In the summer of 1984, an assistant to the general manager of Sacramento Regional Transit had an idea. He suggested to his boss, who had been on the job for a little more than a year and a half, that he should spend a week riding the district's buses.
In July 1984, RT General Manager Dave Boggs and his assistant went from bus to bus handing out questionnaires to riders and inviting their in-depth comments and suggestions, promising to respond personally.
At the time, Boggs told The Bee: "I've really enjoyed it. I'm in the drivers' room and with the mechanics a lot, but until you get out on the buses you don't really see the system or know what the riders are thinking."
Twenty-three years later, Boggs' assistant, Mike Wiley, is now general manager, and today Wiley and the district are engaged in a comprehensive revision of the Regional Transit Master Plan, a document that seeks to outline a vision for the future of transit over the next 10, 20 and 30 years.
The other day, RT and its consultants, Steer Davies Gleave, launched an online survey that seeks community input to help the district prioritize improvements in the transit system. (Take the survey.) Wiley also plans to take part in monthly online chats, according to the Web site for the Regional Transit Master Plan at www.sacrt.com/tmp.
All of this high-tech outreach is fine, but Wiley should consider handing out that survey in person while riding around the district for a week.
On July 30, 1984, The Bee commented on Boggs' outreach effort in a short editorial headlined "Busman's holiday."
The Bee noted at the time: "RT needs to sell itself to the commuting public, to make riders partners in its success and to demonstrate anew the advantages of public transit. When the boss takes a personal hand in that effort, the result can be salutary for both customers and RT workers."
That is as true today as it was in 1984, perhaps more so. Unfortunately, there's little indication that RT is listening to actual riders. Look at the grand schedule of the TMP review and look where "Public Outreach" fits in.
Last year, we see, TMP planners held "Initial Staff and Stakeholder Meetings." Who were these "stakeholders"? Who represents the riders who have a choice, who choose to leave their cars at home? In theory, the online survey might reach these people -- I'm certainly doing my part to promote it -- but what effort is RT making to bring attention to the survey?
Today, RT does a fair job of getting state workers and others downtown and home again. That, after all, is why we have light rail. The remainder of the system is designed as a mobility service of last resort. Hence, the three bus lines that traverse Watt Avenue all detour off Watt to visit Kaiser's Morse Avenue hospital while job centers in Rancho Cordova cope with hourly bus service.
Regional Transit will need to sell expansion of its system to all of the people of its service area, not just to downtown commuters and the poor and the disabled. RT needs to make a strong case that it appreciates the needs of choice riders. RT must make a better effort to reach these people.