Capital Area Transportation Authority, Michigan
Some things have a way of creeping up on a city.
As towns in and around the border regions of Michigan battled air quality problems over the last several years, it was business as usual for the town of Lansing's Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA), namely, providing residents with quality bus transportation.
Today, CATA faces a great deal more than business as usual. When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency designated Lansing a non-attainment area for ozone, CATA was charged with a brand new responsibility: educating drivers—and the public at large—about Lansing's air quality problem and how residents could help fix it. Although CATA is affiliated with the statewide air quality program, the organization knew little about how to set up and manage its own full-scale regional outreach and education initiative.
Restarting CATA's decades-old rideshare program, which was shut down when funding for it disappeared, seemed a natural place to start. They decided to reinvigorate the program with a strong component that would educate residents about air quality and encourage them to try alternate modes of transportation. Clever funding solutions quickly followed, along with support from It All Adds Up to Cleaner Air and other resources, to help get CATA Clean Commute Options off the ground.
CATA has made an impressive start, but the journey didn't begin easily. Last fall, the initiative was beset with financial question marks and what ifs.
"Before we were designated non-attainment, the state legislature eliminated funding for the rideshare program, so we had to shut it down," said Debbie Alexander, assistant executive director of CATA. "That's why we weren't ready to kick in and immediately handle the air quality problem."
Clearing the Fiscal Path
Another hurdle—although surmountable—was imbued with political strife. Because the State of Michigan had been running its own program, Debbie said CATA's project plan was met with some degree of unrest. "It was difficult to get the state to realize that this program was not going to replace their program, that this was going to be brand new," she explained. "It also was challenging for our region to understand that this wasn't a basic rideshare program anymore. It needed to be a full-blown commute alternatives program—we really wanted to broaden its scope and not just call it car- and vanpooling," she said. "Whether people went rollerblading, biking, canoeing, or riding the bus, it didn't matter—as long as they didn't drive alone. So we spent quite a bit of effort trying to get our state transportation department to buy into that concept."
CATA was "a little bit more calculating" in their approach to securing funds—particularly Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) money. Because they are a transportation agency and would have an air quality program, they knew they could qualify to receive it. But they also had an idea about how they wanted the money to be funneled. "Instead of having it flow through the state from the Federal Highway Administration, we wanted it to be flexed to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), because transit funding is more flexible," said Debbie, noting that in Michigan, state-supplied funds must be spent within a year, while FTA-funded projects have a three-year window. "This would help us feel more confident that we could manage the resources."
CATA got what it wanted. The agency received a $200,000 CMAQ grant. "We won!" Debbie said. "We told FTA this was still a rideshare program, but that we were broadening it to include public transportation. We agreed that we would always promote the bus first and other modes later," she said. "My goal is to underscore the air-quality benefits of riding the bus, so the transit component really gets addressed on behalf of the FTA."
Setting the Wheels in Motion
Debbie said the next step was to "hire someone fast" who could step in and get the initial marketing piece underway. Cathleen Edgerly, CATA's new Clean Commute Options coordinator, was welcomed aboard and told to roll up her sleeves and get moving. "There were all these expectations that we should have gotten this message out a long time ago, so it was incumbent upon her to put a program together as quickly as possible," Debbie said.
Cathleen immediately set out to learn all she could about Lansing's air quality problem, while simultaneously hunting for ways to get the message out to residents. That's when she got wind of It All Adds Up. "I was on the Transportation Demand Management listserv and somebody referred me to It All Adds Up to Cleaner Air," Cathleen said. "Our tri-county office also said It All Adds Up might help with getting our activities up to speed, because they have good materials that we could use for free in a dash." When visiting www.italladdsup.gov, Cathleen took advantage of the Exchange and posted a few threads requesting advice about how to create effective, low-cost marketing materials, including direct mail pieces and brochures (PDF, 538KB), employer presentations and materials, and an air quality summer billboard (PDF, 963KB).
"The Exchange is always helpful," said Cathleen, who received several useful responses. "It always gives me a great place to start." Cathleen also got some helpful information while attending the It All Adds Up roundtable during the U.S. EPA/STAPPA-ALAPCO National Air Quality Conference in San Antonio in February 2006, where she met face to face with the It All Adds Up team and fellow transportation and air quality professionals from around the country.
Reaching the Finish Line
CATA decided first on a direct mail piece using the It All Adds Up alternate modes "Tomorrow Leave Home without It" ad, which was sent to all residents of the tri-county area.
To keep their promise to FTA, CATA rolled out an impressive $26,000 billboard campaign using the It All Adds Up alternate modes ad, "Use an Air Freshener." To draw attention to the bus system, CATA asked its designer to replace the original rail icon with the It All Adds Up bus icon, along with the CATA logo. That summer, 16 commercial-quality billboards were peppered across the greater-Lansing area.
"It All Adds Up is saving us a ton of money," Cathleen said, explaining it would have cost her a lot more to hire an agency to create the concept and artwork from scratch. "We're also saving a lot of time. We get a much faster turnaround this way, because everything is basically already done."
CATA's next move is to deliver an information packet, which will be followed by a string of face to face visits, to employers who Cathleen expects will take a role in spreading the word about the clean air benefits of vanpooling, carpooling, biking, and riding the bus to work. She'll also suggest employers use the free It All Adds Up Flash animations to send workers gentle reminders about the simple steps they can take to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. "We're also planning some radio ads this summer, so I'll be looking to It All Adds Up for ideas on that as well."
Congratulations to CATA for wasting no time in getting their community back on track to cleaner air!
To learn more about CATA Clean Commute Options, please visit their Web site or write to Debbie Alexander at firstname.lastname@example.org or Cathleen Edgerly at email@example.com. Debbie and Cathleen can also be reached by calling (517) 393-7433.