Monday, April 20, 2015

Owning a transit center in crisis

Scenario: You build a $50 million transit center where commuters can change buses in the warmth of a modern, heated terminal. And you have an $11 million contract with the city school district to transport students on your transit authority buses, often via the transit center.

RTS Transit Center, Rochester, NY. Photo by David Kassnoff.
Something disturbing takes place. There's a fight between students. And another. Then, an assault. And a stabbing. Some of these injure taxpaying commuters who indirectly helped build your $50 million wrestling/transit center.

Perception: your transit center is a dangerous place. Even the mayor says so. Publicly.

Your response? If you're the transit company, you blame the offending high school students. If you're the school superintendent, you keep repeating: "We can't fix it alone. Parents need to be involved."

My response? You both were absent when the class on "Leadership" took place.

There's no way to dollop out enough PR to fix this problem. You in the transit business won't be upfront with the media on what a public transit authority spends on private security, so your credibility is iffy. You in the school district have unruly, unsupervised, angry kids. You both have security guards whose main deterrent is a two-way radio. You have police officers who want to prevent crime, not supervise teenagers. 

The solution? Own the situation. Don't talk about it. Own it. Here's what that means:
  • The school superintendent needs to relocate his office to the transit center. Leave the site for meetings as needed, but being visible is essential. Walk your talk.
  • Same deal for the transit company's CEO. You built this shiny new facility; now go live there. Walk your talk. If it's really a safe place, show up.
  • Parent involvement? Great, but motivate them. Incentivize a parents foot patrol. Give them free 30-day bus passes. And pair them up with those police officers. Make everyone visible. 
And the disruptive kids? Nice try, but all you really did was relocate them from an unruly outdoor location on Main Street to an unruly indoor location. So stop rewarding them with bus rides and a nice transit center. 

Instead, implement a one-strike-and-you're-out rule. Get ugly in the RTS transit center, here's a free pair of Skechers. You're walking for the rest of the school year. 

And, if all else fails, pipe Vivaldi and Mozart into your shiny transit center, 24/7. No kid's going to hang around in the face of classical music.

Oh, did you lose ridership because commuters wanted no part of a hostile transit center? I have ideas for fixing that. But those ideas aren't free.