Thursday, August 12, 2010

Focused Group

Last week a group of LANTA Metro passengers sat down together over donuts and coffee and talked about how much they liked riding the bus. And they also spoke about how the system could be improved so that they and others like them might find it more useful.

The coffee klatch which took place in the later afternoon at the Allentown Transportation Center, lasted 2 hours and was facilitated by representatives of Brecon Hill and Thiel Design, two consulting firms out of Wisconsin that are helping LANTA redefine and upgrade its passenger information system.

Among the many recommendations that came out of the Moving LANTA Forward planning effort last year was one that said Metro bus information was difficult to understand. LANTA hired Brecon Hill/Thiel to help evaluate the information base further and to come up with an improved package for customers.

The bus rider meeting was very important in the process. Obviously, what riders say will weigh heavily on the outcome. The participants were selected over a two day period on a random basis. LANTA staff wearing shirts with the corporate logo and armed with a clipboard, approach customers at the Allentown Transportation Center inviting them to be involved. Twenty were invited: 18 showed up at the appointed time.

Out of what was a ‘study session,’ not a focus group, came a plethora of information and impressions:

. The LANTA Metro rider group was very positive about the transit system. While some depended upon Metro for all their transportation needs, others chose to use it because it saved money and was a convenience. Some also said it felt good to ride because it ‘helped the environment.’

. The riders knew one another because they rode the bus. They met on board and enjoyed seeing one another as their paths crossed riding the system. Half said that they only knew each other because of the bus and felt a sense of community because of the shared experience.

. No one complained about transit fares and, despite the fact that more than half of those present had to make bus transfers, no one complained about service access. Some of the things that were said:

“Metro is my lifeblood.”

“I use the bus 4 times a day – for work and for daycare. I could never get to my job if it were not for Metro.”

“Most drivers are helpful when I have a question.”

“I’m glad someone at the Metro Office speaks Spanish because that really helps when my Mom calls them.”

“I like Sunday service, I just wish there was more of it.”

Not all comments were positive: the group had their favorite drivers and those that they avoided. And they bemoaned the fact that service was limited at times and that buses did not run more frequently.

But this is all valuable input as the Authority looks to expand the system.

Over and over LANTA hears that the public wants more service. The major challenge continues to be how to pay for it.

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