In an effort to improve the structure and performance of its operation, the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) is reaching out to its community for feedback and ideas that will help the organization perfect its services.
The agency’s reorganization initiative, called a Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA), includes a series of workshops held for various population demographics around San Diego. These sessions detail proposed changes to the system, explain the potential effects of those changes on each particular group, answer any questions riders might have and hear their suggestions for improvement.
Rob Schupp, director of marketing and community relations for the operation, says one of the challenges MTS faces is accommodating San Diego’s blind and visually impaired community, a group that relies heavily on public transportation. The first in a series of workshops for the blind detailing MTS’s plans was held in early January at the local Center for the Blind.
On the horizon
Schupp says the proposed MTS changes will have a major impact on visually impaired riders. “They will include some of the segments of our routes,” he says. “The new system will increase frequencies, but it might mean that some riders will have to make one more transfer than they used to. So there are some things like that, which are huge for all of our riders, but particularly the disabled community.”
The system-wide analysis and reorganization comes from a growing need to update MTS’s aging route network, tighten expenses and grow revenue. “This is the first extensive look at how our whole system works in probably four decades,” Schupp says. “You can imagine how San Diego has grown and how things have been tweaked here and there and how different routes are.”
To cut costs, MTS plans to eliminate those routes with the highest subsidies per rider. “At the same time we want to increase the level of service in urban areas with a high demand for transit,” Schupp says. “We want to increase connectivity between routes and increase connectivity with the trolley in our urban core, while slimming down in areas with smaller numbers of riders. It’s a matter of putting our resources in the right places.”
To set up the workshops, MTS commissioned help from the Center for the Blind, the Blind Community Center and the Braille Institute. The agency also reached out to other community groups and advocates for the blind that work with the community advisory boards. “We involved all these people to select a good place to hold these meetings and to develop a good presentation that would be most effective for this audience,” Schupp says. Professionals involved with these organizations, he says, offer unmatched expertise in addressing the needs of this particular population group.
The first workshop included a presentation from San Diego City Councilman Toni Atkins and MTS CEO Paul Jablonski encouraging community members to get involved in the organization’s cause by lobbying other council members and organizations.
“Right off the bat that kind of got the public onto our side, and it eliminated any ‘us versus them’ type of feelings,” Schupp says. In doing public outreach, operations can face knee-jerk reactions when discussing changes, he adds. “This kind of eliminated that.”
MTS has organized 50 meetings to reach out to its riders. “The goal, of course, is to educate people, then get them familiar with changes, to get their support, but also to identify areas in the plan that might not make the most sense,” says Schupp.