A free $70 MetroPlus pass could be yours…

Crickets. That’s what we heard last night at our first public budget priorities meeting. No one showed. (Well, one gentleman stopped in to share his feedback about route #3, but he wasn’t there for the meeting and wasn’t interested in staying.)

Low attendance is a challenge faced by a lot of public entities when they are trying to engage the public on an issue. Recently I chatted about that very topic on the blog, and about the SNAPPatx project that is gathering community input and dialogue on transportation topics via social media.  As a community, we’re developing different models and strategies for effectively getting public participation, but there are pros and cons to each strategy, and community meetings will continue to be the foundation of the outreach for a while yet. For a topic as complex as a ~$200 million operating and capital budget, the community meeting model is necessary to really delve into the details in an understandable way.

Last night was a downer because we have been working for a few months with our board to develop a more interactive, more proactive, and more inclusive public outreach process for creating Capital Metro’s budget for next year, FY2011 (Oct. 1 – Sept. 30).

Some of the ways this approach is new for Capital Metro:

1. We’re doing the outreach before we have a draft budget put together–so the focus at this point is learning about your priorities. If we’re facing another shortfall year, what cuts are most amenable to riders? Is the most important thing to hold fares steady? If we have money left over, would you rather see us invest it, add more service, save it? Etc. Those priorities would then be used to develop the draft budget for public comment.

2. We’re using multimedia tools to improve the overall experience. We are using a voting system that allows everyone participating to vote on or prioritize options, anonymously, and then instantaneously see the results of the poll projected on screen. The system will collect the data from all the outreach meetings so it can be shared with the board. Additionally, for the budget, Capital Metro has prepared a 10-minute video to layout the basics of the Capital Metro budget and the budget challenges we face for the next year. As budgets are typically a dry subject, the video adds a bit of interest. We can also show the video outside the meeting room…. on the blog and our Web site for example, among others.  When we post the video online (hopefully by tomorrow), we will also have an online survey that mirrors the polling taking place at the meetings.

3. Incentives! We’re giving away one $70 MetroPlus pass per meeting for the budget discussions. We know it’s tough for people to squeeze in another meeting, and to talk about budgets, no less! The drawing for the monthly pass is at least one way we can show our appreciation for people who give us their time and their ideas.

There are five more meetings in the pipe this week about our budget. We hope to see you!

Wednesday, June 02, 2010
6 – 8 p.m.
Southeast Austin Community Branch Library
5803 Nuckols Crossing Rd. Austin, Texas 78744
Bus routes: 311

Thursday, June 03, 2010
6 – 8 p.m.
Little Walnut Creek Library
835 W. Rundberg Austin, Texas 78758
Bus routes: 1M, 1L, 101, 325

Friday, June 04, 2010
12 – 1:30 p.m.
Capital Metro Transit Store,
323 Congress Avenue, Austin, TX 78701
Bus routes: downtown routes

Saturday, June 05, 2010
2:30-4:30 p.m.
Spicewood Springs Library
8637 Spicewood Springs Rd. Austin, Texas 78759
Bus routes: 383

Monday, June 07, 2010
6 – 8 p.m.
Carver Public Library
1161 Angelina, Austin, Texas 78702
Bus routes: 2, 320

7 thoughts on “A free $70 MetroPlus pass could be yours…

  1. You may be reaping the rewards of years spent politely listening to, and then completely failing to act on, public input. Just a hint. I know I’m not inclined to take time away from my family of young children to show up and be politely patronized to (I got enough of that while on the UTC during the quarterly updates, thanks).

  2. Event transportation and shopping on weekends would be the only addition I can forsee will increase knowledge about Capital Metro and the ease of use. If a person could try it out on a Saturday for a shopping trip they might be more likely to ride it on weekdays. I would be glad to participate with a meeting held on the train while I ride it but I am much to tired to stay extra or make arrangments for a ride and so on. Use your money wisely, pay attention to customer request, be honest. These are principles that we all build our business on.
    Kathleen

  3. Don Dickson

    Your first mistake from a PR standpoint is to characterize this as an opportunity for public input on the budget. The budgeting process is tedious, and people’s eyes glaze over just thinking about it. But if you couch these meetings in terms of an opportunity to discuss service cuts and service enhancements, a concept that’s easier for people to get their heads around, you might get some participation and some feedback which you can then incorporate (or as M1EK claims, ignore) in your budgeting process.

    Personally, I’d prefer to receive info and offer feedback and suggestions online on a blog or a message forum than to have to go to a meeting.

  4. chrysrobyn

    Why not proactively go out to communities and meet with leaders? Publicize more than just a blog. Put out signs. Even the PTA offers pizza and they still struggle to get attendance so you might need something of value (hint, a $70 pass will only mean something to the people who believe the status quo is good enough). Publicize that you’re going to a HOA meeting and see how many other people want to go with you.

    Communities have a lot of opinions about CapMetro, and most of those opinions start with “useless”. Fixing that opinion will take more effort than trying to double up a funding meeting.

    Nobody honestly expects that the current methods are going to increase ridership, contribute to improving service or identifying why current service is inadequate. Your challenge is learning how to change how you listen.

  5. chrysrobyn

    While y’all are looking for public input, I’ve got a question for you. What are you doing to improve Red Line ridership? What have you identified as its biggest problem?

    Is the train less convenient than the busses? Is it too expensive? Are connections too poorly timed? Is there a psychological block from people using them (either not liking trains, or not liking the requisite connections)? Are the stations just in bad spots? (Personally, my problem is both of the middle two.)

    http://allsystemsgo.capmetro.org/capital-metrorail-qa.shtml says that you were expecting 1700-2000 trips per day. http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/ (thanks, M1EK) says that you’ve got 900 boardings. We’re half of what CapMetro was shooting for. Given that people don’t like to stand when they’re commuting the hour from Leander to downtown, is it foolish to hope for these kinds of numbers? The 108 seated capacity x 6 trips x 2 times a day = 1296 trips; 200 total capacity x 6 x 2 = 2400 is the upper bound, so 1700 seems to expect at least 34 people — 24% of riders — standing.

    (I wouldn’t mind standing from Howard to Kramer, but it’s stupid to pay $70/mo for that when my commute is 14 miles per day = 280 miles per month = 10 gallons per month = $25-$30 of gas per month, ignoring the poor timing of the connections)

  6. Don Dickson

    Good job today inviting people to show up to discuss their “transit priorities” instead of inviting them to a “budget meeting.” I hope the message is better received and translates into some attendance. I regret that I’m stuck at my office and can’t come to today’s downtown session. But as I told @CapMetroRail and @place2mike via Twitter, my top priority is for y’all to find NEW revenues and MORE revenues because that’s the key to maintaining, let alone enhancing, your current services. Fare hikes suck, but I still think the fare’s too low. And I think you’ve got to find ways to get new people to ride.

    And for God’s sake you gotta stop detouring buses AWAY from every downtown event that might draw a crowd. Sheesh. You got some nerve hanging a sign at Congress and Riverside on a weekend morning telling me to catch my bus at Sixth and Trinity “until end of event.” (And probably for an hour or two after THAT, in my experience.) Detour the damned CARS, and then maybe people will decide to try riding one of your buses for the first time, because they’ll have no choice. It won’t balance your budget, but it sure will help.

    1. chrysrobyn

      Don,
      I’d like to echo your sentiment about wanting to take busses downtown for events. My wife and I went to the Barenaked Ladies concert on Monday. By car, less than 20 minutes, although it cost me $5 to park. By bus, it would have been 2 hours, an hour of which was the pokey ride down Metric from Tech Ridge. It would have been faster (by half an hour!) if I lived in Leander instead of living in Austin.

      There are events downtown every week, nearly every day, at various venues. A few big busses might get in the way of a few cars, but a dozen people on each of those busses would more than offset the number of cars taken off the road.

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