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35 S E C T I O N 5 This section summarizes findings from the survey of transit agencies and cities conducted in this research. Table 2 lists the 13 transit agencies from cities and regions of varying geographies and sizes that responded to the survey. The responses provide insights into how transit and municipal agencies approach strategic communications for transit improvement projects, what their goals are, which strategies they employ, and how they perceive success in strategic communications. Project Details Most of the projects on which transit agencies commented in their survey responses involved some form of transit signal priority, typically in conjunction with other transit service improvements such as dedicated running ways or station upgrades (see Figure 1). Nearly 70% of projects, nine in total, included transit signal priority and approximately half included queue jumps and/or dedicated rights-of-way for transit. Nearly all of the aforementioned projects operate in general travel lanes on urban surface streets (see Figure 2). Of those that operate on a dedicated roadway, half operate on roadways designated for transit priority using striping. Most projects, eight in total, operate in mixed traffic, while one-third operate only during peak hours (see Figure 3). These findings are indicative of the fact that many transit agencies have been pursuing Rapid Bus or BRT Lite-style service improvements, where bus services are enhanced via transit signal priority, partially dedicated running ways, and other relatively simple transit-priority measures. Communications Strategy Initiation and Intent Survey results indicate that transit agencies pursue a range of communications strategies and have a variety of end goals for their communications efforts. In terms of managing com- munications, transit agencies empower either planning or public works departments; project operational or planning teams; or, in some cases, dedicated communications departments. They rely largely on transit agency or city staff to act as public-facing project champions, but also draw support from politicians or chambers of commerce in some cases (see Figure 4). These public champions primarily engage with project communications through board meet- ings, news releases, and public events. The majority of transit agencies pursue three primary communications goals for transit- priority projects: (1) educate the public, (2) disseminate relevant information at appropri- ate times and through appropriate channels, and (3) create consistent branding/messaging Survey Approach and Results
36 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit Most of the transit-priority projects described by respondents incorporated transit signal priority in conjunction with other transit service improvements such as dedicated running ways. 9 7 6 5 4 2 1 1 1 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 Tr an sit si gn al pr ior ity Qu eu e j um p De dic ate d r un nin g w ay s f or tra ns it De dic ate d b us la ne s Bu s b ulb -ou ts Tr an sit si gn al pr ee mp tio n Ne w or ex pa nd ed lig ht rai l Tr an sit m all /g all ery Po lic y c ha ng es Figure 1. Type of transit-priority improvements (n = 13). Transit Agency / City Location Project Name Capital Metro Austin, TX MLK / Lavaca Queue Jump Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) Columbus, OH CMAX Cleveland AvenueBRT/Enhanced Bus Service City and County of Denver Denver, CO Colfax BRT dedicated lanes District Department of Transportation (DDOT) Washington, D.C. 16th Street NW Bus Lanes Project Jacksonville Transportation Authority Jacksonville, FL First Coast Flyer Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) Boston, MA Better Bus Project Portland Streetcar, Inc. Portland, OR NE Grand Ave Transit Lane Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) Chicago, IL Regional Transit Signal Priority Implementation Program San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) San Francisco, CA L Taraval Rapid Project San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) San Diego, CA Rapid BRT Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) San Jose, CA Alum Rock/Santa Clara BRT Sound Transit Seattle, WA East Extension, I-405 BRT, SR 522 BRT CB ,revuocnaVLinksnarT Surrey Light Rail Project Table 2. Survey respondents.
Survey Approach and Results 37 Most of the projects described by respondents were located partly or entirely in the general travel lanes of urban and suburban streets, rather than on dedicated roadways or freeways. 5 3 3 1 1 0 11 2 0 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 Ge ne ral tra vel lan es on ur ba n s ur fac e s tre ets Ge ne ral tra vel lan es on su bu rba n s ur fac e s tre ets Pa rki ng lan es in ur ba n a rea s On a de dic ate d r oa dw ay Hi gh -oc cu pa nc y v eh icl e (la ne s) on fre ew ay s Pa rki ng lan es in su bu rba n a rea s Ge ne ral pu rpo se lan es on fre ew ay s On hi gh wa y s ho uld er Ot he r ( ple ase sp eci fy) Figure 2. Location of transit-priority improvements (n = 13). A majority of the projects described operate, or will operate, in mixed traffic conditions. 8 4 2 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 In mixed traffic Peak-hour only None of the above Figure 3. Operating conditions (n = 10). (see Figure 5). In planning communications content and strategies to achieve these goals, transit agencies most often consult external outreach firms, other public agencies, and other depart- ments or individuals within their own agency (see Figure 6). Funding for project communica- tions is typically dedicated from within overall project budgets; nearly 70 percent of agencies surveyed had dedicated funding for project communications. Communications funding ranged from $100,000 to $1.2 million per project among those described by survey respondents. Transit agencies appear to be less concerned with trialing or evaluating their commu- nications procedures. Less than half of those surveyed tested communication strategies prior to implementing them. Those that did testing did it internally with stakeholders or focus groups.
38 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit Almost all of the responding agencies indicated that they had some form of public-facing strategic communications figure. For most, that meant a transit agency employee or group, although politicians, agency board members, and other groups also supported the communications efforts in some cases. 11 8 6 5 2 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 Yes, transit agency staff Yes, political support from elected officials Yes, transit agency board support and/or champion Yes, political support from Chamber of Commerce or other business group No Figure 4. Public-facing champions for strategic communications efforts (n = 13). Outreach Methods Transit agencies employ many different communications strategies in their day-to-day operations and in delivering major transit improvement projects. When delivering major projects, external stakeholder outreach to affected residents, businesses, and organizations is particularly important. Of the projects described by respondents, almost all involved external stakeholder outreach, which primarily took place in the form of in-person stakeholder meetings (see Figure 7). Many agencies conducted individual stakeholder interviews, while fewer relied on various forms of surveys. The respondent transit agencies primarily targeted four audiences: (1) the general public, (2) people in areas affected by a project, (3) potential future transit riders, and (4) current com- muters and transit riders (see Figure 8). Of the 13 respondent agencies, 8 tailored communication and materials to different audiences, primarily through the translation of outreach materials for non-English speakers. Transit agencies had a number of goals relevant to project communications. Most sought to inform the broader public about a project, while roughly half also focused on involving or consulting specific affected stakeholders in some way. Figure 5. Primary goals of strategic communications efforts (n = 13). 4 4 4 6 6 6 6 7 7 10 12 12 0 5 10 Comply with local, state, and/or federal guidelines for public involvement Notify riders of service changes during and after project Solicit community input to design of project Ensure representation from all communities served Ensure that the public is meaningfully involved Garner public support for changes Garner political support for changes Develop a planned communication approach Gather community feedback on design Create consistent branding/messaging Disseminate relevant information at appropriate times and through appropriate channels Educate the public
Survey Approach and Results 39 9 9 6 5 3 2 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 Consulted with an external outreach/public relations firm Consulted with other departments Content determined in- house with external input Content determined in- house without external input Consulted with riders (e.g. focus groups, surveys) Used information from passenger complaints In devising project communications strategies, most responding agencies consulted outreach firms and/or other agency departments. Relatively few consulted with affected stakeholders, such as transit passengers. Figure 6. Techniques used to determine communications content, format, and dissemination (n = 13). 1 12 8 4 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 In-person stakeholder meetings/focus groups Individual stakeholder interviews Surveys Did not work with stakeholders Figure 7. External stakeholder outreach methods (n = 13). 1 2 4 4 4 9 9 9 10 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 Tourists/visitors K-12 students and parents Senior citizens Persons with disabilities College students Regular commuters/transit riders Potential transit riders People in areas affected by the project(s) General public Transit agencies primarily focus communications efforts on the general public, and on those who may be directly affected by a project in some way. Figure 8. Target audiences (n = 13).
40 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit In addition to targeting specific audiences, transit agencies look to outsiders for strategic communications help. Eighty-five percent of respondents, 11 agencies in total, hired a third- party consultant/outreach firm to assist with outreach. Additionally, 77 percent of respondents, 10 agencies in total, partnered with outside groups including community organizations, non-profit groups, and other agencies. Channels of Communication The method by which a transit agency or city communicates a message strongly influences the size and make-up of the receiving audience and also impacts the quality and retention of the message. Most respondent transit agencies disseminated information through formal in-person outreach, social media, website, local news media, informal in-person outreach, and e-blasts. Respondents relied less on printed materials and surveys and did not use national news media (see Figure 9). Strategy Evaluation While transit agencies demonstrated a thorough capacity to plan and implement communica- tions plans for major projects, they appeared to focus less on evaluating those plans. Of the 13 respondent agencies, only 3 developed, or are in the process of developing, a formal evaluation of their communications strategy. Those that conduct some form of evaluation assess the efficacy of a communications strategy against some, or all, of the following metrics: â¢ The cost of marketing/outreach â¢ Customer satisfaction â¢ Awareness of the project â¢ Mode shift among participants â¢ Social media reach â¢ Traditional media reach Transit agencies exhibit a tendency to employ channels of communication that reach either a very broad audience or that engage directly with a small targeted audience. 0 1 2 4 4 8 8 10 10 10 10 11 12 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 National news media Transit agency smartphone app In-person surveys Online surveys Other* Notifications on existing fixed routes/bus stops/train stations Printed mailers E-blasts Informal in-person outreach Local news media Website Social media Formal in-person outreach *Responses for âotherâ varied and consisted of brochures, targeted emails, editorial publications, and posters in merchant windows. Figure 9. Usage of various channels of communication (n = 13).
Survey Approach and Results 41 Transit agencies view communication strategies that directly engage stakeholders as most successful, rather than those that reach a wide audience. â¢ Website hits â¢ Transit ridership Agencies can employ online or in-person surveys, as well as internal analytics to obtain data on these metrics. Communications Successes and Challenges Although most transit agencies do not formally evaluate project communications efforts, they all perceive some communications strategies to be more successful than others. Informal and formal in-person outreach were rated highly by respondent agencies; half described informal in-person outreach as âvery successfulâ (see Figure 10). In-person and online surveys were also viewed as relatively successful forms of engagement by all respondent agencies. Notably, some respondent agencies found other forms of online communication to be less successful. Roughly one-third of respondents rated e-blasts, websites, social media, as well as printed mailers to be less than successful. Transit agencies relied on technology, typically in the form of electronic communication methods, for all aspects of project communications. Most respondent agencies report relying on technology to help target different audiences. Many also used technology to improve the cost efficiency of project communications and to communicate information and evaluate survey results in real-time (see Figure 11). In broadly assessing what makes project communications successful, respondent agencies identified clarity and trust as the two most important factors in successful project communi- cations. Nine of thirteen agencies reported âclear messaging/brandingâ and âstrong relation- ships with local communitiesâ as key factors for success. Approximately half also identified the 70% 91% 88% 100% 70% 71% 100% 75% 73% 100% 70% 100% 10% 9% 13% 20% 29% 13% 18% 10% 20% 10% 13% 9% 20% 0% 10% 20% 30% 40% 50% 60% 70% 80% 90% 100% E-blasts Formal in-person outreach Informal in-person outreach In-person surveys Local news media Notifications on existing transit Online surveys Printed mailers Social media Transit agency smartphone app Website Other* Successful Neither successful nor unsuccessful Unsuccessful *âOtherâ communication channels included brochures, targeted emails, editorial publications, and posters in merchant windows. National news media was not used and is therefore not shown. Figure 10. Perception among agencies of the success of communication methods (n = 13).
42 Strategic Communications to Improve Support for Transit-Priority Projects: Report and Toolkit importance of clear goals and objectives. Notably, few transit agencies felt that having a strong public-facing champion was important. (See Figure 12.) Although transit agencies perceive clear messaging and strong community relationships as key to successful communications, many cited inconsistent messaging or a lackluster relation- ship with the community as the most pressing barriers to success. Similarly, some transit agen- cies also pointed to a lack of interest at public meetings, from decision-makers, and internally as an obstacle to success. (See Figure 13.) 10 9 8 7 4 3 2 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 De plo yin g m ore ta rge ted co mm un ica tio ns Re ach ing lar ge r a ud ien ces Im pr ov ing co st eff ici en cy Pr ov idi ng rea l-t im e i nfo rm ati on Im pr ov ing op era tio na l e ffic ien cy Im pr ov ing qu ali ty of fee db ack Im pr ov ing pr og ram ev alu ati on Communication technologies allow transit agencies to target specific audiences. Figure 11. Role of technology in strategic communications strategies (n = 11). 9 9 6 5 3 0 2 4 6 8 10 12 Clear messaging/ branding Strong relationships with local communities Clearly defined goals and objectives Use of different communication platforms Strong public-facing champion(s) Transit agencies know that they need to build strong stakeholder relationships and communicate information as clearly as possible. Figure 12. Key factors in successful project communications (n = 13).
Survey Approach and Results 43 1 1 1 2 2 3 3 5 5 0 2 4 6 8 10 Lack of interest/support from the transit agency decision-makers Lack of resources for prioritizing diverse target audiences Not enough time to implement communication plan Insufficient funds Lack of interest/support from stakeholders Lack of interest/support from other department staff Low attendance/participation at events Inconsistent messaging Lack of interest/support from the general public Transit agencies most often face disinterest and inconsistent messaging as barriers to successful project communications. Figure 13. Barriers to successful project communications (n = 13).