Building Trust: The New Approach to Community-Centered Transit Projects

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MTI researchers highlight effective stakeholder engagement strategies
July 10, 2024
San José, CA

Public transit agencies must engage with stakeholders to be effective. However, many agencies struggle with such engagement, and efforts often become mere box-checking exercises or are derailed. The latest Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) perspective, Not Just Checking a Box: What Does Stakeholder Engagement in Public Transit Look Like?, highlights strategies for stakeholder engagement that have proven more genuine and effective in achieving critical goals and milestones for transit agencies.

The perspective argues that:

  • Traditional transit outreach, which consists of an agency deciding on a project and then going out and trying to sell it, creates conflict.
  • Internally, the standard has been deemed the “Decide – Announce – Defend (DAD)” model—the transit agency decides and develops a project and then presents it to the community for their reaction.
  • The DAD model presumes the problem is already well defined and then presents a solution. Without agreement on the problem, agreement on the solution is unlikely. Thus, this approach often results in concessions that lead to worse outcomes.
  • The industry is beginning to adopt new practices that result in a better product and user experience. These new practices, many of which are adopted from the spheres of social justice and public health, are more conducive to building trust within the community, which benefits everyone. They include building relationships with the community consistently, working collaboratively with communities, and moving forward when necessary.

“Another area of stakeholder engagement that has received less attention but still needs to move beyond a narrow project-centered relationship is how the public sector interacts with the private sector,” write the authors. “Public agencies, focused on responsibly handling taxpayer funds, sometimes view the private sector as solely profit-driven, leading to stringent procurement processes. These well-intentioned policies can stifle communication and leave the private sector skeptical of public agencies' ability to adhere to realistic timelines. This diminished collaboration hinders innovation and limits the public sector's exposure to new ideas.”

Stakeholder engagement for public transit projects should be genuine, transparent, and people-oriented to be effective. The industry would benefit from viewing stakeholder input as a method to help shape and improve initiatives, rather than a way to gauge reaction to the project. At the same time, once stakeholder input has helped formulate a project, even if there continues to be a minority of opposition, transit agency leaders need to continue to move forward in order to complete projects that benefit the industry and the community.



At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. Founded in 1991, MTI is a university transportation center funded by the US Department of Transportation, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants, including those made available by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1). MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.


Joshua Schank holds a PhD in Urban Planning from Columbia University and a Master of City Planning from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is a Research Associate at the Mineta Transportation Institute, a Managing Principal at InfraStrategies, and a Senior Fellow in the Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. Emma Huang is a Senior Consultant with InfraStrategies LLC. Emma previously worked as a Manager in the Office of Extraordinary Innovation at LA Metro, where she focused on transit research and policy. She holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of California, Los Angeles.


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