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Public Involvement – Telephone Town Halls

Public Involvement – Telephone Town Halls


Telephone Town Halls are a unique way for
transportation agencies to connect with the public by having them engage in discussions
from the comfort of their homes. Telephone town halls allow the public to actively
listen in, ask questions, and participate in live polling to provide input for a plan
or project. L.A. Metro hosted two telephone town halls
to gather feedback for their NextGen Bus Study, which is a re-imagining of bus service across
Los Angeles County. Each town hall began with brief remarks about
the planning process and why public input was important to the plan and budget decisions. These telephone town hall meetings are a way
for you to engage with the public in a way that is touching thousands of people, way
more than you would in a traditional public meeting setting, all at once in a one hour
or an hour and a half meeting that is like a live, large conference call or a radio show. We push out a call to thousands of phone numbers,
landlines and cellphone numbers, and ask people to stay on the line with us…We wanted to
hear what people say about bus service, what their experience has been on Metro, and ask
us questions, and give us comments. We promote the telephone town halls and also
promote a call-in number, so that if people are not one of the phone numbers that gets
called out automatically, they can always call in. Listeners can ask a question or make a comment
by pushing a number on their phone and talking first with a screener. Listeners also participate in live polls during
the town hall. In previous surveys, METRO has heard from
folks that the following are important for improving bus service. So please select which answer is most important
to you as it relates to bus service. Press one for speed of the bus. Press two for the reliability of the bus,
meaning it comes when it’s supposed to. Push three for safety. Push four for frequency, so how frequent the
bus comes. And press five if price is your most important
thing. On both nights, the poll results confirmed
what Metro was hearing through other forms of outreach: most people find service frequency
more important than speed or price. Metro will factor this into the bus service
concepts for their NextGen plan. What we’ve experienced is that you’ll get
anywhere from 2,000 to 4,000 people who will actually engage and participate in each of
these telephone town hall meetings. Even for folks who only stay on the line for
a few minutes, you are informing and educating them. The answers to the questions, the comments
that were shared, what you got through web, what comments people left for you on voicemails
after the meeting, and what we got through our live electronic polling. And that becomes part of our record of what
we heard from the public. And we consider that, along with the other
comments that we get through our website, through traditional public meetings, or stakeholder
meetings, and that all is compiled, and it becomes part of what we then will analyze
and use in how we make our decisions. For agencies who have not used telephone town
hall meetings, I encourage them to give it a try. It’s very simple. You contract with a vendor who provides the
telephone infrastructure…You pick your people from your agency that you think are best to
have on the line…It’s literally a matter of mapping out the meeting, how it’s going
to work, providing speaking points for people, having people in the room as staff support
who can jot something down on a piece of paper, or whisper something in someone’s ear to help
them answer a question, and allowing everybody to just be comfortable, informal. The Colorado Department of Transportation
hosted telephone town halls around the state to gather input for their statewide transportation
plan. They held 15 town halls–10 in rural Transportation
Planning Regions and 5 in metropolitan regions–to hear about each area’s needs and priorities. Live polling included questions on how CDOT
should invest limited dollars. Nearly 58,000 people participated in these
sessions for some length of time. In addition to automated call-outs, CDOT advertised
a number people could call to participate. The results not only informed priorities in
the statewide plan, but provided feedback for other CDOT plans, including transit, bicycle/pedestrian
and safety plans. Since adopting the plan, CDOT has used this
method again to report on progress and continue the dialogue.

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