July 19, 2010
The classifieds in this issue offer a diverse group of jobs including a transit general manager and several other executive positions!
Youth Advisory Council Provides Input to SEPTA
BY PHIL DAWSON, Chair, SEPTA Youth Advisory Council, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, and Student, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA
The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) has added another achievement to Philadelphia’s moniker as “The City of Firsts” with its creation and support of the SEPTA Youth Advisory Council (YAC). Founded in September 2009 as the first permanently meeting youth body of its kind in the country, the YAC has given young riders unprecedented input into public transportation issues, and its success as a model program has attracted the attention of other transit agencies.
The YAC grew out of a proactive SEPTA customer service strategy that seeks to identify stakeholder groups among its riders, then invite them to assume an advisory role within the agency. Along these lines, the SEPTA Customer Service Department and the existing Citizens Advisory Committee created the YAC to serve as a primary means of outreach to high school and college-age riders.
Since that time, the council’s 17 youth members have mounted an impressive advocacy campaign focused on outreach, communications, and service evaluation.
YAC members have provided a visible presence at area schools by hosting numerous outreach events; they hand out flyers, raffle off SEPTA Independence Passes, and talk to youth about transit. Whether they’re telling a student on the run how to take the trolley into Center City Philadelphia or explaining upcoming capital improvements, they provide a convenient way for young people to discuss SEPTA issues with their peers.
The council’s negotiations with local university administrations have also secured SEPTA an active role in next year’s new student orientations, ensuring that youth will receive training in how to use public transportation when they arrive in the Philadelphia region.
Another resource that has been especially effective in connecting with young riders is the YAC’s Facebook page. Not only does the site host photos, announcements, and last-minute reminders of YAC events, it also provides a venue to share SEPTA news that most young riders might not seek out on their own. In the future, the YAC plans to use the page’s online discussion boards to solicit readers’ recommendations on current issues that affect them.
Surveying Young Riders
Perhaps most importantly, the YAC has initiated an ongoing dialogue about how SEPTA can better serve its younger riders. Through a public forum and a Youth Rider Survey that will have reached nearly 800 college and high school students by its completion this summer, the YAC is providing SEPTA with unprecedented insight into the needs of this growing customer demographic. Survey questions considered young people’s use of public transportation (and barriers to it), their knowledge of SEPTA, and their recommendations for improving service.
One 19-year old college student responded: “If I could just get a pass for a discount, I would always use SEPTA.” Another commented on a proposal to increase transit education at new student orientations: “I LOVE the idea about ‘SEPTA 101’—I think so many more students would use SEPTA if they weren’t apprehensive as freshmen.”
Through outreach and service evaluation efforts, the YAC has made contact with young people who have varying levels of public transit usage and familiarity. Their common characteristic, however, has been their questions about the system, their interest in learning more about it, and their willingness to offer suggestions for improvement.
This feedback—calling for more discounted passes, subway service until later hours, improved access to information, and other youth-related concerns—will allow the YAC to recommend specific actions to SEPTA for serving this rider demographic. The council is on schedule to present the SEPTA board with a detailed report on these findings before September.
Serving on the YAC has also proven to be a rewarding experience for its youth members. A recent internal survey found that 92 percent of members feel that the YAC is making a real difference among local youth, and members especially enjoy “learning more about SEPTA” while “meeting and networking with other transit-interested youth.”
Outside the Philadelphia region, SEPTA has provided information to transit agencies from Toronto to Denver on how they might imitate this ambitious advocacy effort.
Ultimately, the most exciting aspect of the Youth Advisory Council is that its achievements have been pioneered exclusively by young riders. Merely assembling 17 students in a room with a general mandate and a promise of support has led to development of a comprehensive advocacy strategy that has attracted the attention of not only other youth, but also of transit authorities across the nation. It’s a powerful testament to the idea that the best way to engage young riders and understand their needs is by having youth do it themselves.
It’s encouraging evidence of a new generation of riders that is passionate about having great public transit in our cities. And it’s another first from Philadelphia that deserves to be replicated.
YAC Outreach and Communications Director Ellen Hwang collects SEPTA Independence Pass raffle tickets