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Note: A recording of the webinar described in this post can be found here.

Caltrans is seeking public input on its Statewide Transit Strategic Plan at a webinar tomorrow, Wednesday, June 7, from 10:30 a.m. to about noon. The webinar is specifically focused on transit users - and potential transit users - and aimed at gathering feedback on what issues are the most crucial for the state to address. Register for the webinar here.

If you can't attend the webinar, you can still give Caltrans your thoughts on what transit needs by taking a survey that will help inform the Statewide Transit Strategic Plan.

Transit in California is a decidedly local enterprise, appropriately so given the complex local and regional differences between communities. The state's role has historically been limited to handing over money. But over the past decade, Caltrans has begun to recognize that it needs to do more. California state policy goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will mean an increased reliance on transit. Caltrans' own goals include shifting more trips to biking, walking, and transit.

Not being a transit provider itself, Caltrans has had to figure out its role in supporting better public transportation. Five years ago, the department published the Statewide Transit Strategic Plan, which was a first attempt at assessing some of the needs, conditions, and challenges of the more than 200 local and regional transit agencies, large and small, that provide crucial transportation services to state residents.

Now, working with researchers from the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies, Caltrans is developing an update to the Statewide Transit Strategic Plan. Tomorrow's webinar will introduce the project and gather public input.

The update process has produced a “Baselines Report” describing the current state of transit in California. There have also been several workshops held in the last month throughout the state, gathering information on topics such as the experience of the transit user, getting to and from transit, funding, planning, and data gathering.

“There are strong motivators behind why we're doing this plan,” said Juan Matute, who is managing the project at UCLA. “The state is interested in the trend of declining transit ridership, which is very concerning at a time when we're trying to increase transit ridership to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The question is how the state can help agencies solve the problem, which has many underlying reasons behind it. Even putting a finger on the reasons is difficult for individual agencies.

Matute gave an example of a potential role for Caltrans in collecting and analyzing data, which could provide valuable information that local agencies can't access otherwise. That includes data currently collected by the CPUC on ride-hailing companies, but not shared with local agencies.

Another area of interest is in real-time arrival information. Even some of the larger, more technologically progressive agencies have stumbled on this, as happened to SF Muni when it neglected to upgrade a piece of equipment and its NextBus system failed spectacularly.

“There is a lot of interest in real-time data and passenger information,” said Matute, “and in reducing barriers to agencies for producing that data. There are a lot of small agencies in the state, and many don't have any data at all. They're not even on Google maps.”

“The vision is to get everyone on Google maps, with real-time data, coordinated statewide. From a planning standpoint, that's cool; it can help make the user's experience better.” A statewide data portal could help local agencies understand and analyze their own data better.

Tomorrow's webinar will be focused on the experience of transit users, to help the planning team create and prioritize its recommendations for Caltrans. The survey will be open until Friday.

Register for the webinar here, and find more information on the website of Caltrans’ Division of Rail and Mass Transit here.

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