Updated August 24/27, 2011: Active Transportation Alliance launched the Riders for Better Transit campaign today. Read the full agenda, which talks about different funding sources and modernizing Union Station. Take their survey by Sept. 30 and be entered into a raffle to receive a $100 Visa gift card. Ron Burke and Jennifer Henry (see her statement below) write a letter to the editor about the Illinois State Toll Highway Authority’s toll increase.
The Wilson Red Line CTA station was recently voted the worst station “for the third year in a row” by Chicago RedEye readers. Photo by Jeff Zoline.
In the next couple of days, the Chicago-based (but Chicagoland-focused) advocacy organization, Active Transportation Alliance, will launch a new permanent campaign called Riders For Better Transit. This is the Alliance’s first large-scale endeavor into improving transit since they changed their name and mission in late 2008 from focusing solely on bicycling. Their other transit advocacy includes supporting transit-friendly legislation in Springfield.
I sat down with Lee Crandell, Director of Campaigns, at his office (9 W Hubbard) on August 1, 2011, to learn more about this effort.
What will the launch entail?
There will be a new website, where we’ll sign on supporters, to build a mailing list of people who want to speak out for better transit. We’ll also share more details about our advocacy agenda. The first thing we’ll be doing is take a survey of riders, to better understand what they want from an advocacy organization–what they want to see and how we can represent their voice.
What are the goals of the campaign?
The first is that we want to give riders a voice. We know that transit providers are struggling to maintain what they have. We know riders have all sorts of improvements that they want to see. Incl. restoring buses they’ve lost, eliminating slow zones, better reverse commutes.
Secondly, we want to increase investment in transit in our region (this includes procuring funding for maintenance).
Lastly, we want to explore projects and initiatives that will improve transit service and experience.
How will the campaign address education?
We plan to educate people on the basics, including that there’s insufficient funding, and that we need to be wary of taking from capital budgets to give to operating. [Transit agencies have two budgets: one for capital expenditures (new buses, station improvements, etc…), and one for day-to-day operations. Capital budgets are more stable because they are funded by grants awarded for specific projects that the transit agency has planned for years. They cannot be shared except under special circumstances.]
We will educate legislators, decision makers, and partners, on the fundamental things that need to change. More than knowing complexities of funding transit, we believe that riders are more concerned with “Why isn’t my bus on time?” or “Why can’t I get to the suburbs for my job?”. We’re advocates for the rider; it’s okay that we’re knowledgeable about these fundamentals but they might not be – that’s why there’s an advocacy organization like us to represent their interests.
When you think it’s time for new buses, tell Riders for Better Transit. This is a Pullman trolley bus, from 1968, at Irving Park Road and Keeler Avenue. Photo by David Wilson.
Who are your partners?
Our partners are those “transit players,” or other non-profit organizations that work on transit and transportation planning issues. We’ve also met with each transit agency, as well as the Regional Transportation Authority, to better understand their challenges, and to understand what funding they’re seeking. We want to create an agenda that’s realistic. Other partners include:
- Chicago Department of Transportation (CDOT)
- Transportation for America (T4A) – “This broad coalition pushing for reforms to the next federal transportation reauthorization (the current bill and the federal gas tax both expire September 30, 2011), will help provide information and opportunities for engagement to influence relevant federal policy.” K.W.
- Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) – “NRDC sees transit as crucial to environmental preservation–it reduces emissions and fuel use, and also enables more compact, walkable, sustainable land use patterns that preserve habitat, farmland, and watersheds.” J.H.
- Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT)
- Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC)
- Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) – Local, federally required, metropolitan planning organization (MPO); every region with over 250,000 people has to have one.
- Midwest High Speed Rail Association (MWHSRA)
In addition to your partners, who else will be involved?
We will be reaching out to organizations on the community level as well, like neighborhood organizations and chambers of commerce. We’ll organize transit supporters across the region in their communities. We’ll come to people where they are and help them organize to help them win improvements.
Is there a way for Grid Chicago readers to be involved in Riders for Better Transit?
We need volunteers, immediately, to conduct the survey. We’re going to collect survey responses at specific bus stops and train stations. When we issue “Action Alerts” we’ll need people to speak with their legislators, and get out on the street and spread the message. We’re also looking for people to help us connect to community organizations, help us take our message to their organizations.
Riders for Better Transit is for all transit riders, whether you ride Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) buses or trains, Metra trains, or Pace buses.
Why is Active Transportation Alliance doing this?
We’ve [transit riders] never had a sustained presence, seeking to represent transit riders long term. We anticipate there will be crises in the future. Much like Active Transportation Alliance has represented bikers, we want to do the same for transit riders.