As the U.S. presidential campaign advances into its final weeks, the candidates will focus on winning the votes of the uncommitted. President George Bush and John Kerry's party operatives understand that the unswayed and uncertain — rather than partisan supporters — will likely tip the scales in a few critical states, spelling the difference between victory and defeat.
To reach these uncommitted voters, Bush and Kerry will have to sharpen the attack of their campaigns. This means that they'll have to root them out and persuade them to climb aboard their respective bandwagons on Nov. 2.
Winning our own election
In public transportation, we've been campaigning for the past several years for a successful reauthorization of TEA 21, one that will guarantee increased levels of transit investment. At press time, lawmakers on Capitol Hill were due to take up their tug-of-war over the funding level of the six-year transportation bill, and it appeared unlikely that they would reach an agreement anytime soon.
Although the outcome of the political wrangling will have a significant impact on transit spending over the next several years, we must remember that the funding level, while critical, is only one link to improving the performance of bus and rail transit across the country.
The other important link is communicating the message — to the uncommitted in your community — that public transportation makes a critical difference. You don't need to convince the good folks who already support transit of its merits. It's the people who take for granted the contributions that transit makes who need to be convinced.
And this is an opportune time to sell the merits of public transportation. High fuel prices present transit agencies with the opportunity to win new customers. Whether they're commuting 20 miles to work every day or just heading to the local shopping mall, motorists are feeling the sting of high gasoline prices.
But we need to do more than sing the praises of our transit systems; we need to produce results. Improving ridership and customer service need to be at the top of the list, along with making effective business decisions.
Teamwork is key, too
As we saw in the men's and women's 400-meter sprint relay during the Summer Olympics, teamwork is as critical to success as the talent of the competitors. The U.S. squads, although packed with highly talented runners, failed to take home the gold in either race.
The transit industry requires teamwork to succeed, too. Although the transit system is the deliverer of the service, it needs the support of local, state and federal funding sources as well as a strong partnership with its suppliers, especially bus and rail manufacturers. Smoothing out the procurement process has been one of the goals of the industry for several years. Although progress is being made, it's been a slow process. Incremental improvements, however, are better than none.
Let's keep working together to broaden the campaign for better public transportation. Investment from all corners of the industry in the American Public Transportation Association's (PT)2 campaign has raised the awareness and knowledge of public transportation. Use the tools provided by (PT)2 to hammer the message in your own backyard. Like Bush or Kerry, you might sway some of the uncommitted and be able to claim your own victory.