9 ways to get transportation strategies moving

By Michael Sutherland | March 22, 2019

It’s a tall order. Success will depend on having a complete, well-thought-out transportation strategy that delivers services people really want and will use. And, of course, all of it needs to be affordable and easy to adopt.

Good sailors sail fast by doing a good job “in the boat”—adjusting the sails, making sure the boat is going as fast as it can. And “out of the boat”—knowing the winds, making sure the boat is sailing in the right direction. To make projects and sailboats go fast, you have to do both. Here are nine in- and out-of-the-boat guidelines that will ensure your transportation strategy sails faster and more smoothly than you thought possible.

  1. See the big picture. Understand the policy environment and objectives. How does your transportation strategy fit with the development trajectory of the city and the communities you serve? Go over the business cases, the decision-making gates, and the environmental assessment requirements. Make them work for you. The rules are supposed to make sure good projects get built, not to put up roadblocks. Be well-navigated.
  2. Understand optimization opportunities. Fares, operations, and capital build-design are chances to do things differently—better. An optimized project can change its own outcome. Recently, a client asked why his expensive project was not justifying the public and private investment it had needed. By optimizing alignments, rethinking stations, and re-evaluating the network-wide impact and benefits, the project quickly changed from clearly “Not Worthwhile” to “Worthwhile.”
  3. Prioritize investment with good analytics. Identify and understand the full value—social, environmental, and economic—that any investment in transportation infrastructure will have. Factor in lifecycle costs. Don’t apply multipliers to your capital-spending estimates to justify indirect or “here’s-hoping” benefits. You want numbers that show new usage and improvements to existing usage. The strategy, what it will do, and how stakeholders will benefit should be clear and simple.
  4. Use land-value-capture methods to subsidize transit. Property values tend to increase where there’s effective transit. So governments may be able to recoup some of the cost by selling off desirable real estate. Canvass the marketplace and sound-out potential investors about using or developing the land. The information can be valuable for city planning around transit. If there are no land holdings or partnerships to help offset costs, special taxation might be needed.
  5. Engage the community widely and productively. There are both NIMBYs and YIMBYs. Few people are as motivated as those whose homes and livelihoods are directly affected by your project. So engage with them, productively and strategically. You’ll recruit supporters and better understand the people who should be compensated or given special consideration. Be sure fare-revenue estimates are consistent with market expectations.
  6. Understand the people and organizations that matter. There are decision-makers, and there are influencers. They can be in government, the private sector, the not-for-profits, and out in the community. There are legitimate and conflicted reasons for supporting your project or not. Know why, why not, who is helpful, and who is not. Financers won’t risk their investment or its returns if they can’t predict the effect of regulatory changes or new governments coming to power. Investors need the protection of backstops for ridership and revenue, so offer a level of predictability or a commitment for service continuity.
  7. Consider a master services agreement (MSA). This overarching contract appoints one advisor to guide the entire strategy. An MSA is a guideline to a shared vision for the transportation program that establishes continuity and benchmarks for service, quality, and plan delivery. Governments won’t have to issue separate contracts for every project within a program or for different types of advice on a per-project basis. A good MSA contractor can help evaluate projects’ technical feasibility, estimate their revenue potential, negotiate project agreements, and execute competitive procurement processes.
  8. Use P3s properly. Use the right model, customized to the project. In public-private partnerships (P3s), governments need to manage suppliers effectively. Sometimes, maintenance and operating components may be added to design-build-finance-manage or design-build-finance-operate-manage procurement contracts. The contractor may provide a breakthrough service a government can’t match. Or another feature or benefit less expensively than the government could do itself.
  9. Make the bidding and evaluation processes transparent. Community feedback on the design, function, and schedule will help solidify bidder interest and validate the project’s viability. Government should interact with prospective bidders early, when technical specs and contractual terms are being decided. This will help inform “market-level” agreements on which parties can bid. 

Publish evaluation criteria well before the bid submission deadline. Set up open-house sessions for bidders and good request-for-information processes that respond quickly and definitively. Compensate bidders with honorariums or bid fees. Winners can pay a prenegotiated amount to the others for their work to complete the bid. Or, government can compensate them for expenses upfront.

A smart, honest, transportation strategy is the first, essential step to creating a solid transit project that delivers what it’s supposed to. Engage the best consultant. Do your homework. Allot the proper consideration and attention to getting this first principle just right. You’ll gain goodwill and public support, save valuable time, and maximize benefits. And, you just may avoid some costly errors down the road.