Can Georgia Cities Learn Something About Public Transportation?

Is it possible for a public transportation system to improve service, increase customer satisfaction, decrease fares and decrease monetary losses? Yeah, but at the same time? The Atlantic Cities says it has been done – and more than once.

Mark Aesch doesn’t appear to use slight of hand to accomplish something that MARTA riders and taxpayers would love to see, but it sounds as if Penn and Teller should be involved. Aesch accomplished this in Rochester and then in Detroit. Yes, Detroit. That Detroit.

“I think the model works in almost any location,” says Aesch. “Improving the quality of the customer experience, creating that atmosphere where the individual employee is rewarded for organizational success — that’s critical. You can do that anywhere.”

Aesch stresses improving the riding experience and weighing route usage along with the impact of a bus route to its potential riders. Based on commentary, the focus seems to be on downtown-to-suburb routes and away from suburb-to-suburb routes.

If you actually read the story, take a look at the comments, too. Not everyone was thrilled with the results.

Your homework assignment is to make recommendations on whether Georgia cities would benefit from a similar approach. For extra credit you may complain about MARTA expense or MARTA service and safety. No extra credit will be given for anecdotes.

7 comments

  1. blakeage80 says:

    While Georgia’s largest cities could benefit from this study, there is an extra challenge that southern cities and towns face. That challenge is population density in service areas. One way to combat that is to have smaller vans that are more expensive to ride because they go to less populated/more remote areas. Another is for municipalities to allow for a denser residential and commercial development near transit stops. I wonder what Aesch’s solution would be. One thing is for sure. Georgia’s cities and town have to all have good public transport in order for any high speed rail to make sense. Another challenge is how we think about public transport in general. We tend to think its for poor people or only to go to work and back. Is that enough use to build a successful transport system? I think many people would have a hard time going shopping via bus or MARTA. How would they get the weeks groceries for a family back home? Does Aesch have a solution for helping to change the general perception of public transport? I think we could benefit from reliable bus and train systems, but we would need to address some parts of our culture in order for it to work.

    • Ken says:

      It appears Aesch changed the perception by changing the reality. He made the system work for its users.

      As for high-speed rail, I agree that local public transport is a necessity for there to be an opportunity for it to work. Unfortunately, population density in Georgia simply will not support high-speed rail. If it’s a black hole of expense in the densely populated NE Atlantic corridor, then it will be even worse in this state. I love the idea of rail as an alternative to long drives, but it’s simply not feasible.

  2. Scott65 says:

    First off in a related post…ATL gets a little Krugman analysis

    http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/07/22/atl-v-bos/

    Now, as for transit in Atlanta. I read the article in question and it would definitely be a model useful in Atlanta. Actually looking at Keith Parker’s policies that have been put forth, they look a lot like what Mr. Aesch advocates for. If you have happy employees you get better service. You get happy employees by allowing them to make more money. Incentive pay is a great way to do that. If you have better service more people will ride.
    Now, the part nobody wants to acknowledge. You have to spend money…period. This no new taxes no government spending if allowed to rule the day will mean the transit cannot succeed here (and not much of anything else either). The state needs to put up or shut up…its that simple. They have a fine time micromanaging all parts of the system with little contribution financially. Rep Jacobs was no better than Jill Chambers and her never ending MARTA vendetta. There are so many places that are ripe for expansion and higher density. Tons of work has been done studying the Northside Drive Corridor
    http://www.northsidedrvision.gatech.edu/
    Most of you will turn up your nose but the Beltline is a revolutionary concept that should be funded. Its all about interconnectivity.
    Its all good and well that you have GRTA express buses, and MARTA heavy rail…but you have to cover more “last mile” destinations in Atlanta. Its in everyone’s best interest that Atlanta be successful.
    I would also cover that there needs to be connections to the major job centers. The problem is only Atlanta’s core has the density to build out a complete transit grid.
    Outside of Cumberland, and Perimeter Mall areas the density falls way off (although Perimeter is doing better in that category) so building out meaningful transit featuring those areas isnt practical. The best you can hope for are connections between them until there is more density.
    Also…sprawl seems to severely limit upward mobility…and the Atlanta Metro places dead last amongst all the major metropolitan areas.

    • Ken says:

      Scott65,

      Interesting stuff. One thing to note: money (salary/wages) is not a ‘satisfier’ enticing people to keep jobs, but can be a ‘dissatisfier’ if it is too low encouraging people to seek other employment. Satisfaction seems to come from things such as challenges and feelings of accomplishment.

      As for the ‘last mile’, I wonder if something as simple as public bicycles could play a part – except in any month where the weather regularly exceeds 80 degrees or falls below 40 degrees. Soooo . . . two months a year. Never mind.

  3. Rambler14 says:

    Pop Quiz:

    Why are Cobb Co. and Gwinnett Co.’s transit systems working just fine?
    And MARTA always has trouble?

    • Because the state pays for the expensive stuff – GRTA buses that actually take people to downtown Atlanta, and if you live in Fulton or DeKalb, in some instances you could geographically be even further from downtown Atlanta, but the state does not chip in.

      You have a different answer? BTW – I have ridden Cobb’s transit intra-county and it was just as miserable as MARTA – more so in some respects you couldn’t rely on the schedule for the bus and there was no GPS webapp telling you where it was – and this was from the main transfer station on the south loop.

  4. michael says:

    Thanks for this important post, high bus fares have shackled local and regional bus systems for many years across the country.

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