Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pseudo-Openness at MTA Purple Line Meetings on Ridership

The Maryland Transit Association will be meeting with people from the community to unveil the ridership study and discuss the Purple Line (see dates and locations below). Unfortunately, the nature of the meetings exhibit that this is really not an open or informative process despite the numerous meetings.

I called MTA to ask some questions and got Mike Madden, the Project Manager, himself. (It turns out that his phone number is posted on MTA's Purple Line website). I asked if MTA would be posting the ridership study on its website prior to the meetings. At a previous Purple Line meeting, I had suggested that it would be helpful if MTA put the information up for the public and was told that this was a good idea.

Mike Madden had "no recollection" of this and explained that there would not be time because MTA would be "refining" its estimates right up until the last minute. At that point, I asked if it was wise to hold all these meetings so soon if the estimates weren't complete yet. Mr. Madden stated that the final estimates wouldn't change much from the preliminary estimates.

I asked if I could see the preliminary estimates if that is the case. Madden said "No, because no information is going to be released before the public meeting." When I asked if it could be posted to the website after the first meeting, he seemed doubtful as the pace of meetings would preclude his staff posting information on the website.

Mike Madden was unmoved by my argument that the public could give better "feedback", a key purpose claimed for the meeting on invitations, if the public had access to information before the meetings. He said that they could respond based on what they saw at the time.

The public shouldn't expect to take much information away from the meeting. Mike Madden said that they would not have copies of the ridership study and that there might or might not be handouts with information on them. At previous meetings, MTA staff was unable to answer specific questions about how cost and ridership estimates were developed.

As it turns out, Mike Madden explained that there will be no public presentation at the meetings, just poster boards with information so the public can ask questions. Perhaps this isn't a bad format. It allows members of the public to ask questions that concern them, though it also prevents members of the public from hearing each other's questions and answers to them.

In short, the meetings are an odd mixture of secrecy with psuedo-openness. The public is welcome to view the findings but not the study behind the findings. Even the findings will be presented only when deemed appropriate by MTA and the public will not be able to receive copies or even summaries of them. It all appears designed to provide an image of consultation without the substance of it.

One wonders why MTA cannot simply make the information more available. If the study has been done properly, surely the ridership numbers should be able to stand up to genuine public scrutiny. MTA will no doubt point to its numerous public meetings as evidence of public consultation. However, the meetings are designed solely to convey MTA's conclusions while hiding the basis for them.

These meetings aren't really a request for "feedback" or even designed to explain the ridership study but a promotional tour. Listening to the public can be tedious and no doubt it is tiresome to present the same information in meeting after meeting. However, it is part of the job and we deserve a genuinely open process--not one designed to promote MTA's preferred Purple Line route in the guise of informing the public and getting public input. MTA can do better.

Monday, December 3, 2007
East Silver Spring Elementary School
631 Silver Spring Avenue
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Wednesday, December 5, 2007
College Park City Hall
4500 Knox Road
College Park, MD 20740

Monday, December 10, 2007
Langley Park Community Center
1500 Merrimac Drive
Hyattsville, MD 20783

Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School Cafeteria
4301 East-West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814

Thursday, December 13, 2007
(Snow Date: Tuesday, December 18, 2007)
West Lanham Hills Recreation Center
7700 Decatur Road
Landover Hills, MD 20784

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