Classrooms may become next stop for transit
Sound Transit is set to spend money for curriculum and materials for school classrooms as part of a plan to "demystify transit" and turn schoolchildren into transit users.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
Sound Transit hopes to fill its buses and trains by heading into the classroom.
The agency is exploring how to potentially supply curriculum and materials for teachers to use as part of a plan to "demystify transit" and turn children into transit users.
School outreach ought to be a low-cost way to draw customers, said Geoff Patrick, the staffer leading the effort. "It would be something that gets into kids' consciousness and make them more likely to be future transit riders," he said.
Currently, only about 21,000 passengers a day, about 5,000 fewer than predicted, ride the $2.6 billion Central Link light-rail line that opened in 2009 between Seattle's Westlake Center and the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Use of Sounder commuter trains and ST Express buses dipped last year.
The school program is being criticized as "indoctrination" by the Washington Policy Center and the conservative Sound Politics blog.
"Sound Transit taxes are supposed to be used to build a regional mass-transit system, not to groom children as young as 5 to use a particular government service," says Mike Ennis, WPC transportation analyst.
Officials haven't yet decided what a K-12 program might cost. The initial short-term contract, to create a curriculum, would be less than $200,000, followed perhaps by a larger deal to do the actual outreach. Proposals are due May 10.
Sound Transit has a $1.1 billion budget this year to build, operate and administer lines in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties. The communications department's share is $7.55 million, for goals that include demystifying "transit by involving youth in a three-year, K-12 initiative."
Patrick said there could be a website where teachers could find transit-related ideas for term papers; use of transit for field trips; or lessons on how to read a route schedule.
The agency has entered schools before, teaching children in Rainier Valley to keep away from Link tracks. The agency organized a teen video contest, offered guest speakers and passed out paper train models, at a cost of $122,000 plus staff time. The campaign looks successful — just one 13-year-old girl, on her cellphone, has walked into a train. She wasn't seriously hurt.
Ennis argues the marketing push is different, because children are impressionable and unlikely to question the contents. And someday, transit officials will ask voters for money again, he said. "You can make the argument Sound Transit is a political organization," he said. "They have huge marketing budgets and shape public debate."
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