Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Advisory Committee reviews study recommendations

The “Moving LANTA Forward” Advisory Committee, 70 concerned citizens representing different walks of life throughout the Lehigh Valley, met Wednesday, May 6th.

This was a forum to discuss LANTA’s role in the Valley from a land use perspective, how the Authority compared with transit agencies similar in size and service area across the country and what the consultants believed the community could support in terms of growth in services.

Given, through the extensive public input process followed during the planning process, the community’s desire for ‘more public transportation’ in the Valley, one of the prime challenges is implementing significant growth with the moderate growth in financial support that is anticipated at all government levels. To make this equation even more challenging, since the study was started in March, 2008, a major recession has occurred in the US and it has become clear that the growth in funding anticipated from the State of Pennsylvania is not forthcoming.

LANTA’s consultant proposed marketing strategies and land use recommendations for the groups’ consideration along with the phased plan for growth over the next 12 years.
The marketing approach dealt with ‘branding’ and image issues and how to achieve rider growth and retention given limited resources and staff.

Aspects of the land use plan – concentrated growth in urban areas and transit friendly design - require cooperation on the local, state, and federal levels. Local communities – Counties, cites, townships and boroughs – if they desire increased transit services, may have to measure their investments both in terms of land use and financial support.

The service plan presented is a 3-phased plan for the period 2010 through 2022. It was stressed that connecting land use and transit oriented design is vital for success, particularly if the Lehigh Valley wishes to transition to higher‐ridership transit modes such as express bus and light rail. The plan proposes specific goals for land use and also recommends passenger amenities – shelters and well-designed bus stops - necessary to support an enhanced, innovative and dynamic transit system.

Fred Williams, LANTA Board Chairman stated, “This is an excellent blueprint for growth. I hope we can achieve it. Key to our success will be finding out if there is sufficient interest from the public and local government to commit to such an aggressive plan. This is what the public has asked for. Now the question is, is the public willing to pay for it?”

The 3-year proposed marketing plan focuses on the 3 R’s for transit: recruitment of riders, retention of riders, and reputation of the system. Also essential to the marketing strategy are the 4 P’s: product, pricing, place and promotion. The consultant also noted that the Authority has limited human resources dedicated to the marketing effort and should consider investment in this area.

The Committee left the forum with an understanding of the possibilities as well as the awareness of the challenges that any such plan for growth presents.

As one member of the group noted, “There are some very large numbers being presented here, in terms of local commitment. Does our community have the ‘will’ to produce the revenue needed to obtain the services they say they want?”

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