Monday, September 29, 2008

Vocal Citizenship

Last Wednesday, we attended another one of Metro’s public hearings. We wanted to hear more about challenges and opportunities facing the region’s transit system, and we were interested in the distinct information Metro officials might provide Illinois residents.

The PowerPoint presentation regarding the distribution of funds and services towards transportation lines in both Illinois and Missouri was the same. Since the state of Illinois provides considerable funds for public transportation, bus service would be far less affected on this side. However, reductions in light rail operations in Missouri would necessarily mean changes in service in Illinois as well.

The turnout for the public hearing was small, but that did not prevent the few attendees from participating in a lively Q&A session and offering suggestions. One citizen in particular felt that Metro would benefit greatly by forming alliances with colleges around the region. Another citizen suggested that Metro look to New York and Chicago for models of ideal transportation systems. All in all, it was clear that the attendees had been thinking on these issues quite a bit.

The Metro officials were receptive to the ideas offered by the audience, but there was a sense that they could easily predict the complications involved with many of the suggestions. Of course, those officials have studied the challenges facing public transportation in the region much longer than we have. They are especially knowledgeable about what probable solutions won’t work.

The gap between what transit riders hoped for and what Metro officials knew was unlikely had us wondering about how citizens might become more knowledgeable in order to offer useful, practical solutions.

What information and skill-sets, for instance, would a group of citizens need to gather in order to move beyond unrealistic expectations? In what ways can we become more capable at developing citizen-driven practical yet innovative solutions? And what roles could Metro or any official organizations play in the process?

Image: courtesy of H.R. for Along the Light Rail

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