and featuring US and Canadian transit leaders Debra Johnson (CEO and General Manager, Regional Transit District), Kelly Paleczny (General Manager, London Transit Commission), and Eddie Robar (Fleet and Facilities Manager, City of Edmonton).

Panelists shared thought leadership on the many alternatives that their communities are looking at to capture transit's value – from connecting essential workers to essential jobs, to spurring economic development, to reducing air pollution, and more. One point underscored by all panelists was the need to act with urgency as an industry towards a model that effectively measures and communicates value beyond ridership figures. Just take it from Debra Johnson who reminded us that you can’t spell challenge without change.

Read on for insights shared during this exciting OPTA LIVE panel.

The session opened with an overview of the challenge and opportunity facing the transit industry as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic. As an industry, we've traditionally allowed for ridership increases to be cause for celebration and ridership declines to be a sign of ineffectiveness – but we know that neither is necessarily true.

In the last 15 months, we've seen transit ridership plummet and remain well below pre-COVID levels, with most forecasts suggesting a slow recovery. At the same time, the federal governments in both the US and Canada have made significant investments in transit – presumably because they recognize its broader societal value. As Kelly Paleczny reflected, "We've never had stronger support than we do right now. The time is now to change how we do business."

The consequences of failing to change is a scenario in which two years from now, our governing boards, the media, and elected officials are questioning their investment in transit. TransPro CEO, Mark Aesch, challenged the panel with the question, "How do we move from storytelling of what we did to actually establishing, measuring, and communicating – at an agency and at an industry level – the value we bring?"

Debra Johnson touched on the importance of achieving alignment on their agency's "north star" with her Board, leadership team, and community stakeholders so that there's no question about the outcomes they are working towards achieving. She also spoke to the fundamental importance of community partnerships and asking customers directly what they value.

Eddie Robar in Edmonton reinforced the inherent value in delivering high quality services that reflect customer and community priorities and address their specific pain points. He views this as a way to build champions in the community who will espouse the value of transit on behalf of the agency.

Kelly Paleczny suggested that moving forward, London Transit is pivoting from looking at outcomes in a silo, and instead leveraging the opportunity to connect what they do to the strategic priorities of the City to deliver greater value. Recognizing the fact that traditional crush loads may not be acceptable to customers for quite some time and puts their financial model in jeopardy, this alignment with broader community priorities can help solidify their position as an essential partner.

Participants in the chat shared thoughts and challenges in regards to selecting the right measurements, acknowledging that often the metrics we use are the easiest to gather rather than the best.

Ultimately, Eddie Robar cautioned us not to let fear hold us back from pushing the envelope. "We have to step out front and push the envelope and discussion so that logic and reason wins out."

We want to thank these courageous leaders for advancing such an important topic, and OPTA for providing the forum for this type of dialogue to occur. We’re excited to continue working with industry leaders to turn these ideas into standard practice.