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3 CHAPTER one Introduction Overview Methodology Citizen or community advisory committees are a com- The majority of this synthesis report is based on the results of monly used tool for involving the public in making deci- a survey of transit agencies and MPOs throughout the coun- sions about transit planning and operations. The structure, try. Agencies were identified through the National Transit function, membership, and management of these groups Database and MPOs were identified through the U.S.DOT vary as much as the agencies they advise and the communi- MPO Database. ties they represent. They are known by a variety of names, ranging from citizen or community advisory committees The questionnaire included 62 questions about committee (both abbreviated as CAC) to stakeholder working groups membership and roles, organization and protocols, decision- and community task forces. These groups nearly always making authority and processes, facilitation and manage- have a few things in common: they are aimed at creating ment, staff support, and committee evaluation methods. informed stakeholders, are a sounding board for ideas, The questionnaire mainly included close-ended questions, and benefit from clearly communicated expectations about but respondents were able to indicate "other" to define their authority, goals, and protocols. response on each question. In addition, several open-ended questions were included. Public involvement became common in transportation circles in the early 1970s after the passage of the National Recognizing that some agencies involve a variety of advi- Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969. With NEPA, the sory committees in different types of projects and processes, federal government, for the first time, required the public to agencies were invited to complete multiple questionnaires; be involved in decisions that affected the environment (1). In one for each committee established. Although some agencies reality, NEPA required only public notice, access to informa- did return multiple questionnaires, the majority indicated the tion, and, in some cases, a public hearing. Today, the practice involvement of multiple committees in different aspects of of public involvement has become more sophisticated and planning and operations but returned only one questionnaire practitioners have deep toolboxes ranging from simple open describing a single committee. houses to hands-on workshops and interactive Web tools. Despite this proliferation of ideas about how to involve com- This synthesis reflects analysis of 232 responses received munity members in the decision-making process, CACs still from transit agencies and MPOs from 46 states and the Dis- have currency. Involvement of these committees is a stan- trict of Columbia. Responses were geographically diverse: dard practice for many metropolitan planning organizations 18% from the Northeast, 52% from the Midwest, 32% from (MPOs) and agencies and often is the foundation of a public the South, and 29% from the West (see Figure 1). Nearly 30% involvement program. of responses came from three states: California (30), Florida (30), and Pennsylvania (19). Overall, more surveys were Although advisory committees are commonly used received from transit agencies than MPOs and the majority to involve the public, they are not all the same. Advisory (more than 80%) were received from agencies that involved committees vary greatly in terms of purpose, membership, an advisory committee within the past 3 years. structure, and operations between and even within agencies. This synthesis describes the state of the practice for involv- In addition, two agencies and three MPOs were selected ing advisory committees in transit planning and operations, for case studies. The case studies were selected to highlight exploring the experiences from a few agencies in detail. successful practices for committees with different structures The purpose of this report is to provide practitioners with and authority levels providing input on different kinds of guidance about how their colleagues across the country are agency and MPO activities. The case studies are based on involving advisory committees and ideas for how to struc- interviews with key staff people at each agency or MPO. ture successful advisory committees.