Jarrett Walker's road to transit industry expert began as a teen in Portland, Oregon in the '70s when the state passed a series of land use laws to protect agricultural land from car-based sprawl by implementing a revolutionary new light rail system now known as MAX. Experiencing this transformation as a teenager — commuting by bus across the city through a downtown that grew more vibrant by the day, Jarrett embraced the possibility of rapid and fundamental change in how a city imagines and builds itself.
This experience led Jarrett to establish his career as a public transit planner, where for decades now, he’s worked alongside talented architects and urbanists across many cities, countries and even continents. Today, Jarrett runs his own transit planning and management firm and hosts his professional blog to provide insights and expertise on developments in public transit in the developed world, especially within North America.
Jarrett’s nonpartisan blog, Human Transit often addresses public transit problems that separate technical issues from personal values. For example, most transit agencies claim that they want maximum ridership, however they often operate some low-ridership services to meet social goals, like providing mobility to transit-dependent people who live in low-ridership areas. Every agency decides, explicitly or not, whether to spend money on building high ridership or to spend it on much-needed social services. It’s a bit of a dilemma.
No one understands the dilemma between what’s good for business and what’s good for customers more than the Muncie Indiana Transit system (MITS), whose goal is to provide affordable, safe, comfortable, and dependable transit options to those who would otherwise not be able to access public transit. Despite being named "Outstanding Public Transportation System" by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), MITS’ paratransit service struggled under obsolete and malfunctioning on-board computers. This incredibly inefficient system, led to an overall dissatisfaction among vehicle drivers and it eventually suffered a trickle-down effect, impacting the quality of service to riders.To satisfy the technical issue and address the human factor, MITS engaged TripSpark Technologies to deploy TripSpark’s demand response software solution to relieve the stress involved with taking calls and dispatching vehicles. Additionally, Paratransit in vehicle hardware (MDT) was installed in MITSPlus vehicles to achieve the full power of the total solution.
The workload and stress heaped upon drivers who had been forced to use paper manifests, suddenly vanished. And the web-enabled abilities of TripSpark demand response solutions made life so much easier for dispatchers, even allowing them the flexibility of working from home. With less confusion when it came to last minute calls and re-routes, drivers were able to focus entirely on the needs of their riders and the job of providing safe and reliable service. Best of all, the balance between tackling technical issues and honoring personal values was restored.
The Future and Human Transit
According to Jarrett Walker "Once a community has expressed its transit goals, experts have a role in designing systems to meet them. But experts shouldn’t be the source of the goals themselves. Citizens and their elected officials are entitled to a clear explanation of the underlying choices they face, and a chance to express their views on them." Jarrett believes that everyone has a right to weigh in about their public services in terms that they can understand and it’s important not to treat experts as the ultimate authority. Instead, by looking at the technical issues and personal impacts that transit has on its workers and its community, the business of transit can get a lot more human.