Archive for May, 2021

Transportation Options for All

Local and state transportation options programs, such as GO MAINE, have increased their work on equity and mobility in recent years. (These programs are also known traditionally as “commuter assistance” or “Transportation Demand Management”, a.k.a., TDM.) One example is GO MAINE’s statewide multimodal Trip Planner that was first launched in March 2020 but (understandably) not promoted widely because of concerns about the safety of carpooling during the pandemic. The trip planner allows people to find various transportation options including carpools, bike and transit routes, park and ride lots, and electric vehicle charging locations. The planner also includes the ability to form carpools for “one time” rides to events or destinations, such as concerts and state parks. In addition, it enables local ride-matching for volunteer drivers with people who need rides, for example for shopping and medical trips. [Full disclosure: Cushman Transportation Consulting, LLC (CTC) has consulted with GO MAINE on special projects since 2017.]

However, the pandemic has revealed starkly how much previous transportation options efforts across North America have been geared most toward those who have easy access to private vehicles – and who are most likely to be able to work from home. At the same time, while carpooling and public transportation use have been down as much as 75-85% during Covid, more than one TDM practitioner quotes the current understanding that, “You may not depend on transit, but you probably depend on someone who does.”

Cushman Transportation Consulting, LLC as a firm carries an ongoing concern for mobility access and justice efforts. Sarah Cushman, principal at CTC, has worked over the years with projects such as the ACLU of Maryland’s cases regarding Driving While Black on I-95 and the U.S. Route 50 construction that destroyed an African American neighborhood in Salisbury, MD – as well as the Citizen’s Planning & Housing Association’s work with Baltimore’s Transit Riders League. As an auto mechanic, Sarah worked regularly with customers struggling to afford to keep their vehicles on the road and seeking other transportation choices.

More recent consulting efforts include those with MaineDOT’s Safe Routes to School Program and the Heads Up! Vulnerable Populations Pilot Project. As a volunteer consultant, CTC is also assisting Greater Portland Council of Governments staff and local transit providers with a dialogue regarding barriers to using the new Dirigo transit pass that have come to light – for people with disabilities, with fewer financial resources, and/or who are English Language Learners.

In addition, there is CTC’s work with GO MAINE to help employers and workers who are looking for ways to reduce commute costs and find other ways to get to work. CTC has also been representing GO MAINE on the Moving Maine Network – and the firm is an active participant in the Transportation & Community Network, the Southern Maine arm of Moving Maine. The Moving Maine Network works to improve access to transportation for all Mainers, with a special focus on people who experience barriers. The Network is a multi-sector, statewide collaborative that facilitates better transportation access by advancing cross-sector coordination, informing policy change, and spurring innovation.

Moving Maine is in good company with many other local and national efforts. In every conversation with colleagues working on transportation options programs in other states and regions, it’s clear they are also seeing the need to work not only with the traditional Transportation Demand Management (TDM) base of people who have the choice to drive alone to work – but also with those who really need a ride. As one program manager puts it, “It needs to be TDM-for-all.” Another practitioner shares, “Do I want to keep selling the unwanted to the unwilling? How about selling the wanted to the willing, for whom it would really make a difference?”

“We don’t have a congestion problem and parking is free pretty much everywhere. You’re setting us up for failure if you base the program’s work on congestion. Job access, mobility, and climate – those are the more sustainable and compelling paths forward.”  

Courtney Reynolds, Transit Planning Manager, VHB – former manager of ReThink Your Commute (Central Florida) and Southwest Florida Commuter Services – both funded primarily through the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program      


Understanding that the Customer is the Most Central Actor

The customer – that is, anyone who lives and/or works in the program area – is actually the central actor in any transportation options program’s efforts. This means a program must do in-depth outreach to understand the lived experience and transportation needs of one’s customers across the spectrum – also known as their “jobs-to-be-done”. And in knowing people’s jobs-to-be-done, program staff can most effectively identify and connect folks with how the program might help.

“People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”

Theodore Levitt, Harvard Business School marketing professor  

“People buy [or use] products and services to get a job done.”

Competing Against Luck: the story of innovation and customer choice, Christensen, Dillon, Hall & Duncan (2016)      

The program needs to consistently consult with – and ask and enable its central actors to participate in – the design and decisions about its services and marketing strategies.

“[t]he more we share our understanding of customers with our partners, the more we can bring others to support the work of improving mobility options…Transportation is integral to almost all activities that take place within a community. The ability of people to reach needed destinations impacts the viability of businesses, health and human services, economic development, local government, and more. Being able to articulate this relationship between transportation and success in other sectors is an important step in strengthening support for community transportation options.”  

National Center for Mobility Management    


Of course, “know thy customer” is the mantra in any social marketing and behavior change effort, including transportation options programs. It’s also incredibly important to meet different customers where they are on the Stages of Change continuum in terms of adopting new ways of getting around.

Living Our Values in the Work Itself

Last but certainly not least, it’s not just what work the program does in the world, but also how it does the work. Identifying and living by the program’s core equity values fosters a more resilient working culture. That is, people are able to work together and accomplish significantly more over the long-term.

Some content recommendations for a program’s Values Statement can be found here. As always, this should be a living document that people use in their day-to-day work. These principles also serve the program to lead by example to meet a state or region’s economic development and equity goals – such as those regarding economic class, race, age diversity, physical and cognitive ability, gender, and geographic representation.

There’s plenty of work to be done on so many levels. And at the same time, there’s so much opportunity for us to improve everyone’s mobility – which makes all of our lives better and our communities stronger.

May 4, 2021 at 11:58 am Leave a comment

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