On this Halloween - a childhood day of "trick or treats" - we thought it fitting to explore why the transit industry allowing, and in some cases embracing, ridership as the singular metric of success was always a trick.
Transit conferences across the country would hold celebrations and push out news releases "celebrating" every .2% increase in ridership as though the industry had stormed the beaches of Normandy. The reality is, we all know that ridership goes up and down for multiple reasons - unemployment, gas prices, job accessibility, new business growth, educational opportunities. The single largest tracker to adjustments in transit ridership over the past 50 years has been the price of a gallon of gas --- absolutely nothing to do with the performance of a transit agency or the industry as a whole.
In fact, in the fall of 2019, APTA held a session at their annual conference asking the question, “Is Ridership All That Matters?” in the success of an agency or the industry. While I passionately argued that it was a much bigger objective of our industry than to just serve more bad coffee to more people, others on the panel argued that indeed, ridership was all that mattered.
And then 6 months later Covid hit. Ridership cratered. Yet revenues rose to their highest level in industry history.
Now this is our opportunity to prove the elected officials right. They were wise to have invested in us. But it requires three key elements.
1. Clarity of Value --- we need to be able to articulate precisely what value looks like from our agencies and industry. Vagueness won't cut it. Quality matters. Efficiency matters. Access matters. And yes, even volume matters. We intend to define what Value looks like.
2. Measurable --- the reason we got stuck with ridership as the singular metric of success is it is the only metric the industry has figured out how to nationalize. There is no metric of quality nationally. We are looking to change that.
3. Offense Based Communication --- we need to get in front of this conversation. The day the New York Times writes the article that revenue to transit went up XXX% (yes, there are actually 3 digits) and yet ridership is only 82% (a made up value) of pre-Covid levels, this industry will be on the defense. We need to be in front of this conversation. Locally and nationally. And aggressively.
At TransPro, we are working with 9 agencies to construct a national digital database that will Define Value, Measure Performance, and Articulate Results - consistent with the above 3-pronged framework.
We invite you to attend the session with these industry leaders - Board Chairs and agency CEOs - on how TransDASH is going to change the conversation from Volume being all that mattered, to truly defining, measuring and delivering Value.
That isn't a Trick. It will be a real Treat in modernizing how transit brings value.