Whether we’re talking about groceries, furniture or cable, we buy and use products and services every day. Transportation is one of those services. And, as consumers, we try to know what we can about what we purchase. We try to be well-informed on matters of nutrition, television programming, auto repair services, and countless other things.
But transportation issues? Not so much, it seems.
We know that because our research team recently spent time in focus groups with Texans in ten cities across the state. Part of what we learned from them is that they generally don’t understand how highways in Texas are paid for, how unsustainable that financing system is, and what all that means for our future. That’s unfortunate, especially when you consider that transportation is central to just about everything we need and everything we do every day.
It’s our hope that the work our team is doing will help agencies be more effective in connecting with the traveling public, and vice versa. That’s really important, because meaningful public engagement can do a lot of good things. For instance:
It can produce better decisions. When the public is actively engaged in system planning, a highway or transit project is much more likely to reflect local concerns, needs, and priorities.
It can promote better understanding. It’s not realistic to think that an agency can please all of the people all of the time, so just about any transportation project is likely to create at least some opposition. Genuine and productive two-way communication can help ensure that disagreements are based in truth – not misinformation.
It can improve an agency’s relationship with the public it serves. An open exchange of ideas can enhance accountability, transparency, and credibility – all of which help to increase public confidence in a transportation agency (and government in general).
Most important of all, however, is that meaningful public engagement can make us wiser transportation consumers. Most of us would like to think of ourselves as smart shoppers. We do our homework. We make sure we understand what things cost, how best to pay for them, and what we’re getting for our money. Whether it’s about cars, houses, or cell phone service, we try to be savvy consumers.
So why should being a transportation consumer be any different?