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What if We Treated Transit like a Symphony Orchestra?

Aug 28, 2017
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Orchestra style floor plan showing position of all the instrument groups

The time has come for the big night. It’s time to get all dressed up in your best attire (that brand new tuxedo or that fabulous gown). It’s time to make sure that lapel is decorated with a nice flower or a corsage on your wrist. This day has been coming for weeks. The anticipation has been built and you can’t wait to hear the magnificence of the New York Philharmonic play the masterpiece that is Beethoven’s 5th symphony. You can’t wait to hear all of those musicians come together to make one of the most famous pieces of classical music come to life and fill you with awe.

You arrive, get settled in, and wait with giddy. The conductor walks onto the stage, followed by the musicians. But something seems off. Something is noticeably different. Instead of the 105 members coming out, there are maybe only 23 people (one for each instrument). The conductor doesn’t say anything, they just start playing. They play Beethoven’s 5th in its entirety. It sounded fine, but not what you came to see. You wanted the full thing. You wanted to hear the harmonies play off each other with a rise and a crescendo as that short-short-short-long motif playfully weaves among the four movements. You wanted the masterpiece.

Know Your Audience’s Expectations

Just like how you were sitting there in the Lincoln Center Plaza and anticipating something specific, so too there are expectations from your riders. They are expecting to get from point A to point B without any issues. In order to meet those expectations, what are you doing to make sure you keep up? It’s difficult to organize your operators on paper. It’s hard to do proper reporting when you have to spend hours, if not weeks, to make sure maintenance on your vehicles is properly done and up to date. So, what happens when, because your reporting on a bus isn’t up to date, it breaks down causing a delay? Riders are upset. The bus they are waiting for is late and likely won’t arrive, causing them to be late. And maybe they don’t even know because the real-time information isn’t “real-time,” so they get frustrated waiting for a bus that simply doesn’t show up.

Symphony Orchestras have many different sections (strings, percussion, horns, etc.). Within each section there are different instruments. Example: Strings have violins (first chair and second chair), violas, cellos, and basses. It's the same thing within your transit agency. You have different departments (maintenance, paratransit, scheduling and planning, etc.) running simultaneously and each section can be broken down even further.

Maintain Your Full Sound

Let’s look at maintenance from a different seat. You have the top-end transit enterprise asset management technology. So your maintenance program resembles the string section of an orchestra. It has 64-66 of all the instruments you need – 1st chair violins, 2nd chair violins, violas, cellos, and double basses. With the recent addition for the FTA’s Final Rule, regarding State of Good Repair, it’s like losing your entire 2nd chair violin section. You’ll still get the sound needed to showcase the wonder of Beethoven’s 5th, but that harmony is missing. You are still operational and the sound is still great. The show being put on is good. But, it’s no longer a masterpiece. And let’s not forget, you want the masterpiece.

Things Change – Change with the Times

Modern symphony orchestras often have keyboards (piano or organ), but that wasn’t something that has always been part of the renditions. At this point though, there is an expectation that this will be incorporated into new arrangement of the pieces. The symphony has evolved and so has the way transit agencies have to operate. If you want to go to the technical aspect of things, not having a piano in your collection of musicians would technically still classify your piece as a symphony. But, in modern times it would feel like something is missing. This is the same when it comes to your transit agency and their customer service and marketing departments. Would you still be able to function as a transit agency without them? Probably. But, you would, almost certainly, be alienating your audience and ticket sales (a.k.a. ridership) would decline.

Are You Missing Any Players?

These are just a few examples of the many things that could happen if you don’t have the proper players (or musicians) in place within your transit agency. Luckily, there are now tools to help you ensure you have all the pieces of your orchestra. Software (or technological advancements in general) helps facilitate, giving you all the top musicians to enable you to make sure you are living up to your customers’ expectations. If you don’t have the right technology, the intricacies won’t shine through. Every little aspect of the orchestra is important in creating a symphony. Just like every aspect of your operations creates the whole of your agency.

So, it begets the question: Do you know if you have all the correct pieces to create your Transit Symphony? That’s our focus at APTA Expo. Come learn more about what you can do to fill out your transit composition and turn it into that symphony. It’s time for you to Orchestrate Your Transit Masterpiece.

To find out more about your transit masterpiece, visit our APTA page to learn more about creating your transit symphony and book a 1:1 meeting with our experts to create your transit software orchestra map. 

Nicholas Furi is Trapeze's Content Marketing Specialist where he focuses on creating new content on the trends and challenges in the transit industry (and how to solve them). He also manages their third-party editorial contributions and communications for ThinkTransit, Trapeze's annual conference. Previously, he worked for B2B companies and wrote for an online publication. Nick has a Bachelor of Commerce, where he majored in Marketing, from the Edwards School of Business at the University of Saskatchewan.
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