Saturday, August 22, 2009
Why there is no www.trimetrage.com
There is a bartrage.com. There is a munisucks.com. There is a muni bites blog.
But, there is no trimetrage.com. There is no trimetsucks.com. There is no trimetbites blog.
Because, fundamentally, the transit operator for the Portland, Oregon tri-county metropolitan area, Tri-Met, does not suck, and while it may annoy people on occasion as they arrive at their bus stop only to see the tail-lights of their bus receding into the distance... they don't tend to hold a grudge, because the next bus will show up generally when it is supposed to, and the riding experience will not be an awful one (indeed, it may be a very friendly, relaxing and good one).
Your average Californian might say.... "Huh?"*
That's because, in the Bay Area at least (if not in most of California), the transit systems just seem to have a knack for pissing off their customers in such a way that their customers will go home, buy a website and start spewing forth pretty much the nastiest things they can think of to say. And, other people will find those websites, login, and write something that is pretty much in agreement.
Things don't have to be this way.
In Portland (Oregon), Tri-Met has for years been known as an innovative transit agency. Part of this innovation is the concept that customer service is important, and must be done right. Of course, part of what is happening is also that Portland just has a more civil, nice culture than what is found in the San Francisco Bay Area... people are more polite to one another there, on average, even downright friendly most of the time. I can't remember the last time that Tri-Met's union threatened to strike, though I find a reference to the agency writing a strike contingency manual in... 1985. Indeed, now the union is a lot more likely to work with management to improve the operation of the system in such a manner that they can save the taxpayers money, a process known as the Productivity Improvement Process (PIP).
I think that a lot of the story with regards to Tri-Met comes down to enlightened leadership. The system has been blessed with very talented staff and managers for decades. The current General Manager, Fred Hansen, was Bill Clinton's Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (the number two person appointed by the President charged with protecting the environment, 1994-1998), and is now recognized as a world leader in providing excellent transit service, and making the most out of limited resources.
Fundamentally, I think what needs to happen in the Bay Area with the transit operators is simple: The current system of 22+ major transit operators needs to be merged into one regional transit agency, with local oversight boards elected locally, with short term limits to keep the boards from becoming dominated by the sort of fungus that rules the BART board, for instance. And, a new general manager needs to be hired for this regional transit agency, one who is (like Fred Hansen) fundamentally an environmentalist, one who gets it, who understands that the role of transit is to support land use, to encourage the urban lifestyle, to be a pleasurable way to extend the range of the pedestrian, to act as an amenity to the cities that it serves, and to treat the customer as if their happiness while riding transit were paramount.
I won't be holding my breath, but at least I'll say what needs to be said.
* I was going to say San Francisco Bay Area resident, but... well, maybe that might be more appropriate, I don't know if anybody hates Sacramento or San Diego's transit systems, though I'm pretty sure that a lot of folks in Los Angeles hate the MTA)