I’m really intrigued by a new transportation outreach project here in Austin. It’s called SNAPPatx (Social Networking and Planning Project), and it uses social media to get people talking about transportation. It also–and this is really the fascinating part–will track the types of transportation conversation trends that emerge through twitter, blogs, facebook, etc., and use the data to inform, shape and improve Austin’s Strategic Mobility Plan.
That idea really resonates with me at the moment, because we’re knee-deep in public meetings for the fall 2010 service change. Capital Metro has a pretty thorough outreach process for service changes. We start out by publishing the information on board the buses, on our Web site, and sometimes here on the blog. We encourage riders to call or email us with their feedback. Then we hit the street to talk to specific groups, neighborhoods and stakeholders that may be impacted by the proposed changes. The Planning Dept. and our Business & Community Development team host open house events prior to the Capital Metro board making decisions, paying attention to geographic spread and accessibility. Finally, there’s a public hearing with the board. (In this case, there’s actually two: the second public hearing is April 15, noon to 1 p.m.) It’s a good process, although, admittedly, perhaps a bit old school. It’s hard to draw people to the meetings, for example, no matter how well the agency advertises.
And that’s the beauty of SNAPPatx–the focus is on soliciting input from people who don’t, won’t or can’t show up to “meetings.”
The SNAPPatx Web site aggregates all the local tweets, blogs, status updates, etc., that have to do with mobility in Austin. You can comment or reply to other people’s ideas, or you can post your own and watch it show up in the live stream. It’s a project of the Texas Citizen Fund, who snagged a $98,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration to innovate/harness social media to facilitate a community dialogue.
I hope SNAPPatx is really successful, not only because the city needs a rockin’ good strategic mobility plan, but also because if it works, it might be a model that could be replicated successfully for future Capital Metro outreach efforts.