MPC Hopes “Transportation Woes” Survey Will Get Lawmakers’ Attention

Data to prevent bus bunching
CTA bus bunching: A transportation frustration everybody loves to hate. Photo: Argonne National Laboratories

Have you had it up to here with crumbling sidewalks and faded crosswalks? Are you sick of pedaling over lousy pavement, or barely visible bike lanes? Fed up with CTA bus routes that have already stopped running by the time you need a lift home, or Metra trains that never seem to run on time? Frustrated that there aren’t more east-west and north-south rapid transit lines, instead of just spoke routes?

Don’t get mad, get involved with the “Illinois Transportation Woes” survey. Yesterday, the Metropolitan Planning Council launched the new questionnaire for Chicago and Illinois residents, to find out what people’s top transportation frustrations are and what they would be willing to pay to overcome those challenges. They plan to use the survey results, along with photo and video documentation provided by participants, to let legislators know their constituents are upset about the current state of transportation in Illinois, and that they support increasing taxes and fees to fund better infrastructure

“With all the issues state lawmakers are facing, transportation hasn’t really risen to the top of their concerns,” MPC spokeswoman Mandy Burrell Booth said. “But we think there’s a big pent-up demand for better Illinois transportation options. We want to inform our legislators about this during their January session. There’s a growing consensus among civic groups that our leaders need to hear this.”

The survey isn’t directly related to the Active Transportation Alliance and Center for Neighborhood Technology’s Transit Future revenue campaign, or the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning’s Fund 2040 proposal to raise money for smart infrastructure investments. However, all of these groups, plus the Transportation for Illinois Coalition, the American Association of Retired Persons, and the American Automobile Association, are teaming up with MPC to get the word out about the questionnaire.

Booth hopes that several hundred people will fill out the first half of they survey, which asks about participants’ transportation habits, their level of satisfaction with their commute, and their understanding of how state transportation improvements are funded. The survey then notes that the state gas tax is currently 19 cents per gallon, and only costs the average Illinoisan $8.25 a month. Respondents are asked if they’d be willing to pay more in gas tax in order to fund transportation enhancements and, if so, how much.

Participants who qualify will be invited to complete a “mission” about their transportation experiences. On the missions, they’ll use video or photos to document three different, infuriating things about Illinois’ roads, highways, side streets, train lines, bus lines, bike routes, or sidewalks.

Additional survey questions ask if respondents would be willing to pay more a little more in sales tax, gas tax, transit fare, highway tolls, or vehicle registration fees to fix the problems. They’re also asked if certain conditions, such as earmarking the extra revenue for transportation, or making the tax hike temporary, would make them feel better about paying more.

Participants who complete the mission are eligible to win one of up to 250 $20 prizes. MPC will compile the photos, video, and commentary into a website, which they’ll use to show politicians that voters are highly aggravated by the state’s underfunded transportation network, and they’re willing to put their money where their mouths are, and pay to fix it.

“Unfortunately, we’ve come to a point in Illinois where a lot of our basic transportation stuff isn’t working, and we need to reckon with that,” Booth said.

  • forensicgarlic

    I have to download an app to do the survey? come on.

  • Julia

    App is glitchy and requires a signup, including a photo. Not a fan.

    Also, the survey seems to be heavily focused on gas tax. Being that I primarily ride a bike, I’m not sure if the opinions filter one in or out.

    0/10 on design and content. I doubt they’ll get a useful amount of responses, let alone an accurate sample.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Hope you don’t mind that I quoted you. My email to MPC:

    “As the first commenter on the Streetsblog Chicago post on your new survey said:

    “‘I have to download an app to do the survey? come on.’

    “A few points to consider:

    1. Not everyone, including not everyone concerned with our region’s dismal transportation, is under 25 and perfectly comfortable with downloading apps for everything they do.

    “2. You are dealing with a legislature that is almost certain to ignore your survey. You will have to have hundreds, or better, thousands of responses before you have the least chance that anyone in Springfield (or City Hall, for that matter) will pay the slightest attention to what we are trying to tell them. Do you really want to make answering a survey more difficult than it has to be?

    “Please reconsider and republish this survey in a form that is user-friendly for everyone who would like to respond.

    “Thank you, …”

    Doubt if it will do any good, since this particular project has apparently been handed to a technophile whiz-kid who will not be able to conceive of anybody having a problem with it.

  • Lisa Curcio

    My reaction exactly. I won’t.

  • “Apparently” – how is that apparent? MPC is trying something different.

  • Social_werkk

    I was turned off by that too. My desire to be heard won out but I 100% agree with you that it poses a large barrier.

  • R.A. Stewart

    I may have been hasty in that particular assumption. But it gives me, admittedly a codger, the impression of being driven by enthusiasm for the technology, with little thought to how the intended audience–a broad audience, I would hope, in terms of age and technological prowess–would respond to it.

  • potpie

    Just to “me too” on what’s already been unanimous in these comments – having to create an account and download a smartphone app to complete a survey is ridiculous, and, while I’m interested to participate, I’m not jumping through all these hoops.

  • BlueFairlane

    Different for the sake of being different, it seems.

    This will come as no surprise, but put me in the “me too” column as well.

  • Charles Perry

    As the community manager for dscout (the survey app MPC is using for this project) I want to thank everybody who’s making their voice heard! We’ve worked hard to make sure MPC’s survey has the chance to provide maximum impact for minimum effort, but we take unnecessary hurdles & glitches personally, so please let me know if I can help.

  • Lisa Curcio

    Mr. Perry, perhaps this small group is not representative, but the answer for several of us here is to let us go directly to a survey without having to download an app much less sign up and provide a photo. I am a cyclist, a car driver, a pedestrian, and a resident, so I think I fall in the group MPC wants to hear from. But maybe not, since I will not be downloading an app to voice my views.

  • Ryan G-S

    Speaking for MPC, we know there’s some effort involved in downloading dscout and going through the process, so that’s why there’s the $20 reward for 250 people. We chose this route because it allows people to show us, not just tell us, things that frustrate them. We hope to get some original insights this way, which we couldn’t get from a robocall poll or simple web survey.

  • R.A. Stewart

    I appreciate your coming on board here to talk with us directly. I agree with Lisa Curcio’s reply.

  • BlueFairlane

    Sorry, but getting entered in a raffle that might get me $20 doesn’t make this worth the effort.

  • Agree – it is all about the gas tax and the response options don’t allow the full range of possible responses; forced answers make for unreliable findings.

    Apart from that, the gas tax is a losing proposition given it funds primarily road building. Increase the tax, get more of the same.

  • Thrown Roe

    Needing to download an app to answer a survey is not “maximum impact for minimum effort”, Charles.

  • R.A. Stewart

    Well, you could say you’ve gotten us to show you something that frustrates us. :-) As with Charles Perry’s comment, I appreciate your stopping by to explain your reasoning, but no, I’m not doing it. Do one of those simple web surveys, I’ll be right on it. (Skip the robocalls though, please.)

  • I don’t care for the approach – not the technology, but the fact that the survey appears to be clearly focused on increasing the gas tax, while marketing of the tool suggests something much different.

    Read, for instance, John’s intro in this coverage. Then, please explain to the folks that don’t know much about the gas tax what it actually funds.

    Does the gas tax:

    1. Repair broke and crumbling (or missing) sidewalks?

    2. Fix the issue of bus routes that have already stopped by the time one needs to commute home?

    3. Improve the timeliness of METRA trains or reduce underlying shared trackage and other commuter rail infrastructure and operating issues?

    4. Create more east-west and north-south rapid transit lines, instead of just spoke routes?

    The survey should be clear about what the gas tax does, what folks concerned about regional transit can actually expect from a gas tax increase, and what other options are on the table for advancing the types of investments they may actually be interested in and support.

    Supporting the gas tax (or an increase to it) has very little to do with items (1) through (4). Linking such transportation woes to a need to increase the gas tax for more funding is more than a little misleading.

    As Metropolis Strategies wrote in their analysis of the need for an increased gas tax, “A motor fuel tax increase is needed, but it should only be enacted if it is linked to substantial reforms.”

    Indeed – reforms targeting project selection processes and criteria, eligible expenses/projects, and others. Without reform, forget an increased gas tax. We need something other than more of the same we’ve been getting: more and more road and highway capacity.

    Rather than positioning to increase the pot of gold, first reform the rules – that is the more challenging (and more important) of the two objectives, and that’s saying a lot. Once the gold is amassed, does anyone really believe those that control and benefit from it will loosen their grip in the name of transit, biking, and walking?

    Why buy the cow when the milk is free?

  • I’m usually an eager and enthusiastic participant in these types of surveys, but I will also not be downloading an app to do it. I thought it was enough of a barrier to create a user account in order to comment on or vote up project suggestions on a website (I’m thinking specifically of Civic Artworks), but I was willing to do that, and at least there are multiple projects there, making it worth my effort. This is just for your information, for what it’s worth.

  • Charles Perry

    Thanks for the feedback, Michelle!

  • Charles Perry

    Thanks for considering it, Lisa!

  • The one the Chicago Park District is using is also deeply infuriating. It uses so many processor cycles to do whatever it is it does that it lags my desktop machine, and it requires login to their idiosyncratic site (which breaks badly on mobile), and their survey questions tend to be written in ways that ignore entire classes of possible answer (leaving me with no way to answer honestly, and also no way to skip the question).

  • Dennis McClendon

    Don’t have a smartphone? MPC doesn’t want your opinion.

    Results should be as reliable as the famous 1936 Literary Digest poll.

  • Lizzyisi

    I strongly agree with this sentiment.

  • As I mentioned, the survey discusses several other options for raising revenue besides a gas tax hike. There are multiple questions about these other options. Gas tax revenue can be, and has been, used for non-road improvements, most notably transit, but also pedestrian and bike projects.

  • Yes, the gas tax does support other types of projects (at the margin), but the fact remains it is a road building fund. There isn’t significant – or even notable – support for other modes.

    In order to make it a broader transportation funding mechanism, the rules need to change. That should be done before the pot of money grows – as a condition of it, really.

  • I also came away from the survey with a distinct impression that the instrument sought to measure support for the gas tax, with scant attention to other financing mechanisms and absolutely no consideration of what the gas tax actually funds – by rule and practice.

    Note Julia’s comment below – I’m not the only one that perceives it that way.

    The instrument could have been designed better, as the goal of demonstrating support for good transportation investments is a worthwhile one, of course.

  • BlueFairlane

    There’s also the question of how projects now funded by the gas tax are funded once gasoline demand falls. Most readers of this site and members of the commentariat believe demand will fall precipitously in the near future as prices rise. (This argument sees the current lows as a momentary blip.) If you link non-automobile transportation infrastructure to the gas tax, then the funding will plummet at the exact moment you need more money.

  • Yes, the gas tax is but one pathway, and not a terribly reliably one given changes in consumer demand in response to lifestyle choice, price, more efficient (or alt fuel) vehicles, etc.

  • forensicgarlic

    1) an option for a web survey seems appropriate, especially when linked from a website.

  • Fred Ash

    MPC has had some great projects over the years–this is not one of them and it points to a bigger problem with the organization. Even the ads accompanying this site demonstrate this problem, They are all bicycle related. Part of MPC seems to have been co-opted by bike riding, smart phone addicted hipsters. This is not representative of Chicago’s population. Time for MPC management to fire staaffers pretending to be democratic.

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