politicalPassenger interests in transport policy

On the political or strategic level, users' interests are directed towards an environment that favours public transport, because this is usually associated with a higher quality and more useful service.
On this level, strategic decisions on public transport services are taken, also because both investment and operations are usually (co-)funded from public sources. Examples are the introduction or withdrawal of light rail in a city and the overall budget available for public transport.
However, general transport policy and other policy fields are of relevance as well: Taxation can impact directly and indirectly on the balance between modes and the conditions under which public transport services are provided. Land-use guidelines influence the location of travel demand. Parking strategies affect the attractiveness of other modes as well.

Instruments

It is most important that user interests are be expressed in the political discussions which precede the formal decision-taking. Three main instruments are relevant here:

Lobbying

First of all, the usual tools of political lobbying can be used in all areas and stages of the agenda-setting process. The main feature of this approach is the competition for attention and resources with many other issues and the groups representing them.

Formal consultation procedures

Second, so-called formal consultation procedures are part of the approval process - mainly for infrastructure projects and physical planning. They usually follow a strictly-defined schedule. In these procedures, users' can have their say, too, but often the groups that are allowed to participate are limited to those people affected. However, for many important decisions relating to public transport, such procedures are not required. Another "formalised" instrument is the initiation of a referendum on local or regional level.

Informal consultation procedures

Third, so-called "informal" participation exercises aim to discuss a project or issue with an active involvement of as many of the relevant groups and interests as possible. The objective is to make conflicts transparent, develop strategies or collect possible solutions in an open and constructive atmosphere. They are often more important to discuss public transport development as they offer greater flexibility. However, it is not obligatory to hold such a forum, and its results are not binding for political decision-takers. Hence the more successful a procedure can be in bringing diverging interests together, the greater the acceptance and value of its result will be in terms of political attention and influence.

Who speaks for the passengers?

Here it is useful to distinguish between people who campaign for public transport users as members of lobbying groups and "lay users" who take part in participative procedures or institutions such as user advisory boards without an institutional affiliation. In reality, members of the two groups of course mix, and it is also possible that one person changes his/her position over time.

Passenger associations

Several types of organisations often deal with representing transport users: These include associations of certain social groups (such as senior citizens), less often general consumer organisations, but many specialised groups working on transport policy, environmental protection and of course passenger associations themselves. The latter ones can also be summed up as "transport-environmental associations". They like to distinguish themselves from "normal" civic action groups who are often associated with simply defending their local area against unwanted developments (known as "not in my back yard" or NIMBY syndrome). Instead, they identify themselves with the overarching aim of maintaining and improving public transport. This long-term view is associated with an "integrated" perspective on the public transport system and the aspiration to develop realistic and well-founded proposals. In doing so, they wish to present themselves as competent partners in the discussions with the other institutions (operators, authorities and politicians). Such a professionalism can, however, give rise to scepticism whether the associations' views are still representative for the passengers.

Participation for individuals

Because of this, other participative approaches aim to involve a more "representative" sample of the travelling public. Sometimes, members of user groups and similar associations are explicitly excluded in order to hear the views of people who "truly speak for themselves".
Many informal participation techniques (see "politics" section) are based on this concept, but also many of the user advisory boards which have been established by a number of German operators. They have in part been set up as "lay users boards", where members of associations should not take part. However, others have followed the opposite concept - consisting only of members of associations -, and there are mixed types as well. Experience shows that lay users boards have a more personalised and localised view of the situation and do less often discuss general aspects of service development. However, over time even lay members of such a board change their views and adopt an expert-like position.