First, let's focus on what matters.
How do we know if public transportation service is getting better?
We know we need better public transit service, but it's not always clear which investments will deliver results for riders.
To know if our public transportation system is working for us, we have to decide what elements make up good service. The Transportation Alliance recently reviewed research and survey data, including past reports published by the Transportation Alliance, to identify Five Basics of great public transportation service.
By focusing on the Five Basics, we can get comprehensive, relevant, and useful view of how well our system is serving riders.
Next, let's put data to work.
Once we decide what elements are important, we need to harness data to better understand them.
In Baltimore, we lag behind other regions in our use of data and smart tech to evaluate transportation system performance. A great example is the state of our system-wide real-time bus arrival data. Though MTA was originally a pioneer in this area of bus technology, we need a complete overhaul of the real-time arrival hardware on MTA buses. Meanwhile, in many other cities, accurate real-time data has been available for many years.
Better data makes better results possible, but only if we commit to continuous improvement.
Data isn't enough by itself. We need a public commitment to continuous improvement in public transportation service, in terms of the technology we use, the analytics and metrics we measure, and the policies and practices that result in a better everyday riding experience.
Open and accessible data brings stakeholders to the table.
Want to build public trust and support? Want to activate an engaged community of advocates to solve challenges? Transportation departments and agencies should make their data open and accessible to the public, including collaborating where it is helpful to provide better quality data.
Then, let's monitor improvement.
We can use visual dashboards to monitor improvement and facilitate understanding among our community of transportation stakeholders.
In business and civic life, visual dashboards are used to communicate complex information at a glance in a visually pleasing way. Recently, more transit agencies have begun to use dashboards to make critical data easily accessible to transportation stakeholders.
Examples include the MTA Service Checker and MTA Subway Performance Metrics Dashboard (NYC), WMATA Scorecard (DC), MBTA Back on Track (Boston), MuniForward (San Fransisco), TriMet Performance Dashboard (Portland), Move Seattle Dashboard (Seattle), Valley Metro Performance Dashboard (Phoenix), and the Chicago RTA Performance Dashboard.
In Maryland, the MTA has its own Performance Improvement page with dashboard-style functionality. However, the data displayed is very limited, not rider-focused, and is not open and accessible.
See TransitCenter's article on characteristics of good dashboards for transit performance.