Transit Communication Ladder

Two years ago, Metro Vancouver held a failed referendum about transit expansion. I believe that with good communication it would have been possible to succeed. Regardless of whether there is another referendum, public support is essential to building and sustaining effective transit. Where the public leads, politicians will follow. This is my suggestion for how Metro Vancouver should think and talk about transit.

Values are the foundation of a powerful message. It is critical that people believe that your values are sincere, so that they will be open to the rest of what you have to say:

  1. Everyone has a right to mobility, to economic opportunity, and to a clean environment.
  2. TransLink and the Mayors’ Council are dedicated to achieving these things. They live, work and take transit here, just like us. (Lead by example: get those mayors and TransLink officials on trains and buses.)
  3. Our task is to give people choices that maximize their ability to get where they need to go safely, affordably, and cleanly.

Establish mobility as a core value:

  1. Mobility is the foundation of a modern economy. Our economy is our people. Mobility enables us to be productive.
  2. Everyone has a right to mobility: workers, children, the elderly, the disabled. (Poverty has negative connotations. Don’t bring it up, but respond if raised: “I’m glad you brought that up, because low income groups benefit the most from better transit.”)
  3. We benefit from the mobility of others: family, friends, workers, people who provide us with goods and services. Mobility brings people together. (Always talk about mobility, never about congestion.)

The importance of transit follows naturally:

  1. Transit gives us choices, enhancing our mobility. Transit and roads work together to get us where we need to go. (Do not engage in us-and-them anti-car rhetoric. “People,” not “drivers.” “Use road space more efficiently,” not “take away car lanes.” “Give people choices,” not “get people out of cars.” “Free up road space,” not “take cars off the road.”)
  2. Transit is an investment. A dollar invested in transit produces more than three dollars in economic activity.
  3. Transit is an essential part of an active, healthy and green city.

This leads to a positive plan of action that includes citizens as active participants:

  1. Our transit system is extremely successful relative to comparable systems elsewhere. We need to build on that investment so that we do not fall behind.
  2. Citizens support transit expansion. They understand the importance of in mobility, choice, independence and wise public investment. (People give their support when they feel that they are part of a group or movement.)
  3. Our democratic representatives have collaborated on a plan to invest in transit. Participation from the people who live here is essential to that plan, and to continuing expansion in the future. (Focus on a legitimate and inclusive ongoing process, not the technical details, trade-offs and winners and losers of a particular project.)

This argument is too long and involved for most communications. It is intended as a set of values and principles that underly communication, whether it be a poster showing an elderly woman taking the bus to visit her grandchildren (mobility and access for all) or a plan explaining how adding transit to a road will allow more people to travel. Consistency and integrity build up a set of values and assumptions that over time will help make transit a shared project.