Bus driving down the street

Adapting to Change in a Transit Organization

In the transit sector, it’s so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day that you lose sight of the big picture. The next thing you know, years (or maybe even decades) have gone by, and you’re still doing things the same way. Your customers and the world around you has changed, but your organization has not.

Change is always difficult, but it is possible, and more necessary than ever as the future looks increasingly uncertain. Many of the agencies we work with at Avail look to our enterprise transit management system as the catalyst for large-scale change. While software can certainly help, it’s only as good as the processes that underlie it.

In this article, we’ll discuss the importance of standard operating procedures and how they can help you plant the seeds for change in your organization.

When Standard Operating Procedures Are Anything But

You might think that your organization has standard operating procedures in place, but chances are they are not really as standard as you expect. What would happen if you asked five different people to define or outline the procedure? Would you get five different answers? At many transit agencies, the answer is, unfortunately, “yes.”

When processes and procedures are not properly documented, it leads to what we like to call “tribal knowledge,” where one person holds important information and creates a vulnerability for the organization if they leave or are not able to work. Everyone else is left grasping at straws, and chaos ensues.

As much as we all like to think nothing bad will ever happen to us, this year has shown that anything is possible — making it all the more important to define and document your procedures and share them within the organization. This is also the first step toward making both short-term and long-term change; you can’t begin to change anything unless you know what your baseline is.

Beyond putting everyone on the same page, standard operating procedures also help your organization understand the “why” behind your processes. It’s one thing for someone to know they have to push a button or complete a form, but understanding the “why” of how that fits into the bigger picture helps create meaning and cohesion among teams and departments.

Finally, standard operating procedures are the first step toward obtaining consistent and reliable data for your organization. When everyone is doing their own thing, you end up with multiple interpretations of data with no clear way to reconcile them. Bringing standardization into the mix will help you understand where your weaknesses are and create plans to address them.

Making the Case for Change

With any luck, the process of creating standard operating procedures will bright to light some opportunities for changes to increase efficiency and eliminate redundancies. Implementing those changes, however, is easier said than done. We are all creatures of habit, which makes change difficult in any setting. 

Technology like myAvail can help illuminate the need for change by bringing all your data into one system and taking down organizational silos. However, technology alone can’t provide that “lightbulb moment” necessary to drive real change. That has to come from seeing the power that centralized data and standard operating procedures bring to your organization.

For example, COVID-19 forced many transit agencies to pay attention to capacity in ways they previously had not. Capacity is about way more than how many people are on a bus at a given time; it affects route frequency, staffing, and even bus wear and tear. 

Agencies that have standard operating procedures and centralized data were quickly able to adjust all of these things on the fly as capacity restrictions changed throughout the course of the year. Those who did not have these things in place were left scrambling, which resulted in poor customer service and potentially lost revenue and excess spending.

While upsetting in the short-term, situations like this are the perfect opportunities to make the case for long-term change. You can move beyond the mental barriers and point to the fact that the status quo will no longer cut it. 

At the other end of the spectrum, there’s also a danger in pushing too much change too quickly. It can quickly seem like change for the sake of change, which is not good for gaining the buy-in necessary to create new habits and processes. 

The Right Change at the Right Time

At the end of the day, no one wants to be force-fed something. Creating meaningful, lasting change is all about knowing what changes are needed and getting the right people on board to help you make them.

Again, centralized data is one step in this process and can certainly help move things forward. But it can’t be the only thing driving change. The right stakeholders, from executives to front-line workers, need to be involved and need to feel like they’re working toward a greater good. 

Starting with standard operating procedures will give you the foundation you need to find organizational inefficiencies and process gaps. From there, you can show everyone why it’s time to change and make them feel like they have a role in improving processes for themselves and the organization as a whole. 

As with any adaptation, this process is not quick or easy, but it is worth it in the end. You’ll be positioned to better serve your customers, and your internal operations will be more responsive to whatever external changes come your way.