I may be completely biased, but TransitCampBayArea totally, completely exceeded my own expectations for the event. And the way that I'm biased is that I quite often hate my own events. In fact, I'm disappointed in them about 75% of the time. (I clearly put too much pressure on myself and have too high of expectations, but that's a whole other blogpost.)
So what was it that made me so ecstatic about this one?
#1. It built amazing bridges
As we went through the intros for Day 1, I was blown away at the diversity of the room. Men. Women. People from various backgrounds. Technologists. Elected officials. Transit representatives. Passionate riders. Green activists. There I stood in front of a room of 'not the usual suspects' to show up at a BarCamp. It was pretty astounding.
But even more astounding is how everyone adapted to the embrace-the-chaos model of BarCamp. People from all backgrounds took the initiative to pitch sessions, put them on the board, lead discussions, get involved and help out. There were very rare moments where I had to reiterate the DIY culture of BarCamp.
#2. It avoided the usual pitfalls of public services events: no complaints, only solutions
Oh, there were touch-and-go moments where I had to step in and be firm, stating, once again, "This is a solutions playground. Please keep it that way." (borrowed heavily from the original TransitCamp) Transit is definitely a hot button issue and people get really passionate about it! And yes, there are lots of issues. Yep.
But this weekend quickly avoided getting bogged down in all of those issues and stuck with the exciting possibilities of using collaborative, open technologies to engage with riders and potential riders...and even thinking about doing this WITHOUT the use of technology and just purely being creative. We truly became a solutions playground! Some really awesome ideas that came out of TCBA:
- Awareness ideas:
- Visual Route Cues. Creating symbols or colored lines on the roads to show people where the buses physically go. This way non-riders would start to notice that buses from their neighborhoods go to neighborhoods that they want to go to. (topic at Get Satisfaction here)
- "If you build it, I would come" - the ability to vote for your route. Maybe you don't currently ride the bus because it is just too inconvenient, but if you had a better bus system that could take you to and from work everyday, you would totally ride it. A simple clickable map with the ability to input the amount of time maximum you would tolerate (and the times you would travel) may bring in some good data for transit planners.
- Share A Route! So, why can't we help encourage our non-transit friends to take transit by planning out a good route for them and sharing it? Sounds like a pretty simple solution to me!
- Transit Buddy System. This is a no-brainer as well. If you buy monthly Transit passes, you should be able to take 1-2 friends with you for free. You are promoting the system and encouraging ridership.
- Welcome Wagon Transit Packets. I remember the nightmare of moving to the Bay Area and trying to figure out the transit system. BART? Muni? Caltrain? Etc.? There were so many to figure out! How about a packet with links and information for new people. Promote them to big companies in the area who are importing people in.
- The Priceline for Transportation. I want to go from A to B, so beyond 511.org, I get a couple of options back based on my preferences. Zipcar, City CarShare, Muni, BART, Caltrain, the ferry, cabs, walking, whatever, would show up in a table with: time, cost and transfers. I could make my choice from there. Vive le choice!
- Transit and Jobsearch. Mashup of job searches that limit the results to my preferable commute times on transit
- Transit and Events. Mashup of Upcoming events with transit data, THEN the ability to set an SMS alert for 'last call' on the bus to get me home!
Lots of these ideas are being posted on our very new Get Satisfaction TransitCamp section. Keep them coming! In the next few months, we'll be trying to get them built! One really great opportunity with be at GreenDevCamp coming up at GoogleHQ in April.
Oh...and btw...these all require proper data apis, really.
#3. It made an impact
Already, I'm feeling the impact of TCBA. We've seen coverage in a couple of places, I've received a couple dozen follow up emails asking 'What's next?', Bryce from City CarShare has started a couple of Transit Data Google Groups, the folks at NextBus made a great case for a TransitCamp manifesto on opening data apis (which we will be working on in the next while), and we have tentative meetings scheduled with several of the transit organizations to help them implement the exciting ideas they heard over this weekend.
There was also a bit of a reverberation across Twitter re: TransitCamp the tag. Several people expressed their desire to throw their own in their area. I'll do everything I can in my power to help them make it happen.
Some follow up items for me. After the crazy month of March, I'm going to schedule time for video interviews with reps from all of the TransitCamp attending Transit Organizations to get them on video saying "What I learnt at camp". Hopefully this will help others around the world who want to do this demonstrate the potential impact of this type of event.
I'm also going to continue to push on the awesome ideas that rolled out of this. A couple of cool follow up places to go:
- Joe Hughes (Google Transit) awesome Headway Blog and Wiki, where we should be contributing much of the work for these projects.
- The TCBA Google Group that we will continue for this project
- The Get Satisfaction TransitCamp page where you can submit awesome ideas and feedback (at some point, we'll feed the api into a more cohesive site)
- Of course, the original wiki page where I'm hoping lots of people will be posting their notes and presentations for you to enjoy (I gave one of my government 2.0 presos)
#4. It exceeded many people's expectations
I had several people approach me throughout the event and afterwards to tell me that they were not only blown away by this event, but that they couldn't wait for the next one and they would bring several people with them. That's the keystone of a great event, imo. Would you tell others? If no, it was disappointing. If maybe, it was okay. If yes, it was awesome. If, as one guy told me, you would drag many people even if they were kicking and screaming, it was kickass.
During the opening talk, I looked around the room to see many skeptics. Those same skeptics were those still hanging around at 5:00 pm today, talking excitedly about possibilities. What an amazing sight that was to see!
I am not going to do reviews of each of the speakers...hopefully there will be summaries of each session, but needless to say, there was alot of amazing information going back and forth. Everyone learnt at least one thing and met a great number of people they didn't know before who they can now do amazing things with.
Thanks to those who came out and those of you who watched or participated from afar! And thanks to the original pioneers of TransitCamp, Mark Kuznicki, Eli Singer, David Crow, Jay Goldman and the many others who were crazy enough the first time to apply this unique approach to a very traditional industry and inspire us all!