Let them read the web
In the PG last week is a blurb about how the Port Authority is asking folks to review their planned route changes by reading a web page and commenting. No mention at all in that of any alternative means to learn about potential route changes.
Remember that little factoid that everyone knows... that we are an old region. Allegheny County has one of the highest percentages of elderly in the nation. I bet that when it comes to transit ridership we are literally number one by far since the counties in Florida that have high elderly concentrations are populations less likely to need public transit. If you have ever been on a bus anytime between rush hours you will see that most riders are elderly. That and the state pays the Port Authority a big chunk of its revenues each year, and a lot of that is tied to the number of elderly riders they provide service for.
So the Port Authority expects the web to be the means for the public to learn about their route changes? Who are the folks most impacted by route cuts? Those who have cars or the ability to walk additional blocks to a shifted bus stop? Wouldn't be the elderly would it? Changes that may seem minor or 'efficient' to a lot of us are nothing less than everything in the world to the quality of life for folks with limited mobility. That includes the vast bulk of our older generation. Access to a bus stop may be the single most important factor to the quality of life for many local seniors. Anyone think the Port Authority has a lot of incentives to keep the elderly from getting too too upset until it's too late. Probably already is....
I have been contemplating this post long before I saw that blurb in the paper. Some of us know the Port Authority has been planning route changes. As best I can tell there has been virtually no outreach to the core riders the Port Authority, which are indeed the elderly. I have occasionally asked around a bit to folks I know if there has been any material on the process distributed to or any other outreach that they were aware of into senior centers or senior homes which is the normal way to reach that population.. and basically the answer seems to be NO across the board. Or if the Port Authority has attempted such outreach, it must have been horribly ineffective to date. I was going to give them the benefit of the doubt that they at least tried or that they had a plan to do something in the future, but now the media is pointing toward only a web site with no alternate means of getting this information. It really makes you wonder if they understand how unique Pittsburgh's demographic really is... you can't just go applying methodologies that work elsewhere here and think that counts as being effective here.
The elderly DO read the paper. It may be the only thing keeping newspaper subscriptions from falling even further in town here. If the only thing they are going to learn from reading the newspaper today is a reference to a web site then what is the point? Is there no strategy to engage one of their largest rider populations? the one that will be the most impacted by route and stop changes? Try my little test yourself. Ask someone over 70 in town if they know the Port Authority is even considering moving their bus stop (you don't even need to suggest that some stops might actuallybe eliminated) and see their response.
And not to end on such a sour note. This will deserve a post unto itself once I get a chance to use it myself.. but the most revolutionary change in local transit infomatics may be what wizards at MapHub have just put together. That isn't hyperbole. Read and use RouteShout.com. They have put in place a text based query system you can use with your cell phone to learn when the next bus is arriving at a particular stop. It's implemented for just a few test stops for now, but this may be the best thing to happen to local public transit since.... well, forever... or at least the biggest change since the introduction of those fare collection machines which was not all that long ago. Seriously.